With good art, nothing is truly random. 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. In this weekly feature I’ll try to at least touch on some of the tricks and intricacies found in a single, well-drawn piece of art.
This week’s panel, in All-Star Superman #5 (writer, Grant Morrison, pencils, Frank Quitely, and inks, Jamie Grant) is one of the best images of Superman’s Archnemesis I’ve ever seen.
Lex Luthor goes from the treadmill to the barbell curl, casually tossing a notepad behind him. Clark Kent, who had been following him, reaches out to catch his precious notes. Clark’s handwritten his notes in shorthand, and Luther believes a recorder is worth more.
Clark’s surprised, a little worried by the way his eyebrows raise and his mouth is open. His pleasantly fat cheeks work nicely with this. He looks up at the flying notebook and reaches to gently catch it, moving quickly forward (see how his tie moves). His hair is slightly tousled, his suit rumped; the man is a mess. The glare from his glasses is obscuring his eyes. He doesn’t look at all like the square-jawed heroic Superman. As soon as he catches it, he’s prepared to follow Lex.
Lex is leading with the right foot, throwing his head back, sticking his chest out and holding his dumbbell parallel to the floor despite the sweat he’s worked up (not an easy task when you’ve been working that hard with weights). His eyes are closed, his mouth is closed in a humorless serious frown and the paneled is angled to captured an upturned nose and high cheekbones.
A lot of reviews have already mentioned the fun obliviousness Lex displays in this issue. He’s ranting nonstop about Superman, completely unaware that the man is standing right by him the whole time. I think this panel, where Lex doesn’t actually mention Superman, best displays that relationship.
Lex is looking away, walking forward. He’s moving towards the next project, only willing to deal with obstacles in front of him. His biggest obstacle, Clark, is not in front of him, but behind him, and he’s utterly blind to this. Clark’s beneath him, really. Just like the shorthand note-taking he’s deriding. Lex is interested in the powerful and futuristic, not the ordinary and old fashioned. And if something powerful (such as the words Clark will use to tell this story, or Clark himself) is wrapped up in something old-fashioned (shorthand, the suit) and ordinary.
Lex moves from project to project, expecting his greatest obstruction to be Superman. Superman is alien, advanced, extraordinary. Nothing less is worth his attention. There are moments in this book where he stares directly into Clark’s face, without the glasses and doesn’t see Superman. Clark’s true nature is always obscured beneath the glare of his glasses, the ill-fitting suit, the ruffled hair and the poor posture.
Lex is the active one, he’s the lead here. Superman follows and reacts to his actions. But Lex prepares for Superman in front of him, purposefully blocking him, instead of following him and subtly thwarting him. That is why Lex always lost before. That is why Lex will lose at the end of this storyline.