In which the blogger continues a look - begun here - at the storytelling used on the opening page of each of Point One's six features. Spoilers of a typically minor kind lurk here-in, so do be careful;
4. Miss America, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton et al et al
Miss America: The New World also kicks off with a shot of a young superhero flying over New York City. But unlike the preceding Nova feature, artist Jamie McKelvie succeeds in producing a representation of the city that's immediately recognisable. What's more, he also subtly emphasise that this is the Manhattan of an alt-Earth as well. That's in many ways the least of the panel's virtues, but it is worth mentioning that McKelvie's produced a take on New York that evokes the city itself rather than the comics-shorthand version that tends to be used as a shortcut by less meticulous artists. Yet what's most impressive is the way in which McKelvie's used his cityscape to manipulate his reader's responses. The sight of a superhero soaring above a tableau of skyscrapers has become such a commonplace over the past seventy and more years that it's effectively lost its power to surprise and impress. Yet by ramping up the sense of vertigo in his composition, the artist accentuates how absurdly remarkable the very fact of Miss America's flight is.
A disturbing sense of a terrible, unsurvivable fall is initially created by constraining the reader's gaze to the top quarter of the untypically deep frame. The composition guides us in sequence between the three points of the triangle that's made up of the caption frame, Miss America and the Statue Of Liberty. That short, closed journey tells us where we are and who we're to be concerned with, and yet it also sets us up for the reader's equivalent of a precipitous fall. Our arrival at the many Ladies of Liberty introduces us to a series of vertical integrators which immediately work to speedily haul our eyes downwards, and that's a journey which doesn't stop until the bottom of the panel and the page. It's not just an aesthetically satisfying image, but a highly effective example of storytelling too, with a suggestion of vertiginous anxiety there to add a touch of jeopardy to what might in other hands have been a solely decorative, emotionally flat panel. It's eye-catchingly spectacular, which always helps for an opening image. But it also immediately establishes its star as an impressive, graceful character who can experience and control a situation which would leave most of us feeling paralysed with terror.
The second panel underscores that point by smartly establishing how insignificant that anxiety-inspiring fall is to Miss America. That she's powerful and confident enough not to need to nervously slow her fall is shown by the fact that her first two poses are practically identical to each other; this isn't a character who needs to be especially cautious about returning at speed to ground-level. The sequence of fire-escapes she's passing help to both establish the velocity and scale of her journey downwards, as well as grounding her in yet another recognisable version of reality. (When was the last time Koreatown was not just referenced in a superbook, but convincingly and respectfully depicted too?) Everything about McKelvie's design suggests an artist who's committed to thinking about their craft rather than simply drawing on habit and stereotype. Even the detail of the carefully depicted moment of her deliberately balanced landing, and the turn of a surprised pedestrian in response to it, helps ensure that the page ends on a note of anticipation. What might have been a taken-for-granted, lethargic shot of a superhero's return to earth instead helps create a sense of who and what Miss America is while also generating the novelty and fascination to keep the reader watching.
Kieron Gillen's sparse script takes second place to the momentum of the visuals here, but that doesn't mean that his contributions serve no purpose beyond providing the rich inspiration for McKelvie's artwork. The opening declaration that we're on "Earth-212" (*1) is the first in a series of reader-snaring enigmas, each of which raises the reader's curiosity. What is Miss America doing on an another Earth? How did she travel there? Who is that's contacted her and what information were they searching for? To the reader who knows something of the up-coming Young Avengers title, there'll already be a context to start to make sense of these questions. Yet there's nothing on the page to exclude those who lack a fannish sense of what's to come.
To the question "what's slumming?" might be offered the evidence of this page, which is unpretentiously everything that slumming's not.
*1:- That may just be a subtle nod to Morrison and Yeowell's Zenith, while the second panel just might contain a homage from McKelvie to Frank Miller's Daredevil. Perhaps.
5. Ant-Man, by Matt Fraction, Michael Allred, Laura Allred et al
Unashamed to be warm-heartedly sentimental rather than just fanboy-fashionably grim, Matt Fraction and Michael Allred open their contribution to Point One with a sweetly intimate scene showing Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie two somewhat different approaches to art. It's a charming piece which draws much of its warmth from the way in which it shows how a parent can express their love even when they can't make themselves clearly understood. Starting off with a playful shot of Ant-Man breaking the fourth wall to introduce his own strip, Fraction seems keen to be breaking with some of the more constrained, angsty traditions of modern-era comics storytelling here. Yes, there's an excess of grief to come, but there's also a discussion of the ways in which grief need not lead to the cliches of vigilante justice. It's a sense of a writer gently pushing the typical givens of the sub-genre which the discussion between father and daughter about Duchamp and the freedom to interpret the meaning of art only seems to underscore. At the same time, this is no cold-hearted, self-conscious indulgence, for its the emotion on the page and not the gameplaying of any possible sub-text which movingly carries the storytelling. The relationship between father and daughter is gently and convincingly played out. In that, Mike Allred's stylistic fusion of the directness and dynamism of late-Sixties Kirby with the tender romanticism of the likes of John Romita has rarely seemed so appropriate and effective.
If there's a problem to the page in all its smartness and compassion, it's that it only ends on a page-turner if the reader knows their Marvel continuity. For those of us who weren't aware that Scott Lang was alive, or that his daughter was dead, there's a fair degree of confusion at work here. But if it's known who these folks are and what their current situation is, then the last panel - showing a photograph freezing the moment of a father and daughter's cuddle- is a powerful, heart-rendering lure to read on. If not, the momentum of the side grinds to a halt in a sense of closure.What the informed reader will perceive as a tragedy-informing, tale-starting flashback will read as a done-in-one-page personal moment to those outside the loop. For the latter, there's very little reason to push on with any driving curiosity, because what's on the page seems to satisfyingly resolve itself without leaving any questions to be answered. That this first page's final panel sets up an unexpected and splendidly witty resolution to Ant-Man: It's Art shouldn't go unmentioned. But the fact that fan and neophyte may experience the side-closer in different ways is still perhaps worth the mentioning.
6. Forge, by Dennis Hopeless, Gabriel Hernandez Walta et al
We're back to darkened, uninteresting underground passages, tediously colour-drained pallets, glacial plots and a few unbeguiling dobs of exposition in Forge: Crazy Enough, the last of Point One's features. Having already experienced a similar set of disappointing conventions at work on Nick Fury's opening side, it's hard not to wonder who was responsible for ensuring that such obvious repetition was avoided. Regrettably, there's nothing visually or emotionally interesting here either. There's neither
spectacle, novelty or action. The backstory lacks anything of interest while
there's no compelling foreshadowing at work. There's not even a mildly
interesting page-turner. Why is it then, that this page exists? The only possible audience who might find this dirgeful, eventless page compelling would be the tiny niche of die-hard Forge fans, and it's to be presumed that they'd also probably prefer to be entertained rather than just briefly occupied. For the rest of us, the sight of an apparently deranged character babbling to themselves as cliche demands while crawling through a generic, abandoned sci-fi base can offer little likely to appeal. Why would it? On a page in which we learn just three backstory headlines - Forge has been in solitary confinement, Forge hears voices, Forge had forgotten he'd built the base he's exploring - the only fascinating aspect of it all is why a team of creators and editors could possibly think this would be intriguing rather than tiresome. As an advert for the coming Cable & X-Force title, I'd suggest that it'll prove less effective than nine empty pages would. Or rather, dedicated fans will lap this up, but everyone else will probably find themselves less than enthusiastic about the prospect of more of the same.
The TooBusyThinking verdict: The Miss America and Ant-Man tales are well worth investing in, and the first page of Star-Lord is a lovely prospect which the rest of the tale sadly fails to come near to matching. The rest really isn't worth the price of entry. $5.99's a great deal of money in these troubled times, after all. Reader, beware, there's good stuff here, but there's a great deal that's not too.