Looking Up: The Man Who Laughs

It is iPod culture writ large.

As a medium (both in the sense of narrative technique, and physical material on which the story is printed), comics has always been highly mobile. Much more so than television, cinema, or even novels.

Like comicbooks before them, trade paperbacks contain a complete story. Without in-story advertising, the trade paperback becomes a very focused format for telling a single, complete comics tale.

With the trade paperback format, comics can be read in those small pockets of free time that just seem to multiply with urban life. Once again comics are meant to be read while out in the world, while catching a train ride or while waiting on Chinese takeout.

In the 2008 collected edition, The Man Who Laughs artist Doug Mahnke, taps into the high mobility of the trade paperback format. If you find yourself standing while reading the final page of The Man Who Laughs (scripted by the phenomenal Ed Brubaker), you’ll see the magic happen.

In the page’s fourth panel, readers will find themselves looking downwards on the closure to the first joust between Batman and the Joker. The panel itself contains a first-person view from the streets of Gotham, looking up at the very first time the Bat-Signal has been fired up. In a single caption box, Brubaker’s words appear: ‘And for the first time in weeks, people in my city are looking up…’.

This dissonance between the act of looking down on the page and the forced internal perspective of looking up, brings a clear corporeal sensation to associate with the hope being spoken of in the panel itself. By drawing on the fact that trade paperbacks can just as easily slot into a backpack as into a bookshelf, Mahnke produces another of My Perfect Panels.

Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.