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Monday, January 23, 2006

Quite Frankly

Frank Quitely surely doesn't (or shouldn't) need my defense of his work, but I think his character work is SO subtle, that people may miss some of the details on first glance. I know I do.
So I will point out some of the things I missed the first time reading ALL STAR SUPERMAN 2, with regards to how the characters are behaving, body language, "performances", etc...

Please forgive my nerd obsessiveness here. It happens to the best of us.

Page 1- Notice Lois' pursed lips, and how she stares into space. Not only is she questioning him, but she's almost annoyed by it. She casually reads a paper as they fly; playing it cool. She's being the investigative journalist here- nonchalantly trying to find cracks in his story, as if she doesn't even care.
And in panel three, Superman is *pulling* the car through the air, not lifting it. A smoother ride, no doubt!

Page 2- Of course he opens the door for her. Of course.

Page 4- Okay, not only do the robots move in unison, but if you notice how Superman carries his arms as he walks (slightly lifted, with his hands dropped in loose fists), you'll see the robots move the same way.

Page 5- There is pride in Superman's face, as Lois grills him about the key. A sly smile, and arched eyebrows. Notice how he looks up at her eyes, as he sets the key down, and has a hand on her shoulder as she tries to lift it. Lois has palpable strain in her face there, not gritted teeth, and bugging eyes, but it's apparent she ain't gonna lift that key. And in the last panel, look at how she still get's amazed by him. Hand in the hair, eyes wide open, jaw slightly dropped... after all this time, she can still be floored.

And if that isn't a Classic-lookin' Superman, as he looks off into the Fortress, I dunno what is.

Page 8- Superman gives Lois flowers, and he's kinda shy about it, standing there like a little kid. Lois also seems a little shy, with her hands crossed in front of her, and her back straight, as if she's nervous. They're both like kids on a first date... and if you think about it, that's what this is.

Page 9- Lois is back to being slightly annoyed and pensive. She doesn't believe that he's Clark kent, and is irritated that he's saying it. (Let's face it... whether she believes him or not is beside the point- she wanted to break that story, and now he's ruined it for her.)
Arms crossed, not looking at him, teasing him. She's questioning everything he says ("Kal Kent, Huh?")
Superman, on the other hand, is trying to show some pride in his home without letting his secret slip. Look at him there, as he looks at the floor when he lies to her about his health. His shoulders are drooped, he's leaning in the wall for support. He hates this lie.
The last panel is one more look of Total Sincerity from Big Blue. "The Dawn of the Age of Superheroes." You know he means it... that fortress really isn't for him- it's his gift to posterity. Total selflessness.

Page 10- Lois peering into the pit cautiously. Superman striking the anvil, like Hephaestus, in a perfect classical pose. Casually and happily throwing stars to the pit, like confetti. It all still makes him smile. Lois still acting unimpressed, with those arms crossed and a sideways smile. It's the world's strangest Bogart and Bacall scene.

Page 11- You can see the apprehension in Lois' face, even though she's mostly looking the other way. Those hands are up again, nervously playing with each other. There's fear and confusion as she reaches for her chest. And genuine surprise when superman startles her. As they walk away, look at her face, and tell me Quitely isn't, in a few small lines, telling the reader a multitude of emotions.
Superman, distracted by the fun he's having feeding the sun-eater, has let her wander off. When he pops back in, he's stern but not angry, and as they walk away, he's got that gentle hand on her shoulder again.

Page 12- They stare into each other's eyes, and lean into the conversation like a couple about to make out for the first time.

Page 13- Lois is using her fork as a prop, punctuating her words with it like a little weapon. There is genuine hurt in Superman's eyes when he sees that she really doesn't trust him. He can't even look at her as she storms away from the table.

Page 14- First of all, Lois is typing so furiously that her hands have an after-image. But check out Superman- He's looking at those Kent glasses, questioning the entire ruse. There's guilt there, and shame, and you can tell he's wondering if it was all worth it.

Page 15- In my favorite moment from the book, Superman slumps as Clark, but the Mirror of Truth still shows Superman standing tall.
And then there's Lois, angry. She's worked herself up into a frenzy, and she's looking like one of those rage-filled Corben women, ready to drink blood.

Page 16- Look at that run! Again, with the Windsor McKay!

Page 17- She leans right in to grill that hologram, in full journalist mode. Look at the surprise and wonder on her face, before she slowly leans back, confused.

Page 18, 19- In full paranoid mode, she's frantic, filled with rage, worried and on edge. She's hunched over, ready to strike. Knees bent, ready to sprint, and clutching that gun like it's her last hope. No arch-backed Witchblade posing here... her fear is totally real, and she's drawn herself in, huddling with that gun.

Page 20- I love the way she lifts off the ground, just a little, as she fires the gun, and catches Superman in mid-stride.
Superman's look here is absolutely great. He's not hurt, not in pain, not angry, not sad. He's surprised. He's looking at himself, amazed. he can't believe he's not hurt, and continues with this amazement in his next panel, staring at his unfazed hands.
Lois, on the other hand, is more conflicted than ever. Snapped out of the paranoid frenzy, she is wrought with shock, and shame, and sadness, and worry. The way she's standing in the last panel says it all; she's about to drop that gun, and she's frozen there, hunched over and pigeon-toed, worried about what she's done.

Page 21- What a great first panel. THIS is waht Superman is all about. Lois just tried to kill him, and look at her face; total shame, like a small child. But Superman couldn't be more gentle about it. He's smiling at her, and slowly taking the gun away with both hands... What a great moment.
Then he's comforting her, with that hand back on her shoulder.
Lois is covering her face through this, with a mix of guilt and physical discomfort... The effects of the gas are wearing off, and you can tell that she's dizzy and confused.
But when he tells her what her present is, she perks up slightly. Sadness is in her eyes, but her mouth is starting to smile again.

Page 22- The pride in his eyes, and the understated joy in her face say all there is to say. She's not looking at the reader, but man, you get it all from the way she's standing, the placement of her arms, the way her jaw has dropped, how straight she's standing.... very subtle, very perfect.

It's all so wonderful, and this is just the body language! No word on the layouts or the design, or the pacing.

This Quitely guy is some sort of master.

7 Love Letters:

Anonymous Nobody said...

When ASS #2 came out I decided it was the best Superman series of the decade, but you've convinced me it might be the best ever.

I also used to dislike Quitely art in the Authority days but with Superman (and that two-page splash of bullets in We3) my transformation to Quitophile is admittedly complete.

3:00 AM

 
Anonymous Richard said...

This is the kind of nerd obsessiveness I think we can all stand behind. Very tasty.

4:10 PM

 
Anonymous JohnKalEl said...

excellent analysis. You hit a lot of things that I missed. I'd hang around and praise you more, but I gotta go re-read ASS #2.

1:07 AM

 
Blogger alex said...

Thanks fellas- I said somewhere else that this issue is a love story, and the nuances are the most important thing happening.

I mean, how interesting is it that in a book where Lois tries to kill Superman, we mostly remember the part where he gives her flowers.

There's something amazing there.

8:42 AM

 
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I don't think it is obsessive at all, Alex.

Basically, all you did was to put into word form what we all noticed (okay, all of us who were paying attention) subconsciously.

It is all there for us to see, but what you did was to put it into list form.

And it's very impressive in list form!

Thanks.

8:20 PM

 
Anonymous carla said...

Wow.

You know, I'm not that fond of Quitely's art particulars (more in a nit-picky sense) but.... you know. Everything you mentioned is dead-on. Stuff I sort of took for granted too, so I might have to recant my dislike ot 'ehh, h'es pretty good'

You ARE right. Maybe I should listen to you. =D

12:36 AM

 
Anonymous Roel said...

Alex,

First, with the formalities. It was cool to run into you at Rocketship last week. The pictures you took came out swell. However, I never made it down to the Superhero Supply Company. I guess I have something to look forward to the next time I travel down to Brooklyn. Please do let me know when the next shipment of shirts comes in.

Now, about your analysis of Quitely's art: I think we should take a second to mention the capable support offered by Jamie Grant, who inks and colors the comic. Grant uses a very light touch, making sure that the expressive work Quitely produces is captured successfully. The color palette is lovely, and never over-renderd (as it the case with a lot of color jobs these days.)

I know that Morrison and Quitely get the lion's share of credit, but Grant makes clear contributions to the finished product (to the extent that his name is listed on the cover along with the writer's and the artist's.) The fact that Grant is pulling double-duty makes his stellar work all the more impressive.

In total, Quitely and Grant are definitely a solid pairing.

Enjoyed your fine assessment of issue #2. Keep up the good work,
Roel

2:20 AM

 

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