Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Secret Warriors #10, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated January 2010. Enjoy!
This comic is written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Alessandro Vitti, colored by Sunny Gho, and lettered by Dave Lanphear. Hickman is telling a big, sprawling story divided into chapters, so he doesn’t care very much about getting us up to speed. Marvel, which these days does not take the haughty attitude toward recap pages that DC does, provides one, so Hickman doesn’t even bother to try. He does provide some narration – there’s a war in heaven, there are old gods, both the old gods want weapons, a blindfolded blacksmith is going to forge them. Good for him!
Vitti and Gho’s artwork is where the interest in this page lies. Vitti shows a Greek structure in the foreground of the first panel, and a Japanese structure in the background. His choice in the placement of the structures is unclear – visually, it works fine, but perhaps the simplicity of the Greek designs appealed to him more than the intricacies of the pagodas. Perhaps the Greek pantheon, being Western, is more well known to Western readers. It doesn’t seem that Hickman or Vitti is arguing for the supremacy of the Greek gods – Hickman even states that the Japanese god is older than the Greek one. (Neither god is named, but for simplicity’s sake let’s call them Zeus and Mikaboshi, as those are their names.) Gho’s use of blood red for the too-large sun is impressive, implying age and weariness – this is a sun that has lived too long, and perhaps the gods on which it shines have lived too long, as well.
Both gods are presented somewhat traditionally – Zeus with the face of an old man, body of Baby Goose, for instance – but Mikaboshi, as somewhat of an unknown quantity, is interesting. Vitti makes him far more sinister than Zeus, as befits his role as a villain in Marvel cosmology. He looks almost like the Joker, and his head looks too large for his hands (or his hands are too small for his head). In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to even determine his gender – the Kabuki masque, the long hair, and the hint of breasts make him almost sexless. In an age where we don’t think of comic book artists creating propaganda, we instinctively know he’s the villain – Zeus sits straight and nobly while Mikaboshi hunches, clutching his hair while Zeus proudly holds a staff. Plus, Mikaboshi is made unequivocally “foreign” – Zeus is a white male, a symbol of “normalness,” while Mikaboshi is the “other.” Even their words show that Mikaboshi is a villain – presumably he and Zeus want to win their war, but Zeus is simply asking for a weapon while Mikaboshi wants to win a war. This slight difference in why they want a weapon paints Zeus as the hero while Mikaboshi is the conniver. Finally, Gho gives Zeus blue robes, while Mikaboshi’s background is red. Red, of course, implies rage and war, while blue is calming. Zeus projects an appearance of steadfast calm, while Mikaboshi seems on the edge of exploding in anger. It’s fascinating how much visual information Hickman, Vitti, and Gho can pack into this page. It sets the stage for the issue quite well.
All of this, of course, may not be deliberate on the part of the creators and may not be consciously picked up by the reader. That it’s there, however, tells us a great deal about the way choices are made to show events and what universal symbols can mean. All this in a simple comic book page! Who knew?
Next: Norm Breyfogle! Whoo-hoo!
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