How Directionality Sells the Drama in Ms. Marvel 34

by Drew Baumgartner

Ms. Marvel 34

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The only limits in comics are those of the imagination and the page itself. That sounds grandiose, but I genuinely believe that to be true. There are no CGI budgetary restrictions or limits of practical effects that could make a shot or a sequence impossible (though time constraints may make big crowds on horseback less likely), no locations on earth (or off) that can’t be used, no detail to small that can’t be captured in a panel. That means comics are a medium with nearly infinite potential for flashy epicness, which can easily hog our attention. But its the fundamentals — nearly universal to all storytelling — that ultimately make a comic sing: characters, clarity, and heart. Sometimes those flashy elements can help connect us to those fundamentals, but sometimes it’s the simpler details that sell the story. Such is the case with G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon’s Ms. Marvel 34, which utilizes one of the most basic givens in the medium to remarkably effective results.

The given in question is left-to-right directionality, a concept so basic, it’s hard to illustrate in a particularly interesting way. Basically, because we read from left-to-right, smart artists will put goals on the right side of the page, so that both readers and characters are progressively approaching them. That is, in (western) comics (and most western visual media, in general), “forward” motion is represented as left-to-right motion. And examples abound in this issue. Take, for example, Kamala and Singularity’s journey back to time and space:

Progress

The panels (and especially the balloons within the panels) direct our eye from left to right, giving the sequence momentum that might have worked against it if this page were reversed.

But what’s especially thrilling about this issue is when Leon complicates that left-to-right motion in some way. The classic example is putting an adversary in the way of our hero’s march across the page, and Leon deploys that beautifully early in the issue, as Kamala an Shocker face off:

Conflict

They seem aligned in that first panel, as they look towards Shocker’s invention, but Leon switches angles as Shocker turns towards Kamala, establishing him as a clear obstacle to her progress.

Leon uses those conventions in several interesting ways throughout Kamala’s scenes, but I think the most intriguing example belongs to Bruno. Check out how Leon utilizes the up/down dimension to add drama to Bruno’s progress across this sequence:

Adversity

That’s a goddamn rollercoaster ride of emotions, and it all hinges on these two simple dimensions. Er, that might be oversimplifying it — Leon’s mastery of postures and facial expressions are indispensable here — but I’m impressed at how the addition of a simple down-up motion heightens the drama.

All of that reinforcement of the basic principles of left-to-right motion also heightens the drama of the last panel, as Bruno dives from right to left to shield Kamala from Shocker’s attack. Is he helping, or is he standing in the way of progress? Could this somehow hint at Bruno’s fate? I’ll avoid making any predictions, but the way that final panel subverts our expectations makes it almost viscerally unsettling. We simply don’t know how it will end. That’s how you build to a cliffhanger.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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