It never ceases to amaze me how effective pink and blue are in a comic book. I’m serious here. I read this story in passing, researching for another project when I realized she was wearing pink, and how it fit into the story overall. After that I couldn’t leave this panel alone no matter how hard I tried. It’s a woman in pink against a blue background. Even if the colorist (Anthony Tollin) himself came in and told me he picked a random color, you will never convince me that’s its random. It just fits the story too well.
Good art is never truly random (no matter what the artist and the observer may both consciously think). Everything in the panel, every line, every color, adds to the overall message received by the reader. Good art, and I mean the really good art, isn’t truly random (no matter what the artist and the observer may both consciously think). Everything in the panel, every line, every color, adds to the overall message received by the reader. You can even step back and find layers of commentary on the story as a whole in a single panel. Every week, I try touch on some of the tricks and intricacies found in a single, well-drawn piece of art, and this week we’re looking at a panel from Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #4, drawn by Mac Myers, Al Gordan and Barb Kaalberg.
The lady in the picture is Donna Parker. I have absolutely no behind the scenes information, but it looks like, sometime in the Nineties, somebody noticed that they were on their third Earth Green Lantern Corps member, and their fourth Earth Green Lantern overall (No, Jade does not count as she had organic powers and was called “Jade” and not “Green Lantern”) without having had a human female lantern. Enter Donna Parker. Donna was a Midwestern schoolteacher from the 50s. Her husband, an army officer, died in the Korean War. She’d wanted to travel around the world with him with him, but was now stuck in Nebraska with three children barely scraping by on a low-level educator’s salary.
In this story, she’s out ice skating with her children when they get to an area with thin ice and her youngest daughter falls through. Rather than instinctively jump in after her, Donna gets a rope and has her two older children hold onto it. She ties the other part around her waist and dives in to get her daughter. A Guardian, one of the Green Lanterns’ bosses, is watching. He sends her a ring, which she uses to rescue her daughter (it helps her find the girl in the dark water, and get her to safety on time). This panel is the point where she flies out of the ice because they can’t make it to the already-made hole in time. After this, the Guardian approaches her, and offers her a job. She declines because her husband died in a war already, and she didn’t want to orphan her children. He wipes the minds of the children, but not her, so she’ll always remember her choice.
It’s a panel of raw power, firstly. She’s bursting through the ice, throwing aside chunks of ice and water. Green energy radiates from the ring, and from the break in the ice. See how the air flows away from her, and the blue sky is shaded to show the force? It’s shaded with green, to emphasize the kind of power causing the force. I love her face here. Minimalist, but effective. It’s asymmetrical. The shading on the right side, combined with the crisp lines opposite on the left side, indicates that her nose is scrunched up with effort. You can tell she’s gritting her teeth not only by the broken line separating the upper and lower teeth, but the shape of her lips. Asymmetrical, again. Her eyes are closed, and her eyebrows angled in a manner to suggest they are tightly shut along with the scrunched nose. Both hands are clenched into fists. Little indications of effort combine effectively.
To get the full emphasis of such an action, a panel like this is often shown overlapping the other panels on the page, even overcoming its boundaries by throwing debris outside the panel borders or a character’s arm or leg overstepping the border. This one is not only entirely contained, it has other panels overlapping it.
That’s a little bit of foreshadowing. Donna is going to pass up on the Guardian’s offer of a life of adventure. Her will is constricted by the circumstances of her life, particularly her children’s well-being. The panels above are of her finding and rescuing her daughter. These are her primary concerns, and they don’t line up with the goals of the Guardians. They also, unfortunately, don’t allow her to achieve her full potential. This woman is capable of greatness, but that greatness is limited by her responsibilities. Her arm curls protectively around the little girl as she flies upward.
Now, back to the pretty colors. Particularly the pink and blue. Donna’s wearing pink. Cultural color of femininity. Against a blue background, blue being the cultural color for masculinity. Fitting that Donna, along with having all of the prerequisite anatomy, also has the traditionally feminine job as a schoolteacher, and is shown in an adventure that relies on her maternal inclinations. However, she’s using a Green Lantern ring which, on Earth at least, is normally seen on the hand of a man, and she’s performing heroics that stereotypically go to a male character. We’re clearly seeing a feminine woman set apart from a masculine environment. Here, however, I think the color that outlines Donna — the green — is what is bringing the two together. Donna’s will can carry her into heroics, very easily. See how it bursts through that ice (like a glass ceiling) and threatens to overtake the blue on the corners? In the shadows? The green pours out of her ring like sunbeams. For a Green Lantern, that energy overtakes any other metaphorical colors in their lives. They go from being classified by pink and blue to being classified by green and yellow.
If you’re unfamiliar with Green Lantern, you may have missed the most unusual part of Donna’s wardrobe. It’s not a uniform. At this point in continuity a Lantern immediately gets the uniform upon getting the ring. Donna didn’t. She remained in her pink outfit. What keeps Donna from ultimately joining the Corps? Her commitment to her family, a maternal concern. A woman’s traditional place.
Donna has all the capabilities, but circumstances and her social role prevent her from exercising them. This panel says a lot to me as a woman. Those conforming social roles and expectations attempting to fit you into a box despite your talent and skill in other areas. While the box has gotten considerably wider since Donna’s day, it still feels like its there in some situations. Donna made the right choice in the end, and the Guardian was wrong to try to punish her for it with regret. I still can’t help but think about how the story could have been different, if her husband had come home injured instead of in a flag-covered coffin, if he’d never gone to war and this was in a slightly different era, what would the subsequent stories about a Nebraskan schoolteacher keeping order in our corner of the Cosmos have been like?