Heart Eyes

Heart Eyes

Dennis Hopeless, Victor Ibáñez, Addison Duke, K.J. Díaz & Simon Bowland

Vault Comics


144 pages

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So have I ever mentioned my theory of cheesecake? Maybe I’ve mentioned it once or twice. Maybe “theory” is overstating it... let’s say maxim. Tegan’s Cheesecake Maxim, if you will:

As drawing attractive women well is among the most singularly difficult aspects of drawing, cheesecake art disproportionately attracts disproportionately talented artists.

We live in a culture saturated with images of female beauty, as has been elaborated nigh unto death. Everyone understands the concept, everyone is well-versed, even those who might bewail it. We cannot escape it, although we can interrogate it. And the question here, in regards to comic book art, is a matter of skill: in order to pass muster on a topic with which everyone is intimately familiar, you have to know how to draw.

How to really draw.

You can maybe fudge the make of a car or a horse, if you don’t draw them very often. People will forgive a wonky-looking baby, because no one knows how to draw a good baby. Draw a weird-looking woman, however, and everyone will remember. If you’re good enough to emphasize that aspect of your work, you should find ample employment, all things being equal.

This is something I figured out relatively early in my development as a reader, I should say, thanks to the work of one man: Adam Hughes.

Adam Hughes pencils from Ghost #1 (Apr. 1995); inked by Mark Farmer, colored by Digital Chameleon, lettered by Steve Haynie, written by Eric Luke.

Hughes doesn’t maybe get as much shine these days as he could. Sadly, his later output is almost entirely in the realm of covers, with gradually diminishing interior work as his career advances and his reputation grows. If you weren’t around for the '90s, you might not really understand just how big a deal he was. He wasn’t part of Image, apart from a few small projects: a gorgeous Gen¹³ miniseries from 1996, f’rinstance, with a mash note in the back from Charles Vess. There wasn’t a lot of creator-owned work, either his own or someone else’s characters. He made slightly offbeat choices, like the first three issues of Dark Horse’s Ghost in 1995, still among my favorite comics ever printed. He was already, even then, however, beginning to transition into what we can call a “covers guy.”

But go back in time, look past the hype cycles, see what the real artist’s artists are looking at. Everyone with an eye had that eye on Hughes. He was the man to beat, because he could draw just about anything. Women, men, comedy, fight scenes, sci-fi, romance, monsters, basic panel-to-panel... look where you will, you will find naught but gorgeous, technically-perfect drawing in every crevice of Hughes’ bibliography. His early Justice League, '89, '90? Still holds up, still gorgeous. Same with his brief stint on Legionnaires in the early '90s. But what do people want to see - Adam Hughes drawing spaceships and army men? No. We all know the answer to that question.

Adam Hughes art from Legionnaires #9 (Dec. 1993); colored by Tom McCraw, lettered by Pat Brosseau, written by Tom & Mary Bierbaum.

Now, Hughes wasn’t the first, and he certainly wasn’t the last such artist to specialize in cheesecake and cheesecake-adjacent mainstream art. Certainly, Wally Wood is perhaps the first such master, one of the best ever at drawing women, even as he notoriously resented drawing nothing but. Frazetta, even and especially in his comics work. If you’ve never looked at Frazetta’s comics, do yourself a favor. Had he not wandered over to fine arts he could have been one of the all-time greats... but you can’t blame him for seeking greener pastures. (The sad lesson here, from careers as diverse as Wood and Frazetta and Hughes: comics can’t afford to pay good artists what they're worth to actually draw comics.) You can draw a direct line between Frazetta and Dave Stevens, another artist’s artist, another cheesecake master, another formidable talent who made a better living doing anything but comics. And we must not forget José Luis García-López, whose figure drawing earned the admiration of none other than Moebius.

But Hughes is the bottleneck, as it were. The central figure for comic book cheesecake artists for over three decades and counting. His understanding of form and shape, musculature and gesture; smooth and seamless. And soon after Hughes makes his name there emerge artists with unmistakable affinities, conscious or not. Stuart Immonen entered the industry only one year later than Hughes, and shares with him a strong penchant for illustrating the subtleties of dimension on the page. Also did a sizable run on Legion, the main book, around the same time Hughes was on Legionnaires. And even if I wouldn’t classify Immonen as a cheesecake guy per se, maybe take a minute to go through his back pages and you might be surprised. From there it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to the Dodsons—Terry and Rachel—and Yanick Paquette as well.

* * *

But who are we here to talk about today? Ah, yes - Víctor Ibáñez.

According to my sources (, although they’ve been known to miss), Ibáñez's first published comic is a story titled "Katavi" in the Robin / Spoiler Special from August 2008. But that can’t possibly be right. It’s too good. It’s not “formative,” whatever that means. It’s not lacking. Oh, sure, in context with the rest of Ibáñez‘s career, it suffers. But it’s already gorgeous. I’m a fan of the Spoiler, so I’m perhaps given to bias. In 2010 he does a book with Andy Diggle called Rat Catcher, a black & white noir series poured from the same mold as so many Brubaker / Phillips collaborations, already then a household name in comics circles following the acclaim of Sleeper (2003-2005) and Criminal (beginning 2006, still going). It’s a stretch for Ibáñez, but not a bad job at all. He squeezes a lot of juice out of that greyscale. Uncharacteristic, but interesting.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Zatanna #16 (Oct. 2011); colored by "Ego", lettered by Dave Sharpe, written by Adam Beechen.

He’s at DC for seven years, all told, 2008-2015, and exclusively for much of that. Although he’s only doing single issues at a time, those issues already look spectacular. Case in point: Zatanna #16, from 2011, right on the cusp of the New 52. Did you remember Zatanna had a series in 2011? It started off with Paul Dini writing, but issue #16 (the series’ last) was written by Adam Beecher. It’s a gorgeous comic book starring a pretty girl who gets to meet some otherworldly monsters, thanks to the mischief of Klarion, certainly one of Jack Kirby’s weirder brain fruit. Would you like to hear who did the covers for that volume of Zatanna? Would you believe a strapping young lad by the name of Adam Hughes? Just three years in, they’ve figured out that Víctor Ibáñez can indeed draw a little bit like Hughes, that he should maybe even lean into that.

If you can draw a fraction as good as Hughes, you already stand head and shoulders above most everyone else.

In 2012 he does an issue of The Spirit with writer Lilah Sturges. Go have a look, it’s really nice. Always a bit incongruous to see the Spirit in a modernized setting, even as I recognize they’ve certainly done it enough. As with many of Denny Colt’s adventures, there’s an attractive woman at the center of it: Alabaster Cream, definitely a “type” just as P’Gell was a “type.” In this instance, a late '00s / early '10s slightly domesticated alt “type”: retro haircut, tattoos, clunky glasses, Chucks. I assure you, Ibáñez has no difficulty drawing pretty women of any vintage, but we will see more characters in this vein later.

His first Marvel work is also in 2012, an issue of Matt Fraction’s Defenders. A plot-heavy book, so perhaps not the best opportunity for an artist to stretch. That series, if you recall, was launched by the Dodsons, who continued to provide covers even as they left following the first handful of issues (because the Defenders never sell, even when you get the Dodsons to draw them). Clearly they felt he fit that style. At DC, as with many artists, he was slightly adrift in the period immediately following the inauguration of the New 52. He draws an issue of Swamp Thing in 2012, alongside Yanick Paquette. Another very good artist with whom Ibáñez is able to keep pace. Also, another book about a girl and monsters. Put a pin in that, we’re going to circle back.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Wonder Woman #23.1 (Nov. 2013); colored by Wil Quintana, lettered by Travis Lanham, written by John Ostrander.

There’s some work for Dark Horse on their revival of Captain Midnight, the old radio character. Covers for DC - some rather striking pieces, actually. Check out Constantine #14, if you don’t believe me. There’s a brutal Cheetah spotlight during DC’s 2013 “Villains Month,” written by no less than John Ostrander. Then a Lyssa Drak spotlight tale for 2015’s Sinestro Annual, written by Cullen Bunn. A lot of girls, a lot of monsters - a lot of monster girls, one might even say.

But, glancing down his bibliography for DC, he’s not doing much of consequence, as the decade grinds on. Finally, in 2016, he heads over to Marvel and stays for a stretch. Between 2012 and 2016, his only work for Marvel appears to be a handful of issues of 2014’s Storm solo series, written by Greg Pak. Storm is, of course, a great character who has suffered in want of any kind of solo hook separate from her attachment to the X-Men, but these are nonetheless very handsome-looking comics. Ibáñez draws expressive, distinctive characters, and knows how to draw women with more than one type of face. He draws a great Storm, and he’s also become a formidable background artist by this time. Oh yeah, Storm #1? It’s partially about a new mutant, a girl who can make plants grow, which can look like blooming flowers or creepy mushrooms. Monster girl? Check.

From here, Ibáñez settles in for a relatively long run on Extraordinary X-Men, written by Jeff Lemire - beginning with issue #3 in 2016 and running off-and-on through the concluding issue #20 the following year. This period of X-Men comics doesn’t have a particularly strong reputation. It was a “back to basics” period in a lot of respects, focused on character-driven action stories after years of more sweeping arcs, intended specifically as recovery from the dreadful Inhumans vs. X-Men period, which lasted all the way into 2017. Ibáñez is, in frankness, a great artist for the X-Men. A sprawling cast of characters, all of whom have different body types and different emotional registers. Some people can draw body types and emotional registers, and some people can’t.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Extraordinary X-Men #15 (Dec. 2016); layouts by Guillermo Mogorrón, colored by Jay David Ramos, lettered by Joe Caramagna, written by Jeff Lemire.

You know who else features prominently in those issues of Extraordinary X-Men? Illyana Rasputin, a sexy woman who, yes, just happens to have a dimension full of evil Lovecraftian monsters at her beck and call. From that series he matriculates to 2017-18’s Jean Grey - the only attempt ever made for a solo book starring Jean Grey, it should be noted, and it wasn’t even the real her. It was the younger Jean they brought back from the past at the outset of Brian Michael Bendis’ run, in 2012, and who then just stuck around in the present for the better part of a decade.

This was also, I believe, the first time Ibáñez ever worked with the writer Dennis Hopeless. Hopeless was one of the signature creators behind this era on the X-books, someone who places an emphasis on character development with an ear towards how these very well-defined characters talk to each other. No small thing in the world of comic books! With a franchise like the X-Men, just getting the characters right is at least half the battle, possibly more. Flipping through Ibáñez’s issues of Jean Grey, what jumps out is that the series lives or dies on the artist’s ability to draw one specific woman’s facial expressions. And to draw a younger woman as attractive while also noticeably different than her older self, who is typically drawn to resemble a pin-up model. Add just to add extra difficulty, many of the other distaff members of the extended Summers-Grey bloodline also show up for supporting roles - meaning, of course, that you have many characters in the same story who are supposed to carry a close family resemblance without actually being identical. Try doing that while chewing gum, I double dog dare you. A challenge for any artist.

Now, in terms of monsters, well, there’s a pack of Reavers in issue #2, but they’re cyborgs, not otherworldly monstrosities. There’s a terrifying deep sea monster in issue #3. Oh yeah, Illyana shows up in issue #11, with a clutch of limbo creatures. Told you, there’s no escape from the monster girls.

Víctor Ibáñez & Alberto Alburquerque art from Jean Grey #11 (Mar. 2018); colored by Jay David Ramos, lettered by Travis Lanham, written by Dennis Hopeless.

Anyway, that series wrapped in 2018 - what’s Ibáñez been up to since? There are a couple Domino stories worth mentioning. The first was actually in 2017, with Leah Williams, for issue #5 of the Secret Empire: Brave New World anthology. That one has Domino in a bikini trying to kill Emma Frost, also in swimwear. Then in 2018, with Gail Simone, for Domino Annual #1. Domino isn’t wearing a bikini in that one—quelle surprise!—but her pal Outlaw is in it, and Outlaw’s costume is more revealing than most swimwear. So, no monsters, but definitely girls.

Also in 2018 he draws a Wonder Woman Halloween story (in the delightfully-titled Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1) where Diana fights some manner of sea harpy. Hmmm. In 2019 he draws a backup for Venom Annual #1, featuring a new character, Lady Hellbender. Lady Hellbender hunts horrific nether-beasts so she can keep them in a zoo for her own nefarious purposes, and showcases her ample cleavage while so doing. Hmmm! That same year he draws an Aquaman Annual where Arthur fights... undersea leviathans, and the evil monster women who control them. Hmmm!

Throughout that year, Victor Ibáñez drew variant covers for all five issues of Kelly Thompson’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch revival. By now you must see, this is the most Victor Ibáñez assignment conceivable: cute girls in spooky surroundings. Dude has a niche, no doubt. In case you’re wondering, Adam Hughes also appears for one of the variants on the premiere issue. Good company.

* * *

All of which brings us to 2022-23, and the project that serves as the culmination of Ibáñez's career to date: Heart Eyes, written by Hopeless, and newly compiled in trade from Vault Comics. Would you believe me if I told you this was a comic about girls and monsters? A stretch, I know.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Heart Eyes #3 (Nov. 2022); colored by K.J. Díaz, lettered by Simon Bowland, written by Dennis Hopeless.

As for the premise - let me ask you, how well do you remember Lady Death? Not the later versions, where they sanded down the Pantera and added a little Hawkwind to the mix. I mean prime-era mid '90s Chaos! Comics Lady Death, created by Brian Pulido and memorably drawn by another Hughes, the sadly deceased Steven. The evil babe who first appeared as a hallucination in Evil Ernie, and later received her own origin and solo franchise. What was her deal again? Well: “classic” Lady Death wanted to kill every last person on the planet, because Lucifer pissed her off (it’s more complicated than that, but this review is already too long). She was an avatar of unspeakable evil, with the powers of the underworld at her beck and call, as well as being—you’ll forgive the vulgar expression, but we’re all grown-ups here—stacked. To a degree undreamt since the days of Little Annie Fanny and Wally Wood’s Power Girl. Sex and death go together like peanut butter and chocolate, don’t you know. I think Freud said that.

Heart Eyes is tilling the same killing field as Lady Death, albeit updated for current fashion. Our villainous heroine is no broadsword-wielding bad girl - no, Lupe is to all appearances just a normal young woman, albeit a very cute one. She almost kind of resembles Alabaster Cream, albeit without so much of the Obama era “adorkable” affectation. Lupe is the conduit between Earth and another dimension full of evil monsters - relentless, ravenous hordes of hungry insectoids who can’t be stopped by nuclear bombs. Referred to only as “Feeders,” these creatures set about depopulating the planet in short order. Although the book steers clear of actually naming the trappings of Lovecraft, the proceedings here are very much in that line. There’s another realm full of creatures—a literal manifestation of “crawling chaos”—who regard humanity solely as meat, and for whom fear is the most delicious seasoning. All they need is a door and an anchor to make their way to the feeding grounds.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Heart Eyes #1 (Aug. 2022); colored by Addison Duke, lettered by Simon Bowland, written by Dennis Hopeless.

If you like monsters, this is the book for you. This comic has a lot of monsters, and they’re all different, though often just a quavering bulk of tentacles, teeth and inhuman eyes. Of course they’re completely terrifying, so they feed well. Lupe isn’t afraid, however, and she encounters a number of people who find similar ways to overcome their fear in these circumstances. The last survivors are eking out brief patches of life amidst global genocide, but then here comes Lupe, adorable young woman, lost in the world and just looking for friends. It’s not her fault that everyone is so afraid of her friends. She’s going to keep looking, though, a process which just happens to entail her ferreting out survivors to be devoured.

The story is told more or less from Lupe’s perspective, although it takes no pains to hide fact that she’s the villain of the piece: literally the herald of the end of the world. Lupe is completely insane, which only makes sense - part of her seems to regret what has happened as a direct result of her inviting the demons to earth. Not a large part, mind. Why did she invite the demons in the first place? Some other girls were mean to her. That’s it. She gets yelled at for being a weirdo in book club. Because she is, clearly, and in response to that tongue-lashing she opens up a crevice in the middle of the street out of which climb the forces of hell.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Heart Eyes #2 (Sept. 2022); colored by Addison Duke, lettered by Simon Bowland, written by Dennis Hopeless.

This is a genuinely spooky story. Lupe is a dreadfully unique horror character, a woman lying to herself about who she is and what she does, who allows herself to be used by powers far beyond her comprehension. (That’s a theme of that run of Jean Grey, actually, much of which is concerned with the younger Grey fighting hard not to be overtaken by her own cosmic monster, in the form of the Phoenix.) But ultimately, as I said, Lupe is too far gone to note more than minor compunctions, and by then its hard to sift any actual feeling from the crocodile tears shed to impress a boy.

Do not doubt: she desperately wants to talk to boys. Not merely is she a horny youth, she’s a thoroughly lonely person in general. Wouldn’t you be too, if the only people you had to talk to were unspeakable monsters from beyond our ken? The plot entails Lupe finally finding someone similarly unafraid, to keep her company on her long march to Armageddon. Of course, they turn out to be as insane as she is, but at that point there’s no one left alive with so much as a sliver of sanity.

Víctor Ibáñez art from Heart Eyes #2 (Sept. 2022); colored by Addison Duke, lettered by Simon Bowland, written by Dennis Hopeless.

But the reason to read Heart Eyes is, of course, the art, by Mr. Ibáñez. If you’ve never seen his work before, it will come as a revelation. If you’re familiar, you should still find it a revelation, as I say without any fear of contradiction this is the best work of his career. It’s not just monsters—although, you guys, there are so many monsters—it’s the detailed cities the monsters destroy, all that carnage and expressive rubble and the hordes of panicked people. Straight out of early Bryan Hitch. Addison Duke’s and K.J. Díaz's colors are perfectly chosen, nauseating otherworldly neons and pastels. A lot of people die in this book, but he doesn’t overdo the red. Simon Bowland as letterer ensures that the occasional intrusion of alien thoughts onto Lupe is as intrusive as it probably feels.

Horror has had a good few years in comics. DC publishes a lot of horror now, as do BOOM! and Dark Horse and Image. Basically the only stapled comics company that hasn’t made a big push is Marvel. God bless ‘em, they can’t even get Blade to sell. Asking for a proper Tomb of Dracula revival is probably a bridge too far for the House of Ideas as presently constituted. But, if you’re a fan of horror, like I say, you’ve had run of the pantry. Do not sleep on Heart Eyes, even if you might be a little late to that party. It’s a creepy, thoroughly unsettling yarn, and a tour de force that announces the maturity of our finest purveyor of monster girls, in big bold letters for emphasis. May the future bring us many more.