O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This pseudo-week: Mark Waid. Today’s page is from Captain America #450, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 1996. Enjoy!
Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s run on Captain America is notable for a few reasons. One, it was popular, which had been a problem for Cap for quite some time. Two, it was (and remains) fairly critically acclaimed, which doesn’t always go along with popularity. Third, this popular, critically-acclaimed run was killed in perhaps the dumbest move in comic book history (and that’s saying something), the “Heroes Reborn” debacle of 1996-97. But that’s not important right now! Right now, we’re focused only on this first page!
Waid, always helpful, gives us a lot of information on this page. We’re in Brooklyn, Sharon Carter is the woman’s name, she was once the lover of Captain America, she was once thought to be dead but that was a ruse, and she’s riven with doubts about her place in Cap’s life. It’s certainly not subtle, but these are superhero comics – subtlety is almost actively discouraged! Waid does a have a nice sense of humor about Sharon being “dead,” as you kind of have to when it comes to this phenomenon – being “dead” certainly can complicate a relationship! This was also in the days before thought balloons became “square,” so Waid has no problem using one here instead of a sound effect to indicate the door opening. We don’t “hear” the door, but we have Sharon’s thoughts to tell us that one is opening! Waid also manages to get a bit of pathos onto the page – Sharon is looking at photographs of Cap’s ex-girlfriends, and Waid lets us know that she still has feelings for him, even though she’s not sure how that would work. In a world where people die and get resurrected with stunning regularity, the need for the surviving partner to move on even though there’s the real possibility that the deceased is not actually dead is a pressing concern. The caption boxes help bring that concern to the forefront. Sharon was “dead,” after all, and does she she have the right ask Cap to love her again?
Garney does a pretty good job with the layout of the page – his actual style is very 1990s, but because Garney is better than a lot of the artists who rose to prominence during the boom years, it’s not as egregious as some others. The thin, top-to-bottom panels are a Nineties staple, and Garney manages to get quite a bit of information onto the page. In the first panel, he implies an economic downturn in Brooklyn (I’m not sure if it reflects reality) with the “for rent” signs and the blowing papers in the foreground (trash on the streets exists in boom times, of course, but symbolically, it’s associated with abandonment). Cap’s apartment in the second panel is laid out so that it fits into the panel, with the lamp anchoring it and the lines leading our eyes back to the doorway, through which we find the bedroom and Sharon. Sharon stands over the Captain American costume draped on the bed, linking her to the hero, and she’s facing the fourth panel, which focuses her gaze on the two photographs of two different women with whom Cap was involved. We can cringe over Garney’s hair style on Sharon, but the final drawing, in which she breaks the panel boundaries and looks directly at the reader, is very effective. Sharon might look grumpy and vampy, but Garney does a good job drawing the reader in from the rather dispassionate “cinema verité” style of moving from the street into the apartment and thence to the bedroom and finally to the photographs, and then suddenly switching from that to a more immediate focus on the character of Sharon rather than the surroundings. Waid and Garney do a good job summarizing the situation and then coalescing the story around Sharon and who she hears at the door. It’s a nice technique.
I am not one of those people who adores this run, although it’s not bad at all. It’s put together well, though, and Waid and Garney show with this page that they know what they’re doing when it comes to constructing a comic book. Next time, we’ll look at a Waid comic that is not as beloved as his work on Flash or Captain America. The guy can’t always knock it out of the park! And remember, you can ignore your responsibilities in the real world by skimming the archives!
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