Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from B.P.R.D.: There’s Something Under My Bed, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated November 2003. This scan is from B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs volume 1, which was published in February 2011. Enjoy!
Joe Harris, Adam Pollina, Guillermo Zubiaga, Lee Loughridge, and Pat Brosseau bring us this tale of kids getting abducted by monsters under their beds, and this first page sets it up quite well. Harris tells us we’re in Masonville, Pennsylvania, and he gives us a somewhat typical family, as the parents are trying to get their son to bed even though he thinks there’s something waiting for him. Harris shows us that the parents aren’t that happy with each other – the mother doesn’t like the father calling the boy a “baby” or promising him a video-game system if he goes to sleep, while the father thinks the mother coddles him too much. The mother implies that the father is unfaithful, because of course he is. It’s not a bad way to set up the story, because the reason Bobby gets abducted is that his parents didn’t believe his stories. It’s decent enough dialogue, even though it’s laced with clichés, and it gets across the idea that Bobby’s parents are more concerned with their own issues than their son’s.
Pollina breaks the page down into a standard nine-panel grid, but it’s effective, so we can’t blame him. The first panel establishes the house, and Loughridge does a nice job using the same blue palette for the nighttime outside the house as he does inside the house. The first person we see is Bobby, which isn’t a bad idea because he’s the main character for the first few pages (before the B.P.R.D. gets involved), although I’m not sure Pollina does a very good job with his facial expression – he doesn’t look too upset that he’s going to bed. His expressions in Panel 4 and Panel 7 are much better. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we don’t really see his parents’ faces too well – his mother’s is in profile and we get a decent view, but his father’s is behind the window frame, and that’s the best view we see of them on this page. At the end of the story, we also don’t see them clearly, so Pollina is obviously going for some kind of “Charlie Brown effect” where we don’t see the parents’ faces. It’s pretty effective – it isolates Bobby from them, because they seem to be abstractions rather than real people.
Anyway, Panel 3 gives us a perspective from underneath the bed, both turning the reader into the monster, in a way, and also showing us that the parents are right, to a degree – there isn’t anything under the bed. Obviously, readers of fiction know that Bobby is right and his parents are wrong, because there wouldn’t be a story otherwise, but Pollina does at least pay lip service to the idea that Bobby doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Then, in Panel 4, we see Bobby’s disgruntled face – he’s disgusted that his father implied he was a “baby” and a “sissy.” The stuffed animal in Panels 5 and 6 help transition from the light to the dark, as Bobby’s parents turn the light off between the panels, and also from the comforting world of “reality” to the monster-ridden world of Bobby’s nighttime bedroom. It’s a nice trick. Pollina again gives us a good facial expression in Panel 7, as Bobby thinks about being alone in the dark with whatever is in the room with him. As we’re moving into a strange place where things lurk under the bed, Pollina shows Bobby upside-down, which disorients the reader nicely. Finally, we get the gaping black maw of the door in Panel 8, looking terribly sinister, and then Panel 9, where Pollina pulls back to show Bobby in bed and his childhood stuff in the foreground. The plastic soldier foreshadows the battle the Bureau will fight against the monster, while the clock is so innocent that it stands in contrast to what’s about to happen. The glass is important, too, although we don’t know why yet. By using the nine-panel grid, Pollina doesn’t have to move our eyes from panel to panel too much, but in the final panel, he does a nice job leading us toward the next page. Bobby is on the left, and the shadow line moves from him toward the next page. The soldier points that way as well, showing us the clock and the glass, which crowd off the panel on the right side. We’ve already seen that Loughridge does a nice job contrasting the warm yellows of the “waking world” with the gloomy blues of the “nighttime world,” and it’s interesting how balanced this page is: Panel 1 shows both darkness and light, then the upper four panel are in the light and the bottom four panels are in the darkness. The stuffed animal is Paul Lynde on this page, anchoring the entire page, creating a divide between the world of safety and parents’ skepticism and the world of danger and Bobby’s beliefs. The animal is large in Panel 5 because it symbolically shuts off the parents’ world from the monster’s. It’s a good choice by Pollina.
This is an interesting first page – Harris gives us plenty of information, and Pollina’s layout and Loughridge’s colors make it clear that Bobby occupies two different worlds, and one of those is dangerous to him. It’s a nifty page, and it gets us right into the creepy story that follows!
Next: Even with the attempted randomness of this exercise, I’m surprised I’ve gotten this writer so much so recently. It’s time to check out his masterpiece! You won’t find it in the archives, but there’s a lot of other good stuff there!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.