A panel is usually the smallest part in a comic book. Sequences need them to work together, and here lies, like Eisner pointed out long ago, the strongest potential to perform art in comics. To craft a good sequence you need the right panels arranged in a meaningful and harmonic order. But like music, you can achieve a more interesting approach by building tension using a dis-harmonic interval in a chord or scale. In comics and sequences, it can be achieved by inserting a panel that may seem like it doesn't fit and has no connection to the story. It isn't comfortable for us to stop reading because we doesn't understand the just seen. Like in a song with dis-harmonics you want to know why the musician decided to disrupt your hearing-pleasure with a, in you ears, unfitting note. The most time, the artist wants you to listen (or in our case read) mindfully. It's a trick to say: "Are you still listing? There's something important happening here!" So the intention to interrupt our reading-flow lies hidden deeper in the panel and you've got to dig a bit to access his real meaning.
This panel is an example for an element to break up a story and fill it with something that should be focused on. The panel is out of "All-Star Superman" a award-winning comic of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The story is no part of the regular DC Universe and focuses on the last days of Superman. By saving a team of astronauts crashing into the sun Superman overloads his cells with solar radiation and receives new powers. But this new powers demand a high tribute of him. He's got only one more year to live. In this last year Superman masters twelve tasks which are the core story-line of the book. This panel takes place in the seventh labor: The creation of life. In his laboratory he created a small universe around a tiny earth containing a mankind without superheroes. Earth -Q. The panel we are talking about is set in this new created earth and mirrors our evolution.
The transition from the sequence on mars, where Superman deploys the people of Kandor to be save after his passing, to the chosen panel is very hard. There seems no connection between the story-line and the displayed panel. But right now it is time to get a shovel and start digging. Here we see a middle-aged man sitting and writing at a table. The clothing, furniture, and a shining gas-lamp suggests the scene takes place in a long gone time. Looking closer, we can read the title of the man’s work: Also sprach Zarathustra -- Friedrich Nietzsche's book about the idea of the Übermensch -- translated as superman -- the parousia and the will to power. Nietzsche, a german philosopher who lived in the end of the 19th century was convinced by the thesis that only the creative man can overcome himself and the burdens of life. The term Übermensch was often misunderstood and used in political or harming ways and the interpretation of "über" as super is delusive. The primal thought was of a "hinüber" what means across or over to (sth.). So the "Übermensch" should be translated as "man who overcome himself".
The direct connection to Superman in the story around the panel from Earth-Q is obvious. Superman is facing the death but his primal task is not to find a cure and safe himself but rather create a model of a world without him, and be assure that mankind will survive in his absence. By accomplishing all his labors he overcame himself and finally stated that he is an Übermensch - the Superman. Also creating life in the seventh labor is not a usual task and Morrison subtle and subliminal levels Superman near to a god-like being. In Nietzsche’s work, the Übermensch is the next human stage of physical and mental evolution and Morrison uses this ideas to project their virtues on Superman. Overcoming nihilism and the denial of dreaming or philosophic ideas by stand the ground for a life-affirming sight on the world is a core-idea of Superman's character and Nietzsche's view on the real man within man.
So we explore this panel to the heart of his meaning (of course in context with the story) and now we are at the level of awareness Morrison wanted us to have. He wanted us to listen and interrupted us on mars with a dis-harmonic panel and we experienced that even an aged character like Superman can still be used to teach us higher concepts of philosophy and life itself. That is what art is supposed to do.
Post edited by ClumsyG