Monday, January 7, 2013

Opening Contract - Daredevil Vol. 2 #82

TWC readers, welcome to a new feature to be helmed by new writer Dan HillOpening Contract is going to pick out the first panels from certain issues and then deconstruct and discuss them. The discussion will be specifically limited to the very first panel, there are enough great articles about first pages, we wanted to tighten our focus. We'll aim to be informative, irreverent, illogical, and possibly a little illustrative in what we pick and then what we say about it.

To start, I have enforced editorial control and demanded two things - the very first panel to be used will be from Daredevil Vol. 2 #82, the start of the Brubaker/Lark/Gaudiano run, and I've also asked to be involved in that chat (any excuse to chat Daredevil, really). Hit the jump to see what Dan and I think about the very first image presented to us in this exciting run.

Ryan K Lindsay: Welcome to TWC, Dan, and welcome to your new column. I hope you enjoy the digs.
I picked this panel because it, as well as this page, and this entire introductory sequence, is one of my favourite things in comics. Looking at this first panel, it's an establishing shot. As a reader, and a writer yourself, how do you feel about establishing shots?
Dan Hill: Cheers, Ryan! It's awesome to be asked to be part of the site and I'm looking forward to plunging in and getting my hands dirty. 
Confession time. I've not read a single page of Brubaker's run. So I'm coming to this cold, which I think may provide a different perspective at the least. 
To answer your question, as a writer, establishing shots are one of the essentials in my toolbox. 
It's a contract with the reader. You're giving them a burst of information about setting, tone, timeframe and architecture/layout. You're giving them an idea of what's to come and a way to make sense of the scene and story going forwards. 
As a reader, establishing shots are just as important. They serve as a jumping off point for the story and tell me the 'where' of the story as well as giving me an idea what to expect tonally. 
I'm a fickle kind of guy and I can usually tell whether I'm going to like a song by listening to the first 20 seconds. Establishing shots are a similar beast. They're the opening licks of a guitar, the first notes of a singers voice. 
RKL: I cannot believe you haven't read the Brubaker run before. I kind of envy you the experience now. I'm certain this will make the conversation something different with you coming fresh to it and it being one of my all-time favourite runs ever.

I love establishing shots. I see one and I always think of two names: Sergio Leone and Brian Wood. Those guys knew how to set the scene - I always found Wood calling for full splash establishing shots of New York in DMZ so damn ballsy. I see the establishing shot as setting up location and all that but it really is a contract to the reader, it tells them how they need to feel about this world. Lark and Gaudiano do a magnificent job, with MattHollingsworth on colours, of bringing us Hell's Kitchen as it was and had to be at this very moment in time.

This came after Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's run on Daredevil and they capped events with *SPOILERS* Matt Murdock going to jail. Brubaker picks this up and has to find a through line. His way forward was to boldly stride into the darkness cracked open.Brubaker had no fear in making this title a true noir experience. I love that the team starts with Hell's Kitchen, and those gorgeous water towers, and the oppressive rain. This issterotypical Daredevil fodder, from the Frank Miller era and beyond, but it feels fresh. Thishyperreal almost photorealistic take brings Hell's Kitchen out of the comic and into our hearts, our cold black dead hearts.

Are you a fan of the water towers or do you think they're cliche?
DH: Thinking on it again I've read snatches of his run here and there. It was all post prison if I recall, certainly nothing that could be considered the 'meat' of his run. 
Good call on Leone. My mind straight away went to the opening of Once Upon A Time In The West and the establishing shots that Leone uses to give a sense of location and tone/mood. 

The colour palette in this opening panel is still reminiscent of Bendis' run to me. It has that dark, grimy noir-esque tone to it. I think it sets up the promise that this book will be nothing if not tonally similar. The rain, Hell's Kitchen are all tropes we're familiar with in a DD book stretching back to the Miller era. 
I think the water towers fulfil the same role. They're a great visual touchstone. It's another promise to the reader. This is the Marvel U and this is New York City. As much as we clamour for new things we, as readers, also ask for a sense of the familiar. How many fights have we seen rage across those rooftops over the years? The towers tell us that this story is tied to the street, to the rooftops, to alleyways and dingy back rooms. 
BUT that caption is one of the things that sets the readers mind rolling here with its dissonance. 
"It's not a nice place anymore"
We already know it's not a nice place. Hell's Kitchen is the only part of NYC in the Marvel U that has its very own protector and yet, somehow things have gotten worse? 
RKL: I feel like this opening panel tells us where Daredevil has been and where he's about to go. They're offering up the touchstones of what we know to be inherent to Matts world, and this whole run is as much about his world as it is about his soul. We're getting the water towers and the city and this creative team is raining down on it.
"It's not a nice place anymore."
Is Brubaker talking about the Daredevil he's been handed or the one he's created? I know Murdock is in jail and so Hell's Kitchen is falling over a little without its protector but I feel Brubaker's is also talking about the place and the book at the same time. Hell, maybe even Matt's soul. It's not a nice place anymore; it's broken, it's sullied, and it's hard to live in and stay clean. Brubaker's has been given a dirty and broken toy and he's not looking to polish it up. Hs going to throw it against the wall and bury it and see if he can take any last shine off the exterior.
This first line is the ultimate prophecy of what's to come.
DH: The line works for someone who hasn't read Bendis' run too (or any run really). Whatever your previous level of experience with DD this opening panel and caption promises things are much, much worse. Brubaker's telling the reader that there will be no let up for Matt, no quick reversals or sunlight filtering through the clouds. You thought he had it tough before? Well, it's raining and it's not going to stop any time soon. A prophecy for things to come? Sure. But it's also a mission statement. 
I hadn't even thought about the line relating to Matt's soul. A lot of Daredevil's DNA is about Matt's introspection I think, and so the line completely works in that context too. Add in the rain and the grime as a visual representation of that too? Yeah, I'm beginning to see why you chose this panel now. 
What struck me too here though is what's NOT in the panel. There's no Daredevil here. No shot of him pensively overlooking his domain. The opening panel is all doom, gloom with no sign of that familiar red anywhere. 
RKL: Yep, he's not there. And that concept of him being an absent, possibly ineffective, protector is a scary idea. The capes are supposed to be the pinnacle, they are heroes and superhuman, but Matt Murdock really isn't. Matt's just a man, a flawed man, and while he's shotgunned Hell's Kitchen as his turf that can't actually make the location feel or be any safer. It'sa grim and dank strip of land and all Matt does is inject streaks of red into it. He's the violent catalyst, not preventative solvent.
As an opening contract with the audience, I think this panel is perfect, and as something to refer to afterwards it sings like it was recently tuned up. I love a good opening panel that means so much - actually so much more - after getting through the whole story. It's a narrative as a Moebius strip and that idea that you've come back to the start but have been flipped over is a hell of a keen idea.

I wish every story did this. I wish I could do this with every story.

Do you really want to go read all of the Brubaker/Lark/Gaudiano run right now? I want to reread it.
DH: I actually DO want to go and read the Brubaker run now, especially the initial prison stuff.
But your comment about the opening panel being part of an overall Moebius strip has what's really gotten my interest piqued. I LOVE stories that come full circle. A ton of writing 'how to' books tell us that we should come up with our ending, then a beginning and that ideally the two should mirror each other. 
I've tried to do this with my own work to varying degrees of success, but for me the prime example is LOST. The show has its detractors but one of the things it did really well was that circularity and mirroring in its narrative (I could write an essay on this alone), and specifically with its opening and closing shots.  But, I think comics as a medium can pull this off to a much greater degree as the creators can really control perspective and isolate specific moments to a much greater degree. 
I guess this is another function of the opening panel we haven't really touched upon. If used in a certain way it can greatly enhance the last panel or ending of a story. We can see how far the hero has come (or fallen), what's changed, and even gain extra meaning or insight we perhaps didn't see straight away, the potential it has as a storytelling tool is immense. 
I almost want to ask you what the LAST panel of Brubaker's run is, but I know that its something best experienced as part of a whole. In that regard I'd say its done it's job in grabbing my attention.
RKL: I won't spoil but I will say Brubaker's run can be broken into two parts, and each has a distinct end. Both ends have interesting panels that speak to much of what's happened and will happen moving forward.
In summary, as I'm certain we should wrap this up, I dig this opening panel because, to me, it sums up so much of what I love about the run. It's a great calling card visually and in the caption to what we have here. This panel should be a poster so I could have it on my wall. It throws down the gauntlet to the audience and demands specificity.
Do you have any final thoughts? 
DH: The panel sets the scene not only for the issue itself but the run going forward. It's an encapsulation of what came before but hooks the reader with the notion that something isn't quite right. It's done its job because I'm all for seeking this run out now.
I also think that with this panel you've set a pretty high bar for the column going forward. To get a bit meta for a second I'd say this has been a pretty good first post, showing us and the readers the potential of what just can be done with opening panels and this feature. 
RKL: I could think of no other way to launch this feature. I've loved this panel for years so was a pleasure to really break it down. I can't wait to see what you choose to follow this one up. I'm certain this column can cover awesome panels - like this one - or terribly ineffective ones, or crazy funny ones. The sky is truly the limit.
Hopefully I'll be back one day but until then, have fun with it, Dan, and let's hope you eventually get your nose into this Daredevil run.
If you've got any thoughts on this run, drop a comment below. We'd love to know what you think.

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Jeremy said...

I'm in the minority, but I've always liked Brubaker/Lark DD more than Bendis/Maleev. I guess it's just personal perference, but I prefer Brubaker's dialog to Bendis often repetitive, grating dialog tics, and while Maleev is definitely great, Lark has always been my favorite crime/noir artist in the business. Even more than Sean Philips. I can look at his pages all day.

And as depressing as it got, it still felt like a superhero book. Tombstone, THE ENFORCERS(it's a proven rule all marvel comics are better with the Enforcers), Lady Bullseye, and LOTS of ninjas. And Master Izo! He's like Stick, but he doesn't annoy me!

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