It's Halloween and Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? has decided to celebrate with some fear-filled, powerful panels. Horror is a genre with a lot of comics' history behind it (duh) and it's fascinating to see how that root, horror-influence and the grammar it developed bleeds into nearly every kind of comic. Sometimes there's still just plain old, awesome horror comics, others up the gore or the details, and some graft the signs and signifiers of horror into comics that from the outside, have little to do with the genre. No matter what, you see the powerful horror style in nearly every type of comic.
This is a classic Horror manga from the 70s, and the above panel depicts one of the big revelations in the book. This is the first time the main character, Sho, has confronted the current situation of the school. The premise is that after an earthquake an elementary school is transported to some alien wasteland. The fear comes in watching a school full of children essentially riot and the way their teachers have to deal with it. There's no monsters or ghosts so a lot of the fear is psychological and rooted in human survival instincts. It's a bit like a zombie movie.
Umezu does an excellent job of making the landscape look horrific and it acts essentially, as a monster. This double page spread actually isn't the first time the reader has seen the landscape. There is a double page spread directly before this when the teachers first notice the landscape. Sho's double page is more significant because he's the main character but also because he's the first child to see the situation. It's just the landscape and his face really hammering in the effect of this event on Sho. Although he freaks out at first, he's one of the first truly able to come to terms with these catastrophic circumstances. Sho is deeply distressed but seeing the situation actually helps him come to terms with it.
This could have been any number of panels from this classic run on Swamp Thing. Wein and Wrightson build a tense and psychologically taxing atmosphere. This is a classic Horror comic through and through, but the twist is, the hero's the monster. This set of panels really shows how the horror of the narrative works. There's no shocking surprises; just a meandering inevitability to the events.
It's a subtle technique that is demonstrated in these panels. Swamp Thing is obscured at first and through each panel takes up more room even forcing out the shooter's speech bubbles. The final, and most powerful panel, puts the reader in the shooters' position. We're forced to stare at a face that isn't particularly scary to us, just kind of weird, but we're coaxed into the same reaction as the shooter because of his position in the panel. He's not scared of Swamp Thing, but he's horrified by the realization that there's absolutely nothing he can do to stop death.
This isn't a typical horror comic, but so much in it is just plain gruesome. Veitch re-imagines the Superman myth with a big twist: this super-being has all the same flaws as a regular human. So, as in the panel above, if he throws a temper tantrum he's able to pulverize you in the process. The real-life idea Vietch addresses here is a unbalanced relationship between parent and child. It's the sort of situation that you come across in maybe the mall or toy store. You'll see a clearly spoiled kid acting like an idiot and getting whatever they want.
Veitch's panel has the same gut-wrenching effects by contrasting the boys perfection against the father's mutilation, highlighting the imbalance. Part of the point Veitch makes is that many of the ideas we hold up as "perfect" grow problematic when analyzed or executed. Even though Superman works mostly as a symbol, Veitch shows that at his worst, Superman is closer to a violent, childish fantasy.
There's been a lot of good recent Horror-ish super hero comics lately. It probably all started with Marvel Zombies, and includes Final Crisis #4, Blackest Night #0, #1, and this issue of Green Lantern. Probably one of the most explicit suicide scenes I've ever seen in any media. Jones actually builds to it throughout the story with a depressing tale of this C-list supervillian.
The real reason this is so chilling is Mahnke's combination of pain and a sheer blank expression on his face. It's exactly what I'd imagine a picture of this to look like. The crisp art really works by showing details like tear ducts on the sides of his eyes (for emotion) and green splattered brains (for a cringe). Of course, it's not really a suicide--the Black Hand is resurrected as a zombie Black Lantern later--but just staring at this full page spread is enough to send chills down your spine.
(Stay tuned for David's Part II. Happy Halloween!)