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 Thrillkiller #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1997. Enjoy!
Howard Chaykin and Dan Brereton teamed up in 1996 to bring us this story of Batgirl and Robin, an “Elseworlds” story in which Bruce Wayne is a Gotham City police detective and Barbara Gordon is dating a young ne’er-do-well, Dick Grayson. Plus, there’s a sexy female Joker. Oh, Howard Chaykin – what are we going to do with you?
Chaykin’s narrative boxes set up the story, as he explains about naming decades, but then admits that in 1961, things weren’t as cut and dried as that. He does point out that Gotham City was “jumping with giddy optimism” but that no one realized there was darkness ahead, but it’s unclear if he’s writing about “dark days” with regard to real-world events – the assassinations in the 1960s, Vietnam, filthy hippies – or with regard to weird shit in Gotham City (see: sexy Joker). But it’s an ominous opening, and that’s all that matters!
Brereton is a superb artist, and he gives us a gorgeous splash page to begin the story. Sometimes a column is just a column, but if you want to look at the symbolism of a giant phallus dividing “Dick” Grayson from Barbara Gordon implying that Dick is hiding something, be my guest. The column actually anchors the page, leading us from the shadowy figures in the foreground – Dick on the left, Barbara on the right – to the city scene in the background, which outshines the two principal characters. Brereton obviously painted this page, and it makes Gotham look both more modern yet also more “1960s” than a traditional coloring job would have. The painted look allows the neon lights to pop and also evokes a bygone era, and Brereton’s details are marvelous – the cars, the clothing, and the advertisements all point to a time long past. I’m not entirely sure if the tower next to the column with the “W” on it is supposed to stand for “Wayne” – in this reality, the Waynes were bankrupted by the Depression, so while they were wealthy, they aren’t any more, so the “W” could stand for “Wayne,” as it looks old enough. I’m going to assume it does, because why would Brereton bother to put a letter on the tower unless it meant something? You’ll note that there’s a monorail, which for years in the past (and, to a certain degree, remains) a symbol of the future, but the streets are still packed, because, as Tom Skerritt once famously (?) remarked, “People love their cars.” Brereton really does a nice job mixing a classic style with a sleek, modern vibe … kind of like 1961 itself! That movie theater must be having some kind of gladiator-themed revival period, because neither Ben-Hur nor Spartacus were new movies at this time. Still, good choices. Given that Chaykin immediately takes the action into a gay bar, I wonder if there’s something else to those choices …?
Interestingly enough, Brereton kind of cheats to keep Dick and Barbara in the shadows. Based on the rest of the page, the ledges on which they perch would probably be as bright as some of the other ledges near the street, but Brereton deliberately darkens his two main characters to keep the focus away from them (for now) and on the street scene. This is something artists can do in comics much better than can be done on film, and it’s a nice effect. This page is loaded with symbolism, and Brereton knows what he’s doing with it!
Thrillkiller is a keen little comic. I mean, it would have to be, right, with two very good talents like these gentlemen working on it!
Next: Man, remember a few years ago, when DC pulled that wacky stunt? You know, that one? Well, we’ll consider a comic that came out right in the middle of it! I’m sure there’s some other wacky things in the archives!
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