Posted by: Graeme McMillan on August 8, 2009
We’re five weeks in, and I think I’m finally beginning to get my head around WEDNESDAY COMICS. And, when I say “get my head around,” I really mean “Write lots of random, scattered thoughts that may or may not constitute a review of what we’ve seen so far. And so, for those who are prepared to slog through them all: 25 (SEMI-)RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT WEDNESDAY COMICS.
1. It’s definitely not what I expected. I remember, when I saw the first issue, being surprised at the paper quality, and that there were less strips like Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman, which seems determined to pack in as much information – and as many panels – on the oversized page as possible. Something like Sgt. Rock feels, in a way, as if it could easily be printed on a regular sized page without losing anything, and that always seems like a bit of a let down.
2. That said, Wonder Woman, more than any other strip, falls prey to the printing process, which makes the colors too muddy and dark, and the size of each panel and size of the lettering makes it harder to read than it should be. You really have to work your way through it, which is a shame; I love the tone, and Caldwell’s art is beautiful.
3. Wonder Woman and, to a lesser extent, Supergirl both show ways in which DC don’t take enough advantage of the versatility of their characters. Anyone who doesn’t think that DC should get Caldwell or someone similarly inclined to work on a series (or, better yet, a series of OGNs, Minx-style) featuring the young Diana having magical adventures aimed at a non-superhero-reading audience needs their head checked. Similarly, Palmiotti and Conner’s Supergirl – surely one of the best strips in the series – is cute, charming and just plain fun. I really like the Gates/Igle series right now, but why can’t we have another series like this instead of the spiky, off-putting Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In The Eight Grade?
4. The fact that Supergirl is one of my favorite strips in the series points out something that surprises me every week – that my preconceptions about who’d knock it out’ve the park (Using baseball metaphors without irony? Apparently, I’ve taken it to US citizenship more than I’d suspected) and who’d disappoint were completely wrong. Well, almost completely; Eddie Berganza’s writing on Teen Titans is pretty much as okay as I expected it to be.
5. To wit, though: Kyle Baker’s Hawkman? It makes me sad. I’m not talking about the overly-computer-generated art (which works in some places, but seems very… sterile and posed, in others), but the writing, which just reeks of disdain for the subject, or for the readers, or both. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve come to expect more of a sense of personality (and of humor) from Baker’s writing, but I can’t help but read this and think that it’s mean, somehow. Like he’s writing down to the audience, in a sense of “You want this kind of thing, do you? Fine.”
6. Along similar lines, Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s Metamorpho is, at best, uneven. The attempts at knowing fun (The meta “Hey, Kids!” strip at the bottom of the the second and third episodes) came off as throwaway and tired, and because they appeared twice in a row – and on two consecutive splash page episodes, too – before disappearing for the next two (or forever?), seemed more like repetition than a recurring feature. Also, for Gaiman, even with all his faults, the writing seems amazingly slight… or is it just me?
7. I still love that there is a high-profile series from DC where the subjects include Metamorpho, the Metal Men and Sgt. Rock, however.
8. That said, all three fall into Wednesday Comics‘ biggest trap: They look nice, but have no substance. See also Teen Titans and, depressingly, The Demon and Catwoman (And I say that as a massive fan of Walt Simonson’s writing).
9. Man, I feel like I’m really dumping on Teen Titans, for some reason. I don’t mean to; I think there’s just such a disconnect from the quality of the wonderful Sean Galloway art and Berganza’s meandering, weightless writing; the images make me want to read it, and the words make me wonder who all these people are and why I should care.
10. My problem with The Demon and Catwoman, however, is that I feel like Simonson is squandering what is a great idea – Selina Kyle tries to steal from Jason Blood, with hilarious, horrific and magical results – with a rushed execution. I get that there’s only 12 pages to tell the story in, but it consistently feels like we’re missing chunks of story in order to hit necessary beats. What makes Simonson’s writing work for me is the humanity of his characters as much as the scale of his imagination, but I feel as if we’re not seeing that here. Plus, Brian Stelfreeze doesn’t draw as cute a Selina as I’d want (Being of the Cameron Stewart/Darwyn Cooke school of Selina Kyle).
11. Talking of Cooke: If there’s a Wednesday Comics 2, as many have been discussing recently, I’d love to see what he could do with the format, especially after his Solo issue.
12. Other artists I’d want to see tackle Wednesday Comics, if there’re more? Frank Quitely, JH Williams III, Brendan McCarthy and Bruce Timm (on OMAC – You know you want to, Bruce). Writers would include Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin.
13. It surprises me that only two strips have gone for directly referencing classic Sunday comics, to be honest. I’m sad that no-one has tried to ape the puzzles and multiple strips variety format (beyond Karl Kerschl’s two-stories-in-one Flash Comics page).
14. Flash Comics is one of the biggest winners of the series for me. Even without the formal experiments – The dot-color in the Iris West strip, the crossover of the two strips, the homage/parody of the writing styles – Kerschl’s art would’ve made me a happy man, but there’s something extra-engaging about the quiet ambition of the page.
15. However, I’m still quietly mad that Kerschl didn’t take Carmine Infantino’s very particular iconography from the silver age Flash comics and go mad with it, given the size of the page. If there’s a second Wednesday Comics, give me and Rian Hughes the character and I’ll show you what I mean.
16. I admire the hell out’ve Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s Kamandi, but would be lying if I said I actually enjoyed it. I always wonder if I’m alone in that.
17. Batman is pretty much tone-perfect so far, which amazes me, given how little I actually enjoyed 100 Bullets by the same people. But Azzarello has a nice pulpy punch that works with the short episodes, and Risso can draw the shit out’ve it.
18. I loved the lettering mistake in #4’s Batman episode, where it looks like Bruce is trying to seduce Luna in the name of crimefighting. People, she’s inviting him to her hotel room. Not the other way around. I mean, Batman doesn’t care about sex.
19. I’m running out of points, and I have so much more to say. So, quickly: Deadman is something that I remain convinced I should be enjoying more. I love Deadman as a character, I love Bullock’s art and there’s nothing incredibly wrong with the writing, but it’s just… there. I can’t quite shift the feeling that Bullock’s art works better smaller, either.
20. John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo’s Superman is, sadly, a story that creators always seem to fall into when doing high-profile Superman stories: the “Why he is so important and deep and wonderful and inspirational” one. By the time it’s completed, I may feel more warmly towards it, but for now, it’s as if every week is ticking off a cliche one-by-one: Here’s the bit where we see that Batman is colder than he is! And here’s where he loves his friends, but feels disconnected from them because he’s an alien! And here’re his folks, who love him unconditionally, like the simple farm folks they are! But, look – Here’s Jor-El and Lara, and they loved him so much they sent him into space! and so on. Bermejo’s art is luscious, but at least half the credit for that goes to Barbara Ciardo’s colors, which really humanize and soften his occasionally sterile harshness.
21. Metal Men? Another one for the “Eh, it’s okay, I guess” pile; Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, unsurprisingly, make a wonderful – if dated – mix (Seriously, look at the civilians), and Dan Didio’s writing is better than Eddie Berganza’s. Is that damning with faint praise?
22. The writing, overall, is the anthology’s failing; I’m tempted to generalize and say that so many shortform anthologies from Marvel and DC show how poorly that their creators can handle the short format, but that’s more childhood scars from things like Action Comics Weekly and Marvel Comics Presents than any real critical judgment talking. The strips in Wednesday are, if nothing else, better serializations than those earlier attempts, but very few manage to offer the right amount of story each episode. The most successful, to my mind, as Kamandi, Strange Adventures, Supergirl and Batman.
23. Talking of Strange Adventures, am I the only one who’s ended up wondering how Adam Strange went this long without being a Paul Pope character? The intoxicating mix of Heavy Metal, John Carter of Mars and, well, Pope himself that each episode brings is always one of the highlights of each issue. I’m a massive Pope fanboy, so that’s not really surprising, but I kind of hope that he’ll end this series by agreeing to take on a full Strange Adventures series.
24. Someone else that I hope I’ll see more of from this: Joe Quinones, whose Green Lantern art makes me think of Pixar every single issue, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. But his retro GL, given suitable square charm to match his square jaw by Kurt Busiek’s fun script, has stayed as a fun surprise each and every issue so far.
25. It’s hard to decide if Wednesday Comics is a success or not; the format kind of overrules the content in a lot of ways, and I’m tempted to just say “Well, it’s beautiful and it’s ambitious” and announce Good and leave it at that. But it’s uneven and it’s frustrating when you come to read it, and I’m not sure whether a great concept and good intent wins in the rock-paper-disappointing comic game these days. It sounds like I’m damning it by saying that it’s Okay, and maybe I am, but… I can’t help but feel as if Okay is a pretty good grade to give an anthology of such disparate material. If nothing else, it’s never boring, and that’s got to count for something, right…?