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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 3: Detective Comics #748

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Detective Comics #748, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 2000. Enjoy!

This comic is squarely in the middle of Greg Rucka’s strong post-Gotham Earthquake run on this title, a run artistically notable for the unusual coloring choices that were made (either by Shawn Martinbrough, the run’s main artist, or by the colorists, which on this issue is Wildstorm FX). This issue was drawn by Phil Hester, not Martinbrough, and Steve Mitchell inked it while Todd Klein lettered it. Here’s the first page of the issue, which is the beginning of a new story arc called “Urban Renewal.”

It's like West Side Story with the OGs and the DeeZees!

The coloring is striking, although not as radical as in some of the other issues. Blue and yellow are two of the foundation colors of comics (red and black are the others, although generally the colors are cyan, yellow, magenta, with the black called the “key” ), and the colorist (whoever it actually was at Wildstorm FX) used them to good effect. The blacks and the blues suggest coolness, and night in Gotham tends toward that feeling. The story takes place in the winter, too, so the blue adds to that tone. Yellow is used for the lights, suggesting warmth, but also in other effects. The ringing of the telephone is yellow so as not to introduce a new color into the scene. Yellow contrasts well with the blue, so the effect of the ringing is more jarring than if the colorist had used red or green or even black. The digital clock should be lit, not only because of the LED light, but because it tells us the time. The lights ought to be red (as most digital clock LED lights are), but the yellow fits in with the overall coloring scheme. Yellow for the graffiti is also odd but also fits. Finally, the scene on the television screen is colored in yellow tones, not only as a contrast to the blue of the room but also suggesting a more heated and charged scene – the television depicts a man whipping a crowd into a frenzy over the preference given to Gotham’s rich over the people who stayed in the city through the post-Earthquake shake-up. The coloring is unusual, but it’s definitely not random.

Rucka and Hester don’t give us too much information that would be accessible to someone who just randomly picked up the book, but Rucka does give us a good deal of what we need to know going forward. In the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed much of the city, the United States government cut Gotham off from the rest of the country (because it was using too many federal funds, what with all the major crime and all), creating a “No Man’s Land.” Many people fled the city, but many could not, and for a time, Gotham resembled some post-apocalyptic wasteland, with very little law and order. When that status quo ended, the refugees returned, and we got a new situation: The “Original Gothamites” – OGs – hated those who abandoned the city – DeeZees – and violence ensued. So Rucka, while not defining anything, lets us know that the two sides are still contentious, there’s been some kind of accident or murder (“how many dead?”), and he wants to call Batman (“Then send Stacy up to the roof and have her switch it on“). Either Rucka or Hester (depending on how specific the script was), shows Gordon’s wedding ring and a photograph of his wife, Sarah Essen, in the final panel. Essen was killed during No Man’s Land, so this is a nice reminder that Gordon hasn’t forgotten her.

Like a lot of Rucka’s Detective run, he focuses on the cops as much as he does on Batman. Rucka enjoys police procedurals, and this commitment to showing the cops working led to his series Gotham Central (which he co-wrote along with Ed Brubaker). So the fact that we begin with Gordon is not surprising. Rucka doesn’t want to rehash the entire scenario that brought us to this moment, but this is a solid way to begin a story arc. For a page with not a ton of words on it, we get a lot of information. Plus, it’s visually striking. That ain’t bad at all.

Next: A bad comic, but will it be a good first page?

6 Comments

These are fun, Greg.

Thanks, sgt. I’ve done a bunch of them so far (which, of course, haven’t been published), and I’ve enjoyed it!

[…] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 3: Detective Comics #748Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Detective Comics #748, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 2000. Enjoy! This comic is squarely in the middle of Greg … […]

I loved Rucka’s first run on Detective; it was the first run on a regular Batman title I actually enjoyed in quite a while (at least since before Knightfall). The two-colour scheme really made it distinctive, especially when Martinbrough was on the art.

Something you didn’t mention, that I think is really understated and brilliant here– the balloon and sound effect placement leads the eye naturally down the page so beautifully that I’m thinking it’s something I could use in class. I have to hammer on my students about this all the time, and it’s kind of appalling how many actual professionals manage to screw it up. Nothing– NOTHING– controls where a reader looks as much as where the words are placed on a page.

Greg: You’re absolutely right. I’ve been trying, in later installments, to show how the artist moves the eye around the page, but I failed to do that here.

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