Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Justice League Summer Ice Cream Social: A Post-Mortem
Today is August 1st, which means the month long Justice League Summer Ice Cream Social has come to a close. I was actually quite surprised that I actually managed to do it without missing a day—Aquaman and Zauriel came close to not making it; I was working at least a day ahead on the drawings, but I actually didn’t put pen to paper on the Zauriel one until the same afternoon I posted it—and at how easy it was to think of Justice Leaguers and lame-ass ice cream-related jokes for each of them. There must be an awful lot of Justice Leaguers. Because when I sat down and “wrote” these things out at the beginning, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hit 31 heroes. (I put “wrote” in quotes because the process was actually a combination of sketching and rough-drafting some illegible lines that, in some cases I couldn’t read a few weeks, later). Not only were there 31 heroes covered, some extra heroes appeared alongside the ones featured, and there are still plenty of Leaguers left.
I actually have some leftovers I’d planned out but didn’t get to the drawing stage with—Huntress, Vibe, Adam Strange, Phantom Stranger—and some personal favorite Leaguers that I couldn’t think of anything ice cream related to write to go along with them (Which is the only reason John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Oracle and Steel didn’t show up, despite being on th short list of heroes whom I think should still be on the Justice League).
The Ice Cream Social made keeping my self-imposed once-a-day posting schedule much easier, it was a good way to force myself to spend at least a little bit of each day at the drawing board, and you guys seemed to like it at least enough to respond, as the JLSICS posts generally generated more replies than, say, the “Weekly Haul” features (Odd, since the fact that we all read comic books is, like, the one thing we’re all guaranteed to have in common, right?)
Those aren’t the only positives to the exercise, however. I also learned a lot. I learned several essons that I will now go into in a super-long, meandering post which, despite being handily numbered for your reading convenience, will likely contain way more detail than anyone needs to read about on topics that are of questionable interest in the first place.
In fact, you may just want to skim it, if not skip it entirely, unless you happen to be extremely interested in a) DC superheroes, b) DC superhero costume design and c) my thoughts on both.
ELEVEN THINGS I LEARNED WHILE SPENDING A MONTH DRAWING JUSTICE LEAGUE MEMBERS EATING ICE CREAM:
1.) It’s not that hard to draw at least one panel a day. Particularly if you don’t go in much for details, like noses or lips, and don’t draw any thing in the way of backgrounds. And even if you do draw great amounts of detail—noses, lips, muscles, folds in clothing, backgrounds—one panel shouldn’t really take more than eight hours of time, tops. So I guess what I'm really trying to say here is that All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 shouldn’t have taken as long as it did to come out.
2.) Ed Benes isn’t a very good artist. I should go into a bit of detail here, because I’m sure I’ve said the opposite somewhere before—I know I’ve gone on record saying that I thought his team picture in JLoA #7 was really well done. And maybe I should qualify that, and instead say something like, “Ed Benes doesn’t seem to be a very good artist lately,” because I recently went back and looked at some of his Birds of Prey work, and it was a lot more loose, fun and stylized than his JLoA work (Is he better suited for lighter, less-serious fare? Do Alex Lei’s inks look better on his pencils than Sandra Hope’s? Is he just falling too far behind on JLoA and thus rushing a bit too much?).
But in looking for reference for what exactly some of the more complicated costumes of the current League line-up look like—Black Lightning’s, Red Arrow’s, Red Torando’s—I pulled out JLoA #7, since I knew it featured the entire team. It was actually pretty useless for costume reference though, outside of the team shot. For Black Lightning or Red Arrow’s costume, for example, I couldn’t find any panels that showed what they looked like from the waist down.
And then, the more I looked at the panels, the more I noticed that Benes wasn’t drawing anyone’s legs or feet. Anywhere. Ever.
I understand the impulse. That shit’s hard. But then, he’s a professional artist working on DC’s best-selling book—you think he’d put that extra effort in, you know? But the whole book is posed and acted really poorly and, as is more readily apparent, Benes is just awful at differentiating characters (he has two body types, male and female, and it’s up to the costumes and hair color to differentiate them) and emoting/acting.
Take a look at this panel of Roy in his new Red Arrow costume, embracing Hal while Canary lays a hand on his shoulder, from JLoA #7:
Is it just me, or does it look more like the prelude to a MMF threesome than an emotional moment in which two mentors see a troubled youth becoming a responsible, successful adult in their eyes? That look in Canary's face looks more lustful than proud.
There are a couple of other strong examples of Benes’ weakness in this particular issue, including Hal’s mask, which has grown from Benes’ Wizard teaser/JLoA #1 cover image from a V-shape into a big-ass rectangle, and that scene where Black Lighting marvels about how impressive the Hall of Justice’s trophy room and armory is, and the artwork reveals a place that looks like the replica prop display area in a comics shop.
3.) Firestorm's costume sucks. I never minded Firestorm’s look quite as much as some (I recall an old Grant Morrison interview from his time on JLA in which he said he wouldn't be using Firestorm at all because he couldn't stand the costume), and I never really minded the large amount of bright yellow, or even the fact that his head is essentially a brazier.
But unlike, say, all seven original Leaguers or Plastic Man or Captain Marvel or Alan Scott or Jay Garrick or Black Canary, Firestorm’s costume isn't a costume that stays in my memory. I could not possibly draw his costume, or even just his chest symbol, without reference. It's really complicated (Is it supposed to be a map of an atom, maybe?). A lot of artists make it look just fine, but it's hardly a simple, iconic, memorable design, along the lines of Superman’s or Captain Marvel’s.
Also, I don't care for the weird helmet thing that covers his entire head save for his face and eternal flame. It looks fine, if a little New God-y, but it makes him impossible for me personally to draw. The only way I can draw heads so that they kinda sorta resemble a human head is to show the indentation around the eyes and the shape of the chin, and that weird helmet thing prevents that. So he looks really fat and puffy-faced to me in my drawing of him.
This is just a personal thing though, as I really can't draw all that well, and, as I’ve said, I’ve seen artists make Firestorm look pretty awesome. He doesn’t even look all that out of place standing among his fellow Satellite Era Leaguers. Still, the costume stands out as needlessly complicated, particularly among those of most other Leaguers, and I can see why Alex Ross apparently refuses to ever paint the poor bastard.
4.) Red Tornado's costume sucks even worse. I mean it. It really sucks. It might just be the worst superhero costume ever. It’s makes-Ma-Hunkle’s-version-look-awesome bad. I was kind of surprised to learn just how bad it sucks. But that's the kind of thing you can't help but notice when you study the stupid thing.
Now I've heard people make fun of the weird-ass arrow on his head (seriously, why is that there?) and seen some incredibly bizarre things occur revolving around his costume. Like when he became human in Brad Meltzer's first JLoA arc, his costume remained the exact same, so I couldn't understand if he was painting his face red and popping in green contacts or…well, no or, I guess that’s what he had to be doing since he was totally human with Caucasian flesh and pupils in some panels, and red with pupiless green eyes in others. And then there's that crazy panel from Justice, in which he pulls off a mask that looks the exact same as his face (?!).
But, in general, it never bothered me much beyond the conceptual level (What's that arrow for? Why does he have a "T" instead of an "R"?), and I kinda like his color scheme and the way he looks when standing next to a Flash or Superman or, especially, Martian Manhunter. (And it should go without saying that, when George Perez draws him in flight, the Tornado looks totally awesome—big, stupid, yellow arrow and all).
Then I saw his original look, with the purple cape and weird ears. And his early Satellite Era pants, which were red and yellow striped—vertically striped. And then there are his more current looks, which vary between human-looking face and the one with the rectangular slots for eyes and mouth. And I realized that Red Tornado's look is the result of a history of terrible looks. And, when you strip out the color and just look at the design itself, even poorly-drawn, just the shapes themselves with no color or context, then, man, its full ugliness is revealed.
Given the fact that Meltzer luxuriated all that story space on "Reddy" during the first eight issues of JLoA, it's kind of unfortunate that DC didn't also seize the opportunity to redesign the character.
What? My recommendation?
Well, I do like Alex Ross' Kingdom Come version (just called "Tornado;" Kingdom Come Red Tornado is Red Tornado III, and is actually New Earth Cyclone in a less garish costume. I know, right?). This seemed to visualize his Tornado Tyrant/Champion origin quite nicely, and I wonder if maybe it's time to Kingdom Come-icize him like fellow Leaguer Roy Harper.
At the very least, lose all that yellow, Reddy!
5.) Mister Miracle's and Big Barda’s costumes are insanely complicated, but that’s okay. Okay, that stuff I said about the fact that Firestorm’s costume doesn’t stick in one’s mind as clearly as Superman or Captain Marvel’s makes it a bad one? That doesn’t apply to Scott and Barda, despite the fact that they have the most complicated, busiest designs of just about any superheroes. Seriously, close your eyes and imagine their costumes. Can you see them clearly? Do you have all the details? Now try drawing them. Not so easy, is it? Heck, I got lost on Scott’s face. I know he wears a mask that covers his entire head, all red save the yellow face pattern that’s in a weird, vaguely Canadian maple leaf pattern, but what’s the exact shape of the yellow?
Their costumes are pretty weird ones, standing out even among their fellow New Gods’ in their extreme complication, but I think it’s okay in general. The designs do seem to trip up artists quite a bit, details changing depending on who’s drawing them, but when a good artist is doing the honors, they can look really nice, either in black and white (as the last round of Fourth World trades were) or in color.
I love the way Scott’s red, green and gold figure contrasts with other superheroes. As cosmically compicated as Mister Miracle’s costume may be, it’s worth noting that it looks perfectly consistent and complimentary when he’s surrounded by other Justice Leaguers.
6.) Fire's costume is really easy to draw. At least, in her flame form. Her various non-flame form costumes—that green halter top and jeans combo from the JLI years, the bathing suit with leggings from her first few appearances, that unzipped green bodysuit from her last days as a Leaguer—are all hideous and must have been hard to draw simply because it must be hard for someone to intentionally, willingly bring such ugliness into the world. But in her flame form, she's essentially just a naked lady, sans details. Perhaps for better artists, those who draw things like lips and noses, for example, she's more challenging to draw, but I was surprised at how easy she is to draw.
7.) I like Ice's costume a lot better than I realized. I've always loved Ice. Her name, her powers, her personality, her back-story—she's just a great character who makes a great Justice Leaguer and I think, given the right creators and a chance, could have succeeded as a solo character, rather than simply being Guy's girlfriend or Fire's partner. Ice's costume, on the other hand, has always struck me as incredibly weird. The colors of it are really nice, although I didn't really like the pattern of the white and blue and how they fell on the main body suit. And that weird little halter top/tank top she wore over her spandex? That thing never made any sense to me at all (Although, as a teenage boy, I should note I found it kind of exciting. When it would get pulled up in battle, it gave the impression of nakedness—or a degree of nakedness—that was kind of titillating, despite the fact that she was still completely covered up. Um, I did say as a teenage boy, right? What can I say, teenage boys are easily titillated, particularly in those pre-Internet days).
(See? The impression of an increased degree of nakedness = totally hot.)
And those weird, furry leggings? Ugh. I hate costumes with that stuff on 'em. (Black Cat's costume is even worse, as she has that hideous white, shaggy fur everywhere). I should note here that though I always found Ice's costume really weird, I still liked it much, much, much, much, much, much, much better than the one she was wearing when she died. Bleah.
Well, the time spent looking at drawings of Ice's original costume, and then actually sitting down and drawing it myself, made me realize it is kind of cool, particularly on her. I gave her barbarian-like boots though, which seemed to be the only way to justify the white fur around her shins. (Also, oversized boots are easier to draw than dainty little spandex-clad feet. Michael Turner, you may want to write that down).
Also, I now realize that Ice had the single greatest hair cut of all super heroines ever.
8.) Elongated Man’s original costume is his best. I have no idea why Ralph suddenly switched back to the red and black costume in Identity Crisis. I suppose it was simple nostalgia for the Satellite Era on the part of writer Brad Meltzer, and/or maybe artist Rags Morales. That costume’s color scheme only accentuates the fact that the Elongated Man is simply a second generation knock-off of Plastic Man (at least in terms of powers; I realize the detective angle, the outted secret identity and the wifey made him pretty distinct from the original stretchy hero). And it doesn’t look as neat as the two purple ones he wore: the purple and white one he sported through most of his JLI years and his more recent stint on the Super Buddies (and on cartoon Justice League Unlimited), and his original costume, which was simply a purple bodysuit with a mask, gloves, boots and a sash around the waist. He ditched the mask when he went public, but would later start wearing that costume again during the post-Justice League Spectacular run of Justice League International, mask and all.
That costume is by far the simplest design of the three, and the longer I spend really scrutinizing superhero costumes, the more I realize the simpler ones are almost always better than the more complicated ones. This original costume also looks just fine in black and white, as the Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man trade makes clear. It’s the costume he wears throughout most of it, until Sue makes him a gift of the red and black costume.
9.) Though never really changing dramatically, Wonder Woman’s costume is constantly being tweaked. It sure seems like Wonder Woman’s costume has been essentially the same forever—red and gold top, star-spangled bottoms, bracelets and tiara, with red boots—but it’s changing detail at a time almost constantly.
The costume is always evolving. Her star-spangled skirt became star-spangled shorts almost immediately, getting smaller and smaller as the years rolled on (Benes and other artists have reduced them to the point where they’re ridiculously small). The length of her bracelets fluctuates. Her chest symbol—is it a W? Two W’s? An eagle? And eagle/W combo? Is it metal or cloth? Is she wearing ballerina slippers or boots? Saggy, baggy boots or tight-fitting ones?
The OYL launch of her title gave her another costume redesign, so that her new costume looks less like this
And more like this
Out of the corner of one's eye, they look pretty much the same, but even though the elements and colors are essentially the same, the shapes of certain design elements are slightly different.
Mine was totally wrong. Feeling fairly confident that I knew what her costume looked like, I didn’t even bother looking up reference, and now, looking back, I see that it’s pretty far off from what she’s currently wearing.
I’m glad I’m not in charge of dressing Wonder Woman, because I have a really hard time deciding what her best costume is, and and once you decide ona criteria for thinking about Wonder Woman’s costume, it can make thinking of one impossible. If you stop to think about it practicality—Wouldn’t these shorts ride up in a fight? Wouldn’t that pointy think jut into her abdomen if she tried to bend over?—you’ll find yourself realizing the whole outfit is just ridiculous, and the question “Why isn’t she wearing pants?! will rear its ugly head and refuse to leave. And once you make Wonder Woman wear pants, it's game over, man. (Note: I do love the costume she wears in this).
I know I’d like the shorts to look more like short boxer/briefs-for-girls than the long biker shorts-looking cut or the non-existent semi-string bikini bottoms she’s sometimes sporting these days (depending on the artist), but that’s about all I know. I’m particularly conflicted about her footwear. I know the boots are what she’s worn the longest, but I really like these strappy slippers she wore throughout the ‘50s. They say both “ballerina” and “ancient Grecian” to me.
10.) The little squiggly things on Zauriel's costume change depending on who's drawing him, and Ariel Olivetti seems to be the best Zauriel artist. Kind of self-explanatory. I really like Zauriel's costume, just as I really like Zauriel in general, and I was somewhat surprised to see just how much the details on it can vary, depending on the artist. I used images from Tom Derenick's Shadowpact and The DC Comics Encylopedia as reference. To fill in the white spaces of Zauriel's armor, Derenick used a lot of straight black lines and some chunkier golden rectangles. The image used to illustrate the encyclopedia entry on Big Z is by Ariel Olivetti, and originally appeared in JLA: Secret Files & Origins #2. His squigglies, like Howard Porter's, resembled aboriginal writing, and was full of yellow and devoid of black. Olivetti's design on the metallic, armor sections of the costume was much, much more complex than Derenick's, and featured full shoulder pads and extremely ornate gauntlets that reached up Zauriel's forearms.
I hereby declare Olivetti the best Zauriel armor designer.
11.) I should do something similar in the future. I think I'll return to this idea next July, so that I can try to get an entry on every Leaguer (there can't be sixty-two former Leaguers, can there? ), and, if there are still days left then, to maybe cover other favorite heroes from the Justice Society or Freedom Fighters or All-Star Squadron. I'm also planning on maybe doing something seasonal in December, and doing more drawing-related things here at EDILW in general. Despite the sour note things ended on the last time he was here, The Red Bee has been asking about returning for some guest-blogging, for example, and Black Lightining emailed me to let me know he had some sketches he'd like to talk about.