Don’t read through Sensation Comics: Featuring Wonder Woman #38 too quickly. Released this coming Thursday, the book reads like the great Italian Neorealism and Japanese New Wave cinema of the 1950s and ’60s. Like de Sica or Oshima, every moment in Sensation #38 is laced with a perfect stillness, perfect repose. Then again, even read it at speed, you’ll lose none of the power and the presence that writer Matthew Manning and artists Georges Jeanty, Karl Story and Dexter Vine bring to this issue.
Wonder Woman, the lead, speaks only 22 words across the first four pages of story. But the entire point of these first four pages (what would be the setup or the first 10 minutes or so of a 120 minute movie) is to get Wonder Woman to a point where she’s standing on the balcony of an Appalachian resort, confront the unknown, but far from insurmountable.
Facing the dark unknown is absolutely the perfect ending for this phase of the story, right before it segues into the major action, because the dark unknown is exactly the crisis of confidence Wonder Woman’s faced since the beginning of this issue. The dark, foreboding forest is the perfect externalization of whatever it is that’s daunted Wonder Woman.
But Manning and Jeanty don’t stop there. Look at Wonder Woman’s pursed lips and stern jawline as it frames a stalwart Batman in the issue’s opening panel. Look at the way she clutches her naked hand, just below her bracelet, a clear sign of insecurity, or perhaps only uncertainty, just two panels later. And that look that betrays a loss of confidence in the very next panel. Look at the moon, then a boot disrupting the image of the moon as we realize it was only a reflection in a puddle.
Then go further. In the second panel look at how there’s just enough detail to suggest Wonder Woman and Batman standing alongside each other. But no actual detail can be gleaned. Look at the excessive detail in the stonework of the Appalachian town, and yet none of the people’s faces can be discerned. As if the people themselves have become nothing more than objects. Look at the same lack of detail in Wonder Woman’s face when she enters the hotel, and the excessive detail on the old lady concierge’s fingers.
This technique is known as the masking effect, and the trick is that greater the detail in any piece of art, the less emotion you invest. Detail’s okay for stonework that you want to seem real. But less detail on a character, making them seem more “cartoony”, means that you’re more likely to cast yourself in that character’s role. All without your conscious mind realizing it.
This is the real art of Sensation #38, it’s a story that moves you from reading about a crisis of confidence externalized as a flight into a dark forest, to animating that same story with your own emotions. It is the kind of comicbook that opens the doors to genuine literary works, like Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, and Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal “What was Hemingway doing in Ketchum?”
Sensation Comics: featuring Wonder Woman #38 is available for download on Thursday (6/11) via the DC Comics App, Read DC Entertainment, iBooks, comiXology, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, and iVerse ComicsPlus. It is written by Matthew K. Manning, with Pencils by Georges Jeanty and Inks by Karl Story and Dexter Vine.