Two Images in One

By | Monday, September 25, 2023 Leave a Comment
I recently came across the cover to Batman #381 from 1985 by Rick Hoberg, Dick Giordano, and Anthony Tollin. Batman is in the midst of a leap down from Gotham Trust about to land on a Batman imposter...
The most obvious stand-out part of the illustration is, of course, that there are two people dressed as Batman. It's not a unique situation, but rare enough that this stands out a bit because of it. But there's some more deviously clever going on that is unique to comics. Namely, that this is actually two illustrations showing a full sequence of events in a single image.

Now, you might think, "What are you talking about, Sean? It's just supposed to be a single moment in time after Batman jumps but before he lands. How is that two illustrations?" But let's actually take a look at that Batman drawing. Batman's pose suggests that he's not leaping directly down as if he's coming down from the roof of that building. The way his legs stick out the back, the implication is more that he's leaping from a lower position (not necessarily the ground, but lower than the "Gotham Trust" sign), jumping up above his opponent, and is on his way back down in the instant the image takes place. Kind of like this shot from the opening of Batman: The Animated Series...
Here's the thing, though. The specific pose that Batman is in doesn't make sense for that kind of a jump. His back is perfectly straight with his butt in alignment with it. But his legs are still bent forward at the hips. It's almost like a sitting position. I did this rough sketch from the side to show about what Batman would look like from another angle...
It's certainly not an impossible pose, but it doesn't quite mesh with the type of leap that is suggested to the reader. And that's why I'm saying it's actually two illustrations. What we're actually seeing is Batman at two distinct points in his leap. His legs are from when he's still in the upward arc of his trajectory, but his arms and torso are from after he's reached his peak height and is on his way back down. Your brain registers both halves of his body as coming from different times, only a fraction of a second apart, and ends up showing most of the arc of his leap in a single figure. We see the dynamism and fluidity in Batman's jump even though his body positioning is actually quite rigid.

This type of approach does actually show up in fine art -- in Cubism particularly -- and there's a fair argument to be made for including those pieces under the definition of "comics" because of it. But it's not something that I think most viewers of these types of drawings consciously realize, and that they don't conisder how they may be looking at multiple images in a single illustration.
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