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Wednesday Comments 09

Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2009
By: Thom Young

DC Comics
Welcome to ninth installment of Comics Bulletin's reviews column devoted to DC's Wednesday Comics series. This week's column is by Charles Webb, who takes a slightly different approach to this week's column by focusing all his comments on just three of the strips.

Charles Webb:

Instead of diving into reviews this week, I'm going to look at three of the strips and how they've evolved (or devolved) during the last nine weeks. Instead of gushing over the titles that have grabbed my attention in previous weeks, I'll focus instead on the ones that have been problematic for me in some way during the course of the Wednesday Comics run:

  • Arcudi and Bermejo's "Superman,"

  • Berganza and Galloway's "Teen Titans," and

  • Caldwell's "Wonder Woman."
Each strip has proven problematic since the inception of Wednesday Comics due either to aesthetic issues, a struggle with pacing, and/or downright poor storytelling. With only three issues remaining in this project, none of my comments and criticisms will be particularly beneficial (on the offhand chance the creators are out there reading this), but I hope that some element of these criticisms will be prescriptive should DC undertake to tackle another collection of weekly strips.

Let's start with the winner of the Most Improved Award, which goes to Ben Caldwell's "Wonder Woman". Caldwell's winning of this "award" should come as no surprise to those of you who've followed my previous reviews of the column where I started out baffled at the disorganized and murky presentation in early chapters, moved to a gradual apathy butting against a certain amount of curiosity, to outright enjoyment.

In my initial reviews, I was concerned with the very dark colors and jam-packed panel layouts. Caldwell was giving us the adventures of Princess Diana at 60 panels per page. The readability was further thwarted by the dark colors that often obscured the line work and action as well as a unique font in what had to be a 3-point size.

Caldwell was also giving us an homage to Windsor McKay's Little Nemo, which was at first charming but soon made the stories feel rote with each "but it was all a dream . . . or was it?" approach. In those early weeks, "Wonder Woman" was a difficult read that inspired dread that the next installment promised more squinting and guess work to figure out what was going on.

To be honest, I'd all but given up on it.

However, I later poked around on the Comics Bulletin forums where the invaluable Thom Young noted that on Caldwell's blog the author had some of his own concerns about the finished product--particularly the coloring, which was often darker than his initial intent. I advise any readers out there curious about Ben Caldwell's work to check out his blog, Purge Theory.

After poking around Caldwell's blog for a bit and getting a better feel for the intent of his work versus the finished product--as well as acquiring a bit of enthusiasm for the artist's style--I decided to approach the strip absent the prejudices of the previous weeks. I began to notice how much I liked his design for the younger version of Diana before she acquired the trappings of her traditional costume.

Moreover, I started to appreciate many of his character and creature designs that looked like a marriage between the hand drawn, fluid animation work of Don Bluth, director of The Secret of Nimh and An American Tale, with the modern animation styling of Star Wars: The Clone Wars animator Gennedy Tartakovsky.

Around the same time, someone must have been listening to the critics or Caldwell or both because by about the sixth issue of Wednesday Comics, the coloring on the strip received more contrast and the darks were scaled back a bit. Caldwell was still using an ungainly amount of panels, but they were more organized and consequently more readable. Last week's installment had what I believe are the fewest number of panels so far for this strip; it was also the most enjoyable.

Caldwell has also tightened up the narrative a bit by scaling back the sleeping/waking framing sequences, or by giving them weight in the context of the story. For example, when Diana wakes up at the end of a recent installment, she is startled and worried about her newfound friends Etta Candy and Etta's uncle the Professor. It gives the framing device a sense of consequence and less a feeling of slavish homage to Windsor McKay.

As it stands now, Caldwell's "Wonder Woman" is one of the strips I anticipate most each week alongside "Kamandi," "Strange Adventures," and "Hawkman." I'll even echo a sentiment that I made in an earlier review that I wish Caldwell's Wonder Woman is a version that DC would publish monthly--perhaps for their all-ages line, given the youth, exuberance, and striking design of the overall work.

Moving on from a version of one of DC'so-called "Trinity" that I'd like to see more of to an interpretation of a hero that I'd like to never see again: "Superman."

Much has been made of how emo this Superman is; he frets, he complains, he gets yelled at by Batman, and he spends some quality "me time" on the farm back home. This week gives readers an overarching reason for this behavior, but nine weeks in is much too late to explain away the previous eight weeks of underwhelming comics.

Superman has spent the majority of this run "depressed" (his word) about his place in the world and his sense of disconnectedness from humanity. I actually disagree with some critics who say that exploring this facet of the character was wrong for the project. Where I come down against the story is in its blockheaded resistance to exploring exactly how Superman is connected and disconnected from the world. I think there are so many interesting and dynamic directions a writer can go with this type of narrative, presenting essentially human stories about someone who is decidedly inhuman.

The core issue with this poorly paced work is how inactive Superman is. The crisis that has rocked him emotionally prevents him from connecting with his "job" of being a super man. So why then are we not given a story where he's trying to reconnect with the better part of his nature? Instead, the writer has Clark retreat and withdraw in what I would at first think is some kind of formal experiment to avoid engaging the protagonist in the narrative.

More than anything, what Arcudi's version of Superman reminds me of is the most troubling and problematic aspects of the Smallville television series, where Clark Kent spends so much of his time in retreat out of fear of hurting the ones close to him. He chooses not to act when he should. Instead, he'd prefer to be more like the rest of us without the burden of power, which ends up making a handsome ultra-capable character incredibly unlikable.

Smallville's Clark Kent would rather not have that which most of us would spend our lives striving for, and so it goes with Arcudi's version of Superman--blessed with a loving family and connected to the world through the good he does who nonetheless rather not think about the good in his life because perhaps it's too much trouble.

Arcudi's strip has been the public face of Wednesday Comics by getting placement in USA Today, but it has consistently been one of the most glacially paced and superficially introspective works of the entire project. In fact, the most exciting panel of the entire series occurred in week one.

Finally, we come to "Teen Titans," which has been coasting along with a high level of low quality for nine weeks now. The strip is a combination of incredibly loose, indistinct visuals; shallow and particularly whiny characterizations; and a baffling reliance on current DCU continuity.

Where to start? Well, the first question we should ask is if Wednesday Comics is intended for the average DC reader or if it is meant to draw in new readers. To an extent, Jason, Thom, and I discussed this issue in our review of week six, but it bears asking again since "Teen Titans" confuses the entire question.

Of DC's properties, the Titans have had the highest exposure (after Batman) thanks to their hugely popular (now canceled) show on the Cartoon Network. I think a lot of the success of that show stemmed from two things:
  1. Drawing on the appeal of youthful superheroes learning how to be heroes while giving each character a distinct voice and set of issues.

  2. Bringing in a segment of the comics fanbase by providing echoes of some of the print stories, such as a short version of "The Judas Contract."
The show simultaneously appealed to history while reaching out to new viewers. The unfortunate truth about the version of the Titans we've seen over the last nine weeks in Wednesday Comics seems very exclusive--providing very little in the way of individual characterization or historical context for what is clearly the culmination of previous ongoing story threads.

The strip assumes you have some knowledge of Identity Crisis and the recent death of Dr. Light at the hands of the Spectre. These double-shot reminders of two of the more grotesque DC storylines make it clear that this story wasn't going to be aimed at younger readers. These plot points also speak to the relentless grimness of the two Titans-based comics on the shelves each month, which have been steadily shedding readers with protracted (at times, inscrutable) storylines.

What we have with Berganza's strip is a protracted (at times, inscrutable) revenge plot by Trident II, who is apparently "the son of Dr. Light."--that one-line description creates more questions, but not in the cool way that a good story should. Instead, readers will find themselves focusing on the backstory instead of the present action--of which there is a lot.

My complaints about the non-stop moping in "Superman" must surely be balanced by the wall-to-wall fighting and action here, right? Not so much. Very little advancement to the plot occurs in and around all the fisticuffs and charged attacks. It's all artifice without event--action without accomplishing much of anything. It's the most barely-there of the comics when it should be trading on the richness of its characters and the conflicts in which they find themselves.

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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