Saturday, April 28, 2007

One-Panel Suspension

This sequence in the recent Wonder Woman #7 has been discussed exhaustively on various comics blogs, but I think I added something pretty cool to the discussion, and it's a term I may use later for other things, so I figure, why not spread it around?

To set up: Wonder Woman has just rescued a gravely injured Tom Tresser (a.k.a. Nemesis), and is rushing to get him medical attention. Tom's her partner when she's posing as agent Diana Prince, of the Department of Metahuman Affairs, an agency that's trying to bring Wonder Woman into custory for... oh, that's really too complicated to go into right now. What's important is, having already met Tom as Prince, Diana now meets him as Wonder Woman. And, of course, that he's gravely injured. On with the show:

So, here we have Wonder Woman up and drop the injured guy she just risked her life to save. And readers cry "foul."

I have to say, I'm among them. It's a funny gag, I think -- particularly if you don't read the "What do I wear?" straight line as a setup for a joke (I read it as genuine nervousness that Tom had seen through her dual identity, and would describe her in her stylish Diana Prince spy-garb). But there's no way in Hades that she'd do that. He's hurt, for cryin' out loud.

So I simply didn't buy it. In my mind, it didn't happen. That panel was a depiction of a momentary impulse Diana had, of something she'd never do. Even though we're given absolutely no indication of that in the art.

I like fiction with fantasy sequences. I like the Teen Titans cartoon (and the comic based on it), with the little anime touches of people's heads exploding when they're angry or confused, or how they might physically shrink when embarassed. Scrubs has more elaborate fantasy sequences, usually signalled by J.D. tilting his head up and to the left and thinking "a two-headed doctor.... hmmm....", or something like that. Both of these series give pretty clear visual signals of where reality and fantasy diverge (although Scrubs will blur the line for effect).

Not so with the Wonder Woman sequence -- probably beacuse it's intended as a straight-up, objective depiction of events. But as I said, I can't buy that. So I'm unleashing a rarely-used super power of my own:

The willing suspension of belief.

Now, the willing suspension of disbelief has long been a staple of comics and other fantastic fiction -- maybe all fition, in one way or another. In a nutshell, it's encountering an on-its-face unbelievable element and rolling with it for the sake of the story. A guy can fly, just because he comes from a denser planet than Earth? Roll with it. The police commissioner doesn't know who Batman is, even though he could easily trace the lines of that Batphone to the cave under Wayne Manor? Roll with it. Anything to keep the story moving.

But the willing suspension of belief is altogether different. It's saying, in effect, this didn't happen, even though the authors tell me it did. It couldn't have happened, because it's so darn stupid.

Now, the suspension of belief should be used sparingly, at most. Too much of it, and whatever semblance of reality the authors manage to convey will tear and shred from the center out. But the odd moment or two, hand-waved as a fantasy sequence, may be just what the doctor ordered.

Don't believe me? That's your prerogative.

(Image via Ragnell)


Ami Angelwings said...


I like that power!

Can I use it for Civil War and like... Amazons Attack? XD

Rob S. said...

You're welcome to give it a try! Sadly, I have a feeling a big crossover is more than my own power levels can bear.

In those cases, I have to rely on my faulty memory (a crippling weakness sometimes, but in some cases a super power of its own!). It takes a year or two, but lousy crossovers fade away like morning dew. Really stinky morning dew. Genesis? Millenium Giants? Bloodlines? What were those?

Greg! said...

Can I apply this to the entirety of X-Men: The Last Stand?

notintheface said...

Maybe the whole thing was Drew Johnson's fault. Maybe he was supposed to draw Panel 3 surrounded by a thought balloon connected to the Diana in Panel 2, so that it would be Diana IMAGINING dropping Nemesis.

Rob S. said...

Stranger things have happened between the script stage and publication. And the bright yellow THUD, at least, indicates they were intentionally playing it for laughs.

Overall, I can only imagine the creators are shaking their heads and saying, "Lighten up -- it's just a gag." And I certainly have no problem with funny in my funnybooks.

But funny though it is (and I actually laughed out loud at it), it also undermines her character, which is founded on compassion.

Nonetheless, someone should tell me "Lighten up, Francis."