WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER STUFF?
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” #3!
Chad Nevett: Comic-Con International is on and Tim is in San Diego for it, while I am at home in Windsor, preparing to move out of my apartment. Fun times all around. But, I’ve got my copy of “Wednesday Comics” and am prepared to discuss it. I wanted to begin this week by raising a question/comment left on my blog by Vanja, a frequent commentator on both our blogs, where he said he’s amused by the lack of attention the “Catwoman/Demon” strip is getting — not just from us, but from everyone. That made me think that, this week, maybe we should try and steer our discussion away from our usual “Paul Pope is amazing! So is Kyle Baker! Oh, and Karl Kershl rocks, too!” discussion and look at some of the strips we’ve neglected to discuss in our first two columns, like “Catwoman/Demon,” “Metal Men,” “Green Lantern,” and “Wonder Woman.” We’ve mentioned them all, but usually in passing. What do you say, Tim? Have you managed to get yourself a copy of this issue yet?
Tim Callahan: I made sure to stop at Meltdown to get a copy of this week’s issue before driving down to San Diego, just so I could prepare for this heated debate. Thus, I challenge you to substantiate your accusations! Strips we’ve neglected! Pah, I say. We’ve discussed everything worth discussing and if we’ve ignored a strip, it’s a strip that surely deserved to be ignored! This, I say!
No? Too harsh?
Yeah, Vanja’s right. We are ignoring “Catwoman/Demon.” “Deadman,” too. And we haven’t talked “Metal Men,” “Green Lantern,” or “Wonder Woman” hardly at all. But, sadly, I don’t have much to say about any of them other than, “I like the art.” I do like the art on all of those strips. They belong in “Wednesday Comics” purely for their visual appeal, but only “Wonder Woman” seems to have any ambition beyond the norm. Sure, “Deadman” has some inventive page layouts, but as good as Dave Bullock is, this thing still looks like a riff on “Batman: Ego.” Hardly anything has happened in the other strips — three weeks in, they’re still just establishing the initial conflict. Contrast that with the great comics like “Strange Adventures,” “Flash,” and “Kamandi,” all of which have progressed quite a bit, narratively. I’m particularly disappointed by the lack of plot movement in “Metal Men.” It’s just a bunch of characters standing in a room for three installments so far. They look great standing there, though!
What do you think: is there anything substantial to any of these mid-range strips? What’s worth talking about in “Catwoman/Demon”?
CN: I was hoping you might find something I missed, because, as I told Vanja and you just stated, there’s a reason these strips aren’t being discussed. Most people tend to discuss the very good and the very bad, while these ‘forgotten’ strips are in the middle where boredom resides. I haven’t dislike “Catwoman/Demon,” “Metal Men,” “Deadman” or “Green Latnern,” but there also hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve enjoyed. From a visual standpoint, each strip looks good, but is fairly typical/uninventive. From a story standpoint, not much has happened in any of them. I figure, when there’s something that jumps out and grabs us, we’ll discuss it. Actually, with nine more of these columns to write after this one, I’m pretty sure we’ll spend some time on each of them even if there isn’t anything that interesting about them simply because we need to discuss something new.
You mentioned “Wonder Woman” and that’s a strip I think we should discuss, and one that I meant to bring up last week but couldn’t find a place for it. It’s a strip that stands out for its large number of panels and unique coloring. It’s also the strip that people tend to consider both innovative and lower in quality. I’ve found the story to be a chore to get through, but admire that Caldwell is using the larger page in a different way from everyone else. His choice of colors is awful because of the paper, though. In many ways, it seems like the only real failure of this project, because it’s the only one that I dislike that’s actually trying to work with the format and not succeeding. “Teen Titans” isn’t trying anything new and neither is “Superman,” so they’re easier to ignore. Caldwell is trying and it doesn’t work for me. The plot is mechanical and boring, the art is muddled with panel sizes seemingly determined at random rather than dictated by their contents, and it’s the only strip I want to skip each week, because it is so demanding to read the tiny word balloons and study the art in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. Are you having the same experience as I am?
TC: I’ve spoken with several intelligent people at the convention about the “Wonder Woman” strip, and the majority of them say that they literally cannot finish reading it each week. They say they’re “physically incapable” of reading it to the end. I have no trouble reading it — and I’m not sure what it means to be physically incapable of reading the strip, because the lettering isn’t that small — but here’s how I read it: I look at the final panels to see if it’s another dream sequence (which it always is, but you never know) and then I try to pore over it to look for dream symbolism and metaphorical meaning and acknowledge that each successive week is amplifying the adventure (the dreams get weirder each week, and the conflict within the dreams become greater). But As soon as I’m done, all of that just drifts out of my head. Nothing sticks. And I don’t know if that’s because this is a strip that needs to be reread in a larger context once we know how it ends, or if it’s just a performance art piece that is simply about the individual style of the strip and has no substantial thematic resonance. The strip seems to be building toward something, but because each episode is a dream, all momentum is lost at the end of each installment.
Why does such an approach work for “Little Nemo” and not work so well here?
Probably because Ben Caldwell uses tiny panels to push readers away, while Windsor McCay tended to use large, ornate panels to create a sense of scope and wonder. Ironically, these “Wonder Woman” strips fail to create any sense of wonder at all because they are so claustrophobic.
Yet I can’t deny the ambition of Caldwell’s work, and I can’t help but think that “Wonder Woman” might end up being one of the better strips in the series by the time it’s all done. I’m rooting for it, I’m rooting for Caldwell, because he’s trying so damned hard.
What about “Metamorpho” this week? After the past two weeks, it seems to have established a certain narrative style that’s a bit different from what we saw in the first installment? Do you like this new visual direction, or do you think the “Metamorpho” rose has lost its bloom already?
CN: The single panel with characters shown two or three times as they explore was fine last week, but, this week, it seems a bit much. As always, I love Mike Allred’s art and it’s great to look at, but I also like seeing his art in sequential panels, because he’s very, very good at sequential storytelling. I hate to say this, but it’s almost like Neil Gaiman anticipated the initial reactions of people wondering if he could keep up the writing style of the first installment and said, “Well, if people think I’m going to blow it, may as well blow it!” Obviously that isn’t the case, but the two weeks following that strong first page have shown a considerable drop in the quality of writing. I don’t think we would mind if these were pages two and three of a full book we happen to be reading at the time, but in weekly doses, it seems to give people who discuss the lack of content some merit in their argument. Why do we even need a story or a writer? Why not just hire Allred to draw whatever he wants in big pictures? It’s the same thing right now, but, at least then we’d be expecting it, whereas, here, we’re expecting a story to go along with the lovely drawings and we’re just not getting one. I actually thought, after last week, that each week would be a change in overall style and was a bit let down to see the same hum drum page layout/style repeated this time around. If it keeps it up, I’ll wonder what the point was.
Now, if Gaiman can make this style work to advance the plot and demonstrate characterization at the same time, I’d have no complaints, but we’ve had two weeks of these three guys walking around not really saying anything of consequence. It’s like he didn’t get the idea that each page has to stand by itself and provide some entertainment divorced from the larger story.
Which segues into my next question: we’re three weeks in and do you think a majority of the strips are working on a week-to-week basis, embracing the idea that each page needs to stand by itself, and make the reader come back next issue? Or, do most of the strips feel like they were written as part of a 12-part story with no real rhyme or reason as to where page breaks occurred? Personally, I think it’s a pretty mixed bag with strips like “Batman,” “Strange Adventures,” and “Supergirl” acting as their own complete units well enough, while others may not function as well in that way, they do end on cliffhangers that make you want to come back — on the other side, there’s stuff like “Sgt. Rock,” “Metamorpho,” and “Deadman,” which I don’t think work as well in single doses. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy some of those, but I ariatijust think they aren’t doing the ‘complete package’ as it were.
TC: “Batman,” “Kamandi,” and “Strange Adventures” are the best at using this weekly one-page format, by far. Oh, and “Flash,” which is pretty much the best thing in the book right now. “Supergirl” is fine, but I think the colors make it look too traditional, and that knocks it down quite a bit in my estimation. It looks like something that’s part of a normal DCU “Supergirl” series, if DC were to smarten up and put Amanda Conner on “Supergirl” (which, really, is the perfect assignment for her). “Batman” works because it uses ellipsis to poetic effect. This is an oversimplification, but it could almost be summarized like this: “Bells chime…Attempted murder at the tomb…Batman investigates…” Sounds like some kind of pardody of a Batman audio drama, but it works because each installment provides an ominous glimpse at one of these events, and though there is a visual and thematic connection between them, Azzarello doesn’t overexplain anything. He underexplains. I like that. And Risso is just one of the best comic book artists ever. Ever.
“Kamandi” keeps getting better every week, or maybe I’m just learning to love it more as I get used to it. Dr. Canus? An airship? Yeah, this is a hell of a comic. The arch formality of the narration juxtaposed with the crazy Kirby sci-fi designs? Wow.
Okay, let’s wrap this up with the “Wednesday Comics” weekly Top Five.
For issue #3:
3. “The Flash”
4. “Strange Adventures”
5. “Hawkman” (Giant Space Crab Monster!)
CN: My Top Five, which has some change from last week, and is, oddly, a reworking of your Top Five:
1. “Strange Adventures”
2. “The Flash”
TC: There’s nothing odd about quality, my friend.
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. He also knows that the images in this week’s column don’t much relate to the discussion, but he’s in San Diego right now, and he can’t hear your complaints from all the way over there.
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.