I’ve been reading more contemporary comics lately — and my last post about Perfect Pages referenced a book published in the current century (gasp!) — but just to prove I haven’t ceded my classic comics bona fides, I present a perfect page from 1966!
The page above is from Amazing Spider-Man #41, featuring the first appearance of the Rhino, written by Stan Lee, pencils by John Romita, inks by Mike Esposito (credited here as M. Demeo), and lettered by Artie Simek.
Whereas my previous Perfect Page lauded the creators for using the comics form to engage the senses in a unique way, the page above is all about bread-and-butter superhero storytelling. John Romita was still getting his feet under him after taking over Spider-Man from Steve Ditko, but on this page he shows why he would come to be considered the top Spider-Man artist of all time.
Two things, in particular, leap off this page for me.
First, Keyframing — Romita choses two great bookends for this three-panel action sequence, and they are perfectly framed: Rhino crashes into the phone booth, and Rhino smashes the street light. Each shows us what the characters do best in this fight — Rhino runs into things, and Spidey gets out of his way. The middle panel is a needed rest beat between the extremes, but Romita still works in Rhino throwing a telephone at our hero — a great middle-point in a one-two-three visual combination, and the pivot point of a page where the first and last panels offer an “in” and and “out” for the action.
Second, Continuity — The panels clearly lead one-to-the next, allowing the reader to effortlessly follow the story. Rhino smashes into the phone booth while Spidey leaps to the street light/Rhino recovers while Spidey taunts him from his supposed place of safety/Rhino smashes into the street light while Spidey scrambles out of the way. It is a perfect three-beat sequence, showing off the characters and what they do, with a power-exchange between Rhino and Spidey in each panel — smash/taunt/smash. Great visual rhythm and dead-on characterization!
I’ll even raise my hand in favor of two storytelling techniques that have fallen out of favor as the comics form has evolved — big, bold sound effects, and thought balloons. I love how STOMP! is repeated on this page (and throughout this issue) as the Rhino’s audio calling card. The placement of STOMP! in that first panel is especially adept, emphasizing the heavy fall of the Rhino’s feet, and anchoring the character as he crashes into the phone booth. (Does your mind’s eye fill in a CRASH sound effect when Rhino hits that glass? — mine does). Spidey’s thought balloons aren’t completely necessary, but they do add context to the easily-overlooked police alarm sound effect in the first panel, and they serve as a ticking clock in the second panel, reminding us that Spider-Man is trying to keep his more powerful foe off-balance until help can arrive, which adds urgency to the scene.
I also like Stan Lee’s scripting on this page. We know that Rhino looks ridiculous … and Stan knows that we know … so he lets us into the gag by hanging a lampshade on it and having Spidey mock Rhino’s costume. Sublime.
And just because I think it’s awesome, here’s Jazzy John’s cover for the issue:
They don’t make ’em like they used to!