Monday, 7 October 2013

Wondering About Wonder Woman: First Born Special

Or some great comics in The First Born-Wonder Woman Special 
Brian Azzarello, Aco, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher; DC Comics

I have really been enjoying Wonder Woman. I think Brian Azzarello's take on Wonder Woman as more of a mythical figure and less of a straightforward superhero is interesting, and the melodrama generated by the infighting and family dynamics of the Greek Parthenon provides a relatable emotional core. And then there is the art of series main artist Cliff Chiang who is just a fantastic artist: his distinctive style and endlessly fascinating character designs are really reason enough to read this comic. Add to this the colouring of Matt Wilson, who has created this really fascinating, distinct palette that unifies the series between artists and adds so much visual interest to the book. Wonder Woman is easily one of the most consistently good looking and interesting comics in my reading list.

The First Born special, written by Brian Azzarello and featuring art by Aco and Matt Wilson is by far the best of the Villian Month tie-in comics I read. It tells the backstory of The First Born, a fairly enigmatic new villain, in what really feels like the next chapter of the ongoing Wonder Woman story. Unlike most of the Villain Month books, which largely featured stories unrelated to the ongoing stories with characters we either haven't seen in the nuDCU or versions of characters that depart from their nuDCU versions, this comic felt like it existed for a reason. Which, as a budget conscious comics reader, I really appreciated.

It is also really great comics with a few pretty great features worth unpacking.

(Just as an aside, I feel like pointing out that most of the Villians Month comics felt like such a rip-off. I bought most of them solely because 1: my comic shop which cannot return them grabbed them for my pull box so I felt obligated to buy them, and 2: all of the order limit nonsense for the 3D covers which made me doubley grateful and indebted to my shop. My comic shop ordered them because they were billed as part of Batman or Wonder Woman and therefore assumed they would relate to the series and that I would want these books. Basically DC screwed both of us into buying a bunch of extra comics to inflate their sales, and frankly I am pretty unhappy about it. (They weren't necessarily bad comics, just unnecessary.) The WORST part of reading a DC comic these days is all of its publisher level nonsense. It's a sign of just how much I  enjoy those few DC books I read, given how much of an ordeal DC comics makes reading their books.)

(Alright, back to what I like.)

This post will contain some light *SPOILERS* for the First Born Special, most of which should be obvious from the overall shape of the Wonder Woman comic series. That said, you ought to read the comic first.

The First Born special makes use of a bunch of deceptively simple, but really effective page layouts. This page is probably my favourite from the issue, because it is awesome but also because it's a great example of using the carriage return from top-right to bottom-left to enhance the effects of the page. 

The small panel in the top left is where we enter the page. Our vision is drawn down to the second narration box and then on to the mouth of the fire breathing dragon-monster thing. From there we progress to the next text caption and the First Born perching, nude, on the top of the stone column. (This narration caption, incidentally overlaps with the next panel, acting as a temporal bridge to the next panel, which is pretty cool.) This brings us to the top right hand panel that depicts the First Born diving into the dragon's mouth, a motion that is continued rapidly down this parallel through the next three panels. We see the First Born dive, then swing our eyes along the path of his dive, to see the dragon swallow him, slowing our path on the next narration caption to lengthen the dramatic beat of the Dragon holding the First Born in its mouth, before we carry on to the fiery explosion in the bottom left panel of the page. We then move our vision up and to the right, again along the path of motion, to see the First Born burst out of the Dragons mouth and final narration caption. This panel transition works doubley well because the rapid, panel framed, cross page parallel works to corral our vision so that the final panel explodes into our focus in a dramatic reveal. This is a great page that showcases some of the very cool things that can be done in the carriage return. 

Another of the nifty comics techniques on display in the First Born is the use of colours. 

The First Born's scenes, particularly those that depict martial triumph are done with a heavy red background. Red, a colour of blood and fire and passion and violence. It emphasizes the First Born as a dangerous and powerful dude through colour alone.

Meanwhile, scenes of the Olympian gods, particularly Zeus, are done in bright, firece blues. The kind of bright blue that is of electricity and the sky. The kind of blue that comes from the hottest and most exotic flames. It emphasizes the power and otherworldly nature of the Olympian gods.

The blue/red contrast also beautifully sets up the emotional conflict of the First Born versus the Olympians. The colours are dramatically opposed, they cannot coexist peacefully. The colours also, I think, establish how much greater the electric blue power of Zeus is when compared to the red, terrestrial power of the First Born. It's a really smart, really great use of colour.

So, there you have it, the First Born special is a great comic in a great series.

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