Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday Comics: The Final Word

Well, here we all are, 12 weeks later. Hopefully, we're a little wiser, or at least entertained.

Batman by Azzarello and Risso: This one, I think, will read better all at once. Azzarello's structure eschews the segue, which sometimes made it hard to remember what had gone on previously. It's a valid way of telling a story, especially in this format, but that aspect of it did tend to knock it down a notch in my estimation. The story we get, though, is quite a good one, a decent whodunnit that keeps us guessing all the way through. The denouement felt a bit rushed (a lot of them did, actually), and I can't say I bought that Batman actually fell for our femme fatale this time around, but Risso's art more than makes up for any deficiencies in the story. I'm up for seeing these fellows return to Gotham City anytime.

Kamandi by Gibbons and Sook: Okay, right off, I thought it was lame that they killed the girl. I mean, the whole thing's divorced from whatever the hell Kamandi's official continuity is these days (if he even has one), so there's no real reason not to tantalize readers with the storytelling possibilities of the Last Boy on Earth awkwardly wooing the Last Girl. But other than that, I had a really good time reading this. All my previous praise for the strip still stands; the "Prince Valiant" narration works really well, and Sook's art is just gorgeous. And come on, gorilla snipers on the Washington Monument. How can you not love that shit?

Superman by Arcudi and Bermejo: Well, that didn't work at all. I get now what they were going for, but it still doesn't justify six weeks of Superman moping about being Valentine Michael Smith with heat vision. (Google it, it's good for you.) The size of the page, in my mind, calls for bigger things to be done than this warmed-over angst, which was always better as subtext than as text anyway. And I still think Bermejo's art, while good, doesn't look quite right on newsprint. That's probably just me, but I stand by it nonetheless.

Deadman by Bullock and Heuck: Well, the art was good. The story, I twigged to the twist around week 8 or 9, and that pretty much tossed it down a level for me. The open-ended ending was a nice touch, although pretty futile, since I doubt we'll ever see this version of Deadman again. Like I said earlier, though, I enjoyed the art, and the idea that Deadman has a physical body when he visits Hell has some good stuff in it for mining. But overall, this one wasn't any more than the sum of its parts. However, a low performer for this series still beats most books on the stands in terms of quality (with one major exception; can you guess which one?).

Green Lantern by Busiek and Quinones: Okay, here's the thing: Out of twelve strips, how many featured GL pounding the bejeezus out of stuff with his magic space ring? Three, maybe four? That's the exact opposite of how it should have gone. No one came here to see Hal in a bar, or angsting about his best-pal-we-never-heard-of. I'm honestly befuddled by this one, because Busiek is a much better writer than this script would have us believe. More smashy, Kurt. We want more smashy.

Metamorpho by Gaiman and Allred: Cute. I enjoyed the conceit that pretended Metamorpho was a big character and this was all rather standard fare in the world of comics; I certainly wish that were truer than it is. A lot of people didn't care for the Periodic Table gag, but those people suck. On the whole, Gaiman's characterizations were hilarious, and Allred clearly had a lot of fun putting the cast through their paces. In a world where funny books all too often take themselves way too seriously, this was a breath of fresh air.

Teen Titans by Berganza and Galloway: And then there's this crap. You want to know what gets me, what really gets me, about this strip? The sheer ineptitude on display in Berganza's script. Nothing about it works; not a damn thing. It's all so ham-fistedly inept that even the bare handful of good ideas present get bogged down in tortured, overwrought presentation. It is impossible to escape the conviction that Berganza has no freaking clue how to write anything more complex than a grocery list. It's the same uncomfortable feeling you get watching a Down's kid try to do algebra. And the vast majority of the ideas (if you can call them that) are utter tripe, cliches that were dead before most of the readership was even born, and shameless masturbating over the contents of Berganza's longboxes. For the love of God, DC, if this man ever tries to write something again, break his fucking fingers. Galloway's got potential, though.

Strange Adventures by Pope: On the other hand, almost everything about this works. The "butterfly dreaming I'm a spaceman" bit isn't as clever as Pope seems to think it is, but other than that, the strip was a complete delight. Pope's alien landscapes are wild and imaginative, evocative of, well, classic sci-fi comics (and Bill Watterson's fantasy sequences from the late, great Calvin & Hobbes). The blue monkey aliens look suitably frightening, Adam Strange is suitably heroic, and I'm especially glad to see that Princess Alanna got her fair share of the story to carry. I mean, Adam still saves the day, but you get the feeling she would have been able to cope if he was a few minutes late. If it's possible to get Pope to do stuff like this more often, please, do. The world needs comics like this.

Supergirl by Palmiotti and Conner: No slight to the guys doing her series, but really, everyone, pack it all in. Palmiotti and Conner do it righter than anyone ever has. While I have my quibbles with the pacing, this strip has been cute, charming, fun, all the adjectives you'd expect from a story about Superman's kid cousin making her way in the world. We even got some stellar character work with Aquaman and Dr. Mid-Nite (especially Aquaman; this should now be his default characterization once all this Blackest Night nonsense is over). Conner catches the perfect tone with her art, especially Krypto and Streaky's continuous background antics. It's obvious that they ran up against a deadline with the ending and tied it off as best they could in the time remaining, but Christ, that was practically SOP back in Mort Weisinger's feifdom. I'm glad we got to see this, and I want to see more. That last panel, though, is bound to cause some mass hysteria.

Metal Men by Didio and Garcia-Lopez: Well, it's nice to see someone stand up for mediocrity. That's the best you can say about this, really; even the best of Garcia-Lopez's wonderful art can't raise it above its pedestrian script. This is every Metal Men story ever, really. Gold is heroic, Lead is dumb, Mercury is a douche, Tin is a geek, Platinum is a creepy stalker chick, and Doc Magnus has all the personality of a wet sack. Even the villain, Chemo, is predictable. Nothing about this strip wowed me; the closest I came was the somewhat humorous observation that Didio just can't resist killing off characters to manufacture pathos, even when he himself admits they're robots and can just be rebuilt. Which he does, right in the dialogue. But, I guess when you're the boss, you can play in whatever sandbox you like. Whatever, dude; I'll be over on the monkey bars.

Wonder Woman by Caldwell: Apparently, Paul McEnery and I are the only two people who like this strip. Well, whatever; haters gonna hate. Caldwell's technique here is great; entire chapeters could be written on his use of layout, narrative, parallelism, theme, and how it all ties together in a wonderful little package. Yes, there are a lot of panels early on, but suck it up; challenge is good for you. And once you figure out what he's doing (it's all in the dream metaphor, the hub of everything that goes on), you can't wait to see what he does next. Which has always been one of the hallmarks of great comics, at least as far as I'm concerned. Caldwell really *gets* Wonder Woman, and I'd love to see a full-length graphic novel sequel to this. Hell, it doesn't even have to have Wonder Woman; I just want to see more work from this guy.

Sgt. Rock by Kubert and Kubert: Well, that was underwhelming. I don't know what Adam Kubert was thinking, really, pacing the story like this. "Easy Company on a mission" is a fine enough starting point, but this thing just dragged and dragged. The characters sort of lumbered around like they were waiting for the script to tell them what to do next, and there wasn't much in the way of coherence, or theme, or any other reason to give a damn. So I didn't. And the last-minute twist comes out of pretty much nowhere, so I'm not sure what the point was. All in all, disappointing. I mean, Joe Kubert's art is still good, but what's the point when this is what he had to work with? Name Withheld was wrong; comics do need writers, and this strip proves it.

The Flash by Kerschel and Fletcher: This strip, on the other hand, just kept on surprising me. The storytelling risks, the playing around with format, the characterization that made Barry Allen interesting for a change: All of it worked. I never would have expected it, and crashing straight through expectations is part of the fun of this series. Mind you, I'm still not a hundred percent sure what *happened* in the strip, but I don't really care. The good guys won, the bad guys lost, the hero got the girl, and there were gratuitous Peanuts references. That's worth my money any day.

The Demon and Catwoman by Simonson and Stelfreeze: Well, first of all, this isn't really a Demon/Catwoman story. It's a Demon story, guest-starring Catwoman. Selina pretty much functions as a McGuffin for Etrigan and Morgaine la Fey to squabble over, and the character deserves better than that, I think. This one, like Deadman, doesn't really rise above itself at any point, but there's some stuff to like. Stelfreeze's art strikes the right mood, and I love Simonson's command of blank verse for Etrigan. It certainly beats the decades of rhyming-but-unmetered drivel we've suffered through since the character made his debut. But next time, how about making Catwoman an actual part of the story instead of window-dressing?

Hawkman by Baker: Sometimes, you just need a picture of someone hitting a dinosaur with a mace. This strip served that need, and served it well. Baker's departure from his usual style fits the character and the material, and it's always good to see creators stretching their boundaries. The pacing here was among the best of the series; it never dragged or rushed through anything, and while the deus ex aqua ending was a bit disappointing, we still got to see Hawkman carve his way into a T-Rex's brainpan from the bottom up. And you don't need to know the intricacies and inanities of Hawkman's continuity to enjoy it, either; you just have to like it when he punches things.

I'm not sure how to wrap this all up. Chiavello's great experiment was a success in some parts, and a failure in others. I think it's worth noting that success was largely proportionate to the degree to which each strip takes advantage of the format and stretches the storytelling to its limits, rather than simply telling another run-of-the-mill tale. The best stories here grab you in a way that the others don't, pulling you along rather than sitting still. It's no secret that the illusion of motion is one of comics's thorniest tangles, but it's rarely pointed out in this way. There's more to motion in a story than showing the Flash running, after all; he's got to be running towards something. I could get long-winded here, but I don't think I will. We're nerds; we'll certainly take our time to dissect this bastard thoroughly now that it's all over. I don't know what Wednesday Comics ultimately says about comics, or superheroes, or anything much else, but I had a great time reading it. I think that's enough for now.

Except for Teen Titans. Someone needs to pay for that one.

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