How Comics Work:

The Fight Scene, Part 2

Wonder Woman 18

By Brian Azzarello (writer) Goran Sudzuka (artist) Cliff Chiang (artist), Tony Akins (layout artist), Dan Green (finishes) Mathew Wilson (colourist) et al.

Not to pick on American superhero comics but Wonder Woman seems doomed to fail from the start. Despite Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s fair talent there are a lot of cooks in this kitchen. Look at that list. That’s just writing and art. I’d like to note that Goran Sudzuka is credited as the artist pages for a few pages scattered throughout. The pages he’s not credited as drawing (not including Chiang’s pages) are credited to Dan Green. I can only assume Sudzuka is penciller on the remaining pages and the weird credits are just trying to communicate that he didn’t ink all his own pages. The pages we’re going to examine are presumably the result of Azzarello’s script, Akins layouts, Sudzuka’s pencils, Green’s inks, and Wilson’s colours. Examining the dialogue is only going to concern us in so far as the script is concerned, Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering will be largely left out of it (just for the record his lettering is actually really good throughout the fight scene; its placing helps convey movement within the panel, as well as communicating sound effects effectively). The fight is actually very story based, one would expect nothing less from Brian Azzarello, so it isn’t immediately broken (it’s no fun picking low-hanging fruit). The entire story of Wonder Woman thus far was based around people fighting for a baby and this issue continues that arc. A few issues ago, shortly after Wonder Woman believed the baby safe, her ally, Hermes, stole the baby. I should mention the baby will have god-killing powers at some point. Anyhow Hermes has the baby and the Amazon has gone after him with War as her only companion.

The fighting starts on page two. Hermes and Diana leap at each other, swords outstretched. There is one panel depicting them blocking each other’s blades. This panel includes a Frank Miller Daredevil style series of after images showing more sword fighting. Hermes, using one sword, sweeps one of Diana’s two swords from her hands. The sword however, as has been previously established, is magic and disappears then returns instantly. The two foes talk again, and then leap in Dynamic Poses towards one another. The story then takes some time to visit its secondary plot, which is also a fight scene. For now we’ll just stick with the one. When we return to the main story line it is to a close up on the two blades sticking each other, casting sparks across the panel. This repeats in a few different medium-shot panels, with the characters is slightly different poses. Hermes then slashes Diana’s collarbone with his feet talons, sending her flying. They continue talking. Hermes then dramatically charges her. Instead of hitting her with his sword he grabs her with his claws, pinning her. It looks like it might be the end for the Amazon when Orion speeds into the rescue. There is a brief chase after this, but the fight is essentially complete.

Let’s examine this fight beat by beat, point by point, and see what works and what could be improved. First of all, as I mentioned, the whole thing is very grounded in the series’ plot. Where this comic fails our first point is the fight itself. Sure the outcome of the fight will affect the story, but there are no apparent goals in this fight. Both the characters are just trying to win. This is hardly interesting enough to build such an important fight around. It could have been vastly improved if Wonder Woman knew where the baby was and was trying to get past Hermes to it. Suddenly they both have a goal: Wonder Woman wants to get past Hermes, Hermes wants to keep Diana away from the infant. Simple. Suddenly their fighting isn’t nearly so directionless. They’re not just hitting each other with pointy bits of metal. By adding in a proper goal the fight would feel sharper and more interesting. There are a few easy examples of what I’m talking about. Think of the fight scene at the end of Batman Begins between Ra’s and Batman. Now think of any action scene in Indiana Jones. Which has lasted longer and stayed clearer in your mind? Indiana Jones sets clear goals continually throughout its set pieces, in Batman Begins it’s really just two people punching each other. Think of the final fight between Luthor and Superman in All-Star Superman; there are continual clear goals throughout; Superman needs to shoot Luthor, Luthor needs to get Superman out of his hiding place, Superman needs to escape from Luthor’s grasp, and eventually go save the sun. That scene builds upon effective mini-goals, which keeps the fight fast moving, interesting, and clear. Wonder Woman lacks anything comparable so the result is much weaker.

The choreography throughout the Wonder Woman fight is generally pretty sloppy. Goran Sudzuka’s grasp of anatomy seems loose at best, and at its worst his art is unclear and devoid of drama. Right from the second panel of the fight, when Diana and Hermes’ swords strike and a series of after images communicate multiple blows, the art seems weak. Sword fights are challenging to depict in a comic book. What makes a sword fight dynamic is solely the movement. Sword fighting is made up of lots of little movements and it is almost impossible to translate them to comic book form properly. Almost; but not entirely, impossible. The problem with a lot of Goran Sudzuka’s art here is a common one- he picks the most dramatic sword fighting beats to draw, and they all look the same. Two pieces of metal hitting each other is pretty repetitive. The use of after-images is almost negligible. They have little to no effect on the drawing; they register, but purely on an intellectual level. They’re also not nearly interesting enough to function without an emotional affect. This whole story really needs an emotional core, but it fails to engage its audience in that way. It’s also worth noting that the characters in question are too close together to pull off the kind of swordplay depicted. I’ve taken fencing and stage combat courses, read books on Iado, and did a lengthy amount of research going into this article; so trust me when I tell you the moves they’re shown doing would be impossible in such close quarters. When Hermes does that dramatic sweep move and sends Diana’s sword flying? She has two swords, and his entire body would’ve been wide open, she could’ve gutted him (or done something non-lethal). Instead she punches his head, which, if Hermes hadn’t instantaneously lowered his arms after that previous move, should be the most protected part of his body. This makes no sense the way it’s drawn. Sword fighting is all about action and reaction. It requires constant anticipation and preparation. Take a look at some of the oldest documented Western Sword fighting. We actually have no documentation on ancient Greek and Roman sword fighting techniques, that example is the oldest non-Asian example of sword fighting. Sudzuka could’ve literally Googled “sword fighting” to find out about that video. Not to mention the plethora of lengthy, scientific articles on Greek swords and the basic principles of cutting vs. thrusting. Goran Sudzuka may not be completely at fault here, but the actions removed from the artwork could be substantially more plausible then they are now, and Sudzuka’s understanding of anatomy and sword play seems poor. The rest of the fight scene is problematic at best. Where Diana is in relationship to Hermes is frequently unclear. There are panels where Hermes, who can fly, strikes all kinds of ridiculous and useless poses, mid-air, while they fight. The choreography is probably the most broken part of this story.

Wonder Woman’s pacing is not terrible. It’s not great, but it’s better than the choreography. Generally speaking Tony Akins seems to understand the effect a thin panel has on pacing when compared to a wide panel. Generally he chooses them wisely. He uses wide panels for dramatic pauses or beats he wants to focus on. Unfortunately these beats look ridiculous, but that’s no fault of Akins. The pacing is passable, but not good. The overall effect is so generic that it barely alters the audience’s interpretation of these events. The story never takes control of its pacing and it should. The best pacing holds the reader’s hand through the process. It calmly and clearly explains how long any given beat is supposed to last, often without really allowing the reader to realize how much their reading process is being manipulated. Wonder Woman’s pacing in not bad, it’s just extraordinarily forgettable. There is one fairly bothersome habit during the story though- two if you count the constant flow of dialogue that helps undercut the pacing and the drama- and that’s the frequent use of close-ups. This is a problem inherent in comic book fight scenes. The two things most needed to convey action inherently work against one another. To properly convey action you need to be able to see the action clearly. If you don’t have a sense of the whole action it weakens any attempt at crafting a good fight scene. This is why so many movie fight scenes opt to either show the fight in a long-shot or mid-shot. Movies have movement though; you can tell how long any given punch is just by passively watching. In comics the artist needs to use pacing to suggest time. It is damn hard to fit an interesting, clear action into a thin panel. Hence the natural inclination to use wide panels during a fight. It requires a careful balancing act to create a truly excellent action scene. This is why so many manga fights follow the same format; a long shot before the action starts, typically with two characters in a dramatic pose,  as the tension builds, then- boom, an explosion of close-up, thin, fast, panels as the action breaks out, followed by a long-shot cool down. While the frequent overuse of this format can lead to its own problems you can see why it’s effective. Wonder Woman’s use of close-ups isn’t just bad because it hides the action from use; they’re bad because they’re repetitive and uninteresting. The same could be said of the pacing as a whole though.

So clearly Brian Azzarello and Goran Sudzuka’s fight scene is weak. It’s not abysmal. It’s biggest crime is that it’s completely forgettable. The scene is completely generic. Not like the next comic I want to examine.

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Harry Edmundson-Cornell is obsessed with comics and film and writing, and he fancies himself a bit of an artist. He's dabbled in freelance video production, writing, design, 3D modelling, and artistic commissions. He mainly uses Tumblr to keep track of what he's watching and reading and listening to. Occasionally he uses it to post original works. You can find his email and junk there too, if you want to hire him or send him hate-mail.

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