Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Sleepwalker #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1991. Enjoy!
For some first pages, context is everything. If you happened to pick this comic up in 1991 and simply opened to the first page without knowing anything about the series itself or the history of cheesecake pop culture, you might think this is a horribly exploitative page. If you turned the page, you would learn that it’s not, but just seeing this page might enrage you. If you know a bit about the history of cheesecake in popular culture, you’d probably appreciate it as a homage to the goofy science fiction movies/books/comics of a bygone era. When we turn the page, we find out that this is a movie, and it’s pretty obviously a deliberate parody – the movie is even called I Married a Martian. So despite the fact that the young lady is wearing what appears to be dental floss and she’s being menaced by a giant man/alien who obviously wants to rape her, what we bring to the table culturally informs our understanding of what’s going on, even if we haven’t bought the first two issues of this short-lived series. This is where cultural knowledge comes to the fore – context really is very important when we look at art, and that includes the first page of a minor and largely forgotten (except by Bill Reed!) series from the early 1990s.
Marvel was still providing the scroll at the top in some of their books in these days, so we find out that the book is about Rick Sheridan, a college student (he’s in Film Studies, we learn later in the issue) who one day started seeing a strange being called Sleepwalker in his dreams and then in real life. So Rick is afraid to fall asleep because he doesn’t want to let Sleepwalker out. This is a problem, in case you’re wondering. Bob Budiansky doesn’t really care too much about providing any other information, because he wants to start the comic with this off-kilter splash page, in which the Martian and the girl spout hokey dialogue that’s deliberately corny. Bret Blevins does a fine job with the page, though. The Martian is ugly, of course, and subtly horrifying, sexually (this is back before Marvel and DC added too much blatant sexual imagery to their books, so it had to be subtle): The single eye is suggestive of a penis, while the long, tendril-like fingers are far too sensual for such a brutish monster. The Martian is stalking toward the young lady (her name is Alyssa, by the way), but that opens up his legs, making his crotch more prominent. While his left hand clutches Alyssa’s wrist, the right one reaches around her toward her breasts – her nipple is even pointing directly at a finger. She’s trying to get away, of course, but Blevins still draws her back arched and her hips thrust backward toward his groin. Obviously, the thong she’s wearing draws our attention to her pubic area, while the Martian’s hand draws our attention to her heaving breasts. Blevins gives the Martian a leering, gaping mouth, with the two pointed teeth somehow more disturbing than if he had a mouthful of them, while Alyssa’s scared expression is also deliberately sexy, with the pouty lips and high cheekbones. It’s an astonishingly sexual pose, and even though it’s a parody of poses like it from days gone by, it retains its power. Budiansky colors this book, and while green is a stereotypical color for Martians, it’s also a sickly color, so it adds to the queasiness we’re supposed to feel when we watch this brute about to ravish an innocent woman. He and Blevins also add thick, ugly lines to the Martian’s crotch, again drawing our attention to it and adding to our revulsion. Purple is the royal color, of course, so Budiansky is implying that Alyssa is some kind of worthy person (she’s just an “Earth-woman,” according to the Martian) who doesn’t deserve her fate. Of course, no one deserves this fate, but we have to remember that this is a parodic drawing, so the implication that she is somehow “important” and therefore more deserving of our sympathy is, I think, deliberate. Finally, we have Chris Eliopoulos (presumably) designing the name of the issue, where the “madness” is shaky and tilted. The title works both for this page and the issue itself.
It’s impressive how much symbolism is packed onto this page, and even if not all of it’s deliberate (Blevins may have just thought Cyclopses were cool-looking), it’s still very cool how much Blevins and Budiansky can imply here. Sleepwalker might not be your favorite comic or you might not even have ever heard of it, but we still get some cool storytelling on this splash page, don’t we?
Next: Not the John Ostrander series you might want, but perhaps the John Ostrander series you NEED!!!! I’m surprised Mr. Ostrander hasn’t shown up yet in the archives, but it’s true!