That. Right there. That is one of my favorite comics of all time.
It’s written and drawn and colored (and maybe even lettered?) by the legendary Adam Hughes. It showed up in the landmark seventy-fifty issue of SUPERMAN/BATMAN back in ye olde pre-New 52 days of August 2010. But we’ll get to all that.
First, let’s chat about comic book storytelling a bit.
I love all forms of storytelling. Personally, I’ve written for the stage, had short films produced, published prose… and yet, I find that I am most satisfied by writing twenty-two page comics that’ll be sold for a few bucks. It’s bizarre for me to really think about how the world outside of me operates (said many, many internal-to-a-fault writers) when thinking about comics. Even with the Marvel studios movies making it cool to fantasize about throwing back some mead with a crowd of rowdy Asgardians, reading comics still isn’t the norm. I remember reading this bit that Robert Kirkman wrote in the back of the first issue of Thief of Thieves – he’d said that he hoped that, someday, asking someone if they read comics would be as ridiculous a question as asking someone if they listen to music. “Of course I read comics. Do you eat food?” But I don’t know if that will ever be the case, and that’s a shame. Because I believe that comic books are the purest form of storytelling ever created.
Whoa. I know. This was supposed to be an article about a cool as heck double page spread of Batgirl and Supergirl. I’ll get there. Someday.
Comics marry the best aspects of film and prose. With film, you’re appealing to your visual senses. If the visual is cohesive and immersive, you’re effectively lost in a world of someone else’s creation as they take you on a journey through their mind. On the other hand, with prose, you’re taking in the narrative at your own pace. You’re in the driver’s seat, in perfect control of the story. The voices of the characters? Your voice. The amount of time you spend lingering on each word? Yours.
Comics is a different beast. Comics takes the immersive visual world and marries it with text, allowing the reader to be part of someone else’s world, but still allowing them the control given to them by prose. It’s, for me at least, the perfect marriage of prose and film. Check out the detail in the Adam Hughes story in question. With a two second glace, you could have read the story. You have the narrative – read, done. And that could be enough for you. However, if you choose to linger on each panel, letting the subtlety and the immense detail color your read, you have a completely different experience. Reading comics – and, in particular, reading this comic – will give you a completely different experience depending on how you choose to read, and I think that’s kind of beautiful.
The reason I chose to write this article for this month, though, is something about comics that I think is especially great about the expansive worlds of Marvel and DC. There are many great Supergirl stories I’d love to write about (I may actually see if I can do an ode to Sterling Gates’ run before the month is up) and just as many Batgirl tales, but I think it’s the way that these characters and their super families work together for one cohesive story that is so uniquely comics. Because here’s the thing – there will always be another great comic book and another great arc for any given title. What I think this Hughes piece best illustrates about comics is the emotional impact of the Larger Narrative. With upwards of fifteen Batman and Superman titles coming out monthly, the Larger Narrative of these characters – and the larger DC Universe (and the same with the Marvel Universe) – expands exponentially. Adam Hughes’ tribute to the histories of these characters includes their greatest heroic moments, their lowest moments, and even their reinventions. It’s a brilliant tribute to how it’s not the story being told now that defines the character. It’s what the reader takes from the stories proven to last the test of time that builds these characters up beyond the limits of four panels and into icons.
Both of these characters are very, very different in the New 52 comics. Batgirl, and the entire Bat Family, mostly made through the company-wide reboot with their histories somewhat in tact… but the same can’t be said for the Super Family; least of all Supergirl. When I miss the Supergirl who played with cats, knitted, and was best friends with Stargirl, which is fairly often, I find comfort in Hughes’ piece. No matter what happens with these characters, even if they change to the point of being virtually unrecognizable, the beautiful medium of comics has ensured that their legacies will never fade.
PAT SHAND is a writer and editor for Zenescope Entertainment. Not sure if you guys know this, but he really, really likes comics.