The Humans #5: Breaking The Fourth Wall [Close Read]
August 7, 2015
Most comics stay nestled firmly behind the fourth wall, meaning that while you're reading the comic, you aren't conscious of the fact that you're reading a comic. You're deep into the story and the action, instead of thinking about needing to turn the page or the fact that the book you're reading was printed and stapled together. The fourth wall is important, because it allows us to maintain our suspension of disbelief, but like every other rule in comics, it can be bent or broken to service a story or moment.
The bulk of THE HUMANS #5 is a high-speed chase through the freeways of California, as the ape biker gang is transporting drugs down the blacktop. It's a wonderland of fascinating lettering, with dune buggies, semi-trucks, motorcycles, flips, crossbows, Gatling guns, and an ape with a megaphone that must be described via sound effects.
In this page from THE HUMANS, Neely and Collantes crafted a four-panel page that's really good for the first three panels, and then amazing for the fourth, when it breaks the fourth wall and comes screaming into our reality. The first three are simply good action comics that take advantage of both the comics form and the rules of the world that The HUMANS inhabit.
The ape swinging from the side mirror of the truck is a great touch in terms of building up an action scene, as is the way the truck bleeds into pure speedlines. There's a good sense of motion, of things happening, on this page. All of the poses are dynamic, all of the characters are in the process of doing something, with the sole exception of the driver, who must stay calm.
The fourth panel is the type of thing to knock you off your feet if you like comics, though. The BOOM!!! goes from being part of the art, something we read and receive but do not "notice," to part of the reality of the story, an exclamation point on the shotgun blast that it is literally illustrating.
The BOOM!!! reminds you that you are Currently Reading A Comic Book, but it also demonstrates that just because it's a comic book doesn't mean it can't be thrilling. The power of comics, the enduring appeal of the medium, is that they can do things that no other media can. This page from THE HUMANS is a great example, because you could never see something like this in a movie or television show without rolling your eyes. It is native to the comics format, a different thrill than slow motion or bullet time.