Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Zero Tolerance #2, which was published by First and is cover dated November 1990. Enjoy!
Zero Tolerance was a mediocre mini-series that takes place in 2017, but I don’t think we’ll have floating cars by then, so that sucks. The sole reason I bought it back then, very early on in my comics-buying career (I had been a comics reader for slightly less than two years when this came out) was because Tim Vigil drew it, and I had already seen and loved Tim Vigil’s artwork on Faust, my favorite terrible comic book of all time. It was a good purchase for me, though, as it was the kind of book that forced me to stretch my boundaries beyond DC and Marvel superhero books. If you hate the books I read these days because I don’t read Green Lantern or Avengers, Zero Tolerance is one of the tiny reasons to blame for it!
David Barbour wrote this series, with Vigil and Gary Amaro drawing it and Tim Tyler inking it. I don’t know what Vigil did and what Amaro did – it looks fairly consistent throughout, and the characters look like Vigil’s, so maybe Amaro did the backgrounds? Or successfully aped Vigil’s look? Anyway, Ray Murtaugh colored this, and our old friends Willie Schubert (one of my least favorite letterers) and Clem Robins lettered this. So let’s check it out, shall we?
The inside front cover explains the basic plot – Zero Tolerance is a watchdog agency dedicated to rooting out political corruption, and the two protagonists of the book – Turk and Molly – don’t know yet that the president is the most corrupt politician of all. At the end of issue #1, Molly and Turk crashed their “air car” into the Transamerica Building in San Francisco. So that’s where we begin! Vigil and Amaro set the scene in a fairly standard way, by starting way out and zooming in, but this enables them to show that it’s San Francisco, because most people know that the Transamerica Building is there (and if you don’t, there’s always the recap!). The smoke from the crash leads our eye to the building, where we see the familiar shape, cluing us in. The helicopters’ lights point downward, not only because that’s the way it would be in reality, but because it is moving us to the second panel. Notice that two separate shafts of light link up with the foot and leg of the two security guards. This allows us to take in the entire second panel, and even though it’s a bit disorienting, the handrail on the side helps lead our eyes upward, and the speed lines do their job in making the scene more kinetic. The tilted “camera angle” helps too – the guards are running up the stairs helter-skelter, and so the artists employ a “shaky cam” perspective that has become so prevalent in movies today. It works better in comics because of the static nature of the images – we can interpret the scene without it moving past us too quickly. Vigil and Amaro then pull back a bit to show the staircase up which the guards are running, which gives us a sense of scale. Murtaugh contrasts the cool blues of the walls with the bright yellow of the light around the door, but I’m not sure what the red circle is in that one corner. I imagine it’s an alarm, but it doesn’t seem to be emanating from anywhere. In Panel 4, we get our first good look at the two guards, and the artists do a nice job showing their fatigue – the man in the back is bent over, while the man in the foreground has sweat on his face. He’s holding the flashlight rather oddly, but it’s necessary to bring it into the panel while also throwing his face into shadows, making him appear more sinister than he actually is. The light also leads us off the page entirely, which implies that the men don’t exist in a vacuum, but are in a larger area. The flashlight is also placed where it is in the panel because Vigil and Amaro can then link its light to the light on the doors beneath it. The panel doesn’t make much sense unless we make the cognitive leap that the second guard has also pulled out his flashlight, but it’s necessary to show the doors closed so that in Panel 6 the guards can make a dramatic entrance. Vigil and Amaro do a good job giving us a fluid motion in the final panel and also moving our eyes from the barrel of the gun on the left, which is “closer” to us and therefore larger, to the eyes of the first guard, which is on the same level as the barrel. He’s slightly larger than his co-worker because, again, he’s “closer” to the reader, but the line from the barrel of the gun to his eyes continues to the face of the other guard, so it’s easy to absorb everything we need to in the panel. Finally, the second guard’s gun is raised and right on the edge of the panel, leading us to the splash on the next page. Vigil and Amaro use a lot of solid tricks on this page to move us easily across it, setting up the confrontation between the guards and Turk and Molly, which turns out to be not much of one.
Barbour doesn’t give us too much information, except to let us know it wasn’t an earthquake, which readers already know anyway. I always appreciate when a writer remembers that people tend to get out of breath when they run up several staircases, so that’s nice. Basically, Barbour is raising the tension level on this page, because we know that the car crashed into the building, so we’re waiting to see what happened to our heroes – did they go into the bay (where the car ended up), or are they inside the room the guards are about to enter? So all the dialogue on this page – the talk of earthquakes and that it wasn’t one, the admonition by “S-1″ to be careful – is there simply to build tension. Does it work? Well, that’s up to each reader, isn’t it?
Zero Tolerance isn’t a terribly good comic, unfortunately. It ends really strangely, as if Barbour wanted to do a sequel. Of course, First’s implosion helped put the kibosh on that. Hey, maybe Larry Young can contact Barbour and Vigil and see if they want to do a sequel!
Next: Ennis! Dillon! So many choices? Which one shall it be????? Don’t worry if you don’t know – you can still find many other comics you do know in the archives!
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