This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 25, 2015.
The page turn is one truly unique element of the comics medium. In a form where readers are exposed to long sections of a story simultaneously, able to jump ahead based on a whim, it is the only form of control that creators can exert. Hiding something on the back of a page allows artists to conceal information from readers, and potentially deliver it with incredible impact. Page turns aren’t as basic as jump scares or flash reveals in movies, but when they are executed well they are something truly special, something that cannot be replicated by any other form of communication. Daredevil #16 offers a perfect example of what a page turn can be.
At the start of the issue, Daredevill has come to Kingpin looking for help. His friends have been put in an impossible situation and only the Kingpin has the resources to save them. They spend the first five pages of the issue talking about the situation and the possibility of making a deal, and then the page turns. What is revealed on page six is jaw dropping. Without a single word it changes the story entirely and leaves readers to stare in wonder.
A great page turn is a lot like great comedy. While the turn itself is the punchline, the thing that makes people laugh, respond, and talk, it requires an excellent set up and delivery to work. It’s not the turn between pages 5 and 6 in Daredevil #16 that does all of the work. The craft and execution of everything leading up to it, and the delivery of that final page are the key to making it function.
The five pages that play as set up are focused entirely on Daredevil, Kingpin, and their conversation. Forms fill the void, but reader’s eyes are never allowed to wander to far from this auditory focus. The lack of focus on visual elements places readers in Daredevil’s perspective. As a blind man, he is focused on what he can hear and the structure of his surroundings. Colors and visual details are beyond his senses, and so they are removed from the reader’s concentration as well.
When visual elements enter the scene or are altered, Chris Samnee ensures that the conversation remains the focus of the story. As Daredevil and Kingpin walk from an office into an art gallery, Samnee obstructs the view. Panels are carefully angled to focus on walls and doorways that obstruct what decorates these rooms. In an establishing shot, Daredevil’s radar sense is used to show the form of things, but not their details. Readers know where these characters stand, but cannot discern any more information than Daredevil himself can.
Even the most potentially distracting panel in the story, in which a pane glass window reflects the city of San Francisco, is muted by colorist Matthew Wilson. Both the skyline and Kingpin are reflected in the pale pink hues of a sunset. When all of these shapes are made equal, Kingpin stands out as the largest figure. Even a complete cityscape is incapable of distracting from the discussion. This same cool, industrial color scheme is applied throughout the conversation. Grays make for a sensible office aesthetic, but also help readers to focus on the red and white outfits sported by these two men.
Even Waid’s script and Joe Caramagna’s lettering work to focus readers on the men and their words alone. Waid leaves only 1 of 20 panels without any narrative captions or dialogue, and even this panel features the “loud” fist of the Kingpin at its center. Caramagna streamlines all of Waid’s writing throughout the issue, running multiple captions and speech bubble directly from left to right. It results in a fast-paced reading experience where readers are pushed forward by the words and encouraged to ignore the backgrounds.
The result of all of Samnee, Wilson, Waid, and Caramagna’s work is to place reader’s securely in Daredevil’s perspective. We are focused on reading speech bubbles and examining the men creating them, ignoring the rooms they enter besides a few basic geographic details. On the bottom of page five, when Daredevil says “I offer the death of Matt Murdock. Interested?”, that’s all we can see. Then page five is turned to page six and everythingchanges.
Page six inverts everything that has built to it. It is a single spread with no text, the two figures are minimized in the center of the panel and surrounded a diverse, colorful set of images. The sudden change in style and focus is a shock to the system. Before you are even able to comprehend the information being conveyed, you are struck by a powerful, visceral reaction.
The sudden shift reflects a change in perspective, moving from Daredevil to Kingpin. Page six is based on the power of sight. It is covered in paintings, something a blind man (even Daredevil) cannot hope to experience. Furthermore, it is an art gallery at the heart of Kingpin’s home, revealing that which he most desires: the death of Daredevil. The various paintings all depicting a singular goal make Kingpin’s desire inarguably clear and pay off Daredevil’s previous question perfectly.
There is a stunning density of information to the page as well. Samnee plays off a wide variety of influences in constructing the art gallery. Many classical styles and artists are featured. Greek pottery is featured prominently in the foreground, while more detailed works based in traditions dating back to the Renaissance are shown elsewhere, drawing some inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. He even includes some more modern styles like surrealism and cubism, including a piece that can be connected to Picasso’s rose period. Even for readers unfamiliar with art history, the diversity of style and strength of theme makes for a very powerful collection of images.
The page is shocking and immersive, but most importantly it makes the Kingpin’s mindset absolutely clear. He is not a trustworthy ally, and he most definitely has designs on Daredevil’s life. As Daredevil builds towards its finale, Kingpin has returned to become the hero’s greatest villain once more. His motives and planning are played out in the rest of the issue, but they come as no surprise after this moment. Everything reader’s need to know is discovered with a single turn of the page.