Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jim Lee!

Hey, did you know today, August 11th, is Jim Lee's birthday? I didn't know that earlier in the week when I was reading through Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee, or yesterday when I was writing about it and pre-posting it for posting on Robot 6 today. I didn't know it until this morning, when I saw Tom Spurgeon's post on The Comics Reporter.

The timing worked out pretty well, though, as there's probably no better time to stop and think about an individual's work and place in the world than on the anniversary of that individual's first appearance in the world.

You can read the piece here.

As I mentioned in the Robot 6 piece, the book is broken up into chapters devoted to various characters, starting with Batman (whom Lee worked on primarily in "Hush" and All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder), Superman ("For Tomorrow"), Wonder Woman, "DC Superheroes" and then the various WildStorm characters and concepts.

Most of the work consists of covers and pin-ups and panels from the few high-profile sequential stories he told during his time at DC, but there are also a bunch of what I imagine are relatively little-seen oddities. I thought I'd use this space to highlight a couple of them, instead of simply posting my usual Thursday, phoning-it-in link to a piece elsewhere.

Oh, and then we can talk more about Wonder Woman's costume.

I think I've written somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million words about Jim Lee, DC heroes and costume designs since the publisher started unveiling their plans for next month's big relaunch and line-wide wardrobe makeover.

One point I mentioned repeatedly is that Jim Lee is not really known for being a very good costume designer or redesigner (as his redesigns for Kyle Rayner, Huntress and Wonder Woman have evidenced). I was really perplexed why DC gave Lee the assignment of redesigning all the costumes, instead of some of the other artists they've worked with in the past who have had greater success coming up with costumes that a) look nice and b) people seem to really dig, with Alex Ross being the most obvious choice (followed most closely by Darwyn Cooke, I think, although Ross has a healthy lead even on him—think of how many of the costumes and designs from Ross' Kingdom Come have creeped into the DCU proper. I also wouldn't have minded seeing Frank Miller redraw the whole DCU, based on how swell his Wonder Woman and Flash redesigns came out in Dark Knight Strikes Again, although I can't imagine Miller wanting to redesigns the whole DCU for this goofy relaunch, nor can I imagine DC asking him too).

While thinking about this, and looking at the ugly, ugly WildStorm designs, I realized that, whether I like 'em or not, no matter how hard it is for me to find the quality in a lot of Lee's costuming choices, there is evidence that he can come up with looks that a lot of people consider cool and endure remarkably well.

Like his X-Men costumes. I think relatively few of the X-Men characters he was drawing in the early nineties still dress like they did back then, but, thanks to the cartoon and some of the video games that took on Lee's designs with little to no changes, and the popularity of the X-books when he was drawing for them, I think it's not controversial to suggest an entire generation think of the X-Men as looking the way Jim Lee designed 'em to look.

Even the movies—five and counting now—haven't really done a whole lot to supplant the Lee-era X-Men in the popular imagination, as the same-ness of the all-black leather motorcycle outfits the live-action X-people wore kept that popular version of the X-Men story from really having a highly individualized visual identity.

Anyway, I don't really like Lee's costume redesign abilities. Icons reveals that Lee spent some time trying to figure out just the right costumes for the All-Star versions of Batman, Robin, Black Canary and other characters.

Here's one of his attempts at a new Batman costume for the All-Star Batman:Looks kinda Hal Jordan-y, doesn't it? There are a couple more Batmen and Robins in there, and some sketches featuring designs for Kyle Rayner's GL costume and some of the DCU Online characters.

Here's something I never expected I would see, Jim Lee drawing Art Baltazar's Tiny Titans, in the company of some Justice Leaguers:That piece was apparently a welcome aboard gift drawn for Diane Nelson.

Hey, did you know DC published an adaptation of that shitty Catwoman movie starring poor Halle Berry? Icons said they did, so I looked it up on, and I found the above cover. That's kind of weird; I have no memory of that comic existing at all, despite visiting a comic shop every single Wednesday during the year it was released, and having had to review that particular movie for the paper I was working for at the time.

Anyway, apparently Lee was invited to the set for the movie and was able to draw Halle Berry in person. That's according the captions from this page. That's pretty cool, getting invited to draw Berry from life. I hope the experience resulted in some stuff we're not shown on this page, as these Catwomen basically just look like your average Jim Lee ladies, rather than Halle Berry.

There are a lot of drawings of Wonder Woman in the book, all by Lee (obviously), and he draws her in various costumes, which makes the book a pretty good place to look at a few of Wondy's more popular costuming choices to compare and contrast.

Here then is a couple of Lee drawings of her regular costume, the shorts-cut-more-like-panties: I'm not generally a fan of the star-spangled skirt look, which Wonder Woman sported when she first appeared, although I kind of like the way Lee makes it work:
Finally, here's a detail from an image of the Trinity on the back which Wonder Woman wears a leather, Xena-like, ancient warrior battle skirt, with stars on each one of the little leather straps of it.

I kinda like the look of that one okay; seems like a nice compromise between true-to-what-Wonder Woman-originally wore (navy blue, star-spangled skirt and/or bottoms) and something a little more practical, like something the real Wonder Woman might really wear if she was really real in the real world.


mordicai said...

I've been saying the the Greek, Hoplite, "Xena" skirt is a total no-brainer for...basically the entire time of the part of my life where I have opinions on Wonder Woman's costume. Pants aren't right, wedgie panties are awful, biker shorts are the worst...but bam! Warrior armor, that is also a skirt? DONE.

SallyP said...

Darwyn Cooke does a magnificent version of the leather "Xena" skirt for Wonder Woman. Heck, he does a magnificent Wonder Woman period.

Jim Lee is really NOT the greatest costume designer around, so I'm rather puzzled as to why they gave him so many to redo. I don't even mind the collars so much, but it seems as though he had to do it to EVERYONE. And Wonder Woman's choker drives me nuts. I've WORN chokers, and they aren't particularly comfortable.