Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Legends of the Dark Knight #83, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1996. Enjoy!
Back before he became “Warren Ellis,” Warren Ellis wrote this two-parter for LotDK, with John McCrea on art, Digital Chameleon handling the coloring, and one of my least favorite letterers, Willie Schubert, lettering the whole thing. I’m sorry, Mr. Schubert – to me, those letters are just ugly. I’m sure others appreciate your work!
Ellis has a nice phrase to begin the story – it’s the “hard edge of dusk” on the “reeking wastelands” north of Gotham City. Obviously, we know it’s a Batman story, but at least Ellis tells us where we are. It’s in Panel 4 that things start to get weird, as he’s obviously writing about the two figures we see, who “talk without speaking,” communicating with “glands and musks.” Well, that’s odd. They appear to be human, but Ellis is setting them up as something strange (the title of the story is “Infected,” so that gives us a clue). It’s an intriguing way to start the story.
McCrea does his usual fine job on the art. In Panel 1, he balances the caption boxes with the giant circle, lit like something from Hell, which casts the two figures into shadow. Backlighting is a good trick for both artists and cinematographers to use, and McCrea uses it well. Ellis obviously doesn’t want us to see the two figures yet, so this is a good technique. Panel 2 grounds us a bit, because the sneaker is a familiar and comforting item, and it implies that even if these two figures aren’t exactly human, they’re not too weird that they don’t wear Chuck Taylors. Panel 3 is interesting – it’s very close in, so McCrea simply gives us a large silhouette that’s a bit difficult to figure out at first glance. Using our eye skills, though, we see that it’s a torso and a left arm trailing behind, with the giant light still hanging in the air behind the figure. McCrea gives us this panel so that we can see the arm more clearly – notice the small spurs on the arm, which, in a silhouette, could be anything. We might automatically think it’s the folds of a coat or something mundane, but we soon learn it’s more sinister than that. This is a nice piece of foreshadowing by Ellis and McCrea in what seems like a wasted panel the first time we zip over it. In Panel 4, McCrea gets to pull back a bit, showing the open space over which the two figures run and Gotham in the background. We see Gotham first, and McCrea angles the panel so that our eyes move toward the figures and then out of the panel to the right. The figures are still backlit, but the lights of Gotham cast shadows along their trail as well. Even though these stories are out of continuity, it seems like McCrea is drawing Gotham in the Anton Furst style, which was how Gotham was depicted for much of the 1990s (well, if Kelley Jones wasn’t drawing it, because he drew it like 19th-century Prague). Notice that Gotham isn’t exactly comforting, although Ellis (and Schubert) emphasizes “cover” because the city is a place to hide. The coloring is nice, too – Gotham’s orange lights up the night, but not exactly in a friendly manner. McCrea’s depiction and the coloring make Gotham look eerie and menacing. As it should be!
“Infected” is a nice little two-part story. Ellis does a nice job building the tension – we don’t actually see one of these dudes until halfway through this issue, and McCrea nails it nicely. Man, DC had some good writers working for them in the latter half of the 1990s. Good thing they pissed them all off and drove them to Marvel!
Remember: If you have any first page you want me to write about on this very blog, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. It’s not too hard, everyone! It’s easy as cake!
Next: A cool graphic novel! Everyone loves cool graphic novels! Find some in the archives!
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