In which the blogger takes a moment to try to work out why the first page of Batman Incorporated #0 feels so unsatisfying despite looking so impressive;
If there's going to be confusion, then it ought at least to work to the story's advantage. Frazier Irving's artwork for Batman Incorporated
#0 is is characteristically inventive, frequently ambitious and repeatedly both
beautiful and telling. Yet all too often, his obvious and laudable
desire to push the boundaries of his storytelling also results in admirable
experiments which unfortunately fall short of clarity. The price of
aspiration and the excellence it promotes is the inevitable moment or two of
misjudgement and disappointment. Yet the monthly 20-page super-book is
by it's very nature a thin and swiftly-consumed confection, and there's little space to experiment in a way that might rebound on the tale being told. Clog up a story's progression with even a
few pages which demand a second and even a third glance to make sense of,
and what ought to be a rush of pop-pleasures can become instead a somewhat
sluggish and even frustrating business.
It's certainly a challenge to make sense of much of the first page of "brand building".
That its three panels are intriguing is undeniable. The colour design
is particularly enticing, with its purposefully constrained and opulent pallet evoking a colossal detonation and its aftermath. But the choice to use those colours in all three panels immediately causes
problems. Their presence seems to insist that the
events in the second and third panels are occurring in the same context
as those of the first. Regrettably, this isn't true in any physical rather than emotional sense, for each panel depicts events taking place in entirely different situations. As a result, time and place are instantly confused, and there's little effort on the part of either artist or scripter Grant Morrison to explain exactly what it is that the reader's looking at, and why it should matter.
In the page's second panel, it's almost
impossible to work out where the characters actually are. Stare long enough at the page and it's possible to deduce the possibility that Batman's piloting the plane seen in the side's opening frame. But the truth is that there's really nothing that might allow the reader to easily deduce that they're looking
at the inside of an aircraft. In fact, the sense suggested by the purple wash in the top third of the panel is that everyone's clustered under a considerably higher ceiling than any such a relatively small plane would have. With the fogginess created by Irving's use of a narrow band of rich, dark hues, and given the cramped, confusing placement of the characters in the scene, the reader might be forgiven for presuming that they're looking more at an ill-lit night-club than anything else.
Yet with so much dead space in the frame, it might be thought that we'd have been given more information about the absolute basics; where we are, who we're looking at, what's the compelling reason for us reading on. And the side's final panel is similarly confusing, with the
almost transparent purple blur which suggests a propeller - the key to
making sense of events - being extremely hard to see, let alone recognise. It takes far more than a glance to realise that we're looking at a discussion taking place beside a parked plane in this shot. That the neophyte reader might not even know who these chatting characters might be - beyond presumably the ubiquitous Batman - doesn't seem to have been considered by the issue's creators either. The audience will, it seems to have been assumed, persevere and
catch up, if they don't already know everything that's going on. In short, its the pleasure of the spectacle which Irving and Morrison are offering up that's assummed to count here. Whatever the issue's story might be, it's unimportant in the terms of what's being shown on its own page 1.
no denying that the page's lead frame in particular is a compelling image, but
the question is whether the space that's been given to it was worth the
confusion and air of inertia that the side ultimately inspires. Though the scene of the
destruction of the mansion and island alike is undoubtedly
arresting, it contributes nothing at all to the plot beyond the matter of starting things off with a huge bang. Yes, it tells the experienced reader which part of the title's backstory they're in, but it's two-thirds of a page given over to an
eye-catching moment which is entirely irrelevent to brand building. Irving's composition, as it directs our gaze from
tower down to aircraft, is interesting in the sense that a great deal of sound and fury's being suggested, but it isn't an essential representation in any way at all.
Since that scene of devastation isn't there to further the plot, it has to have been placed on the page as an attention-grabbing money-shot. Yet Irving seems unsure about exactly how urgent the piece ought to feel. Showing the plane head-on and in silhouette at the front of the design leaves it appearing to be almost entirely unthreatened. So too does the placid surface of the ocean and the aura of safety suggested by the gentle circle of blue used for its propeller's rotation. In fact, its escape is a foregone conclusion since its flight is entirely unaffected by what's happening behind it. For a shot whose only function can be to snare the reader, it doesn't seem to be trying too hard to do so. Even Irving's choice to add so many fiercely eye-catching golden aspects to the scene of the island's destruction constantly threatens to distract our gaze from the only evidence of human interest in the scene. The eye struggles not to be drawn to the many, competing examples of destructive intensity before it, which again undermines any drama that the plane's flight might have. As an aesthetic experience, the panel is in many ways interesting. As an example of intensely-framed comic-book drama, it's far less compelling than it might have been.
To suggest that something so striking is actually fundamentally redundant
may well sound like a heresy. Yet all we're being told here is that an island
blew up and a plane escaped, and none of it either matters or is being made to seem to. All aesthetic considerations aside, it's a page that
just isn't needed. Rip it out and nothing which follows changes, which raises the question of - prettiness aside - what it's doing there?
Batman Incorporated #0 is comic which contains some notably innovative and successful sequences. The misty, late-afternoon panels showing The Knight commanding his "Micro-623 Squadron" in a touching homage to General Jumbo is just one of those, reflecting once again Irving's determination to increase the atmosphere of his work through narrowing the range of colour that he uses in it. Yet the same idiosyncratic approach also results in confusion too. Using only similar shades of green, gold and brown in successive pages featuring a stunt-filled pursuit in Paris and then a relaxed trans-continental conversation creates a disconcerting sense that each setting lacks any unique character of its own. Added to that is that fact that Morrison's story appears to be nothing more substantial than a series of largely inessential if devotee-pleasing vignettes, and brand building suggests a comic created by superb and yet here regrettably under-achieving craftsmen.