The Flash vol. 1 #112 (1960), page 9 panel 1. Drawn by Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Giella.
Light escapes the average superhero artist. There are plenty of reasons why involved rendering of light and shade doesn't usually make it into mainstream comics; many artists lack formal education, and even the ones who've got it aren't always drawing scripts that leave room for arty atmospherics in the slam-bang action. Further, and probably more importantly, the most influential hero artists' uses of light have never been what their followers saw as important about them. Though the best have all understood how to spot their blacks and keep their light sources consistent, the rest too often saw only Alex Raymond's photorealism, Jack Kirby's kinetics, Jim Lee's intricacy.
I've mentioned before my theory that if DC had kept control of the sales charts during the Silver Age it would be Carmine Infantino instead of Kirby who we're all revering these days as the greatest superhero artist ever. As evidenced in the panel above, Infantino, like Kirby, knew how to spot his blacks as well as anyone -- but unlike Kirby he could get downright ostentatious with it, slinging around shadowed areas with a barely-restrained delight. Here he blacks in enough to reduce the offices of Sinorient Importing to an almost abstract frame for the action, the great detail and conscientious design put into the room melting back into the gloom just far enough so that the characters in it, especially the brightly colored Flash, pop out of it. The setting is incredibly well-realized, but Infantino's flair for decor doesn't overwhelm or take you out of the story. It's just there, a picture-perfect establishing shot that's abstracted just enough to draw you further in, fleshing out the story's world in a way that's felt, not noticed.
There's a debt to Bernard Krigstein in pretty much all of Infantino's best work; the two were remarkably similar in their conceptualizing of panels as design units as much as action-holders. Here Infantino demonstrates a Krigsteinish flair for orientalia, using the abstract black shapes and the figure on the far right to evoke the East in a manner as accomplished as anything in "The Flying Machine".
Even the figures display a sinuosity reminiscent of Japanese brushwork -- in addition to as much design sense as is displayed in the room's layout. There are no ridiculously-muscled strongmen in Infantino superhero books, but rather sleek, thin figures drawn to display motion and grace. (I'll touch on this in more depth at some point in the future, but there's a definite eroticism to Infantino's men that no one before him saw in the superheroes.) Most hero artists display an uneasy tension in their figure drawings, painstakingly detailing the ripples of every muscle while abstracting everything else in their panels, but Infantino makes it all work together, creating some of the smoothest, most attractive compositions to be found in superhero panels. No less than Brendan McCarthy dubbed Infantino's a "special sleek style", and this panel shows it off with vigor.
Your Monday Panel is an ongoing series examining the building blocks of comics -- individual panels.