Comics / Spotlight

Event Series Debut Face-Off, Part 1: Art and Design

By Dan Horn
September 10, 2013 - 15:37

So, it's late summer, and the Big Two are rolling out their heavy-hitters, their blockbusters. DC just this week unleashed Forever Evil and Marvel's come out of the gate with two events of its own: Infinity and X-Men: Battle of the Atom. How do the three series stack up against one another? Which is most worth its cover price? What book is most accessible to new readers?

This week, I'm examining these three events in a series of three articles. This is the first part, in which we compare the books in terms of art and design. 

Let's face it: a comic book event series is only as good as its art. Like a director's vision for his film, a personal translation of the screenwriter's tale, the artist in any comic series (especially a summer event) has to render his/her writer's story in an evocative and imaginative manner. If the story's great but the art is abysmal, can we truly say that the combined vision of the creators succeeds within a medium that is predicated upon visual storytelling? 

Recently, a lot has been made of comics journalists focusing almost exclusively on scripting as a book's merit. It's true that that seems to be the case. Even here at the Bin, quite a few of our reviews and articles only inspect a comic book's art cursorily. It's certainly a strange practice: reviewing a book that's heavy on art and light on prose and juxtaposing the importance of art and prose in regards to the book's allure. (Not to diminish the writer's value either; a book needs to be well-written to be remotely interesting.)

Maybe it's the reviewer's own limited ability to engage art that keeps him from delving into and critiquing it. But in any case, art is a difficult thing to ignore when you're discussing event comics. In event comics, art is the main draw (no pun intended). You know the publishers will be paying top dollar to make every page a graphic spectacle. If nothing else, that's what an event series is for. 

So, how do Forever Evil #1, Infinity #1, and X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 fare in the art and design department?

The Covers:

With Forever Evil, penciller David Finch, inker Richard Friend, and colorist Sonia Oback are pulling double-duty as cover and interior artists. Finch's cover for Forever Evil #1 effectively gets the book's theme across: a horde of DC's most iconic villains in one of the largest bad-guy team-ups we've seen since Villains United

Unfortunately, the issue's cover doesn't do much else to grab your attention. It's dark without any compelling contrast. It's workmanlike, just a collection of characters against a black backdrop, and some of those characters are taking awkward stances or are showcasing some sloppy detail work. There's very little attention paid to composition here at all, but what symmetry exists, pulling your eye to the center of this muddled collective of super-villains, is enough to suggest that Finch isn't an amateur. Perhaps he's just exhausted. 

The title graphic is interesting enough, if a bit pedestrian. It stands out bold and red, but it is set against the lighter value of the faded background, which detracts considerably from some of that eye-catching vibrance. Honestly, I wouldn't have picked this up at first glance if I hadn't already known it was DC's "next big thing." The craggy 90's caption at the bottom corner of the cover does nothing to salvage its appeal.

I do have to admit to really appreciating Forever Evil's laminated cover stock. Am I the only one who gets sweaty hands while he's holding a stack of comics? (Maybe that's a personal problem.)

In comparison, Adam Kubert and Laura Martin's Infinity #1 cover does a lot right. It's simple. It's clean. It does a brilliant job of contrasting a white-hot palette with the deep, black background. The title graphic is sleek and uncomplicated. 

Infinity #1's cover also has two things in common with Finch's aforementioned cover piece: firstly, it gives you a general idea of what Infinity is about, or who its central character is. This is a tribute to the clarity of Kubert and Martin's vision. 

However, its second commonality with Finch's work isn't quite so flattering. Like Forever Evil #1, I'm not sure that Infinity #1 does much to inform the uniformed. Sure, the cover is lustrous and crackling with energy, but would I know what it was if I wasn't aware of the event beforehand? I suppose the gorgeous cover would prompt an examination of the book, and maybe that's good enough. 

On the other hand, the design of the cover for X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 let's you know exactly where you stand. The cover has a bright yellow half-border shared by its tie-ins and subsequent installments and clearly notes that this book is the first chapter of an arc. The title graphic is fun and immediately grabbing, and it fits perfectly into Arthur Adams' compositional flow. 

What Adams and Peter Steigerwald's cover illustration lacks in lucidity of premise it certainly makes up for in depth, contrast, and spectacle. Battle of the Atom #1 is a clinic in bold palette choices and compositional arrangement. And come on, it's Arthur Adams drawing X-Men event covers. The guy's a veritable virtuoso. This is what event books are all about. 

The Interiors:

In Forever Evil #1, Finch, Friend, and Oback open the story with a truly compelling and cinematic three-panel page. Unfortunately, "cinematic" is where Finch's illustrations persistently live, and his dark, gritty stylings never really do much for this debut issue, and Oback's dour palette doesn't do it any favors either. In effect, Forever Evil #1 is overcast, murky, and ultimately visually forgettable.

Finch and Friend really seem to struggle with consistency throughout this book as well. There are quite a few lopsided or squashed heads in Forever Evil #1 and some other anatomical quirks and digital overlay and shortcut snafus to boot. The penciller and inker seem to perpetually vacillate from extreme detail to slovenliness. The unnecessary centerfold spread in this issue says it all: a sea of haphazardly rendered villains, dull and awkward, wading into a chiaroscuro gloom.

While Finch and company struggled to find their footing in Forever Evil, Infinity #1's bullpen of artists was putting together something truly special. First, let me just say that I'm a sucker for Jonathan Hickman's signature designs. Like many if his other series, this is a book that you can get lost in with its charts and its clever title cards. Sure, most of these breaks are just nearly-blank pages, but they're integrated so immaculately in regards to story progression and thematics that it's difficult to picture Infinity #1 without these design features. 

But Infinity's real charm lies in its illustrations. Penciller Jim Cheung is joined by various inkers, including Mark Morales, and colorist Justin Ponsor on this debut issue. Cheung's drawings are superb here. His line work, with the help of his inking corps, is crisp and his characters are dynamic and engaging. His creature designs are incredible. If a Guillermo Del Toro wet dream collided head-on with a Clive Barker night terror, you'd get something similar to what Cheung has offered us here. His panel compositions are outstanding as well, and the storytelling flows effortlessly even where Cheung has given readers some challenging arrangements. Every panel and every drawing is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. There's great care being taken here to present something that illustrates an encompassing creative vision. 

Justin Ponsor also has a standout performance in Infinity #1. His palette choices are deliberate and often beautiful, and he deftly implements that palette to create convincing transitions from chapter to chapter. The palette itself looks remarkably like something Dean White would lay down: there's a painterly quality to it, but that doesn't mean its earthy and pastel tones aren't frequently shot through with scintillating neons and crackling contrasts. 

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 takes a different approach to the spectacle of the comic event. Whereas Forever Evil goes all-in on grit and Infinity goes balls-to-the-wall on quality, Battle of the Atom's artistic team of Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, and colorist Marte Gracia focus on eye-popping, technicolor dynamism. In a way, it's a return the comic events of yore. Interspersed with wonderfully composed and grimly colored pages by Immonen and Gracia, the rest of the issue is vivid, electric, and exciting. Battle of the Atom #1 contains several splashes and panels that are so bombastically drawn by Cho and given such brilliant life by Gracia that I've had to go back through this book several times just to admire it all.

Granted, there are a few low points scattered throughout the issue. A few pages are pretty simplistic and stand out like a sore thumb amidst the clangor of epic Sentinel battles and sizzling eye-beams. But as a whole, this opening salvo is just that: an optical barrage that rarely lets up long enough for you to catch your breath. 

The Verdict:

So, in terms of pure visual appeal, who wins the battle of the event debuts?

I'm going to give this one to Infinity with Battle of the Atom coming in just a hair behind and Forever Evil bringing up the rear. 

Next time, I'll consider the books by premise, scripting, and value. The third and final installment will consider the series' tie-ins, their quality and their importance to the main series.

Last Updated: September 26, 2021 - 23:48

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