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 Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #4, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 2007. This scan is from the hardcover trade, which was published in 2007. Enjoy!
Jeff Smith’s four-issue mini-series about Captain Marvel is pretty keen – it’s not as good as Bone, which isn’t surprising, but in an era when DC was really punching a lot of their readers in the gut by retroactively raping and/or killing off supporting characters, it was a breath of fresh air. And, of course, DC subsequently ignored it completely. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not dark enough!!!!
At the end of issue #3, Billy Batson found out where Mary, his sister, is being held against her will. Talky Tawny, the talking tiger, tried to tell him to be patient, but Billy said “Shazam” and turned into Captain Marvel, which is where we pick up the tale. Smith quickly gets us up to speed in the first panel, as Talky tries to call Captain Marvel back but Marvel tells him (and the reader) that he has to save Mary. That’s handy. A new reader might be perplexed by the bolt of lightning striking the exact spot where Marvel had been standing, but we know that that’s what happens when Billy says his magic word – lightning turns him into a superhero. Smith puts the “KA-BOOM!” in the upper left so it’s the first thing we see, and the bolt of lightning is close enough to it that our eyes easily pick it and move downward to the spot where Marvel began, and then follow it from the left to the right with Marvel. It’s a nicely-designed panel, because Smith manages to track against our natural reading instincts with the lightning bolt, but because our eyes don’t have to move too far to the right, he’s able to draw us backward easily. As with a lot of comics, the second panel only works because of context – those dudes are guarding the giant robot in which Mary is being held, but we might not know where they are if we saw that panel in isolation. The first panel informs the second one, because our brain fills in the blanks and we realize we’re seeing the dudes from Marvel’s perspective – when, in Panel 1, he’s looking grumpily off-panel, he’s looking at them. They see him and react accordingly. The panel is aligned so that the door is opening on the right side, and Smith makes sure that we don’t even see the entire door, so that we move easily to the third panel. Talky is in the same position as he was in Panel 1, but Smith just gives him a close-up. He doesn’t say anything new, but his panic seems more acute because the words he’s saying are slightly larger than in Panel 1. This might be due to the fact that he’s now in close-up, but if that’s true, it’s even smarter for Smith to move in on him. Smith really can’t do too much to make a realistically-drawn tiger emote, so his dialogue does it for him. The fact that the lettering is larger is a nice touch. Talky is also leading us off the page, which is nice. On the next page, Marvel gets to fight some monsters, so the issue gets more exciting, and Smith does what he can to make us want to turn the page. And heck, why wouldn’t you?
I don’t know if Smith simply doesn’t want to do more work for DC or Marvel or if they don’t want him. If it’s the latter, they’re quite foolish. This mini-series proves that he can do fine work with the iconic characters of comics. Oh well. At least we have this nice story!
Next: A spy thriller? Do I even like spy thrillers? Find out if there are any others in the archives!
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