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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 7: Secret Warriors #10

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!

He's blindfolded because he's just that cool

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!

10 Comments

I haven’t read any Mikaboshi stories, but making any “foreign” god evil is a questionable choice.

You described the visuals well, but does the subtext work? Greek gods good (noble pastel colors); Japanese gods bad (garish primary hues)–seems too obvious to me. Grade-schoolers might go for this black-and-white approach, but what about adult readers?

How would Neil Gaiman have handled this scene? Not like this, I bet. He usually didn’t telegraph which gods were good and evil in SANDMAN. I’m thinking of Lucifer as a dapper blond man in a suit–not what you’d expect of the Prince of Darkness.

I’m not sure the white-on-black captions in the modernistic font work either. But I don’t know what I would’ve done instead. Maybe a script font to give the page a storybook or fable feel?

Rob: Mikaboshi first appeared in Incredible Hercules, and Pak and van Lente did a pretty good job making him an interesting villain. In this issue, he’s far more dull, just a standard villain without any real cultural context except for what Vitti gives him. I guess the problem is that Hickman expects us to have encountered Mikaboshi before, so he doesn’t do much with him.

Mikaboshi appeared earlier still in Mike Oeming’s Ares miniseries — indeed, Vitti is somewhat imitating its art style here.

Also, Amatsu-Mikaboshi *is* evil in Japanese mythology: he’s the god of evil and an enemy of the Japanese gods.

CBR has some preview pages from the Oeming mini for art comparison here:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=5999

In the Ares mini, Mikaboshi killed Zeus; that’s why he’s dead in the earlier issues of Incredible Hercules, where Hera’s taken over the Greek Pantheon in his stead.

Thanks, Omar. I was poking around Wikipedia looking for information on Mikaboshi, and I thought it said he first appeared in Herc. My bad. Van Lente and Pak did a very nice job with him, though. I guess I need to re-read that Ares mini-series!

[...] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 7: Secret Warriors #10Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas 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, … [...]

Picking one god out of the Japanese pantheon, featuring only him, and putting him opposite the noble white Zeus is still selective propaganda. When Marvel features a good Japanese god against an evil Greek god, then we can talk about a lack of Eurocentric bias.

In fact, how about a whole mini-series featuring Marvel’s Japanese pantheon? Perhaps done in a manga style to attract the legions of manga readers? Good idea? Or should Marvel stick to Thor and Hercules comics because white readers prefer white gods?

Uh, Rob…the heroic Japanese gods were also prominently featured in the story that introduced Marvel’s version of Mikaboshi.

He’s blindfolded because he isn’t allowed to set eye’s on Alexander Aaron.

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