12 Stories Composed Entirely (Or Almost Entirely) of Splash Panels
Panels come in all shapes and sizes, and the biggest of them all are the splash panels that take up an entire page (or even two if the artist is feeling particularly epic).
Their hefty size make them handy for times when artists want to add weight to a scene, and they’re most often found at the start or the end of a comic book to showcase a shocking reveal, announce a character’s dramatic entrance, or make it known to one and all that, as the kids say, shit just got real.
One thing you don’t see too often is a comic story composed of nothing but splash panels. This is for the same reason you don’t see a lot of movies that show nothing but panoramic long shots: a splash panel’s impact is blunted if there aren’t smaller panels around it to provide contrast.
Every so often, though, you’ll find a story in which the creators decided to go balls to the wall with splash panels as far as the eye can see.
1. “Doomsday!” (Superman #75, 01/93)
One of the more famous examples of this is Superman #75, the issue in which DC dared to do the unthinkable and kill off the Man of Steel (spoiler alert: he got better). After spending a few issues introducing Doomsday as a serious threat, DC put out this issue featuring the main event, a book-long slugfest in which Superman and Doomsday literally punched each other to death while the rest of Metropolis watched. The panel-per-page format was clearly meant to impress upon readers the momentousness of the occasion, and eagle-eyed fans also noticed it continued the pattern established by previous chapters in the storyline: Adventures of Superman #497 (drawn entirely with four-panel pages), Action Comics #684 (three per page), and Superman: The Man of Steel #19 (two per page). Regardless of what you thought about the “Death of Superman” storyline, that’s kind of neat.
2. “A Terrible Thing to Waste…” (Marvel Fanfare #29, 11/86)
After a few years of producing the second-best run of Fantastic Four comics, writer/artist John Byrne decamped to DC to give Superman a post-Crisis makeover — but not before turning his attention to the Hulk for a few issues. This story, which ran in Marvel’s prestige anthology series at the time, was supposed to appear in 1986’s Incredible Hulk #320, but legend has it Marvel’s editors balked at running a story of splash panels on the grounds that fans wouldn’t think it was enough content for their money. Byrne is said to have quit the title — and Marvel altogether — because of what he saw as undue interference from editors (with this story’s rejection being the last straw), and if that’s true then it fits with what other artists who left Marvel around that time said about their own reasons for moving on. At any rate, the story itself is an interesting affair, featuring no huge battles on the scale of the Superman-Doomsday match to warrant an all-splash approach — although we do get some images of the Hulk getting high as a kite thanks to some “neuro-tranquilizing vapors.” Yeah, that’ll do it.
3. “Mjolnir’s Song” (Thor #380, 6/87)
If it’s true that Marvel’s editors nixed Byrne’s story because they weren’t keen on all-splash issues, then we should be grateful they changed their minds by the time Walt Simonson turned in this story during his excellent Thor run (either that or they were so spooked by Byrne taking off they didn’t want to risk Simonson doing the same). In a nutshell, this is the issue in which Thor does battle with Jormungand, a massive serpent that in Norse mythology encircles Midgard (Earth) and is also Thor’s sworn arch-enemy. Aside from a final page showing the aftermath of the battle in four horizontal panels, the entire issue is one splash page after another of Thor and Jormungand in mortal combat, with Thor hitting the serpent so hard it literally breaks every bone in his body (which really sucked for him because he was cursed at the time by Hela, who made his bones as brittle as glass but refused to allow him to die). Simonson would cap his run on Thor just two issues after this one, wrapping up this saga before moving on — and it was probably just as well, since there was no way he could have topped himself after this ultimate fight to the finish. KKRRALLLL-AAANNGG!
4. Silver Surfer: Judgment Day (1988)
Introduced in Fantastic Four #48-50 when Jack Kirby decided a being as powerful as Galactus needed a space-surfing herald to announce his presence, the Silver Surfer graduated to his own series in 1968, with Stan Lee on scripts and John Buscema stepping in to do the art chores. Lee and Buscema teamed up again 20 years later for Silver Surfer: Judgment Day, a 64-page saga in which the Surfer clashes once again with Mephisto, that devilish demon intent on securing the Surfer’s saintly soul. With his usual humility, Lee wrote in the book’s introduction that to his knowledge there has never been “a graphic novel in which all the illustrations are full-size in picture, and furthermore, in which each illo is treated just like a typical comic-book panel with its own plethora of dialogue balloons, captions and sound effects… It truly is a watershed moment in the history of publishing.” Eh, maybe. The pictures are pretty, I’ll give him that.
5. “The Dragon, His Sidekick, A Nemesis, & Their Cows” (Jack of Fables #50, 04/2011)
The Jack in Jack of Fables is the same Jack from all the nursery rhymes and fairy tales you grew up with (as in Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill, Little Jack Horner and so on). One of Bill Willingham’s more popular creations, the scoundrel that everyone loves to hate was spun out of Fables and into his own series in 2006. And as befitting a Fable of his storied (pun!) stature, the final issue of his series is an all-out, all-splash panel war between all the characters in the book. At the risk of spoiling things for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered the series, the phrase “This issue: everyone dies!” has never been more appropriate. Come for the cast of thousands in both the story and the credits; stay for the surreal sights, including Jack and Babe the Blue Ox (yes, really) providing colour commentary about the story in the manner of TV sports broadcasters. Great stuff, with or without the extra-large canvas to show off the art.
6. “Turnabout” (Captain America #14, 02/99)
The Red Skull isn’t a character who comes with a lot of nuance: being a Nazi with a skull for a face tends to work against you in that respect. Because of that, not a lot of attention has ever been given to his motivations and emotions… though this story is a definite exception. “Stan Lee presents a rare and horrifying glimpse into one of the most evil minds in the Marvel universe!” And it’s… not that horrifying, to be honest. Almost bland, in fact, for a guy who’s supposed to be the living embodiment of genocidal evil. Most of the story — the parts that represent the Red Skull’s mindscape — is told in splash pages and grey tones, with only his trademark skull providing any colour; in it, we see where his hatred for the ideals of democracy and equality begin to take root. Fun bit of trivia: Although writer Mark Waid was credited on the front cover, his name doesn’t appear in the interior credits (which take up the full front page). He asked to have his name removed from the story after large parts of it were rewritten at the last minute by editor Ralph Macchio at the request of then editor-in-chief Bob Harras. Hard to say if Waid’s original script would have been better… actually, no, that’s not true. It’s very easy to say Waid’s original script would have been better. Ah well.
7. Sin City: Silent Night (11/95)
Sin City: Silent Night is an interesting one-shot, even for Frank Miller; appearing about four years after he introduced the now-familiar cast of Basin City in Dark Horse Presents, the story is told mostly with splash panels (only three pages are divided into smaller panels) and not a word is spoken by anyone until the final page. Against a backdrop of heavy snow, we follow Marv as he approaches a door in a dark alley, and is then led down a flight of stairs. He meets with two armed men and a leather-clad woman (because Miller), hands her a wad of bills and is shown to a steel door in the far wall. Through a small viewing slit, he can see a terrified little girl crouching in the darkness. Marv then draws two pistols and kills the henchmen and the woman. At the end of the story we hear the only words uttered in the entire book: “Your momma’s been asking after you, Kimberly. Let’s get you home.” Powerful stuff, made all the more so by the black-and-white full-page art featuring Miller’s trademark use of shadows and light.
8. “The Magic Theatre: A Pop Art Happening” (Promethea #12, 02/2001)
Alan Moore’s Promethea is not an easy read, even for fans of Moore’s work, but it’s worth making the effort. The 1999 series stars the female incarnation of inspiration, a spirit that takes residence in one woman after another over the centuries — the latest one being Sophie Bangs, a college student in a present-day, ultra-modern New York City. Moore being Moore, there’s a lot more going on here than the usual superheroics, and issues 1-11 reveal the origins of Promethea, introduce her former hosts, and team her up with “science heroes” known as the Five Swell Guys to save her city. The 12th issue offers a truly trippy look at the Tarot, with each card in the deck given its own full page while Promethea learns about magic from an odd pair of teachers (if you’re wondering why there are Scrabble tiles spelling “APE MOTHER,” here’s a hint: other pages had messages like “A PERT HOME,” “THE MOP ERA” and “ME ATOP HER”). “To learn of magic is not too hard/Just a pick a card. Pick any card…”
9-11. The Solution #0 (01/94), Savage Dragon #7 (01/94), Stormwatch #47 (05/97)
The ’90s was a time when enough was never enough in comics: heroes were bulkier, women were bustier, and everything was amped to the ex-TREEEEEME! wherever you looked. No surprise, this balls-to-the-wall attitude was also expressed in the over-generous use of splash panels. This decade was full of pin-up shots and decompressed comics, which relied heavily on splash panels, aspect montages and minimal dialogue to stretch out stories to the point where almost nothing happens. This emphasis on style over substance means entire issues by companies like Malibu and Image Comics that came our during this decade can literally be summed up as: “Everyone fights; the end.” Eventually, some artists just decided to go all the way and produce all-splash stories, like the one in this issue of The Solution in which we literally see right through someone’s torso as it’s getting blown to pieces by someone else’s energy blasts. Charming.
12. Batman: Hidden Treasures (2010)
All-splash issues have become a rarity in recent years, partly because they’ve gotten a bit of a bad rap thanks to ’90s comics like the ones I’ve listed above, and partly because it’s hard getting a lot of former comic fans to pay current prices for any comic, let alone one that’s perceived as light on plot. This is why Batman: Hidden Treasures was probably seen as a bit of a risk for DC, even with its flagship character front and centre. Written by Ron Marz with art by Berni Wrightson and Kevin Nowlan, the story was advertised as a “lost” story because it was completed about 15 years prior to its publishing (it was originally commissioned for an issue of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight when editor Archie Goodwin died, and the story was temporarily lost in the shuffle). “The style in which we did the story probably played a part in how long it took us to find the proper place to print it, because it’s a little off-model in terms of what people expect from a comic,” Marz told Newsarama in 2010. “But my thoughts going into it were, if I’m going to have Bernie Wrightson and Batman and Solomon Grundy, and most of it taking place in a swamp, I’m going to get the hell out of the way and let the artist take up most of the space.” Smart thinking.