What my version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes looks like, Avengers Ad Infinitum, in which I pit Arno Stark, the Maestro & Beta Ray Bill against the Defenders and an army of fight slave Infinity War doppelgängers.
I’ve been drawing fight scenes more than usual recently – what action comic is complete without a few of them? – which got me thinking about some of my favorite comic book brawls. There are hundreds of superhero fights that I can recall quicker than people’s birthdays or important passwords and forgive me if I’m wrong, but I bet your memory’s probably identical to mine. From the banal and obligatory to the inspired and well crafted, we’ve all seen a wide range of slugfests.
Is it the choreography in service of mayhem? Is it an appreciation for impossible anatomy? Is it that smattering of blood on the corner of a mouth? Is it not worth examining at all? Too late!
Captain America #345 by Mark Gruendwald, Kieron Dwyer and Al Milgrom. I have a soft spot for the Gruenwald-era Captain America. The Ron Lim drawn issues are great, especially Streets of Poison where Cap absorbs a warehouse worth of cocaine & gives Daredevil a beatdown, but the Dwyer issues are in a class by themselves (he had been drawing comics for about a year by the time this issue came out).
This Code-approved scene is half shoot out, half hands-on massacre. It was a 75 cent instant classic.
Legion of Super-Heroes #4 by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum and Al Gordon. This is about as abstract as a cosmic battle is ever going to be in a DC comic, but what makes it awesome is that it’s a fight between Mon-El (red, caped) and the Time Trapper (see: all that sand), meaning he’s fighting basically the concept of time itself (as well as the Superman editorial offices of ’90).
I used to dislike the impenetrability of these Legion comics. These days, I love it, especially if they were drawn by Giffen.
Justice League Europe #11 by William Messner -Loebs and Bart Sears (plotted by Giffen same month as the Legion issue up there… wow!). This fight’s pretty brief, which should appease all those whiners who begin their sentences with “In real life, a fight wouldn’t last as long as–“.
In real life!
Anyway, you wanna talk about brief? How about “One punch!” (If you got that reference, congratulations/shame on you).
Orion #5 by Walter Simonson. This is an All-Fight issue between father and son, Orion and Darkseid. It’s an incredibly paced fight, this one. I’ll say it here: Orion contains many instances of innovative action-storytelling. It’s some of Simonson’s best work, and his love for the material only strengthens it. Toward the end of the run it gets a little wonky (when he has to draw regular people eating hot dogs or walking), but the majority of this run is page for page forward-looking superhero comics.
No banter, plenty of speed lines. Is speed line porn a thing?
Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Stan Lee and God Himself. Not only is this one of the best fights ever, it’s the quintessential Spider-Man story. It has all the staples: teen angst, young romance, awesome villain, humiliation during battle, worried aunt, hateful boss, public ridicule, wisecracks, isolation. You really don’t need to go further than this one issue; it goes off the rails after this.
Okay. Steve Ditko. There, I said it.
The Uncanny X-men #173 by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek. Ah, the Smith run on the X-men, a highlight for many X-fans. His trajectory is interesting because, not unlike Dwyer, it was during Smith’s first year when he landed the gig that defined his career. He rocketed into fandom heights almost immediately, rode the X-wave for a year, then came close to burning out. This issue may be the apex of that initial run, but definitely the one that personally influenced me.
I recently paid homage to this widescreen battle in a recent issue of Copra (the one where they also go to Tokyo), and although Smith was carrying over the style set forth by Frank Miller (in the Wolverine mini-series tied to this issue), it was this story that made an impression on me.
Isn’t it weird when an artist actaully knows some martial arts and then draws a step-by-step of what he knows but passes it off as a narrative? The O’Neil/Cowan Question had a lot of that. So did Mike Baron comics. I get trying to be faithful to the art form of self defense, but sometimes I just want a clumsy pair of fists to operatically connect with someone’s cheekbone.
“Honorable Mention” and “Runner Up” sounds wrong, so I’ll sidestep my personal Top Fight list to admit that, undeniably, the master of the superhero fight scene is Jack Kirby (oh, yes he is). Frank Miller is up there, especially when he’s the one drawing it (don’t deny it, you). Erik Larsen has cornered the market on big hands that punch things (tell me I’m wrong). Frank Quietly’s Authority had epically drawn moments of violence (okay, don’t tell me). Recently, James Harren has produced some of the best tighten-up-release carnage I’ve seen since Berserk (stop it).
And hey, you know I’m talking exclusively about American mainstream comics, right? I know all about some of the very best outside of that: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit. The comics of Wong Yuk-long. These are all works of beauty, just like the list I laid out. Every knuckle, every grimace, every drop of blood, all modest examples as to why comic book fighting is so present, so central to the landscape. It represents what comics are so impossibly good at being, all in one shot: awkward and graceful and ridiculous.
I recently got the chance to collaborate with one of my childhood comics heroes, Mike Allred, creator of Madman. I did a pencil drawing, Mike inked it and his wife Laura colored it! As if that wasn’t cool enough, the piece was slated to go into the Madman 20th Anniversary Monster (in stores mid-December).
The pin up was to depict a large cast of creator owned characters, all in celebration of the medium’s independent spirit. The idea originally sprung from Allred and Dean Haspiel (who vouched for me and my
masochistic streak love of drawing crowd scenes). The piece would have an accompanying essay written by Adam McGovern, so all four of us began thinking up a master list of potential characters to feature. It started at 20 or so, then easily over 40. I held off on drawing anything until a definitive list was hammered out.
First, though, a rough sketch to give me an idea…
I had started with the basic information: a big ass party. It wasn’t to be a group action shot, but a bunch of folks hanging out instead. I made sure to draw the room in proportion to the space needed for the growing list of characters (70 at that point). I wanted to channel Yves Chaland in a way, but my main source of inspiration was Joost Swarte…
…and Fred Hembeck.
The ultimate list of characters still had to be finalized. Between the four of us, a lot of characters were added, cut, suggested, added again, and dug up until that master list was actually completed. It ended up being a head count of over a hundred. All I had to do was make them coexist on a single page.
I wanted to convey every character’s personality at least in the smallest way. I had to reduce each one to a single, tiny movement. A bunch of little stories going on at once. I penciled as cleanly as possible and sent it off to Mike and Laura to complete it.
I still couldn’t believe Mike Allred was gonna ink this.
Working with Mike is a big deal to me.
I was really into Madman Comics back in the day, so I was naturally interested in the debut of its sister title, the Atomics. This was back in 2000. I liked the characters, the stories, and especially Mike’s positive attitude in making comics fun. He started his own company (AAA Pop Comics) and delivered a fun comic month in, month out. It was inspirational.
So much so that I was inspired to actually draw the Atomics. I had only drawn other people’s characters for company submissions, but this was different. I just wanted to draw something for the hell of it. So I did. I photocopied the drawing and mailed it to AAA Pop.
I didn’t give it much thought. I figured Mike might dig it and that was that. A few months later at the local comic book store, I was flipping through the latest issue of the Atomics and discovered that my fan art had been printed in the letters page!
Just like that, I was in print! For the first time! I received a very cool postcard from Mike himself months later. He was very supportive.
Skip to a year or so later. Remember when Mike teamed up with Peter Milligan to re-imagine Marvel’s X-Force franchise (later as X-Statix)? I was a total fanboy for this when it first hit, to the point where I even entered a contest – contest! – that involved drawing your own character. Readers were asked to create a mutant superhero for possible X-Force membership. What, you think I cared about creator ownership and licensing? Nah… I wasn’t submitting my life’s work, but just a goofy concept for the sake of involvement with a title I liked a whole bunch. All I wanted was Mike Allred to draw the mutant I created.
I called him Bastador, a teen Mexican wrestler who had a powerful living baby inside of him, constantly struggling to escape his masked mortal coil. Or something like that.
No, it didn’t win, thank you very much. I don’t even remember who did.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand.
Imagine my surprise when this came in.
I was floored when I saw it. Leave it to Mike to take my cluttered mess and make it sing. He even added a few heads here and there. Given the sheer amount of creator owned characters, this single snapshot feels like we barely touched the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other great characters that weren’t squeezed in that I’m compelled to draw the other half of the room. Hmmm…
Thanks to Laura, Dean and Adam for being a part of this. Big thanks to Michael Dalton Allred for making it all happen and for being there with words of encouragement from the get go.
That’s my contribution to this awesome project. Be sure to get the Madman 20th Anniversary Monster this December 14th (some sources say the 21st). Don’t take my word for it; look at that roster. It’s got all of my favorite cartoonists and yours. Support your local comic shop while you’re at it, and have a happy holiday!
George O’Connor and I have used BETA RAY BILL as an excuse to collaborate once again! This time I pencilled, he inked, then I hand colored this here horse faced warrior (take a quick peek at our previous attempt, which reversed our tasks). We slapped a logo on top of it in order to fit the “What If” Blog format (formerly known as the DC Fifty TOO blog which features a lot of my favorite cartoonists, I’m not joking.)
Check out the step by step…
I recently did this drawing for my favorite comic shop around: my very own Daredevil cover on one of the blank “sketch” covers. I noticed that the back portion was available, so I designed it vertically, knowing that what I wanted to draw wouldn’t necessarily work if the comic was one/half displayed.
You may ask, “Well, how come you didn’t have him striking a pose mid-jump through a couple of water towers or fighting a cluster of ninjas?”, and you may very well have a point. Although I’ve seen those classic scenarios done to death, I still like them just as much as you do. However, no version of Daredevil is as close to my heart as Ann Nocenti’s version.
Sometimes in the middle of a project I come up with a bunch of theories, questions, concerns, and self imposed rules about how to visually treat comics. The solutions are almost always right in front of me, as if I had this backlog of information that I’m subconsciously ignoring. All it takes to unlock this stuff is to actually read some comics. So I want to break down a few of the things I’ve been wrestling with by going through some of the comics I’ve had around, artist by artist, and briefly talk about what excites me about their work and how it relates to my own thought process.
Before I close out and lock up the 2010 Art File for good, I thought I’d post a few random odds and ends that never really found a specific home anywhere. Hopefully, they’ll now have a place to rest within your hearts.
“SEQUOYAH” is a work-in-progress. It’s written by Nick Bertozzi. We have tons of ideas for these characters. I can’t wait to draw more raccoons.
It’s Kyle Baker’s birthday today and in true celebratory fashion, I wrote about Kyle’s comic art over at the Beat! No, seriously! I go on about digital art versus real ink and all sorts of other good stuff in honor of one of my favorite cartoonists. But over here, I’ve posted a bunch of cool odd and ends from Kyle Baker’s past.
Recently, we all celebrated George O’Connor’s birthday by fooling him into thinking the topic of the day was “unicorns”, while actually drawing something more directly related to him. I opted for his favorite Olympian god Hermes!
Earlier in the week, Drawbridge came up with J.M. DeMatteis Day, in which we all depicted some of our favorite DeMatteis characters. I drew J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter in his natural state, inspired by the mini series of the same name that J.M. did with Mark Badger for DC Comics. Whatever results from their fantastic collaborations, it comes highly recommended (see Gargoyle and Greenberg the Vampire). I also threw in some Oreos (J’onzz’ favorite) as a tip o’ the hat to DeMatteis’ run on Justice League, and some Dostoevsky (one of J.M.’s favorite). Huzzah!
Also, we all drew characters from the comic, LOVIATHAN, in celebration of its creator Mike Cavallaro’s birthday. I drew Queen Aine, who has a head piece that rivals Jack Kirby’s Maximus the Mad.
On an unrelated note, a couple of weeks ago, The Comics Reporter had their weekly “Five for Friday” ask their readers to “Name Five Members Of A Rogues Gallery NOT Batman’s, Dick Tracy’s Or Spider-Man’s And Don’t Identify The Hero.” I submitted my Top 5 villains as:
5) Typhoid Mary
In closing, I’d like to show you my drawing of those villains, a sort of warm up sketch I did before that list was asked for. It was meant to be!
But enough warming up. It’s time to go to work.