Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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!
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!
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