STATE OF THE ART
Columnist/reviewer Timothy Callahan and reviewer/CSBG blogger Chad Nevett formerly discussed comics every week in a column called “The Splash Page” for the now-temporarily-inoperative Sequart.org website. To celebrate the twelve weeks of “Wednesday Comics,” they’re bringing their signature comic book chit-chat style to COMIC BOOK RESOURCES. Join them each week as they discuss the unfolding drama of DC’s experiment in oversized weekly comics.
This week: “Wednesday Comics” #1!
Timothy Callahan: The superhero event comic of the summer is upon us! Fifteen massive pages by some of the best creators in the business, and it all begins in this week’s “Wednesday Comics.” I guess I’ll start with a general question: was it everything you hoped for and more?
Chad Nevett: Actually, no, but my expectations were pretty high. I felt a little let down by the writing, honestly, which didn’t seem in places up to the challenge of delivering one strong page that didn’t simply end mid-thought at the bottom of the page with a “To be continued” slapped on. Obviously, each writer is trying to make the page work as a cohesive whole, but it doesn’t happen a lot of time — the “Superman” feature stood out in that regard and so did the “Sgt. Rock” one. This ‘one page per week’ format really favors the artists, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised by the writing faltering in this area. And isn’t it great to begin on that negative note? Did you have the same issues with the writing?
TC: Sure, but it’s probably a matter of recalibrating expectations. I mean, it’s one page of a story — the FIRST page of a story — and it’s really difficult to judge the quality of the writing based on that. And I’m sure we’ll get to the good stuff, like the art(!!!), in a minute, but it’s worth talking a bit about these first pages of story, even if they didn’t have too much going on just yet. As I read “Wednesday Comics,” I felt like I was reading something visually targeted at me, but narratively targeted at someone relatively new to DC comics. Half the stories read like introduction-to-the-character stories, and I know the old philosophy is “every comic is someone’s first comic,” but spending one gloriously-illustrated page after another with dry recaps of character Wikipedia entries seemed like a strange choice for this series. For a series so (potentially) visually daring, some of the stories feel like they’re starting from a relatively stale place. The best stories of the bunch — the Azzarrello/Risso “Batman” page, the Gaiman/Allred “Metamorpho” page, the Arcudi/Bermejo “Superman” page — didn’t spend a bunch of captions explaining the status quo of their respective characters. They just jumped into the plot and provided an immediate hook (based on a mystery in all three cases).
I’m surprised that more stories didn’t just jump right into things. The “Kamandi” and “Teen Titans” pages, in particular, seemed particularly dead on arrival, at least in terms of story. With only 12 pages total in which to tell their stories, I’m just baffled as to why so many of theise writers decided to begin so slowly.
CN: Well, Superman and Batman are so well known that no explanation of who they are is needed. Then again, no one outside of comics known who Adam Strange is and Paul Pope doesn’t really spend too much time explaining that concept, he just jumps into that story. I actually forgot how plodding and dull the “Teen Titans” page is with its showing of, what, four different versions of the team? Yeesh! And while I love his art, Kyle Baker’s “Hawkman” is equally as dull with regards to the actual writing. Interesting hook, narrating the story from a bird’s perspective, but it doesn’t really get going in this page either.
I can’t remember where editor Mark Chiarello said this, but I thought he said there would be one or two self-contained pages that weren’t the first part of a serial. I swear that he said that in some interview and that seems like a great idea. Why is every story here the first part of a serial? If they’re trying to replicate Sunday comics pages, why not have a few one-off strips that don’t require reading the next one to fully experience? It seems like a natural approach for a format that specializes in single page doses.
TC: I do have to say that I loved the first issue, though, even if I found the writing a bit leaden in some stories and the narrative choices a bit strange. But this is certainly a gorgeous comic at this size. I find myself flipping through it again and again, just to admire the artwork. The only real stinker is the “Teen Titans” installment — Sean Galloway has a distinctive style, but he’s not in the same league as the rest of the artists in “Wednesday Comics.” I’ve seen him do expressive, exciting work in “Teen Titans Go!” but his art looks amateurish compared to the likes of Risso or Sook or Kubert or, hell, anyone else working on this thing. It just sticks out as the one page that will look the most dated ten years from now. It looks dated already. Maybe future installments will change my opinion of his work.
The rest of the issue? Striking. Even Lee Bermejo, who always seems like a jarring choice for a “Superman” story (or cover) because he draws everything to look like wrought iron, does some nice work here, particularly with the goofy alien. That’s the best thing Arcudi could have given Bermejo to draw to undercut the possible self-parody of how hard and metallic Bermejo’s work can look — inject a dorky alien to add some humor.
And I told you earlier in the week about Joe Quinones’s mad drawing skills, and his “Green Lantern” page didn’t disappoint at all. His stuff is brilliant. Paul Pope’s “Adam Strange” was my favorite, but there were plenty of great-looking comics in this first issue, don’t you think?
CN: Oh yes. Don’t let my early negativity fool anyone, I really enjoyed this issue. Visually, it was everything I could hope for. Pope was probably my favorite as well, but I also really dug Karl Kerschl’s “Flash” page and the use of Benday dots in the Iris Allen story. That divided page was one of the more innovative elements of this issue — and an obvious one once you see it. Eduardo Risso’s “Batman” art is just stunning. He conveys so much emotion in that page as Commissioner Gordon and Batman both realize that a man is dying right at that moment. I’ve always been a Lee Bermejo fan, so his skills here didn’t surprise me. Amanda Conner impressed me a lot with her “Supergirl” page, which is actually one that I think stands well on its own. Though it says “to be continued…” at the end, the gag is good enough that I don’t think we NEED to see Supergirl actually catch the two Super-Pets. The shot of Streaky crashing through that window is priceless.
Pope’s “Strange Adventures” has an odd mix of pulpy sci-fi and fantasy, the sort of visuals you expect to accompany an old story. Adam Strange, two-fisted man of action with his jetpack and scantily-clad girlfriend dressed for battle fighting against monsters in giant pirate hooks. I mean, hot damn, that is some good stuff! Jose Villarrubia’s muted colors shouldn’t work, but they do. I love how any other colorist would probably go bright and ‘fun,’ but this darker palette roots this in pulp fiction, which is what Pope seems to be going for.
Speaking of the coloring, do you find that the newsprint really hurts any of the visuals? I was expecting a little bit more of a bleed, but the colors remain very tight.
TC: I think the coloring is universally great on “Wednesday Comics.” I read the newest “Batman” issue right after reading “Wednesday Comics” #1, and the difference is startling. “Batman” — Bagley’s first issue — has colors that look like they come from a garish video-game tie-in. It’s just hideously colored, and it struck me that it might look better on newsprint, which would have absorbed some of the stomach-churning hues. Then again, maybe it it’s just ugly and there’s no help for it. But, yes, the colors looked nice on the newsprint.
I don’t think we need to do a rundown of every single story in issue #1, but there’s a few more we might want to discuss. The Gaiman/Allred “Metamorpho” story, for example. It looked brilliant, of course, but what do you think about the faux-Silver Age whimsy? Can Gaiman pull that off? And it does have the tie-in with his “Sandman” comics with the promised appearance of CIA operative Element Girl. Does that bode well for the future of this strip? And, just to pile on more questions, is it possible to write something for Mike Allred without injecting faux-Silver Age whimsy?
CN: The only place where the coloring doesn’t quite work is in the “Wonder Woman” story. That was the only one that noticeably bled a bit.
Sure, it’s possible to write that way for Allred; Milligan did it in “X-Force/X-Statix.” I enjoyed the “Metamorpho” story as it seemed to have a bit of a “Venture Bros.” vibe to it. Yeah, it harkens back to another time, but in a cynical, dickish way that’s actually more fun than the ‘doe-eyed’ innocent sort of ‘fun’ that often gets thrown out there. Now, I’m with you on being wary of Gaiman’s ability to keep that tone and pull it off in the end, if only because this sort of tone doesn’t always work for an extended period beyond one or two pages. A lot of Silver Age pastiche works have one or two good ideas that are just beaten into the ground because they can’t be sustained for a complete story. They’re like “Saturday Night Live” sketches that wind up being five minutes despite having only about one minute of actual content. That’s where I think this story may wind up.
What do you think of Dan DiDio’s “Metal Men”? I didn’t hate it. I think it tries a bit too hard to be fun and wacky and offbeat, but the great Jose Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan art saves it.
TC: As long as its Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan, I am all over it. Their work is amazing. Did you see the “Batman Confidential” arc they did a few months ago? I’m sure you read my review of it at least, right? Anyway, they are the perfect team for “Metal Men.” The perfect team for just about anything, really. DiDio’s story hasn’t really started yet, but the dialogue was fine for the first installment. It’s a “Metal Men” story, so you pretty much know what you’re going to get: each character is such a ridiculous caricature to begin with, and no doubt some bizarre science will be involved. It will survive or fail completely based on how great it looks, and so far it looks just great.
Let’s move away from talking about individual stories and talk about the big picture questions. “Wednesday Comics” looks great, sure. And I love that it’s an attempt to do something different with the stale superhero comics format. But I’ve heard people talking about how this is the kind of format that more comics should adopt. That this might breathe some life into industry somehow. That this is the kind of thing you should leave on the subway to entice new readers into comics. That seems completely backwards to me. I love “Wednesday Comics,” but I see it as a celebration of the end-of-the-print-serialization-era. It’s one final hurrah (and I’m sure there will plenty of more “final hurrahs” in the coming decade, but I think you get my point) before the comic book moves almost exclusively to digital serialization and collected editions.
An anecdote that I shared on Twitter: My son read “Wednesday Comics” and said, “I wish it were just regular comic book size.” And, though I didn’t mention this part in my Tweet, he went on to say, “I’m not used to newspapers. I don’t read newspapers. So I don’t like this. I liked the ‘Batman’ story.”
No, “Wednesday Comics” isn’t for the new reader to entice him or her into comics (which is why I’m surprised it has so much exposition in the first issue), it’s for those of us who like holding comic book pages in our hands. It’s a glorious present to us before we all end up switching over to Longbox or whatever other application gives us our serialized doses of comic book goodness via the internet.
Am I wrong?
CN: I don’t know, honestly. I never quite know what to make of the ‘print is dying’ argument since I know from first-hand experience that reading comics on a screen is nowhere near as satisfying as reading them on paper. Then again, I’m also not like everyone else; I consciously choose to listen to CDs rather than get an iPod, for example. I’m like a ’90s version of those people who never got over vinyl and I can see that translating to comics as well.
Beyond that, I’m not sure if “Wednesday Comics” will really bring in anyone new, partly because of the price point. For something so related to newspapers, a four dollar cost doesn’t quite match up when people are used to paying a buck or two at most for a newspaper. Online, I’ve read numerous complaints by people who just don’t think it’s a good content-to-cost ratio, and it seems to be treated more as an Art Comics than something accessible and open to new, unfamilar readers. Since I’ve been reading comics before I could actually read, I’m the last person to ask about what will bring in new readers since that mindset is foreign to me, but this doesn’t necessarily seem the right way. If it had a lower cost, maybe that would help. My shop owner even mentioned that on Wednesday, saying that two dollars would probably work better. That said, as far as paper goes, this is a 60-page comic, so a lower cost probably isn’t practical.
Maybe it is a last hurrah sort of thing — which could explain why you and I love it so much. It’s geared towards our sensibility and what we love about comics in many ways. If print does die, this is a pretty good way to celebrate on the way out.
Timothy Callahan writes “When Words Collide” for CBR each Monday, reviews comics each and every week, and maintains the Geniusboy Firemelon blog while he’s supposed to be working on further book projects.
Chad Nevett writes his “Random Thoughts” and “Reread Reviews” for COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD, reviews as many comics as Tim, and contributes to the GraphiContent blog while not reading Joe Casey or Jim Starlin comics.