Faulty Multi-Panel Pans 2: Motion-Logic Inconsistencies


Three panel polyptych from Action Comics No. 467, January 1977, art by Curt Swan and Ted Blaisdel, published by DC Comics – see explanation below

It’s Joe’s second installment in his nitpicky critique of comic book multi-pans (aka super panels or polyptychs.) Recently I posted about gratuitous gutters, today it’s a look at motion and how it lines up across panels.

It’s very common for multi-pans to be used to show motion. As a character moves across a landscape, a polyptych can hold the background steady, and show characters multiple times traveling from one location to another. With characters in motion, artists include motion lines to show where they’ve come from. Sometimes the motion lines, position, and background don’t quite all line up consistently. 

For example, let’s explore the internal motion logic in this three-panel multi-pan from Action Comics No. 467.  These depict Superman flying from Boratavia back to Metropolis, while being bathed in the sinister rays of the machitron. The un-marked scan of the sequence is at the top of the post.  Based on motion lines, I’ve added red arrows showing Superman’s trajectory in each of the first two panels:

Superman multi-pan – I’ve added red lines showing the motion logic internal to panel 1 and 2

So… how does the Man of Steel get from the bottom of panel 1 to the top of panel 2? He seems to perhaps be doing some sort of zigzag sawtooth trajectory:

Superman multi-panel showing Superman’s possible zig-zag flight path

or maybe he’s flying loop the loops:

Another possible Superman multi-panel explanation: loop-the-loop?

I guess that there are a couple of other possible explanations. Maybe the machitron’s ray acts as a sort of tractor-beam… though, in the next panel, one of the villains looks at Superman via a monitor and states that  “Superman doesn’t suspect a thing!” That would make the machitron’s ray perhaps a short-term-memory-altering tractor-beam. Another thought: maybe the earth is rotating… and even though the panels appear to line up across the same landscape, maybe the landscape is moving too… and just happens to line up somehow. That’s a stretch, but I thought I’d toss it in.

My best guess is that the artist Curt Swan did his best to fit this action moving sequentially left to right;  it wouldn’t fit to have three panels stretching out  horizontally or vertically. He didn’t bother with internal consistency, or didn’t notice… and he wanted to toss in a polyptych like those other comic artists were starting to play with. Within the space backgrounds shouldn’t all line up like that.

(Just to try it, I did a couple quick rough sketches of other ways to lay these panels out. Actually tooling around with a three-panel layout to portray this has made me more appreciative of how Swan chose to do his version… though I still think it’s technically wrong – visually it doesn’t read toooo badly. At a casual glance, Superman appears to be flying left to right.)

This flight-path inconsistency shows up here and there. Here’s an example from Captain Atom No. 1:

Two super panels right next to each other – in Captain Atom, No.1, March 1987, written by Cary Bates, drawn by Pat Broderick, published by DC Comics. Lower three panels critiqued below.

Here’s my reading of the internal motion logic in the three flight panels:

Captain Atom multi-pan – I’ve added red lines showing the motion logic internal to panel 2 and 3

Was this the zig-zag flight path intended:

How captain Atom might have zig-zagged across the sky

Is it too much to ask for ask for internal consistency on these?

One more example, below is a dramatic tryptych depicting the Avengers’ Mantis. It’s from Defenders No. 9, October 1973 – during a crossover where Avengers battle the Defenders. Mantis is basically a kick-ass martial arts fighter (without super-human super-speed, like, say, the Flash or Quicksilver.) In the panel before these a man fires a gun. Then Mantis spends five panels running across the field, outrunning the bullet, and knocks her colleague out of the bullet’s path. Here’s the five-panel running sequence:

Five-panel polyptych from Defenders, No. 9, October 1973, written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Sal Buscema

First off, I want to draw attention to what I think might be one of most gratuitous captions: “But in that same split-instant–” – g – r – 0 – – a – – n!!

Though “split instant” is perhaps a sort of oxymoron way of describing a super panel, that unneeded description is the kind of transitional caption that Alan Moore lampoons in the 1963 comic series. I think it’s a writer trying to look busy.

How about the art, though? Overall, it kinda works – she’s hustling across a field, pretty dramatically. Remember that Mantis is running at full speed to outrun a bullet… so perhaps she’d go in more-or-less straight line, right? Looking at her posture, here’s my take on which direction she’s running in each panel:

My take on which direction each panel’s Mantis is running

I hate to rip this one apart, because it’s dramatic… not realistic. Nonetheless. In panel 1 she’s running directly toward the reader. Panel 2 she’s still running toward the reader, but she’s taken a moment to quickly step to her left. Look at Mantis’ left foot – on the right in panel 2… theoretically it just left the ground where it was in panel 1… but… it’s about 4-5 feet to the right of where I’d expect it to be… unless her martial arts training has taught her to run like no other human ever has?

Panel 3 is the nuttiest. She’s apparently rapidly hopped to her left, keeping her right foot downward, twisted her torso and perhaps she just kicked a soccer ball (not pictured.) She recovers, takes another step to her left… keeps striding toward the reader, then to her left…

Here’s my guess at her trajectory across the field:

My best guess at Mantis’ apparent zigzag trajectory

What’s funny about this is that her body positions more-or-less work if this were a fixed-camera sequence where Mantis is charging directly toward the reader. So maybe that’s what Sal Buscema planned, then he saw other artists doing newfangled multi-pans and decided to re-tool the background of the sequence he’d already drawn. (That fixed-camera crit is true for the superman sequence above, too.)

As I mentioned in the initial post of this critique, artists make a lot of decisions on what to include and what to leave out. In some cases logical consistency may not be as critical as making it look dynamic and full of energy… so these aren’t necessarily bad, or even wrong… they’re just artistic choices that I am questioning.

What do you think? Am I asking too much from these hard-working comic book artists working under crazy-difficult deadlines?

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3 Responses to “Faulty Multi-Panel Pans 2: Motion-Logic Inconsistencies”

  1. Took Zoxor Says:

    “Faulty Multi-Panel Pans 2: Motion-Logic Inconsistencies”
    ive been droolin over your title for this section since i first spotted it.
    i should sue u 4 causing me acute nerd syndrome pathology outbreak
    sounds onomatopoeic too. i got a bad anspo. ur fault, joe.

  2. Took Zoxor Says:

    “or maybe he’s flying loop the loops:”

    wait. is this multiple choice?

    i know! he flew around the planet 3 times so fast he fooled ya (each time at a higher level in the troposphere)

  3. Took Zoxor Says:

    nerd galore time for joe and took with free hot chicks by sal

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