It’s the beginning that does it. The cover to Heart #1 by Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon is the first panel of the story. The second panel happens a second after it. The open hand closes.
It’s a technique I’m always going to associate with Watchmen, the issue covers happening seconds before the first panel of the story, it’s so powerful and so little-used, especially in the era of the iconic cover, that it absolutely stands out for me.
And then we get end-of-scene transitions straight from the Watchmen playbook too, symmetry and use of antonyms when jumping from scene to scene, especially across time. There’s also a major understanding of how the size and shape of panels affect the reading of time – there’s no nine panel grid, but there’s the same understanding that let to the Tyger Tyger beats of the neon light in Watchmen.
Other scene to scene transitions that are one panel long keep the character in a continual position, his world changing around him, remind me of Manhattan’s teleportation sequences.
Just as with Watchmen, this is a comic that knows about time, and blatantly lets us in on the secrets, giving us countdown clocks, year and date.
It loops around, ending just before the comic’s cover began, with words and phrases being given added meaning knowing the way they were going to play out. It’s just ever so timey wimey, just shifting perspective.
When Watchmen was first published, there were hopes that it might influence the storytelling of other creators. Well it did, but not in the intended way. Rather than picking up on techniques to show time, transition from scene to scene or use reflective images and text, people just did dark grim’n’gritty superheroes instead.
This comic does not look like Watchmen. Mellon’s rough and ready artwork is about portraying action on the panel rather than the stroboscope precision of Dave Gibbons. This comic tells the story of a cage fighter and how he came to be in the position he is now, both in life, in location and in motivation. The fight is always moving, and the lines of the action, the blood streaks, the impacts, all flow, working together, every move already seconds away from you, somewhere blurring into the future.
It’s a harsh tale but one that’s centred on the human condition, and the way we react to the problems life throws at us, and the directions we can find ourselves tumbling towards.
There’s no intense, saturated world building. There’s no insertion of other media. There’s not a massive cast, all their lives impacting in some way on each others. There’s no repeated imagery to show a sense of continuity, cohesion and forward momentum. There are no grim and gritty superheroes. But Heart by Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon is in many ways the progeny of Watchmen, despite being nothing like it.
I do hope they can keep it up. No pressure.
Heart #1 is published by Image Comics in November. Here is a four page preview.