EXCL. PREVIEW: Superman Escapes a Black Universe in "Dark Knight III" #5
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jason Copland, and the comic is POP #1, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated August 2014. It’s so new, I guess I have to throw a SPOILER alert into the mix! Enjoy!
Copland continues to get higher profile work, and POP, which came out last week, might be his highest profile book yet. We shall see where it takes him!
This is the first page of the comic, and it establishes both a bit of the premise and Copland’s versatility. We’ve seen him do a good 16-panel grid before, but here he really flexes his artistic muscles, giving us some nice stories crammed into the page. The first row, of course, is a reference to Simon Cowell and American Idol, and Copland does well with “Cowell’s” sneer in Panel 2 and the stoicism with which the girl listens even as her mascara smears down her face. We pass through cocaine snorting, a casting couch (or casting hammock), a woman walking through a door, and a woman standing over a toilet. Obviously, only the second panel has any dialogue, but they all offer small snippets of life as a famous person, or at least someone who wants to be famous. The third row, with its split-screen images of two women, is quite neat. Copland gives us two different kinds of people who are seeking fame, in their own way, and it’s fascinating to see how different he makes the two women. The more glamorous one has a thinner eye and eyebrow, while the lines creating her lips are thicker and colorist Pete Toms makes them red, while the less glamorous one has a wider eye, a thicker eyebrow, a slightly heavier eyelid, the tiniest addition of lines on her face, and of course her lips are unadorned. Copland makes the glamorous woman curvier and bustier, which is another interesting touch. The idea of fame coming in different ways is a cool idea for writer Curt Pires to introduce, and Copland does well with it.
Elle Ray, an escaped pop star (in this comic, pop stars are grown in a lab), crashes into Coop, a suicidal hipster, and Copland draws their meeting very nicely. His line is a bit smoother in this comic (although not always, as we’ll see below), but he still adds a nice, lived-in grunginess to everything he draws – we can this most in the background, where Copland adds thick blacks to make Coop’s store look fairly seedy (it’s a record/comic store). He uses nice strokes on Coop’s hair and beard to make it look a bit shaggy, and he uses thinner lines on Elle’s hair to make is softer and wavier. Elle is in her underwear, of course (she just escaped from a vat, so I guess she should be lucky she’s not naked), and Copland does a nice job putting some blacks on the top, which makes it less “sexy” and more utilitarian. Copland remains good at facial expressions, as Elle looks sufficiently freaked out, with her eyes darting behind her and her mouth gaping a bit as she tries to catch her breath, while Coop’s face is nice and surprised. I’m not sure what happened to the joint he was smoking. Maybe he swallowed it!
Elle dreams, and Copland shows it well, beginning with these panels. I like the perspective of these three panels. In Panel 1, we get Elle’s hand on the left as the first thing we see, and Copland tilts the golden field to lead us down to the green lawn behind it, which leads us to the dog running away and the forest in the background. It’s not fancy, but it’s well done, and Toms colors it wonderfully, with the bright colors helping make the brown dog stand out a bit. In Panel 2, Copland uses motion lines and scratchier lines to give us the sensation of fast movement toward the dog and the forest, and in Panel 3, we switch around to look back, with the dog in the foreground and Elle running after it. The perspective switch is nicely done, and Toms, notice begins to use darker colors on the right side of the panel, as the dream is about to get a bit darker. It’s an interesting shift.
Elle wakes up from her disturbing dream and sees Coop staring at her, so she reacts by throwing a lamp at him. Hey, I’d probably do that too! Copland doesn’t give us a close-up of Elle in Panel 1, but he still gives her a good expression – her eyebrows angle toward the center of her face, and her mouth opens aggressively. This is contrasted with her expression in Panel 4, when she apologizes for throwing a lamp at Coop. Copland raises her eyebrows and angles them upward, opens her eyes wider, and closes her mouth a bit, giving her a nice sheepish expression. Elle has that hair that looks good even though it’s messy, and Copland does a nice job showing that, using thin lines on it, but making it somewhat haphazard in the process. He does a nice job with the entire sequence – Elle picks up the lamp from the right side of the panel, and links it to the lamp in Panel 2 that’s smashing into the picture behind Coop. The panel moves from right to left, which is “wrong,” but Copland, you’ll notice uses the electric cord and even Coop’s left hand to keep us moving from left to right. In Panel 3, Coop stands on the left side, looking toward Elle on the right, which leads us over to Panel 4. It’s one of those layouts that looks simple but gets the job done quite well.
The bad dudes put a tracking device inside Elle, and they activate it, leading to this scene. Copland is back to the 16-panel grid, which, as well as giving him room to jump around to different places or people with a similar theme (as we saw on the first page of the comic), also means he can ratchet up the tension, as he does here. It makes him focus on the faces of the characters in close-up, as their fear grows in the first two rows. Coop’s wide open eyes and gaping mouth indicate helplessness, while Elle’s desperation in Panel 3 is communicated very well. Her silent pleading in Panel 7 is also nicely done, and because Copland is using the grid, it’s right below the previous drawing of her, and we can see how her state of mind has changed, as she knows what Coop has to do and she’s ready for it. When Coop pops the tracking device out of her arm (why do they always look like insects?), Copland does it all in one row, which gets the horror of Coop sticking a knife into her flesh, the shock on their faces when it flies loose, and the creepiness of it as it lies on the floor (even though we saw it on the previous page so we already know what it looks like). Copland breaks the grid in the bottom row to give us a wider view of Coop’s foot coming down on the device, which puts a dramatic end to the scene and the page. I love that Copland makes Coop’s shoelaces untied, as the way they flop gives the scene more action because it makes it easier to visualize the shoe coming down hard on the machine. Toms’s coloring is once again nice, as he uses a lot of hot colors to help create tension. It’s a good choice.
The bad guys send “specialists” after Elle, but first they have to finish teaching “Dustin Beaver” a lesson. The dude specialist is evoking Joey Ramone, while the woman is a more “Joan Jett/heroin chic” (Copland’s words) kind of lady. I assume that they’re supposed to be retired pop stars who now do other things for the organization, which is a pretty cool idea and also opens up the idea that the bad guys aren’t just manufacturing pop stars, but all sorts of rock ‘n’ rollers. Anyway, Copland shows that he can still do messy, as their kneecapping of Dustin is done with sketchier lines than we saw earlier, reflecting the horrific violence and speed of the scene. After that, Copland does a nice job showing that the two are in love, which is kind of sweet (even though they’re brutal enforcers for evil dudes). Panel 4 is a nice one, as the Ramone gets the assignment and looks over at the woman with a small, coy smile on his face, while she looks at him a bit adoringly. They might be bad guys, but they’re happy with each other!
I reviewed the issue here (I was a bit lukewarm about it, although it has nice potential), if you’re interested. It’s certainly nice to look at! Obviously, I like Copland, both as an artist and a person, so I hope it does well for him and the creative team.
(I happened to see on Copland’s Facebook page that he and Pires discussed this issue in a podcast here. It’s pretty fascinating, and if you bought the issue, I encourage you to give it a listen. Even if you didn’t buy the issue, it’s still interesting.)
So that’s Jason Copland’s work. Tomorrow, it’s a new artist! I’m pretty sure I’m going to take a look at one of the weirdest artists of the 1980s, someone who fell out of comics for a while and has recently returned, and he’s as weird as ever! But if I change my mind, that’s just the way it goes! You can cover every decade if you take a look at the archives!
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