Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Secret Six #24, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 2010. Enjoy!
I'm not going to get into how I don't "get" this issue of Secret Six, in which Gail Simone drops our heroes into the nineteenth century and proceeds to kill them all, so let's just check out the first page, shall we? Yes, even Bill Reed should check this out - how will he ever overcome his hatred of Jim Calafiore's artwork if he doesn't confront it?
Okay, so the Punch and Judy show. I know it's possible that it might show up in the American West, but Punch and Judy seems like such an English thing (even though its roots are in Italy) that it's a bit strange to see Simone use this device. Rag Doll is the puppeteer, and he's a bit ... off, so I suppose that explains it, but it's still strange. But that's what we get in Panel 1, as Peter Merkel does his weird foreshadowing with a dash of insanity. We think he's talking about the person on the first page, but it turns out he has something worse in mind. Panels 2-4 show us dead men, linking back to the "dark man" and his "smell" mentioned in the first panel. Calafiore shows them up close so that the revelation of their killer can come on Page 2 (it's Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot), but also to show us that they've each been killed by a bullet right in the middle of their forehead - whoever killed them sure is a "dead shot"! The panels aren't laid out in any interesting manner except that Calafiore goes back and forth with where he puts the bodies - left side, then right, then left. This is, presumably, because he wants to put Deadshot on the right side of the page in the bottom panel in order to lead us off the page, and he just reckoned upward from there. In the final panel, we learn that Deadshot is a bounty hunter. That's handy.
Calafiore and Jason Wright make this page awfully dark, don't they? The sun is setting, so that's one thing, but it begins in the puppet theater, in which Punch and Judy are set against a black background. The first dead guy is looking back toward the sun, so he's lit, but the Indian and the other white dude are in shadow, and of course Deadshot's face is shadowed by his hat (where the light actually on his face is coming from is anyone's guess; the sun is directly behind him). Calafiore has a thin line, so his hair always looks a bit stiff and brittle, as we see in Panel 3. In Panel 5, he decides to light up Deadshot's right eyeball, giving him a weird, preternatural look. Calafiore's inks and the close-ups in the final four panels actually make the page difficult to decipher at first glance, which might be the point - we're supposed to stare at it for a while to figure out that Deadshot draped the bodies over three horses to bring them into town. Wright suffuses the final four panels with the yellow/orange of dusk, adding a sheen of olde-tyminess to the page while also foreshadowing the death and destruction that's coming in this issue. Of course, the dead bodies already do that, but the fact that the sun is setting allows Wright to bring in that element of finality.
Travis Lanham letters this, and I don't know what font he uses for Punch and Judy's dialogue, but it's pretty keen, innit? It's a bit more cartoony than the other dialogue in the book, and it fits the rambunctious back-and-forth of the puppets. Plus, it's slightly off-kilter, slightly more chaotic, which fits both the Punch and Judy aesthetic and Rag Doll's mindset. Lanham is a pretty good letterer, and the way Punch and Judy talk is a nice touch.
I don't know how well this page works to get us to turn to the second one - it's not all that amazing, but it does have a nice feeling of foreboding, and perhaps that's enough. Of course, it leads into a head-scratching tale, but that's just the way it is!
You can still e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a suggestion for a first page for me to feature in October. I'm not too far ahead right now, so I have some time before I reach October. It would be nice if I could fill up the entire month with reader suggestions, wouldn't it? So fire me an e-mail and I will be happy to write about your first page!
Next: If it's a story from 2000AD, you can be pretty confident it's by a highly-respected creator! Be sure to stop by to see who it is! You can certainly find him in the archives!