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. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade: the 1970s! Today’s page is from The Avengers #91 and was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1971. This scan is from the trade paperback Avengers: The Kree-Skrull War (second printing) from 2001. Enjoy!
We begin our journey through the strange decade of the 1970s with The Avengers #91, in which Ronan the Accuser has gotten the upper hand on our heroes. He’s quite the scamp, that Ronan!
Sal Buscema lays out the page very well, with that giant credits circle in the middle challenging us to read the page differently than we usually do. Obviously, we begin with Thomas’ caption box in the upper left, as Ronan tells his captive, Captain Marvel, to look at his allies, the Avengers. This box is placed over the first scene, where the Wasp is being menaced by that unfriendly-looking chap. Buscema uses the entire top of the page for this panel, mainly so we can end in the bottom right, but also so he can make the monster – a devolved Hank Pym – larger and more menacing. Our eyes go from the caption box to the right to take in the monstrous being, and then we zig back to the prone Wasp, lying insensate at his feet. It’s the way our eyes would usually go from one level of the book to the other, but Buscema does it within the panel, using the upper half of the sphere to guide us. The drawing itself, in typical subliminal fashion, shows a half-dressed brute clutching a club reaching for the breasts of an unconscious young lady. The proportions are fine, so it’s not like Buscema forces Jan’s breasts into the picture, but the perspective makes it look like Hank is reaching for them when, consciously, we recognize he’s supposed to be grabbing at her face or neck. His entire body moves our eyes toward the Wasp, under whom is the next caption box, in which Ronan explains who’s who but also uses code words like “bestial” and “primitive.” Artists in the Seventies knew what sold, people!
The second caption box straddles the border between the first and second panels, which leads to the third caption box, in which Ronan explains what we’re seeing: the Avengers attacked by a Kree sentry and one of their own. Buscema constructs the panel so that even if we didn’t read the previous issue, we can see that the dude in the back (Goliath) is the one fighting against the other Avengers, because he’s standing next to the Kree sentry and is separated from the other Avengers. We might not know who the four people at the bottom of the panel are – and why Ronan says “three” Avengers when there are clearly four people – but we can tell they’re the good guys. Thomas lets us know that Ronan doesn’t have much respect for his foes – his use of the adjective “so-called” is telling, and ties into the next few issues, when the “real” Avengers (actually Skrulls in disguise) fire these heroes. In the final panel, we see Ronan for the first time (we still don’t know his name), gloating as “Mar-vell” is “held helpless by neo-graviton fields.” Man, I love technobabble. Ronan brags like a typical villain, but Buscema does a nice job showing the despair on Captain Marvel’s face and the glee with which Ronan bloviates. The panel is angled, pointing us to the next page – Captain Marvel’s left hand, Ronan’s head, and Ronan’s slightly larger left hand all point the way we need to go. Buscema makes sure that we don’t go around the horn completely, blocking our eyes from drifting past Captain Marvel.
This is an effective page by a very smart comic book artist. Thomas and Buscema give us plenty of information on this page, and we’re not bogged down too much by exposition, although we do get some. The design of the page whips our eye around and seems to make what we’re looking at more exciting, even though it’s more of an anticipatory page than anything else. It’s quite well done.
Next: More KIRBY!!!!! I don’t think I need to write anything else, do I? In the 24-hour interim, be sure to have a look at the archives!
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