Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wednesday Comics: First Impressions

My very first impression on picking up this week's inaugural issue of Wednesday Comics was, unsurprisingly, how big it was. The comic (“book” seems an inaccurate, even vestigial, appendage) is double-folded to reach the dimensions of a regular DC comic; upon unfolding it to its full 28x20 inches, I had the urge to flop down on the floor of the comic shop and spread it out like I used to do with the daily comics page when I was a kid. The other customers (to say nothing of store management) probably wouldn't have appreciated that, though, so I contented myself with spreading it over the table in the burger joint across the street. But even there, the book's refreshingly old-school dot-matrix coloring and aromatic newsprint maintained the image of bygone Sunday mornings in my mind. Fifteen features, each unique, and featuring a smorgasboard of creators and styles. But you know that already, so let's get to the part we all came to find out: Is this stuff any good or not?

Batman by Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso

Not surprisingly, this is the cover feature. That means it has less room to work with than the others, but you couldn't really tell just by looking at it. Risso grabs us with the first image and guides us carefully through the page, presenting Gotham, Batman, and Commissioner Gordon just as we've come to know them. That security is quickly ripped away, however, and at the end of this installment we're left with a cliffhanger of the best kind. I'm looking forward to next week already, not so much in a “How does the Caped Crusader solve this one?” manner, but “Holy crap, what happens next?” Bloody good start to things, I thought.

Kamandi by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook

I never really gave the old “Prince Valiant” strips much thought, and until now, I didn't really consider myself as missing much. Gibbons and Sook shatter that myth with an amazing, panoramic introduction to Kamandi's post-apocalyptic world. The plot is minimal, mainly exposition, but the illustrations are so lush, you don't really care. Boy's Life used to run a serial of Asimov's Norby stories that ended much like this one, with a “suddenly” panel that promises danger and thrills in the next installment. They never seemed to run the corresponding next installment in the next issue, though, so I'm glad I'll finally get some kind of resolution to that feeling next week. A definite favorite.

Superman by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo

I'm at a loss as to why they decided to go for an artist with a painted style for this feature. The art isn't bad, but it looks kind of odd in the low-tech context mentioned above. I'm not quite sure where the story, with Superman fighting an unusually perceptive alien menace in downtown Metropolis, is going, either, although Arcudi's built up enough goodwill with me on other projects for me to give him some rope. I'm going to reserve judgment on this one.

Deadman by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck

Giving us Deadman's origin in both the title panel and the story itself is redundant, but other than that, this feature is off to a good start. Heuck borrows heavily from the Darwyn Cooke school, but if you're going to start off emulating someone, Cooke's definitely the guy to go with. (Jeff, Alex, take copious notes on this one over the coming weeks.) Despite the exposition, the page moves quickly enough, and the final panel does a great job of laying out stakes and promising more excitement next time.

Green Lantern by Kurt Busiek and Joe Quiñones

I'm not entirely sure about the decision only to show GL in the final panel; while the rest of the feature introduces the supporting cast (and, surprisingly enough, a subplot) well enough, we came to see the Emerald Gladiator hitting stuff with other, green stuff, didn't we? Not really much else to say about this one, but I do enjoy the art, and it should adapt well to the action scenes we'd better be getting next week.

Metamorpho by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred

Definitely more in Allred's usual wheelhouse than Gaiman's, but there's nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the feature almost looks like a textbook entry on how to do this sort of thing: we get a brief-but-fun action scene where Metamorpho demonstrates his powers, intrigue with Simon Stagg, and the promise of globetrotting adventure in the next installment. The dialogue naturally crackles, and Allred's art is exactly what you'd expect.

Teen Titans by Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway

Oh, dear. Galloway's cartoony art style is appropriate enough for this feature, I suppose, but Berganza hamstrings the whole effort by not giving him anything to do with it. Instead, we get some unnecessary retrospective panels to old Titans teams put together with turgid narration that, mimicking the biggest failure of the modern incarnation of the series, tells us the Titans are like a family without bothering to show us anything to support that. The team itself, apparently culled from about issue 50 of that same series, is given no introduction whatsoever, what little action there is is almost unfollowable, and Trident, the villain du jour, seems a hollow retread of Young Justice's Harm, with all of the interesting bits surgically removed. The endeavor is best summed up by the final panel's image of Trident impaling Miss Martian: utterly meaningless.

Strange Adventures starring Adam Strange by Paul Pope

Well, Pope's clearly having fun here. Not surprising, since Adam Strange has always been a strip where artists can cut loose and present about whatever the hell they want, with the excuse that “wird shit always happens on Rann” to cover them. Weird shit does indeed happen (as Adam so helpfully points out with his reaction to the invasion of the Rock-People of Ragathann), and we get to see all of it in living, breathing, occasionally Escherian color. (Really, the architect who designed that palace in the bottom center of the page had to have been on crack.) Bottom line, it's got angry blue monkeys in, and isn't that what this whole project is about?

Supergirl by Jimmy Pamiotti and Amanda Conner

I suppose they're busy with the utterly superfluous Power Girl ongoing, but I'd love to see these two on Supergirl full-time. For now, though, we get a strip that's definitely targeted at the all-ages crowd, and I'm just fine with that. The juxtaposition of Streaky and Krypto's rampage with the pet shop window is a cute bit, and while I'm unsure how Krypto can break through a window that Streaky's already broken, I'm far too charmed to care that much. “Want that,” indeed.

Metal Men by Dan Didio and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Well, I'm certainly relieved to see Garcia-Lopez on art rather than the artist originally solicited (who shall remain unnamed out of an uncharacteristic streak of politeness), as he's much better-suited to the project. This one gets off a bit slowly, as the Metal Men spend most of the page not stopping a bank robbery, but I have to credit Didio's script for quickly introducing the group's basic personalities (including Doc Magnus), and the public disguises for the robots are rather amusing. Is that supposed to be Jonah Hex in the bottom of panel four? I dearly hope so. It would make no sense whatsoever, but it's far too cool a team-up for me to really care.

Wonder Woman by Ben Caldwell

If Kamandi evoked Prince Valiant, then this feature is definitely a throwback to Winsor McKay's wonderful Little Nemo in Slumberland. And not just because this installment is a dream sequence, either; Caldwell uses the page, and each individual panel, as instruments in a manner like no other artist in the collection. The density of the page makes the read a bit cumbersome, and there's a lot of text to get through on the bottom of the page, but still, this is the most visually engaging piece so far, and exactly the sort of experimentation this project is meant for. I can't wait to see what's next.

Sgt. Rock & Easy Company by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert

The draw here is definitely the older Kubert's art, which almost doesn't need Adam's narration to tell the story. Being a war strip, the tone is a sharp shock of a departure from what's gone before, but wholly welcome, and the minimalist style is refreshing after some of the more detailed work we've already seen (especially the dense feature immediately preceding this one). I'm already full of questions about what happened to the rest of Easy, and how Rock will get out of the scrape he's in (I'm guessing it will involve two-fisted ass-kicking), and that's nothing but good.

Flash Comics by Karl Kerschel and Brenden Fletcher

Really two features in one, as Flash battles Gorilla Grodd above the fold while Iris West fumes about a broken dinner date below. Appropriately, each bit is drawn in a different style (adventure strip for Flash, relationship strip for Iris), to good effect. Kerschl's script also manages to capture the central dilemma of Barry's character quite eloquently: He's the man who can be anywhere in a split second, except where he wants to be. How this will be explored in future installments (there's plenty of foreshadowing), I look forward to seeing. Although I must request no cameos by Mary Worth, please.

The Demon and Catwoman by Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze

Okay, that's an odd pairing, but the device for setting it up (Selina robbing Jason Blood's estate) works well enough. The art is appropriately moody and gothic, and if Simonson's script gets off to a slow start, it promises plenty of fireworks next time around. And Stelfreeze's Catwoman looks lithe and sexy without being explotative, a rare and welcome feat.

Hawkman by Kyle Baker

Okay, I admit it: It is possible to make Hawkman interesting. And without the turgid “star-crossed lovers across time” bit, too. (Not that I have a problem with that bit or anything, but it turns out we don't need it.) Baker's art is just freaking gorgeous, and the root idea of Hawkman stopping the hijacking of an airliner shows promise. I've never heard of him being able to talk to birds before, but who cares? It works in the context, and who couldn't love a closing line like “And so we flap”?

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