Today am I looking at the work of one of my favorite Batman artists, Kelley Jones. Jones started as a cover artist on Detective Comics and then Batman and eventually to the interior artist of Batman. These books along with some other various side projects constitute one of the most dramatic looks for the Dark Knight ever.
At the time this was a departure from what a superhero was “supposed” to look like. Like Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, this dark atmosphere was very seductive. The horror overtones are evident and are probably best suited for Batman among the spandex set. With obvious influences from Bernie Wrightson and Frank Frazetta, Jones created a world unlike anything else being published by DC at the time.
Growing up, I loooooved Jones’ work (and still do). Even when he was just doing the covers I would study them for hours. He dramatically altered the course of my own personal artistic style at the time.
Following here are my picks for the 10 best covers he has produced for the Batman line of books.
10. Batman #506
A take on the “Batman with lightning” theme, Jones creates a unique piece that stands apart from Frank Miller’s classic and other imitators. This cover actually is depicting Jean Paul Valley’s Azbats, but he is hardly discernible here from Bruce Wayne. The only thing that really gives it away are the clawed gauntlets.
The chimney is also pretty rare. As much as Batman travels around rooftops, a brick chimney is anachronistic in Gotham. The way Jones wraps the cape around it helps add motion to the scene. Meanwhile, the “negative” look to the bricks gives contrast to the lighter background. Batman’s shadow adds to that overall.
This cover also has an aspect of Jones’ work I’ve wondered about for a long time. The scallops of the cape under Batman’s arm appears to be where it is meant to stop. However, the cape continues down the chimney and off the bottom of the cover. Jones does little to show the cape linking together. The arc of the scallop between the legs seems to imply it flows into the lower portion, but it also looks like it could be coincidence.
Looking at pieces like this, I have wondered if Jones finished the cape and then decided that it wasn’t large enough and added another section. The mass of the cape implies that if this is all one piece, Batman’s cape is horribly asymmetrical and getting twisted up to the point of becoming a hindrance.
Sometimes this appears to be an afterthought added on and others it looks like a multi-layered cape with gothic overtones. The latter fits in perfectly with the dark ambiance of Jones’ art. It’s effect wavers depending on the piece, but it also leads to more of Jones’ beautiful capes.
The splattered ink technique used for the lighting is also notable for creating contrast for the lighting and adding texture to the background. It would have been easy to just create a black background for this cover, continuing what is at the top, but now it allows for more color to be brought in. While we get the complimentary purple/yellow scheme for the background it is evident that this is still a striking piece in the original black and white.
Speaking of, I’m aware that Graphitti Designs and DC Comics published a gallery edition featuring the original art pages of some of Kelley Jones’ Batman run. I believe it only included around 9 issues. A collection of this kind should definitely include a cover gallery. Since the art is scanned from the original pieces, this may prove impossible as Jones’ surely sold off the original covers to different collectors over time. However, a definitive collection of his work is incomplete without them. And no, I don’t own this collection because it was $125 when it came out and I have bills, yo.
Also seeing the original art with the brush strokes is sure to take away some of the mystery. The final printed pieces creates a void of darkness that leads to the viewer questioning what they are looking at. Most of Batman’s form is hidden in this cover with only silhouette and minimal details given. It is up to the reader to fill in the gaps of what is before them. This is a large part of the appeal of Jones’ work and plays into the horror style.
Well, that’s a lot more than I thought I would have to say about this single cover. So, next time I will be looking at another great Batman cover by Kelley Jones.