"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Mannion, and the issue is Fearless Dawn in Outer Space!!!, which was published by Atom Bomb Comics and is cover dated 2011 (but which came out in July 2013, I guess – I bought my “advanced edition” copy at Emerald City in April of 2012). Enjoy!
I should point out that Fearless Dawn doesn’t actually go into space in this comic. But that’s okay, because there’s still art to discuss!
Fearless Dawn uses her telescope to look at the moon, where she sees Nazis led by her nemesis, Helga von Krause. By this time, she’s a top-secret agent for some top-secret agency, so she calls her boss to report it, but he tells her that budget cuts mean they can’t do anything about it. Her boss tells her to get some sleep, so she does, but then she dreams. This is part of her dream! I’ve written before that I like Mannion’s art in color, but it’s stunning in black and white, where he tends to use more shading to get the job done. Here, I’m pretty sure it’s all uninked, which is pretty neat. As I noted, I got this over a year before it shipped, and when I looked at some scans on-line, it appears that Mannion didn’t change too much. I couldn’t find this page, though, so I don’t know if he inked the backgrounds more heavily or left them as is. It’s amazing, though, as it adds very nice roughness to the page. Mannion turns Dream-Dawn into a more cartoonish version of her “real” self, with the bigger head, larger eyes, and tinier torso. Dawn is still wonderfully expressive, as Mannion’s characters tend to be. She looks around quizzically as things get weird, and it’s a very nice look. Mannion, as usual, doesn’t care too much about “realism” – the strap on her goggles is hanging outside her helmet, for instance – but that’s fine. His wonderfully curvy lines make Dawn’s tumble in the second panel goofier, which is why Mannion’s books are always fun. Mannion, like a lot of good artists, knows how to use blacks to make Dawn’s clothing look more like leather, as we see here. I always think that looks neat – it seems easy, but I bet it’s harder than it looks.
Dawn’s dream continues, as she’s confronted by a monster that’s carrying Helga in its mouth? Sure, why not. Mannion, as usual, is terrific with monsters, as he draws the Nazi creature with unusual and disturbing anatomy, its giant bulk supported on somewhat spindly legs, while its hands are far too large for its arms. The details are tremendous – once again, we get the black gloves with intermittent white turning them leathery, the beautiful brush work on the collar, the stringy hair, and the wonderfully demented tongue. Mannion gives it large, pointed ears, places the blank eyes wide apart and connects them with a jagged line, flattens its nose, and puts gaps between its teeth. It’s just really nicely done. Of course, a lot of Mannion’s work is sexually charged – you can’t help it when you’re drawing scantily-clad characters – but this one, with the pointed tongue looming over a spread-eagled Dawn, is more overt than usual. Mannion tends to stay away from that sort of obviousness in Fearless Dawn, because he really is trying to make it fun and somewhat innocent, but it sneaks in here. Panel 2 is really well done – Mannion closes in on the thing’s mouth, and he uses a lot of short lines to rough up the face, and he gives it tiny pinpricks in the middle of the vacant eyes. From its mouth steps Helga von Krause, and yes, that’s how Mannion draws her. We get the plunging neckline – I mean, seriously plunging – and the jodhpurs, because everyone loves jodhpurs. Helga’s face is slightly different from Dawn’s, as she tends to have thinner and more angled eyes, giving her a more feline and evil look. Her thin, black hair tends to fall over her eye quite a bit, which also makes her more evil because we can’t see all of her face, lessening our capacity to trust her. The shading is beautiful, isn’t it?
This is just one small panel in the book, but I wanted to show it because it’s so delightful. As usual when he pulls away from his characters, Mannion uses simpler lines on them, as he draws large circles for eyes and dots for irises. He draws a mouth on Dawn and uses simple vertical lines to create a kind of determined face on our heroine. The VW bug is quite nice, too, as Mannion uses thick blacks on the treads without holding lines and nice shading on the outside of the tires. The fact that the car has larger back tires than front ones is a nice detail, while the fact that it has no tires on the ground is a nifty touch by Mannion. This kind of manic intensity, even in small panels, is one of the reasons I love his artwork.
Helga loses even more clothing as she and her Nazi hordes prepare to invade Earth. I should point out that Helga is inside a moon base right now, but she actually goes outside in that outfit with only an air helmet on, because COMICS!!!! There’s a long tradition of “sexy good girls” and “sexy bad girls” in popular fiction, where the good girls might dress with very little clothing but never actually get naked or, you know, have sex, while the bad girls do get naked and sleep around. Mannion doesn’t do that in the book – no one is ever naked, and no one has sex – but he can’t escape the cliché completely, simply because he wants to make sure we know that Helga is evil, so she looks evil, and part of that is that her state of undress looks a bit sluttier than Dawn’s or Betty’s. It’s very odd, because Mannion isn’t falling into the trap – as I mentioned, the book isn’t concerned with sex, so no one ever gets busy with anyone – but he still can’t avoid it completely because of what readers bring to the comic. That’s not really Mannion’s problem, but I find it interesting.
Anyway, the two bottom panels are marvelous, and once again it appears that they’re uninked. Mannion uses pencils in the background but leaves a lot of white spaces to indicate the stars and other space marvels, while his spaceships have solid outlines but he uses softer pencils to create the markings and shade them as they fly through the void. In Panel 6, he closes in on Helga, and it’s another tremendous drawing. He again uses short pencil strokes in the background to create a weird, starry universe. He uses thick, black strokes to make Helga’s hair lustrous and shiny, while he gives her those long lashes that somehow make her even more evil. Her eyebrows hover far above her eyes, bending downward in the universal symbol of evil vixen, and Mannion gives her slightly thinner lips than Dawn, which also contributes to her evil look. I love that Mannion puts a door lock on the left side – they’re flying through space, and that’s how Helga is keeping out the vacuum. Of course!
Dawn tries to get to the experimental spacecraft that her agency is developing, but the guards take her down! Mannion again draws a very nice Dawn – she’s a bit out of proportion, as her boobs seem a bit big, but given what we usually see and given Mannion’s exaggerated style, it’s not bad at all. He gives her good solid legs, too, which is very neat. Her face is wonderful, as Mannion closes one of her eyes as she’s surprised at the attack. Dogface, her dog, is done well, too, with bug eyes and furrowed brow as he’s upset by the attack on his mistress. Meanwhile, in the background, the other guard looks a bit too happy at the prospect of tackling a scantily-clad young woman. As we’ve seen throughout this post, the shading work is amazing.
Helga and the Nazis return to Earth and meet a scientist who has genetically engineered dinosaurs. It’s a Steve Mannion comic – there are probably going to be Nazis, pirates, or dinosaurs (or a combination of those three elements). I don’t have much to say about this page, as you can see how amazing it is. Mannion adds so many cool details, and even his rough pencil work on the four characters at the bottom is wonderful. “Holy Scheiss” indeed, Helga!
The latest Fearless Dawn comic, which came out earlier this year, shows Mannion doing something a bit different with the art, but instead of that, I’m going to show another example of his artwork from this year, just because I figured you might want to see something other than Fearless Dawn (given that the comics feature scantily-clad women, I’m not sure why you would want that, but maybe you do!). So come back for our final day of Mannion artwork! And if you’ve missed any days of Mannion art (or any other art), you can find them in the archives!
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