Superman: Action to Action Panel Transitions

According to Scott McCloud, action to action panel transitions follow a single subject through a series of active, connected events. Implied in his example is the idea that the actions shown are consequential — one action follows or is the result of another. This causal relationship helps distinguish action to action panel transitions from others that might emphasize sequence, subject, theme, or even whacked-out impressions.

Scott McCloud Defines Action to Action Transitions

Unsurprisingly, action to action transitions are the most popular kind of panel transition in superhero comics. As in the sample page below, the panels often take the form of an action-reaction sequence. In the example scene, Superman’s been infected by black kryptonite, and Jimmy Olsen, acting as P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Director for a day, is trying to stop Superman from hurting himself or others.

Action to Action Transitions, All-Star Superman (p. 98)

Each of these panels leads immediately into the actions of the next, so that the page spells out a series of causes and effects.The first two panels are classic action to action sequence, in which Superman picks up and then tosses a car. In dodging the car, Jimmy drops the gun, and as reaction in the following panel, Jimmy tries to retrieve the gun. Superman’s threat explains the act that’s about to follow next, when Superman tries to shoot Jimmy’s hand but instead temporarily disorients himself. The actions are immediate (from one panel to the next) and also extended (in the chase and eventual use of the gun).

This revision of the Superman mythos does exactly what a retelling should, which is keep the form of the original in order to do something that’s not-quite-entirely new (or, if you prefer, old in all the best ways). Fight scenes like the one above are beautifully executed in the comic not just because of their structure, but because the actants, their reasons for fighting, and the outcome of the story tell a very different tale that of a simple hero-villain dynamic.

The tagline for All-Star Superman is, “…the measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does,” and what’s fascinating about the series is how much significance the creators place on the first part of that equation. Secrets, costumes, half-truths, and strange visitors: this series takes the motifs of the Superman universe and defines them in terms of communication and connection with others.

What’s fun here, in other words, is that the actions, while beautifully portrayed, are just part of the story.

Additional Reading

Grant Morrison (writer). Frank Quitely (penciller). Jamie Grant (inker and colorer). Phil Balsman (letterer). All-Star Superman: Volume 1. DC Comics, 2007.

Scott McCloud (everything). Understanding Comics. HarperPerennial, 1993.
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