Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Captain America, Master Battle Strategist

So, let's take a look at the brand-new, surely-hot-released-just-to-tie-in-with-a-major-motion-picture Marvel Avengers graphic novel, in which they face off against their deadliest robot foe at a late-night electronic/dance party with lots of young people on Ecstasy! Oh, wait, no, that's Rave of Ultron. What we're perusing tonight is Rage of Ultron.

Panels from Avengers: Rage of Ultron graphic novel (June 2015); script by Rick Remender; pencils by Jerome Opeña; inks by Pepe Larraz with Mark Morales; colors by Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Dono Sanchez Almara; letters by Clayton Cowles

As in, man! That Ultron is certainly raging! Right in Manhattan, home of the Mighty Avengers! Circa the period when Hank McCoy, the Beast, was on the team, also known as The Best Era of the Avengers. Captain America is right there, to help evacuate the city by telling the panicking crowd to make their way peacefully and patriotically to the bridge. (Say, Cap, which bridge? Ah, he'll tell ya, just hang around.)

The panel above gives only a rough guesstimate of where the destruction is a-happening, but I'd place it as roughly in Midtown Manhattan, which is pretty much where all the destruction in comics books tends to occur. We're not told the precise location in the comic, but I'm making an educated guess that it's Times Square, mainly because of the sheer excess of X-rated movie theaters there. So: they're in Times Square in the 1970s!

Also, because Times Square is pretty much the only place in New York that has a street area that looks half a mile wide.

To be fair to Times Square during the seventies, it wasn't all girly theaters. Just around the corner on 42nd Street is located revival house the Gem Theater, where on the fourth floor you can find the offices of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire! (More recently, the Gem has served as the HQ for Luke's Mighty Avengers team! Who says this isn't the bountiful Bully age of edifying enlightenment? Except I can't explain why Luke Cage isn't running up to help fight Ultron, too. Maybe it's during that glorious issue where he flew to Latveria to demand of Dr. Doom "Where's my money, honey?"

Panels from Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #2 (August 1972), script by Archie Goodwin, pencils by George Tuska, inks by Billy Graham, letters by John Costanza

By the way, check out which mildly magnificent Marvel mag is being perused by ticket taker Bertha!

Panels from Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #2 (August 1972), script by Archie Goodwin, pencils by George Tuska, inks by Billy Graham, letters by John Costanza

Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that Captain America does direct the fleeing crowds of civilians to evacuate Manhattan by heading east to the George Washington Bridge.

Um. Cap. The George Washington Bridge is west of Manhattan. (And, pretty darn far north of Midtown.)

Cap's sorta of between a rock and a hard place here even if he wasn't directing panicky people in the wrong direction. There's no easy escape route from Midtown that doesn't involve going into tunnels (the Lincoln Tunnel to the west of Midtown, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the east, both in orange), which I can't imagine is the best place to send folks during a crisis. But honestly, Cap? "Keep moving downtown on Broadway, head for the Manhattan Bridge." would probably be the fastest evacuation he could hope for.

Y'know, it's too bad Spider-Man wasn't an Avenger during this era, because if Spider-Man knows anything, he knows where the George Washington Bridge is.

Panels from Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #121 (June 1973), script by Gerry Conway, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by John Romita Sr. and Tony Mortellaro, colors by David Hunt, letters by Artie Simek

Then again, that's probably the Brooklyn Bridge that's pictured there, but improperly described as the George Washington (especially since he's show swinging downtown from the United Nations). Does no Marvel Manhattanite know the bridges of New York?

But hey, it's not like Steve Rogers was born in New York City or has lived there ever since he got de-Cap-sicled. Oh wait. Yes, he has.

Teniversary Countdown #20: Previously, on Marvel's Daredevil

Panels from Fables #10 (April 2003), script by Bill Willingham, pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoham, colors by Daniel Vozzoham, letters by Todd Kleinbacon

365 Days of Star Wars Comics, Day 126: That wizard is just a MAD old man

Panel from "Star Roars" in MAD #196 (January 1978), script by Larry Siegel and Dick DeBartolo, pencils and inks by Harry North

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Scott McCloud Must Be Turning in His Grave, Part 2: The Cat Race

Yesterday I bedeviled the peaceful eternal sleep of Mister Scott McCloud yes, I know he's not actually dead by showing stories that could shake a reader or a little stuffed bull out of the story by violating some fairly basic albeit unwritten rules of comics visual language! Whew! Which is a lot of rhetoric to point to a comic book with a bit of storytelling trouble and say hey, look at this!

So, hey, look at this!:

Panels from Catwoman (2011 series) #32 (August 2014), script by Ann Nocenti, pencils by Patrick Olliffe, inks by Tom Nguyen, colors by Sonia Oback, letters by Travis Lanham

Vice and Swindle! They're America's new sweetheart comedy sensations! He's an INTERPOL agent and she's got tin-foil on her face. Vice and Swindle! Their type of fast-talking Dorothy Parker-style tennis-ball dialogue hasn't been seen in comics since Image cancelled Rob Liefeld's Gilmore Girls comic book! Swice and Vindle! They're the hottest romantic couple since Dave and Maddie! Fold and Spindle!

Let's come back to them in a minute.

Scott McCloud has a lot to say about successive panel progression in his meisterverk Understanding Comics. Hey, Scott, can you guest-lecture my good readers about panels for a moment, please?

Panels from Understanding Comics (1993); script, pencils, and inks by Scott McCloud; letters by Bob Lappan

McCloud spends a lot of time in UC examining the concept, purpose, and rules of the comic book panel and the space between each panel (the gutter). Here he reminds us that not everything you see in a single comic book panel represents just One Moment in Time (™2010 Marvel Comics), which is how you can have Ben Grimm decking Doctor Doom while they each speechify for a couple word balloons each. McCloud provides an example of a single panel displaying progressive action and how the shorthand of that panel stretches the action out over a period of time that runs from left to right, the same direction we read the panel.

Of course the obvious conclusion you can draw from this example of a panel progressing through time is that Uncle Henry is a jerk. If'n you're reading my blog I'm guessing you're fairly familiar with the visual language of comics, so that time progression isn't baffling to you. Most folks, even if they only read comic strips with or without Garfield, can subconsciously pick up the visual shorthand of a panel's action even if they haven't studied comics or even read Armageddon 2001. Consider (won't you?) that if this panel were a photograph, it would capture only a single flashpoint (™2011 DC Comics) in time. Even if this series of events was filmed, each movie frame would still only capture one twenty-fourth of a second. Only comics can compress so much time and action into this merging of visual and textual information.

What's this all gotta do with that sequence from Catwoman up above, you might ask, aside from spotlighting the sheer star power that is the celebrity couple known collectively as Vicindle? Well, to quote the title of a 1960s TV series I really logically should have never heard of it's about time. More specifically: when are the pictured events in the series of panels happening? The Western mind reads a comic panel from right to left and/or top to bottom, and places those events in sequence. But! And this is a big butt here — I like those and I cannot lie — while the unwritten visual rules of comic tell us that events inside a panel happen in progression, it shouldn't show us that two contradictory things are happening at once.

What's contradictory about that first panel? The suggestion that Catwoman is driving her pink car towards the action and is still at a distance during the conversation, and yet the second panel suggests she already arrived during the first panel. (Or, how else would Catwoman overhear the mention of Roulette?)

Here, let me get out my projection screen and pointer and I'll demonstrate. (Click on the below image to embiggen!)

Even though panel one is taking place over a specific period of time, the presence of the cars in the background of panel one is a visual shortcut to tell us that they're driving towards the action, but there's zero clue that they have already arrived at the action. McCloud talks about the progression of time in a comics panel using a rope metaphor:

Slightly hampered by my ability to convincingly Photoshop in a piece of rope, here's how that works in the Catwoman panel:

So, even though we see the cars in the background, and we know by the clouds of dust and the action lines that they're moving towards the foreground, conventional comics wisdom doesn't support that Catwoman drove her car up to Vice and Swindle, shut off the engine, got out of the car and overheard that third speech balloon at the same time we're seeing her car still driving towards the foreground. In other words: there's a progression of time here, but the panel violates its own visual language. That's a minor but powerful sequence confusion that can draw me right out of the action and make me more concerned about how the story is being told.

Like I did yesterday, I've made a rough Photoshop attempt to mildly tweak the action. Does this work better with the sequence of events?

Because of the co-creative nature of creating a comic (first script, then art, balloon placement, and finally lettering), you can't point to any one specific person responsible for this hiccup in comics unwritten language. It, like the Wolverines panels I examined yesterday, is a product of the collaborative creative method, and when you consider how many people are involved in the creation of each comic made in this manner, it's actually impressive that this sort of hiccup is actually a rarity. But it's telling that when it's there, you do tend to notice it.

Besides, what really made me think about this story was: just how did Catwoman manage to get into the Wacky Races anyway? By the way, Ann Nocenti and Patrick Olliffe and Travis Lanham are all pretty keen, so no blame or malice is intended!

Teniversary Countdown #21: There's a naked Wonder Woman not wearing any clothes in my comic and she's nude

From the pages of the tenth issue ofSteve Trevor's favorite comic book!

Panel from "The Sky Road" in Wonder Woman (1942 series) #10 (Fall 1944), script by William Moulton Marston, pencils and inks by Harry G. Peter

365 Days of Star Wars Comics, Day 125: Bend my Wookiee? That's unpossible!

Panel from Star Wars: Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back #2 (August 2002), script by Dave Land, pencils by Davide Fabbri, inks by Christian Dalla Vecchia, colors by Dan Jackson, letters by Steve Dutro

Today in Comics History: Location shooting begins for Gone with the Wind

Panel from "Marching Through Georgia" in Attack #54 (Charlton, October 1958), script by Joe Gill (?), pencils and inks by Don Perlin (?)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Scott McCloud Must Be Turning in His Grave, Part 1: The Unbearable Persistence of Panels

Maybe I worry a little too much about this stuff, but I've been a wee bit dismayed at recent comic books that seem to violate a couple of the basic rules of visual narrative storytelling. Or, to put it another way: that panel don't look right. True, unless you count How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way (sorry Stan, but I really don't), there's not truly a rule book for this sort of stuff, and in fact I salute heartily with my little mug of frosty root beer anybody who goes wild to create a phantasmagorical visual experience in comics (f'r example, the recent Silver Surfer #11). But you know that uneasy feeling you get when millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror, and are silenced? Or, the feeling you get when chili peppers burn your gut? That's the this is sorta off-key experience I have in looking at some of these comic books.

Here's a mild example:

Panels from Fantastic Four #644 (May 2015), script by James Robinson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Karl Kesel, colors by Jesus Aburtov and Tamara Bonvillain, letters by Clayton Cowles

Let me set up the context in what you're seeing here: the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are battling a team of nightmare fuel Avengers straight out of the 1996 "Heroes Reborn" era when Jim Lee's Wildstorm Productions and Rob Liefeld Extreme Studios took over creation of four top-tier Marvel comics for a year. (Short summary: it weren't that good.) That's why you've got All-New Captain America thrown' his mighty shield at all-over face-masked Hawkeye (who was supposed to be Wonder Man Simon Williams, except Rob Liefeld forgot to tell anyone). So that's why Captain America's shield is getting battered away in the third panel by another Captain America from the Heroes Reborn Pocket Universe. Clear as mud? Good.

Except...and this bothers me...

…there appears to be three shields in that panel.

Now, yes. I know there isn't. The big one that seems to be in the upper left hand corner is actually the shield from the first panel violating its panel borders, which makes the first panel bombastic and dynamic, but crosses over into another panel where there's already two identical items. Technically, there's actually nothing wrong here, and honestly, it's only momentarily disconcerting. But it still threw me for a second, and I don't think that I'm a particularly clueless comic book reader. It's just one of those panels that throws you out of the story momentarily. Or is it just me? Oh well, clear enough, fair enough.

Now let's talk about Wolverines #1 and another example that appears to violate one of those unwritten rules.

Get it? Because it says published every month except March and then it says the publication month is March!


Actually, that's not really what I wanted to point out to you in Wolverines #1, but it was just too good to ignore. Here's what I wanted to point out to you:

Panels from Wolverines #1 (March 2015), script by Charles Soule, pencils by Nick Bradley, inks by Walden Wong, colors by FCO Plascencia, letters by Cory Petit


In the first panel you have Endo (Endo? Truly, all the good superhero code names have been taken) on the left and Mystique on the right, and in the second and third panels, their positions are reversed. Add to that the visual confusion that Mystique is temporarily changing herself into Endo, and the storytelling isn't clear for a second. What, did Mystique suddenly take a jump to the left to do her quick change trick? Was Endo Mystique all along or...? My point...I do have one…is that any time you change the a general rule of visual storytelling, like constancy of placement from panel to panel, you risk throwing the little stuffed bull reader out of the moment.

Wait a minute. Let's try this, and we'll discover something interesting:

I've (very amateurly) flipped the orientation of each of the bottom two panels, and wait just one gosh-darned minute, when you do it this way the symbol on Endo's uniform in panels two and three matches the symbol in panel one. And the mountain range is in the same correct position! Which suggests that rather than Nick Bradley drawing the two characters in the wrong orientation, he originally drew them in the right orientation, but before publication those two panels were flipped. Maybe by Bradley, maybe by the editor of the comic; we don't know. The reason behind this could be that the third panel reads more powerfully (in my opinion) if you have Mystique leading on the left in the third panel. Mystique is talking throughout the third panel, and the way I've flipped it, at first glance it looks as if Endo might be the one talking. So it's appears to be a decision on the art that improves the storytelling in one place but violates it in another. At least it saved Nick Bradley from having to draw the whole thing again. But it still bugged me.

Say, is this post to be continued? Yes! Tomorrow: I try to re-write a Catwoman comic, and not just to add kitten jokes.

Teniversary Countdown #22: Thumbthing in the way he moves

Panel from Justice League of America #10 (March 1962), script by Gardner Fox, pencils by Mike Sekowsky, inks by Bernard Sachs, letters by Gaspar Saladino

365 Days of Star Wars Comics, Day 124: It'll never last

Hey, it's May 4, and May the Fourth is always International Pet a Wookiee Day or something Star Warsy like that. So let's look back at the beginning of the whole shebang in comics with a but-this-doesn't-star-Wolverine house ad for the very first Star Wars comic book of them all!

House ad for Star Wars (1977 Marvel series) #1 (July 1977), pencils by Howard Chaykin, inks by Tom Palmer; printed in Invaders #18 (July 1977)

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Ten of a Kind #403: What can we say? It was the nineties

(More Ten of a Kind here.)

No, I don’t know what any of these are worth today! Go try to sell them to Mike Sterling, why doncha?

Teniversary Countdown #23: And then, it happened!

Here's one of my favorite sequences from a comic book's issue #10, to celebrate my ever-closer-growing tenth anniversary of blogging! HEY STOP RIPPING OFF BATMAN '66 JACK

Panels from Fantastic Four (1961 series) #10 (January 1963), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers, colors by Stan Goldberg, letters by Artie Simek

Followed by The World's Greatest Comic Caption:

365 Days of Star Wars Comics, Day 123: People Let Me Tell You 'Bout My Best Friend

Panels from Harvest Is When I Need You the Most (2008), script by Dave Roman; pencils, inks, and colors by Raina Telgemeier

Today in Comics History: The original Free Comics Day gives away over 20,000 feet of folded manuscript comics

Panels from Understanding Comics (1993); script, pencils, and inks by Scott McCloud; letters by Bob Lappan