Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 295: The Spectre #9
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from The Spectre #9, which was published by DC and is cover dated August 1993. Enjoy!
Do you know why writers use the horror movie cliché of having a seemingly innocuous person doing a seemingly innocuous task until you suddenly realize that he (or she, I guess, but it’s usually a he) is doing something far more horrific? Because it works, that’s why! Sure, it’s gotten to the point where we can’t even trust anyone in a movie who happens to be putting up a shed or doing a load of laundry, but it’s still effective. So John Ostrander, who wrote this page, goes to this well. Maybe in 1993 it wasn’t quite as common as it is now?
Anyway, Ostrander gives us creepy guy doing a not-at-all creepy thing of driving nails into something. How do we know he’s creepy? Well, he’s a bit too cheery about putting up drywall, he’s unshaven (this was before that became a fashion trend), and he’s singing that song, which no sane person should ever sing unless there’s a young kid around and you’re trying to teach them where the bones in a body are. Tom Mandrake gives us a nice page – the hammer in Panel 1 moves us to the right and also implies violence even if the guy is doing something innocent – it’s a hammer, after all! Then we see the guy, or at least his mouth and nose, and we know pretty quickly that he’s up to no good. Holding nails in one’s teeth is one of those perfectly normal things that, when viewed from a slightly different angle, becomes eerie, and because we can’t see the guy’s eyes, this becomes one of those eerie times. Mandrake continues to tease us in Panel 3, because we see the guy wrapping string around one of the nails, and the nails aren’t driven deeply into a wall or something else we might expect. It makes the anticipation of what’s actually going on worse, because Ostrander and Mandrake want us to be curious, but they also want us to know that something is really not right here. That sense of wrongness becomes even worse in Panel 4, because the dude is drilling into something that is obviously not straight, like we’d expect a wall to be. The curves are unsettling, because they don’t conform with our conception of what kind of surface you drill into. So even though we don’t see what the dude is drilling into, we’re uneasy about it. Of course, Mandrake then shows us all the various nails and screws in Panel 5 with splotches of red, putting us in mind of blood and what awful thing the dude might be doing with the nails, but we don’t know precisely what’s going on. Then, in Panel 6, Mandrake draws an eye, and we at least infer that this eye belongs to someone who is terrified, so it’s probably not the dude doing the hammering and drilling. The eye is wide open in fear, and some twine runs beneath it, implying that the person’s face is tied somehow. Obviously, this final image is supposed to heighten the tension about as high as it can go before we turn the page, where we see exactly what’s going on (hint: it’s what you expect, and it ain’t pretty). A movie might drag this out a bit more, mainly because in a movie, we’re dealing with moving images and it takes a bit longer to set up the scene, but in a comic, one page is a good length, because we catch on quickly to what’s happening, especially if we stop and consider everything we’ve seen. Finally, you’ll notice that Digital Chameleon uses red quite well on the page – the sound effects in Panel 1 are red because red is a severe and loud color, while the background in Panels 1 and 4 help prepare us for the blood in Panel 5 and the violence of this opening scene when we turn the page. I don’t know who colored this page, exactly (Digital Chameleon had a lot of good colorists on its staff), but it’s a pretty good use of red to foreshadow the horror to come.
Ostrander and Mandrake really did good work on The Spectre. Why DC doesn’t collect this series is one of the mysteries of comicdom. So sad!
Next: We’re moving on again! You can find a clue about what’s coming next in the very recent archives!