Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Wednesday Comics, week 4

It's been a month since DC's latest experiment in weekly comics launched, and four weeks seems like a fair enough amount of time to see how things are shaping up in the pages of Wednesday Comics. There are 15 strips in all, so let's look at them in the order that they're printed.


The story writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso are putting together is basically like reading the creative team's 100 Bullets set in Gotham — and there ain't anything wrong with that. Azzarello is bringing all the best noir qualities of the Dark Knight Detective front and center, giving readers a nice little mystery with the grit of a Hammett novel. You just know that dame is up to no good and so does Batman, and I'm enjoying watching him use his Bruce Wayne persona like a chessmaster. Risso's art is bold and clean, and his use of shadow is a beautiful thing — I honestly think this is some of his best work.

Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth: There isn't much that can be said about Kamandi that doesn't sound like hyperbole, so let's just get it out there. The strip by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook is simply gorgeous, and is the strip that most personifies the heart of the old school Sunday funnies. Obviously taking inspiration from Prince Valiant, Kamandi is lushly rendered by Sook and written by Gibbons in a voice that just sounds right. It doesn't hurt that the story kicked into action early and hasn't let up since. It's a thrilling read, with art that deserves the longing gaze it evokes.

I really, really wanted to like this story by John Arcudi. I mean, I like the guy's work, especially what he's done with B.P.R.D. But I just can't get into this strip. I understand that it seems to be an examination of Superman and his wrestling with an identity crisis, his feelings of being an alien in every sense of the word weighing down on him. But when you essentially have 12 pages in which to tell your story, the amount of decompression we've gotten so far is a little ridiculous. I don't mind a thoughtful, cerebral take on the Man of Tomorrow, but in this case tomorrow never comes because nothing ever happens. Superman makes sad faces, and that's pretty much it. Granted, it all looks very pretty thanks to artist Lee Bermejo, but the art can't do all the heavy lifting alone. It's also a bit grating that this is the strip getting a national audience thanks to USA TODAY, because so far I don't think this is going to do much to get potential new readers interested in comics. And what was with that characterization of Batman a couple of weeks ago, anyway? Eesh.

Deadman: I was on the fence about this feature, but it's gotten over the hump of trying to explain who Boston Brand is and what his — admittedly arcane — deal is. Starting out in an alleyway crime scene and currently in what looks like a particularly aggressive level of hell, writers Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck are giving readers a story that is progressing nicely and raises the stakes with each chapter. I don't know what's going on, but I'm looking forward to finding out. The art by Bullock also fits the story well, with echoes of Jack Kirby, Mike Mignola and even Darwyn Cooke's work on The New Frontier coming together in a style that manages not to ape any of them. Bullock has also used the oversized pages to present some interesting page layouts, another element that helps make Deadman one of the sleeper strips in this anthology.

Green Lantern: Let me say something from the beginning; I'm a fan of writer Kurt Busiek. His Astro City series should be considered required reading, and his "Up, Up and Away!" story arc in the Superman titles a few years back went a long way toward getting me back into the character. But so far, very little has actually happened in this strip, and even less of it has involved the title character. The cartoony, yet detailed, art by Joe Quiñones should be a perfect fit for a retro-modern Green Lantern comic — it's a shame Green Lantern has been noticeably absent. And the latest chapter looks as if it's setting readers up for a flashback, which will probably take up at least another one or two installments. C'mon — there's decompression and then there's de. com. pression.

Teen Titans

The creative team of Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred has thankfully moved on to multiple panels instead of what were basically wonderfully drawn splash pages with almost no text. Again, when you only have 12 pages to tell your story it seems silly to squander your storytelling opportunities. Speaking of Allred's art, though, it is a good fit for Metamorpho, using the artist's talent for mixing panels of monstrous men and women in cheesecake poses. Gaiman also seems to be having fun with his story, and I'm surprised by how little this "sounds" like Neil Gaiman (if that makes sense). I do have one problem, though; why is Sapphire Stagg such an air-headed bimbo?

Teen Titans: This is one of my least favorite strips in the Wednesday Comics lineup. It's not necessarily a bad story, it just hasn't hooked me in any real way and I get the sneaking suspicion that it's not meant for me. Which is fine, honestly, and maybe younger readers or fans of the cartoons will dig it. But for my part the story by Eddie Berganza seems drawn out, and I'm not a fan of bad-guy Trident acting as narrator for the story (mostly because the dialogue is clunky and distracting). The art by Sean Galloway keeps things simple with strong, clean lines and a look that's a now-familiar mash-up of manga and WB cartoons, but the pseudo-sepia tone laid over the whole thing weakens the impact.

Strange Adventures: I've been going on and on about this feature on Facebook, but I'll say it again and again — this is my favorite story in the whole anthology. It's fair to say I'm in the tank for writer and artist Paul Pope, and Strange Adventures just solidifies that even more. Pope obviously took inspiration from Flash Gordon and similar strips and just ran with it, creating something that is crazy, exciting and pure fun. I've heard complaints from people who don't like Pope's art, but I'm a fan of his kinetic, sketchy style and no one can draw baboon barbarians quite like him. The story itself is well-paced and hints at larger worlds without getting bogged down in them. I would love to see Pope's Strange Adventures become a regular ongoing title.

Supergirl: This strip by writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner is cute, fast-paced and — I can't believe I'm saying this — a rollicking little story. The first couple of installments felt slow and almost too cute, but the story of Supergirl and the mischievous super-pets is steadily upping the silly fun. The way Kara is characterized — she's a smart, smart-alecky teen who's flustered by the mayhem — is growing on me, and I can see this being something that would especially appeal to new and younger readers.

Metal Men: I don't think writer (and DC head honcho) Dan DiDio ever met a corny joke he didn't like. Somehow, it works (though geez, there are some groaners) and his contribution to the lineup has been a pretty classic take on the Metal Men. The dialogue is sometimes clunky and transitions in the plot aren't always smooth, but it's easy to tell DiDio is having fun and it comes through on the page. Art by one of my favorite artists — Jose Luís Garcia-Lopez, with Kevin Nowlan — certainly doesn't hurt, and I find myself poring over details in the background and the fantastic facial expressions in just about every scene.


Wonder Woman:
This is another strip I really, really want to like, but the crowded page, murky art and repetitive plot hook makes this a chore to read. The art by Ben Caldwell (who does double-duty as the writer) looks as if it would be beautiful if it was given room to breathe, but several tiny panels — 55 in issue #4 alone — are mashed together and paired with a catch-me-if-you-can approach to layout, ending up with a strip that's a nearly incomprehensible mess. Also, the Little Nemo-esque idea of Diana getting into adventures in her dreams was a neat concept the first time, but having it happen every time is undermining the momentum of her quest. Throw in a bizarre reference to La Dia de los Muertos and you've got a story that serves mostly to confuse.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.: I love Sgt. Rock and I'm a huge fan of artist and Rock co-originator Joe Kubert. With seamless writing from son (and comic creator in his own right) Adam Kubert, there's probably nothing negative I can say about this one. OK, maybe the story could move along a little faster. Otherwise, this is classic Sgt. Rock and if you like war stories, you'll like this. Let's move on.

Flash Comics: This feature earned points with me early on by splitting its story into two comics strips, The Flash and Iris West. The first is an entertaining superhero story told in a light Silver Age style, while the second is a clever nod to frothy soap opera comics like Mary Worth and Rex Morgan, M.D. The two strips — both written by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher, with Kerschl handling illustrating duties — are interconnected, telling the same story from different points of view, and the conceit works pretty well. The Flash provides plenty of action and the appropriate amount of scenery-chewing speeches from the bad guy while recalling the classic characterization of Barry Allen as an absent-minded professor who really enjoys being a superhero. Iris West gives readers a window into the life of ... well, Iris West ... the Flash's long-suffering better half. I like the way this story captures the tone of those soapy strips while keeping Iris an intelligent and strong female character. I just wish there was a little more distinction in Kerschl's art — which is cleanly detailed and pitch-perfect — between the two strips than just an added screen on Iris West.

The Demon and Catwoman: Walter Simonson is rightly regarded as a comic book legend thanks to the way he put his epic imagination to work on what's considered the definitive version of Thor. And the art by Brian Stelfreeze is suitably dark and Kirby-like. But honestly? I don't know what the hell is going on with this strip, and I'm just hoping it comes together before it's over.

Hawkman: Like Strange Adventures, this is a feature I love unreservedly. Written and drawn by Kyle Baker, Hawkman has a vibe that taps into the adventure comic strips of the past but with an unmistakably modern sensibility. Better yet, Baker doesn't shy from what makes Hawkman awesome — he's an alien with strap-on bird wings who fights his enemies with medieval weapons like a mace and a sword. Carter Hall, with his convoluted history and increasingly brutish personality, is a character that seems to give writers trouble. Baker, however, doesn't seem to have any trouble at all, even in a plot that involves infiltrating aliens, birdspeak and a plunging jetliner. With Baker at the helm, this is another strip that should spin out into a regular monthly title.

Phew! So what does it all mean? One of the things that jumps out at me is how — like most anthologies — Wednesday Comics is hit-or-miss, with a couple of strong features, a few stinkers and a lot of middle-of-the-road stories. Will weaker strips improve? Will others slip? Just like following a traditional Sunday comic strip, we'll have to wait and see.

What do you think of where Wednesday Comics is so far, and where do you think it'll end up? Let's hear your opinions in the comments!


Scott said...

I bought the first one, but I've skipped the ones that followed. I did enjoy that first issue a lot, but the price is too high for me and the format is too odd. However, I'm definitely planning on picking up some of the TPBs that'll come out of this.

rob! said...

I'm with you on this, Maxo. I think that coming out of this it will be the Kamandi, Hawkman, and Adam Strange strips that will be most fondly remembered--they already feel like insta-classic, "Greatest Stories of..." tales of those respective characters.

Superman started off great in week 1, but took a weird turn and now seems bogged down in it. C'mon, let's have Superman punch some aliens already!!

I hope WC is a big seller for DC, partly because i'm "in the tank" for giant-sized comics, also because if they did a second series, you could get a more diverse range of strips (let's WC versions of Jonah Hex, Plastic Man, Sugar and Spike!!) and the creative people involved could look back at the first series and see what worked and what didn't.

Maxo said...

Scott: I'm on the verge of dropping this myself. As you can probably tell, there are two or three features that I really like a lot, a few that just aren't good, and the rest are just OK. Taken in that context, I'm not sure it's worth picking up every week. The fanboy completist in me wants to see it through, but there's a good chance I'll end up waiting to see what the trades look like instead.

Rob: Ha ha! I'd settle for Superman doing SOMETHING, ANYTHING (except tearfully eat another corn dog again)!

And those are pretty good ideas! I'd love to see those three get the weekly comic strip treatment.

Booksteve said...

I did one of these on my blog last week and it convinced me to give it up after three tries. I liked slightly less of the strips than you. I love and agree with your assessment of WONDER WOMAN. Particularly your line about "a catch-me-if-you-can approach to layout".

Anonymous said...

Quite agree with a lot of what you said, for me the Strange Adventures has been just awesome - Paul Pope is an artist that you have to "get" but when you do he's one of the best. I love that he created a more savage Rann. He gives the strip the energy and far flung imagination of a comic a kid might draw, but with a mature artist's hand and eye. Even his lettering looks so cool and is part of the total effect. It's worth the whole price, and I do also like many of the others. Wonder Woman looks neat but is sort of murky. It may be something that later rereads will reward.