From Strip To Script – Onslaught: Marvel Universe

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 have surprisingly fond memories of Onslaught.

For those of you do don't remember your line-wide crossover events from…oh good god, really?…1996?…ahem…anyway, it was an X-Men-centric event (again, 1996), that ended up bleeding over quite dramatically into the other Marvel books. The premise was that when Professor X had wiped Magneto's mind back in the Fatal Attraction event, he basically, uh…caught evil? Which festered, exacerbating Xavier's own less-then-sterling and frequently-repressed tendencies until finally manifesting itself as…er, a giant man in purple and red spiky armor. I'm not actually sure how that works, in terms of it being Xavier…I guess it's like a Stand from Jojo, and Xavier's physical body is floating through the air? Which is actually kind of creepy/great.

While it sounds convoluted, and it was, it had a surprisingly creepy build-up for the most melodramatic spandex book on the stands, first with the Juggernaut showing up in New York terrified and battered, like the last survivor of a horror flick, then a pair of issues where Jean realizes the calls are coming from inside the house, so to speak, and Xavier is Onslaught…it plays out as much like "Otomo's Domu in the X-Mansion" as the mainstream X-Titles could get back in the day.

(Also, Bishop realizing that Xavier is the X-Traitor that Bishop came back in time to stop? And Jean recording the "last message" Bishop knew about way back in his debut? Pretty great.)

However, I'm not going to be looking at that issue, I'm going to be looking at the other, equally fun bookend to the event: Onslaught: Marvel Universe. Rather than a slow burn into psychic horror and monster opera, this one-shot was about All The Heroes beating Onslaught into physical incorpreality and beyond, the non-mutant bulk of them "sacrificing their lives" to end the threat of Onslaught once and for all (ish), brought to you by Joe Bennett (art assist), Steve Buccellato (colorist), Team Bucce! (enhancement), Jesse Delperdang (ink assist), Dan Green (inker), Adam Kubert (art), Scott Lobdell (plot), Art Thibert (ink assist), Tim Townsend (ink assist), Richard Starkings Comicraft (lettering), and Mark Waid (plot, script). Specifically, we're looking at what I've always considered Hulk's "Ultron. We would have words with thee." moment, if that makes any sense.

BC_47PAGE ONE (EIGHT Panels)

P1. ONSLAUGHT has HULK pinned to the ground, spread eagled.

ONSLAUGHT      I despise humans for their predjudice and hypocrisy toward the homo superior race!

ONSLAUGHT      I loathe mutants for their cowardly attempts to be accepted rather than to rule!

P2. ONSLAUGHT leans in, snarling.

ONSLAUGHT      Tell me…have I forgotten anyone?

P3. HULK snarls back, trying to twist free.

HULK      Just…Hulk.

P4. HULK continues to thrash as best he can.

HULK      Makes…him mad.

P5. HULK'S fist clenching, even as ONSLAUGHT pins his wrist to the cracked ground.

HULK      The madder…Hulk gets…

P6. HULK grits his teeth, eyes screwed shut as he strains to get free.

HULK      …the stronger…Hulk gets…

P7. Tight on HULK'S eye popping open, beady, red, and furious.

HULK      …and Hulk…

HULK (bigger)      …is

P8. Biggest panel on the page, as HULK gets an arm free and throws a punch for all he's worth.

HULK (angry)            …ANGRY!

So, What'd We Learn?

90s superhero comics are generally known for their excesses; everyone has a million pouches, a trillion perpetually-clenched teeth, muscles on muscles, guns twelve times the size of God, etc. At the same time, the page layouts have a rep as being simplified, lots of splashes and double-page spreads, the better to showcase the art, if not the sequential storytelling (and the better to sell the original art at a con later; page-as-art-print). This is the first time I can really recall seeing the too-much-is-never-too-much spirit applied to the actual panel layout of a page: there's essentially a full seven-page panel shoved into the corner of a full-page splash of the Hulk throwing a massive haymaker. This isn't the same thing as Miller's talking heads, or Chakyin and Bruzinak's ultra-dense tiers, it's more like fusing not only two different pages of storytelling beats, but two very different ways of delivering those beats.

There's a part of me that has to laugh: technically, this page uses a technique I myself am fond of, that of front-loading the top of the page with smaller panels and closing on a bigger panel for emphasis/reveal. It just does it by being two pages fused on a diagonal.

Not everyone's fond of guided view/reader-driven-motion-comics/whatever we're calling them now, but I've never been mad at them. It occurs to me that this page would actually work well in the format in a variety of ways, either by tightening in on the first seven panels and pulling out to reveal the punch, or by dribbling the first seven panels one or two at a time onto a void, then the last swipe replaces the background void with the punch.

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.

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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