I bought a few old Daredevil comics last weekend, and this particular action sequence from Daredevil #193 by Larry Hama and Klaus Janson really jumped out at me, so I figured I'd talk a bit about it here.
The set up to this scene isn't so important, it's just Daredevil getting up to beat up a couple of goons, pretty standard stuff. However, what I think immediately sets it apart is that the five wide panels maintain one consistent, cropped view of the action. The view stays close to the ground level, perhaps meant to give us the feeling of some kind of cowering bystander witnessing the action from a hiding place, holding our breath and hoping we don't get drawn into the action. While some artists may have chosen to use a more dynamic perspective to draw you into the action, Janson opts to keep this view throughout the fight as a way of distancing us from the action, making the fight impersonal, and effectively allowing us to better appreciate the motion and movement of the fight.
The fight is quick as these are just ordinary goons meant to showcase our hero's fighting prowess. I'd say the amount of time that passes from panel one to panel five is probably a couple of seconds, but because of Janson's usage of wide panels for the length of the page, he's able to make it feel like a longer span of time. The five wide panels encourage our eyes to move along the width of the page, each time focusing on what is happening to each of the four characters on the page. The use of a blank yellow background ensures that the eye focuses solely on the contrasting red and green figures in each panel. So what happens is that within each wide panel, we get several smaller beats of action that would probably even work as panels of their own. If Janson were to use an arrangement of smaller panels, however, I think the action would feel much quicker and more frantic. What we get by keeping these beats within one panel is something more measured and deliberate, a pacing that is more confident and in control, reflective of the way that Daredevil easily dispatches these three men.
The best instances of multiple action beats within the same wide panel occur in panels two, three, and four.
Let's break it down right quick:
Panel 2 — DD THOK!s Goon #1 and we catch the follow-through of his billy-club as Goon #1 is knocked off his feet. The posture of Goon #2 suggests that he got startled by watching his buddy get THOK'ed right in front of him, but his legs ignore his brain and he keeps on moving, determined to get the jump on DD. Goon #3 meanwhile is a couple steps behind, slowing down after seeing how hard DD's just hit this guy.
Panel 3 — By the time Goon #1 hits the floor, DD has completed his wind-up in anticipation of Goon #2, now running headlong at our hero (see also: "cruisin' for a bruisin'"). Goon #3 has come to a full stop, and because we can't see anyone's face we can only imagine the sort of "No way man, I don't get paid enough for this" face he's making.
Panel 4 — Goon #1 is out cold. We catch DD at the end of the follow-through of his backhand as he knocks Goon #2 right off his feet with a THOOM. Goon #3 has turned tail and started running in fear.
A lot of action is happening simultaneously in these panels, but while we are taking them in all at once, it never feels overwhelming because Janson's choreography is so clear. The wide panels fit in all this quick action and work to stretch out our own perception of time. It's interesting that Janson chooses to depict the moments after the impact rather than the actual moment of impact. It's an old Alex Toth-style trick to never explicitly depict the actual moment of violence, but rather its after effects as a way of encouraging the reader to get in on the act. This could also explain Janson's choice to keep the same cropped perspective with more emphasis on the body than the face. The distance keeps us away from the fight, but the cropped view that focuses on the moment right after the damage is done works to bring us in, forcing us to imagine what it looks like when Daredevil gives a couple of dudes some brain trauma.
The rest of the comic is okay too. Daredevil goes on a cruise that gets robbed by stage magicians.