Wednesday Comics

Posted by on October 8th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 

 

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

A while ago I took a look at Wednesday Comics, the 12-week project designed to put DC characters in serialized stories meant to resemble, through their 14″ x 20″ pages, the continuing adventure strips of old Sunday funnies sections. The title’s second iteration, a hardcover compilation, assembled all chapters of all 15 stories, many done by industry stalwarts.

Back then I pronounced the collection an artist’s showcase and tried to support that by focusing on a trio of best uses of the novel form and the single, surprising worst. I thought it could stand as my final word on the subject.

And then I started to dream.

The most relevant one had me handing Joe Kubert money, giving him a pocketful of small coins, counting out pennies and dimes but still coming up shy of a sufficient amount. This, in my personal dream language, indicated I was short-changing Joe Kubert, one of the artists represented in Wednesday Comics.

In waking life, any new work by Kubert the Elder is worth seeking out. That said, his Sgt. Rock story, written by son Adam, does not represent a particularly fortuitous utilization of this format’s extravagant scale. If anything, its rigid three-tiered grid seems a one-size-fits-all convention. Worse: Enlarged as his drawings are, they appear uncharacteristically wispy and less substantial than usual, an unfortunate sensation for a visceral war story.

In much the same way, redoubtable Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez takes little advantage of the format’s possibilities with his art for a Metal Men story. It’s his same, sturdy, accomplished style drawn large.

 

 

Over in the plus column, expanded parameters enhance the drawings of Lee Bermejo in his Superman tale. At comic-book size, Bermejo’s drawings often seem densely agitated, struggling for a more realistic effect. Here they have more room to uncoil and achieve a greater visual plausibility. And as for Joe Quinones’ contribution, I can never recall having so much of the emotional tenor of a Green Lantern tale buoyed and carried along by faces, big ol’ faces, as with his gallery of caricatures.

On the minus side, a bigger tableau for Kyle Baker in Hawkman emphasizes an insurmountable awkwardness in the merger of artistic intent and machine delivery. In certain panels, the very ones that tend to jump out at you, the juxtaposing of figuration and mechanical texture is jarring if not downright ugly.

This re-review of Wednesday Comics allows me to make one point more explicit: This is a book easier to look at than to read, especially if you have problems with superheroes. Writers generally seem daunted by the responsibilities of the very wide tabula rasa and tend to preemptively counter any potential breech or lull with wordfill. (Demonstrating the wisdom of the contrary, Brian Azzarello, as is his habit, makes concision look good. Having artist Eduardo Risso to back you up doesn’t hurt either.)

One learns from included biographical notes that several artists have substantial experience in animation, maybe even more than in comics-making. Some difficulty in translation results accordingly, especially in a tilt toward posture and stylization over smoothly developed narrative flow.

All of which make Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman segment such a thoroughly beguiling failure. He too is an animator. He too uses a lot of dialogue (the surplus of interjections and cut off speech, which would be effective, natural bridges in cartoons, is excessive here, especially read over 12 continuous pages). His Wonder Woman, as Princess Diana, is cut from much the same strong, independent, spunky cloth as Princess Jasmine, Princess Ariel, Princess Mulan, Princess Pocahontas and Princess Beauty.

His is an ambitious, comparatively epic tale, of Diana’s tracking down the fabled “Seven Stars” of Amazonian lore, of her first meeting with Etta Candy and with archenemy Cheetah, all in structured page segments that pay homage to Little Nemo in both slumbering flamboyance and punctuated waking.

 

 

Caldwell’s stylizations are as extreme as anything you’ll find elsewhere in the book. But the real sensation is in the single page, both in the role of graphic poster and episodic story unit. As composed chaos they are just crammed with panels, maybe 50 on a given page, many well under a square inch in area. Said panels can be cropped mercilessly and arranged — aesthetically! — like puzzle pieces, occasionally challenging traditional notions of funnybook directional rules. Focus, perspective and visual distances whirl. Colors take their cue from the integration of theme, mood and structure but can also be found highlighting key details, narrative asides and additional movement cues.

Oh, this is comics as a real mess (how is Granny Cipactli’s enrapturing, lighted gaze emitted from her throat?) yet one honestly, enthusiastically come by. There’s a pronounced conviction to the idiosyncrasies of Caldwell’s use of the form, a muscle in its enforcement. You’ll feel a begrudging admiration for the commitment even as you’re being beaten over the head with it. The invigorating audacity at least matches the volume’s daunting physical scale, something that cannot be said as often as you’d like for the book as a whole.

 

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One Response to “Wednesday Comics”

  1. gorillamydreamz says:

    From a writing perspective I found Ben’s Wonder Woman the fresjest take on the character I’ve seen in years. Immersing her in the fairy tales and mythology of the world and creating a true quest aspect to her growth into an adult warrior was a bold stroke. This vision held the possibility of a multitude of stories for the character. The notes behind his story at his website display a wealth of though and imagination behind his approach.

    Sadly, he tried to do so much and failed to really take into account his canvas. The cluttered design and microscopic panels and murky colouring failed to take advantage of the large format and made it extremely difficult to read.

    I agree that it is ultimately a magnificent failure. Yet the ideas behind continue to haunt my dreams. That hasn’t happened with the other, more forgettable features, with the exception of the trippy Flash.