Superboy #1-7 by Jeff Lemire, Pier Nicola Gallo, & Marco Rudy

 

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Pier Nicola Gallo and Marco Rudy with Daniel Hor

Colorists: Jamie Grant, Dominic Regan, Marco Rudy

 

First off, sorry that I’ve been missing for so long. I’ve been hooked into graduate schoolwork, finals, and now allergies over the past month and last few weeks.

Secondly, since this was a large task of reviewing seven issues, and without trying to write an elaborate essay, I’m going to split the review into two sections: one for the first five issues and the next for issues six and seven because the artwork changes drastically.

A note about the covers: most of them are passable, a few are great, and one really bothers me. Issue #1 (above)- love the pop-art silhouette, Issue #2 is very James Jean, nicely done, Issue #3 is fine, realism is nice to see when done right though I prefer the variant with the black and red cover, Issue #4 is true to comic form though I think Superboy might have a lazy eye, Issue #5 is kind of hokey and passable but that’s fitting for the issue…, Issue #6 is passable, and Issue #7 reminds me of the style now popular with super hero Saturday morning cartoons.



 

 

Issues 1-5

Right off the bat I’m really enjoying the artwork. I’m nostalgically reminded of Frank Quitely and his run with the New X-Men or even All Star Superman. Gallo shows similar treatment of  line work and line density in well thought out compositions, allowing the lines in each frame to communicate the sense of space and depth creating breadth: the attention towards essential details to allow the composed space a sense of allowed entrance (for the reader) and vastness (for the sense of space). Being able to communicate without words is quite possibly one of the most essential tactics an artist could use to tell a story, and I feel it’s done successfully here.

 

(below: New X-Men by Frank Quitely)

However, the similarities seem to end with the first issue as the next four seem to go off-kilter and adopt the typical storytelling techniques one would expect from a comic. Although I started out as a fan of the delicate treatment of color and line in the first book by the second the colorist (or whomever decides these things) seemed to feel that they needed to up the saturation in order to either give the images more presence or greater weight or more importance or something silly without seeing that if they had just done this selectively–perhaps where the characters were indoors or semi-enclosed– it could have been a useful tool for communicating such gradients of enclosure. And then they piecemeal back into the new take instances of the soft diffuse landscape lighting (found in the first book) as if it would make one feel better, but it doesn’t, it just makes me feel like I’m being punched in the face every few frames just when I’ve realized I could get a breathe in. But perhaps this isn’t just due to the over saturation (more on this later).

Some ways of showing depth is to ink with degrees of scratching or to apply layers of washes to create abstract spaces, which gradually pull forward and backward important visuals you want to make prominent while giving those spaces an implied texture or feeling, which is usually done through the use of gradients of color and often these two are used in tandem since that is how we tend to see, understand, and represent things. If you just want to use gradients that’s fine, but don’t treat it like you’re just turning dials on a screen and then sitting back and saying, ‘I think that looks about right…’ and then applying the smudge tool in Adobe Illustrator. It just comes off as strange, especially in combination with such saturated color, when applied to people’s skin tone, and when they don’t allow the application of the colors to do what watercolor or inks would normally do–even when used in a more restrictive ways. It’s as if they were trying to prevent any sense of emotions from being projected into the reader. Colors, line, density, etc can be used to elucidate emotion but there is too much dependency on too much color here. This makes me think that whatever happened in the final process of the comic’s development they wanted to use computerized colors and tools to give a smoother, softer, perhaps contemporary and maybe even subtler visual appeal that frankly makes me annoyed, shows their disregard for the reader, their own understanding of coloring and perhaps the real world.  The amount of ‘red skin’ they posit that people have, even in rural areas, is kind of unbelievable; it’s as if every person in every scenario was under some kind of tanning light at some point. Even in calm moments where Superboy and Kid Flash are chatting they are aglow with crimson as if they had rosacea.

 

 

(Upper Left to Bottom Right, Superboy 1 compared to Superboy 3)

Another problem connected to human representation is how the artist renders the human face specifically on Superboy, but also the others and mainly the guys. After the first few pages in the first issue I couldn’t help but think that Superboy was a drag king: his facial features squished in the center of his face with the softness of youth combined with the at times non-existence demarcating line of his nose when the colors aren’t doing their job or when he’s not wearing glasses. It gives Superboy this polished look akin to what I would expect to find in RuPaul’s Drag Race and Desire from the Sandman comics.

After all of this I have to say that I like aspects of this book just not the execution of how they were brought together. There are plenty of other things about these first five issues I could have pointed out (lighting at night time, the “staged” feeling of the scenes later on, Krypto?…, the mid-90’s aesthetic appeal, the puzzle piece motif) but it made more sense to sum up these issues with the more prominent problems and not be repetitive since I think I’ve covered some of the basics in the first few reviews. I really want to like this throughout, only if they kept tighter to the set up they used in the first issue would it counter some of what I’ve said here.

Issues 6 and 7

And then we make it to the last two issues and you can see a vastly different approach to the way the line work, lighting, composition, etc were treated. I’m not sure if the first five issues had a different overall objective in terms of aesthetic, delivery, and emotion to be rural, teenage-geared, and fluffy only to save the apex of action and drama for these two issues but it makes me wish they had gone with this later form of representation than the former.

 

Much of issue six and seven could be seen as a graphically infused noir where subjective interpretation and clearcut depictions are being pitted against one another: dreamscapes, extended battle scenes made engaging through overlaid artistic styles all working together and reminiscent of something like Chris Bachalo-meets-Kabuki-meets-Kingdom Come. It’s simply stunning and although there are moments where one could pick out technicalities like oddly rendered faces, it doesn’t matter. This is the difference between mainstream comic art and indie comic art, computerized and traditional materials, direct delivery and artistic talent. To clarify a bit, mainstream comic art to me is the quickly produced, formulaic, pump-it-out type of work that I would partially attach to the first five issues of this book, and I guess if you were to take them as a whole piece apart (line, composition, color) it would be the color palette that does it for me.

In my experience it’s the style of artwork used perhaps when more noticeable artists aren’t around, general funds are low (or other internal problems), the artist used in the beginning is pulled off the job or taken off or simply leaves and another is plugged in for the remainder that is satisfactory to the standard the boss or board likes. Compared to this, indie comic art is easier to point out because the treatment of the whole page, the frames, the textures, emotions, scenery, the sense of being lost or elsewhere are really carried out with a riskiness not seen prior to issue six and not seen perhaps often enough– the visualizing of the story is really played out in the mind’s eye before and during the generation of the book and is usually subject to reworking when some factor changes. Once you go a more realistic route you are locking yourself into the actualities of life: how light hits and how colors change, proportions–basically literalism, if something is off and done throughout, it’s apparent. I’m not trying to say there aren’t any bad types of this type of comic art, just that this is a good example.

The play of frame sizes and shapes that take on negative spaces and silhouettes is invigorating, even the four pages of boxes before Superboy tears away into the rest of the story is really refreshing. The sense of motion, thrill, and suspense starts to tumble into a roller coaster ride all the way to the end of the book; but then this is a battle scene, they should play out this fluidly, usually they don’t –choreography in comics can get muddled fairly easily–and with the end of book six I am wanting more. With issue seven there is much more give; you don’t care whether you know exactly how the light is hitting and the reading of the page is not made more complicated through the layering of representational styles and then superficial heightening of moments through the use of computer techniques (for example see my review on Hulk: Going Savage 623). The reader instinctively understands that the characters have now entered a phase  that is more cerebral, experiential, and atmospheric; the graphics, colorations, washes, and details although layered aren’t abrasive–they mesh really well.

 

 

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