Comics Anatomy: Pushing Boundaries in Captain Marvel #1

By Harry Kassen — Hello everyone and welcome back to Comics Anatomy. As you know, Captain Marvel is coming to the big screen today, so I thought it’d be fun to do a special Captain Marvel article going over some of the craft elements at play in January’s Captain Marvel #1, written by Kelly Thompson with art by Carmen Carnero, colors by Tamra Bonvillain, and letters by Clayton Cowles. While establishing a new status quo for Carol—then abruptly throwing that out—this issue also does some more subtle things with craft that enhance the reading experience. I’m going to talk about one of them here today.

What jumped out to me when I read it is the use of special panel borders to signify something about the action in that panel or in panels around it. A great example of this is in the fight scene at the beginning of the book. There is a two-page splash that shows Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman fighting a giant monster.

This spread can be looked at as four panels, the first panel with the thick black outline showing Carol, the large panel that spreads across the pages is the second, the third is the panel to the right with the double border that shows the monster crashing into the building, and the fourth is the one on the far right with the double border showing Carol floating in the air. The thing I want to address is the phenomenon of the double panel border, but this page is a little trickier to understand without first looking at some other examples, so let’s shelve it for now and look at a different one.

Let’s look next at the two page spread near the end of the book that shows Nuclear Man attacking the four Avengers in that scene.

Like the last one, this one can be broken into four panels, though the first two are the ones that matter for our purposes. The first panel is another with a double border, showing Captain America lifting Nuclear Man. The second is the larger panel that shows Nuclear Man attacking the Avengers and launching them across the page. The double border around the first panel serves as a signal that something big is going to shift from that panel to the next. On one side of the border Cap is picking up a defeated Nuclear man, but on the other side of the border Nuclear Man has turned the tables on the Avengers and has gained the upper hand.

On a later page in this same fight the double border pops up again. The page where the Avengers are attempting to follow Carol through Nuclear Man’s portal has three double border panels showing individual Avengers and a large panel showing them being thrown back from the portal.

In both of these examples, the double border serves as an indicator that something is about to change or that something inside the panel is different than in the rest of the page. In the Nuclear Man spread, the double border panel shows the Avengers as winning the fight, then immediately on the other side of that border, in the next panel, the Avengers are losing to Nuclear Man.

In addition, there’s a shift from a vertical, relatively confined panel to a widescreen and very expansive panel. There’s a clear difference between the two and the double border signals that that change is coming.

Likewise in the page with the Avengers and the portal, the border serves to mark a clear shift in action and format.

The three double bordered panels show the three Avengers moving toward the portal but the rest of the splash shows them being thrown back. On a technical level, the three Avengers panels are diagonal and show left-right movement, but the portal panel is vertical and shows right-left movement. Once again, the double border is what signals this shift.

Which brings us back to the first example.

On this page, there are two double bordered panels. In the main spread, there is a large monster getting punched in the face by Captain Marvel. In the first double bordered panel, this monster is crashing into a building in the background. Lastly, in the second double bordered panel, Carol is hovering over the defeated monster. As with before, each of these panels is a distinct moment of the fight. On the level of story, the punch is the beginning of this interaction, the monster crashing into the building is the middle, and then the monster laying defeated on the ground while Carol hovers over it is the end. Looking at the technique, we can see that the first panel shows Carol moving and the monster being moved by her. This panel is the full two page spread and is horizontal. The next panel, which is tilted slightly, shows the monster moving. Carol isn’t in it. Lastly, the final panel shows Carol and the monster, both still. This panel is larger than the last and tilted even more. The double border serves to signal these differences once again.

This goes to show that the creative team of a comic have control over all the elements of the page’s composition. What counts as the art and storytelling isn’t just limited to the contents of the panels but also the way they’re shaped and how they’re framed. The architecture of a comic is important for developing the book’s visual language and guiding how the reader experiences the story, and Captain Marvel #1 is a great example of how to use this power well.

Captain Marvel #1
Kelly Thompson
Artist: Carmen Carnero
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Check out Comics Anatomy: Velvet’s Perfect Page!

Harry Kassen is a college student and avid comic book reader. When he’s not doing schoolwork or reading comics, he’s probably sleeping. Catch his thoughts on comics, food, and other things on Twitter @leekassen.

Comic of the Week: Jessica Jones - Purple Daughter #1 is the best of Marvel’s digital-only comics

Jessica Jones - Purple Daughter #1 is out 1/16/2019.

By d. emerson eddy — For a while now, Marvel's digital original program on Comixology and Kindle has been producing some very high quality, highly compelling, and entertaining stories without exception, including Cloak & Dagger, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daughters of the Dragon, and, for my money the best of the bunch, Jessica Jones.

That first series from Kelly Thompson, Mattia De Iulis, Marcio Takara, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Cory Petit, dubbed Blind Spot, presented an interesting case of revenge, death, and bizarre duplicates that was highly inventive, beautifully rendered, and had snappy, funny dialogue that carried on the best of Brian Michael Bendis' quirks with the character. In the final issue, it also set up the horrifying nightmare that gives us the hook for this series: Jessica and Luke's daughter, Danielle, is now purple.

Finding out that your daughter potentially isn't who you thought she was, or in Luke's case potentially not even his, is terrifying. Especially when Jessica has had such a twisted, abusive relationship with the Purple Man since back in her original Alias series. It's probably one of the most deeply invasive, thoroughly disturbing tales of violation in Marvel's comics, and I'm amazed by the amount of depth, understanding, and clarity that Kelly Thompson brings to this story through the dialogue and narration. It also still has some black humor to break the tension, but be forewarned that this goes into some dark, serious territory.

Returning for the art duties is Mattia De Iulis, who proves again that he's just an incredible artist. De Iulis' characters are beautiful, showing incredible emotional range through facial expressions and body language that just makes you want to go back and stare at the pages again, reading the comic silently. And his color art elevates it even further. His approach to color, line weight, shadow, and lighting reminds me a lot of Frazer Irving, but not nearly as exaggerated in approach. This is a very beautiful looking comic.

I know that buying digitally may not be for everyone, but I think Marvel does a good job at balancing value for your dollar with these series. You're essentially getting what would be two print comics for the price of a dollar more with these singles, and, even if this were printed physically at the same time as digital release, it's still among the best that Marvel are publishing right now. Kelly Thompson, Mattia De Iulis, and Cory Petit are delivering a solid, haunting, and entertaining story here that's well worth your time and pixels.

Jessica Jones – Purple Daughter #1
Kelly Thompson
Artist: Mattia De Iulis
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel
Price: $4.99

Check out past Comic of the Week selections by d. emerson eddy on the list page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.

Hawkeye, West Coast Avengers #1 & Redemption

By Theron Couch — Superheroes fighting each other has long since gone from reliable genre convention to outright cliché. Whatever the reason for the fight’s start, it almost always turns into a let’s discuss how best to defeat a villain coffee clutch. Avengers West Coast #69, though, is one of those great examples of superhero fights that have nothing to do with upholding justice and fighting crime, and everything to do with two characters who can’t keep their mouths shut literally picking a time and place to beat each other senseless. So yes, it remains my favorite superhero fight to this day—and it also forever-defined for me a major character who is returning tomorrow in Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli’s new West Coast Avengers #1.

Avengers West Coast #69: The A Story & B Story

Avengers West Coast #69 is a glorified team picking. The story jumps back and forth in time, telling two stories concurrently. In the A story—the story that opens the issue—Hawkeye and US Agent dish out a mutual ass beating. In full costume and with arrows and shield, the two fighters hold little back. There is no love lost between them, and since the A story begins before the fight actually starts, it’s clear the whole thing was orchestrated in advance, which leads to the obvious question of why.

Enter the B story, which occurs earlier in the day and is confined to Avengers West Coast headquarters. The team is choosing a new roster, but before they do that General Heyworth has a message for US Agent. Both Avengers teams will operate under the United Nations going forward so the US government is no longer maintaining a representative on the teams. US Agent, who had had a guaranteed a slot on the team before, now has to earn his way on like everyone else. US Agent doesn’t take the news well, and Hawkeye rubs plenty of salt in the wound. Predictably, the voting doesn’t go US Agent’s way, and with only one vote cast in his favor he gets a spot as an alternate. The end of the B story dovetails into the A story as Hawkeye and US Agent set up a fight for later that night.

Avengers West Coast #69: The Fight

The infamous fight in Avengers West Coast #69.

It’s a lean story in Avengers West Coast #69, one that really boils down to two events of consequence: the team selecting its members, and Hawkeye and US Agent fighting. With respect to the first event there’s no real rising action or plot twist; the result of the vote is so obvious that it’s hardly a surprise when Hawkeye makes it and US Agent doesn’t. As for the fight—it’s also clear that it has no real teeth. The story is the fight rather than the outcome, so to an extent it’s overwritten.

To the benefit of both stories, though, Roy and Dann Thomas used a convention that these days is pretty common, but it much less so at the start of the ‘90s: non-linear storytelling. Both stories benefit from being broken up and interspersed with the other, preventing the vote from feeling more important than it is and keeping the fight from feeling too long. It’s a brilliant move, one that makes the issue work.

I’ve never read other issues of Avengers West Coast, so I don’t know if there is additional backstory to the Hawkeye/US Agent relationship. You don’t really need it, though. The Thomases write US Agent as a self-entitled jerk through and through. Even before the general unceremoniously delivers the news in front of the entire Avengers team with no warning, US Agent’s smug attitude goes such a long way to damaging him in the readers’ eyes.

Hawkeye, though, is actually almost worse—and this is where I wish I did know the backstory. Hawkeye starts rubbing salt in US Agent’s wounds immediately, and it’s entirely personal. At no point does he offer a compelling argument for why US Agent is a detriment to the team. Hawkeye just doesn’t like him, and he’s having a good time kicking him while he’s down. The pettiness behind both men’s actions colors the fight and sets it into a special class—a more personal class—of hero combat. There are no lofty ideals here.

Can Hawkeye Be Redeemed?

West Coast Avengers #1 is out Aug. 22.

Overall, Avengers West Coast #69 has all the makings of a forgettable one-off. And if not for the non-linear storytelling device, I’m not sure it would be so much fun. But it is the comic book that colored my perception of Hawkeye forever. US Agent is a jerk in this story. Everybody knows it. And everybody knows he’s not making it on the Avengers. But only Hawkeye takes the tack that he shouldn’t; he does it very personally and very publicly. Even if he’s right, his attitude in the B story and his willingness to stoop to US Agent’s level is definitely a stain on someone who just got overwhelmingly voted on to the team.

What’s more, the promised suspension at the end of the issue rings very much like the kind of non-punishment reserved for popular members of teams and groups. To me Hawkeye walks away from this fight looking far worse as a character, and to this day I’ve been ambivalent toward him, if not outright suspicious—his defining moment to me is a petty fight on the beach because he was talking shit to someone in a position beneath him.

Here’s wondering if Kelly Thompson can, at long last, redeem Clint Barton in my eyes.

Theron Couch is a writer, blogger, and comic book reviewer. His first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter at @theroncouch.