Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from The Middleman (vol. 3) #4, which was published by Viper Comics and is cover dated September 2007. Enjoy!
Technically, the third volume of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine’s hilarious spy spoof is a complete graphic novel, and this is the first page of “chapter 4,” so I should use the first page of the entire volume. But it was supposed to be released serially, it’s structured like a serial, so I’m counting this as “issue #4” of a mini-series that only came out in a collected edition. Fair enough?
This page gives us a pretty fair idea of what’s going on in The Middleman (it’s totally a Comic You Should Own, don’t you know), which is nice. The chapter title leads us to believe that it’s probably a humorous book – unless Grillo-Marxuach has no sense of humor whatsoever, he’s not seriously calling it “Scream, Middleman, Scream!” The little dialogue on the page is funny, too – in the foreground, the Middleman – obviously someone picking this “issue” up cold won’t know who he is, but that’s him – tells “Dubbie” – her name is Wendy – to take care of the giant shark with arms while he gets his utility belt, and she of course thinks that’s not very equitable. As comic book readers, we’re conditioned to think of the big dude as the hero and the girl as the damsel in distress, and while the Middleman is the hero, he’s also training Wendy, so he’s not being as much of a tool as we think. The dichotomy between the “hero” swimming away while leaving the girl to fight the giant shark helps create the humor on the page. The fact that Wendy does, in fact, kick the crap out of the shark shows that the Middleman was right to have faith in her.
Les McClaine got better and better over the course of this series, and this page shows some nice touches. We almost don’t notice the man in the ape suit clutching the machine gun, but he’s the bad guy (obviously). McClaine’s shark is nice, but you’ll notice how it’s angled from the top down toward the Middleman, because his is the first word balloon we need to read. He points back toward Wendy and her words, directing our eyes nicely. McClaine doesn’t forget to show Wendy holding onto the man in the pool; he’s the guy they’ve come to rescue, and the fact that Wendy hasn’t forgotten that is a nice touch. The second panel is nice – it shows the Middleman swimming away from the page turn, but our eyes start at his head and follow his body up to where Wendy and the other guy are treading water, which leads us to the next page. A page that seems counter-intuitive on the surface is actually structured quite nicely to get us onto the next page.
The Middleman is an excellent comic, and Grillo-Marxuach and McClaine show a lot more skill than you might expect from a small, independent comic series. It’s stuff like this that makes finding weird stuff fun, because even on a relatively straight-forward page like this, we see how the creators get us to turn the page. And that’s what counts!
Next: One of my favorite series from the past decade. What could it be? It hasn’t shown up yet in the archives, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a look!