This past Wednesday afternoon was a rather bittersweet one.
Well actually, every Wednesday afternoon is rather bittersweet for me, since it’s the time I look forward to all week finally arriving (the sweet part) followed immediately by the realization that I have now read all my new comics and must wait a whole seven days to read more (that’s the bitter part).
But this Wednesday afternoon was a little extra bittersweet, as it brought with it the last issue of Wednesday Comics, a series I really enjoyed.
Among its virtues was the simple fact that it was a weekly. I haven’t personally enjoyed each of DC’s four weekly series—I thought 52 was brilliant, Countdown unreadable and Trinity a decent enough read with some very ups and and only shallow downs—but I sure like them in theory.
(One billion more words, about Wednesday Comics, and the quality of the individual stories now that they’ve wrapped up, after the jump)
It’s nice to know there’s always something that you’re pretty sure you’re going to enjoy for you at the shop every week, no matter what’s going on in the individual monthlies or with the vagaries of publishing and shipping schedules (Assuming, of course, that you like DC super-comics. Otherwise, yeah, chances are none of their weeklies are going to be up your alley).
And, like the weekly format in general, Wednesday Comics was meant to be read in individual installments, as published—it was very much a direct market, Wednesday Crowd-er focused comic, instead of the traditional let’s-make-a-few-bucks-and-get-some-buzz-going-here-before-we-sell-the-trade-on-Amazon-and-at-the-bookstores sorts of Big Two comics (Now, whether that’s wise from a business standpoint, I don’t know; it at least seems like a good idea for DC and Marvel to give readers some incentives to keep showing up at comic shops once a week though, and these projects were among the few from either company that offered arguments against waiting for the trades).
In fact, Wednesday Comics was probably the Have-to-buy-on-Wednesday-iest of the weeklies, because of its collection-complicating nature.
See, every time you collect a serial comic book series into a trade, you’re changing the reading experience. But the difference between the experiences of reading, say, Punisher Max #31-#36 and The Punisher Vol. 6: Barracuda are fairly minor. The comics will still be the same size, and look and feel roughly the same. The trade won’t have staples or ads, and you can read the entire story arc in one sitting, rather than in a half -dozen 22-page chunks over the course of six months (The trade seems to offer a better experience, I guess, but there are certain pleasures in the time off between chapters, and the enjoyment of cliffhangers).
But what’s a Wednesday Comics trade supposed to look like? It can’t possibly retain the 20-by-14-inch size, can it? And/or be on newsprint? Surely it won’t look, feel, sound and smell the same anymore. And the unique un-folding experience won’t be there. These are probably all minor things, I realize, but they are things—things unique to Wednesday Comics as a weekly rather than as a collected book of some sort.
Less minor is the fact that the stories were specifically created to be read one page a week, and I guess only an extremely disciplined (and/or insane) reader would buy a Wednesday Comics trade and read it one “issue” a week for three months.
Those are rather broad, vague things I liked about the project, though. There are certainly much more specific reasons. Like the fact that it was a relatively rare (for Big Two super-comics) art-first project, that the roster was full of some of my favorite artists, and that the story featured some quirkier characters in there more or less original conception instead of some sort of more modern, “How can we make Metamorpho more bad-ass, or the Metal Men more relevant?” sort of makeover of the like you’re more likely to find in the ongoing monthlies.
But what I liked most about Wednesday Comics (besides Kyle Baker’s Hawkman thumbs-up panel, of course; that was clearly its greatest achievement) was that it was such an experiment.
Grouping Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash in the same project and getting folks like Neil Gaiman, Paul Pope and some Kuberts to contribute certainly reduce your chances of failure, but there was really no indication that anyone was going to keep buying these after the first, curiosity-driven issue. There was nothing really similar to compare it to in order to gauge the likelihood of success for failure.
Simply put, the big, huge, risk-averse company DC was taking a big, huge risk, and that’s always pretty admirable.
So how did they make out? I don’t know; I assume they’re still gathering data, and will have a much, much better idea than my best guess—and when they do have that answer, they won’t share it with us anyway (The existence of a Wednesday Comics 2 probably being the only sure sign that the company considered this series a success).
I know I was certainly surprised that the first few issues didn’t do better than they did—I assumed it was a comic that everybody who shopped in the direct market at all would want to have just to get a look at, so I (probably foolishly) the first issue would be up there in New Avengers/Blackest Night territory (Okay, definitely foolishly).
But then, the direct market is such a weird model, since available data doesn’t reflect sales, but orders from retailers guessing what their readers might buy, so who ever really knows how many comics get sold and how much money any of them ever really make.
I do know DC successfully sold me 12 straight issues of the book, which is…let’s see…$47.88 out of my pocket and headed in their direction. But I’m not a business or money guy, so let’s just forget about that end of the experiment.
Instead, now that the series is over, I wanted to take a look back at the stories, and see which one’s of those succeeded.
And by succeeded I don’t simply mean were stories I liked, or weren’t bad, or were your typical story featuring that particular character. Rather I mean stories that were actually excellent, excellent comics, comics that were about something other than what Batman did last week or have something to say beyond “Gee, Hal Jordan is so cool, he’s like the big brother I never had” or whatever often passes for good superhero comics.
Are any of these stories great stories, really inspired ones, or unique in some way that can’t be easily replicated?
That’s a high bar, I know, but that’s the bar I hold above comics and ask them to jump. It’s why I suppose I seem like such a negative critic all the time. I give these things a lot—time, money, energy, respect—and I expect a lot back in return.
So, after the world’s longest, most meandering blog post introduction (Are you guys just skimming this? I’d just skim this if I were you, honestly), let’s take a look at Wednesday Comics’ 15 individual stories, now that their twelve chapters have all been completed.
Batman by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso: The undisputed champions of crime comics (unless Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips wanna dispute ‘em, I guess), who gave the world 100 Bullets, Jonny Double and a criminally-underrated Batman story arc (“Broken City”) took on the DC’s premiere crime-fighter.
The beginning of their story was among the more disappointing, given how traditional it was: Batman and Commissioner Gordon on a rooftop, talking about a murder. But the ending was an extremely weird one, one I spent a good long while reading over and over, trying to parse out the exact motivations of the handful of characters appearing in a series of silent panels. Azzarisso (do they have a cute combined name yet? Can that be it?) leave a lot up to the reader to make up his or her mind about in that ending.
That aside, the story remained very much your typical Batman story, the sort that’s been told dozens and dozens of times (I’d say hundreds and hundreds, if there were a costumed criminal in it). Except for one thing: The pacing.
This feature was probably the most perfectly paced of any in Wednesday Comics, with each installment providing an entire little story, with a beginning, middle and suspenseful ending.
I wouldn’t say that this will end up going down in history as one of the greatest Batman stories ever told or anything, but it was a pretty amazing accomplishment of retooling a monthly comics story to a weekly newspaper strip format, without sacrificing any of the virtues of modern monthly comics. It can probably be replicated, but I wouldn’t expect it to be. Not unless Azzarello and Risso do another weekly Batman strip in a Wednesday Comics 2.
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook: Based on what I’ve read and heard, this was among the most popular of the strips in the project.
It was essentially a straightforward exercise in style transference, with Jack Kirby’s Kamandi being told in the style of Prince Valiant. It was certainly beautiful to look at, and Sook’s art was strong enough that, as with Prince Valiant, the words weren’t always even that important to figure out what was going on in the panels.
Now, beautiful work and a strip that manages the neat trick of being both a tribute to Jack Kirby and Hal Foster is nothing to dismiss, but, at the end of the day—well, the end of the summer—Gibbons and Sook’s contribution’s main value is in those achievements, and beyond that only really serves as an interesting introduction to Kamandi.
Superman by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo: Just as Kamandi was among the more popular, this Superman strip was among the least popular. Mostly on account of committing the common crime of de-emphasizing the “super” in Superman, to wallow in the Man of Steel’s existential woe.
It’s easy to feel sorry for Spider-Man, given that he’s a loser and as amazing as his powers are, they’re kind of creepy and make a lot of people hate him. But how are we supposed to feel sorry for Superman, exactly? Because he’s not technically human, and wishes he was as powerless as the rest of us poor schlubs?
After a strong first week, this strip seemed to simply mark time until it reached a late enough point in the game to deliver it’s obvious twist.
Bermejo’s super sexy Superman and his Rockwellian Smallville were certainly pleasant to look at, but the story not only didn’t say anything new about Superman, it didn’t even say anything old about him in a new or interesting way. I wonder what a Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely Superman strip might have looked like instead…?
Deadman by Dave Bullock, Vinton Heuck, Jared Fletcher and Dave Stewart: Like Kamandi, this strip’s main virtue was gorgeous artwork (although not necessarily engaged in any kind of style commentary) and a sort of introduction to a minor DC character. Additionally, the page lay-outs were often quite innovative, but ultimately this was a comic more valuable as something to take apart and admire with the eyes than enjoy as a story.
Green Lantern by Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones: This story seems like it should have been drawn by Deadman’s Dave Bullock, given how it approaches hero Green Lantern Hal Jordan from the angle of Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier (which, no offense to Geoff Johns or anything, probably remains the best Hal Jordan story ever told). After all, Bullock’s art looks a lot more like Cooke’s than Quinones’ does. But then, why do the expected?
I think Jordan works best in this sort of pre-Vietnam setting, wherein working for the military industrial complex and being a space-“pig” were more noble professions then they’d seem at pretty much any point since, so it was certainly fun to return Jordan to that era and re-explore the parallels between the real world space race and Jordan’s magic wishing ring that puts a man in space instantaneously.
Those positives aside, this was essentially just playing with a familiar action figure in a familiar sand box. Again, it’s a nice introduction to a DC character/concept for those who might not be familiar—if they do make this into one, big huge trade, it’s going to make for a valuable DC Universe 101 type of text book, and a hell of a Christmas present for some kids I bet—but that’s about all there is to it.
Metamorpho by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred: Gaiman does a surprisingly strong Bob Haney impression here and there, and Allred’s super-clean, super-smooth art echoes Ramona Fradon’s art nicely. He’s really an ideal arts for any sort of nostalgic, sixties-influenced story.
More than any other strip, Metamorpho proved the most experimental, with relatively few installments played completely “straight,” in favor of some pretty wild, format changes. One week the page is given to a snakes and ladders-style game, another it’s a couple of Element people running as multiple images across the floor of a booby-trapped tomb in the shape of the periodic table, while making random puns corresponding with the elements.
The fluidity of the format nicely echoed the mutability of the protagonist, that “Fab Freak of 1,000-and1 changes,” but it also meant some weeks it was fun to read, other weeks it was tedious.
Of course, given the dearth of good post-Haney/Fradon Metamorpho stories, Gaiman’s occasionally good jokes, Allred’s art and the fact that this strip could be completely different almost every week are probably enough to qualify it as among the better Metamorpho stories in existence.
Now someone make Gaiman and Allred do a Super Sons story!
Teen Titans by Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway: Along with Superman, this was probably the least popular strip. It was certainly the worst. Galloway is a talented designer and draftsman, but doesn’t quite seem to have a handle on sequential comics just yet, and Berganza’s continuity-soaked script didn’t help.
I can mostly piece the story together now, but then, I keep abreast of things like Titans rosters and know a bit about DCU history. While every other strip in here was seemingly created with new readers in mind, this one seemed created for the opposite audience.
Strange Adventures by Paul Pope: Pope is as much a designer as he is a writer or artist, and the level of thought and detail he brings to a book’s setting and props almost always automatically raises it above the work of many of his peers.
Just as his Batman in Batman: Year 100 seemed so much realer than other Batmen thanks to Pope’s design work on his costume, gadgets and setting, so too does his Adam Strange and Rann seem so much more real. Rann and its contents are all recognizably retro, old-school sci fi, and yet also something a little fresh and new.
Pope adds at least one new or unique twist—his Adam Strange has continued to age in something approaching real time on Earth, but remains young and virile on Rann—but the beauty of this strip has been that of Pope’s artwork, of which I can never seem to think of enough good things to say.
Paul Pope is the best.
Supergirl by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner: I’m not sure Supergirl deserves top billing over Krypto the Super-Dog and Streaky the Super-Cat, as they generally stole the strip week in and week out, but these two-thirds of the ongoing Power Girl creative team brought the cute in incredible doses, keeping the humor sharp enough to prevent things from ever getting too sweet (I particularly liked the short-tempered, harried, CEO-of-the-sea version of Aquaman, for example, and the awesome level of destruction the pets were capable of).
While Palmiotti stayed out of the title character’s head throughout, I’m having a hard time thinking of a more accessible, all-ages friendly Supergirl story, at least within my lifetime (and the older stuff sure reads like older stuff).
If Supergirl is meant to be a younger, cuter, more fun to be around version of Superman, then this story certainly functioned as a sort of All-Star Supergirl.
Metal Men by Dan DiDio, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan: This was another rather straightforward character/concept introduction, notable mainly for the fact that its controversial writer didn’t do any of the things he’s controversial for, and that the extremely talented Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan’s art looks even better bigger.
The events were hardly inspired or a original—the Metal Men show off their one-note personalities, they fight Chemo, they all get destroyed—but I suppose that just makes it a little like a cover of an old standard by couple of talented musicians.
Wonder Woman by Ben Caldwell: This was another of the strips often cited as an example of a weak one, although I think it’s pretty clear that when Caldwell’s panel-packed pages were let-downs, it was due to the artist’s over-ambition and trying to use the space in a way different than almost everyone else who contributed.
Simply put, Caldwell tried to put a whole graphic novel on 12 giant pages.
It didn’t quite work, as the pages were awfully hard to read, not merely because of their size, but because of the light, slightly luminescent coloring and the lack of solid black lines employed on panel borders or around dialogue bubbles. Even the dialogue font was perhaps a bit too fancy, and Caldwell’s lay-outs often intentionally moved in unnatural ways, with a certain action meant to guide one’s eyes against their comic-reading instincts.
If Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is a failure though, it failed far more successfully than most Wonder Woman comics do. Hell, it failed better than post William Moulton Marston Wonder Woman comics tend to succeed.
Caldwell attempted to use the wake-up-at-the-end-of-each-strip set-up from classic Little Nemo in Slumberland, but absolutely nothing else. His story had a clear and concise quest structure, criss-crossing various mythologies in a way familiar to most Wondy fans by this point, and, most admirably, he made the elements of Marston’s conception of the character work in 2009.
His Wonder Woman is a unique young woman, naïve in ways that make her weak in some areas and strong in others. She’s a newcomer to modern society. She fights Dr. Poison and The Cheetah, Priscilla Rich. Etta Candy is boisterous young admirer. This was a Wonder Woman story I recognized as a direct descendant of the Wonder Woman stories I’ve read in Archive editions, and Caldwell’s version really worked as, again, a sort of All-Star Wonder Woman.
More than any other creator/character pairing, Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is the one I hope to see more of in the future, perhaps in a more traditional comic book, where Caldwell won’t have to risk being defeated by the format.
Sgt. Rock and Easy Company by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert: This story was a very slight one, the huge panels in seven-to-nine panel grids meaning this strip was never going to be any longer or more substantial than a back-up strip, or maybe something you’d find in Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock.
If every strip took the same approach, I can’t imagine that the entire project would be worthwhile, but since it was just this one, I didn’t really mind. And besides, it’s the legendary Joe Kubert, one of mainstream comics’ best artists who has been producing top-notch work for longer than anyone else I can think of. What more does one need, really?
The Flash Comics by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher: Probably one of the more ambitious strips, the Flash one rarely let an opportunity to remind readers that they were reading something akin to the funny pages, and would often spread it’s story across two comic strips-within-a-strip drawn in slightly different styles, the format getting even weirder as the series reached its climax.
It was full of typical Flash-style super-science gobbledygook, and was something of an accomplishment in regards to the various formal innovations, gimmicks and gags.
It was also one of the only stories I’ve ever read in my…let’s see…19 years of reading DC super-comics in which Barry Allen was presented as an interesting and likable character (except perhaps for New Frontier, and maybe JLA: Year One), so that’s gotta count for something, right?)
The Demon/Catwoman by Walter Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze: This strip only had to show up to be noteworthy, as it offered a way to work in another Kirby creation and one of DC’s best-known female characters into the project, without giving either a whole page of their own. Additionally, it was a rather weird team-up, slapping together two characters that don’t really have any history or seem to belong together.
While the first and last chapters were fun, the majority of the strip was a bit of a letdown, as it involved Catwoman being turned into a cat and then semi-possessed by an old Demon foe, so that the two title characters didn’t actually get to interact all that much.
Other than great—and great big—art, I’m afraid this strip didn’t have much to offer.
Hawkman by Kyle Baker: This was by far one of my favorite strips in the project, so I feel kind of frustrated with myself for even saying it, but here goes—the story doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything, but sort of just randomly meanders along from it’s starting point until Baker runs out of time and/or space.
It’s awesome though. It starts with a Frank Miller parody—which Baker’s gotten pretty good at after his work on a project which his Hawkman shares a style with, Special Forces—moves on to Hawkman fighting sky-based crime, then gets Hawkman into the sort of situation where his barbaric ancient weapons actually come in handy. And it guest-stars Aquaman and the Satellite Era Justice League. And there’s dinosaur-fighting. On War That Time Forgot‘s Dinosaur Island.
I don’t think Baker’s Hawkman was great comics, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t awesome comics, and that’s certainly the next best thing.
I certainly wouldn’t object to more Baker Hawkman or Justice League stories.