A Brief Consideration of Briefs in a Panel of an Issue of Hellblazer
Travis Hedge Coke
Mike Carey and Marcelo Frusin’s Staring at the Wall is a fantastic John Constantine story from his then serial, Hellblazer, which brings round lots of earlier characters and plot points into something both a celebration of the nearly two decades of comics in which John and his cast had been appearing, and a thrilling, nasty horror adventure of its own standing. It’s brutal and smart, the art is evocative and surreal, the dialogue crisp and emotive, paced amazingly, so that, even knowing what’s coming, I get chills.
Halfway into the fourth chapter, originally printed in Hellblazer #192, John has committed suicide with a razor blade, trying to force a terrible monster thing to deal with him, as it doesn't want him to die until everyone else in the world has. His niece, Gemma Constantine, arrives at his flat just in time to try to save him, via magic, not knowing that he and she are both being played. She does up a potion, drinks it, and falls over, unconscious and communing with the barley living spirit of her uncle and a big, horrible dream monster.
So far, so good.
And, just as a man intones, “We’re fucked! We’re bloody fucked!” with his head in hand, the lumbering Swamp Thing kneels beside her, and we have Gemma’s skirt up around her hips, so we can see her pink undies riding up a bit between her cheeks.
This is on a page where we see her walk, in silhouette towards something like a cavernous human mouth, as if she is inside a giant, deformed head. She is greeted by a giant’s ax, swinging in the air, blood or muck across the blade. This is all good, frightening, odd stuff. And, then there’s her little pink panties.
Because, what, exactly?
Exactly how does this heighten the seriousness, enhance to gruesome horror? Does it, in some way, communicate more efficaciously that she’s unconscious? That she’s performing magic? I don’t remember having to see John’s y-fronts too often, to know he’s working spells. Does the Phantom Stranger drop his pants when we saw him in the previous issue, and I just missed it?
I don’t think so.
And, before you tell me it’s no big deal, it’s just a little thing, let me preemptively say, I know it’s a little thing. That’s why it bugs me. It’s a thing that stands out for having no clear point to it, at contrast with the tone and tenor of the rest of this comic, this issue, this story, even the rest of the panels on the same page.
It only lasts the one panel. Nothing like that occurs before or happens again. So, why? Marc Frusin chose to draw it, or he was told to by Carey’s script.
And, why are we inured to it? Why is it, for some artists, practically a reflex? Chris Bachalo does it in an X-Men comic, from a couple years ago, out of nowhere. There’s just a big upskirt during a fight scene from a young, otherwise not prominently sexualized character. There’s a Mojo special starring a fifteen year old Kitty Pryde where she has no less than three or four different pairs of underwear in one adventure and we get to keep seeing them. I don’t think it’s intentional, but that doesn’t mean it was not a choice.
Frusin is a good artist. He’s talented and capable and he rocks his story. It looks good. I honestly want to know why he thought we needed to see Gemma’s butt cheeks and briefs. It’s not a raunchy page, or a risqué comic. It’s not about embarrassing her, or how unembarrassed she is. No one really responds to it at all. It’s just there, and all I can figure is that it is there because Frusin, like too many comics artists, is just used to doing it sometimes.
If it’s something better than that, I want to know. If it isn’t, I’d still like to know.