Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 44: All Star Superman #4
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. This week: Frank Quitely! Today’s page is from All Star Superman #4, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 2006. Enjoy!
Grant Morrison and Quitely, aided by Jamie Grant on digital inks and colors and Phil Balsman on letters, bring us Jimmy Olsen in drag on the first page of ASS #4. It’s a nicely-designed page (nothing revolutionary, but nicely-designed), leading to the bottom panel and Jimmy wearing a bra and short skirt. Morrison and Quitely litter the page with references to Jimmy’s various adventures over the years – there’s a magic lamp, a Viking helmet, a print of Jimmy in a tortoise shell, a bottle city, and I’m sure the others stuff means something too even though I don’t know the references. So sad!
Morrison’s script is deliberately arch, with Lucy throwing a hissy fit because Jimmy was just named “worst-dressed man in Metropolis” for the second consecutive year and Jimmy trying to defend himself, hilariously. Morrison gives us a lot of information in this seemingly trite dialogue – Jimmy has a lot of adventures, this world is all sorts of comic-booky (a gypsy curse!), and it’s more “futuristic” than ours (which ties into the comic-bookiness of it all). Morrison paces the dialogue – there’s a good rhythm to the page, leading to the “I’m Jimmy Olsen! I look great!” line that serves as the payoff.
Quitely does a nice job with moving us through the page. Lucy is central in the first panel, but she’s not too big so that the odd stuff on Jimmy’s shelves is obscured. In the second panel, Balsman places the word balloon between two posters, making sure we see them, and Quitely (with Morrison’s direction, no doubt) alludes to Leo Quintum with his place as “best-dressed.” The newspaper itself points toward Jimmy’s word balloons. In the third panel, Quitely places the bottle city in the front, not so it’s obvious but so we won’t miss it. Lucy’s outfit is odd – she looks like a flight attendant (I haven’t read the series in a while, so I don’t remember how often we’ve seen her prior to this or even if we have seen her), which is possible, but why she would be dressed for work while relaxing in Jimmy’s apartment is unclear. Quitely makes her vamp in the fourth panel even though no one is in the room with her. Comic artists do this occasionally – they draw the characters doing things solely for the readers’ benefit and not for any other character, and that seems to be the case here. And, of course, her eyes lead us to the edge of the panel, which leads us to Jimmy in drag. This is the “Quitely” body type, usually for females – extremely long and thin legs and arms, tiny waist and not a lot of curves – which is why it’s funny to see Jimmy looking like that. Well, that and the bra and short skirt. Quitely makes sure we can see Metropolis out the window – it’s obviously a more “futuristic” city than we’re used to, even with that little glimpse.
Grant’s inking and coloring deserve some mention, especially the coloring. This is not the best-inked comic in the world, but maybe that’s my reaction against digital and others think it’s wonderful. Grant’s precise lines and bright palette make Lucy, for instance, look almost plastic. Perhaps that’s the point, and Quitely’s women often look a shade less “real” than other artists’, but it’s weirdly off-putting on this page (and throughout the book, honestly). I suppose the idea is that Metropolis is a bit more sterile than other cities, which is certainly a decent idea, but in my opinion, the way to do that isn’t through softer colors and chiseled ink lines, which is what we get a lot of in this series. But that’s getting beyond the purview of this column.
Unless you’re offended by men in drag, this seems like an intriguing first page to get a reader to keep moving. Why is Jimmy in drag? What the heck is going on? Is he going to have adventures like those he describes? Turn the page and find out!
Next: One last Quitely comic, and yet another Morrison comic. Oh dear. Perhaps you’d like to read the archives instead?