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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 314: Super Friends #28

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Super Friends #28, which was published by DC and is cover dated August 2010. Enjoy!

Riddler Rage!

It’s pretty sad that for a while there, some of the best comics from the Big Two were in the “Johnny DC” line, specifically this series and the Batman books they put out. These comics were everything grumpy old people like me say they want from comics – single issue stories, no doom-’n’-gloom, a non-dickish Batman, fun (and funny) plots, and a wink at the audience every so often that the creators knew how ridiculous these characters are, but who cares, right? So of course, they didn’t sell at all and got cancelled. But that’s a rant for another day! Let’s check out this first page to see how it gets us into the issue, shall we?

Dario Brizuela, who drew this, begins with a standard establishing shot, plus he plays on the old cliché of the villains congregating in a run-down factory. We never find out where we are – it’s just, you know, “the city” – but it’s clearly in a shabby part of said city. Sholly Fisch, who’s now writing back-ups in Action Comics, is the writer on this sucker, and he sets up the story well even though he doesn’t get into the plot until Page 2. The Riddler is running a gang of puzzle-themed villains, and Fisch has fun with their schticks. Riddler looks all serious as he’s contemplating his riddle “based on the melody of a sixteenth century symphony,” but he’s interrupted by the others, who want to use their goofy calling cards as well. So Fisch is able to introduce them by name and by villain type – Cluemaster wants to send the Super Friends a clue, Signalman wants to send a message using semaphore, the Calculator wants to use a numeric code, the Puzzler wants to send a puzzle, and Angle Man wants … well, just to mix things up a bit, from his dialogue. Fisch tells us all the villains’ names on the next page (with a classic “heads in circles line-up”), so he doesn’t have to get all of their names in on this page, but he does a pretty good job of it without being too awkward about it, and he manages to explain how each villain operates (except for Angle Man, but we see what he does later). He also pokes fun at the idea of leaving clues in the first place and the idea of villains operating together, and the page ends with the Riddler chucking them all out (he does call them back almost immediately because he gets an idea, but still). Fisch does quite a bit to get us into the story just on this page, mainly through his dialogue and the way the characters interact with each other, because we still don’t know what the scheme is.

Brizuela, meanwhile, has a clean, precise, cartoony style that works well with the tone of the book. We can’t see it on this page, but his characters are a bit blocky, which is odd when we see someone like the Flash running, but it’s not that big a deal (we can see that on this page with the Riddler, who looks a bit more muscular than we’d expect). After the establishing shot, he gives us a wide shot of all the characters. He doesn’t use a lot of detail in the facial expressions, but note the Riddler’s puzzlement in Panel 3 as he contemplates what kind of riddle he’s going to send to the Super Friends and the eyebrows and eyes of Cluemaster casting doubt upon that part of the plan. Cluemaster shifts from doubt to mild anger in Panel 4, and Brizuela does a nice job with that. The large word balloons obscure the first part of a nice running gag – that Signalman can produce signs out of thin air, as we can’t really see the semaphore flags he’s waving too well. It’s a nice gag, but the next time it happens, it’s a bit odd because if you happened to miss it on Page 1, you might wonder what’s going on. I’m not really sure how Brizuela and Fisch (and Steve Wands, who lettered the book) could have laid out that panel better to see the flags, but it’s too bad.

In Panels 5 and 6, Brizuela uses nice emotive lines to show the Riddler getting angrier and angrier. This is partly where the fun of these comics comes from – regular superhero books take themselves far too seriously to show a character with jagged “angry lines” rising from his or her head, but Fisch and Brizuela don’t care about that. Finally, Brizuela gives us a classic circular panel with the Riddler filling it, yelling at his would-be partners with emotive lines radiating from his face. Brizuela has stayed away from close-ups on this page, so when he does zoom in, it gives us a nice indication of how upset Riddler really is. It’s a pretty good technique. You’ll also note that in Panel 2 and even in Panels 4 and 5, the villains are smiling – they just love their jobs! Again, this is something we rarely see in regular Big Two superhero comics – sure, the Joker smiles all the time, but he’s insane. These guys just love the fact that they’re sitting around in wacky costumes plotting a crime together! If this hadn’t been a kids’ comic, you can bet they would have cans of Milwaukee’s Best sitting in front of them. Everyone loves the BEAST!

Fisch and Bruziela give us a lot of information on this page. It’s up to you if you want to learn more. But why wouldn’t you?

Next: A crazy Elseworlds comic! Who didn’t love Elseworlds? Commies, that’s who. Check out the archives while you’re waiting!

13 Comments

What a great first page! It makes me want to check this and the rest of the Johnny DC line…
Who knows, there might just be a place in my heart for superhero comics where nobody gets decapitated!

It’s wasn’t just Johnny DC. The Marvel Adventures line was also just wonderful at the same time, especially Marvel Adventures Avengers. The Big Two were really doing all their best work in the all-ages comics.

We really shouldn’t blame the artist for the “blockiness” of the characters… that was due to the designers of the toy line.

I believe the blockiness is to make the characters resemble the toy line (I think by Fisher Price) that the comic was based on. Of course everyone from this page, besides Riddler, was too obscure for the toy line.

Also, because I am very old, I was expecting to see the OTHER Super Friends #28–the 1980 Halloween issue that was far and away my favorite single issue of the first series. But I can’t say I’m disappointed, because this page is pure gold.

Really have to learn to refresh the page before posting.

Thanks, buttler! I actually checked some of the Marvel Adventures books, and coincidentally, right now I’m reading the Superman Adventures comics. Mark Millar’s run on that book might just be his best work!

Yeah, I read some of the Marvel Adventures stuff, and it was pretty good. I think the Johnny DC stuff was a bit better, but they were both really fun superhero comics.

I didn’t know that about the toy line. Thanks, everyone!

Sorry, buttler! You know me – woefully under-representing old-school comics for years now!

Speaking of Fisch and his backup stories in Action, did anyone else notice that the monster at the start of story was called something like N’rsssssssshkt, which sounds an awful lot like narishkeit, a Yiddish word that means “foolishness”? Cute little touch, I thought.

I know nothing about the person other than his stories, but Sholly Fisch might be the best writer DC has these days. And yes, I do realize the other names on that list include the likes of Morrison, Simone, Cornell, and Mieville! But Fisch is the one who knows how to write tightly-structured self-contained plots that hinge on character in a limited number of pages, and he captures the Silver and Bronze Age styles without pastiche or condescension. A lot of writers can “do” retro only with “quote marks” for ironic distance. So far as I can tell, Fisch does it with sincerity.

Is that a hint for Red Son tomorrow?

Da Fug: I didn’t think of that! I just like saying that people who don’t like something are Commies, but that would have been a good hint, wouldn’t it? As you can see, it’s not Red Son. I kind of wish it had been now!

I think that this is the buffest that the Riddler’s ever been. Check out those guns!

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