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Wednesday Comments 05

Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2009
By: Thom Young

DC Comics
Welcome to fifth installment of Comics Bulletinís reviews column devoted to DCís Wednesday Comics series. This week's column is by Charles Webb.

As you might imagine, it's difficult to comment on weekly one-page comic strips without "spoiling" the action. However, efforts have been made to minimize the problem of giving out too much of the story. Be aware, though, that some spoilers may be embedded in the commentary.

Charles Webb:

Hmm, a bump in quality this week all around--I even enjoyed the "Wonder Woman" strip in spite of itself.

Here's what I thought of the individual pages.

"Batman": (Azzarello & Risso) So is Bruce Wayne supposed to be attracted to the wealthy, not-so-grieving widow Luna Glass?

This issue it's back to the Batcave for a little research and a friendly reminder from Alfred that Bats should be getting out more often. Five weeks in and it seems like (if I'm reading his behavior correctly) Bruce/Batman is being inserted into a noir story as the good man falling for the bad femme fatale. At this point the only question is whether she will betray his trust or whether his distrust will derail things in the end.

I like this approach to Batman even if it doesn't feel particularly fresh. The approach is one that nonetheless is elemental to Batman as a character, noting the tension between his personal and "professional" lives.

Risso's Bruce is fairly beefy--something I haven't been able to get used to during the progression of the strip. Still, his Batman is fairly imposing, tightly-coiled and tense.

"Kamandi--The Last Boy on Earth": (Gibbons & Sook) Each week this strip is locked in a beautiful, pop magic battle with Paul Pope's "Strange Adventures" as my favorite among all the works collected here. This week, Kamandi pulls ahead with events within that are more frantic, intense, and focused than in earlier weeks. We're still no closer to knowing the identity of the doomed future Earth's "other" human, but we do know that the apes are bent on executing Kamandi and Prince Tuftan to make examples of them both.

It's perfect pulp storytelling heightened (somehow beyond perfection) by Ryan Sook's pencils, which are incredibly detailed without being dull still-life images. This installment is perfect from top to bottom.

"Superman": (Arcudi & Bermejo) From the sublime "Kamandi" we go to the profoundly lame. Arcudi's Superman script is maddeningly introspective on an unconsciously superficial level. It actually provides an opportunity to compare and contrast this strip with the "Batman" strip.

Both deal with common thematic conceits for each character--for Batman it's the push and pull of his desire for personal and romantic normalcy against his need to be the protector of Gotham City. With Superman it's his essential "otherness" that disconnects him from his adopted home world.

In the "Batman" strip it's been a slow (but logical) buildup to what the underlying ideas of the story are--but with Superman it's been an insistently (and ploddingly) repeated element of what's not even a story.

For four weeks now (not counting the first when Superman was brawling with an alien that reminded me of Mott the Hoople from "Madman Comics"), we've had a mopey, nearly static Superman locked in a boring internal struggle about feeling different from humanity. The psychological conflict isn't presented with any subtly. Worse, it's presented without the benefit of an actual plot. This isn't a story--it's a poorly-argued position paper about how Superman is different (without actually showing us his difference in practice).

After "Teen Titans," "Superman" is the least successful of all the strips in Wednesday Comics.

"Deadman": (Bullock & Heuck) "Deadman" continues to have some of the best layouts of the entire project. This installment sees Boston Brand trapped in hell (or some other infernal points south), mortal, and beset on all sides by demons. It's a beautiful strip, but I think it may have lost the plot a little, starting four weeks ago with a mystery involving a serial killer.

This is the detour the story has taken to connect a mysterious stranger with the main plot, but it can be easy to forget what the whole thing was about initially. That is to say, for the last two weeks we've had a protracted fight scene in our mystery comic, taking one-sixth of the story's run and dedicating it to physical (not mental) exertion on the part of its lead.

The temptation is understandable when the whole thing is illustrated with such aplomb--giving us a limber, active, craggy, and downright "pissed" Deadman. Here's hoping next week it gets back on track.

"Green Lantern": (Busiek & Quinones) I'm not going to waste a lot of words on this installment of "Green Lantern" save to say I like Green Lantern comics quite a bit save for all the pesky Hal Jordan parts. So when you give me a strip dedicated solely to the adventures of Hal: Air Force Meathead, I have to say "thank you but no" and move along.

"Metamorpho": (Gaiman & Allred) Can we get this as an ongoing with the same team? I wasn't too hot on the strip at its inception--feeling that Gaiman was playing magpie to the writing style of Mike Allred--but in subsequent weeks it has taken on its own freewheeling feel.

This is another strip not overly concerned with getting along with the plot, but it works in this case given that a lot of it seems to be about exploration and diversions. The entire thing takes a time out for lunch, and it's funny and charming given the motley crew assembled here.

About that: I love the visual parity between Metamorpho and Element Woman with the mixed textures of their skin and circus freak appearances made all the odder by their wide, dark-rimmed milky eyes. Not only is it visually arresting, but it's appropriate to the outsider characters here.

One gripe--in the fifth and sixth panels it appears that the dialogue of Metamorpho and Element Woman are reversed in at least one case, perhaps two. In any event, it's a momentary bit of confusion that requires another reading to get the flow of things.

"Teen Titans": (Berganza & Galloway) Can we just not deal with this strip each week? Really? It's still here?

Now it's trying to make a stab at being serious with the painfully on the nose narration of one of the rescue workers who "has a problem" with superheroes--saying they're a bigger threat than the villains. In a fictional universe that has Psycho Pirate I have a hard time believing any sympathetic character would think that Robin or Blue Beetle is a bigger threat.

Maybe someone is trying to say something deeper about the dangerous ideas behind super heroics--I don't know. What we get here is leaden narration about how real heroes are the world's police and firemen while simultaneously reminding the audience (painfully) that this is a juvenile superhero comic, poorly written and illustrated--diminishing both itself and its ponderous message.

"Strange Adventures": (Paul Pope) Five weeks of excellence is nothing to sniff at--but, as I mentioned earlier, this one slipped behind "Kamandi" somewhat this week.

After her daring escape in the last installment, Adam's bikini-clad and war painted wife, Alanna, undertakes a dangerous trek across the unforgiving terrain of Rann astride a spotted "dog." With Adam M.I.A., Alanna is hoping to find help for her imprisoned people by visiting another monarch. It's more deliberately paced than the previous installments, but this week's episode shouldn't be mistaken for slow.

Pope's version of Rann looks positively intense--with bulbous and vibrant-looking fauna dominating the landscape, and a sun that seems to just lean on the denizens below. It also doesn't hurt that Alanna has an alluring design, so it's not disagreeable to spend more panel time with her this week.

"Supergirl": (Palmotti & Conner) Yes, it's simple--and yes, it coasts solely on cuteness--but, man, I like this version of Supergirl. If DC had its own version of the Marvel Adventures line appealing to younger-but-not-the-youngest readers I would vote for this version of Supergirl to be one of the first books out the gate. Conner's illustration is friendly without being cloying, and she is able to get humor out of even the facial reactions of the animal cast.

It's a kid's comic that is neither dumb nor particularly cynical.

"Metal Men": (Didio & Garcia-Lopez/Nowlan) A lot of online critics seem to be giving this one a pass because for something by Dan Didio it's not awful or setting the internet aflame with blah blah blah. I don't dislike it, but I'm not exactly for it either. The art is nice but I'm fairly bored with this bank robbery and the whole thing feels like a story told in a manner of: "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened."

It's not particularly funny. Worse, the Metal Men haven't really used their abilities in any especially interesting way (see this week's "Metamorpho" for a clever use of an unorthodox character's skills). I get the feeling from "Metal Men" of diminished expectations being either met or exceeded. However, as a work on its own merits, it does very little.

"Wonder Woman": (Ben Caldwell) Despite its eye-straining panel layout, Caldwell's "Wonder Woman" has actually grown on me. There's a tonal connection between this and Jeff Smith's Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil that's hard to ignore or dislike, so this week (and last week) I just rolled with it and whipped out my magnifying glass.

In this installment, Diana meets Priscilla Rich (the future Cheetah) in the ruins of a Tibetan temple. The wealthy tomb raider is in a race with Princess Diana for a tiara that is one of the Seven Sacred Stars that Diana hopes to retrieve for the Amazons. Rich wants it because it's sweet loot. It's a fun adventure comic written with good voices for its characters (this Diana seems naÔve about the ways of the mortal world, but it works because she's so young and Rich is appropriately catty).

The Shazam connection comes from its cartoonish art and situations, which nonetheless take themselves seriously because we buy that the characters take themselves seriously. Also, I've gotten over my initial resistance to the "Little Nemo"-esque device that bookends each installment. I've learned to roll with it since it is clear that the events that occur in the dream matter, and they are moving Diana towards assuming the mantle of Wonder Woman.

Like "Metamorpho," it's another case where I wish the limited version presented here was the one used in the main DCU (especially the revised character design and color palette).

"Sgt. Rock and Easy Company": (Kubert & Kubert) The Nazis beat on Sarge some more, and Easy Company meets some resistance fighters. It looks nice, but man have the Kuberts completely and totally decided not to tell a story with any forward momentum.

"Flash Comics/Iris West": (Kerschl & Fletcher/Leigh) I'm absolutely enamored with the jumbled chronology of this thing--I just hope it all makes sense in the end and doesn't get wrapped up with a pat ending of "it's time travel, that's why!"

The two segments are night and day in terms of tone and events. In the "Iris West" portion, Barry is trying desperately to save his marriage (which Barry along the timeline remains to be seen)--and he's ready to put a beating to longtime simian nemesis Gorilla Grodd in the "Flash" portion. It's a very affecting and effective balance of pathos and action--even if the science-speak gets a little dense (so much so that it took me out of the story for a moment).

Still, seeing so many versions of Barry running around trying to fix the various problem's he's set for himself (as well as looping around to explain the very beginning of the story) serves to--like the current Batman story--get to the essential nature of a man racing against the present and the complications that evolve from this situation.

The two artists involved also keep it looking pretty, so there's that as well.

"Demon/Catwoman": (Simonson & Stelfreeze) This week, Jason Blood's alter ego threatens to put fist to an old hag's face--and it's pretty good.

I don't know why it bothers me so much that the Demon isn't rhyming very much. I would like to hurry up and get to the inevitable Demon and Catwoman interaction because I think the characters might have some interesting chemistry if the elements are actually put together.

"Hawkman": (Kyle Baker) Hawkman catches his plane--after a fashion--and yet another writer finds an interesting use of a character's toolset . Has Carter used his wings in a manner like this before?

I do wonder what shape this story will ultimately take as it seems to be moving Hawkman from one disaster to the next. First it was terrorists, then it was alien invaders, then it was a plane crash. Of course, they're all part of the same set of circumstances.

I just trust that Kyle Baker has some overarching story or idea that will make it all gel together in the end.

"If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author's work at Monster In Your Veins"

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