This is my entry into Plok’s Panel Madness series, which he’s doing in concert with a whole bunch of other bloggers. It’s is kind of the product of a long line of conversations we’ve had about how comics blogging isn’t focused enough on the important stuff – the art. So instead of just bitching (like I do), Plok is doing something about it, with an all-star cast. I am breaking the rules a little bit and mangle the original Panel Madness setup that Plok has laid out – instead of one, pure image and a long text piece expounding on it’s virtues, I’m going to be a little more nonspecific. The above image is the kind of thing I’d love to be writing about. It’s from a completely silent Moebius (not Silent Mobius) short from Heavy Metal called “Freefall”. It’s the kind of visually arresting moment – you are kind of forced to stop and stare, because it’s something you’ve never seen before. It’s a “panel” the way that Alphaville is a “movie”, you can describe it that way but you are simplifying it a little bit. It’s freezing a moment in time but it’s also conveying motion. It’s evoking a strange alien world but showing you that it operates with the same laws of phsyics as ours – and the scale is immense. Now how about this one:
Paul Pope’s callback to the first Batman Detective cover, putting as much distance between us and Batman right at the start of the book. He’s saying to us “you’re not going to get close”, recasting one of those Batman images that everyone has seen into a silhouette – placing the world around him in focus. This is Paul Pope, this is science fiction – he is going to give us a fully immersive world that’s going to take up most of our time, more so even than Batman. It’s subliminally telling you what story to expect. Before this image, we are shown a very physical Batman. Like Frank Miller, Pope understands that the character is at his most powerful when his legendary skills are pushed up against human physical limitations. We open up with Batman on the run and bleeding, and then we’re shown just how impossible and dangerous that jump truly is.
When Year 100 first came out, Pope spoke a lot about making Batman a physical character again. And Pope places the importance on physical action in his compositions -
Here the eye is drawn right in to the one, solid motion. One of my favorite things about Pope is how he can just nail a moment in midair, and his shot choice is never what you’d expect. That is not a shot you see in American comics. Showing this angle, and not a pov shot or something else, is indicative of Pope’s skill at choosing the right moment, and every shot in this book is very deliberately designed to show you the character in relation to the world around him.
These three panels of man in motion – they show that Pope has figured out a way to do motion lines without resorting to manga-style subjective pov blur or classic American directional indicatiors. Yes, these are motion lines, but instead of being an artistic flourish, he’s found a way to make them diagetic. He’s using light, light everywhere to convey motion – a bit like Wong Kar Wei and Chris Cunningham use blurs and lensflare in their films. The gesture in the above frame is pretty great in itself – the shot of Batman right upclose, in the middle of shifting his weight (still in fairly heavy shadow, which I’ll come back to). But there’s a whole added dimension of motion with the light trails, instead of seeing one motion, we’re seeing four motions without the shot looking at all cluttered. That’s slight of hand, and it’s entirely subliminal. On top of that – this Pope’s Batman at his most Tezuka-like. I love it.
There’s something interesting between these two panel – essentially the same composition with minor differences. The top panel is Batman in action, once again the trails showing us action that have actually gone on before the panel occurred. This image is of someone moving so efficiently that we’re already seeing the aftermath. The gaurds are knocked out before the shot. We also always see Batman in action (not necessarily Batman, just when he’s in action) either slightly obscured or full-on in character as a demonic creature. Most of these are in wide or medium shot. The wide shot is interesting because it allows the audience to be observers, to see these melee fight scenes and chases with some objectivity. When dealing with other characters it feels a lot more intimate, the shots are closer.
This is the same composition, doing very different work. This Batman wants to be terrifying. Pope also mentioned that his Batman was a peking opera version of Nosferatu ( I wish I could find that interview). Here instead of lights, it’s smoke but the force in which the character is moving is shown while still showing just a final snapshot. The way the body is positioned isn’t cool, it’s awkward. He’s compensating for moving just a little faster than he thought, that’s why his one leg is flying back like that. It’s a minor detail, but it’s one that really makes the panel sing. And with the composition repeating, we can see that this time the character isn’t fighting this man, he is fucking with him. This Batman likes to take the “striking fear” part of the job up close.
This floating drones over a cityscape isn’t a new image for Pope, his depiction of Gotham here isn’t too far from his Paris in Heavy Liquid. This is the world Pope has given us. This is what a fascist dystopia looks like. Like Pope’s primary influence on year 100, V for Vendetta, there’s an understanding that the true fascism wouldn’t look like the rallies in the film version of 1984. It’s far more subtle. Silent drones scanning so far in the distance that you can barely make them out – cities where no one sleeps with the lights out during patrol. It’s ominous and minimalistic. The character might be a fan of Nosferatu, but Pope has designed the city to be a modern New York shot by Fritz Lang. Every shot of the city is as wide and low as possible.
This final panel is my favorite in the book – extreme wide, a shadow and glare off in the distance, some light manga motion effects. This is Pope’s Akira shot, and maybe the definitive shot throughout the book. Wings and a streak of light, speeding away from the reader. If you look closely, you can see how the lines bend around the figure. We are seeing a distortion of reality, and we can barely see it. Everything that’s great about this book is there in this one image – motion, a lush environment, the collision of three seperate schools of comics in one shot, a barren future, a main character that we can never get a proper look at.
Back to you, Tucker .