Next in line on the Remember When Parade is one of my favourite deconstructions: All Star Superman! Also, starting in the New Year (when my schedule quiets up a bit) I will rerelease Kid With a Cape simultaneously with The Magnificent Marauders! Yaay! That was always a good show. I miss it.
Anywho, friends, enjoy this week’s rerelease.
Welcome back to our show. This month’s topic is “My favourite visual story ever!”
As I say frequently, the comic book medium has the ability to tell multiple stories simultaneously. In the way of visuals, majority of the time they serve as illustration to the main plot or to emphasis the dialogue/narration. The visuals tell a story complimentary to the plot. Not often, they tell a story independently. In the case of this month’s edition, I am going to showcase my favourite example of when the visuals told a story separate from the plot/dialogue occurring on the page.
So here’s my favourite visual storytelling scene ever: the second last page in All Star Superman #1:
There are two stories being told on this page. Story one carries the plot and expresses the dialogue. It is a follow-up to the arrest of Lex Luthor on the page before (this is what Lois is speaking about in panel one) and it is a moment for Superman (in Clark Kent disguise) to field his emotions about death – particularly his own death. Story two is the visual story. It establishes, develops and concludes in the background of panels one to four. This is the story the December Edition celebrates.
The visual story is, while Lois and Clark are strolling home from work a man’s life is rescued by Superman while in disguise as Clark Kent.
All Star Superman is filled with moments like this that occur simultaneously while other action goes on, but I enjoy this one the most because it is a really incredible scene and a masterful show of skill by the team behind the work.
Since this series is called “Deconstructing Comics,” let’s deconstruct this page!
Panel One establishes all of the pieces of the visual story. Here we see the integral character, the man walking his dog, and the root cause of the danger, the monorail. At this point, as far as the audience knows, this is a simple scene with Lois and Clark chatting and walking home.
Panel Two begins the action. Here Clark bumbles into the man walking his dog. First we assume that Clark is just being his regular old clumsy self, as this is the way Superman reinforces his disguise. However, this panel is unassuming until we see the next panel. We do not realize what happened (that Clark knocked over the man on purpose) because as far as we can tell it was just Superman performing Clark Kent. But then –
Doesn’t a huge piece of metal (at least what looks like an exhaust pipe and a catalytic converter?) fall out of the sky and crash right on the crosswalk. The man is upset, Lois is mouthing back and Clark shies his way out of confrontation. No one is the wiser. This panel causes the audience to ask the question, “where did that piece of metal come from?” Yet we still do not get the full effect until the final piece of the puzzle, the conclusion to the visual story.
Finally we see the monorail zip by overhead and some pieces hanging out, indicating that the debris from panel three detached from the train.
Though the page progresses forward in plot and dialogue the visual story progresses backwards. Panel four answers the question, “where did that debris come from?” which is asked in panel three. Panel three answers the question, “why did Clark knock that guy over?” which is asked in panel two. All of it derives from the scene set up in panel one.
This page an excellent way to show us that even while disguised as Clark Kent Superman is still an active hero. He just has to use more subtle and sly methods to accomplish his goals. Superman in his Kryptonian costume is the overt way of his heroism, but covertly as Clark Kent he can perform clumsy actions that result in saving a man’s life. Not unlike a skilled drunken master, who performs martial arts in a manner imitating inebriation but is actually a very fluid and powerful martial artist.
I love this scene most of all because of the fact that nothing about it embellishes or screams out that Clark just saved that man’s life. If we did not slow down to piece the visual story together we would have missed it entirely.
Not every artist and creator installs scenes like into their work. Whatever we are reading we have to be sure to slow down and “read the visuals” just as carefully as we follow the plot and hear the dialogue. It is the same for hunting for visual clues. So much can be revealed quietly in the background if you are paying attention and so much can be missed if you rush through it.
This page is part of the reason why I started to deconstruct comics in the first place. It taught me to carefully read the visuals to see if they reveal or add anything to the plot or, like in the case of All Star Superman, tell a story all their own.