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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Mannion, and the story is “Monsters” in Painkiller Jane: The 22 Brides #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 2014. Enjoy! (Oh, and I hate that I have to do this, but there’s some Not Safe For Work stuff below. And no, it’s not horrific violence, because that’s a-okay!)
Despite the cover of this comic scaring the crap out of me (look at it!!!!), I still bought it, not for the main story (which is okay, I guess), but for the Mannion-illustrated back-up story. Yep, this is the kind of thing I do. This time around, Mannion isn’t writing the story – Jimmy Palmiotti takes care of that – and Paul Mounts is coloring his work. Will that screw up the Mannion goodness? Judge ye it yourself!
The first thing you might notice about this is the slightly higher production values. Independent and self-published comics have come a long way in the past 30 years or so, but Marvel and DC can still throw their weight around to make their comics look like they cost more, and we get that on this story. Personally, I think Mannion’s art looks fine “rougher,” as we saw yesterday, but Marvel wanted this colored, and so colored it is! Mounts smooths it out a little bit – I mean, it’s still a page with Jane covered in blood, so it’s not too smooth – as we can see most clearly in the backgrounds, where the seedy room doesn’t look quite as seedy because Mounts uses shading on it to add a bit of nuance. In this case, it’s fine, but it still doesn’t look as rough as some of Mannion’s black and white work. Mannion is still wonderfully detailed, as he shows every strip of tape that Jane uses to affix those weapons to the staff, making the weapon look even uglier. Jane is a fairly typical Mannion female, which is perfectly fine with me. He and Mounts do a nice job with her hair, with the thick blacks going well with the red. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the devilish shadow on the wall in Panel 3 is deliberate. Jane’s hair is flying around, so it makes sense, but it still looks demonic. Jane is about to lay down some unholy retribution, and her hair is red, so maybe Mannion is implying something?
Mannion draws violent comics every so often – usually Fearless Dawn is bit less so, but some of his other stuff gets pretty violent – but it’s rare to see him go so bloody, even though Mounts’s contribution to the page, with the red paint splattered everywhere, helps create that effect. Mannion does his part, of course, as the drawings in this are a bit more violent than what we get from his creator-owned stuff – he rarely draws blood, but even the fist hitting Jane in Panel 5, the guy knifing her in Panel 6, her biting an ear in Panel 7, and her choking the other girl in Panel 9 are more extreme than Fearless Dawn usually is. In the grid of panels that makes up the bottom part of the page, Mannion is less curvy with his lines than he usually is and a bit more angular, which adds some more violence to the scene. He also uses some thicker lines, as we see in Panel 3, the close-up on Jane’s mouth. The thickest lines are blood, but even the way he lines Jane’s teeth and lips makes her a bit harder. In Panel 1, Mannion reins in the exaggerated cartoonishness of his characters – this comic takes place in a more “realistic” world than Fearless Dawn does – but we can still see his tics. The men are rougher, inked more heavily, and have squarer faces, while the woman’s eyes are farther apart, her nose is smaller, and her lips are fuller. They’re still “realistic,” but Mannion does a nice job making them “Mannion figures” without going too far into exaggeration.
Of course, it’s a Mannion-drawn comic, so we get some cheesecake. As we’ve seen throughout the past few days, though, Mannion does a good job making it less gratuitous than we might think. Yes, the thugs don’t really have to tie Donna up in her underwear, but Mannion at least draws sensible underwear! He also remembers to mess up her hair, as she’s been treated roughly by the thugs (Palmiotti wisely doesn’t go anywhere near the idea that she might have been raped), which is a nice detail from Mannion. He also draws her relatively proportionally, which is nice to see, and I love the fact that he shows her getting dressed, even though it might be an excuse for an ass shot. It’s just one of those mundane things that we don’t see often enough in superhero comics, so I appreciate that Mannion threw it in there. Yes, I’m weird.
Mannion isn’t exactly famous for his facial expressions (I think it’s quite sad that Mannion isn’t exactly famous period, but that’s a rant for another time!), but he’s no slouch, either, as we see here when Jane gets in an argument with Maureen, a police detective who happens to be Jane’s best friend. Jane is angry that Maureen isn’t trying to stop the bad guy more aggressively, and Maureen doesn’t like that Jane tends to kill everyone that might be a suspect. In Panel 1, Jane’s mouth is open and her teeth are bared, and the fact that she lowers her sunglasses is also a clue that she’s disapproving, as she wants to look Maureen in the eyes. In Panel 2, Maureen remains calm, although Mannion raises her right eyebrow just slightly as she points out that Jane won’t listen to her. Mannion, as we can see, doesn’t draw women’s faces too differently, relying on different hair to distinguish them, as Maureen looks very much like Donna (Jane’s nose, you might notice, is a bit wider than theirs, which is a subtle but nifty change). Mannion does a nice job with Jane’s stances in Panels 3 and 4 – Jane placing her hands on the table and leaning in is a good, aggressive way to challenge her, while the dismissive way she storms out is also well done. Mannion also does a good job in Panels 4 and 5 with Maureen. When Jane is talking in Panel 4 and not looking at her, she’s looking down at the money, and Mannion manages to make her look a bit sad. Then, when she recovers in Panel 5, he makes her eyes and eyebrows as neutral as possible and hides her mouth behind the cup, so her “whatever” sounds more convincing. This entire scene is nicely done.
Mannion, as I noted, rarely draws straight-up nekkid women, because his art has that weird “sexy/innocent” vibe that a lot of comics used to strive for, but Palmiotti doesn’t care about that, so he puts Jane in the bathtub and lets Mannion go nuts! There’s a lot of nice work on this page, actually. Mounts uses the orange/blue complement well, as the first two panels, with the blue-green palette, leading to the bottom four panels, where the oranges take over, which makes both colors pop well. In Panels 1 and 2, he does a good job showing Jane’s surprise when Maureen shows up, as even her hair seems to stick up a bit more (yes, I know the water moves hair around like that, but it still looks more “surprised” in the second panel). He uses nice, swirly lines to show Maureen through the water, which is always appreciated. Mannion remembers to draw water dripping onto the floor in Panel 4, as Jane disturbed the surface so much when she rose up, and once again we see the “Mannion face” for females on both Jane and Maureen. I do, however, want to write about her breasts. Mannion is not the kind of artist who’s going to draw someone wildly out of proportion – we’ve seen a few examples of his drawings being a bit unusual, but not to the degree that we get from some artists (you know who I’m talking about!). So Jane’s breasts aren’t gigantic – they fit her frame very well, and when Mannion draws her straight on in Panel 5, they don’t point forward, but to the side a little. Mannion understands how real breasts work (which shouldn’t be that difficult for artists, honestly), and so Jane looks much more like a real person than many superheroines we see.
As we’ve seen often, Mannion doesn’t make his women stick figures, as Jane’s legs are solid, showing that she can kick ass if she needs to. Mannion once again gets to make this a bit more violent than his usual work, as Donna blows Jane’s guts out with a shotgun. I wanted to show this because, despite once again drawing a nice, sexy young lady, Mannion takes the time to show Donna’s apologetic face. Her eyebrows are steepled toward the center of her face, while the small amount of hatching on her face allows Mannion to show her concern. Even her pose, with her arms pulled in a bit, creating more of a shell, helps make her look more vulnerable. Jane, of course, isn’t happy with being shot, and Mannion does a good job showing the pain on her face. Throughout this story, we’ve seen that Mannion is using more solid lines, and we see that here – Jane’s hand is actually inked a bit too much, making it look older – as the lines have constantly made this book more “realistic” than Mannion’s usual work. The shotgun blast and the blood spurting from the wound in Panel 3 are very real-looking, which is the point. Mannion does a nice job with the inking as well as the penciling.
Mannion isn’t a bigger name, unfortunately, but that’s just the way it is. He spends his time doing more Fearless Dawn comics, which is great, although it would be nice if every six months or year he would do something big for Marvel or DC that would put some money in his pocket and allow him to keep creating his own stuff. Such is life, though – perhaps Mannion doesn’t want to go that route and he’s perfectly happy doing his thing! Whatever it is, I’ll keep buying it. I hope you’ve seen some stuff you liked over the past few days!
I have a dilemma about the next artist. Someone I want to feature had a comic come out this week, so I’m probably going to examine his work very soon, but I also have a few other artists I’m thinking about, including that guy who’s been so controversial recently. We’ll see who I get to. I mean, you could always just check out the archives!