(spits out drink)
What, me? But Dan, I thought you were going to hand off to…
(notices audience; freezes; regains composure)
No matter; I am of course prepared for any and all eventualities. You’re ferpectly right! So without disrupting the schedule ordinaire, let’s nonetheless seize on this serendipitous submission I just received from out of the aether, courtesy of our old pal Harvey Jerkwater…
“A panel from “Nexus: The Origin,” drawn by Steve Rude.
This panel blew my mind when I saw it in 1992 or ’93.
The content of the panel is straightforward, a scene in many comics. The hero, Nexus, is executing a mass murderer. Normally, this would be a moment of triumph, every line and shade emphasizing the rightness of the deed. The villain would be slain in mortal combat, and the righteousness of the act would be total. This panel, however, thwarts expectations.
This is the first time we’ve seen Nexus perform an execution. We’ve seen him demonstrate great power, and we know that the man dying on-panel is a horrifying monster. Yet look at the composition. The dead man, not the hero, is in the foreground. The man being blasted is clearly no match for the hero. This was not the climax of a heroic combat – this is a slaughter. The hero is a small figure, his head bowed in shame.
The man being killed is on the left hand side of the panel. Thus, his death is what we see first. We don’t trace the hero’s righteous bolt-o-vengeance to its target. Rather, we see the man die, then see what killed him. The effect further focuses the reader’s attention on the brutality of the act.
Between the victim and the killer is a woman throwing herself in harm’s way. Her arms are extended, imploring the killer to stop. It makes the scene even more pathetic and sullies the traditionally cathartic scene. The dead man cannot be pure evil, we see, because a woman is willing to risk her own life to protect him.
What makes the scene visually arresting is the bolt itself: an orange-yellow neon bolt that cuts across the gray scene and curves over the woman. The bolt is fascinating for the unusual curve it takes, and how it matches and reinforces the flow of the panel. More than that, it tells us that the killing is indeed an execution, not the climax of a fight. By the bolt curving, it demonstrates that Nexus’s power is so vast that the target had no chance for survival. Nexus is not even looking in the direction of the bolt, yet it curves anyway. He is a god among men, and he is killing a helpless one. Nexus’s posture betrays his shame. He is uncomfortable with slaughtering a man, unlike most killing vigilantes.
The setting itself is designed for contrast. The room, and the costumes of everyone involved excepting Nexus, would not look terribly out of place in the twentieth or twenty-first century. It’s a world we recognize, with only cosmetic changes on the fringe. Ripping through this mostly-normal setting is a man in a gaudy superhero suit and a murderous beam of neon light. Nexus disrupts the world, bringing light, flash, color, and murder.
In the upper right of the panel is a quasi-rhino’s head mounted as a trophy, paralleling Nexus’s act. Big game hunting is a vastly powerful hunter killing an animal that has little chance of survival if it can’t escape. That the quasi-rhino’s head is goofy-looking reminds us of the sci-fi setting.
The sum total effect of the panel is jarring. It takes the elements of a traditional comic scene and inverts its mood, while providing an amazing visual effect. We see a brightly colored costumed superhero intruding upon the everyday world, using a zap-bolt to destroy a foul villain. We also see a demigod intruding upon our world to execute a man brutally, despite the protests of a devoted woman and the demigod’s own misgivings. What is normally presented as pure simple catharsis is instead a scene of moral confusion.
How very “Nexus.”
Thank you, Harvey! A fine contribution, and great pinch-hitting! Not to mention a wonderful segue over to MarkAndrew, who has something rather stunning prepared for Sunday…
See you all there!