Monday, March 1, 2010

Arthrology in "Incognito"

A post by Deni Kasa, a student in my Winter 2010 Graphic Novels class.

Incognito Iss. 1
Ed Brubaker (writer)
Sean Phillips (penciller)
Val Staples (inker)
Icon [Marvel Comics]

"Incognito" is the story of Zack Overkill, a superhuman criminal who confessed against his employers to get accepted into the witness protection program. He is safe so long as he stays "incognito", but his boredom with ordinary life leads him to try to get his powers back. Needless to say, his cover is blown shortly thereafter. This sets up the plot of a very interesting and morally gray superhero story centered around self-discovery, rather than abstract ideas of right and wrong.

The first issue establishes Zack's dissatisfaction with his everyday life as an office clerk in the witness protection program. The main plot of the issue follows Zack's movement from one rebellious act on a Christmas party (he has sex with one of his co-workers) to his renewed adoption of a super-persona. This plot is mirrored as a subtle arthrological "narration" in some recurring vertically-oriented panels on the left page of a few two-page spreads in the issue. I believe that, if they are taken alone, the progression from the first of these panels to the last mirrors the general plot of the issue.

The first vertical panel on page 6 shows Zack right after having sex with his co-worker, thus breaking the rules of his workplace. The perspective is from the top of the city--as a superhero might view the city--and it is only until the next panel that this perspective makes sense: Zack is standing on the roof of his building. This panel, therefore, foreshadows the implications of his first transgressive act. On page 10, the second vertically oriented panel occupies the same space in the two-page spread as the one on page six. This panel offers a view of the city from the street-level: Zack has just been reminded that he is just an ordinary person now, and the panel reflects the deflation of the hopes he had in page 6. On page 14, the next vertical panel--in the same place and of the same size as the previous two--depicts Zack standing over a ruin of a recent fight between supermutants. Although it is white-washed by the media, the truth behind the event is clear as day to Zack, who then meditates on the way he will use to regain his powers. The last vertically-oriented panel on page 18 (the appropriate page according to the pattern every four pages) is not as long as the others, making it stand out. It also stands out because this is the first panel when Zack Overkill appears in his new costume. The mini-plot of the vertical panels is complete: Zack proceeds from great hopes to a sharp emotional deflation, then to an assessment of the activity of superhumans in his universe, to his new resolve to assume his place among those superhumans again.

The arthrology of these vertical panels on pages 6, 10, 14 and 18 constructs a compendious version of this issue's plot. This means that in addition to the ordinary ways in which arthrology constructs a text, in this particular issue it allows for panels that form part of both the larger text of the comic as a whole and a four-panel "mini-text" that summarizes the plot.

Deni Kasa