Remember last week how I talked about the Bat-titles being like an explanation of what a ‘good comic’ and a ‘bad comic’ are? This one’s a Good Comic, and much like the Bat-titles the quality rests almost entirely on the art
DC Comics have, for the last few years, been publishing weekly comics stories pretty much consistently. They started with the fifty-two issue 52, where they decided to put all their best/most popular writers on one title, along with Keith Giffen to provide layouts (and Giffen’s one of the best straight clean storytellers in comics), and the wonderful J.G. Jones on covers, and got something that veered wildly in quality, but overall became one of the best superhero stories of the last decade or so – the flaws were made up for by the good bits and the sheer ambition of the thing.
They followed that with Countdown To Final Crisis, where they took a load of B-list ‘creators’ and made them write and draw offensively bad continuity-wank for fifty-two weeks. And after that they did Trinity for a year – a fifty-two part Kurt Busiek Justice League story that would have made a great twelve-issue series but felt stretched way beyond breaking point.
Wednesday Comics is different from all these. They’ve gone back to the 52 idea of getting the best people they could to work on it, which is always a good start, but this time they’re trying to do something like an American newspaper comics supplement – for twelve weeks they’ll be putting out a comic with fifteen one-page strips in it, on broadsheet size newsprint, featuring DC character both famous (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all appear, of course) and less so (Metal Men, Metamorpho, Deadman).
Now this kind of thing is something I’d hoped DC would do for a long time. A lot of DC’s best characters are incapable of sustaining a comic that would sell on its own, but put them in an anthology title with the big guns and people will buy them. I could even see non-comics-fans buying and enjoying this, were they ever to become aware of it – it has characters they’ve heard of and none of it is burdened by continuity.
And the art is almost uniformly great – the main problem is actually the writing. Which is not to say it’s badly-written, but the writers here all seem used to the pacing of the monthly decompressed comic – most of these pages (which are slightly under four times the size of a standard US comic page) have at most a single incident, and the pacing is sloppy, I’m sure all or most of the stories will work when read as a whole, but they’re not especially effective as serials.
The art’s a different matter – while the artists vary in style, there seems to be a consensus among them that being like Darwyn Cooke would probably be a good thing for this series, and that is, of course, no bad thing.
(Incidentally, I would be very interested to find out what the plans for collecting these stories are – the very nature of the format means these comics are going to be literally read to bits, and I’d like a permanent collection of them).
Batman by Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso is one of the more conventional pages – in look and feel it’s very much of a piece with Batman: Year One and the like – shadowy art colourd in tones of yellow and brown.
Kamandi by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook is our first real experiment, putting Jack Kirby’s character into a Prince Valiant style art-plus-captions story. Unfortunately, most of what we have here is just a recap of who the character is, but Sook’s art is very pretty.
Superman by John Arcudi and Lee Bernejo isn’t very good – Bernejo’s art is far too static for my tastes.
Deadman by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck (with colours by Dave Stewart) is far more like it. This manages to recap Deadman’s origin and move a story forward. Bullock obviously desperately wants to be Darwyn Cooke, but that’s really no bad thing – this looks like a page of Cooke’s Spirit run.
Kurt Busiek and Joe Quiñones’ Green Lantern is more Cooke-lite – this time explicitly mentioning New Frontier. This one seems less promising than Deadman, but has possibilities.
Metamorpho by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred is a real departure for Gaiman – working far outside his comfort zone here, he’s doing a note-perfect Bob Haney, and fills the story with silver age action – in the one page here, Metamorpho rescues Sapphire Stagg from a giant clam, gets attacked by a shark, and gets carried off in a Zeppelin. Gaiman’s having fun here, and Allred’s the perfect artist for this.
Teen Titans by Eddie Berganza and Stan Galloway is rubbish.
Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures can be summed up in one panel – “Why, they resemble nothing less than the Mandrillus Sphynx monkey of the family Cercopithecidae… only huge, blue-furred and operating strange flying machines. The sight would be patently absurd if it wasn’t so horrible!” – pulpy silber age fun done in Pope’s unique style.
Supergirl by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner is how every Supergirl comic should be – Krypto and Streaky going wild in a pet shop and Supergirl wanting to stop them. Conner’s art is just perfect for this.
Metal Men by Dan DIdio , Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, will be interesting to compare to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire take coming out next month. Bearing little resemblance to the recent mini-series, this is the kind of thing DC used to publish in the mid-80s, but the good kind.
Wonder Woman by Ben Caldwell makes the most inventive use of the page, having by my count over forty panels of varying sizes and shapes, and a decent idea let down by literally the worst possible ending (he actually does end up with her waking up and discovering it was all a dream… or was it?)
Sgt Rock And Easy Co by Joe and Adam Kubert is Joe Kubert drawing Sgt. Rock, so we all know it’s good. Weirdly, this seems to have been composed for a smaller page size, and blown up to this size, with the consequent thicker lines and more sketchy look, it made me realise for the first time what a huge influence Kubert has been on British artists – not only Steve Dillon, but also Steve Yeowell, both of whom I can see in the last panel especially.
Flash by Karl
KeselKerschl, Brenden Fletcher, Rob Leigh and Dave McCaig is wonderful. The page is split in two halves – the top has the Flash and Gorilla Grodd in a bit of an adventure in typical style (again supercompressed like the Wonder Woman one was), while the bottom half is the next part of the story told as an Iris West story, done in typical 50s romance comic style right down to the Bengay dots.
The Demon and Catwoman by Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze seems very like the few issues of Catwoman’s own title I read, and the setup (Catwoman robbing Jason Blood’s home) could be promising.
And Kyle Baker’s Hawkman is, again, mostly setup (though like the better stories here there’s a cliffhanger of sorts) but it’s gorgeous looking stuff – easily the best art in the thing to my mind.
If DC keep showing the signs of improvement they’ve shown recently in their superhero line, with this, Batman & Robin and Detective, we might have to start thinking of the DC logo as a sign of quality…