REVIEW: Wednesday Comics #1 and 2

Your soundtrack for today is Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth and Polaris – Music From the Adventures of Pete & Pete.

Wednesday Comics #1 coverWednesday Comics, DC’s new limited run weekly title, has been touted by the company as a bold experiment in the way comics are published. Taking inspiration from the Sunday funny pages, the comic is a large format collection of fifteen strips, all by different creative teams. There are two central questions about the success of the title: does it work as a book, and does it work as an alternative way for DC to publish their comics?

It’s a great-looking book, immediately so. The creative teams are stellar, and the distinctive takes on the characters involved lend DC’s line a much-needed sense of personal idiosyncracy. Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck’s Deadman strip has a noirish, pulp sensibility mixed with a touch of stylized 60s flair; Dave Stewart’s vivid colors serve as a fine bridge between the two influences. Homages to the Silver Age are plentiful, including the breezy, retro cool of Kurt Busiek and Joe Quirones’ Green Lantern and the refined, sparse brightness of Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s Metamorpho. Paul Pope’s Adam Strange is the most evocative of classic adventure serials, with ragged linework, off-kilter angles, a tightly packed layout, and appealingly unkempt lettering. Its muted coloring enhances the weathered look, and all of the elements work in concord to depict a persuasive toughness. Kyle Baker’s jagged Hawkman pencils create much the same effect, but he uses flashes of bright coloring and a wide scope to temper the roughness with a subtle sense of grandeur. Even the more traditional takes, such as the highly detailed, painted look of Lee Bermejo’s pencils and Barbara Cierdo’s colors on the John Arcudi-penned Superman, and the grandiose, lush Jack Kirby tribute of Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s Kamandi, are equally appealing and compelling. Bermejo and Cierdo delight in giving us a wide range of facial expressions for Superman and the style glides buoyantly between comic book exaggeration and expressive portraiture in a way that many other artists of a similar method haven’t been able to accomplish.

The writing is solid throughout, but many of the writers don’t quite know how to handle the format. Many of the strips are feel like the first page of a normal issue, or else just an introduction to the character concept, which is a trait common to the features on more obscure characters. This is not to say that any of the strips are poorly done, just that many could do with a greater sense of urgency or activity. Notable again are Pope’s Strange Adventures and Baker’s Hawkman, as these two creators seem to handle the serial nature of the project with the most deftness. Pope’s Adam Strange tale begins with a sense of alarm, as the hero is woken with the news of an attack on his adopted planet Rann, while Baker’s Hawkman is narrated by a flock of birds who are aiding the hero in attempting to stop some terrorists who have hijacked a jet. Neil Gaiman restores the off-the-wall strangeness of Bob Haney’s classic Metamorpho stories (or, really, anything Bob Haney has ever written) with a quick introduction that has the titular titan of transmutation protect his love interest, Sapphire Stagg, from sharks and a giant clam while diving for jewels. Gaiman seems to understand the reason people love Silver Age comics beyond the flaccid nostalgia that drives many titles at present – comics during that era were absolutely insane, and there’s nothing more fun than watching the logical contortions those plots followed or being caught up in the swell of their bombast. Many of the stronger features in the book, like Deadman, Kamandi, and Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Batman, offer intriguing mysteries, and even Arcudi’s Superman tale suggests an existential narrative centered around Clark’s identity.

The second issue seems to confirm that direction for Arcudi’s Superman strip; unfortunately, a Batman appearance in the strip features the Dark Knight characterized as a dismissive prick, and I had hoped we were beyond that. Batman’s own strip jumps forward to after the presumed murder of the kidnapped investment banker of the first installment, an interesting tactic that makes one wonder if Azzarello is planning to upend the sequential format with a discontinuous narrative. Baker’s Hawkman, Gibbons’ Kamandi, and Pope’s Strange Adventures continue to utilize the format to their advantage, with lively, taut episodes that race their stories forward. Baker’s Hawkman reads like a rebutal to a 9/11-baiting issue of Garth Ennis’ The Boys, and Gibbons manages to both sketch the major facets of Kamandi’s world while providing the kind of tense ambush-and-escape predicament that’s universal in classic adventure serials. Karl Kerschl and Brendan Fletcher’s The Flash continues to make effective use of its two-strip setup, with a Flash/Iris West divide and some clever art distinctions – the Iris West strip looks noticeably like classic soap opera/romance serials, while the blocky speed lines following The Flash in his strip are convincingly tactile, in opposition to the elusiveness with which he’s typically portrayed. What’s most exciting to see here, beyond even the strength of these titles, is the breadth of different treatments within this book. As an accessible guide to many of DC’s strongest properties, the book effectively conveys how stylistically and tonally diverse these properties can be. It does more to reinforce the notion of the DC Universe as a unique and wondrous entity than any company-wide crossover has ever managed.

Unfortunately, it’s preaching to the choir. We know how great these characters and concepts are. That’s why we’re spending $3.99 an issue for a high-quality version of the funny pages. But this experiment’s long-term effect will be negligible if this book doesn’t make it into the hands of casual readers, and by adhering to the high price point and direct market distribution that remains status quo for the American comics industry, this book seems fated to be a fondly reviewed fanboy emblem. Wednesday Comics deserves better than that. It deserves to be in newstands, in mass market bookstores, in convenience stores and coffee shops. It deserves a dollar cover price, and it deserves a wide, mainstream audience. Printing the Superman strip in USA Today’s online comics section is a great step, as is that website’s promotion of comicshoplocator.com, but comic shops simply aren’t everywhere. They aren’t even all that common. A quick search of my own area on the aforementioned site reveals only two comic book shops anywhere near, and both are over twenty miles from my town – how is a kid interested in Superman supposed to find these comics under those conditions?

Ultimately, I do think the book is a great read. It’s charming, varied, and accessible, and it stands as a viable format in which to publish comics. And I hope that its twelve-week run isn’t going to be the end of Wednesday Comics, but rather the starting point for DC’s consideration of different book styles and distribution methods. We’ve got enough derivative product designed to appeal to the existing fanbase. Something that feels as genuinely exciting as this book belongs in the hands of people who haven’t had the chance to experience DC at its best.

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