Welcome to third installment of Comics Bulletin’s reviews column devoted to DC’s Wednesday Comics series. This week’s column is by Jason Sacks.
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 following commentary.
Three weeks in, and each of the series in Wednesday Comics seems to have settled into its own particular groove. It’s becoming familiar to see these stories each week, and it’s kind of comforting to have a sense of what each page will feel like before opening the package.
It’s no insult to say that readers like to know what to expect from each story. When I was a kid, I used to make a weekly pilgrimage every Saturday night from our house in Rosedale, Queens, New York, out to a drug store on Long Island to pick up the Sunday papers. My dad would pick up the Sunday New York Times for himself, but he also loved to pick up the Daily News.
While dad always gloried to headlines like “Ford to New York: Drop Dead!,” I loved the weekly comics section. “Dondi” was always above the fold with “Peanuts” below it. Inside we had “Hagar the Horrible” and “The Wizard of Id” along with rising star “Doonesbury” and rapidly declining “Li’l Abner.” Dad and I would always get chocolate sundaes that we ate while reading the comics, and then we’d head home and watch The Carol Burnett Show.
Even at that young age–I was in early elementary school at the time–I recognized that much of the power of these weekly comics came from their familiarity. I found “Li’l Abner” to be bizarre and befuddling–but there was something comforting in the strip being just as befuddling from one week to the next. There was even more comfort in the fact that my dad had read the strip when he was my age, during the World War II years when all paper, even newsprint, was precious.
So, to say that the strips in Wednesday Comics have fallen into a groove is no insult. In a way it’s a compliment to the editor, Mark Chiarello, who has shown fidelity to the concept that gives this series a lot of its charm.
So on to the individual stories.
“Batman” (Azzarello & Risso): Another issue, another murder, and a troubling question: Though he witnesses the murder that happens this issue, Batman does nothing to prevent it. Why?
Is there something happening with the characters that we don’t see on the surface? If not, this is a really out-of-character page for Batman. However, the art and storytelling are pretty–especially the nice camera pull-out in the top tier of the page.
“Kamandi–The Last Boy on Earth” (Gibbons & Sook): This strip has been a favorite of mine since week one, and it once again delights and exhilarates with its rollicking tale of action and adventure. It’s striking how much this story seems to channel both the raw energy of Jack Kirby and the stately charm of Hal Foster’s “Prince Valiant.” In each issue, Sook has delivered images that are as indelibly exciting as any that were found in Kirby’s original, while Gibbons’s rock-solid writing does an outstanding job of conveying the feeling that there’s an even bigger and wilder world just outside the borders of the panels found on this page–and what a great cliffhanger to end this week’s installment!
“Superman” (Arcudi & Bermejo): . . . or, week three of Emo-Superman. This page has rapidly become one of my least favorites in the comic. Superman’s characterization reminds me of a bad Stan Lee comic from the early 1960s. Superman pouts and whines through this page like a lovesick Scott Summers pining for Jean Grey. Panel three–with Superman’s extremely pouty face superimposed on an image of Lois Lane hard at work–manages to be both smotheringly emo and offensively stalker-like. Get over it, Superwhiner!
“Deadman” (Bullock & Heuck): I’m a sucker for surrealism and mysticism in comics, and that’s exactly what this page delivers. Heuck does a wonderful job of creating a bizarre and dreamlike world. It’s all perfectly suited for the character, and it’s delivered in bold and wonderfully-colored images. I’ve been growing to like this story more and more each week.
“Green Lantern” (Busiek & Quinones): The Green Lantern page this issue brings together the plot threads from the first two weeks as Hal Jordan makes it to the bar where his friends have been waiting for him, only to have to rush out the window as one of his best friends seems about to transform into a monster. This is wonderfully traditional super-hero action from Buseik, who’s always been a master at exactly that sort of thing.
“Metamorpho” (Gaiman & Allred): Ever get the feeling you’ve been ripped off? Last week Metamorpho and his friends and allies arrived at some old ruins and walked around them in a full-page spread. This issue . . . ummm . . . Metamorpho and his friends and allies continue to wander around some ruins. This story brings new meaning to the term decompressed. Literally nothing has happened for two weeks now. Even the cute topper from last week was replaced this week with a dull origin recap.
I know Gaiman and Allred are busy, but thus far neither creator has lived up to his considerable reputation. When I first learned of it, the idea of Gaiman and Allred on Metamorpho was enough to make this long-time fan of the character almost shed a tear. Unfortunately, so far I’m shedding tears of frustration.
“Teen Titans” (Berganza & Galloway): From a page that’s been getting worse each week to a page that’s getting better. Berganza and Galloway seem to finally have this strip moving forward in interesting directions. I love the S.M.A.S.H. doctors in this issue, and Galloway’s art serves the story well.
“Strange Adventures” (Paul Pope): “Strange Adventures” has been by far the most interesting story in Wednesday Comics. Paul Pope has been delivering a mind-boggling story with pages that feel like something out of a lost 1920s Sunday page from another dimension.
The world Pope creates is crazy and bizarre, filled over the brim with ideas that almost seem to wriggle out from every kinetic line that Pope throws on the page. This is work of great passion and energy, where bizarre people do unexpected things, and I’m completely caught up in the crazy story he’s telling. Even more than Gibbons & Sook’s sumptuous “Kamandi” strip, Paul Pope’s “Strange Adventures” would fit right in next to the comic great strips of the first half of the 20th century.
“Supergirl” (Palmiotti & Conner): This strip continues to charm, with Amanda Conner’s cute art and Jimmy Palmiotti’s charming story. How can you resist a story in which Krypto the Superdog saves a car full of people with his teeth?
“Metal Men” (Didio & Garcia-Lopez/Nowlan): Ehh. Like the previous two installments, this story neither thrills nor frustrates. It’s nice enough to see the Metal Men in action, but it feels like they’re slumming by stopping some human bank robbers. The art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan is as nice and slick and professional as you’d imagine those two men would present.
“Wonder Woman” (Ben Caldwell): Based on other reviews that I’ve read of Wednesday Comics, the “Wonder Woman” page has been the most frustrating for most reviewers. I have to agree with the consensus that the story is crowded, confusing, and hard to read. I
almost feel bad for feeling this way, because Caldwell is obviously pursuing his own unique artistic vision here, but the piece is just not compelling at all.
“Sgt. Rock and Easy Company” (Kubert & Kubert): Of all the stories in these three issues, the Sgt. Rock feels most like the comics I enjoyed with my dad as a kid. The Kuberts deliver a story with very traditional storytelling–they’re practically the only ones who draw in a solid and traditional comic book page grid, and Papa Kubert’s art feels like it was yanked right from a Sunday paper. It’s also presented without any touch of either irony or Postmodern influence–which are the reasons why the next story doesn’t feel as traditional.
“Flash Comics/Iris West” (Kerschl & Fletcher/Leigh): On the surface, the team working on this strip serve up a weekly page that looks like a traditional Sunday comics page–but they use the format in a way that is decidedly untraditional. The two halves of the page affect and comment on each other. They deliver a shifting perspective in a very formal way while delivering a more untraditional story inside.
This latest installment presents an “Iris West” half that looks very traditional while the crazy antics that Iris reacts to are quite modern–at least in a John Broome sort of way. This page is a nice experiment, and I admire the feeling of creators at play, but there’s an odd disconnect between Iris threatening divorce and the silly adventure that the Flash and Barry Allen find themselves in.
“Demon/Catwoman” (Simonson & Stelfreeze): Simonson and Stelfreeze deliver a spooky page here, which clearly will set up the big battle between Catwoman and the Demon. I was wondering how these two very different characters might come together, but this story is moving ahead nicely, and the confrontation should be fun.
“Hawkman” (Kyle Baker): Finally the secret of the hijackers is revealed in my third favorite strip of Wednesday Comics. We rarely get a chance to see Kyle Baker’s slick hero art these days, so it’s a treat to see him draw these gorgeous panels–such as the intense final panel or the close-up of Hawkman’s face on the second tier. The story isn’t simultaneously innovative and traditional like the “Kamandi” and “Strange Adventures” strips, but Baker’s “Hawkman” rings out the comic on a high note.
So a mixed week this week, but after three weeks, the strong outweigh the weak.