Monday, 16 June 2014

Exposing The Secret Avengers #4

Or a look at colour tagging in Secret Avengers #4 
by Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics

I love the little details that make comics tick. 

Sure, Secret Avengers #4 continues the super fun, crazy team Superhero espionage story that is, frankly, delightful to read. It also manages to take a very fun comic and add a layer of transgressive tension to the story that adds a substantial new dimension to the comic. It sets its story in Kowloon, which if you know nothing about Kowloon is a fascinating subject in its own right. So, sure, Secret Avengers #4 is a great comic for a lot of complicated, big picture reasons.

But instead of focussing on any of that, I'm going to highlight a little detail in Secret Avengers #4 that I think really enhanced storytelling in a subtle and clever ways.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Secret Avengers #4 within.

The story of Secret Avengers #4 finds Hawkeye (Clint Barton Hawkeye) and Nicholas Fury (the new-retconned in Nick Fury from the movies) lead a team of anonymous Shield Agents into the ghostly, manifested city of the demolished, lawless city of Kowloon in pursuit of the killer robot The Fury. The bulk of the issue revolves around Fury and Hawkeye with agents in small rooms searching for The Fury. To see in the dark Team Shield put on night vision goggles that emit a bright green glow. 

The Fury, meanwhile is a big, lumpy black robot man-thing that is characterized by a distinctive cluster of orange-red lights on its... I want to say head. 

What this means is that you can instantly keep all of the characters straight from the emission of their optics. Most of this comic takes place in a greyscale shadowscape where characters in various black and blue garments, many of whom are nameless and forgettable, sneak around. But, due to their green nightvision goggles, we readers can instantly tell, yep, those are good guys and not The Fury or random ghost-Kowloon denizens. It also instantly conveys any presence, no matter how periphery, of The Fury, since his red optics also stand out dramatically in the greyscale shadow scape. Which creates really great sequences like this where, silently, we can watch green-goggled-good-guys march into a room unsuspecting while the red-eyed-stare of The Fury tells us it is lurking in the background. Which is pretty clever.

And then there is this sequence. Fury (Nick) and Hawkeye (Clint) come up with a plan to catch The Fury (robot) that involves Hawkeye (Clint again) distracting the killer robot. He runs into an apartment, rides a ceiling fan, slides under a pursuing The Fury (robot) and then runs into Fury (Nick again). This is a sequence that is largely based on silhouettes in a dark room, in pretty tight, small panels. And yet, it is completely clear what is going on because all you really need is the blurred green and red lights of the characters optics. You can keep track of which silhouette is Clint and which is killer robot purely based on the bright smear of green and red. You can track the motion of each character by following the direction of the green or red glowing blurs. This is a beautiful example of how smart colouring can convey narrative information and how investing in this kind of colour tagging can really enhance all kinds of storytelling sequences within a comic. 

Secret Avengers, big crazy awesome espionage comic that does some cool stuff with goggle colours.

Secret Avengers #2-3: Smart layouts.

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