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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Panel Vision - Best Art of Dale Eaglesham

Edited by Robert Beach 

Dale Eaglesham is an amazing comic book artist who’s been working in the industry for over 25 years. His artwork is wonderfully dynamic, combining an idealized depiction of the human form with realistic proportions and larger than life physicality; however, despite his incredible work, he’s still tends to slip under a lot of people’s radar. 

I first became aware of his work during his run on Justice Society of America with Geoff Johns and have remained a fan ever since, so the lack of enthusiasm and knowledge for his work has always irked me. I’m devoting a whole panel vision to the 16 best pages of Dale Eagelsham art I was able to find through my own experience and Google investigations.  

Let's start things off with a piece I knew had to be on this list from word one. I love how much of a twist this picture is on the standard group shot while simultaneously working to evoke the central nature of the team at hand. This comes from the JSA run I mentioned earlier when the team boasted a staggering 25 members. Fitting so many characters on one page can be tricky, but the idea that not only is everyone here, they’re all doing their own thing and are distracted is even better. 

I especially like how much the different character’s interactions feel like a real group gathering.  People are talking over each other, disapproving, flirting, some look confused or concerned; it’s a full tapestry of emotions and actions. It also really highlights how impressive the JSA can look with all the contrasting colors and nicely captures the family feel of this team. 

This one comes from an issue of the Sinestro comic that tied into the recently concluded ‘Godhead’ storyline. This was Eaglesham’s last issue on the book, much to my disappointment as his sci-fi work is always top notch. The big reason I chose this splash is for how much manages to fit into that central image. There are the shock troops of Bekka and New Genesis who look gorgeous, yet we also get to see both Green Lanterns and the Indigo Tribe working together against them. 

The color blending on the image is top notch, as is the artistic balance. The way Bekka’s twin sword blasts both disrupts Jon Stewart’s shield and frames Stewart's body draws the eye and gives visual order to all the beautiful chaos. I also thoroughly enjoy the little side panel, especially the use of the circle to zoom in on Bekka’s arm at a microscopic level. Honestly, based on this artwork I’d love to read a Dale Eaglesham illustrated New Gods comic if only for the artwork and the chance to see him render more of Jack Kirby’s creations.

No Man’s Land was a year-long event in the Batman comics in 1999. It’s an excellent event comic that I’ll probably examine in detail at some point in the future. The basic gist of the series was Gotham City had been hit by a massive earthquake and then jettisoned from the rest of the US a la Escape from New York. Eaglesham did a lot of good work on the series, especially in the waning days of the event, but this cover is easily my favorite. 

Eaglesham is one of the few artists who gets Bane; the size, the posture, it all radiates a pure power and menace that’s intrinsic to the character. This is the Bane that snapped Batman’s spine like a twig after breaking his spirit. I also like how classical both Penguin and Joker look. Joker almost looks like he was modeled specifically after Cesar Romero from Batman ’66. It’s a great visual dichotomy and greats an interesting symbolism of the darker, modern villains dragging the classics over the edge with them. 

Our first Marvel piece of the run and the first major example of the Eaglesham double-page spread.  This is essentially the same basic approach as the ‘Godhead’ splash, but less manic and cramped. Part of that is simply the subject manner; Hulk-sized monsters naturally fit into Eaglesham’s style perfectly. This picture comes from the Hulk storyline "Mayan Rule," an event so beautifully rendered this entire list could be comprised of panels taken from it. In case you aren’t familiar with recent Hulk history, this story comes from the time when Hulk had an illustrious extended roster of fellow gamma irradiated beings. 

There was Red Hulk, long-time Hulk antagonist General Thunderbolt Ross now with gamma powers of his own; A-Bomb, Hulk’s friend Rick Jones now with gamma powers; and even Red She-Hulk, Hulk’s love interest Betty Ross only with Hulk powers. I chose this image because of how well it showcases all the major Mayan villain designs of this arc as well as Eaglesham’s skill for divining order from a chaotic scene. Each character is in motion, yet they’re well enough defined and apart enough from each other that nothing feels cluttered. 

In case you wondered where the “Stealth” costume from Captain America: Winter Soldier came from, here’s your answer. This was from a Marvel branding period called ‘The Heroic Age,’ in which Steve Rodgers was commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was a brief and uneventful period during which Marvel was struggling to find a balance between film and comic focus, a struggle that eventually culminated in the abysmal and editorially mandated Fear Itself. 

What I love about this cover is the blend of symbolism and action. The way Cap’s World War 2 past is framed sepia tone behind his modern present there’s a real sense of full circle to it. It’s a cover that cuts right to the heart of who this character is and the struggles they’ve endured. The idea is that Cap is a soldier above all else; he fights wars, and that’s how he’ll run S.H.I.E.L.D., not as a spy but as a soldier. Things unfortunately didn’t really work out that way, but at least we have the promise of this cover to fall back on. 

Advanced warning: there will be a lot of pictures form the Eaglehsam/Hickman run on Fantastic Four. Art like this tremendous splash page are why I say Eaglesham should be allowed to play in the Jack Kirby sandbox more often. Everything about this page is wonderfully designed. Again, there’s the clean definition of each character this time combined with the visual flow that marked the ‘Godhead’ image. Everything is designed to draw the eye in an expanding scope from left to right, finally settling on the awesome visage of Galactus. 

I really like the care and craft put into every version of Reed Richards here. Despite all of them facing away from the reader, each one is filled with tiny informative details. It’s one of those unique cases where even if you don’t actively notice all the effort put into each of them your brain picks up on it. I also like the scope of Galactus, especially the wide breadth of his horns. Making him so massive could easily have rendered him cartoonish, but the composition of the shot and great use of shadow really elevates his appearance to something majestic and awe inspiring. 

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Alpha Flight is my all-time favorite Marvel superhero team. They’re often lumped in with the X-Men as Wolverine was a founding member of their team, though they’re more like Canadian Avengers than anything else. They’re a diverse band of Gods, magicians, mutants, aliens, inventors, and acrobats as well as one of the only major teams to feature indigenous peoples as founding members. I can’t say exactly why love them as much as I do, other than my serious soft spot for Sasquatches and Canadians. 

They’ve had a checkered character history, but in the wake of Fear Itself, the team was revived with an amazing mini-series entirely illustrated by Eaglesham that’s one of their best stories. Eaglesham was born to draw Alpha Flight; his action poses and visual realization is incredibly well suited to their unique character palette. I especially love this cover for the evocative inverse Canadian flag behind the team, a precursor to a lot of the political subtext that punctuated the comic. 

This is sort a strange splash page, yet it’s worth it just for the chance to see Eaglesham draw Iron Man and his amazing roster of villains. This is a pretty great collection of villains for the splash page as well, including Fin Fang Foom, the Living Laser, and the Mandarin. What’s strange is the weird cross section of time periods the characters are all from. Living Laser and Mandarin seem to be classical Iron Man designs from the Marvel Silver Age while Titanium Man is from the ‘90s. 

Fin Fang Foom’s more viscously realistic Kaiju design is completely unique to the image. Finally, the Iron Man armor here is the model 9 oversized armor, which doesn’t match any of the other periods on display. Normally all of that would clash, but Eaglesham totally makes it work, blending all the unique pars perfectly. My favorite part is how shiny and chrome Iron Man’s armor looks rather than dull and faded coloring usually employed. 

To me, this is one of the most quintessential Superman images imaginable. It’s another page taken from Johns/Eaglesham JSA run, specifically from its epic conclusion. The Superman at hand is from an alternate reality, hence the slightly redesigned S shield and the gray hair. Regardless of his origins, this is a perfect Superman image. He’s engaged in an incredibly mighty feat, lifting the head of a literal God. The stance and physicality of the character is perfect, emanating both a physical and emotional strength. 

I really like the fact that this Superman looks as old as he does; it gives a sense of experience and worldliness to his character. His face and design suggest this is an action he’s undertaken hundreds of times in his long life, but every time remains equally important. Finally, there’s that perfectly based speech bubble, the only words on the whole page. If ever there was a mantra to sum up Superman as an aspirational figure, this is it. The words are given extra weight through context as this Superman has famously abandoned his own world for a time and this moment marked his decision to return to his home and not give up on them. 

Another great Alpha Flight cover, this time for Captain America.  Though the characters are a bit more cartoon-y, especially Major Mapleleaf and Wild Child, Eaglesham’s pose and physical work shines through. What really sells the cover is the clever symbolism and visuals. The visual of Wolverine with a Canadian version of Captain America’s shield is evocative enough, but then plastering the shield over the entire Alpha Flight team really nails the symbolism here. 

I especially like how certain characters have alternate versions of the shield, like how Puck’s shield is modeled after the Golden Age Captain America shield or how Guardian has a holo-generated one. Alpha Flight has always maintained a tenuous connection with the Avengers and US heroes in Marvel comics, and this one image really lends them a sense of strength and defiance I like. This is an Alpha Flight who aren’t just going to passively clean-up the super villains driven North with every Marvel cosmic dust-up, they’re a proactive force to be reckon with. 

Another JSA picture, this one is a cover.  I chose this one mainly because I’m a major sucker for iconography like this. This is from the early days of that comic’s relaunch when the emphasis was on continuously growing the society and bringing in members. Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League comic, which launched at around the same time, had taken a similar approach, but I think JSA handled it much better. What I really like about this image is that the heroes on deck for the JSA’s call to action are all legacy heroes linked to the society in some way. 

It’s a subtle detail, and it helps establish this selection of heroes as less about tactics than about team building and history. The same goes fro the setting and heroes making the choice. Rather than Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman rifling through files and folders in the Batcave talking tactics and strategy, this meeting takes place in the halls of the JSA brownstone. The heroes involved are Power Girl, the team’s leader, Mr. Terrific, head of DC’s equivalent of SHIELD, and Wildcat, a founding member of the JSA. The emphasis here is really on creating a society of superheroes, not a strike force. 

Jumping back to Fantastic Four for some more Reed Richards characters. This time the parallel Reed Richards have each assembled their universe’s Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful artifact that bestows God-like powers of omnipotence and omniscience. This image is a perfect embodiment of inherent untrustworthiness of Reed Richards. Reed has always been the most aloof member of the Fantastic Four, usually ending up so involved in science he loses some of his humanity. As time has passed and Reed’s only become more of a scientific genius, he’s grown more and more distant to the point of often seeming like a quasi-villain himself. 

There was even a time when he possessed the Infinity Gauntlet and almost went mad with power.  This image is that increasing dehumanization and alienation come home to roost in the most intimidating way possible.  What’s really creepy about it is that Reed eventually deciding his intelligence should be reward with complete universal control happened in three independent universes. It makes one wonder how likely this outcome is in the main universe, all things considered. 

This page is taken from a crossover comic between the JSA, the JLA, and the Legion of Superheroes.  The idea was that key members of the Legion of Superheroes had traveled back in time for reasons that frankly aren’t important. It was a decent enough crossover, even though the ending was a bit of a let down; however, this page is a beautiful stand out of the series ad a great bridge between the modern era of DC and its Silver Age past. The whole event was tied to a Silver Age Legion of Superheroes story wherein the Legion resurrected their founding member Lightning Lad using electrical rods. 

The hitch was that to bring Lightning Lad back someone else would have to die. It was a heavy story for how kid-focused the original Legion comic was, and here we get to see Eaglesham recreate the climactic scene from that comic. I really love the way Superman is split between both times here as well as Eaglesham’s work rendering the Silver Age Legion costumes. Overall, it’s great to see so many classic DC costumes on display after so many years of New 52 blandness. 

One final Alpha Flight cover, this one standing out as easily the most evocative and moody of the bunch.  What’s really stand out about this cover is the work with shadows and heavy inking that went into it. I love the way Puck’s face is shrouded and his whole body blends perfectly into the absolute blackness of his cell. 

More than that, I love the visual design of the inverted maple leaf split with prison bars. This is an incredibly charged image that speaks volumes about the comic. The Alpha Flight book this comes from had a major emphasis on the government working against its people and heroes, and there is no better symbol of that than the upside down maple leaf sliced through with prison bars. 

This is probably the most obscure entry on the list, coming from a Vertigo comic called H.E.R.O. The comic was an adult revival of the classic DC off-beat oddity Dial H for Hero about a mysterious dial that turned people into superheroes. The hero dial is one of DC’s greatest inventions and coolest concepts and tends to attract amazing talent when put in the right hands. This series was one of the better takes on the idea and, Eaglesham’s artwork for the project was top notch. It really let them stretch his muscles inventing various superheroes to get summoned by the dial over the course of the run. 

I also love his redesign of the classic dial, especially the weird light effects that surround it. What really gets me about this cover is Robby Reed, the destitute looking human in front of all the heroes. Robby was the main character of the original Dial H for Hero comics back in the ‘60s, and I always loved that they brought him back for this revival. What’s more, his appearance here, both his pose and especially his face, really sum up the desperation and obsession that defined his character in the series. He looks like he’s been through an incredible struggle just to hold that dial again and touch the vast world of possibilities it affords him. 

And one more Fantastic Four image to finish us off. As far as I’m concerned, this image more than any other IS the Fantastic Four. It perfectly encapsulates nearly every aspect of the characters and their mythos. In the top left corner, you’ve got this amazing sea creature design that plays well off Namor’s place in the mythos while parallel to that you’ve got Mole Man, the High Evolutionary, and what looks like Johnny Storm of either subatomic or the future. Nearly every major corner of reality the FF have visited in their 50-year history is represented here. 

What I really like, however, is the depiction of Val and Franklin in the right hand corner. It’s easy to forget that Reed and Sue are supposed to have 2 children, but their inclusion is intrinsic to the nature of the Fantastic Four. Not only do they increase the family dynamic of the team, they give the sense that time is moving forward and the team is changing over the decades. That’s a rare thing in comics, so I’m glad it’s represented here. Additionally, I like how their actions contrast their personalities; Franklin is more hands on with his microverse while Val is about abstracts and calculations.
Finally, the team themselves just look amazing. The outfits on Reed and Sue are also nicely redesigned to look more functional, which I actually like. The combination of t-shirt and gloves give them a more active look like they’re about to be thrown into the midst of trouble with their sleeves rolled up. It’s always great to see Reed Richards with actual technology, and I love the way Eaglesham handles the stretching effects. 

The Thing is spot on, a perfect evolution of the original Kirby design that blends the initial cartooniness of the character with Eaglesham’s own style.  I really like how retro the Human Torch looks more in line with the character’s designs in the first Fantastic Four comics when he was basically man-shaped fire. Finally, Sue looks absolutely fantastic, pun intended. I love how steely and powerful she appears here with the emphasis on her force projection powers rather than invisibility.

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