Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! Today’s page is from Incognito #1, which was published by Marvel/Icon and is cover dated December 2008. Enjoy!
As we’ve seen this week, Ed Brubaker has a certain way of beginning a story (and even an issue), and he does it again here. We are launched right into the action, with Zack Overkill fighting some dudes and narrating about it. He’s making a mistake but he doesn’t care – this is the kind of protagonist Brubaker likes: someone who knows better but seemingly can’t help himself. Zack is a classic Brubaker type, and this is a classic Brubaker first page. He’s setting a mood – “the impact of the gravel crunching under my shoes” and “sometimes making a mistake just feels so fucking good.” We already know that Zack is very strong, that his judgment is perhaps suspect, he seems like the kind of guy who might be addicted to violence, and thanks to Phillips, that this book is somehow a superhero book or at least a pulp hero kind of book (the domino mask and the fact that the bullet has no effect on Zack gives that away). Brubaker likes this kind of opening, I imagine, because it sets a mood well and it starts the book with a bang. When someone is bashing dudes on the first page, you already want to know more!
Phillips also does a nice job with some visual clues. Zack is interrupting an attempted rape, as we can tell from the first panel. That makes Zack a somewhat more interesting character already, because he obviously has some violence issues but he is using violence for good. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? We don’t know, and that immediately makes this an interesting page. The first panel isn’t the greatest in terms of choreographing – Zack is punching downward with his right hand, but the dude on the left is flying backward as if Zack had thrown a cross to the dude’s left cheek. In Panel 2, that right hand comes up and somehow turns the dude in between Zack and the woman in Panel 1 so that he’s facing the wall, smashing him into the bricks. Then, in Panel 3, Zack kicks the dude who was falling backward in the throat. The three panels don’t really work together if you look at them too closely. There’s nothing really wrong with each panel in a vacuum, but if we try to envision them in motion, it’s difficult to decipher how Zack and the other two are moving together. In Panel 4, the bald dude finally fires his gun (it appears he’s clutching it in Panel 1, but it’s hard to tell), but it’s clear that Zack is bulletproof, and he smashes the bald dude in the jaw before he can fire again. The momentum of the final panel is to the right, which takes us right onto the second page. Notice again the heavy inks on this page, which we’ve seen is something that Phillips is doing more and more as we get closer to the present. Val Staples does a nice job with the coloring, too. The first panel establishes the time, with the purple and gray-blue, but when Zack gets more violent, Staples dials up the red and, in the panel with the gun shot, the bright yellow. The actual coloring – it’s in an alley at night, so Panel 1’s colors are probably more “realistic” – wouldn’t get across the rage boiling in Zack as he fights, and it would make this feel much more like a typical good guy vigilante beating up the bad guys. Brubaker’s narration, Phillips’ use of blood, and Staples’ red makes this page much more violent and disturbing than if, say, Batman were beating up the dudes.
Brubaker knows how to get people into the story, so why wouldn’t he use this format? Perhaps tomorrow, when we return to Criminal, he’ll try something different. We shall see! And, as always, you can find a bunch of comics in the archives!