"Aw man, only five pages of Morrison/Quitely?? You'd almost have to go panel-by-panel to say anything interesting about it --"
"Today" pages 1-5 in Batman #700, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. DC.
Panel 1: An immediate use of one of the most interesting techniques Quitely showcased in his last go on B&R -- the blacking in of shapes around the panel borders. Here, in a full-bleed panel, it creates an organic frame for the picture while maintaining the effectiveness of an opening splash. Beyond that, though, it places you much deeper "inside" the comic than a more typically bordered shot would. While your run-of-the-mill panel borders simply block in the picture, the shapes Quitely uses here to outline his image are also part of the image itself. The unorthodox framing creates not only a great sense of depth and dimensionality, but also an increased tension between the panel's elements, an expanded sense of their spacial relationships to one another. Not to mention the circular-ish shape of the picture, which, when coupled with the arrangement of the figures and the angle of the staircase, encourages the eye to kind of spiral in on the central figure of Jim Gordon. And then when you get there, the Commissioner's bizarro-Hamlet pose is pretty stellar.
Panel 2: For all the bitching about "widescreen" panels, they've got their place, especially when they're composed by an artist who understands how to use them. Quitely's undoubtedly the cream of that crop; here he creates a multi-action panel that you actually read through, rather than apprehending all at once. By pulling the eye in a smooth line across it, Quitely gives a great deal of forward motion to the figures, while enabling Morrison to cram way more dialogue into one frame than most pictures would allow. There's also an nice down-and-to-the-right direction to the composition, leading you from Batman's head up top down to Damien near the bottom, and finally into a smooth segue to the next panel.
Panel 3: Another nice composition, using a sedately balanced close-up shot to lend Professor Nichols' impromptu autopsy a clinical air. I didn't even notice Robin standing off to the side until I put this panel on the scanner -- the inclusion of little details is always a plus. And check out the deep, intense rendering lines on Nichols' face; high-class markmaking. Alex Sinclair's colors continue to mess with Quitely's art, however minimally: while Quitely creates a halo of blank space around the two heads that are the drawing's main focus, Sinclair puts an overload of texture on the wall behind them, drawing the eye into that blank space rather than bouncing it back to the characters. You can tell that wasn't the intent by the little lines indicating brickwork on the far sides of the panel -- none in the middle, though! The over-coloring even gives that back wall a weird shape, like it's expanding outward a little bit.
Panel 1: A really fine exterior shot, soaked with atmosphere. More fusion of black panel borders with blacked-in pictorial elements, here working to create an incredibly tangible sense of place, of the camera's location inside the picture (namely, under the arch of the bridge). Quitely's Gotham is excellently designed, the Euro-Gothic edifices giving way to distant skyscraper sleekness in the top right corner. It's like a synthesis of the set design from the Tim Burton movies and the Josh Simmons Batman comic, which is about as good as it gets. The startled birds flying away are a pretty little touch, giving this stentorian picture a little fluid motion.
Panel 2: Lots to like here; I dig how Quitely places the street sign in the approximate spot where a narrative caption announcing the scene's location would usually go. These are pictures that do more than illustrate, they carry weight usually left to the writing. The height of the signpost is pretty exaggerated (how tall is it, 40 feet?), again to create a heightened sense of depth. That's especially cool since Quitely has set this panel up to very obviously mimic all the artificiality of a stage: there's a flat backdrop, a spotlight, hell, even playbills and a marquee. The minimal set dressing is key for the choreographed action that's about to go down, but it's interesting to see Quitely addressing it head-on and inviting the reader to see it through the lens of another, more objectively "real" medium, that of the theater -- or more probably of performed dance.
Panel 3: A nice close-up shot with some good dramatic tension between the figures. The height of the foreground object (this time, Robin) is again exaggerated slightly, not just for depth but to create a little continuity between this panel and the previous one. It's also neat how the frame gets a little thinner as the camera zooms in. And I don't know whether it was Morrison or Quitely who decided to make it so that yearly wreath has black roses on it, but either way it's pretty kool.
Panel 4: This is really good panel-to-panel transitioning, with the camera zooming out and swinging around to better define the area of the "stage". I love how amped up Damian gets at the mere sight of people running toward him, while Dick is just kinda playin' it cool. Body language is one of Quitely's most underrated strengths. I remember a while back there was an interview with Quitely where the interviewer asked him about influences that might not be so obvious in his work, and Quitely immediately replied: "Will Eisner." There's a lot of Eisner here, not just in the explicit blocking-out of the setting as a stage, but also in the more cartoony cast Quitely gives non-principal characters. Batman and Robin are solid, fully formed human shapes; the two hipsters-at-bay are caricatures with overly expressive poses and stretched-taffy legs. It's very reminiscent of The Spirit, where you'd have Denny Colt hanging out with walk-on cops who were three feet tall with lantern jaws and hydrocephalic foreheads. I like it. Also: woops! Somebody forgot to draw Batman's chest-logo!
Panel 1: As soon as the action starts, Quitely starts tilting the frames in weird directions, here moving the top toward us and the bottom out and away. It's a nice technique for showing motion and camera movement that doesn't involve loosening up the actual linework. Indeed, Quitely's figures solidify when they go into action, their poses more definite and their places in the compositions more fixed. The figurework on Batman here is especially good, full of considered motion and lithe power. Unless I'm quite mistaken, this is the chronological "first appearance" of Frank Miller's Mutant gang -- a fanboy thrill, for sure, as well as a concerted part of Morrison's "drive toward the future" themes this issue -- but the best part is that it gives Quitely an excuse to tip his hat to Miller a few times over the remaining pages, which is fascinating to watch.
Panel 2: More camera movement, more good use of widescreen compositions that the eye reads across. I also dig Quitely's approach to speed lines, drawing them only on the figures themselves instead of trailing off of them. Not only is it a lot more faithful to the way movement actually looks in the real world, it allows him to give a little more frenetic spontaneity to his drawings without sacrificing their construction. Here the figures, especially the lower halves, remind me of (watch out, artsy reference coming!) the Heinz Edelmann Lord of the Rings drawings displayed in The Ganzfeld a while ago; fully formed and packed with structure, yet fantastically energetic and lively. And no, I have no idea where Batman got those nunchucks from.
Panel 3: Another good close-up, again with the characters perfectly placed in the frame. The panel box is really moving now, tilting off the page to encourage you to go quickly to the next one. Sinclair actually does a pretty good job here, spotlighting not the figures (that would freeze everything up), but the space ahead of them where the fight is actually about to take place. Go forward, the panel shouts! It's cool to get this kind of speedy, intense lead-in to the fight because we all know, this being Quitely, that once it actually begins everything's going to slow way down. Interesting things are being done with the flow of the story here, not something most hero artists even seem to consider.
Panels 1 and 2: Ho shit, here we go! There's been some discussion here and there about Quitely's approach to bat-action, namely the incredibly long amounts of time and large amounts of motion that pass between the panels and the considerable amount this approach demands from the reader, who has to stitch everything together with attention to the changes in pose, placement, et cetera. And for sure: this isn't Ditko, Gil Kane, John Buscema-style "action/reaction" storytelling, lacking the same visceral punch and that sense of wild acceleration. The choreographing of massive amounts of fighters is a Frank Miller pickup, but Quitely really does abstract it to an unprecedented degree -- this stuff is like Miller with every other panel cut away. What saves it, and in my opinion makes it an incredibly effective approach, is that everything is shown, just not explicitly. We don't need to see Damian actually vaulting off the trash can because it's rattling around and we can see him eight feet up in the air. We don't need to see the third mutant over in panel 2 actually running into the frame, because he's not there and then he is. This stuff does take time to sort out, but you only have to sort it out if you want -- with the kinetic figurework and the panel borders slamming around like crazy, it's obvious what's generally going on, and the chaos of reading over this fight scene at normal speed is like an amphetamine high.
Panels 3 and 4: As to the massive amount of time elapsing between each panel-to-panel transition, it's realism, straight up: Quitely choreographs his characters so that they actually move quicker during violent bursts of motion. You don't get to see everything during this fight because so much is going on, it's so disorienting, and everything's moving so fast that it simply can't all be captured. Especially the instants of impact -- all we get are aftermaths of spraying blood and crumpled poses, which is how Quitely really makes the blows hit hard. (It is a little disappointing not to get any embedded sound effects in this sequence, though. Oh well.) Quitely's certainly is a different, more sterile and overtly considered approach than most action comics take, but it's so stylish and succeeds so well on its own terms that its unwillingness to adhere to standard comics grammar becomes an asset. When people read a Quitely book, they should just expect to spend a little more time on the gorgeous, slo-mo action sequences. It gets the adrenaline racing! On a different note, hugely embarrassing coloring error: what color was the mutant with the hammer's shirt again? Come on, Sinclair!
Panels 5 and 6: More post-impact shots. This stuff is terrific. Dig how even the shadow-lines under the car in the first panel are a little twisted beneath the sudden collision of body and windshield. I'm not going to go on about how Quitely tilts his actions panels in relation to the areas where force is being exerted (Damian lands and pushes his side of the panel down, et cetera), but it's great stuff that more people than just Cameron Stewart should be drawing from. That's an excellent punch panel, too -- and it's funny to note how this scene fits Morrison's Batman next to Miller's. Where the aged Bruce Wayne of Dark Knight muses "I honestly don't know if I could beat him" at the prospect of a confrontation with the Mutant chieftain, young, potent Dick Grayson has him on the concrete in five panels and half as many seconds. Meta-bitchslap!
Panels 7 and 8: Damian fights dirty. Quitely gives the hurled hubcap force by drawing it flying way out of the panel, obviously surprising even Batman. Some more great body language here, and the background swims back into view for the final panel, framing the rest of the Mutants' hasty exit-stage-left with the exact same long, thin avenue they first advanced down on panel 1 of page 3.
Panel 1: Another widescreen, scene-setting panel with a lot of different characters and opposing action. Quitely makes a specific effort to draw the eye along the entire space of the picture in a smooth, continuous motion, letting the sides bleed out to the page's edges and tamping down the top and bottom with black gutters. The slight tilt of the street away from the reader helps too -- you look "down" it to see the characters coming toward you. Then we get the re-appearance of Lone-Eye Lincoln, aka Bruce Wayne's drug connect, here in some stylishly designed Quitely threads instead of the drab shower curtains Tony Daniel dressed him in. I'm into that outfit, it's almost got like a ghetto-Phantom Stranger vibe or something.
Panels 2 and 3: This first panel is the only one in this comic where I wish Quitely hadn't dropped the background. It's too tall, and completely empty in a good bit more than half the space. Just a few lines would have helped here, like they do in panel 4 -- it looks like Quitely drew this picture for a large amount of dialogue that ended up not being as much as expected. Some more hot character designs, though. That girl ("S'Reena," ha ha) is delightfully creepy... cokehead stare aside, is that her own tongue she's chewing like bubblegum?
Panels 4 and 5: Good "acting" -- Lone-Eye makes the exact same face I would if a big goth-caped man were fingering my lapel. There's a great solidity to the figures as they stand their ground at each other, and the body language is just exaggerated enough to show off some interiority without slapping you in the face with it. The final panel is a fairly explicit Frank Miller quote -- a big, bold, nasty grin, squint-eyes and jutting bottom teeth a'plenty. What distinguishes it is Quitely's rough but elegant markmaking, loose and free but still lending a good amount of shadow and form to Batman's face. This is the advantage of printing straight from the pencil art: the spontaneity and power in those lines, in Quitely's hands, gets onto the page unadulterated. It's got a large amount of what's great about Frank Quitely as an artist -- precision, improvisation, individuality, and a quiet thunder that you can skip right over or contemplate for hours. Annnnnd... scene.