18th Oct2010

Book Review: ICONS – The DC and Wildstorm art of Jim Lee

by Phil Wheat

Art by Jim Lee | Text by William Baker

I’ve been waiting to have a look at this book since it was solicited in Previews earlier this year, and luckily Titan were kind enough to send us a preview copy.

In case you haven’t read mainstream comics in the last 20 years, Jim Lee is a Korean-American comic book artist, writer, publisher, and founder of WildStorm which was part of Image until being bought by DC Comics in 1998. He’s currently co-publisher of DC Comics, and has pencilled notable runs on Batman, Superman and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Lee was first hired by Carl Potts at Marvel to work on Alpha Flight and later Punisher War Journal, from where he was tapped to work on Uncanny X-Men, and formed his continuing partnership with inker Scott Williams. His popularity with fans led to him launching a second X-Men series which he co-wrote with Chris Claremont, issue 1 of which is still the best selling comic book of all time after selling 8 MILLION copies. His fan popularity led to him leaving Marvel and joining with a number of other artists to form Image Comics in 1992, where he co-wrote and pencilled WildC.A.T.s and launched other, until recently still ongoing titles, under the WildStorm imprint.

ICONS is a lovely looking 296 page, dust jacketed, hardback, with 500 full colour illustrations and pencil sketches, some of which have never been printed before. It includes an exclusive 10 page Legion of Super-heroes story, his Google Homepage Logo, and quite a few thumbnails, layouts, costume designs, and a superb Joker sketch that was a gift for the late Heath Ledger.

The book showcases Jim Lee’s art work brilliantly and also the work of his inker, Scott Williams, and colourist Alex Sinclair, who have worked with Lee all thru his DC career and before. Lee draws a perfect Batman, which is perhaps a good thing as a quarter of this book is dedicated to his work on Batman, the rest of the book is split into sections on Superman, Wonder Woman, other DC Heroes, another quarter of the book to his WildStorm work,  JUST two pages about his work on the upcoming game DC Universe Online, which consists of great character sketches of Doomsday and Manbat but little else of substance, and to finish the Levitz written exclusive 10 page Legion of Superheroes story which to be honest as a big LoSH fan I found disappointing – 5 double-page spreads which end with a Grant Morrison style meeting of creator and fictional character.

Despite being a nice looking book I think it’s a shame this was produced by Titan Books, tied to DC as they are, there is no sign of Jim Lee’s early beginnings at Marvel or his work from the Heroes Reborn reboot, when he went back to Marvel and plotted Iron Man whilst also illustrating The Fantastic Four. I also feel let down by the all-new interview by comics journalist Bill Baker, I don’t know how in-depth the original interview was, but what’s printed in Icons are merely odd paragraphs and quotes about DC Heroes. To a degree Icons refers not to outstanding artist Jim Lee, but to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, especially as there’s almost as much written about them as about Lee.

I thought that I’d possibly been spoilt by TwoMorrow Publishing’s Modern Masters books, which contain VERY in-depth interviews with the artists, but comparing Icons to Mythology – The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross (by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear) I realised what’s missing; a look into Jim Lee’s creative process. There are a few layouts, and cover sketches in Icons, but there’s not much discussion about how Lee gets from A to B. Whereas in Mythology, there’s a whole section on Ross’ process. Comparing Icons to The Marvel Art of Marko Djurdjevic (by John Rhett Thomas), you find that ICONS has a lot higher page count, a lot more artwork, costs ten dollars less, but again Marko talks about his process and his interview is more in-depth. At this point you might think I’m a bit odd wanting more text in an art book, but like many comic fans I have boxes and boxes full of Jim Lee art, but still know very little about his creative process.

Overall ICONS: The DC and WildStorm art of Jim Lee is a lovely coffee table book, full of amazing Jim Lee DC & WildStorm art, but I feel Titan Books have missed a great opportunity to create something a bit more in-depth than an art book. Here’s hoping Jim Lee does a Modern Masters book, and then I can have the two side by side on my bookshelf – the best of both worlds.

ICONS: The DC and WildStorm art of Jim Lee is released October 29th by Titan Books.

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