Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 14

The fourteenth in a group of 15 posts on X-Factor volume 3.

The Artists of X-Factor #200-253

Bing Cansino draws the entire "Invisible Woman Has Vanished" arc, and they are a dark and moody three issues. It works for the story, especially since much of it is set in Latveria, and Cansino handles a large group of characters quite well. He has his weaker panels, but generally keeps everything moving right along, even with the Fantastic Four family of characters guest-starring in an already crowded series. A lot of really good, hard-hitting action, too. Cansino draws great debris, and seems to know it, finding many opportunities to break walls and windows and sidewalks and such. And it makes The Thing look great, very alive and detailed. A solid showing all around, which has me wondering why Cansino never returns to the book. Seems like he'd be a good fit (though, admittedly, I have no sense of what else he may have been doing at the time).
     For the next arc, X-Factor's loose tie-in to the "Second Coming" crossover, Valentine De Landro comes back. It's...weaker than his work has ever been before, and I'm not sure why. Things feel amorphous in these issues, particularly people's facial features. It's a little less stable looking than usual, like it might dissolve into a mess of colorful, abstract liquid on the next page. That's not always how it comes across, but it certainly looks that way more frequently than did De Landro's beginnings on the series. Of course, it never actually does break down into something incomprehensible, because even when wobbly, De Landro is a very strong visual storyteller. He can do action on the largest scale, and emotion on the smallest, and he does. He just doesn't do it as impressively here.
     Sebastian Fiumara's one and only issue is #207, and he's another artist I'd like to see come back some time. In a lot of ways it feels like a stylistic throwback to the very start of X-Factor, when everything was covered in shadow. Even when Baron Mordo is washing a room in the bright green light of his magic, it all looks dark and creepy. I miss that mood sometimes in this series, and Fiumara is an especially powerful example of why it feels right.
     It is Emanuela Lupacchino who steps in as the next primary penciler for the book, though De Landro pops up for some issues in between. Lupacchino is the artist I feel the most lukewarm about. She always delivers incredibly clear work that finds a perfect balance between realism and cartoonism, especially for a series that switches so regularly from the severe to the humorous. And there is a strong sense of fun infused in her pencils, like she wants to make sure the reader knows how much she loves her job as comicbook artist. So what is it I don't like about her work? I wish I could tell you. I don't think there is anything I actively dislike, it's just that, somehow, very little of what she's drawn has left a lasting impression on me. It serves its purpose, it's reliable, and it never disappoints. But it rarely astounds, either.
     The exception to this is the arc surrounding Tier's birth. I have already talked about how unforgettable and heartbreaking the image of Rahne rejecting her son is for me, as well as the pages leading up to it, and credit for that goes to Lupacchino. So mad props for the single greatest scene in the history of the series, even if the rest of her pencils are middle-of-the-pack material.
     I think it may just be the stories she draws. The Vegas arc includes the introduction of Pip, who grinds my gears. And then she draws the arc about the three female assassins who hate J. Jonah Jameson, which (as I have also mentioned) I find wholly boring. When the story is one I love, Lupacchino shines, so I guess it is just her bad fortune to be the artist for the arcs I'm not so fond of. Then again, it's sort of a chicken and the egg situation, isn't it? Let's just say she's hardly my favorite, but just as hardly my least favorite, and leave it at that.
     I've glossed over some people to get here. First of all, De Landro has a few stray issues in between before departing the book for good, and totally gets his groove back. Not so much in the issue he tackles for the Veags arc (#210), but afterwards, when he does Darwin's departure (#213) and most of all his last issue, #224.1. Though still perhaps a smidge less precise than his initial stuff, he largely returns to form before his curtain is closed, complex and realistic but with a strong superhero vibe.
     Paul Davidson is actually the guy to do the opening chapter of the struggle for Rahne's baby (#220), and I sort of hate it. It has exceptional moments, most notably Feral's arrival on the final splash page, but he just can't get a handle on Rahne in her human form or Shatterstar at all. Rahne as a wolf and the demon she fights are appropriately disturbing, but just as inconsistent from one panel to the next as anything. Finally, Dennis Calero makes an unexpected return for issue #221, and does just what he used to do, just as well as always. See Part 13 for my take on that.
     After the point one issue, Leonard Kirk shows up for the first time, and he is still the main artist today. Kirk has always felt like the medium between De Landro (at his best) and Lupacchino (at her normalest), which means I like him a lot but don't quite love him. Never unclear, and with a strong sense of who every member of the team is right away, he's done a lot of great stories very well. The fight against Bloodbath, the hilarious Scattershot two-parter, and recent highlight "Breaking Points" are all Kirk all the way, and he does the comedy just as comfortably as the extreme violence and the emotional fallout from it. Both he and Lupacchino have a smoothness to their lines, a softness that allows the jokes to land without the more gruesome stuff clashing. It's what this book wants, but it still doesn't thrill me, personally.
     Lupacchino's last run is "They Keep Killing Madrox" which is a fun story that suits her style. After that, almost everything is Kirk, with two issues by Neil Edwards and another handful from Paul Davidson, the latter of whom never really improves from his debut. His people never look quite the same twice, their faces sometimes seeming flattened like they're pressed against glass, while at other time they're stretched to appear almost canine. Their lips blow up and shrink back down every few seconds, and their eyes sometimes do, too. I'm not a fan of his slipshod style, is all there is to it, and I'm glad he didn't last very long on this title.
     Edwards' issues are both great: the road trip one (#237) and the one narrated by Layla (#240). They require some very detailed work, nuanced emotion and the displaying of multiple possible realties all on the same page. It never seems to daunt Edwards, who renders everything expertly. The conversation between Revered Maddox and Rahne is especially good work, all talking with a load of subtext that slowly yet surely is brought to the surface. He nails it all. A third example of a talent underutilized by this book. Cansino, Fiumara, Edwards---all names I'd be happy to see on another X-Factor cover.
     Oh, yes, the covers. I neglected them completely last time, and I won't go into incredible detail here, but I have to say this name in a discussion of X-Factor's art or I am a total asshat: David Yardin. Beginning with #39 and continuing right to this past Wednesday's #253, I am fairly certain Yardin has done every single cover. And they're amazing. They vary, they always let you know what to expect inside without spoiling the story details, and they're remarkably detailed. He can make the as realistic as anything, but doesn't shy away from something sillier or broader when called for. And look at this 90's-style cover for #236. So different than anything Yardin has produced up to now, but not a bit less impressive.
     The only person left to call out is Matt Milla, who became the lead colorist after Jeremy Cox. There was a bit of a transitional period at first, right around the same time Lupacchino was taking over from De Landro, during which Milla and Cox would each take issues here and there (I think it was mostly just that Cox colored De Landro), with a few others filling in as well. But Milla's colored every issue Lupacchino or Kirk has drawn (I believe...certainly the vast majority of them) with Rachelle Rosenberg taking over on the few done by Davidson or Edwards. Like all the colorists who came before them, Milla and Rosenberg do very sturdy work. Again, the coloring has never really drawn my attention, positive or negative, at any time. It's always really good, which is incredible on the whole, but issue to issue I don't find myself wowed by it.
     One last bit of art business: I know I have been criminally neglectful of the inkers. A LOT of the pencilers ink themselves, and the changes in inker don't always line up with new pencilers, and so ultimately I thought the simplest thing would be not to discuss them. Or maybe it's not simple but merely lazy. Either way, please know that it comes not from a place of "inkers don't matter" so much as one of "if I talk about every inker this art discussion will need like a whole third part, which seems excessive just to avoid excluding anyone involved." I love you, inkers, and please know that any time I said something good about a penciler, it applied to whoever did the inks as well.
     Ugh, shut up already, right? I definitely will, after one fiiiiiiiinal wrap-up post.

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