Young Avengers 3
Kieron Gillen (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist), Mike Norton (artist), Mathew Wilson (colourist), et al
The third issue of Young Avengers breaks all the rules. The fight has little to no context in the overall story, it doesn’t have story beats, it doesn’t have any choreography (here’s where I wish I had a better word), and consequently it doesn’t have anything to communicate via pacing. And it kind of works. The fight is really just there to provide some action in an issue that’s mainly talking. Normally I would argue against randomly inserted action pieces, but it’s completely in line with Young Avengers. The series wears its focus on its sleeve: it’s all about youth, excitement, and cool. The series is all bright colours and fashionable clothing. The first story arc even has a villain that’s taken the form of a characters Mother. Right before the fight scene there are a few panels with Volstagg, who says: “Ah to be young again…such high spirits…I miss it so.” It’s not subtle. This fight scene is not intended to feel significant; it’s intended to feel fun.
I have the outmost confidence that when the story calls for it Gillen and McKelvie will be able to craft a dramatic, intense, suspenseful, fight scene. This is not that fight scene though. This fight scene is meant to be a moment of excitement and cool, it just happens to involve punching. It’s about the fun of being a superhero. So naturally it’s a random fight. Nothing quite says “superheroes” and “fun” quite like randomly having to fight a frost giant. The fight is mainly splash pages with inset panels. The choreography is frequently not visible, but the few panels where it comes into play are drawn fabulously. These panels are all close-ups; facial expressions, hand gestures, falling weapons, and the like. This fight may ignore the most basic rules, but it knows why it’s doing it. More importantly it ignores the basics well. The fight is cool, youthful, stylized, and fun. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie accomplish what they set out to do. The thing is; most comics shouldn’t set out to be cool at the cost of drama. Many do, however. Nine times out of to the desire to craft something cool leads to something completely devoid of drama or significance. The desire for cool will make a scene that’s all surface and has zero emotional effect. Young Avengers is no different; it just works in the context of the larger story. A good rule of thumb: if you’re planning a fight scene and you’re not Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie don’t try to make it feel cool.
So where does that leave us? Now that you know how fights scenes work what next? Well, odds are, if you’re reading this site, you have more than a passing interest in comics. Maybe you want to make comics, in which case knowing how story elements, choreography, and pacing effect a fight scene is fairly relevant. Maybe you’re just an avid reader. In that case I implore you to think about the fight scenes you’re reading. So many comics get away with having sloppy fight scenes. Even otherwise excellent comics frequently have terrible, forgettable, fight scenes. More often than not creators will try to do the same sort of issue-long fight scene Mark Waid and Chris Samnee got away with in Daredevil, but they’ll try it without knowing how fight scenes really work. Obviously fight scenes are hard. You have to juggle a lot of elements between a lot of people. But ask yourself: is there really an excuse for having boring fight scenes in superhero comics? Conventional wisdom would even go so far as to suggest that superhero comics are entirely built around fight scenes. I’m not saying you should stop purchasing series with bland fights, because there are some great comics out there with awful action scenes. And that’s rarely any one creator’s fault. Can you blame the writer; who has almost no control over the choreography? Can you blame the artist; who has no control over the story elements? Even a creator saddled with a mediocre counterpart has plenty of opportunities to better the product. An artist should be capable of adjusting a script and working with an artist’s skills- and around their limitations. Likewise an artist given two pages and a rough idea of what to draw can add in effective beats. Look at that Daredevil fight again. Most of those story beats could’ve been improvised (to some degree) by an artist (in the case of Daredevil they clearly weren’t though). So if you’re a young creator or a loyal reader think about your fight scenes a little more. Readers shouldn’t settle for mediocre fight scenes in their books. Creators should make sure they’re not crafting mediocre fight scenes. Together we should all try to make Batman punching things cool again.