Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Strange Tales #155, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 1967. Enjoy!
This is the first issue of the Nick Fury serial that Jim Steranko both wrote and drew (Roy Thomas wrote the few before this), and when I randomly pulled this trade paperback off my shelves, I decided to use this page instead of the first page I opened to. Forgive me for compromising the integrity of the randomness!
Anyway, Steranko’s first pages of Nick Fury stories aren’t that great, because when he cut loose, he usually did it in double- (or, you know, quadruple-) page spreads. That’s not to say that this is a bad page, but it doesn’t pulse with awesomeness that some of Steranko’s other pages do. Check out the verbiage on the page, first of all. Strange Tales was an anthology title, so Steranko and others had 12 pages in this issue to tell all they wanted to tell. If Stan Lee’s prose was purple when he had longer to write, imagine how much stuff writers had to fit in when they didn’t have as many pages! So we get the obligatory hyperbolic announcement at the top of “a mighty Marvel spine-chilling, suspense-charged super-thriller of menace, mayhem, and mystery” (dang, if only all comics could promise that these days), and then Steranko takes this page to introduce … an elevator. Oh, sure, it’s a cool elevator, but still. S.H.I.E.L.D. has a new toy, and we need to see it! The vortex beam may be the “last word in space-age technology,” but, come on, it’s an elevator. Steranko does let us know that Hydra are the bad guys and that Fury will never rest until they’re completely wiped out, but the dialogue doesn’t give us a lot of information. In the caption box at the bottom right, we learn that the main bad guy has taken the “guise” of famed actor Charles Bronson and is about to infiltrate the “heli-carrier,” but that’s about all the useful information we get from this page.
Steranko’s design sense works well on the page. The title is “Death Trap,” and the vortex beam is taking an unwitting Fury into said death trap. The reader knows this because of the information at the bottom of the page, but Steranko foreshadows that by showing the elevator taking Fury and the others right toward the banner. The page works counter-intuitively, as Steranko deliberately draws it so that it’s oriented upward, but the dialogue moves downward, so we slow down and appreciate that he manages to make an couple of discs heading toward a big belly visually interesting. The city behind the heli-carrier is fully drawn, too, which is nice. The “beams” that raise the discs are interesting – I have no idea how Steranko created them, but it’s obvious they’re some other kind of media rather than pen and ink. Guys like Steranko and Kirby were experimenting with mixed media at this time, and later in this book we see some rudimentary Photoshopping when Steranko drops in a cityscape that he obviously didn’t draw. I don’t know how he created the beams effect, but in the 1960s, it added a veneer of technological wonder to the page, and when you’re dealing with America’s super-duper cutting edge spy team, that’s not a bad idea. I imagine Steranko himself drew the caption box at the bottom as an arrow, making it clear that it’s time to turn the page, so you better do it! Like a lot of comics of this era, this one never forgets that it is, in fact, a comic book, so even though Steranko is telling a serious story, he and Stan have a little fun with the format. You’ll also notice that Editor Lee gets his name at the top of the credits. It’s a good thing his ego never ran away from him!
This entire run is a visual feast, and this page gives us just a tiny taste of it. Even with not much going on, Steranko manages to get across the excitement of reading a Nick Fury comic. That’s not a bad trick!
Next: I try not to editorialize too much in these posts, but tomorrow’s entry is almost a perfect example of what’s wrong with modern comics. Blech, say I! Find much better stuff in the archives!
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