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Superman : The Introduction of a villan

After recieving page 2 of Action Comics #1 I wrote this essay.Enjoy!

The first appearance of superman in June of 1938 in Action Comics #1 offers us a glance at a mysterious soul. We as the reader are unaware of his motives and the situation only comes through brief interaction between a man in a costume and a few other characters and his ability to dominate his surroundings. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster manipulated the whole layout of the grid, (on page two), to work in favor of showing the inhuman strength of the main character and the interactions between the characters point at a man who is one to be feared and cannot be stopped in his intentions. They used a compositional effect that furthered their own intentions of making us question who exactly is this character and what may come on the following page. With a detailed analysis of the layout, characters, text, movement and use of shadow, it is clearly seen that the character with an unreadable “S” on his chest, is something to be feared by all.

The comic page is set in a usual three-tier pattern; there are numbers from 10-17 in the panels that we will use for reference. The tiers descend visually with the most complex and crowded actions with narration at the top, to the most simple but visually important panels at the bottom. The tiers contain 3 panels, 3 panels, and then two panels. The artists planned the drawings so that panel 12 contains a door-jam that mimics the break between panels. It is mirrored by the panel 13 in size and shape and appears visually as two panels.

While inspecting the cells individually we see the main character in all the panels. In the first panel he could be a giant stepping over houses holding a tied up lady in distress. In panel 12 we meet our third character and they are about half and half, (a bit smaller on the governors attendant rectangle); in window 13 he is occupying completely the smallest panel so he feels even bigger. He pushes down the door and confront the small man in pajamas, again reversing his posture because he is taking even more of his space. In the last panels he is physically dominating the character and traveling up the stairs with the pajama man screaming for help.

The characters themselves are unusual. The blond lady in a cocktail dress tied against her will being overpowered and carried around and told to stay is someone we immediately feel is someone that needs to be helped. Is it she the innocent life the narrator allured to earlier? The man who opens the door in the pajamas claims that the hour is too late for normal interaction and he is quick to get rid of the threat that is disturbing him and the governor. Unfortunately for him a locked door is no obstacle for the main character. By the limited interactions its hard to infer what exactly is going on but it seems that there is a brute and he wants his way in to the governor’s bedroom, no matter what anyone else might wish.

Its important that the narrator exclaims that an innocent life hangs in the balance and right away the man with a red cape leaves a tied up woman near a tree and tells her that she is not his priority. The governors attendant threatens to call the police and explains that the blue and red costumed black hair man is at odds with the law. Criminals do not often threaten to call the police, if they do they are bluffing because they would also be in trouble because of their criminal activity. The dialogue is a sort shoot first ask questions later layout. They both speak without being obeyed willingly and their own selfish need are unimportant to each other.

All the movements of the main character show that he dominates the entire page and everything, (including everyone), inside. We see him carry a woman effortlessly, break down a great locked door, and grab a man and carry him above his head as easy as if it was an umbrella. We meet this person who needs to control all the situations he is faced with. Amazingly when he left the woman by the tree in search of the governor, he didn’t remove her restraints. So here the view is the true hero as the coward runs off for some other nefarious reasons.

The final technique that is used to portray superman is that he is darkly shaded in all the panels. He is forever in shadow even when the other characters are not. And in panel 14 and 15 they change each other positions but there is still a veil of shadow across his body. Traditionally, shadows are the domain of evil.

Although the interactions are open, it is impossible to tell who is good and who is bad right away. We need more information to put the situation in context because they are to many details left out as to who good and who is not. It propels us to examine many different possibilities from a dirty judge and his lackey attendant, to a murderous temptress that needs to be put in the state prison. But by judging on this page alone we know that the man in blue is not like the rest of us.

The manipulation of the standard grid system by the animators, the narration, dialogue, and the characters themselves, all move in the direction that the man in a red cape is evil, and not just a bad man but a real villain with strength unlike anything seen in our natural world. The mood of the comic is dark, and we don’t know who is exactly who, but the main thing that is apparent, the man being introduced is someone that we should all fear.