Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Detective Comics #838 and Comic Book Acting

As a former film student, I've seen many a decent script (well, a few at least) ruined by bad acting. This happens in the world of comics too; thought the characters might be just ink on a page, they certainly do act out the script, and when they act badly you can tell somethings wrong. Some prime examples of bad comic book acting can be found in Detective #838. Writer Paul Dini has turned out another engaging Detective story with several strong emotional beats, but artist Ryan Benjamin really drops the ball in illustrating the facial expressions and body language that should make these moments come alive. See what I mean after the jump...

In the following scene, the recently resurrected Ra's Al Ghul tries to temp Robin to the dark side. Notice the lack of backgrounds in the following exchange, although I must say the colorists at least gave a nice sort of sponge-paint texture with what could have been a solid color background. The acting here is mediocre; you might expect a little more sting in Robin's face upon hearing Ra's offer to bring his parents back to life, but underacting isn't as distracting as what's coming up in a few panels....

Here comes the big acting moment...


What is that expression in the last panel? From Ra's dialogue, we can surmise Robin is supposed to be feeling...anger? Hurt? Self-Doubt? Schadenfreude about what a loser Jason is? It's impossible to tell what Dini had intended Robin's reaction to be, because nothing in this drawing, not the expression, the angle, or the lighting, is going to tell us. It's unfocused acting.

Shortly thereafter, it seems Robin might actually be convinced....
Here we have the opposite problem; in the first panel, Robin is seriously over-acting his line. We learn shortly after this sequence that Robin is just stalling for time, so perhaps the artist felt Robin should be over-acting, to convey to the audience the fact that he's just playing along. But did we really need both the arched eyebrow and a hand-to-chin pondering pose straight out of the silent film era? This is the kind of acting you could get away with if you were drawing a henchman, or some other kind of dim-witted character. But with a character like Robin, it comes off as overselling a simple point. The second panel is a little better, as you do see a bit of urgency in his face, although for someone who learned from Batman, that certainly isn't much of a poker face.

Here we see an subtle example of out-of-character acting. Some might dispute this point, but this struck me as too smug of a pose for the Dark Knight. I'm not saying that Batman has never been written as a smug jerk, but in Dini's run of Detective he's tended to be more on the stoic side. Whether you like this pose or not (and I'll admit it's a cool expression), this is a good example of how an expression can color a characters "line-reading". Combined with the smirk, this line comes off like undignified bragging.

Speaking of smirks, here we have a Arkham doctor conferring with a colleague after seeing a trio of villains bouncing off the walls in a padded cell, due to events seen in Nightwing #138.

Now, I realize Arkham has a history of hiring some pretty screwed up people. But that smirk is out of control. Combined with the arched eyebrow and a literal gleam in her eye, and you have the most evil woman in the world. It's hard to call this an out of character moment, since we don't know who this character is, but it's clear that this moment is about the contrast between what the doctor is feeling and saying, and it would have been more believable, and therefore more chilling, if the smile felt like something between the reader and the character, as opposed to a huge grin everyone in the room can see.

Meanwhile, Talia and Batman wander around in the snow....
Besides the "clothing/anatomy doesn't work that way" alert in panel four, that last panel has Batman looking kind of like Santa Claus in his level of jolliness. It's kind of hilarious though, so maybe I'll just stop complaining here. Here's hoping next month's issue of Tec is more balanced.

2 comments:

Hunter said...

Next issue there's going to be this big reveal sequence where Batman is taking a cowl from someone off panel saying, "What can I say? I guess even I need a break sometime! Thanks, friend. You had everyone fooled. And you did some mighty fine detective work, too!" and then we see in the next panel he is talking to a partially batsuited GEEKANERD ALBO. And Geekanerd Albo says "Fo sho."

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