Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Comics Review

DC’s experimental weekly anthology, Wednesday Comics, came to a close last week and, although it was not a Top 10 seller, it was one of the most innovative comic books to hit the shelves this summer. This weekend, I took the time to re-read all twelve issues so that I can bring you my thoughts one each individual story and the entire miniseries as a whole. We know that it was inventive, but was it actually any good? Hit the jump to find out!

What is Wednesday Comics?

Wednesday Comics is the fourth weekly series that DC has released since the finale of 2005/2006’s Infinite Crisis. The first, 52, was a major success thanks to the all-star collaborative writing team of Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Grant Morrison, as well as the tightly plotted intersecting stories that helped reinvigorate several characters that were otherwise stagnate. The follow-ups, Countdown to Final Crisis and Trinity, were considerably less successful and less well received. The stories were less coherent and the output from the creative teams were considerably less consistent that those behind 52.

Rather than trying to pull of off a year-long weekly story, DC instead opted to make Wednesday Comics an anthology series of non-continuity stories from a wide range of creators, including established superstars like Brian Azarello, living legends like Joe Kubert, indie darlings like Kyle Baker, and up-and-comers like Ben Caldwell and Joe Quinones. The entire project was spearheaded by Mark Chiarello, DC’s Editorial Art Director, who was also the major force behind the Batman: Black and White projects, the Solo spotlight series, and many other art-centric projects at DC.

What makes Wednesday Comics so special?

Aside form the great range of creative teams and the strong mix of major characters in the DC Universe with lesser-knowns (like Deadman), the most notable aspect of Wednesday Comics is the format. Meant to harkens back to the comics section in a newspaper, the series is printed at an astounding 14” x 20” broadsheet format, with each story taking one single page. The paper stock is considerably darker and of a different composite than standard comics as well. The end result is a reading experience unlike anything offered by any other mainstream comic book at the moment.

How much of an investment is Wednesday Comics?

One of the biggest criticisms of the series is the high cost per issue. Each weekly issue of Wednesday Comics is $3.99. Clocking in at just 15 story pages per issue, this may seem like an absurd investment. You would finish the series having put out $47.88 for 180 pages before any taxes or comic shop discounts. That’s pretty steep—however, you do need to consider that each page is nearly twice the size of a regular comic book and it is all printed irregularly, both of which do factor in the price.

Many readers have openly criticized this and stated the desire to “wait for trade.” While DC has announced eventual plans to collect and release the series, no format has been discussed. Given the enormous size of the individual pages, one can assume that a regular sized trade will not suffice. My suspicion is that you won’t see Wednesday Comics collected until it can be put together in an Absolute Edition, which is better suited for oversized pages and will have room for any ancillary material that such an experimental book would warrant. In other words, if you balked at the $48 you’d have to shill out over 12 weeks, your only other choice could be upwards of $50, $75, or $99 dollars (the standard prices for DC’s Absolute Editions).

Is it even worth reading in the first place?

In order to answer this question, I’d like to borrow a page from my weekly review column, the Comic Book Review Power Rankings, to break down and rank each story individually in terms of quality. My final thoughts will be given after each story has been mini-reviewed.

Written by Ben Caldwell
Art by Ben Caldwell
Letters by Ben Caldwell

Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman can be described as the only major failure in the entire anthology, though he should be applauded for being one of the most inventive storytellers in the series. Caldwell utilizes the larger page size to cram in as many panels as possible—several pages have 30-60 panels each. While this is pretty impressive, the average reader does not have the patience or the concentration for this. Of course, it is isn’t helped by the fact that the lettering was nearly indecipherable and, most weeks, it was not clear what the reading order for the panels should be. It was a bold move by a great cartoonist, but it is one that clearly was not working from the outset.

Written by Walt Simonson
Art by Brian Stelfreeze
Letters by Steve Wands

Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze teamed up to tell what was the most straightforward story of the series with the unlikely duo of Catwoman and Etrigan the Demon taking on Morgaine le Fey. The biggest problem is that the story doesn’t work well one page at a time, making it hard to get invested from week to week—plus, Catwoman really only plays a major part in the first few weeks, after which she could have been replaced with any damsel in distress. Also, while Brian Stelfreeze’s art looks great in the larger size, the format of Wednesday Comics wasn’t really utilized here. In the end, the best part of the story was the reference to the Oblivion Bar from Shadowpact in the final week.

Written by Kyle Baker
Art by Kyle Baker
Letters by Kyle Baker

The Hawkman story by Kyle Baker started off of experiment as one of the strongest stories, but quickly fell down the ranks as the story lost focus. Baker’s story involves a terrorist plane hijacking, alien invaders, and battles with dinosaurs, all loosely tied together. The jumps between story beats were incredibly awkward, as it really felt like Baker was changing his mind throughout the story on just exactly what kind of story he wanted to tell. The highpoint is Baker’s super-detailed and strongly expressive art, but the coloring was simply too dark for the newsprint paper stock. This probably looked great on the electronic page proofs, but the end result lost a lot of details as everything bled together. I also really enjoyed the running gag on Aquaman’s uselessness in the fact of Hawkman’s troubles until the very end when he saves the day.

Written by Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl
Art by Karl Kerschl and Dave McCaig
Letters by Rob Leigh

Flash Comics, much like the Demon/Catwoman team-up, is one of the stories that is best read in one sitting on its own, rather than in weekly installments with the other books. The reason behind this is the story runs through a very complicated structure that starts with Flash (Barry Allen) fighting Gorilla Grodd while trying to make his marriage work, but ends up becoming a very strange time-travel story before ending with a clever metatextual twist. By the time readers reach Week 12, it is likely that they have lost interested because the story jumps around too much (including breaking each week into separate strips that focus on separate story beats on one single page). It’s a cool twist ending, but ultimately lacks the focus to be effective. Karl Kerschl does do an amazing job with the art, utilizing multiple art styles throughout the story. Most of the art appears to stick with his Silver Age-rooted usual style, though he ends it with a more realistic style that I really enjoyed. I hope to see him use that more often.

Written by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck
Art by Dave Bullock and Dave Stewart
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher

Deadman, much like Flash, is one of the few stories that really utilized the larger page size to try something different. Each week saw Dave Bullock using a new layout or storytelling style to tell the story of Deadman’s adventures in Hell as he tries to save the souls of seemingly innocent women from the demon Kalak. While the art looked fantastic and felt fresh each week, the writing left a bit to be desired as Deadman discussed or described al ot of what he was doing as it happened. This made it much harder to get invested in the story than in the great looking art.

Written by John Arcudi
Art by Lee Bermejo and Barbara Ciardo
Letters by Ken Lopez
John Arcudi’s Superman story was an interesting character study expertly drawn by Lee Bermejo that followed Superman doubting his own humanity after a battle with a mysterious alien. John Arcudi’s understanding of Superman and his motivations made this an interesting look inside his worldview and how that affects those around him, making it feel a lot like a good episode of Smallville. Lee Bermejo’s art looks fantastic in the larger format, but faced the same problem as Kyle Baker’s Hawkman story, but to a lesser degree; it was simply too dark at times, so details were lost pretty easily. This is probably the simplest story in the anthology, but also the most iconic. As with Superman himself, you need to approach this expecting some cheesiness to enjoy the sugar-coated ride.

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Joe Quinones
Letters by Pat Brosseau

The Green Lantern story was really the only story in the anthology to attempt to reinvent the focus character, with Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones setting their story in the swinging 60s. You get throwback fashion, dated dialogue, and an all-new cocky bravado to Hal Jordan that has a decidedly more Rat Pack vibe to it than you’d find in his regular series. Quinones’s bold, loose art style is incredibly expressive and visually appealing. The main problem is that the story moves at a glacial pace, with Busiek focusing more of his efforts on building the relationship between Hal and his friend in danger than on how Hal plans to help him. It’s a fine story as a whole, but the climax falls flat as it rushes to a conclusion in the final weeks.

Written by Brian Azarello
Art by Eduardo Risso and Trish Mulvihill
Letters by Clem Robins

Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso look to put the “dark” back in the Dark Knight with their very grim Batman story that follows the caped crusader investigating the mysterious death of a multi-millionaire. This is easily the darkest story in the collection, feeling more like a story from Azarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets series from Vertigo than any superhero work from the creative team. The two take an interesting approach to the story, leaving out major plot movements to key in on certain moments, forcing the readers to fill in the gaps. This is an inventive way to suck the reader in, but it does take a lot of momentum out of the finale, which see not only Batman failing, but also falling for the murderer. This would be considerably more effective it had been built up more, but I don’t think the team could have pulled off such an ambitious story without using the reader to fill in the gaps.

Written by Eddie Berganza
Art by Sean Galloway
Letters by Nick J. Napolitano

Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway’s Teen Titans story begin Wednesday Comics as one of the weakest installments—the art looked weird, the villain wasn’t convincing, and the narration from Robin was too heavy-handed. However, as I reread the entire series in one sitting, the story really began to grow on me, especially as it becomes clear that Trident isn’t actually the son of Dr. Light, but actually one of the Titans deadliest foes. The story starts weak, but ends up being a fun love letter to the Teen Titans’ concept of the team as a family, written by someone who clearly cares about the characters and wants the reader to as well. Plus, Galloway’s sparse, unique art style really starts to pop off the page the more you get used to it, eventually becoming the strongest aspect of the story. If you felt yourself losing interest in this story early on, go back and really take your time with it. It gets much better the second time around.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts
Letters by John J. Hill

The not-quite-husband-and-wife-but-might-as-well-be team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (who recently became the first woman EVER to be featured on Wizard’s Top 10 Hot Artists countdown—go Amanda!) produced one of the most charming stories in the anthology focusing on Supergirl and her attempts to stop the erratic behavior of the super-pets, Streaky and Krypto. This story is the most outwardly humorous of the anthology, utilizing lots of one-liners, site-gags, and the most hilarious use of Aquaman I’ve ever seen (image Aquaman as Ari Gold from Entourage). Of course, as always, Amanda Conner’s artwork is brilliant, gorgeous, and expressive. While Wednesday Comics is trying to capture the feeling of the comics section of newspapers as a whole, the Supergirl story is clearly attempting—and succeeding—at capturing just how fun those newspaper comics could be.

Written by Dan DiDio
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Kevin Nowlan, and Trish Mulvihill
Letters by Ken Lopez

The Metal Men story featured the most unexpected creative team of the anthology, teaming up DC’s Editor-in-Chief with the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. The story is very straightforward as is the art, with the larger format size simply allowing Garcia-Lopez to produced larger, more expressive art than normal. If you’ve seen Garcia-Lopez’s work in the past, you know precisely what to expect here. What you might have expected, though, is Dan DiDio’s writing to be so strong. Whether you care for his practices and policies or not, if you’ve ever had the chance to meet DiDio, you’d know that he is an incredibly personable and usually hilarious guy. That really shines through this story as the characters are simply overflowing with personality. The plot is a bit simple, but the execution is incredibly well-done.

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Mike Allred and Laura Allred
Letters by Nate Piekos

Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s Metamorpho story was one of the major selling points for Wednesday Comics when it was first announced and it doesn’t disappoint—so long as you keep in mind the level of creative freedom that the duo was given. The plot of the story is very simple and loose, though you’ll quickly forget about the story because of the playful “extras” the do throw at readers, including a fake letter column written by Metamorpho’s adolescent fan club, a Metamorpho board game, and two weeks worth of stories that are told through Metamorpho and Element Gal (his female counterpart) traveling through the periodic table, with the element names being part of the dialogue. The character writing is fun and Allred’s art is more controlled than I’ve seen in some of his other works, but this all takes a backseat to the inventiveness and insanity of the non-story elements of each page. I really have to hand it to Gaiman and Allred for being the only creators to truly and unapologetically embrace the unique format of the series to do something truly inventive.

Written by Adam Kubert
Art by Joe Kubert
Letters by Joe Kubert

The Sgt. Rock story is the most rigid of Wednesday Comics fifteen stories, with each page composed of very structured panels and told in a very linear fashion. The story has an interesting premise, focusing on Sgt. Rock being captured and saved by unexpected ally while the Easy Company attempts to find him. The problem with the story isn’t the plot though, it’s the fact that Adam Kubert is a relatively dull writer that doesn’t bring much personality to the story. You are probably asking how a poorly written story could be ranked so highly and, really, I don’t blame you. The reason why this is ranked so high is also one of the main reasons why Wednesday Comics is worth checking out—Joe Kubert’s art in a format where nearly every panel is the size of a half-splash. There is so much detail and expression in each page that it could never be contained in a normal-sized comic. It is easily the best looking story in the entire book, so even if the writing isn’t very good, it works as showcase of why Joe Kubert is, quite frankly, one of the greatest artists in the history comics.

Written by Paul Pope
Art by Paul Pope and Jose Villarrubia
Letters by Paul Pope

Paul Pope’s story follows Adam Strange on a very fun, retro-styled story that embraces pulp traditions in its plot, storytelling, and art work. While this should certainly be praised as one of the best stories in Wednesday Comics, it should also go down as perhaps the single best Adam Strange story ever told. I simply loved Pope’s vision of Strange being an Flash Gordon-style hero on Rann, while being a bumbling nobody on Earth—it’s heartbreaking and incredibly compelling as Strange fights to use the Zeta Beam to return to Rann to save its inhabitants and be reunited with his beloved Alanna. Pope does a superb job of playing up the pulp sensibilities of the story, especially with the “dated” art that looks like it could have been created during the pulp heyday that the book harkens back to. This is definitely one of the most thoughtfully crafted stories in Wednesday Comics and one of the best adventure stories I’ve read in a long, long time.

Written by Dave Gibbons
Art by Ryan Sook
Letters by Ryan Sook

Kamandi, much like several other characters in the anthology, that has a small but rabid fanbase but has never really had a chance to connect with newer readers. This is something Dave Gibbons definitely took into consideration when writing this story that is simultaneously a recap of who Kamandi and what his situation is, as well as an exciting and engaging action story. The most unique aspect of this story is that it reads more like a storybook, with the story being told through an illustrated text narrative rather than by panel shots and word balloons. This allows the creative team to tell a much larger story by focusing on major moments and filling in the moment-by-moment action through the text. It is similar to what Azarello did in his Batman story, but doesn’t rely as much on the reader to fill in story gaps. Ryan Sook does a brilliant job of illustrating the story in an incredibly lush manner. Every drawing is filled with detail and personality, which helps enrapture the reader and engaging them in this story. By the time you reach the climax of the story, you feel Kamandi and his friends’ pride in their victory over the apes and the shock of the ending is simply heartbreaking. The storytelling is simply that effective. Of course, it helps that Sook’s colors are the boldest out of all of the art in the anthology; he seems to be the only colorist not to be thrown off by how the unusual paper stock affected the color. This story works so incredibly well that, even though I had little experience with Kamandi prior to this story, I want to read more Kamandi stories and, hopefully, more Kamandi stories by this creative team.

Verdict: Must Read. As with any anthology, Wednesday Comics is not perfect from cover to cover and has some stories that it would have better off with out—most notably the high-concept Wonder Woman story by Ben Caldwell. However, as a whole, the anthology succeeds in featuring incredibly compelling stories in an unusual format. As you read through each issue, you feel like you are reading something special and the quality of the work inside reinforces that.

Yes, there are some stories that could have easily been told as one-offs in a standard comics format. But, more importantly, there are some stories that couldn’t and that is the beauty and strength of Wednesday Comics. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s Metamorpho experiment simply would not fly in any other format. Joe Kubert’s artwork would be unceremoniously shortchanged if it was reduced to fit a regular comic book page. Wednesday Comics works best when the creators embraced how special the format and the premise of the anthology was, which is something that should be kept in mind for the evitable sequel.

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stuclach said...

I disagree with some of your ratings, but agree wholeheartedly that Kamandi was the cream of the crop.

Well written and reasoned review.

Thank you.

Matt Ampersand said...

I've been thinking about the possible collections for Wednesday Comics quite a bit recently.

First of all, I think they said that they would be collected separately. If that is the case, then Absolute-like editions are probably out of the question, because it would be too low a page count to justify that treatment. If they want to collect it all together, then I could see an oversize hardcover happening.

As for how to fit the damn thing into a hardcover, the solution is probably to rotate the single page 90 degrees, so you would have to read it like a calendar (think those annuals that Marvel released in 2001, where the whole comic would be like that). This way you would still get the full page without having to break them up, and the size of the two combined pages would be roughly the same of the newspaper print page.

Daringd said...

I'd rate Flash as #1 it was just awesome

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I like, and find very interesting, that our opinions differed so greatly.
I've collected my thoughts here on my blog, click the name to see.
I rated Flash first, I put Wonder Woman up there, same with Deadman, I dropped Sgt Rock and Teen Titans just lost me no matter how much time I tried to give it.

I think that's why this series was so good, it had something for everyone, and everyone could make up their own varied opinion.

The most that I see though, puts Kamandi, Strange Adventures, or Flash as number one, I'd like to see how many people put something else in, and why?

The Dangster said...

Dear god, Superman, Teen Titans, and Metal Men are too high.

Honestly I loved Batman (which was paced perfectly) and Demon and the Cat is vastly overrated.

Anonymous said...

Teen Titans was horrible. The worst of the lot.

Ryan Schrodt said...

Teen Titans isn't getting much love and I don't blame you if you read the series week-to-week. However, once I read it all in one sitting, the story was considerably more coherent and the art really started growing on me. I'd love to see some of the people that hated the story try reading it that way and to let me know if you exprienced a similar increase in apprecaition for the story.

Kize said...

I'm surprised to see that you think Green Lantern was the only strip that attempted to reinvent the focus character. It seemed to me that Busiek and Quinones' Hal Jordan was the same character from the monthly comics, but simply put into a 1960's New Frontier-style setting.

The best examples of character reinvention in Wednesday Comics were Wonder Woman and Strange Adventures. Ben Caldwell completely retooled Diana's origin, linking her Amazonian heritage together with the the mythologies of our world's cultures. Paul Pope's version of Adam Strange is a completely different person on Earth than when on Rann, and Pope uses this to great dramatic effect in the series' conclusion.

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