Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 106: X-Men #53
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 X-Men #53, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1996. Enjoy!
Waid’s brief run on X-Men was not very happy, as readers tended to dislike his issues, he was apparently at odds with editorial, and he came on board as the whole “Onslaught” thing was coming to a head, which couldn’t have been fun for a writer because it was so rigidly run. It’s interesting to look at a first page from that beleaguered run, because it’s clear that whatever was going on, it didn’t really affect Waid’s writing that much. He’s still very good at setting a scene quickly, as we see here. Jean Grey is out on the town, and Waid shows us that she’s able to read minds, “translating” the words the various people say to her. We see his sense of humor on this page, but he also conforms the page to our stereotypical expectations: Of course the man is thinking weird sexual thoughts about Jean, of course the larger woman is jealous of Jean’s frame, of course the bimbo thinks she’s creepy. It’s funny but not particularly clever, but it does allow Waid to show how difficult is it for Jean to move through regular life. When the narrative voice switches from Jean to omniscient, it’s sure to give her name and her ability, so even if we don’t know anything about Jean, we know that she lives in the “Xavier mansion” and she’s telepathic. At this point, we don’t need to know much else.
Andy Kubert and Cam Smith, who penciled and inked this page, do a good job with it. I don’t know if it was Waid’s idea to show the page in true first-person art or if Kubert suggested it, but it’s an interesting way to do it. It keeps us from seeing Jean until the final panel, when she’s looking in the mirror, so although it’s not a big surprise, it still helps give us a tiny jolt as we turn the page. The basic four-panel grid is smart, too, because it allows the drawings inside the panels to breathe a bit – four panels per page is a pretty big grid, so Kubert can put a lot of visual information in each one. You’ll notice how the characters direct us through the page – the man in the first panel points directly to the second one; the woman at the front of the second panel points backward to the bimbo, who’s waiting for Jean in the third panel; the bimbo cocks her head toward the mirror in the fourth panel. It’s very good visual storytelling, something Kubert probably learned at the foot of his ass-kicking father. When we finally do see Jean, she doesn’t look happy, which jives with the fact that she’s not able to “screen” the thoughts because it’s a chore. Kubert doesn’t draw a wearied emotion as well as he might, but at least he sets Jean’s jaw and shows that it’s just not a great day. The bimbo’s facial expression might be better on the large woman, because she’s the one who’s jealous, but it’s still a good expression. Joe Rosas colors that panel differently in case we’re not sure that Jean is looking in a mirror (if, for instance, we skipped reading the dialogue in panel 3). It’s a good contrast to the rest of the page, which is brightly colored and is printed on glossy paper, making everything seem a bit slicker. When Marvel switched to this paper, colorists had to come up with new techniques to show contrast, and Rosas does it nicely here.
Jean’s idyll doesn’t last long, as on the next page she’s accosted by Onslaught and spends the issue arguing with him/it. But Waid and Kubert do a nice job establishing the character and how unusual it is for her to be out and about. The X-people don’t often get to go shopping, and even then, as Waid shows, it doesn’t always go well. Sucks to be them!
Next: Waid goes all indie on us! Don’t worry – there are plenty of mainstream comics in the archives!