I read Dark Reign over the weekend and it’s really sticking with me. I can’t get it out of my head. And I’m not just talking about the wonderfully finessed lettering of my pal Chris Eliopoulos.

Have you ever loved something and hated it at the same time? That’s kind of how I feel about Alex Maleev’s art. It’s gotten to the point of obsession with me, and I just can’t wrap my head around it.

First of all, I love this guy’s draftsmanship. There are very very artists who can relay character into faces as well as Alex. (Although Amanda Connor and Kevin Maguire are right up there.) But where Connor and Maguire are aces at conveying attitude, Maleev does the whole package. Each of his characters is an entire person — fully unique and three-dimensional.

I mean, just look at his Namor (click to page to the right for a bigger view). I can practically smell the sea on the page. His Loki is equally well-realized. She’s attractive, yet she’s not Barbie-doll perfect as we’ve come to expect in comics.

So what’s not to like?

It’s hard to describe, but the art has this roughness that really bugs me.

To try to explain myself, I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to say right upfront: I may be completely off-base here. However, here’s my theory.

A couple years ago, comic artist started to figure out how to scan their pencils so they could skip the inking process. They could get a solid, dark black on their darkest pencil lines and drop out the lighter lines and tones. I had a guy lecture me about it for hours last year at a convention.

Saves time, saves money. Why wouldn’t you do it?

Well, because many times (if you’re not a very tight penciller) the end result looks too soft. And way too sloppy.

Now, here we have Maleev… with the sole art-related credit on the book… coming out with some tremendous draftsmanship. But the end result has so much visual noise. The lines get choppy at times, and they sometimes waver. And sometimes, there’s just way too much linework cluttering up some otherwise beautiful panels.

Does Maleev do the scanned-pencils thing with his art? I have no idea. I know his art is gorgeous. I know the guy has more talent in his pinkie finger than most others can muster throughout their bodies. I know he’s one of the very best of the century.

And I know I’d like to see his paired with a talented inker.