Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wednesday Comics: Noble Experiment or Another 52?

Obviously DC Comics is a business; they release product that they hope will make money. Why they fail to market it is beyond me, and why they think some of the trash they release will generate a dime is a mystery as well, but I digress....

So despite the arty/retro facade of DC’s tabloid sized weekly, this is clearly expected to be a money-maker, and at 3.99 for what is the equivalent of your local Sunday paper’s comics section, it most certainly must be.

I’ve just finished working my way through the first five issues, and, while some of it was quite a pleasure, much of it was a chore. Although many of the features share the same faults, it’s probably best to address each individually.

BATMAN: This is the only strip in the entire book that works every week. Azzarello, who I sometimes find an awkward superhero writer (see his Superman story with Jim Lee), gets the right mix of atmosphere, character and plot advancement in each page, and Risso’s black-heavy art works great on this (slightly upgraded) newsprint pulp. Nearly everyone else on this book should be looking at this work and reflecting on their own output.

KAMANDI: While it’s great to have the character back in an anthology that will support it, Gibbons’ script is a mess – with the result that issues 2-5 have seemed like a re-telling of the same events. The creators seem to be after a Prince Valiant vibe, and by following the stylistic trappings of Valiant they have managed to slow the action to a crawl. This brings up a larger issue that infects much of the work in Wednesday Comics, which is the creator’s attempts to overlay someone else’s style over their own, in order to make the format work or to pay homage to classic strips. There’s a certain economy of writing and a sense of momentum that needs to be used in single page installments and it’s missing here. I daresay that Gibbons would not include these five pages in sequence in a standard format book, so let’s hope he addresses this as the story continues. Sook’s art is great, and well-suited for Kamandi.

SUPERMAN: This is just boring. Bermejo’s art is nice, and Arcudi’s writing is servicable, but the story is dull as dishwater and we’ve seen it a million times before. A waste.

DEADMAN: Nicely done, but again, the outside artistic influence – in this case, Darwyn Cooke – is overwhelming the strip. The writing is acceptable, but the storyline is conservative, resulting in warmed-over Deadman 101.

GREEN LANTERN: Although not as immediately obvious in the art, Darwyn Cooke’s considerable shadow looms over this strip as well, particularly his New Frontier take on Hal Jordan/GL. It’s so obvious as to be embarrassing and adds nothing to the content of the strip or the New Frontier mythology.

HAWKMAN: Kyle Baker is doing great work here – although he, too, is utilizing conventions of old comic strips. The story is solid and he seems to understand better than most involved how to move a single page story forward week after week. There are some nice subtle touches here, too, but the art is suffering in the reproduction in that Baker’s fine line work seems to be filling in as the ink soaks into the more absorbent newsprint. Oddly, this doesn’t seem to be the case elsewhere in the book, so maybe it’s a deliberate effect generated by Baker in homage to the newspaper comic strips. If this is the case, he should drop it – it’s not doing his art any favors.

METAMORPHO: I think we all expect more from Gaiman and Allred. Both are sleepwalking through this and it shows. There is nothing on the printed page that shows me either of these idiosyncratic creators had a hand in this except the masthead (unless you count the annoying sub-strip at the bottom of the page, which seems like the best example of the worst of Allred’s indulgences). This is also the slowest moving strip in the book, which is really saying something.

TEEN TITANS: Pedestrian story & script saved by Sean Galloway’s art. To be fair, the art suffers in this format – everything prints too pastel, which is like adding a layer of dullness over the whole thing. After Superman, the least interesting thing in the book.
STRANGE ADVENTURES: DC made a point of showing this strip when they were hyping the book. Good thinking as it’s one of the top strips, and a perfect pairing of creator and character. Pope is really getting the tone and pacing right, and his art, as always, rules.
SUPERGIRL: As a whole, this will be a delightful trifle and perhaps the perfect intro to superhero comics for a pre-teen girl. In this context, however, it feels like nothing. Each installment is cute and well-crafted, but at a page a week, it fails to get any traction. The Aquaman stuff in week 5 is priceless, though.

METAL MEN: I hate to give DiDio credit for anything good at DC (luckily for me, he makes that easy) but this is a fun strip to read, with great art from Garcia-Lopez and a goofy, well-paced story that serves the characters well. It’s a perfect example of the kind of strip that should thrive in this format – beloved second string characters in a thoughtfully executed revival - in other words, a property that wouldn’t garner the necessary sales to thrive in a stand-alone book.

WONDER WOMAN: Although a nice idea that’s executed by a clearly talented artist, this is the epic fail of Wednesday Comics. Just because you have a large page, there’s no reason to overcrowd it with tiny, overwritten panels. The strict use of a pastel color palette only serves to mush it all together in a hard to follow and headache-inducing mess.

SGT ROCK: Joe Kubert on Sgt. Rock? I’m happy to see it in any circumstance, and the WC format really allows Kubert’s art room to pop. The story could pick up the pace a bit, but even so, this is a delight to behold.

THE FLASH: The rare case where playing off old newspaper strip conventions is utilized to try something new. The Flash page is split into two strips, with the main Flash strip is joined by an Iris West or Gorilla Grodd strip that informs the Flash content. It’s hit and miss overall, but kudos to the creators turning conventions of the newspaper strip around.

DEMON/CATWOMAN: Walt Simonson has a nice premise going here and Stelfreeze is doing fine work, but after a promising start it’s feeling stagnant.

This underlines the problem with the book and indeed, any criticism of it. The series is scheduled to run for a finite number of issues and as far as I know, all the strips will be in every issue, so the creators are bound by constrictions – different than a standard comic book, which some creators seem to find freeing, but not given the full freedom that a daily or weekly newspaper strip artist has in allowing a story to find its natural length.

If the book survives to be an ongoing, it stands to reason that creators could find that kind of freedom with features rotating out when stories are completed. Anchor features (like Batman or Superman) could rotate creators and this could take the place of the old “Tales of the Dark Knight” concept, where top creators have an unconventional format in which to tell that one Batman story they’ve been dying to tell.

If that can happen, Wednesday Comics might become something more than a mixed bag of features that are bound together by format.

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