Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Konsidering Karnak #2

Or a look at action composition and character in Karnak #2
by Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, Antonio Fuso, Dan Brown, Clayton Cowles, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Last time I wrote about a great action sequence in Ellis/Shavley/Bellaire's Injection and how it used eye-guiding and multi-panel motions to create a kinetic and visceral action sequence. Karnak has a pretty great action sequence that uses eye-guiding to create a substantially different reading experience. A reading experience that I think goes beyond effective storytelling and works as a characterization device. I think it's worth trying to unpack and to contrast with the Injection sequence. 

There will be *SPOILERS* for Karnak #2 below.

Before I get to the action sequence proper I just want to point out this page turn. I am an absolute sucker for a good page turn, where a comic uses the concealment/surprise of turning the page to spring an unexpected or dramatic moment. In the above sequence we see a child Karnak's parents explain his origin essentially and cut from child-Karnak chopping down a block tower to chopping through a goon's neck using the same motion. It's a visceral moment that simultaneously establishes Karnak's transgressive upbringing and the frightening, child-like ease with which Karnak kills the goon. It is a moment that surprised and thrilled me. It also really crystallized just what Karnak's deal is. Great moment.

These are the first three pages of an extended action sequence in Karnak #2. The thing I find interesting about these pages, and to a lesser extent the rest of this sequence, is the repeated use of panels featuring clear left-to-right motion vectors. These panels feature a single predominant motion that is slightly elongated in a way that exaggerates the horizontal direction of the panel. The extreme violence of every panel is evident in the carnage caused, increasing the weight of each moment. However, each of these panels are also lacking in dialogue and extraneous detail, meaning that each panel is quick to read. The effect is a disconnected, repetitive, and rapid series of violent moments. Which, accounting for the fact the motion follows the reading direction, builds this sense of tremendous forward momentum in this action sequence.

This, I think, is incredibly informative about Karnak as a character. The dramatic left-to-right bias of the sequence creates this relentless rhythm, this sense that Karnak is always moving forward and is nigh unstoppable. The fact that Karnak dispatches foes in a series of discrete, single motions showcases the ease with which he is tearing through his enemies and the single-strike nature of his 'powers'. (An effect enhanced by the simple, quick to read panels.) The sheer brutality of the damage being done to each dispatched goon conveys the power and inhumanity of Karnak. And all of this is encoded not in words or narration, but action, which is also informative. This sequence really cements Karnak as a truly impressive figure and I think really creates a cohesive identity for Karnak in this series. Which makes this really smart comics. 

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