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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wednesday Comics

BATMAN: Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
ADAM STRANGE: Paul Pope, Neil Gaiman andMichael Allred
THE DEMON AND CATWOMAN: Walter Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze
DEADMAN: Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck
KAMANDI: Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook
SUPERMAN: John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo
WONDER WOMAN: Ben Caldwell
GREEN LANTERN: Kurt Busiek and Joe Quiñones
TEEN TITANS: Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway
SUPERGIRL: Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
HAWKMAN: Kyle Baker
SGT. ROCK: Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert
THE FLASH: Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher
METAL MEN: Dan DiDio and Ian Churchill
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
14 different short superhero stories, each one told over 14 pages and collected in an oversized, hardback book of 200 pages. All stories are out of continuity, fresh one off narratives that require absolutely no previous knowledge of the character or the DC Universe. It's sort of a love letter to comics through the decades, with the creators kicking back, having fun and developing something that can stand alone in an attempt to show the true essence of each character.

If you've been following this blog for a while you'll notice some familiar names in the credits. Everybody involved in Wednesday Comics is well respected and has demonstrated their ability elsewhere - this is not a book written by novices or inexperienced hacks.

What's good about it?
Like any short story collection its variety where we find Wednesday Comics’ value.

The presentation of The Flash is notable for splitting the narrative. Each oversized page of The Flash contains two strips: one starring the Flash and other starring his wife Iris West. Added to the mix is the fact that Karl Kerschl has written a time travel story. If that very phrase puts you off (and I understand perfectly if it does) let me assure you that it is in no way hard to follow and the fact that Barry’s trips through time are often played for laughs, mainly because of the situations it puts him in with his wife, certainly helps to sell the story to the reader. Kerschl has thought out this plot minutely and it makes perfect sense.

Kyle Baker’s Hawkman is a pulpy story whose main selling point is that the hero is a half-naked man with giant wings strapped to his back fighting dinosaurs with a mace in his hand. There are also some innocent civilians to protect from the dinosaurs but its mainly an action story played for spectacle.
Neil Gaiman is one of the most famous comics writers in the industry, responsible for the classic Sandman series. Here he tackles a more traditional superhero story with Metamorpho the Element Man, one of his personal favourites. Being a Neil Gaiman, story, it is literate and witty with excellently written dialogue. There is also one page of the story represented in the form of the periodic table in its entirety.
The Deadman feature by Bullock is a supernatural adventure featuring a ghost who is also a detective. Though its begins as a detective story it soon develops into other areas through a series of twists and choices for the title character.

A more traditional detective story comes in the form of Brian Azzarello’s Batman feature, a noir-tinged story of a recent widow and the mystery of her late husband’s death. Its very much in the style of the 1950s noir detective serials. 

Sgt. Rock features a Second World War Allied commando team behind enemy lines searching for their missing sergeant who has been taken captive. The story is an atmospheric period piece, not unlike the more unflinching war movies of the post-war years, the sort of thing that surfaces on British television each and every bank holiday.
One of the real jewels of the collection is Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s rendition of Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth. The basic premise is that nuclear war has been and gone and apart from one boy there is no longer a human race. Animals have evolved to sentience and created their own societies. The strip sees Kamandi travelling across this strange world that has arisen in humanity’s ruins. Its essentially a quest narrative but every page brings something new and bizarre to capture the eye.

Supergirl is written and drawn by the talented Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor, last seen doing Power Girl and Terra. This is a lovely all ages story about Supergirl's two pets who start misbehaving. With normal animals this wouldn't be too bad, but Streaky the Supercat and Krypto the Superdog are Kryptonian, so super strong, super fast and with heat vision. Krypto attacks a postal van and knocks the whole thing over, Streaky scratches down a forest then goes after a giant mouse painted onto a plane. Supergirl is at her wits end and calls in a couple of favours from the superhero community to try and solve the problem.

Wonder Woman is a densely packed story about Princess Diana as a teenager and her search for the seven lost treasures (or stars) of the Amazons. It's a strange world she's in, accessed through her dreams and combining several elements from Greek, British and Norse myth, along with a great variety of adorable sidekicks and villainous monsters.

What's bad about it?
Like any collection of short fiction there will be a few weaker entries. Sadly for Wednesday Comics its weakest entry is also its most high profile. The Superman story actually ran in the American national newspaper USA Today but its plot doesn’t really stand out as much as some of the other stories. It’s a simple story of Superman fighting aliens in his mid-western hometown.

Visually its distinctive and not in itself badly written but the plot is somewhat standard: Superman plus aliens… FIGHT! Most every other feature in Wednesday Comics offers a new and interesting take on the starring character which is what has us recommending the collection, but the Superman character is so defined that creating a new angle seems to have been beyond the editors or creators.

The other problem is the price It's $49.99 (American) and £45 (British). If you are looking for an accessible and easy way into comics, we at New readers... feel this is far too expensive to consider. It's also quite big and unwieldy which doesn't make for the most pleasurable reading experience. You can't easily carry it on the bus or train with you, and I tend to feel that books should me mobile.
DC seems to have devised and marketed it as something precious and special, desirable for those hardcore and long term comics fans who miss the stories from their youth. This isn't fair on the book as it's easily enjoyed by anyone, not just the established comics fan. All things considered, it would have made much sense for DC to have released each story as a separate small book, and charged maybe £5 for each book. We can but dream.
As it does give a great introduction to to the key characters within the DC mythos may we suggest that you try and borrow a copy from your local library instead of buying it. Alternatively, if you're feeling rich and you have someone in your life that loved DC comics from the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, this would be a good book to get them to evoke that nostalgic feeling that's so popular nowadays. There's so many different types of stories within in the reader is bound to find a few that they like. 

What's the art like?
A quick note before we begin: Wednesday Comics is big and so our usual full-page scans aren't possible.  The most we could fit into our A4-sized scanner was about a third of a page so we apologise for the odd bit of missing art here and there  - not only are the pages too tall they're also too wide. Finally, the creased and scuffed appearance of many of the scans are due to the fact that the original single issue editions we're reviewing from were printed on old fashioned newsprint grade paper folded in quarters to sit alongside regular-sized comics on the shelf. This, of course, reflects in no way on the quality of the collected edition binding which is one far higher quality paper and only bends in the customary place along the spine.

Metamorpho: Mike Allred’s style is simple but that’s no bad thing. The essence of the style is to convey as much visual information in as few lines as possible. It also helps that this simplicity makes the art look old, much in the style of 1960s pop art which sells the pulp sci-fi feel of the whole affair.

Hawkman: Kyle Baker’s Hawkman art is something of an oddity with subtle, washed out colours and a preponderance of white in the palate.

The oddly ethereal style of art is interesting but I’m not sure of the purpose. Distinctive, yes, but not as vital to the presentation of the series as some of the other art styles in the book. The figure work is quite precise, based very much on precise anatomy and photo-style realism.

Sgt. Rock: Joe Kubert’s art for his son’s Sgt. Rock script is definitely well-matched to a war story. The drawings are stark with a lot of care taken to picking out the details of rumpled clothing, desolate landscapes and lined faces. A restrained, sombre colouring palate also adds to the atmosphere.

The Flash: Brenden Fletcher’s art for The Flash uses the now-unusual method of colouring that is the letratone dot: tiny dots of colour arranged in lines across the page rather than actually colouring the whole of a space. This was once the industry standard in comics because it saved ink. Like Mike Allred’s art in the Metamorpho feature this is to make it look old, invoking again the pop art movement.
This is used in the Iris West half of the strip whereas more modern colouring techniques are used for The Flash sections. This helps to keep the two strands distinct from one another even though they’re drawn by the same art teams.
Batman: Eduardo Risso’s art for Batman is notable for its darkness: thick black lines, deep shadows and a sombre colour palate from his colourist Mulvihill. Its also a very physical, very kinetic art style as you can see in this example:
This sequence is all about the action: the kick to the face, the fall of the man, the collapse of the table, drawn in discreet stages that flow across the page.

Superman: One thing the Superman story does have going for it is its distinctive art. Lee Bermejo is a very precise artist whose panels are crammed with minute details all the more easily appreciated in the larger panels the Wednesday Comics format allows. What make Bermejo’s art even more distinctive on the page is the sterling work of colourist Barbara Ciardo.
Ciardo is an intricate colourist, carefully grading through colours to create the illusion of lighting on the art. Of particular interest is the extreme highlighting she uses on skin (both human and alien) which gives the art a real sense of depth.

The Demon and Catwoman: Brian Stelfreeze’s art for The Demon And Catwoman is very jagged with sharp edges and depth created through hatching lines. The colours from Steve Wands is mainly composed of flat expanses with graded tones of many of the books’ other colourists. This is by no means a criticism, it fits well with Stelfreeze’s almost minimalist style.
Kamandi: Ryan Sook is one of the best all-rounders working in comics today as he pencils, inks and colours his own work. The rounded, expressive faces he draws on Kamandi’s two human characters are quite typical of his style but perhaps more important here is how much expression he is able to give his non-human characters. In the world of Kamandi the human race is all-but extinct and so most of the cast are animals who have evolved to take humanity’s place.
One of the more distinctive aspects of the art in Kamandi is the dialogue. Where in the other art examples you’ll notice speech represented in the traditional bubble here we have the illustrations accompanied by captions with a more prose-style presentation. Its very different from the traditional comic book.

Deadman: The art for Deadman uses an angular style which verges on the impressionistic. Unlike some artists in the collection Hueck’s art isn’t so focused on precision as the impression of movement and form. Since the strip’s starring character is an acrobat the impression of movement is important to the look of the thing.
Since most of the cast are demons and spectral creatures rather than human beings the lack of anatomical precision isn’t a fault in any way.

Supergirl: Amanda Connor has a reputation for drawing sexy female characters, but in line with the all ages theme of the story that isn't really in evidence here. What we do get is Connor's wonderful facial expression and emphasis on body language. The panels are laid out clearly and simply with no space wasted - every character, every back drop has a role to play and it slots together beautifully. I think that Connor produces one of the easiest to read comics in the business and this talent is shown off very well here.
Wonder Woman: This art is very tight and densely put together. The lettering is an unusual typeset and serves to enhance the dreamlike aspect of the book. There's a wonderful feeling of flow and otherworldliness throughout this story and the pencil style is just magical.
Other information
ISBN: 1401227473
Price: £45 or $49.99, British Sterling and American Dollars respectively.

Note: Although blogger will say that this has been posted by Saranga, it is actually a joint review, and is our first collaboration on a review.  We hope it reads well, but mostly, we hope you pick up a copy of Wednesday Comics and try it out!

1 comment:

  1. I really really really want to get my hands o nthis!!
    I'm still waiting for an order I did in early November..but the stores still lists it are "awaiting for the books".. :/

    All the artists they chose for those stories... I would love to see some on-goings using the same creative teams! (Hawkman by Kyle Baker, Etrigan by Brian Stelfreeze...!!)