In Making Comics, Scott McCloud outlines the five kinds of choices that communicating through comics require. One of these choices in particular, the "choice of moment," was a major focal point in my paper about condensed storytelling in comics. To date, one of the finest examples of condensed storytelling I've experienced lies in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One. The page in question was used previously in my annotated comics page assignment, where I did manage to slip in some discussion on condensed narrative and choice of moment. However, this blog seems like the perfect platform to provide a deeper look into the choice of moment present in the origin story of Batman: Year One.
Page 21 opens with a scene of Bruce Wayne sitting with his parents in some kind of theatre. The text boxes drop the time of the event (eighteen years ago) and the name of the play that they attended (The Mask of Zorro). This panel is a wide shot showing a large number of audience members but focusing in on the family of three. It fulfills the role of establishing the family dynamic and presenting a once-happy Bruce in his childhood.
What follows is a scene transition to (what readers can assume is) outside the theatre. The man with the gun is introduced accompanied by a small description via text box. Within two panels, the characters and central conflict of the scene have been established.
By the third and fourth panels, readers have already reached the climax of the scene. Both panels, featuring the murders of Tom and Martha Wayne respectively, are squared and coloured predominantly in white. The eye is drawn immediately to these center panels upon flipping the page, alerting the reader of what's to come and allowing them to fill in the blanks at their own pace.
The next panel is once that completely bleeds into the gutter, showing Bruce kneeling besides his parents as their killer gets away. This point in the page is meant to give the reader a chance to breathe and take in the previous events, reflecting upon the plot thus far and perhaps ponder the possibilities of what could come next. From a purely narrative perspective, what's important to note is that the killer escapes and Bruce is distraught over his parents' deaths.
The final panel is an extreme close-up of Bruce's face with a focus on his eyes. The text box makes note of "all sense" leaving his life, and both the angry look in Bruce's eyes and the subtle change in colour help drive that point home. The story has come full-circle in a sense with Bruce starting on his path towards becoming Batman. This event was the turning point in his life which would eventually lead him to dawn the mask and cape, and it is thoroughly communicated to the reader in one neat page. This is thanks to a number of smart decisions made by Miller and Mazzucchelli, not the least of which was the choice of moment when constructing the narrative.
Written By: Andrew Masse
McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Avon, 2006.