Jab’s Image Deep Dive: Jim Lee


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Jim Lee is probably the most famous and prominent of the Image creators after possibly Todd McFarlane, and is more powerful in comics as a whole- it’s been an interesting ride, as he went from “That guy who replaced Marc Silvestri on the X-Men because he had a similar style” to “the Publisher of fuckin’ DC Comics”, but there you have it. Lee was just a rookie at the time he took over X-Men , but in typical X-fashion, he became an instant superstar- his stuff was drawn a lot more tightly than Marc’s, and his women more voluptuous- the drawings he did of Psylocke cannot be overstated in their importance to a Young Jab’s puberty, for example.

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Lee notably co-created the character of Gambit, thus popularizing the “Badass Longcoat” as a part of 1990s superhero fashion, and redesigned Psylocke into a scowling, Asian sex-goddess in a recolor of Elektra’s outfit (seriously, how did this pass people by?). He ALSO popularized the weird “Jim Lee Hair-Showing Mask” with Cyclops, Gambit, the Acolytes and others all sporting these inexplicable masks that often left faces, hair and/or ears exposed. I chalk this up to comics slowly moving away from “masked character” designs, artists like Lee wanting to maximize the characters’ expressions, and wanting to keep just enough “superhero” elements for a costume to count, so he threw in spandex in these goofy-ass places just to be able to say it was a superhero. But seriously, he uses them a LOT- even in Image you’ll see it.

Jim, in any case, was the least committed of the Image guys in many ways- he was the hardest one to convince to quit Marvel, and the one who was the least loyal to the “Image Brand”… in that he up and left it eventually. Marvel: The Untold Story details how Jim was on the fence about quitting- he disliked some of how he was being treated, but had a wife and a kid on the way and stuff… but then Marvel started dicking him around. The last straw apparently being them forcing him to pay his own wife’s airfare to a Marvel gig. “You don’t treat a man like Jim Lee that way” was someone’s quote. And so he bailed for Image with the other guys- as the most popular artist in the industry, he gave them a HUGE shot of credibility.

Jim’s style was equal parts dated to the ’90s and incredibly popular even today. He used thin ink-lines and TONS of cross-hatching, but not willy-nilly like Rob Liefeld’s. He was hilariously limited in depth- his men all had the same body mold, as did his women; and he repeated certain visual elements like “Hair-Showing Mask” again and again- but this didn’t really matter. If you wanted a character to look epic, you got Jim Lee. His Magneto remains the most iconic, proud and regal he’s ever looked. His Doctor Doom was awesome. While I criticize and mock most of his Image stuff as derivative and lame, his characters DO hold up in terms of being distinctive from each other, and there’s something to be said for WildC.A.T.s being the only Image team book that still has characters kicking around today. His art is very polished and detailed, yet retains a bit of a soulless kick- he’s not any good at fight scenes really, and more good at “Pre-Fight Posing” instead. Yet when he drew Batman years later he was STILL a sensation. It doesn’t matter what- people love Jim Lee’s art.

Jim annoyed the other Image guys by doing Marvel work with Heroes Reborn along with Rob Liefeld, but that was just the start of his “meh, I don’t care about this whole REBEL AGAINST THE BIG BOYS thing”- the dude straight-up left Image and brought his entire group and character catalogue to DC itself! And then he joined the corporate elites! And he’s the only Publisher of the company now that Dan DiDio is gone! This kind of goes right to the heart of Image- it wasn’t just “Marvel owns us little guys”; it was “WE want to be the guys who own the little guys!”. And I mean… he made his money. Fair enough.

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