Wednesday Comics (Slight Return)

Posted by on October 20th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

 

Editor’s Note: A few days after Rich Kreiner wrote the review below, he had second thoughts, which were unfortunately run on the website Oct. 8, before his first thoughts. Please forget that you read that post, read this post, then go back in time to read his follow-up post. Sorry and thanks.

Wednesday Comics
Edited by Mark Chiarello
DC; $49.99
200 pp. color hardcover
ISBN: 9781401227470

Wednesday Comics was a weekly, 12-part series that attempted to capture some of the charm and strengths of continuing adventure strips from Sunday funnies sections of yore. Printed on cheap newsprint, the stapleless release unfolded to a luxurious 14″ x 20″ broadsheet with each page hosting one of the 15 features produced by some of the most established names in commercial comics. It was, in all ways, a well-intentioned effort to try and answer affirmatively the question posed in this book’s introduction: “Would it be possible to take that wonderful Sunday comics format and update it … [presenting] all of DC’s great superhero characters on the classic but almost forgotten oversized newsprint stage?”

The Wednesday Comics hardcover compilation brings all the chapters of all the entries together and then some. Most importantly, it wisely kept the original format’s same grand scale. To move the evaluative bottom line closer to the top, this is a visually sensational book.

The sheer scale, augmented by bright, slick pages, makes presentation more striking as a matter of course. With apologies to pieces deserving some comment on a uniform basis, we’ll limit discussion here to those creators who exploit scale to best and worst effect.

This is an artists’ book. Eduardo Risso expertly carves up his luxurious Bat-pages, emphasizing oversized panels you could fall into. In this he is admirably abetted by colorist Patricia Mulvihill whose dark tones, like the depthless blacks, aren’t so much spotted as insinuating, engulfing.

By reflecting ideals of newspaper strips more directly, two artists in particular do a bang-up job with this format. With Kamandi, Ryan Sook synchs Dave Gibbons’ text to a lush and rousing homage to Prince Valiant. Paul Pope wrote and drew an Adam Strange tale fortified by the colors of José Villarrubia and Lovern Kindzierski. In it, the sleek wonderworlds of Carmine Infantino are shot through with an exotic primitivism. Pope’s reconfiguration fuses romanticism with a headlong pace and seat-of-the-pants scripting reminiscent of weekly Flash Gordon installments. Their respective artistic allegiances — Sook to Kirby, Pope to the world bazaar — excuse them from more pointed comparisons to Foster and Raymond.

 


From Paul Pope’s “Strange Adventures,” ©2010 DC Comics.

 

Writers generally have a tougher time of it, especially as the original format demanded parceling out sufficient story in a dozen chunks with enough development and momentum to carry over from week to week. Flattened here into one continuous roll-out, narrative chinks, convenient neglect, and outright oversights are more difficult to glaze over. The greatest successes are those in closest marriage to fortified art. Writing Batman, Brian Azzarello gets his verbal stings in but it’s that final kiss, and its ambiguity, that give the tale its lingering wallop. Gibbons smartly flourishes his authorial chops in captions at the margins and in the corners of Sook’s handsome scenes.

As for the other end of the spectrum, Wednesday Comics‘ scale magnifies indulgence just as dramatically. The Metamorpho pastiche by author Neil Gaiman and artist Michael Allred catches two veterans engaging the autopilot in order to ham it up for the flight crew. Intended as a light-hearted romp disinterred from the early ’60’s, this piece offers Gaiman at his most jokey while demonstrating that humor is not his forte. His script, seemingly mailed in from a long, long ways away, presents Allred with ample opportunity for expansive renderings, a liberty which does not flatter.

But it’s the conceits, both verbal and visual, that really curdle the effort. The most flagrant is a double-page spread riffing on the Periodic Table. See, the hero, as the materially adaptable Element Man, must transform himself successively into each constituent building block of the Table. With every space and every change, there’s a tortured remark that incorporates the chemical symbol for each designated element (“‘SNot right…” standing for tin, for example, “ZNot that good…” for zinc, and so on). It’s a painfully calculated and labored stab at brainy insouciance worsened by the demand for attention to competently pull it off: the wise crack about nitrogen is made in the Periodic position of neon; the entire Lanthanides series is confused and transposed with that of the Actinides (I know! Can you believe it?); and finally, for you non-chemistry majors, after being expressly told in a cutesy kids’ strip that Metamorpho can transmute himself into the 94 naturally occurring elements and specifically not the Transuranic ones, he’s shown transforming into 103 elements including guess which ones? For anyone willing to go this far out of their way just to show how clever they can be, fair notice: it really behooves you not to fudge up so blithely. The segment betrays a degree of disdain for material and audience that the rest of the volume tries, often so earnestly, to avoid.

 

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