Heroes Never Rust #50 by Sean Ironman
Bad Dog. Bad Dog.
The second issue of We3 picks up a few minutes after the premiere issue. The three animals run from military helicopters and jeeps. This is my favorite of the three issues. It’s basically a series of action scenes displaying the power of the robotic suits the animals wear. The destruction is very graphic and horrific. In the opening, the team runs over a few wild rabbits. They’re torn apart, and Quitely doesn’t shy away from showing decapitated rabbits with blood, flesh, and bones scattered into the air. When the issue ends with a full-page shot of a mastiff towering above the camera in a robotic suit, one might imagine the destruction and violence that awaits in the third and final issue, even though the mastiff just sits there with a stupid look on its face.
What sets this issue above the other two are the panel layouts. I know, I know, this is a blog about writing, not how to layout a comic book, but the way panels are displayed affects pacing, transitions, and other aspects of storytelling. Panel layouts are one of the most important parts of a comic book. The opening sequence starts large with a few widescreen panels followed by a double-page spread. The scene gets set and the action gets going. The first somewhat odd panels come at the later half of the chase scene. One panel shows a military jeep speeding toward the animal team. What’s being presented in the panel isn’t really exciting. Sure, it’s a speeding jeep and three animals in robotic suits, so that’s cool, but it could be just a panel that connects the reader to the next page where the destruction will be shown. Instead, Quitely puts the camera in inside the jeep and places the jeep and its occupants in silhouette. This allows the jeep to blend in with the black page. The windshield of the jeep basically acts as the panel. In full color is an image of the dog (the best of the animals, by the way) bracing and getting ready to strike. There’s so much energy in the panel. The reader can feel the jeep speeding toward its doom.
The next page a double-page spread separated in two halves—the top is the dog crashing through the jeep and the bottom is the cat in a tree shooting needles at soldiers. Instead of just two panels with a lot of detail, Quitely lays out two large panels and then overlays two dozen small thumbnail panels on top. Instead of having time pass from panel to panel, the thumbnails act as a close-up on the destruction. Bullets fly. Blood sprays. Needles stab eyes, tongues. The destruction and death is much more powerful. The sequence shows so many details that would be lost in one large image. By showing the specific details, the destruction seems much worse. Quitely does something similar on the following page, which features a helicopter on fire as it spins out of control. The thumbnail panels for this image spread out from the center of the helicopter. Behind the helicopter panel, instead of a plain black background, fiery smoke rises.
The artistic highlight of the issue comes two pages later (I know, it just keeps getting better). A two page spread with eight panels that are shown from a different angle to the reader. Instead of front facing, the panels are turned, like doors facing one another. The cat tears into soldiers. Blood and flesh sprays out of the panels. The cat seems to jump from panel to panel instead of being confined inside. I’ve been studying this layout of late, trying my hand at a version of it. Panel layouts like this one make the comic worth reading, in my opinion. Destruction just for destruction’s sake doesn’t do it for me. No matter how well written a scene featuring a cat in a robot suit fighting the military is, at the end of the day, it’s a cat in a robot suit tearing into human beings. There’s only so much that can be done. But, because this is a comic book, the best of all story mediums, Quitely and Morrison are able to show the ferociousness that cat possesses. Not even panels can hold these animals back.
And yet, for all the destruction and death this issue features, I keep coming back to the dog. After a train crashes, the dog pulls the conductor from the creek below. “Gud dog. Help man.” Then, he calls the three together to continue their escape. He stops, possibly letting the military find them again, to help the man. As the camera pulls back at the end of the scene, it’s revealed to the reader that the conductor doesn’t have a bottom half—it was ripped off in the accident. The man is dead, but the dog wanted to help. Not understanding, the dog did what he could.
The three run into a hunter and his kid. The hunter shoots the rabbit in the head (Don’t worry, rabbit fans. The rabbit still lives). After the dog and cat kill the hunting party, the dog sits off to the side and hangs his head. “Bad dog. Bad dog.” Moments like that are much more powerful because of the violence earlier. These are just animals. The military fucked them up. They don’t understand what they’re doing. The dog is just protecting his friends. They can kill so easily, though. In a way, the reader wants the military to stop them. They are dangerous. These moments give the comic weight and makes it more than just a dog in a robot suit destroying a bunch of things. Poor dog.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.