Friday, August 7, 2009
Over at the essential "Comics Should Be Good!" site, Brian Cronin is cataloging what he calls "The Top 70 Most Iconic Marvel Panels", in honor of that company's 70th anniversary (I take issue with the company's decision to declare themselves 70 years old-- founded as "Timely Comics" in 1939, the company wasn't officially called "Marvel" until 1961--but that's a debate for another day, and doesn't undercut the coolness of Cronin's tribute). Scrolling through the master list linked above is the comic book equivalent of one of those Chuck Workman Oscar reels, with panels unfurling gripping image after gripping image. For me, they have a powerful, almost pungently nostalgic flavor-- even moreso than cinema, the still image of a comics page can immediately thrust me back to my adolescence, when I first read the issues where these panels appeared (or saw them reprinted in comic histories).
Beyond nostalgia, though, seeing the panels out of sequence here raises the question Gilbert Adair asked in his crucial book, Flickers : can a single still pulled from a film tell us whether or not the movie is good? Adair is ambivalent on the subject; he admits, though, that some stills, taken out of time and in placed in books like his own, are so evocative when disassociated from a movie that he almost thinks it better to never see the movie they've come from-- why undercut their allure through the explanatory mechanisms of narrative?
I can't say if Cronin's comics images function in the same way: I'm too familiar with almost all of the stories he's quoted so far to come to them in that virginal state. But by wrenching them from their originary spaces (and, intriguingly, not captioning them), their dynamic layouts, garish primary colors and wittily melodramatic dialogue do remind me of the power they had for me all those years ago; seeing them together on a single web page, it almost feels like one large Surrealist comic, where character, logic and continuity give way to the hand of the artist, and the bliss of the image.