Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 66: Detective Comics #529
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Detective Comics #529, which was published by DC and is cover dated August 1983. Enjoy!
You’ll note this is the second Batman book in a row that I picked out randomly and the third time I’ve managed to pull out an issue of Detective. In other words, I own a lot of Batman comics. Sue me.
Let’s just soak in the Gene Colan goodness of this page and try not to think about how much he got screwed by Marvel over the years, shall we? Dang, Gene Colan could draw a page. Look at how this page is laid out, ignoring the words completely. It’s a V-shape, funneling us inexorably toward the lone figure at the bottom, a night watchman about to get a big surprise in a few pages (he’s attacked by a thief). Colan effortlessly creates tension on this page when there should be none, as the claustrophobic watchman seems dwarfed by the shadowy boxes and shelves in the warehouse. You’ll notice that the four panels above him are simply laid on top of the entire drawing, so above the watchman we get nothing but blackness, shrinking him even more. If we continue to ignore the words, we see that we get a man at a desk, obviously some kind of newspaperman, handing off photographs (Colan simply suggests this on the piece of paper he hands the red-headed dude); we get a disc jockey; we get a doctor and a nurse speaking at a hospital; we get Batman zipping around the city. Without even telling us, we get the sense that this is deep into the night – Batman is out and about, which these days means it’s night. But Colan nails the harried look of the editor, the smoothness of the DJ, the exhaustion of the doctor, all with very little decoration. The entire page is slanted slightly, pushing our eyes from left to right and down the funnel to the night watchman. Dick Giordano’s steady inks add weight to Colan’s sketchy pencils (I don’t know how sketchy Colan’s pencils were on this page, but I’ve seen straight pencils from Colan, and as beautiful as they are, they’re sketchy), adding the shadows to the DJ’s face and to the watchman’s frame, raising the sense of gloom and impending drama. Adrienne Roy’s colors are fairly standard, but she does use red to tie the page together – the red-headed newspaper dude, the red-headed doctor (yes, it’s more orange, but it’s close enough), the DJ’s shirt, the sky behind Batman. It subtly lets us know that even if these people aren’t connected, they share something – a night job or a lonely mission.
Doug Moench, on his first stint writing the Caped Crusader, doesn’t go too nuts with the omniscient narrator, although he does hit the “night” theme quite a bit (this issue is about the Night-Thief and Nocturna, so it’s not surprising that Moench brings it up a lot). He does manage to make a reference to something from an earlier issue in the first panel, but other than that, this is basically writing that brings us up to speed – Gotham City is a violent place, the night has been quiet so far, the watchman is guarding furs. Moench does it well, but he also wisely tries to stay out of Colan’s way. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Man, Gene Colan was awesome. Greg Hatcher agrees, and you wouldn’t want to piss him off, would you?
Next: A surprising hit from Marvel! New characters in the 21st century? It’s crazy! Meanwhile, the archives are right here.