16 October 2011

Pérez’s Panels in New Teen Titans: Games

One of the great pleasures of New Teen Titans: Games is the chance to revisit George Pérez’s art. He’s known for attention to detail, but he’s also a master of composition and page design.

So many comics artists have a limited repertoire of facial types and expressions. In superhero magazines, “handsome man” and “beautiful woman” get a particular workout. That makes it hard to tell characters apart. Pérez is famous for giving characters not only different faces (as shown above), but different repertoires of expression and different body languages. There’s never any problem distinguishing one of his characters from another.

And the panels! Working on extra-large pages in Games, and before the style of “decompressed” storytelling, Pérez produced a massive quantity of images. The average number of panels on a page is in the double digits. One page has 31 separate images.

The designs become very complex, particularly as the story splits into conflicts between individual Titans and matching villains. On a single page spread the narrative can switch among three or four storylines, or between flashbacks (outlined in red) and the present.

What’s more, one villain is monitoring events on TV screens while standing beside his exact scale-model of New York. The panels can thus shift from a real-life setting to a video image of that setting to a little replica of that setting. Yes, it’s more than occasionally confusing, but that mirrors the layering of the plot itself.

Early in the book Pérez shows team member Joe (Jericho) Wilson, who’s mute, spelling out T I T A N S in American Sign Language. His extra-thin panels convey the speed of Joey’s communication—a novel way to combine words and pictures in comics. Yet even in those thin panels, Pérez doesn’t just copy the same face, but shows Joey’s expression changing.

Pérez created Joey with writer Marv Wolfman with the idea that he would never have thought balloons. Readers would have to pick up what Joey’s thinking entirely through Pérez’s art and the other characters’ interactions. Very few other artists have been able to make the character work.

Pérez mixes up panels with thick borders and thin borders, or no borders. (In some comics, such changes have storytelling significance. Here most seem to be aesthetic choices only.) There are panels defined by darkness around shafts of light. There are panels defined by the single-color silhouette of an explosion around a character, as shown at top. (Can you spot Starfire’s curves?)

One approach was so new to me that at first I thought it was a mistake: in certain small panels without borders and backgrounds, Pérez and his inkers and colorists leave out the lines delineating a character’s white clothing from the paper. The second time I saw it, I realized it was just another way Pérez was stretching his style.

COMING UP: Some favorite pages.


LC Douglass said...

I loved Games, and of course admire Perez's work very much. But I had two reservations (which I can only state while reiterating that I was really happy to see Games out). First I did not like Wolfman's sue-ing of Danny (his characterization of Raven was amazing though). Second, I thought Perez's art was beautiful as always, but did not like his handling of Changeling, which was inconsistent. If you look at NTT 13-15, there's no comparison between that Gar Logan and this one. I think Gar was diminished somewhat to make Danny fit in more.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m not sure what you mean by “Wolfman’s sue-ing,” perhaps because I’ve come to doubt the utility of the “Mary Sue” concept when applied to mainstream genre fiction instead of fanfiction. Also, my pattern of reading the New Teen Titans is such that I’ve had limited exposure to Danny Chase, and thus came to him rather fresh in Games.

I would agree that Wolfman gave Danny Chase a prominent role in the end of this story. Also that Danny’s combination of powers, intellect, and parental absence makes him an unrealistic, wish-fulfilling character. (But so is Tim Drake.)

What makes Danny interesting, and grating, is his ego. I found it significant that toward the end of Games Wolfman has Danny repeatedly admitting he can’t handle what he’s up against. And of course he makes a bigger heroic sacrifice than anyone else in the book but Sarah. As I wrote last week, I think Wolfman finally got to tell the story of Danny growing into the hero role that he’d originally planned. But maturation through heroic sacrifice is a very common arc for modern superheroes.

As for Changeling, I was actually surprised that Games shows him doing so well on his own, compared to his usual role. It seemed to me that Gar was up against the most powerful adversary, and (with Vic’s help) he triumphs.

If by “NTT 13-15” you mean those issues from the first volume, they appeared in 1981, seven years before Danny. I recall many moments of Gar being goofy in the intervening years. Not as goofy as his Games-era haircut, to be sure, but enough to make him enough of a lightweight that his breakthroughs in extra competency came as a pleasant surprise.

I recall Wolfman and Pérez telling The Titans Companion that they did dial back Changeling’s powers after the magazine’s first issues because they decided it wasn’t realistic (or so useful for plotting) to let him change into giant dinosaurs without breaking a sweat. After those first few adventures they established that turning into massive animals took a lot out of him. But that may not be the “handling” you mean.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

That panel with the man wearing the white shirt that seems to leave his hand cut off from his body - it reminds me of Howard Chaykin's American Flagg. I think I still have a batch of those in a box somewhere.

J. L. Bell said...

I haven’t read a lot of Chaykin, and perhaps none of American Flagg. My sense of his art is that it's more like a poster, a flatter graphic effect, than Pérez, especially with this digital coloring, so this particular technique might fit in better.