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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 20: Tales of the Unexpected #7, back-up story

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is the back-up story from Tales of the Unexpected #7, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 2007. Yes, this is more commonly known as “Chapter Seven” of Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality. Enjoy!

You never pass up a good Charlie Brown sight gag!

The highly-regarded back-up story to the critically-reviled Spectre main story is written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang (those two really should work together again!), colored by Patricia Mulvilhill (freed from the drudgery of Vertigo comics!) and lettered by Jared K. Fletcher. What, exactly, is the deal?

Here’s something you may not have known: this first page of chapter 7 is the only time in this comic that Traci 13 narrates. On no other page does she get to do that. The rest of the time her father, Dr. 13, takes the stage. So why does Azzarello give her the spotlight on this page? Beats me. It’s extremely bizarre. Traci is simply reiterating one of the themes of the comic – is seeing really believing? and if so, is there anything deeper than that? – but why she gets to do so for just one page is mystifying.

So is the choice of Chiang and Azzarello to portray her as Lucy van Pelt to some boy’s Charlie Brown. Again, this page is never referenced otherwise in this story. In fact, we don’t even know for sure that it’s Traci – the narration is clearly her, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Azzarello and Chiang are actually showing the “real” Lucy and the “real” Charlie Brown, on which Charles Schulz based his characters. It’s just that kind of comic.

Chiang does his job – he moves us through the page rather well, leading up to the blacked-out panel where “Charlie” kicks “Lucy” in the chin instead of the football, either because he so violently missed the football that he kicked her accidentally or he was so angry that he kicked her on purpose. Again, it’s a nicely drawn page, but more than the rest of this story (a story which ultimately begs the question “What’s the point?”), it seems pointless. The only thing we can glean from it is that the blacked-out panel contains the lines “… can you trust what you see?” and “Is what’s presented on the surface all there is to it …?”, which, combined with the fact that we don’t exactly see what’s going on, contributes to the oddness of the entire story. Other than that, it’s a weird way to begin the chapter. I suppose Azzarello had a reason for it, but it’s difficult to see what it was.

Still, Cliff Chiang can draw a comic, can’t he? Dang.

Next: We’re going really old school, with a master of the form! If you’re interested, check out the archives!

6 Comments

Maybe it’s just me, but “Charlie Brown” seems to bear a passing resemblance to Seanbaby.

Oh wow. I never thought about it, but he totally does.

i never saw this before as i missed this comic. However let me say how much i enjoy this page. i think that Charlie Brown grew up to be the world’s worst mass murder based simply on how many times Lucy pulled the football away. This type of behavior leaves deep, deep scars.

i’m glad that Lucy gets kicked & i would pay any amount of money if Charles Schultz’s last strip would have been the above sight gag.

I love Architecture & Mortality (you missed out the ‘t’ in Mortality Mr Burgas – I thought the erroneous spelling was the actual title for a while, but the real title makes a lot more sense when you actually think about the themes). Real, love it so damn much, one of my favorite comics. I think I have a particular liking for zany, self-aware books, and this is maybe up there with Nextwave for me. what’s crazy is I managed to completely gloss over the Peanuts reference here, as impossible as that would seem. I only really started paying close attention to Peanuts recently, so thankfully I’m totally on board with the reference now. It does seem like a bit of an odd choice, makes you wonder what Azzarello had in mind beyond making a reference.

P.S.

Can anybody tell me what’s going on with Chiang’s art lately? There’s a noticeable change between what we dee here – thick, juicy, bold lines – and the somewhat sketchier art we see in Wonder Woman, and none of the reviews of Wonder Woman I’ve come across seem to mention it. His art is still good, but it seems like a step backward to me…

There was a great Malcolm in the Middle reference to this gag too, that pivots on the fact that Reese has never read Peanuts before because he doesn’t like reading.

dnwilliams: Thanks! I’ll fix it right away.

I don’t know if Chiang is deliberately doing something rougher with Wonder Woman to match the grittier subject matter. I haven’t been reading it, but I did notice that the first issue was a bit rougher than usual. You’re right, though – I haven’t seen anyone writing about it.

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