Dragonforce #8, 1989, Aircel Comics
by Dale Keown
Blogger's note: Check out my review of Justice League of America #1-6 at Geek in the City. Consider it an A Comic A Day annual! Now, on to today's post . . .
Every now and then, an artist will come from no where and take over a title, then quickly take the industry by storm. Frank Miller did it with Daredevil. Mark Bagley did it with Amazing Spider-man. And Dale Keown did it The Incredible Hulk. When Keown took on the artistic chores for old Jade Jaws just in time for the Joe Fixit era to transition to the Smart Hulk era, he not only reaped the benefit of Peter David's culminating success but added his own fluid flair to the title's transformation. With hints of Byrne and Davis, Keown has a style so much his own that when I pulled this issue of Dragonforce from the quarter bin last weekend, I instantly knew he was responsible. Sure, artists like Keown seem to come from no where, but they have to come from somewhere. They have to ride the rivers before they burst into the mainstream, you know?
Obviously familiar with Dale Keown's Hulk work, reading Dragonforce #8 was a visually surreal experience, because honestly, his style hasn't changed much since 1989. His proportions could use some work, and his backgrounds were never the most confident sometimes going pages on end with mere headshots or action lines as a distracting tactic, but his stringy muscular forms are consistent, his expressive faces still twisted with either lip-curled rage. The surrealism was a result of beholding Keown's work in this black and white independent format, as if his true potential was just brewing beneath the poor resolution of these pages. Now, Keown wrote and lettered this issue, too, and frankly, it's best experienced as a picture book -- not that Keown is a terrible writer, but his storytelling style should remain predominantly visual. And in many cases, his lettering, specifically his sound effects, are an eye sore. Thank goodness there were other folks around to help when he finally went pro.
The Dragonforce remind me of the Starjammers, an interstellar band of travellers each with unique powers, and in this issue they're trying to flee capture at the hands of their enemies. Each characters' abilities are implemented in their escape and Keown gives us a hint at his skill crafting big monsters and robots, but, again, these efforts speak more to his sequential, visual style versus the actual narrative. Needless to say, the shallow reader in me will definitely flip through this issue again. Whether or not I look at the words . . .
I deem it appropriate that Dale Keown burst onto the scene with The Incredible Hulk. His early betrays an incredible talent bottled up, looking for release in a format and on a character that can explore the breadth of his skill. With the various stages the Hulk endured during his run with David, Keown certainly had diverse material to work with, from the psycho-drama of Banner's mindscape to the technology of the Pantheon (Have we heard from them lately?), all of which bares root here in Dragonforce. The real force was Keown himself. I'm glad we found him . . . or did he find us?