Wednesday Comics #1
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
One of the most eagerly anticipated comic-book projects of the year has arrived, and the result is entertaining and intriguing. I was surprised to find that DC turned to a rougher newsprint for this unusual book, but it’s a smart move. It unfolds much more cleanly than the thinner, slicker glossy paper normally used in printing comics today.
This broadsheet collection of 15 different one-page strips, while radically different in format, is pretty much like just about any other comic-book anthology project. The diversity in style and storytelling approaches one of the strengths of the project, as it spotlights different techniques. The creators embrace modern new ideas while some pay tribute to the comics of yesteryear. Of course, like other anthologies, this one is something of a mixed bag as well. A couple of the strips don’t quite exhibit the same strength one can find in the others. Furthermore, the creators working with the better-known characters aren’t burdened by the need to introduce the players in their dramas, allowing them to get their stories rolling right off the bat. And now, some thoughts on the individual features…
Batman: The 100 Bullets creative team revisits the Dark Knight with this feature. Writer Brian Azzarello offers a logical but fascinating insight into the character of Commissioner Gordon with just a few bits of dialogue, and a single word balloon runs a chill down the reader’s spine as it hints at cold-blooded murder. Risso’s noir style is perfectly suited for the character of the Batman. Never has Gotham seemed more dangerous than when Eduardo Risso serves as our guide through the city.
Kamandi: This is one of the more unusual choices in this comic book, but it’s great to see the late Jack Kirby’s contributions to the medium honored in this way (especially with the Kirby-drawn Kamandi panel, complete with signature, at the bottom of the page). Writer Dave Gibbons really doesn’t do much more than provide some origin details and exposition about the nature of the post-apocalyptic backdrop. Fortunately, we’ve got Ryan Sook’s stunning artwork to keep us occupied. He conveys the harshness of the setting incredibly well, but he also ensures that we see Kamandi’s youth. While his strength is apparent, Sook maintains a boyishness in his face. Seeing that innocence in such a hostile place drives home the tragic tone that Gibbons strives for in the narration.
Superman: John Arcudi’s story consists of little more than Superman’s latest fight with yet another alien (though the final two panels promise something more), but that’s OK. This first episode of the Superman serial is all about the visuals, and Lee Bermejo is more than equal to the task. He captures Superman’s power and majesty nicely. I also like the convincing organic look of the alien creature. Barbara Ciardo’s muted colors help to establish a more mature look that sets this broadsheet feature apart from the four-color flashiness of past Superman strips.
Deadman: Co-writer and artist Dave Bullock comes to comics by way of the world of animation, so understandably, his style is in the Bruce Timm vein. Fortunately, he doesn’t simply mimick Timm’s style, but brings a rougher, sketchy look to bear that sets it apart. He and co-writer Vinton Hueck understandably have to provide a crash course in Deadman’s past, introducing him to new readers, but they’re to be commended for also finding the space to get their murder mystery moving forward as well.
Green Lantern: Not much happens yet in Kurt Busiek’s story, and he doesn’t even provide a Green Lantern origin or anything. This opening feels a little padded; about half of this strip could have been trimmed. Joe Quinones’s art is full of energy and personality, though. His work looks like a cross between the styles of Darick (The Boys) Robertson and Terry (Echo) Moore.
Metamorpho: Neil Gaiman’s story is clearly a tribute to the Silver Age origins and traditions that spawned the main character in the first place. It also remains true to Metamorpho’s original nature as a treasure hunter for hire. Mike Allred’s art has always exhibited a Silver Age feel, so his style is a nice fit for Gaiman’s script. I was a bit disappointed by how much space is taken up by the Metamorpho logo at the top of the page and the headshots of the dramatis personae at the bottom. It feels like we’re missing out on story and art that could have run in their places.
Teen Titans: As I made my way through this landmark comic book, this was the first that really disappointed. I realize that artist Sean Galloway is a big deal these days in the world of super-hero pop culture thanks to his association with the relatively new Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, but the strength of his work in animation isn’t to be found here. The figures and action overlaps panels; there are gutters between the panels, but they prove to be of no use. The characters exist in a void; there are absolutely no backgrounds to be found here as the Titans battle a new Trident. No only is there no definition in terms of setting, the characters lack definition as well. Editor-turned-writer Eddie Berganza makes some odd choices in terms of Titans. While the strip boasts the same logo as the popular Teen Titans cartoon, he opts instead to feature a lesser-known lineup that recently starred in the DC Universe Teen Titans title. Surprisingly, he to identify these characters, and Kid Devil, Miss Martian, Ravager and Wonder Girl in particular really ought to be introduced to newer readers unfamiliar with recent Titans continuity.
Strange Adventures: Writer/artist Paul Pope brings a psychedelic ’60s feel to space-opera hero Adam Strange that’s surprising but entertaining. His love interest looks more like a go-go dancer here than the fully covered, dutiful daughter we’ve seen in the past. Pope includes some space baboons here, once again tapping into DC’s rich traditions of the Silver Age. I like the lighter tone of Pope’s dialogue, but Jose Villarrubia’s dark, muted colors seem to run contrary with the goofier leanings in Pope’s storytelling.
Supergirl: This is one of the most fun strips in the comic, and one of the most kid-friendly ones. While the story will continue with the second episode next week, this also serves as a gag strip, standing up well on its own. Writer Jimmy Palmiotti’s comics work tends to be mature or even raunchy in tone, so it’s nice to see him offer up some cute and wholesome like this. Amanda Conner’s artwork is lovely. She handles cute material adeptly, and I love how the action is explosive, jumping right off the page, without sacrificing the lighter tone of the plot. Paul Mounts helps to maintain such a lighter, entertaining tone with his wonderfully bright colors.
Metal Men: Of all of the announced features for Wednesday Comics, I was most suspicious of this one while also quite excited about it. I was leery of how well DC senior editor Dan DiDio might perform as a writer, but I was thrilled to see that Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nowlan would be collaborating on the artwork. I’ve seen Garcia Lopez’s work on the Metal Men before, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His style is well suited to the sleek figures of the metallic protagonists, but the most entertaining visual are the 1960s and ’70s attire he provides for the heroes when they try to blend in among human beings. DiDio’s script is light and entertaining, in keeping with the simpler fare of yesteryear, and the dialogue manages to convey the heroes’ personalities quite well. I think he could have done a better job of introducing the characters rather than leaving it to a series of headshots below the Metal Men logo. Sure, that approach identifies, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything else about them.
Wonder Woman: Writer/artist Ben Caldwell offers some dazzling artwork and magical colors for this Wonder Woman strip, but unfortunately, it’s might be the most problematic features in the book. One of the interesting things about these broadsheet comics was seeing the different approaches the creators used in terms of panel layout. Some opt for just a few panels with bigger, splashier visuals, while others make use of the extra space to offer more panels and more story. Caldwell opts for the latter approach, but in such an extreme way that it’s to the detriment of the storytelling. It’s quite difficult to discern what’s happening here as he’s broken down so much and peppered so many dialogue balloons through that the flow of the action and storytelling is hampered. His unusual color choices and the fact that he’s using an incarnation of the Wonder Woman character before she became Wonder Woman or got a costume leads to some confusion as well. His lettering is unusual as well and sometimes hard to read, and I’m at a loss as to why he designed a new Wonder Woman logo that seems more suited to fairy-tale characters than an Amazon warrior.
Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.: Writer Adam Kubert’s script captures the tough, grizzled nature of Sgt. Rock incredibly well. He’s even able to keep in line with the same qualities that his father, legendary comics artist Joe Kubert, provides for the character as he’s done so many times over the past few decades. They opt to construct this opening episode with a standard nine-panel grid, and I’ll be interested to see if they continue with that approach throughout the feature’s run.
Flash: Artist Karl Kerschl co-writes this feature with Brendan Fletcher, and they take an unusual and pleasing approach. They split the page in two, focusing on the Silver Age Flash in the top half and on his love interest, Iris West, on the bottom. They achieve a nice balance between the fantastic appeal of the super-hero genre and a more grounded approach that’s in keeping with soap-opera newspaper strips. Kerschl’s artwork is, not surprisingly, quite strong, though it’s not as I expected it either. The more cartoony approach we saw in his recent work on Teen Titans: Year One is replaced with a more realistic approach, demonstrating he’s capable of more diversity in his art. Another visual component that I loved with this feature was Dave McCaig’s use (or replication of) old-school coloring techniques. One can see the dots in the colors as one might find in a comic from before the 1990s.
The Demon and Catwoman: I was a bit taken aback by the inclusion of a team-up strip in this lineup, especially a pairing of such dissimilar, unconnected characters. Fortunately, writer Walt Simonson’s script quickly provides a logical reason for these two unlikely friends to come together. Of course, one has to know a fair bit about Etrigan the Demon to appreciate what’s about to unfold here. Artist Brian Stelfreeze captures Selina Kyle’s charm and allure wonderfully without oversexualizing the character.
Hawkman: Writer/artist Kyle Baker takes what may be the most large-scale approach to the broadsheet strip, as he employs only five big panels — not that it’s a problem. His depiction of the avian characters is stunning, and while he makes his own mark with Hawkman, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Joe Kubert’s work with the character when it was relaunched in the Silver Age. With the final two panels, Baker provides detailed, realistic visuals that are unlike what we’re accustomed to see from him. He’s really flexing his creative muscles here. The narration, from the point of view of one of Hawkman’s feathered allies, is also unusual in tone, but it’s dramatic and successfully draws the reader into the story.
Overall, there’s no denying that Wednesday Comics is proving to be a creative success. Just as I was writing this review, I found it was quite a bit of fun to review all of the strips. Given the mainstream-media promotion and coverage of the project and the big-name talent who’ve participated in the comic, I suspect Wednesday Comics will prove to be a sales success as well. 8/10
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