Monday, 29 June 2015

Describing Daredevil #16

Or a look at using background to drive storytelling in Daredevil #16
by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

In my last post I wrote about how reducing background detail can be a tool to drive attention to the foreground in comics using a great example from Spider-Woman. Daredevil #16 has a great example of the opposite where background detail is used to drive storytelling in a vastly simplified foreground. So I thought it would be timely to take a look at this really, really smart use of background.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Daredevil #16.

An ongoing theme of this iteration of Daredevil is blindness. This series has continuously built really compelling stories and moments around Matt Murdock's lack of eyesight, either playing with the challenges this disability causes the man or, frequently, the ways in which he "sees" better than normal by not being limited by sight. This approach has led to some really compelling stories that examine how taken for granted sight is, and the manner in which this clouds our expectations. This approach has also generated some truly astonishing moments where our assumptions are challenged in really surprising and often ironic ways. Daredevil #16 has a fantastic example of this.

So you really ought to read the issue before reading on from here.

Daredevil #16 sees Matt Murdock turn to The Kingpin to strike a deal to help Daredevil protect his loved ones and disappear. Kingpin suggests that he wants to mull the offer over in his gallery, surrounded by his favourite art. The pair continues their conversation in the gallery where Murdock, due to his blindness, cannot appreciate the artwork and where we the reader only catch glimpses. It's a fun situation that initially just seems like Kingpin being a jerk to Murdock because he knows Murdock is blind...

Except when the background is finally revealed we see that this gallery is so much more than a collection of fine art. Unexpectedly, the Kingpin's gallery is made up of paintings depicting the death and torture of Daredevil over and over and over again. Which is deliciously ironic because Murdock thinks he is in control of the situation and we can all see, but he can't, that Kingpin's hatred of him is beyond his ken: unbeknownst to him he is probably in way over his head. It's also a wonderful twist because this museum of Fisk's hatred is revealed to us following Murdock saying ""I offer you the death of Matt Murdock. Interested?" Which, given the artwork, Fisk transparently is. It's just a perfect comics moment and emblematic of why I enjoy this comic so much.

It's also a great example using background to drive storytelling. Just like how background detail can be throttled down to emphasize foreground elements, backgrounds can also be emphasized to drive storylines. Here, we finally see the detailed, torturous paintings depicted in all their horrific splendour while the foreground is reduced to recognizable silhouettes and key colours (red, Daredevil; white, Kingpin) on a page that lacks dialogue. This combination makes the background the attention draw of the page and reveals the hidden psyche of The Kingpin in a way that clearly shows Murdock's ignorance. It is unspoken and separate from the foreground figure work, but it speaks volumes. It's a dramatic moment that works because of the strength of the background and the dramatic tension that exists between it and the foreground narrative. Great stuff.

Which is further evidence that backgrounds are really important and can directly participate as a storytelling device. It's also evidence that there is no single, right way to make comics and that all kinds of tricks, even opposite ones, can be used to make great comics moments.

Describing Daredevil 12-15: storytelling highlights

Describing Daredevil 10 and 11: scope and character
Describing Daredevil 9: empathy
Describing Daredevil 3: onomatopoeia 
Describing Daredevil 34: before and after
Describing Daredevil 33: condensed motion
Describing Daredevil 30: the vectors of artwork
Describing Daredevil 29: A great page

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