4.25.2011

Revisiting Wednesday Comics

After picking up the big gorgeous oversized hardcover at the “Borders: Apocalypse Now sale for $30 (regularly priced at $49.99) and re-reading these stories, I noticed that my opinions of many of the pieces had merely been reinforced, but also that some had actually changed compared to the first time I consumed the series almost two years ago. It also got me thinking and I wanted to officially “dreamcast” my version of the eventual Wednesday Comics Volume 02, which I’d like to share with you. First, my quick impressions of the first volume;

Batman had been mediocre-to-good in my recollection, but it certainly reads better when collected. It still looks great, but the story flows much better in this format than I remember it flowing when broken up into installments. Most importantly, it’s really able to sell its singular idea at the end.

Kamandi is still one of the better offerings; the lavish illustrations in Sook’s Prince Valiant style are simply beautiful.

Superman didn’t impress me much when I read the single issues, and I think it’s actually worse when collected. You get a more crisp sense of how generic the story is, how inconsequential the action plays, and how random the layouts feel. Now that it’s collected, you’re not tricked into thinking it might get better with the next issue, the storytelling disaster is all right there in front of you.

Deadman is still one of the weaker offerings in my opinion; the first half plays very episodic, the art is middling, and the whole thing is an expository mess.

Green Lantern, I remember liking a great deal, but it seems even better collected. It benefits from the faster pace you experience when reading it in one sitting, Hal is great as a jet-setting space-faring, intergalactic cop with a magic wishing ring, and I think the team managed to capture the perfect Silver Age adventure and aesthetic.

Metamorpho is a story that I still don’t care for overall, but I don’t hate it quite as much as I used to. This time around, I was able to appreciate some of the inventive layouts a bit more (a couple pages that were meant to function as double page spreads are now being realized for the first time when collected), but the campy dialogue was just too overtly so, which made it all fall flat for me.

Teen Titans is still easily the dog of the bunch. There’s so much I specifically don’t like about it, but rather than cathartically rattle off examples to no avail, I guess it can be summarized with the art being incomprehensible and illogical at times, and the story being extremely generic and random, while not even really concluding properly.

Strange Adventures is still my personal favorite and probably in a three way tie for first place if I’m being totally objective. It’s one of the few pieces to convey a sense of scope that projects beyond its time allotted. Pope’s inky lines bristle with intertextual references to Jack Kirby, Dr. Seuss, 1950’s sci-fi by way of Philip K. Dick, and he even places a strong female hero on equal footing with Adam Strange. His cameo Dr. Fate is breathtaking, he’s one of the few artists working today who actively utilizes thought balloons, and since he already works at this size when composing the original art, it’s as if we’re finally seeing his artistry at the scale it was always intended.

Supergirl is one of that tied-for-first trio, and it has so much heart and is so much fun. There’s the pristine art from Amanda Conner and you’d be hard pressed to cite another artist who manages emotional content so well.

Metal Men was one of the weaker offerings and remains so. If I’m being as charitable as I can be, the art is actually dynamic, but the only one who ever thought this was written well was Dan DiDio.

Wonder Woman was perhaps the most controversial offering, comments online ranging from “unreadable” to “brilliant,” and I think that bipolar collective assessment actually holds. With a repeated reading, I can confidently say, that for me, this is now in the category of “noble failure” rather than the outright failure I may have initially leaned toward. It is visually stunning, ambitious, and envelope-pushing. The Winsor McCay notes are truly a unique attempt with the character, yet it remains dense and almost unreadable in spots. It’s not only the volume of text on the page, but the text is just plain boring at times.

Sgt. Rock, like Batman, is probably the strip that benefitted the most from being collected. It’s so much more cohesive and smooth, the size of the panels really shines with the enhanced paper quality, and I seemed to pick up subtleties in the dialogue that weren’t readily apparent before. If this one was fairly middling the first time, it jumps a couple notches toward the upper end of the spectrum.

Flash is that last in the trio tied for first, along with Supergirl and Strange Adventures. It seems to distill the essence of all that is actually cool about the character into one story. The story works because it’s directly tied to Flash’s specific powers and not a generic “good guy punching bad guy” story that can be overlayed onto just any hero. The layouts get progressively more inventive, and by the time you reach the page with concentric circles rippling out, you know you’ve seen brilliance. This strip also gets style points for wantonly trying to break the format and squeeze two concurrent strips into one, which finally converge.

Demon & Catwoman is also one of my least favorites. With a second reading, I will say that the art has a dark charge to it that is occasionally interesting to the eye, but at the end of the day this is basically a boring pairing of two dud characters in a wholly inconsequential story. I honestly had a hard time making it past page 2 or 3, when my eyes started to glaze over and my mind quickly drifted from whatever Arthurian hoo-ha was being talked about.

Hawkman comes really close to upsetting the “best of” trio I mentioned above, but it’ll have to settle for a very respectable 4th place. I like the way it melds swashbuckling Errol Flynn adventure with a convergence of technology and the natural world. It’s a very in your face story, with Baker actually restraining the caricature influence to his art. The JLA cameos are also fairly priceless. Batman’s indifference along with the dogged swipes at Aquaman were terrific.

Plastic Man is a one-pager that was included as bonus material and it’s totally a dud.

Creeper is also a one-pager and it was a uhh… poem thing. I didn’t get it. I know that these were commissioned by Mark Chiarello as back-up filler just in case one of the main artists missed a deadline, which thankfully didn’t happen, but they feel like wasted space in the precious real estate of this unique collected edition. We’ll see if we can fix that…

With that re-assessment behind us, I’d really like to get into dreamcasting my selections for a second volume. Keep in mind these are all my personal preferences, some of which are probably not very plausible. I’m sure I didn’t include your favorite character, writer, or artist, so yeah, that’s on me. Keep in mind this is MY personal list, so feel free to respond with your own selections rather than arguing with mine. But I guess I tried to keep them somewhat realistic in places and will offer up some of my explanations along with the selections. The first volume had 15 original pieces, with 2 back-up single page strips in the collected edition, so I’ll be copying that model, and even seeing if I can squeeze a little more out of it;

The New Gods by Paul Pope: Inviting him back for a follow up performance was easy for me since he is one of my favorite artists in general and, I believe, delivered the strongest piece in the first volume. I think Pope does the best when he is melding Jack Kirby style characters with his own brand of manic sci-fi storytelling, and though I’m partial to Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Darkseid, the large cast of funky characters on New Genesis and Apokolips would give him plenty to play with. It’s very fertile ground that an inventive mind like his needs to exploit.

Supergirl by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly: Whether the rumors that Wood is going to be writing Supergirl are true or not, I’d love to get him involved in one of these projects if I was in charge. Since I’m the would-be editor in this fictitious little assignment, I’d pair him with frequent collaborator Ryan Kelly for what would be sure to generate a magical off-type result.

Green Lantern by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely: GL seems to be one of those big gun characters that you have to include, so I would want to stray far from the first volume’s take, the current look and feel of the comics, the vibe of the impending movie, and offer audiences a broader interpretation of the franchise all at the same time. If you have such mission specific parameters and want something truly different, sticking the Drunken Scotsman and his artistic ward together on a project isn’t a bad approach. I’d want them to stray from the expected and do something like the old Green Lantern: Mosaic series starring John Stewart. The GL property really is a limitless storytelling engine, so they should just be locked in a room and go crazy with this.

Doom Patrol by Joe Casey & JH Williams III: Doom Patrol seems like one of those properties that is ripe for a reboot, since the last couple have bombed. Casey seems to be making a bit of a return to comics lately and if anyone remembers the book Automatic Kafka that he did at WildStorm, then this quirky team has tons of potential. Williams has the type of formalism when constructing a page that would juxtapose interestingly with Casey’s deconstructionist tendencies. I’m guessing they could wring out a surprising examination that could finally leave a definitive mark on these characters.

New Teen Titans by Kurt Busiek & Cliff Chiang: After the debacle that was the Teen Titans story in the first volume, I really have an urge to do it right. I picture a revisit to a throwback “lost tale” featuring the cast of the classic run by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Busiek has the gravitas to make this reverberate with a modern audience and Chiang has just the right emotional gloss to his art to make it shine.

House of Mystery by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Tom NeelyANDHouse of Secrets by Devin Grayson & Julia Gfrorer: Ok, this is where we get very experimental by altering the format ala Flash in the first volume, and by bringing in some indie artists to shake things up, in a manner similar to Marvel’s Strange Tales anthology. Tom Neely is an artist I love who frequently plays with horror motifs and could run wild. Palmiotti and Gray have proven themselves to be very versatile writers, from the first volume’s Supergirl, to something with occasional ethereal elements like Jonah Hex. With this experimental format, I’d want to basically cut the pages in half horizontally and have House of Mystery occupy the top half and House of Secrets running concurrently along the bottom half for the duration of the project. House of Secrets would pair long lost writer Devin Grayson with Julia Gfrorer, whose recent book Flesh & Bone published by Sparkplug Comics, has just the right sense of mystery and suspense that could shine in this format. Both of these artists deserve more visibility in the medium, and these titles would absolutely play to their strengths.

Nightwing & Oracle by Greg Rucka & Carla Speed McNeil: Of course, an anthology like this ought to include some of the big marquee characters, namely Bats, Supes, and WW. But, the beauty of a second volume is that you can stray a little since the big guns have already been established. With Dick assuming the Batman role for a long while now, it would be nice to rewind to the Nightwing era and highlight his relationship with Barbara Gordon as she sends him on a mission and is in communication from the clocktower. Heck, you can even have a Birds of Prey cameo if you want. Rucka is more than capable of handling the espionage feel I picture here, with books like Checkmate under his belt, not to mention his Queen & Country saga, one extended run penciled by, wait for it… Carla Speed McNeil, who brought a down-to-Earth sense of plausibility to some extraordinary events.

Superman by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris: I don’t think you can get away from including Superman in the same way we were able to play with the Batman line-up, so we really need a solid team who can wash the taste of the story in the first volume out of our collective mouths. Superman needs to be done right in this format, and anyone who read Ex Machina knows that this duo can handle the broad sweep of a big iconic character.

The Atom by Karl Kerschl & Juan Jose Ryp: I’m picturing the inventive storytelling that Kerschl (and Brendan Fletcher) delivered on The Flash in the first volume and pairing it with the wild-eyed, hyper-detailed, “Where’s Waldo?” art of Juan Jose Ryp. I’m picturing a couple of those big double page spreads the collected edition had that will have you searching frantically for a miniscule Ray Palmer. This could be amazing.

Zatanna by Darwyn Cooke & Riccardo Burchielli: This spot I originally had slated for Wonder Woman, but in a weird way I wouldn’t want to detract from the (some would say misguided) effort that Ben Caldwell brought to the first volume with her, so we can continue to branch out the character line-up and visit some other corners of the DCU. Zatanna is far more interesting to me as a character anyway; I’d want the classic storytelling of Darwyn Cooke, along with the gritty urbanism of Riccardo Burchielli to really go against type and deliver some debaucherous John Constantine-inspired take on Zatanna. Now that I mention it, shit, you could do an entire installment of Wednesday Comics: The Vertigo Edition, and really get crazy. Maybe that’ll be Volume 03?

Wildcat by Christopher Priest & Eduardo Risso: Anyone who caught Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther knows that he can handle an intelligent street level character like this, and once you pair it up with Risso’s ominous shadows and danger lurking just below the surface of any given panel, it’s a no-brainer.

Firestorm by Chuck Dixon & Nathan Fox: You’d have to have Jeromy Cox color this to bring out the insane life to Nathan Fox’s glimmering dangerous figures, and a solid writer like Chuck Dixon could certainly send him off an a wild adventure through the DCU. I’m telling you, this artist was born to draw a bright elemental character like Firestorm. If you need proof, take a look at what he did in the subversive Dark Reign: Zodiac series over at Marvel.

Red Tornado by Warren Ellis & Jason Shawn Alexander: Let’s grab one of the medium’s foremost sci-fi writers, give him a big red robot, and just let him loose. Jason Shawn Alexander’s art has the foreboding sense of kinetic energy that could really sell Ellis’ script and elevate a character who is sometimes used as sidekick, comic relief, kid’s fare. This could end up being one of the most disturbing stories here, I keep having this flash of a severed Red Tornado head sitting somewhere in the future, it’s found, and the history of how it got like that is told in flashbacks.

Legion of Super-Heroes by Mark Waid & Amanda Conner: Few writers have the encyclopedic knowledge of DCU history that Waid does, and I think he could bring an epic tale to the Legionnaires that would allow Conner to illustrate such a large cast with glee. It would be fun, adventurous, full of heart, and cut right to the heart of what has made the classic runs of these characters endure.

Scalphunter by Jason Aaron & Dave Gibbons: By now, I guess most people know that Aaron’s Vertigo classic Scalped began life as a Scalphunter pitch, so I think it would be interesting to return to those roots. However, you could probably sub in several “Western” genre characters here and easily strike gold, some more obscure than others. There’s Tomahawk, Bat Lash, Miss Liberty (if you want another female protagonist in this volume), or Captain Fear, which could generate a lot of weird fun. Captain Fear was a pirate, and with Dave Gibbons on board, maybe you get some interesting callbacks to the pirates in Watchmen. Aaron’s scripts are ruthless and gritty, so I think it would be interesting to temper that with Gibbons’ austere and classic style.

***

Elongated Man by Brian Azzarello & Joe Quinones: This would be the first of the one-page back-up stories that likely wouldn’t be seen until collected. I’d take volume one alum Brian Azzarello, and then give him a character he could straddle the line between crime and superheroics with. Fellow alum Joe Quinones (Green Lantern) has the stretchy, animated quality to his art that would be right at home with Ralph Dibny. I picture these one-pagers maybe being origin stories, and you could start a tradition of one-page origin stories (which DC has done in the past), but now in the Wednesday Comics format.

Captain Marvel by Neil Gaiman & Ryan Sook: This is the second one-page origin number. Frankly, I’m out on just about everything he’s done except Sandman, but I think Gaiman would do well with a mythologically/magically infused character like Billy Batson, and I’d want Sook to bring a serious tone to the character that some of the recent kid-friendly depictions have been lacking.

Dr. Fate by James Stokoe: I’m cheating here by including two extra options on these final two entries, but if you condense some of the extra sketch pages in the back of the collected edition to two artists per page, rather than just one, there’d actually be room enough to get 3 additional one-pagers in, for a total of 18 stories, rather than the 17 that the first volume had, and that’s with the exact same page count. If you caught Stokoe’s performance on Marvel’s Strange Tales with Silver Surfer, you’ll instantly see the potential here. If we did original stories rather than origins, I’d challenge him to pick right up where Paul Pope left off with the character in Strange Adventures.

Hawk & Dove by Rafael Grampa: Ditto the above, if you caught what Rafael Grampa did to Wolverine in Strange Tales, I think you’ll agree that he could breathe new life into these characters and they’d really cease being the jokes they’ve become.

Yeah. That would be the perfect Wednesday Comics for me.

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