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Marvel Visionaries – John Romita Jr (revisited) – —“Art spills into life”

Writers: Various

Artist: John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics

ACHIEVING PERFECT PERSPECTIVE and flowing figures captured in a few lines looks like magic coming to life. Such simple things often have an astonishing affect.

On holiday, reading back issues from the stacks, I found I liked a couple Spider-Man issues with different titles, and disliked others. The ones I liked were by artist John Romita Jr. Once back in the comic cave, I pulled out a deluxe volume of MARVEL VISIONARIES, featuring fourteen favorites by John Romita Jr. from a twenty-five year period, 1977–2002. I remember loving him everywhere.

Seeing a sequence of John Romita Jr.’s work shows movement in style. Inking in earlier years was syllabic: one ruby-lith flat here, another there, clip clip. Blank spaces outside the illustrator’s perfect lines were colored in blocks like wallpaper. In 1992, a change occurred in The Punisher War Zone #1. Inks are still flat, but blank spaces are filled with detail. Backgrounds and scenery were not neglected before, but now there are more fumes, cracks, whiskers, and hatched shadows. Beautiful the way rain pools off a fedora. The line illustration in black-and-white by itself is wonderfully complete.

The denser style is fully realized in a classic from the same period, a Daredevil reboot with writer Frank Miller, from 1993. This is when young Matt Murdock as a person first seemed real to me. Faces are memorable, scenes gritty, action sweaty. Seeing it again gave me a charge.

Grit in the lives of superheroes got an early jolt in the unheroic Iron Man story “Demon in a Bottle” (1979), portrayed by John Romita Jr. with writer David Michelinie, where Tony Stark in his battle armour sits alone at his desk with a half-empty whiskey tumbler, and bottles nearby to fill it up for second and third rounds. We knew this about Tony, but never saw it so stark. The grit in the 1990s is darker.

Other artists are featured in many more Marvel Visionaries titles, where selections range across an individual career as this one. Other deluxe masterworks and omnibus collections reprint runs of titles that help fill in old favorites, such as Walter Simonson’s Thor, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, early Spider-Man, Conan, and many more.

If there is a quest here in this fascinating realm, like mounted Sir Pellinore from Arthurian romance with visor and lance pursuing the fabled Questing Beast through the woods, then artist John Romita Jr. is certainly one of the beasts. His simple expressive lines feel like magic incarnated.