Axel-In-Charge: New X-Men Editorial Era, Garth Ennis' Marvel Return
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Nocturnals: The Dark Forever #1, which was published by Oni and is cover dated July 2001 (although this scan is from the nice hardcover that Image published in 2009). Enjoy!
Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals is a weird horror/superhero book, with a bunch of interesting characters who look like monsters but often act like just folks. Brereton’s gorgeous artwork helps make the book, naturally, but his writing is pretty good, too.
Consider this page, in which we’re introduced to some of the characters. Brereton lets us know that we’re in Pacific City in November, late at night (if the moon didn’t tell us). A woman named Polychrome strolls down the street and meets Bandit, a.k.a. Mr. Cleanhands, whom we can tell is some kind of detective, not only from his clichéd detective garb, but from the fact that he’s carrying a gun and needs help with something weird that is part of a pattern. Brereton gives us a lot of information on this page – the names of the characters, Polychrome’s boss (“Doc”), the fact that something weird is happening to these people (that guy in the final panel is a zombie, by the way), the fact that Cleanhands did, in fact, change his name (or had it changed for him), and the fact that the group to which Polychrome belongs might have some antagonism toward the “townies” (we don’t know if Cleanhands is just being a dick, but he could be exposing some rift between them). Brereton creates a nice air of mystery around this page – we don’t know what’s going on with the figure in the final panel, but we also don’t know about the relationship between the two characters on the page. Already, this has a lot of stuff for us to chew on.
Brereton has been painting his work for as long as I can remember (I don’t know if he’s ever done it any other way), and this page is a pretty good representation of his stuff – if you like this, you’ll probably like everything he does. The establishing panel at the top lets us know it’s nighttime, but the fog also links it to how Polychrome shows up in Panel 2 – we don’t know if the fog in Panel 1 is supposed to be her before she becomes solid or not, but Brereton definitely links her to the ethereal nature of the night (you’ll note that in Panel 2, the “fog” surrounding her trails in from the left, implying that she was somehow gaseous and then became solid right there on the street). Cleanhands’ word balloon draws our eye from Polychrome toward Panel 3, where we see him. Brereton does a nice job shadowing his face with the brim of the fedora so that his yellow eyes glow nicely. He’s beckoning both to her and the reader to come closer, and so, in Panel 4, we get a close-up of Polychrome. She’s looking back to Panel 3, establishing a link between the two characters, but also moving us down and to the left to Panel 5. In that panel, we see for the first time that Polychrome is not standing on the ground, lending credence to the belief that she appeared out of the fog in Panel 1 – if she floats, she could easily become gas, right? Cleanhands is again gesturing toward the dumpster (Dumpster?), leading both her and our eye toward it. Brereton makes sure to orient the final two panels, which lead us to the next page, to the right – Cleanhands leads Polychrome rightward in Panel 5, while in Panel 6, the two of them look right, his gun points right, and the trussed-up dude is at the bottom right. The design of the page works very well.
Brereton also does a nice job making Polychrome somewhat alien, with the blue-white skin and the stars on the bandanna. If she is the fog in Panel 1, she seems to flow directly out of the moon, making her more lunar than terrestrial. She stands in stark contrast to Cleanhands and the rest of the city, which Brereton paints in earth tones while he mutes Cleanhands’ blue skin. It helps establish Polychrome as something odd, even in this odd world.
Brereton doesn’t do as much work as I’d like, because I like his art quite a lot, but it’s always nice to see how he paints these pages and lays them out, because he knows what he’s doing very well. I think this page proves it!
Next: One of those ill-fated new series that DC launched in the late 1990s. You know you love them! You can get more Nineties fixes in the archives!
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