Last month with MISTER MIRACLE #3, I spoke about how time works in relation to nine-panel grids. So this month, I figure I may as well keep up the "technical" theme and break down another of Mister Miracle's quirks: movement.
Now, given that comics as a storytelling format are close to a hundred years old, it's pretty safe to say that we're all pretty well trained in the art of understanding panel sequences. It's practically an innate skill now, being able to trace the action across a page despite it being fragmented into panels that may or may not intersect, overlap or clash with each other. In fact, sequential storytelling is so widely understood that we sometimes don't even notice when things get experimental. We'll flip books around, backtrack over huge double page spreads, read things out of order and then automatically course-correct.
You get the idea.
Movement and progression in comics is something we don't usually have to think about, even when things get a little weird. So, by all rights, movement and progression across a layout as simple and as uniform as a nine-panel grid should be pretty easy to pick up.
...Except when it's not.
MISTER MIRACLE #4 takes place, largely and with few exceptions, in a room—a small space made even smaller by the fact that the panels in the grid never change size and very rarely zoom out from what would be called close or medium shots in film. It's pretty claustrophobic, but characters still come and go from page to page, action still happens, movement still gets conveyed.
There's a technique Mister Miracle has used a couple times before—you might remember it most vividly in issue #2, while Scott and Barda are sneaking through the war camp on Apokolips to find Granny Goodness. It's a hashed white line that follows the characters as they travel, almost like they're the X's and O's on a diagram like you might see on a coach's chalkboard.
Back in issue #2, these lines were pretty prominent—they had to cover whole pages and get characters to cover a lot of ground. But since then, they've started accompanying smaller moments: heads turning, standing up, sitting down, pacing back and forth. There doesn't seem to be a discernible pattern between which movements get the treatment and which get skipped over, but it's definitely becoming a more common occurrence as the story progresses.
Now, here's the thing: more and more, these lines are showing up in places that we probably would have just inferred movement. It's part of sequential storytelling that's so deeply ingrained in us as comics readers we probably wouldn't even notice that we were inferring at all. So the question becomes why include them at all?
You're in luck, because I've got a theory.
We may only be four issues in, but you've probably realized that Scott's life is basically unraveling around him, and sometimes, that "unraveling" spills out into the comic itself. It's easy to see in the distortions, the static and interference that almost threatens to tear down the neatly stacked together nine-panel grids. But what if there are other areas where things are coming unglued? Smaller ones that are slowly picking at the proverbial curtain to expose the scaffolding the comic is built on?
Those dotted lines are slowly and persistently becoming more and more common, the movement of the book is becoming more and more constrained and dictated—transparently mapped out and planned—the spaces between them are becoming smaller and smaller. The panels themselves may not be changing, but everything inside them is constricting; becoming abbreviated and cropped.
We're all bound by something, but Scott’s binding might be a bit more literal than most. After all, what happens to a character when the comic around them is starting to collapse? Is that the sort of trap that even the God of Escape can't break free from?
What happens when a comic starts deconstructing itself? What happens when something is neither true nor false?