Monday, April 11, 2011

Beautiful: New Mutants #19

This post has lots of image jpegs that will flame your brain and send your temperature rising, so if you're reading this via your AOL '95 dial-in modem, you may wish to go and put the kettle on. Or, indeed, drive to another state and buy a kettle. One of these days I really must learn how to put the bulk of a post "behind the break."

Everybody put your hooves and paws together to welcome my all-new occasional-sometimes-once-in-a-while feature, Beautiful!

Get the heck outta here, James Blunt! Nobody invited you to this party. Sheesh.

Beautiful is actually a feature that focuses on those gorgeous and colorful ways to tell a comic book: its cover. (I think y'all know how crazy I am for comic book covers.) Each installment will spotlight an especially good-lookin' comic book cover that I think is cool, interesting, unique, unusually well-designed...or, in fact, beautiful.

These spotlights won't be authoritative art lessons or teachings on design—I wish I had more of the chops to write about comic book art that way, like Benjamin Birdie has done in his fab Storytelling Sundays series. (Click on over there and tell him to do more of those 'coz they're great!) No, this is jus' one little stuffed bull's look at a comic book cover and saying "Oh, this is niiiiiiice." In other words, supremely subjective. Or is that "objective"? I never can keep those two straight. It's like flammable and inflammable. I know both of them mean the same thing. But what word do we use for something that won't burn? Those are the kind of things that keep me awake at night. Also: packs of roving under-bed tigers.

To start the series: the cover of New Mutants #19 (September 1984) by Bill Sienkivitch. I mean Sinkeivicz. Or is that Sinkevich? Hmmm. (Googling for a while.) Oh, yeah! You know who I mean: Bill Sienkiewicz.

Bill S.'s cover for NM #19 was a quantum leap forward—not only for the series itself but for the entire mutant franchise, Chris Claremont's scripting, and an entire expressionistic art style perfectly suited for the soon-coming improved comic book paper and printing processes. In fact, I'd go so far as to say Sienkiewicz's cover and interior art is what saved New Mutants from being dropped by me. It was the first-ever X-Men spin-off series (remember those days? When the was only one X-Men book? No? Of course you don't...nobody does) and a lot was riding on it: the expansion of the X-Men into a franchise moneymaker and creative center for Marvel, a test to see if Chris Claremont could juggle two interlocking series with simultaneously occurring cause-and-effect plots, snd a chance to return to the core concept of the original X-Men: mutant students learning how to use their powers while living in a world sworn to hate and destroy them™. The original graphic novel and the beginning of the series was promising enough: a more cheerful, optimistic, playful version of the X-Men, featuring an international cast of teenagers gathered from across the galaxy around the world. I bought and read New Mutants #1 eagerly.

But as the series went on, I thought Claremont's scripts were increasingly pedestrian and overlong. The Nova Roma story lasted what, seventeen, eighteen issues? I have always held that against Magma, my least favorite New New Mutant. Dangling plotlines continued a-dangling a la Claremont per usual (why weren't Xavier and the New Mutants scouring the globe to find Karma?) Then the team fought the Evil New Mutants—the Hellions, in quite possible the worst superhero team costumes of all time. Really, Emma Frost? Pink and purple? Pink and freakin' purple?

And then...Bill Sienkiewicz.

He actually poked his big toe in the X-Mansion pool on the cover of New Mutants #17, inking June Brigham's pencils, but by the next issue he was creating the gorgeous covers for the series as well as penciling and inking the interiors. And by ish #19, that demon bear reared its spectral fur and raked its ghost claws, and nothing would ever be the same again for the NMs.

I think...and this is jus' my opinion...that Bill S.'s art took Chris C.'s themes and plots and turned New Mutants into Mr. Xavier's Wild Ride (With Kids in the Back Seat). This is the New Mutants of the Demon Bear, the rise of Magik and hallucinogenic trips to Limbo, New Economy-Sized Karma, and (especially) Warlock and his daddy Magus (I don't think any other artist has ever done justice to Sienkiewicz's Phalanx Technarcy wild designs), and (double especially) the nightmare splintered world of Xavier's autistic illegitimate son Legion, whose Christoopher "Kid" Reid coiffure more than made up for Chuck's billiard ball skull.

Just as all right-minded comics fans consider the great Thor runs to be Lee/Kirby and Walt Simonson's books, or the great X-Men runs to be Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne and Morrison/Quitely, or the great Millie the Model extended storyline written and drawn by Jack Kirby (which gave us the spectacle of Millie as Herald of Galactus and the secret that the birth of the universe was sparked by Chili Storm)...New Mutants top years are, at least for me, #18-31, and, if you're feeling benevolent, the next year or so after that during which Sienkiewicz inked the pencils of Steve Leialoha, Mary Wilshire, and Rick Leonardi. The Jackson Guice/Kyle Baker run had some promise artwise, but the merry-go-round of artists in the issues post-#50 never quite did justice to Louise Simonson's scripts once she took over the series from Claremont, thus proving you could pry a mutant character out of his hands without killing him.

I love New Mutants #19, especially for its gorgeous cover. Here's another ten Bill Sienkiewicz comic book covers I think are beautiful:

Here's another pair of my fave Sienkiewicz cover images, one of which you may never have seen. Didja know that Bill S. did two completely different painted covers for New Mutants #28? Now ya do, and you can amaze and be-baffle your pals and new aquaintances at parties with your deep and incisive Sienkiewicz schooling? You'll hardly be able to hold off the leggy supermodels! But let's let a clipping from Marvel Age #28 explain it all, a la Clarissa, for you:

(Here's the second, printed cover:)

I think alongside New Mutants and Moon Knight, my favorite Bill S. work is his Marvel Graphic Novel Daredevil: Love and War (1986), written (natch!) by Frank Miller.

Even following Miller's scripting and artistic re-invention of the Man with Only a Little Bit of Fear (And That's Really Just For Rats), Sienkiewicz's painted, expressionistic, chimerical Daredevil upped the ante higher than DD's usual rooftop stomping grounds:

Sienkiewicz creates lovely effects with swiftly blurred motion, physically-assaulting sound effects, (apt, for a blind hero) and a vertigo of caption boxes to simulate Daredevil's plummet towards the streets below:

I love this page/panel of Sienkiewicz's massive, hulking Kingpin, turned into a tiny tragic figure in Bill's art:

But $6.95 (its original price) for $6.95, the most stunning, heartbreaking, and visually haunting images in the book are this pair of pages: the deranged and yet literally romantic obsession of thug Victor for his blind kidnap victim Cheryl:

What's that? You wanna see more Bill S? How about ten more of my favorite Sienkiewicz covers? Huh? That work for you? Yes? Acceptable? Do you want me to...oh, okay.

So, there ya go. Bill Sienkiewicz: the guy who turned the New Mutants on their mutated little heads and turned the nineteenth cover of their comic into something beautiful.

There's a few more for you. Beautiful, huh? That's all I've got for tonight. You don't have to go home, but you can't sleep here.

(Thanks for all the gorgeousosity, Bill!)

First commenter who mentions the mistake in this post's URL gets a poke in the snoot.


VanVelding said...

Amazing. Simply amazing.


Phillip said...

Yay Sin-kev-itch! As a kid his art intimidated and confused me, but I got over it.

Aaron Fever said...

This was a great post, Bully!

Just as a matter of interest, do you own all these covers? How much did you search for online and how much did you just look in the closet for?

David Norman said...

Amen to everything you wrote in this awesome post, Bully. Sienkiewicz expanded my mind as to what superhero comics could look like.

Andrew Leal said...

Oh man. Any artist who can take a cover of ALF and make it gorgeous is a man to be reckoned with!

Unknown said...

I heartily agree with you, Bully! Sienkiewicz turned comics on its ear for me when I was a kid, and although I lost interest in the New Mutants after a while, his work on Moon Knight captivated me. Thanks for taking me back!

googum said...

Always a good day for some Sienkiewicz. Nice!

Bully said...

Aaron: I own a lotta them (deep in the Bully Infinite Vault of Comics Fun buried deep below Brooklyn), but for most of the covers on this site I use the excellent images posted on the Grand Comics Database, without which posts like these, and indeed life itself, would be impossible. I don't give them credit as often as I should, so thanks for reminding me. Head on over there for a veritable smorgas-borg of comics history and trivia, and of course, tens of thousands of beautiful comic book covers. And then there's this one.

Kent Allard said...

In terms of lousy New Mutants story lines, I respect your decision to skip over the Team America story line. Remember when they were mutants, along with the Falcon?

Bill D. said...

The first Sienkiewicz cover I ever saw was the one for the What If #44, What If Captain America Were Revived Today?, and while today I don't think it's one of his better covers, it was mind-blowing at the time because it not only immediately stood out from every other comic on the rack, but every other comic I had ever seen up until that point.

And I can't believe Marvel doesn't use his cover for the Dark Phoenix Saga trade anymore. I had the original Marvel Books/Fireside edition of that as a kid, and part of the reason I begged and begged my parents for it was because the cover art was by "the What If guy." That's the only cover that book should ever have.

Eden said...

I love this. I will return to this page often when I'm having a bad day. No, really.

Also, thank you for not using Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" on this post.

Christopher said...

I'm very familiar with a bunch of these covers! Back in the day, I was a big Sienkiewicz fan based on his New Mutants and Elektra Assassin stuff, and I'd buy any comics I saw with his art on the cover. I see I'm not alone! I finally checked out Stray Toasters just a couple of years ago, and it's amazing, but for me, nothing beats his 80s heyday work.

matthew. said...

On a related note, Nick Fury VS SHIELD is one of my favourite comics ever. So epic and amazing

Yatz said...

Being a big Neal Adams fan, I hated Sienkiewicz's work on Moon Knight, which I thought was very poor Adams cloning. And then I came across that big bad bear cover, turned the first page, and had my mind blown to pieces.
I have since given away most of my collection, but have kept all the great Bill S. runs: new Mutants, Elektra, The Shadow (!!!) and of course the Daredevil book. I go back and read it from time to time - the art seems as fresh and cutting-edge as it did 25 years ago.