By Steve Morris
Splash pages are commonplace in superhero comics. That’s where the creative team dedicate one or two pages to a single image in a single panel, to emphasise something being big, shocking, or action-packed. You’ll usually have a single major action or heroic return framed in that way, to make the reader feel more strongly about the scale of the moment. The creative team can always opt to use a splash page to make the moment feel grander and more triumphant.
What’s most notable about issue #188 of X-Men is how quickly the creative team break readers out of that common comics rhythm. It’s the first issue of the run by Carey/Bachalo, and their goal is to get Rogue to feel like a powerhouse, an important character who’ll make for an exciting protagonist. As such, her first appearance is to fight with some random guards.
It’s not an important fight, but it’s there to build us up to an early splash page where Rogue can do something big and cool and show herself off as a lead character. And so, as readers we see Rogue spend a page recovering from a big hit she takes as the fight begins, establishing her situation for the readers and drawing up the tension. Small panels show her collecting the powers of her fallen allies, setting us up for the idea she’s going to combine their moves together and do something major with them. Bachalo confines Rogue into the relatively small room she’ll have to do her fighting inside, always cutting off parts of her body into the gutters of the page. The result is to make Rogue feel small inside the page, blocked off with not enough room to move. It’s adding on the pressure.
Eventually Rogue goes on the offensive… only for her big move to be confined into a relatively small 1/3 page panel. She smashes Cyclops’s force beams through Emma Frost’s solid diamond form, bouncing out the strengthened blast out at random through the room and taking out every opponent in one big go. But it’s not the attack which is the splash page…
It’s the aftermath.
After that tense close-quarters skirmish, Bachalo cuts out the background entirely and just gives us a few pieces of rubble, the defeated guards, and Rogue: standing powerfully in the middle of a white page, examining the impact of her big moment. Readers would have been expecting to see the blast be the splash page, the attack as the climactic moment of the sequence and the one which gives Rogue that moment of strength and fire. Instead, it’s the aftermath of her attack which sets Rogue up as the force to be reckoned with. Who’d doubt her after the way Bachalo portrays her here?
That choice to hold back on the cathartic splash page is one which would go on to define Carey’s writing on the series as a whole, with the consequences of a decision being more important than the decision itself. But there’s nothing more freeing than that very first moment of Rogue unleashed, her powers leaving both her enemies and her readers in awe.
X-Men #188 “Supernovas, Part 1”
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend and Jaime Mendoza
Colourist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Cory Petit
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!