By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.
I think I’ve mentioned before that James Robinson’s work on Starman for DC was the comic that made me aware that comics had, er, writers? Or rather, could be written by people with skin in the game beyond just generating and resolving conflicts for superheroes, that comics could be a place for creators to explore their interests while also doing fights and flights and all that good stuff. This was, obviously, a major revelation and hugely important to getting me to write comics, or even about them.
(I tend less towards exploring my interests in comics and more processing recent inspirations, and even then, “process” might be a little strong; “stir-fry” is the descriptor or analogy that feels it fits the best, if I’m being honest.)
Now, when you get into a series (and I got into Starman before I got into Robinson), if you’re like me, anyway, you dive into the series; binge-watching/reading/listening, I believe the kids are calling it these days. If you get into a creator, you do the same thing with their back catalog; so it was with myself and Robinson, once I ran out of Starman trades. Which lead me back to this three-parter from the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series by Steve Oliff (colors), James Robinson (script), Tim Sale (art), and Willie Schubert (letters), the second issue of which we’re going to be looking at here.
PAGE TWO (FOUR Panels)
P1. It’s dark. A gloved hand removes a string of pearls from an open safe.
CAPTION Mercury watches over them…or so the Romans believed…
CAPTION …watches over thieves.
TV (whisper) So easy…
P2. A sleeping older couple, the owners of the safe, in their bed. The shadow of the THIEF draws away.
CAPTION For he is their god, who protects…
CAPTION …and bids them prosper.
TV (whisper) …it’s criminal.
P3. The silhouette of the THIEF as he runs across the Gotham rooftops, his shadow catching on the brick wall of a skyscraper. It’s a full moon. Very dramatic.
P4. Small panel, a grim TV PRESENTER reading the news. The story icon is a Mystery Thief (a black silhouette with a question mark over it, holding a bag of loot…not a million miles away from the actual thief in P3.)
PRESENTER (electric) Second week of daring jewel thefts. Gotham’s wealthy live in fear.
PRESENTER (electric) Report at eleven.
So, What’d We Learn?
One of the reasons Robinson probably pinged my “oh, this is written” radar waybackwhen is the use of third person narration, which I feel isn’t used too widely anymore. First person, sure, but for whatever reason, it seems like few writers like to tell you a story while they’re telling you a story. A shame, really; it’s easy to abuse, and I suppose it’s not the best tool for narrative immediacy, but I’ve always been fond of it.
I dig that double-diegetic commentary on the action from the TV, too: first, the commercial wryly highlighting the criminal nature of thievery as it occurs, then the talking head panel (possibly a nod to Frank Miller’s work on the character; ’92 would have meant DKR and Year One were still relatively fresh) further introducing that this is part of a series of crimes (actually, maybe that second one isn’t diegetic if it’s just being presented as a moment in and of itself; one day I’ll know what the words I use mean, honest).
As comics-y as this page is, with the talking head, third person narration, even the special “this TV’s sound is on low” word balloon effect on the commercial, this is a very filmic story beat: it’s a cold open, sure, but it’s also setting up a crime and a mystery briefly and completely before we continue on with the main thrust of the story. The three issue Blades arc is about a “special guest star”, so to speak, showing up and disrupting the status quo (that of Batman being the hero of Gotham). That the mystery ties back to the guest star is very…’70s TV crime drama, Rockfordian if I’m being cute/punchable, in a way that’s worth noting insofar as those shows are usually contained and well-run plot machines, which is worth studying if you’re trying to pick up storytelling tricks, especially for something like a superhero comic.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger [joshhechinger.tumblr.com] is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. You can find him being a loquacious dope on Twitter, and read his comic collaborations on Comixology.