Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Interrogating Black Widow #3

Or a look at out of focus storytelling in Black Widow #3
by Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, Matthew Wilson, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Something that I've really enjoyed about the current iteration of Black Widow is how the creative team uses eye guiding to enhance storytelling. You might be tired of hearing me bang on about this, but I think it's really cool how eye guiding can be used to highlight key features of a page, pace the story, and to create a tangible sense of motion to make action feel more kinetic. When done well, like it so often is in Black Widow, it's amazing. Black Widow #3 puts an interesting twist on this kind of storytelling by not only calling the reader's attention to key elements of the composition, but by also bypassing other important moments in the page to create earned surprises. It is a really cool twist on eye guiding and I want to unpack a couple examples from the issue here.

There will be *SPOILERS* below. 

The first use of subterfuge-guiding in Black Widow #3 is this sequence of Black Widow being pursued through a crowd by a SHIELD agent. First of all it's a great example of eye guiding in comics. The page uses sight lines and speech bubbles to bring the reader across the top row, and uses the held wire in the top-right panel to orient the carriage return. The reader then encounters Black widow observing her tail which transitions into a crowd scene that uses colour and inset panels to show the agent, Black Widow, and her actions. This row is particularly interesting because it uses the tangents of the wire to nudge the reader to Black Widow and to swing the reader into the next panel where the character is tripped! The final panel uses the crowd to push the reader to the agent and his dialogue before the reader leaves the page. It's a pretty great composition.

On the next page Black Widow is wearing a disguise that she got from somewhere... Or maybe you noticed the one-armed naked mannikin at the very end of the page. Regardless, the key story snippet, the disguise itself, is buried in the composition in plain sight. The reader can see it, but because it isn't emphasized by the eye guiding, perhaps even hidden behind the emphasized Black Widow, it initially appears like background set dressing. It isn't until the nude mannikin or the disguise at the airport that the outfit in the window becomes important. Which is a neat trick because it allows the comic to deploy a little surprise that is constructed out of information available to the reader. 


A simpler, and maybe more directly relevant of subterfuge-guiding is this sequence. On this page, Black Widow garrotes a guard, sees a child or maybe memory of her childhood through a window, and then is surprisingly struck by the guard she was in the process of subduing. The eye guiding on this page is relatively straight forward, with clear east-to-west moves before a carriage return that heavily emphasizes the bright window with the girl in it. The page then takes a clear turn into the motion of the guard striking black widow using the shape of their arms and the onomatopoeia to pull the reader through the motion. What's cool about this sequence is that the girl-in-the-window panel is highlighted so much that it distracted me from the more peripheral elements of that panel. This meant that I didn't notice that the guard is depicted getting his hand under the garrotte wire and is escaping from the distracted Widow. As a result, when the guard strikes Black Widow in the final panel it was surprising and, because I could double back to the preceding panel, it felt earned and satisfying. Which is really fantastic storytelling: in the same way Widow is distracted from noticing the guard escape because of what she is seeing, the reader is also distracted from seeing the guard escape. It's using emphasis and slight-of-hand to generate the experience of the protagonist in the reader. 

Black Widow #1

Black Widow #2

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