[23 September 2009]
Wednesday Comics from DC is one of the company’s better ideas. It’s a weekly collection of fifteen single page stories from characters in the DC Universe presented in a newspaper format. Inspired by Sunday comics, it’s retooled for Wednesdays when new comics hit the shelves. Like any anthology, however, there are mixed results. The best of the lot is certainly Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso working on Batman and Paul Pope working on Adam Strange. The two stories are tight, marvelous demonstrations of excellence. The Batman story is enjoyable for what is and shows why the character works. Pope writes a simple story full of wonder and beauty.
Azzarello and Risso may have an unfair advantage here in their long-term partnership since 100 Bullets, but it’s that collaboration which creates a synergy that makes their take on Batman so enjoyable. The story they tell is a basic whodunit – was it the trophy wife or the disgruntled family who killed the old millionaire? – but in Azzarello and Risso’s hands it’s a film noir delight. The dark colors of the art not only reflect Batman’s usual environment, but the general tenor of the story as well. The panel layouts are economically precise with exact beats matching the panels and terse dialogue. It’s classic storytelling which effectively moves along the storyline. They even include a little joke on continuity where in the Batcave curving along a central panel on the right is a collection of Batmobiles including the one from the Adam West TV series. Obviously, they are having fun with the story while delivering an effective crime story.
Paul Pope’s Adam Strange story is perhaps the best one in Wednesday Comics because it embraces comics most fully. Basically, the story is seventies sci-fi pulp. In Pope’s hands there is no shame in this as it frees him to focus on the art. Colored sensitively by José Villarrubia and executed by Pope with his usual artistic trademarks, it looks truly epic. Pope draws inside a cinematic field to show the strange planet around the characters. This opens up the art to give it the wonder of good sci-fi. The panel construction is laid out symmetrically and creates a smooth visual flow that helps benefit the action in the story. When Pope embraces the pulp nature of comics, he does so with enough action and color to keep everyone happy. There are other good competent stories, but these two are the best. Deadman, Supergirl, Green Lantern, and The Flash are delightful stories. Each has great art, good dialogue beats and panel discussion, and easy visual flow. Deadman often works as a huge splash page with smaller panels littered around it. It manipulates the format size to great effect. Supergirl and Green Lantern have beautiful coloring and smooth pop art that leaps off the page.
Unfortunately, not all of the stories even approach the competence of these ones here.
Superman and Hawkman are interesting characters. Just the fact that they can fly presents opportunities for an artist or writer. It’s not the case here, though. The problem is that they have promise, but don’t live up to it. They just take up space. Superman is written by John Arcudi and drawn by Lee Bermejo. The art is warmed over Alex Ross. It’s pretty but boring – a fatal combination for a Superman story. The story itself is worse, though. After a fight with an alien, Superman gets a case of adolescent alienation (or midlife crisis as the art indicates) and questions his place on Earth. Does he belong in Metropolis? After Batman fails to provide a shoulder to cry on, Superman returns to Smallville to see his parents. He still feels dispirited, though. All is not well when he is soon attacked by friends of the earlier alien and his powers fail to protect him. The problem with the story is that it lacks the inner drama necessary to move the story. This lack fails to provide the story with any meaning. With the poor art on top of it, the story becomes uninteresting.
Hawkman versus intergalactic lobsters? Sure. Kyle Baker writes a competent story, but it’s rather anonymous which is strange coming from an idiosyncratic artist like Baker. It feels as if he’s on autopilot. The jokes work, but only in a tired fashion. The artwork also lacks his usual charm and plasticity. Saving an airplane from aliens only to have it land on Dinosaur Island only makes one ask how seriously the story should be taken. Otherwise, he has an interesting plot with decent artwork, but it goes nowhere. Kyle Baker is not an artist without inspiration, but for Hawkman, unfortunately, there’s nothing in the well. While Superman and Hawkman are low points in Wednesday Comics, they represent the basic problem with the stories that don’t work. There’s no inspiration. Even a story like Sgt. Rock works as one of the better stories – and it’s just a guy tied to chair and beaten. It’s a minimal story enhanced by great art. The same can’t be said for something more involved like Superman and Hawkman.
DC Comics called this project “fresh” and “unique” but that another problem with Wednesday Comics. It’s too good for its own good. The work represented here is not indicative of DC as a whole. The creative teams are, but the approach is not. Outside of the unique graphic novels that DC offers, the reader has nowhere to go for more of this unique adventure. The project appeals to no-one outside of fans of each character, occasional readers, and indie comic fans who like superheroes. In that regard, they’re almost stuck with Wednesday Comics. It’s an excellent project, but it’s not the best inroad to the DC Universe. DC also calls it a “reading experience bursting with mind-blowing color, action and excitement” which is also true and a superb testament to the creative teams involved, but it also makes for a depressing commentary on comics as usual at DC. Is Wednesday Comics worth your time? Absolutely. I just wish I could direct you to a monthly title that’s just as good.