When Words Collide

Mon, July 6th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

THE SUPERHERO COMIC OF THE SUMMER

What's the big event book that everyone's talking about this summer? You can play at home at this point in the column: what are you most excited about? Is it Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch bringing Steve Rogers back to the land of the living in "Captain America: Reborn"? Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and zombie superheroes vs. the forces of light in "Blackest Night"? Matt Fraction and company bringing a distinctly dystopian "Utopia" to "Uncanny X-Men" and "Dark Avengers"? I like all of those things. I'm looking forward to all of those things (and I'm thankful that none of them are mega-crossover events that would inevitably end with a whimper).

But the superhero comic of the summer has to be "Wednesday Comics." Rich Johnston seems to think that it's been under-ordered by retailers who fear that's its unusual size might keep readers away. My own retailer mentioned that he was thinking about only getting three to five copies for his shop, even though he easily has 30 "Batman" subscribers alone. I think plenty of comic shop retailers still seem to be hung up on the collectibility angle of comics, and they fear that "Wednesday Comics" will be too hard to keep in mint condition. Or they fear -- and rightfully so -- that because it's an anthology, it won't get much attention. Anthologies haven't been particularly kind to superhero stories in recent, well, decades.

When was the last time you busted out your old copies of "Marvel Comics Presents" or "Action Comics Weekly"? For every good story in those anthologies there were ten bazillion terrible ones. Space-fillers that never amounted to anything. Just white noise that we all eventually tuned out. And it's not like the relaunch of "Marvel Comics Presents" fared any better, even with some solid creators in the lineup. Nobody bought the comics and the kind of mediocre stories that kept the original series running barely sustained a year of the new volume, even with super-decompressed storytelling about a guy who wears a Canadian flag on his costume. (I wonder why the readers didn’t flock to that one…)

Reason #1 why "Wednesday Comics" should be eagerly anticipated is also reason #1 why retailers might not order too many copies: It's a Mark Chiarello project. Chiarello is a genius when he's allowed to be. His work on the "Batman/Houdini" Elseworlds book almost single-handedly justified the existence of the Elseworlds line, and as art director at DC Comics, he was responsibly for one of the best comics of the decade: "Solo."

Comics are a visual medium, right? So let's take some of the best artists working in the industry and let them go crazy with a bunch of DC properties, thought the wise and generous Chiarello. And for twelve issues from 2004-2006, we got to see the likes of Tim Sale, Paul Pope, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, Scott Hampton, Sergio Aragones, and Brendan McCarthy (Brendan McCarthy!! Double exclamation point!!) have some fun in the DCU. It was out of continuity, of course, because how much fun could they really have in their solo-cake making without breaking a few eggs, but even artists I didn't particularly care about (Damion Scott and Scott Hampton, for example) did some very fine work on their issues of the series.

No one bought it.

Well, I bought it. And you probably bought it (you did, right?) but we were the only ones. So it didn't last. Now I could be wrong, and there could be other reasons for its demise -- I'm certainly not someone who gets caught up analyzing comic book sales figures -- but my impression is that it didn't sell well enough to survive in a marketplace when selling even 25,000 copies a month might have kept it alive.

I suppose I could list a bunch of reasons why so few people bought it, but it probably just boils down to the same thing that Marvel saw when it changed the nature of its "Marvel Spotlight" series. When the "Marvel Spotlight" focused on a creator, it sold decently well. When they shifted the spotlight and did things like "Marvel Spotlight: Wolverine" its sales shot up dramatically. Creators can sell comics, and big-name creators can move more copies, but nothing matters quite as much as a character's name on the cover. Jason Aaron is a great writer, easily one of the top five guys working in the industry today. But was "Wolverine: Weapon X" #1 the best-selling Marvel title of the month because his name was on the cover? Did Ron Garney fans come out in droves? No. Though the creators might have helped convince a few people to check it out, it sold like razor-sharp hotcakes because it was a #1 with the name "Wolverine" on the cover.

"Solo" didn't have any character names on the cover.

And neither did "Marvel Comics Presents" or "Action Comics Weekly" (at least, not as part of the title). And neither will "Wednesday Comics."

But regardless of sales, "Wednesday Comics" will be the superhero comic of the summer. Let me tell you why (as if you don't know! I mean, you're reading "When Words Collide," so I already know that you are a reader of great refinement and intellect):

EIGHT REASONS "WEDNESDAY COMICS" WILL ROCK YOUR SUPERHERO WORLD THIS SUMMER

1. It's the only mainstream comic of the year that changes the rules. Those other comics you buy week in and week out? Those event books that have already started to trickle out this month? As good as they may be, they are just more of the same. You might like more of the same. I like more of the same, but I doubt I will be surprised by any of the usual suspects this summer. "Wednesday Comics" not only allows the artists to work at a larger scale, it challenges them to work in single-page installments that will also build to something greater by the end of the 12 weeks, and writers have to make those kind of adjustments as well. How will they adapt to the distinctly different format? That's what I want to find out.

2. Azzarello and Risso on "Batman." I know they've done Batman before in "Broken City," but I like to hope that was just a trial run for something really dark and twisted, or perhaps deeply moving (and dark and twisted) in "Wednesday Comics." Eduardo Risso is an artists' artist and seeing him unleash on a ginormous page will make the whole thing worthwhile. Even if he does nothing more than add more panels to a grid-like layout, it's still 300% more Rizzo than we're used to seeing on a single page. Our eyes may not be able to handle the awesomness.

3. "Adam Strange." Paul Pope. If a comic called "Stinky's Junkyard Collection of Awful Unpublished Tim Vigil Pages" came out, and that comic happened to feature a single-page "Adam Strange" comic written and drawn by Paul Pope, I would buy it. The only thing I like more than retro-Silver Age DC sci-fi blaster gun/jet-pack action is the artwork of Mr. Paul Pope. And here we get it done bigger and bolder and more jet-packy than ever.

4. Mike Allred draws Neil Gaiman's "Metamorpho" story. Remember that "Sandman" story with Metamorpho Lass? I suspect this one will have 99.8% less weeping, but I expect it to be pretty good. True, Gaiman's comic book work post-"Sandman" hasn't been particularly astounding, but if anyone's capable of giving a beating heart to a one-page story, it's Gaiman. And did I mention Mike Allred's drawing it? Did I mention that? Because I need to mention it again? Mike Allred -- as in the guy whose art is so great that I end up buying Mormon comics I don't even have any interest in reading -- is drawing this story. He's great every time he puts pencil to paper.

5. "Kamandi" drawn by Ryan Sook. The DC gods have only released two volumes of "Kamandi Archives" so far (and probably ever), but this is probably the Bronze Age Kirby series after the Fourth World stuff. Being in second place compared to that is nothing to be ashamed about, and if Kirby can't do it, why not give Ryan Sook a chance to draw the Last Boy on Earth? It's written by Dave Gibbons, a wonderful artist who has never written a great comic, but he's certainly written a fair share of pretty good ones. And with Sook illustrating? Yes. Yes, indeed.

6. Joe Quinones draws Hal Jordan in a Silver Agey romp. I don't actually know if this will be a "Silver Agey romp," but I've seen some of the pages for this 12-parter and it definitely looks like Green Lantern is returning to his roots, but with even more style. Okay, maybe Quinones is no Gil Kane (who is? Nobody.), but he's the best artist in "Wednesday Comics" that you haven't yet heard of. Does he deserve a slot in a comic that has guys like Paul Pope and Ryan Sook and Mike Allred and Kyle Baker? Absolutely. He might become your new favorite artist.

7. Kyle Baker. Wings. Mace. "Hawkman." What I love about Kyle Baker is the way he shifts his drawing style to suit whatever project he's working on. "Special Forces" didn't look anything like "Plastic Man," and neither of them looked like "Truth" which looked complexly different from "The Shadow" which didn't resemble "The Cowboy Wally Show." I should do a "When Words Collide" on his not-quite adaptation of the "Dick Tracy" movie in which he draws Dick Tracy like Warren Beatty but everyone else like a manic Hirschfeld drawing (though I don't have much to say about it beyond that), but there's no doubt that Kyle Baker is a true artist in every sense of the word, even when he's doing some freelance gig just to get a paycheck. So with him writing and drawing a "Hawkman" serial on humungous paper and the philosophy that Hawkman is best when he's smashing stuff with his mace? It may not be sophisticated graphic narrative, but it will certainly make great comics.

8. So Much Other Goodness I Didn't Yet Mention. Brian Stelfreeze drawing a comic about the Demon and Catwoman. Animator Dave Bullock on "Deadman." Amanda Conner's weekly lesson on how to draw "Supergirl" properly. Karl Kerschl on "The Flash." "The Metal Men"! (Hopefully drawn by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, though the DC website worringly lists Ian Churchill as the artist, contrary to what the ads have been saying in the DC books.) And it's weekly. This kind of goodness week in and week out all though the summer, with a conclusion in sight at the end of 12 weeks. No dangling plot threads. No drifting off and other, lesser creators coming in to do a story about Jason Todd. Just 12 weeks of Mark Chiarello's baby, in fold-out, oversized format.

Might "Wednesday Comics" be a failure? Might the writers and artists stumble and flail about, unaccustomed to working under these new parameters? Maybe. But with its ambitions and its astonishingly good line-up of creators, it's still the superhero comic of the summer, no matter how it turns out.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" (which explores "Zenith" in great detail) and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: gbfiremelon

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TAGS:  when words collide, wednesday comics, dc comics, kamandi

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