The other day I was reading one of my favorite comic issues and I notice an error that I thought might make for an interesting post. While I can be a bit snarky when it comes to my little essays, I’m going to try to be a little less so for this one. This is a brief study in why proper word balloon usage is important.
The comic in question is Fantastic Four #203. It’s a thirty-five year old comic book and no doubt in the realm of fair game in regards to spoilers, but in fairness, (and because the subject in question is at the end of the issue) I’m going to take a few steps. First off, after this bit of blathering, I’m going to slam a more tag in place. Then, in case the reader has somehow by-passed the more by mistake, I’m putting up a fair-sized image of the issue’s cover to keep the spoilers at a distance. Finally, in the body itself, I’m only going to be very general about the plot.
Aren’t I a nice guy? I know!
I did say a little less snarky, right?
Okay, let’s go. More tag, here.
And now the issue cover… here.
Wow. That was all done almost like I knew what I was doing. Scary.
Fantastic Four #203, in a nutshell, deals with a battle between the Fantastic Four and their psychotic doubles. Which is basically what it says on the tin. It’s a done-in-one tale, so it should come as no surprise as to who wins. It’s neither better nor worse than any other tale in the series. I can’t even quite tell you why I like it, save, perhaps, because it was one of the few Fantastic Four comics I had as a kid. There’s a fair chance I might yak on about it at a future date, but to be honest that chance has been there for several years now and I haven’t sprang at it yet.
Anyways, at the end of the story we get the following panel. For years I read it and saw nothing wrong with it. Then yesterday it’s in my face screaming at me.
For those who are unfamiliar with the FF, the characters are from left to right adventuress Sue Richards, her super genius husband Reed Richards, her idiot brother Johnny Storm, and family friend/personal pilot/mobile brick wall Ben Grimm.
Let’s start with the word balloon in the upper left corner. The first part (“It literally siphoned…”) is a continuation of Reed Richards’ dialogue from the previous panel. But that’s in context. Out of context (and in no small degree while reading) it looks like Sue is saying this. Note, how Reed’s dialogue balloon merges with that of Sue’s (“I don’t understand, Reed.” Four words that she no doubt says a lot, given how smart her spouse is.)
Moving down to the lower left we have a word balloon that undoubted supposed to be Reed, but again looks like Sue talking, (“I’ll show you…” which sounds like a line FF nemesis Doctor Doom would use). In fairness, it’s clearly answering Sue’s question, but it looks… odd.
This is enough to condemn most panels, but there’s one more question mark to address. Look at the top word balloon in the lower right (“Where to?”) Who is that for? Presumably Ben, but the way the tail placement had been so far, it might be pointing at Johnny. Which would give his appearance here in the frame a bit of justification.
(Side point: Is it just me, or does Johnny look like he’s floating next to Ben? I don’t know why I’m seeing the image like that, but now that I’ve started I can’t stop.)
Now one could make snotty comments about quality control at Marvel during the Seventies, but really, that’s not fair. Writer/editor Marv Wolfman no doubt had his hands full with this and who knows how many other titles. With deadlines a plenty a few gaffes get through. And let’s face it, this panel isn’t the worst Marvel has to offer. Or comics in general come to that.
What it does point out, to me at least, is just how easy it is to cause a little confuse in the reader.