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The Authority: Relentless: 'Shiftships': I Can Do This

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Thursday, Jun 25, 2009
It is not the kind of scene readers have come to expect, but with this subtle inversion, Ellis and Hitch offer a proof of principle for 'widescreen' comics.

It is not the kind of scene readers have come to expect, over the short course of 8 issues, from Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority. The narrow focus on two lead characters, the slight worms-eye view, the slight Dutch tilt of the image, all make for a very personal moment. This is not at all the kind of comics that has become hailed as ‘widescreen’ format, the kind of comics of sleek, near-Tarantino-esque ultra-violence that depicts ever-widening vistas of blasted landscapes. But with this subtle inversion, Ellis and Hitch seem to offer a proof of principle for ‘widescreen’ comics.


In this panel The Doctor, a global-level shaman operating with super-team The Authority, prepares to flood the Italy of a parallel reality. Always struggling with the scope of his planetary-wide powers, The Doctor has faced the unique challenge of never fully unleashing his power. When the expeditionary forces of this parallel reality invade Earth, the expeditionary forces of a ‘military rape culture’ in Ellis’ own words, The Doctor must harness his full power to destroy their powerbase. Hitch depicts a literary staple of the superhero genre. The moment where the superhero embraces rather than withdraws from his power. The psychological curtain is lifted, and the hero stands on the threshold of destiny.


Such a moment seems at odds with the cultural project of ‘widescreen’ comics. At first glance, the ‘widescreen’ format appears to depict violence and mayhem on both sides of the superhero battle. The heroes of the ‘widescreen’ format do not simply fall out of skyscrapers only to save themselves at the last minute with the help of a propitious flagpole. These heroes hurl skyscrapers at alien armada to prevent the invasion of cities. But the use of a typical ‘widescreen’ panel, one that occupies the full width of the page with a bidirectional left-right bleed, to tell the story of the actuation of personal superpowers creates a very different set of expectations for the format. Just as the format is about the panorama of ultra-violence, so too can its tools be focused on the personal moments of the superhero genre. This use of ‘widescreen’ paneling makes the format much more a meditation on the superhero genre than a simplistic relishing in the postmodern exaggeration of its themes.

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