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Iconic Interiors: Titan Shines the Spotlight on Jim Lee

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Out now from Titan Books, Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee is a near 300-page extravaganza examining the fan-favorite artist’s work. Broken Frontier takes a look between the covers of this mammoth reference work that traces the creator’s artistic catalogue, ranging from the DC Universe to the WildStorm heroes, and all the way right through to lesser-known rarities and curiosities.

Contradictory as it sounds, the timing of the release of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee—published mere weeks after the announcement that the WildStorm imprint was to be sadly retired from the DC line, is both unfortunate and yet also strangely appropriate. With much of the book focusing on  Lee’s achievements at WildStorm, there was always the danger that, in light of recent events, the book could feel like a wake for the influential studio. That it feels more like a celebration of those characters and their universe is largely thanks to Titan’s handsome presentation of this bumper volume.

Icons begins, fittingly enough, with expansive sections on Lee’s contributions to the Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman mythos. A diverse mix of full and double-page colored spreads, pencil and ink pieces, thumbnails, and pencil roughs give keen insight into Lee’s working practices and design sensibilities. The look at Lee’s retelling of Batman’s origin, for example, produced side by side here with Bob Kane’s original art, is an interesting step-by-step analysis of Lee’s reinterpretation of this pivotal DC moment. Whether the All-Star Batman and Robin series deserved nearly 10 percent of the entire book’s page count, though, or whether that is an inordinate amount of coverage for the notoriously AWOL project, is up to the individual reader to decide.

Both “Hush” and Lee’s Superman collaboration with Brian Azzarello, “For Tomorrow,” also get their moments in the spotlight, but DC Universe fans may find the section on DC heroes to be of more general interest. It’s here that we get to see Lee’s takes on characters we’re not so familiar with him interpreting. From an in-house piece of the Justice League of America bursting into action alongside the Tiny Titans to stunning shots of the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice Society of America, it’s the rarity of Lee’s work on these characters that makes these inclusions all the more rewarding. Similarly, examples of his toy designs, logos, DC Universe Online concept work, film storyboards, and even a design for a pair of Batman sneakers all display the fascinating scope of Lee’s influence.

Like Titan’s recent Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross, though, the book’s principal problem is that the textual input from its subject feels relatively minimal in comparison to its presentation of his work. This could be slightly illusory as, to be fair, the sheer bulk of the publication means the featured interview, by Bob Baker, is broken down into what often amounts to extended soundbites here and there throughout the work. However, there are pages that are just screaming out for further commentary on their contents and, in this respect, there is a feel of superficiality to the proceedings. Lee's fanbase may well take an opposite viewpoint, however, and argue that the images more than speak for themselves.

Moving back to more familiar ground, the second half of Icons is the WildStorm portion of the book where, again, while the readership may enjoy the opportunity of revisiting Lee’s depictions of Gen13, WildC.A.T.S, Deathblow and company, the sparse, accompanying word count represents a missed opportunity to give a greater context to the WildStorm years. Backing this up, and exclusive to the book, is a Paul Levitz-scripted Legion of Super-Heroes tale that, while a rather throwaway story, gives Lee an opportunity to gorgeously depict the Legion’s 31st century world on glossy, oversized pages.

The final section of the book comprises a selection of pin-up pages that underline the dynamism of Lee’s art. Again, this is full of depictions of DC stalwarts not traditionally associated with the artist from the iconic, like Darkseid, to the more obscure characters, like Cynthia of the Three Witches, the hostesses of DC’s horror book, The Witching Hour, from the 1960s/’70s. 

While fans of Jim Lee will probably not learn anything significantly new from the text passages in Icons, as a showcase for the artist’s work it’s an absolutely unmissable and lavish publication that further enhances Titan’s reputation as purveyors of these quality, comics-related, “coffee table” books. Whether you are a Jim Lee enthusiast or not, the production values on display in Icons provide a highly impressive visual treat and a suitable testament to the artist's influence.

Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee is published by Titan Books, priced £24.99 in the UK and $39.95 in the U.S.

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