Friday, 12 December 2014

Breaking Down Batgirl #36

Or a look at some of the subtle but great story telling choices in Batgril #36
by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Maris Wicks, and Jared K Fletcher; DC Comics

Batgirl is a pretty fascinating comic right now. The title is part of this breath-of-fresh-air movement at DC comics that is introducing fun comics made by fresh creative teams which seem targeted at audiences outside of DC's core readership. In the case of Batgirl we are getting stories about a 20-something Barbara Gordon balancing her life as a trendy young adult with her caped adventures. The comic is fun and getting a lot of justifiable praise for its diversity, social justice elements, and attention to the style and fashion of actual young people. Personally, I'm really interested in the seamless and authentic way the comic deals with the integration of information technology into the characters's lives. Basically, Batgirl is a comic that is really good and interesting in some exotic and important ways.

The thing is, Batgirl is also a really technically solid comic.

And I would like to showcase some of my favourite layouts from the Batgirl #36 to prove this to you.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Batgirl #36 in this post.

One of the things I look for in comics is how panel shape and placement is used to enhance the storytelling in given moments. When used effectively as a tool, layout can really add a ton of information and emotion to portrayed events. This sequence from Batgirl really showcases this. The panels depicted Batgirl putting on her costume are pitch perfect: the tall skinny panel depicting zipping up the jacket enhances the vertical nature of the motion, while the wider panel depicting shoelacing catches the horizontal motion of tugging on the laces. Similarly the little central cape-snaps panel captures the small, fast nature of the snaps. The small, interspersed panels depicting such discrete moments also help create the sense of a miniature montage and helps create the emotional sense of a lot of things happening in a short duration. It's a bunch of little choices that on the page absolutely sell the moment.

This page of motorcycle attack action is also filled with small choices that make the page really work. The most obvious is the tilt given to the panels: instead of being rectangles with vertical sections perpendicular to the top of the page, the panels are parallelograms the tile in the direction of reading. This gives the panels a kinetic feel, as if they were racing at highspeed in the direction of the story. Coupled to this is a page that has a minimum of background detail and dialogue and this is a page that reads really quickly and feels very fast. Which makes the motorcycle attacks depicted feel extra dangerous and interesting.

I also really like the way that Batgirl's backflip dodge in the bottom left panel actually breaks into the panel above it. It really exaggerates the motion and instills the feeling of Batgirl leaping out of the path of the motorcyclists.

One of the interesting aspects of Batgirl the character is that she has an eidetic memory, near perfect recall of events she has seen. One of the more interesting aspects of Batgirl the series is how the creative team decides to represent this talent visually. This page here shows Batgirl remembering a cartoon she saw as a child which shows the key to defeating her foes. The way the sequence shows Batgirl watching herself, but also inhabiting the role of her younger self really captures the idea of reliving a memory: she is at once separate from the memory (in that she knows its a memory), but she still kind of relives it, in that she remembers the experience of the being the little girl and emotions she felt. It's all very clear to read and visually interesting. 

I think, though, that this is my favourite page from a storytelling perspective. Every panel on this page is perfectly designed to make the page work. The first panel is oriented such that we read along the vector of the motion (left to right) and experience the motion of batgirl wrangling the motorcycle. The following panel is very narrow and tilted, giving it a squinty, concentrative feel that portrays Barabra's determination. The next panel gives us the status quo of her opponents. The next panel spans the page and shows the global landscape of the scene and lets the reader know that Batgril and her opponents are about to play motorcycle chicken. We next see five small montage panels of grimacing faces, and the kind revving preparation for action shots that motorcycle chicken fights are built on. What's extra great about these panels is that Babs' face is portrayed on the far left like in the previous panel, while her opponent is portrayed on the far right. The next two panels depict squealing tires as the motorcycles accelerate towards each other. In another great touch, these panels are tilted for speed effects, but in the OPPOSITE direction which helps cement the emotion of the motorcycles accelerating at one another. We then see a panel showing the motorcycles approaching, and then Batgirl knee her opponents in their helmeted faces in a panel-less white space. The lack of panels here making this moment pop out and feel like a collision strong enough to break free of the panel structure of the page. It's a great choice on an effortless seeming but deeply thought out page. 

I'm enjoying Batgirl for a lot of reasons, and the great comics storytelling is certainly one of them.

Batgirl #35: the tech issue

No comments:

Post a Comment