Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers Movie


May the Fourth be with you? Pshaw—not after umpteen "special" editions. How about "Avengers Day" instead?

Loved the film, seeing it again tomorrow, will have more comments later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Diamonds are Forever in Frank Miller's Daredevil

I've been rereading Frank Miller's run on Daredevil lately, and the following page from "Gang War!" (issue #172, July 1981) caught my eye:


Here Miller and inker Klaus Janson turn in a wonderful piece of fight choreography. The use of tiered panels gives them lots of room for their figural work (the entire issue has lots going on panel-wise; this fight is mostly done in horizontal tiers, setting up a spectacular shift on the page after this one, a page that replaces horizontals with verticals). And their figures are spectacular! The Z-patterns I've discussed previously on this blog show up here as well, but doubled (or possibly even tripled). The first Z occupies panels 1-2: Daredevil's left hook draws our eye through the first panel to the right (even as his right arm reverses this motion, tossing Bulleye's gun away to the left), while the elbow to Bullseye's back takes us down and left into the second panel (aided by motion lines and the deliberate crossing of the gutter by Daredevil's hands). The leftward force of Daredevil's attack focuses our attention on Bulleye's kick in the left half of the panel; that exchange of blows is also a second diagonal line down from panel 1, a line formed by the angles Daredevil occupies in both panels. A similar parallelism is taking place on the right side of the panels as Bullseye's elbow draws our attention down to his head shooting forward. That head jerk sends us to panel 3 (as does the heavy use of black shadow on the Daredevil figures in both panels' left halves).

Panel 3 continues the downward, leftward stroke of the Z-pattern. Once again, gutter crossings aid and abet our eyes here: Bullseye's knee gets us from panel 2 to panel 3, and the brick in his left hand in panel 4 connects back to panel 3 (assisted by the lines on his glove and boot). But the shift from panel 4 to panel 5 splits. The main stroke of the Z runs down and left into the rightward moving boot that Bullseye delivers to Daredevil's face–a kick that sets up the final, horizontal strike of the Z. At the same time, Bullseye's panel 4 brick attack sets up another diagonal path into panel 5, this time running down and right into another kick by the villain. Motion lines aid this transition, although they establish a bit of tension between the lines of the page layout and the diegetic action of the story—Bullseye's brick attack and second kick are both moving up and left even as our eye moves down and right.

Panel 6 looks like it's starting a new Z-pattern with panel 5 as the top horizontal stroke, and panel 6 as the beginning of the downward diagonal stroke. The motion of the figures in the panel might be a truncated bottom horizontal, but something else is going on here besides Z-patterns. Look at panels 2 and 5: both break the page's general rule of one action per panel. Panel 2 gives us two attacks, and so does panel 5. Moreover, both attacks aim at the center of the panel: the lefthand attack in each panel moves right while the righthand attack moves left.

There's also a mirror-effect going on here. Panels 1-3 depict Daredevil in charge of the encounter, while panels 4-6 give Bullseye an edge. Panel 2's double-figures are mirrored in an X-pattern with panel 5's double-figures: we see all of the combatants in the exchange on the left half of panel 2 and on the right half of panel 5, while the right half of panel 2 and the left half of panel 5 give us close-up shots of the action (even if the character getting struck differs in the two panels). The bricks on the right side of panel 3 are mirrored by the bricks on the right side of panel 6. Daredevil is on the left in both panels 1 and 4, Bulleye's on the right. Finally, in panels 3 and 6, Bullseye is positioned on top of Daredevil.

In fact, the more I look at the page, the more I see two vertically-stacked diamond patterns. The first diamond is panels 1-3; the second, panels 4-6. The Z-patterns help us move from panel to panel, but the diamond patterns anchor the entire page as a single instance of layout. Perfectly legible stuff, but awesomely intricate as well.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kirby Page Layout . . . Now with Panther Power

There's a Kirby page from Fantastic Four #52--the Black Panther's debut issue--that I've been wanting to talk about ever since I read Hagop's lovely discussion of it at The Short Box back in February.  Here's the page in question:


Hagop does a good job of discussing what makes individual panels on this page exemplars of Kirby's style.  What I'd like to add to that analysis is a reading of the page's overall layout, one that takes into account Kirby's ability to masterfully direct the reader's eye from one panel to the next.

For example, we once again see our old friend the Z-pattern.  Here it's based on Ben Grimm (with an assist from Johnny Storm).  In panel 1, Ben rushes toward the right edge of the panel (and the page), attempting to seize the FF's Wakandan guide before he escapes.  The motion lines contribute to the rightward dynamic of the panel.  In panel 2, Ben's figure still anchors the Z-pattern, but now Ben has been flipped right-to-left, and his left arm points down and left, directing our eyes to the second tier of panels.  Panel 3 (the first panel of the second tier) continues the downward diagonal begun in panel 2.  Finally, the Z-pattern is completed on the third tier of panels in panel 5: the falling figure of the Thing completes the downward diagonal's leftward motion, and the Torch's sprawling form pulls us to the right edge of the page, finishing the base of the Z.  (This is why it's important that the Torch show up in panel 3, supporting Ben from the right side of that panel--the same basic layout of figures that we see in panel 5.)

Kirby complicates matters with the appearance of T'Challa in panel 4.  Visuals match the narrative here as T'Challa intrudes upon the Fantastic Four, and the figure of the Black Panther breaks into the Z-pattern of the page.  Where the Panther is concerned, panels 4 and 5 form a second downward diagonal parallel to the first.  T'Challa leaps down upon the unsuspecting heroes in panel 4, a jump completed in panel 5 as he knocks them sprawling.  (The legs akimbo of panel 4 become the complete spread of panel 5--a single fluid motion captured in two moments.)

The Panther's attack also disrupts the page's panel grid.  Up until panel 5, we've been led to expect a six-panel grid broken down into two panels per tier, three tiers page (exactly what we'll get on the next page of the issue, page 11, and throughout much of the issue as a whole).  Kirby departs from that expectation here, giving us  instead a single elongated panel that covers the full extent of the tier.  Story drives layout: T'Challa kicks Ben and Johnny, and their flying bodies literally push the panel down and out toward the edges of the page--to the point where Johnny's body pressures the boundaries of human physiology to mimic the right angle of the panel's lower righthand corner. Again, motion lines are used expertly here, extending the panel out from the center point of T'Challa--whose impossibly split legs also copy the panel boundary (in this case, the long horizontal line at the top).  The Black Panther pushes the bottom line of the Z to its limits, causing it to bow out in the middle.

It's the clarity of layout that impresses me the most here.  While I love much of the art in modern comics, I find that the layout skills pioneered by Kirby and others are less in evidence, an absence of craft that undermines the reading experience.  But there are some nice modern counter-examples, and I'll discuss a few of those when I next find a chance to look at page layout.

Bring Me My Super-Suit!

So here's the first image of Henry Cavill as Superman from the upcoming Man of Steel movie:


(You can see the entire image in all of its full-sized glory here.)

Overall, I'm pleased.  Cavill makes for a more mature Superman, especially with the decision to move the hair style away from the Christopher Reeve spitcurl to the George Reeves swept-back look.  It also interests me that Zach Snyder and his crew have opted for the classic Superman look instead of one coordinated with Jim Lee's new costume.  (Of course, Superman's . . . region is too cloaked in shadow for us to tell if he's wearing the classic red trunks or not.)  What do you think?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Damselfly (Supers!)

Public Identity: Zelma "Damselfly" Denninger
Secret Identity: None

Resistances (+7D)
Composure 3D
Fortitude 2D
Reaction 3D
Will 3D

Aptitudes (+3D)
Academia 3D (Entomology 4D)
Athleticism 2D
Technology 3D (Mechanical Engineering 4D)
All the Rest 1D

Powers (+11D)
Armor 2D (Device: Reinforced Flight Jacket)
Flight 3D (150 MPH in Atmosphere, Device: Artificial Wings)
Super Brain 3D
Super Science 3D (Gadget Pool 6D)
Super Senses 3D: Ultraviolet Vision 2D, 360° Vision 4D (Device: Helmet)

Ads (+1D)
Wealthy

Disads (-2D)
Dependent (son Nelson)
Public ID

Total: 20D

When Zelma Denninger's industrialist husband died unexpectedly, he left her with the family fortune and an infant son.  The bored widow returned to the scientific and engineering studies she had abandoned upon marriage and soon achieved startling breakthroughs in the mechanical replication of insect capabilities.  Although Zelma's initial debut as a hero was pure accident (she stopped a bank robbery in progress while testing her dragonfly-inspired wings and helmet), she swiftly realized that crime-fighting was a perfect opportunity to conduct field trials of her technology.  The press has nicknamed her "Damselfly," but her true identity is no secret: the family business makes more money with a famous science hero as its primary shareholder than it would with just plain old Mrs. Denninger.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Operation: Rebirth


OK, so I'm not really America's greatest wartime hero back from the dead, but I am reopening Kracalactaka! for business effective immediately.  Expect some Supers! RPG material shortly (the rest of the Ring of Fire) as well as some new page analyses: I'm going to restart that series of posts with a Kirby page I've been hanging onto for months and then try to branch out to other artists.  For example, there's a two page sequence from Tom Scioli's American Barbarian webcomic that comes to mind . . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Looking-Glass Layout with Steve Ditko

I've moved on to reading all of the Lee-Ditko run on Amazing Spider-Man, and I want to take a break from the Kirby analysis by looking at Dikto's layout for page 16 of ASM #23:


I'm struggling for a vocabulary that would allow me to express what I'm seeing on this page that distinguishes Ditko from Kirby.  Perhaps the best way to express the distinction is that Ditko concentrates on motion within panels instead of motion between panels as we see in Kirby.  Ditko's characters don't flow as easily from panel to panel as Kirby's do; Ditko will often (in other issues of AMS) make radical shifts in viewpoint as he makes the transition between panels.  I can't recall Kirby making use of extradiegetic arrows to guide the reader's attention as happens in panels 6-8 of this page.  So a point for Kirby?  Maybe . . . but I still really love the layout of this page and find Dikto a dynamic artist.

What impresses me most about the page is Ditko's use of mirrored panels--not in the panels' contents, but in their shape and placement on the page.  The top half of the page (panels 1-4) is repeated in the bottom half of the page (panels 5-8), but in a way that creates an "X"-pattern.  The big panels 1 and 8 form one stroke of the X, while the little panel sequences 2-4 and 5-7 form the other stroke.  Put another way, Ditko takes the second set of panels and flips them left to right to generate the "X"-shape.

The contents of the panels support this structure: panels 1 and 8 are the only two to feature both Spidey and the Green Goblin.  In both panels, Spidey is positioned toward the outer edge of the panel while the Goblin occupies the inner edge (additional instances of mirroring across the y-axis of the page).  Spidey is upside down and swinging up and to the right in panel 1; in panel 8, he's still upside down, but now swinging down and to the left.  (He's also coming toward us in panel 8 while moving away from us back in panel 1.)  The Goblin leans left in panel 1 and right in panel 8, yet more mirroring.

Panels 2-3 and 5-6 are also mirrored panels, but this time they flip left across the y-axis of the page instead of right (as in the case of panels 1 and 8).  Panel 2 shows the Goblin's hand releasing a pumpkin bomb; panel 3, Spidey's hand shooting a web to block the bomb.  The diagonal line repeated in both panels (hand/bomb in panel 2, hand/web/bomb in panel 3) is then repeated yet again in panels 5-6.  However, this time, the characters have traded places: now it's Spidey who acts first in panel 5, and the Goblin who wards off the attack second in panel 6.

Panels 4 and 7 offer similar layouts yet utterly different contents.  In panel 4, it's Spidey who acts, tossing the pumpkin bomb behind him to his left (and our right).  In panel 7, it's the Goblin's turn: he pulls Spidey's web in the opposite direction (behind him to his right and to our left).  The curves formed by the motion lines of Spidey's arm in panel 4 and the web shape in panel 7 are mirror-images of one another.

So while Ditko does feel the need to clarify the diegetic sequence of the page's action with the arrows connecting panels 6-8, he nonetheless does a brilliant job of integrating the entire page through an innovative page layout.