Comic Panel Slow Read #28

From Fantastic Four #234 by John Byrne, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Jean Simek

As a (mostly) daily exercise for 2017, I’m trying to slow down my reading and look deeply at one particular panel of a comic for about 15 minutes in order to really study its construction.

This is my second John Byrne Fantastic Four panel and I’m sure it won’t be my last. Byrne’s work really stood out from other superhero comics of the early 1980s for a number of reasons, but this panel felt striking to me even by today’s standards. Reed and Sue only take up the bottom third of this large panel and seeing only the back of their heads, with no indication of their facial expressions, is an unusual yet effective move at a time when most comic book artists would over-depict every single emotion. Byrne puts the reader right there behind the couple so that you are seeing exactly what they see. Not being able to tell how our heroes are reacting to the devastation is unsettling.

One of the things I think about when I consider Byrne’s work is how we he draws rubble and massive amounts of wreckage. Here, the destruction is only just beginning and it’s happening quietly at a distance. This isn’t typical comic book violence where everything is happening from an impossible-to-fathom viewpoint. We’re seeing New York City being destroyed from a realistic, ground-level vantage point as if we were right there.

Everything converges into the empty space in the middle, which feels much more emptier than comic panels tend to be in this era. He makes the tops of those buildings simply disintegrate into the empty sky rather than letting the debris fly everywhere. Even the two yellow narration boxes converge into an upside-down triangle with Sue’s yellow hair to mirror the negative space within the skyline.

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