Saturday, July 12, 2014

Diamonds Are Forever in Frank Miller's Daredevil

[Here's the last of my old comics blog essays on page layout, a piece on Frank Miller and Klaus Janson from 2 May 2012. Let me know if you'd like to see more layout analyses in this vein. Thanks!]

I've been rereading Frank Miller's run on Daredevil lately, and the following page from "Gang War!" (issue #172, July 1981) caught my eye:

Here Miller and inker Klaus Janson turn in a wonderful piece of fight choreography. The use of tiered panels gives them lots of room for their figural work (the entire issue has lots going on panel-wise; this fight is mostly done in horizontal tiers, setting up a spectacular shift on the page after this one, a page that replaces horizontals with verticals). And their figures are spectacular! The Z-patterns I've discussed previously on this blog show up here as well, but doubled (or possibly even tripled). The first Z occupies panels 1-2: Daredevil's left hook draws our eye through the first panel to the right (even as his right arm reverses this motion, tossing Bulleye's gun away to the left), while the elbow to Bullseye's back takes us down and left into the second panel (aided by motion lines and the deliberate crossing of the gutter by Daredevil's hands). The leftward force of Daredevil's attack focuses our attention on Bulleye's kick in the left half of the panel; that exchange of blows is also a second diagonal line down from panel 1, a line formed by the angles Daredevil occupies in both panels. A similar parallelism is taking place on the right side of the panels as Bullseye's elbow draws our attention down to his head shooting forward. That head jerk sends us to panel 3 (as does the heavy use of black shadow on the Daredevil figures in both panels' left halves).

Panel 3 continues the downward, leftward stroke of the Z-pattern. Once again, gutter crossings aid and abet our eyes here: Bullseye's knee gets us from panel 2 to panel 3, and the brick in his left hand in panel 4 connects back to panel 3 (assisted by the lines on his glove and boot). But the shift from panel 4 to panel 5 splits. The main stroke of the Z runs down and left into the rightward moving boot that Bullseye delivers to Daredevil's face–a kick that sets up the final, horizontal strike of the Z. At the same time, Bullseye's panel 4 brick attack sets up another diagonal path into panel 5, this time running down and right into another kick by the villain. Motion lines aid this transition, although they establish a bit of tension between the lines of the page layout and the diegetic action of the story—Bullseye's brick attack and second kick are both moving up and left even as our eye moves down and right.

Panel 6 looks like it's starting a new Z-pattern with panel 5 as the top horizontal stroke, and panel 6 as the beginning of the downward diagonal stroke. The motion of the figures in the panel might be a truncated bottom horizontal, but something else is going on here besides Z-patterns. Look at panels 2 and 5: both break the page's general rule of one action per panel. Panel 2 gives us two attacks, and so does panel 5. Moreover, both attacks aim at the center of the panel: the lefthand attack in each panel moves right while the righthand attack moves left.

There's also a mirror-effect going on here. Panels 1-3 depict Daredevil in charge of the encounter, while panels 4-6 give Bullseye an edge. Panel 2's double-figures are mirrored in an X-pattern with panel 5's double-figures: we see all of the combatants in the exchange on the left half of panel 2 and on the right half of panel 5, while the right half of panel 2 and the left half of panel 5 give us close-up shots of the action (even if the character getting struck differs in the two panels). The bricks on the right side of panel 3 are mirrored by the bricks on the right side of panel 6. Daredevil is on the left in both panels 1 and 4, Bulleye's on the right. Finally, in panels 3 and 6, Bullseye is positioned on top of Daredevil.

In fact, the more I look at the page, the more I see two vertically-stacked diamond patterns. The first diamond is panels 1-3; the second, panels 4-6. The Z-patterns help us move from panel to panel, but the diamond patterns anchor the entire page as a single instance of layout. Perfectly legible stuff, but awesomely intricate as well.

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