Chris Samnee recently announced that he was leaving Marvel Comics after years of work under an exclusive contract. The shakeup came as a shock to many fans. Samnee’s work at Marvel has been among their most critically revered in the modern era, with many runs already adapted into omnibuses or Artist’s Editions. In many ways, Samnee was the iconic artist for the publisher across the past decade. His style and approach to storytelling were an excellent fit to every Marvel superhero he approached, and it hooked plenty of new readers along the way.
Now Samnee is leaving for parts unknown. Whether he heads to a competing superhero publisher or decides to join the creator-owned movement, fans ought to be excited for whatever comes next. That excitement is built on years of work at Marvel Comics though, and it’s worthwhile to reflect and celebrate his impressive body of work there before a new announcement steals headlines. Samnee has contributed a great deal to the Marvel mythos and their characters have helped him grow as a comics creator. A lot has changed along the way, and it’s a good time to look back at how Chris Samnee boosted Marvel Comics.
There are no minor Samnee works. Every series he touched at Marvel Comics delivered a definitive turn for the characters involved, no matter how short or long their stories may have gone. Just consider the eight issues of Thor: The Mighty Avenger Samnee worked on with Roger Langridge. While the all-ages spin on Thor’s earliest adventures was cancelled far too soon, the collections have become immensely popular years after the series concluded. It has garnered a reputation as one of the best modern takes on the character, only dwarfed by the titanic runs of creators like Walt Simonson, Jack Kirby, or Jason Aaron.
Similarly short spins with characters like Black Widow and Captain America have received similar praise. Black Widow has never held an ongoing series for too long, but the 12 issues co-created by Samnee offer one of the best starting points for any interested comics reader. His crafting of chase scenes and spycraft showed just how adaptable superhero comics can be, and his new villains may soon be featured on the big screen. Individual issues of the current Captain America series have quickly rejuvenated the character after a dark period as well.
Yet no run is more impressive than his long stint on Daredevil with writer Mark Waid. Their collaboration rivals the daunting legacy of legendary creators like Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis. Its size is only exceeded by its quality, delivering one of the best takes on Marvel’s most consistently impressive series over the decades. Whether it was for a few issues or for a few years, Samnee’s presence on a comic book guaranteed a stellar run.
Chris Samnee: Storyteller
As Samnee’s star rose at Marvel Comics, the narrative of his career began to shift. Nowhere is this more evident than in his collaboration with Mark Waid on Daredevil. In interviews, the pair spoke about one another in glowing terms, and they soon altered their credits on the series to the shared title of “storytellers”. That might seem like a minor adjustment, but it reflects a change from the mainstream in how both publishers and readers view the people who make comic books.
For a long time the conversation has centered on the idea of writers and artists being two distinct categories with clear roles. That wasn’t the case in Waid and Samnee’s partnership, and its rarely the case with other successful collaborations. In crafting scripts, refining stories, and realizing the best possible ideas on the page, this pair worked closely together. Waid helped to promote Samnee (and the role of a comics artist) as a storyteller in a genre where many readers commonly perceive artists primarily as illustrators. This evolution continued on Black Widow where Samnee took even more of a guiding role in plotting and shaping the story. It’s because of this change that many fans expect Samnee to announce a series in which he is the sole cartoonist.
Daredevil was not the first series to use the “storytellers” credit, but it is one of the most prominent and the team did make a point of using that term. That helped to change how readers view their comics as well. In the era of #ArtCred, Samnee’s prominence at Marvel Comics was key in helping everyone understand that there is no comic without an artist. While many readers may still follow writers between series, there’s no doubt that many will follow Samnee, the artist, wherever he goes next.
Style and Substance
It’s easy to see how Samnee is appealing as a storyteller in superhero comics. He can pull off a silent chase sequence that lasts an entire issue and make blind martial arts appealing in fascinating new ways. His action and character design have always been top notch, delivering all the thrills you could want from Marvel Comics. Yet that is only part of the appeal when it comes to Samnee as a storyteller.
His work on Daredevil, and most other Marvel comics, was about far more than the newest villain to be defeated. These series grappled with serious topics through the aesthetics of the superhero genre. In Daredevil the bright and swashbuckling tone of many adventures was used to contrast the depression Matt Murdock was battling. When Daredevil fell into his darkest moment while battling the Purple Children, Samnee beautifully rendered the experience of depression in four almost-entirely black panels. His instincts for when to go small are every bit as defined as those on going big. Character work, like small romantic exchanges between Thor and Jane Foster or an inspiring commitment from Steve Rogers, is a key component of Samnee’s repertoire, and it brings the big ideas in his comics to life.
That combination of style and substance is what makes Chris Samnee a consummate comics storyteller. In a multi-faceted medium where every page can be broken into dozens of different elements, Samnee is someone who grasps each and every one of them. It’s how he has consistently delivered so many great superhero stories over his many years at Marvel Comics. Not only does he deliver plenty of action and fun, but he fuses these actions and experiences with themes. Oftentimes readers may not even realize just how much they are gaining from a single Samnee comic until they turn the last page. That’s the magic of comics as realized by a master magician: Chris Samnee.