Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month (for a while) I will be showing pages chosen by you, the readers. Today’s page is from Wolverine and the X-Men #13, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 2012. This page was suggested by Third Man, who already had one of his suggestions featured and I know I said only one per person, but this page is pretty keen. I make the rules, yay! Enjoy!
The first page of Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw’s Wolverine and the X-Men #13 is, of course, a homage to the first page of Watchmen #6 (see below). Bradshaw gives us the nine-panel grid and a Rorschach test (who knew they used Rorschach tests in alien cultures?) and someone lying about what they see. Across the top we learn that the person taking the test is a cadet, and that she (we don’t know from this page that it’s a she – the portrayal in the final panel is somewhat sexless – but Warbird is a female, trust me) is seeing beautiful, delicate creatures when she looks at the ink blots. Aaron paces the page so that what Warbird sees is in Panel 3 and 6, while Warbird herself appears in Panel 9. What she tells the magistrate is in Panels 4 and 7, giving us (at least in the first instance) a momentary caesura while we move our eyes from what she sees to what she says, making her words have more of an impact. In the second instance (from Panel 6 to 7), we know what’s coming, but in that brief instance, we wonder if she’ll lie again. We’re also wondering what she’ll say (because we know it’s not what she sees) and it also allows us a brief moment to consider why she’s lying. This becomes clear (or at least clearer) in Panel 9, when she tells the magistrate what she wants to do with her life. We know she’s probably lying again, but it’s obvious that the magistrate wants to hear those words. Aaron does a lot on this page – he gives us plenty of information, and he sets up Warbird’s character well – she’s not above lying, it seems that she’s different from most Shi’ar, and she’s tough even if her soul is artistic.
Bradshaw is a ridiculous Arthur Adams clone, but if you’re going to rip someone off, it might as well be Adams. With a nine-panel grid, moving the readers’ eyes across the page isn’t as important, but Bradshaw’s pencils are quite nice. He uses “true first person” point of view in Panels 1, 2, and 4, as Warbird looks at the Rorschach blots, so we see the room from her perspective. This is a handy device because it allows the reader to get more inside a character’s head without using first- or second-person narration. It also transitions to Warbird’s imagination easily, so that the visions in Panels 3 and 6 are more personal. It also makes the magistrate more aggressive in Panel 5, as he almost pushes the ink blot in Warbird’s face. There’s a subtle implication that he doesn’t really believe Warbird, so he needs to hear her tell him about another one. Even if this isn’t Bradshaw’s intention, it wouldn’t work any other way than seeing the scene through Warbird’s eyes. Of course, this way of structuring the page also allows Bradshaw to wait until Panel 9 to reveal Warbird, although it’s not like seeing her brings about any shocking revelation – she’s a Shi’ar. Anyone who’s read an X-comic over the past 30 years probably knows a tiny bit about the Shi’ar.
The coloring on the page is fascinating. “Guru eFX,” who according to DeviantArt is really a guy named Joe, uses purple as a base color for the “real-world” part of the page. Why? Purple is an imperial color, of course, and Warbird makes it clear in the final panel that she’s living in an empire, and purple seems to be a favorite of the Shi’ar. If you were picking this book up cold, you wouldn’t know that about the Shi’ar, but it’s true! Purple is also a softer color than other dark colors, and Guru eFX needs to use a darker color in the “real” panels because the two panels of Warbird’s imagination are so bright and vivid. Blue wouldn’t have worked as well, because the blues in the “imaginative” panels are so well blended into the scene. Purple becomes the obvious choice. The two panels in Warbird’s imagination are bright and even fiery – the red in Panel 6 is explicit – and show a person ruled by passion, even as we see Warbird in Panel 9 seemingly ready to submit to the will of the “imperium.” In many ways, the coloring is showing us what we need to know about the Shi’ar – a rigidly structured society with very little room for improvisation. Obviously, if Warbird can imagine those beautiful fauna and flora in Panels 3 and 6, she’s probably seen them somewhere and therefore there’s plenty of beauty in the imperium, but it’s also obvious that she’s meant to submit, as the colors help imply.
Note a few things with regard to the homage of Watchmen. If you’ve never read Watchmen, the page still works. It’s part of the story, and it leads into the story nicely. But if you have read Watchmen, there’s a lot of clever touches. Both “patients” are telling the “doctor” what they want to hear, but Dr. Long and the Shi’ar magistrate want to hear completely opposite things. The first Rorschach test the magistrate gives to Warbird is identical (well, almost identical) to the one Dr. Long shows Kovacs. Bradshaw even gives the magistrate white hair on the side of his head, mirroring Dr. Long’s white hair. Both colorists use red prominently in the imaginative panels, but in Watchmen, it’s blood and signifies violence, while in Wolverine and the X-Men, it’s a flower and the body of a butterfly and signifies passionate life. It’s very clever.
This is a very nice first page, even if you don’t recognize the fact that it’s a homage. In a world where every third cover is a homage to something, it would be nice if some comics had more pages that homaged older stuff. That would be kind of keen.
Next: We’re going super old-school tomorrow! Find some other really old comics in the archives!