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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 195: Fantastic Four: 1234 #3

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Fantastic Four: 1234 #3, which was published by Marvel (which for some reason calls this “volume 2″ in the indicia, as you can see) and is cover dated December 2001. Enjoy!


Jae Lee breaks this splash page into three vertical panels, mainly so he can show Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in all three “panels” without freaking us out too much. It’s a beautiful page, even if José Villarrubia’s paints make it a bit too murky – Villarrubia is obviously contrasting the brightness of the Torch’s flame with the gloom of the city, but he goes a bit too far. He’s also, it appears, trying to obscure the buildings, which Lee clearly didn’t draw but simply added, but again, the coloring might go a bit too far with that. Despite this, Lee does a very nice job with this page. We begin at the top left, with the giant claws of the monster already on fire. The claws are pointing toward the monster’s face, which is the central image on the page, and so our eyes follow where it’s pointing and we see the angry expression on its face. The monster is not only full of rage but also wounded, something Lee conveys very nicely. It’s only when we get to the face that we take in the frame, which is the Torch’s creation of the “4” symbol. Obviously, Villarrubia colors that brightly because it’s flame, but notice how he adds the penumbra (if that’s the correct word) of light to where the flames come near the monster’s body. This helps halo the face of the monster as much as the actual line of the flame, which contains it in the triangle formed by the “4.” Lee puts the Torch above the monster’s face, so that its gaze upward not only directs our attention to Mr. Storm, but also gives us a better view of the rage and pain in the monster’s visage. Of course, now that we’ve seen the monster’s face, we’re free to follow the Torch’s path, which we do, both straight down, which forces us to take in the entire panel and shows us the full view of the monster, and also back down and to the left, which then leads us across the page and toward Page 2. Because the “4” is drawn the way fours are usually drawn, Lee needed to figure out a way to get us into the page and lead us to the apex of the “4,” which would be the easiest place to draw our eyes both down the stem of the “4” and into the final curve. Lee does this quite well, so that even if the page doesn’t flow like a traditional comics page, it still moves our eye effortlessly across the page, allowing us to take in the entire image and process it in a fairly standard way.

Oh, yes, Grant Morrison wrote this comic. But do you see any words? No, neither do I. So let’s move on!

Next: A very unusual superhero comic. That’s all I’m going to say! Find more traditional superheroes in the archives!


How can you tell the buildings aren’t drawn? I guess they kind of look too precise but whatever that is that the monster’s leg is breaking looks the same as the buildings. And how can you tell the monster is wounded other than the fact that its upper body seems to be inflamed (unless that’s what you mean by wounded)?

I feel dumb for asking but I’m asking anyway!

Da Fug: I can’t say definitively that the buildings aren’t drawn, but they do look a bit too “realistic” to be drawn, and I just believe they were Photoshopped or otherwise placed into the picture. And yes, I do mean that the flames seem to be hurting the creature. It’s certainly possible that it’s not, but I think the flames and its expression point to that.

Obviously, as others have pointed out mistakes I’ve made already this year, you shouldn’t feel dumb for asking. I feel dumb for some of those mistakes, but that’s part of why I’m doing this – to figure out art a bit better!

The panel divisions look messed up to me. So we’re asked to see the middle image first (going against comics) and then there’s a fire line in it that we should re-read later…
It does freak me out! I have no problem with Ditko drawing multiple Spider-Man in one panel (sometimes the “ghosts” were colored differently, or would miss their web decoration) to show us how he jumped around. That’s just something I have to accept if I am to subject myself to the senses-shattering world of Marvel. But messing with the interface to the comic itself is too jarring.

I agree with Sandra. Breaking this splash page into three vertical panels makes utter nonsense of the action therein.

Even if you’re right, Greg, that we start in the upper left with the monster’s claw which then directs us over to the monster’s face (which already suggests a major problem in the composition, as our gaze has already been directed out of the first panel without even noticing most of what is in it…), I would submit that a reader would very quickly notice the the large flaming 4 crossing the panels, as well as the continuity of the monster and the background buildings across the panels, and so perceive the page as a single full-page image. With this in mind, it’s clear that the Torch ends up on the right of the page, since that image has his fire trail only behind him. Tracing the trail back, we see the Torch entered the scene from the bottom center. That could be problematic in any case: there’s a strong preference to have action flow from left to right and from top to bottom in western comics. So this page even without the addition of panels might have been a bit off. But the panels and the fire trail simply do not work together. Stretching for meaning, we eventually conclude that the action begins in the center panel (with its incomprehensible fire trails where Johnny has not been yet), then moves left before jumping right.

The suggestion that Lee broke this page into panels to avoid “freaking out” the audience with multiple images of the same character in a single panel is baffling. The trick of using multiple images of a single character moving through a sequence of actions in one panel is well established in comics, and often done to brilliant effect (see, for instance, Frank Quitely or Marcos Martin). And anyway, if ensuring that only a single Torch appears in each panel somehow makes this page more plausible or “realistic” (i.e. something you could capture with a camera), what are we to make of the fact that in two of the three panels the Torch’s fire trail appears ahead of him?

I don’t think it says much of the Marvel method that nowhere in the production of this comic did an editor, assistant, letterer, writer, or colorist say, “Nice work, Jae, but I think this page might work better without the panel borders…”

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