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.
Now, for every reinterpretation of a superhero character that becomes the definitive version (anyone from the modern Captain Marvel to bwah-ha-ha Blue Beetle could serve as an example here), there's interpretations that don't…quite…stick. The first one that came to my mind, for whatever reason, was the short-lived city-shaman version of The Question, by Tommy Lee Edwards (art), Rick Veitch (writing) and John Workman (lettering)
The Question was originally created by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics, but is probably best remembered in one of three ways: as the inspiration for Rorschach in Watchmen, as the Jeffery Combs-voiced conspiracy theorist from Justice League Unlimited, or as a man wrestling with Zen and violence in Denis Cowyn and Denny O'Neil's run on the character from the '80s (my favorite version, by the way). This street shaman version doesn't have a terribly great resemblance to any other incarnation, except insofar as it's a new take on the idea of The Question as a character used to essentially do philosophical noir, and I'm not torn up about it not having been the character's go-forward status quo after this mini-series, but it's an interesting book nonetheless.
Let's take a look at the following page from it.
P1. Mindscape. PSYCHOPOMP holds his wand, prongs down, over the corpse, drawing energy from it. QUESTION stands there.
CAPTION For the first time ever.
P2. The real world. Over QUESTION'S shoulder, we're looking at PSYCHOPOMP, holding his wand over the corpse. There's a faint glimmer around the prongs of it. QUESTION isn't
PSYCHOPOMP There aren't many left who do. Who was your teacher?
QUESTION Experience. And observation.
P3. Mindscape. The corpse is converted to energy and sucked up into PSYCHOPOMP'S wand. QUESTION still stands there.
CAPTION By an awakened other.
P4. The real world. PSYCHOPOMP and QUESTION are still just standing, talking.
PSYCHOPOMP Some say it is the best way.
PSYCHOPOMP Who pays you?
QUESTION I serve only truth and justice.
P5. Mindscape. PSYCHOPOMP flips his wand prongs up, and crouches like a knife fighter. QUESTION cocks his fists back, ready for a fight.
CAPTION Within the shadow world.
P6. The real world. Over PSYCHOPOMP'S shoulder. QUESTION just standing there, hand casually in pocket.
QUESTION Killebrew said he hired you for a mob hit?
PSYCHOPOMP I offer my services to men of earthly power.
PSYCHOPOMP If one of them wishes a revenge on their enemies that extends into the afterlife…
PSYCHOPOMP ….they hire the Psychopomp.
So, What'd We Learn?
Pardon me if I cheat a little here, in terms of what I show you, dear readers: within the larger context of the issue, I think this is maybe the first time that the mindscape panels contain things that are distinctly unreal (PP sucking Killebrew entirely into his wand in the mindscape). The takeway here, the thing to file away for the toolbox, is having the villain disrupt the actual reality of your comic in his introduction.
This is an abstract and probably-publically-unhelpful lesson-learned even for this column-thingie, but…okay, me being me, I'd have leaned a little more visceral in how Psychopomp disrupts The Question's mindscape, right? I'd have leaned towards it being more an invasion, because…well, I'm a fight-comics simpleton at heart, so I think "oh, give the villain of the piece oomph upon oomph to establish them as a threat". And again, I cheat, and refer to stuff I don't show you here, but: prior to this Psychopomp charges in, throws his weird pronged knife wand into a dude's chest, and then him and The Question…pause. Consider. Connect. Again, I'd have gone more invasive: he CHARGES IN, he KILLS THE DUDE, he's…(page turn reveal) oh man, he's IN THE QUESTION'S HEAD! …but that's not the tone this bit needs in the larger scope of the story.
You've heard of Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work, right? Or you have, like, Google, Bing, whatever, and can look into it. I did it with toys one time for a fumetti thing that never got off the ground…anyway, if I was going to do a 22 Panel Sequences That Always Work, panels 2, 4, and 6 would be in there…it's Standoff 101, right outta spaghetti westerns: size up the one participant over the other's shoulder, pull back to show the pair, size up the other participant over the other's shoulder. You can also play it as size-up, size-up, pull-back, or pull-back, size-up, size-up, but the basic principles are always the same: to create the feeling of a duel, establish the space, establish the participants' relationship to each other within that space, equally. (Of course, breaking the equality of how you establish the space and pariticpants is its own little trick, used to set up who will be the victor or who you want the audience to think will be the victor until you throw a swerve at them, but I digress (further)).
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.