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 Shadow of the Bat #47, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 1996. Enjoy!
Alan Grant wrote Shadow of the Bat for almost its entire run, and he got to work with some interesting artists, including Tommy Lee Edwards before he changed his style and became even more interesting. He’s certainly not bad here, but he definitely has a “Tony Harris vibe” or even a “John K. Snyder III vibe” going on here, and it took him a while to grow out of that.
This is the second part of a Cornelius Stirk story, whom Grant created during his run on Detective and was obviously supposed to replace the Scarecrow or at least give him a rival. It never happened, and although Stirk’s first story is wonderful, he has languished in obscurity, only popping up every once in a while. Here, he narrates the first page, as he lets the reader know what his plan is – he killed a writer, but he plans to finish his “latest blockbuster” with a final chapter. Stirk has the ability to change his appearance – he doesn’t shape-shift, he casts some kind of aura that makes people see him as a different person – so he has taken the writer’s place and is plotting another murder. At this point, Stirk doesn’t know who his victim will be, but he’s there to kill! Grant, meanwhile, juxtaposes Stirk’s internal monologue with the meeting between the Penguin and Gotham’s new mayor, Marion Grange, and Grant is a good enough writer to know that the reader will assume that Stirk’s victim will be either Cobblepot or the mayor. Stirk takes his time, but finally decides to kill Grange. Astute readers have already deduced that she had a good chance of being his victim.
Edwards gives us an establishing shot in Panel 1 that’s a bit weird. That dude getting out of the taxi isn’t important, yet he dominates the panel. Cobblepot’s casino, which is in the background, is obscured by the two men, the one in the taxi and the one leaning against the lamp post. We might think that one of these two gentlemen is Cornelius Stirk, but I don’t think it is. I mean, it could be – Stirk can change his appearance, after all – but I don’t think it is. Plus, although intuitively we know that he’s putting on his coat and that’s why his left arm is distorted (the rest of it is bent either backward or downward and hidden in the shadows), it still looks weird. I don’t know why we get this establishing shot. It’s odd.
Panel 2 is a bit odd, too. Edwards wants to get in the glamour of the casino, so in the foreground we get the singer, and the woman smoking the cigarette seems to be in the audience. It’s awfully cramped, though, and the skewed perspective throws the panel out of whack a bit. Edwards draws a fairly normal-looking Penguin – he’s not particularly fat, and while his nose is peaked slightly, it’s not as beak-like as we sometimes see from artists – and he does a nice job showing the disgust/contempt on Marion Grange’s face. She knows he’s a villain, but she can’t say too much, because he’s running a “legitimate” business here. Edwards does give us good sight lines, though – the singer’s eyes (even though we can’t see them) lead our own eyes across the page, as she’s looking at the woman with the cigarette, and when we follow her gaze, we find the Penguin and the mayor. Then, in Panel 3, he switches point of view to behind the mayor so we can see Cobblepot more clearly, and Edwards adds some nice Art Deco ornamentation behind the Penguin, which not only fills in the space but establishes an aesthetic for the casino that matches the light fixtures in Panel 2. Little things like that make the misc-en-scene much more interesting.
Pamela Rambo colored this, and she bases everything on brown, which adds a nostalgic sheen to the scene. Edwards draws the men in Panel 1 with fedoras, and Rambo’s drab coloring in that panel helps give this a more 1950s feel. Panels 2 and 3 are more glamorous, but the brown base is still there, so while the page isn’t exactly sepia-toned, it does have an old-fashioned feel to it. I imagine this was coordinated, as Edwards not only gives the men fedoras, but the singer in Panel 2 is using an old-fashioned microphone, and presumably Cobblepot thinks of himself as Rick Blaine, with the white tuxedo and gallant manner. He stands out among the dark-colored outfits everyone else is wearing, so he becomes a central image of the page even more than he already is.
Edwards changed his style in the new millennium and got a lot better, but you can see in this page that he already has a good grasp on line work, even if I don’t love his layout of the first two panels. It’s always fun watching artists evolve, especially if they get better, and it’s fun to look back and see where they were!
Next: I just featured these two creators during Scary Comics Month, but they worked together on other titles, so we’ll check out another one of their collaborations! Or, you could find them in the archives!
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