THE PERKS OF BEING A DEADMAN
Columnist/reviewer Timothy Callahan and reviewer/CSBG blogger Chad Nevett formerly discussed comics every week in a column called "The Splash Page" for the now-temporarily-inoperative Sequart.org website. To celebrate the twelve weeks of "Wednesday Comics," they're bringing their signature comic book chit-chat style to COMIC BOOK RESOURCES. Join them each week as they discuss the unfolding drama of DC's experiment in oversized weekly comics.
This week: "Wednesday Comics" #4 with a gaggle of special guests!
Chad Nevett: Tim is back from San Diego, I'm all moved in, and we're ready to discuss "Wednesday Comics" #4. I want to kick things off by mentioning just how much nicer the "Wonder Woman" strip looks this week. The printing is a lot tighter and brighter, much clearer. Hopefully they keep doing whatever it is they did this week to make that strip look as nice. Why won't you get the conversation going, Tim?
Tim Callahan: Why won't I? I'm not opposed to getting our chit-chat flowing, but I was stuck in the Newark airport for five hours on Wednesday and didn't get back home in time to get my weekly dose of comics. So I'm already behind on this whole "Wednesday Comics" phenomenon the kids are talking about. Reading it on Thursday just ain't the same.
But now that I'm back, and I've devoured issue #4, I literally "tore through it" and now there's a rip in the Hawkman strip this week. That's how you're supposed to read comics, by the way. None of this namby-pamby bag-and-board nonsense. Read it with gusto. Tear a whole in Hawkman's face while you're at it. That's how Kyle Baker would want us to read it!
Besides the gaping tear I put in my issue, the thing that strikes me most is not the printing quality of "Wonder Woman" which is easier, in theory, to read (with the lettering being more crisply printed, or so it seems), but that "Metamorpho" has finally started to become a story again. It's got surprise appearances, mystery, suspense -- all the stuff that it lacked for the past two weeks. That's a good thing.
Here's what we need to talk about first this week, though. "Deadman." We mentioned how we didn't talk about it much yet, but we still kind of ignored it even in our token "hey-let's-talk-about-the-mid-level-strips" discussion from last week. Yet I've received e-mails calling us out on the way we've been ignoring "Deadman." People seem to think it's really quite good, and that we should be paying more attention to it. What do you think? Have we been ignoring "Deadman" just to make more time to talk about Paul Pope over and over? Or kicking Dave Bullock to the curb so we can take another jab at that poor, defenseless "Teen Titans" strip?
"Deadman": is it as good as random strangers tell us it is?
CN: I read my issue with gusto, but managed to avoid rips, because I walk that fine line between not caring and still wanting things in optimal reading condition.
And, no, it's not as good as random strangers tell us. It's fine, it's okay, it's there. I read it each week and don't really have any problems with it, but it doesn't do anything for me either. I enjoy the art, which has a nice blend of Darwyn Cooke and Jack Kirby, but the plot is just sort of "And now THIS happens to Deadman with no explanation!" each week. Which, again, is fine, but don't tell me this something that we should be bending over backwards to accommodate. (And I mean that with as little disrespect to Dave Bullock as possible since I do enjoy the strip.) It's one of those middling strips we discussed last week, the ones that we don't talk about, because they haven't earned it with either fantastic quality or a horrid lack of quality. So, some may look at our ignoring it as the glass being half empty, but you could see it as being half full if us ignoring the strip is the equivalent to a glass being filled to the halfway mark with some sort of liquid.
By that token, are you finding it more difficult to find new things to say about this book? Have many of the strips distanced themselves in any big way from where they were on week one, either positively or negatively? Maybe that's why we keep getting people demanding we discuss X strip -- are we repeating ourselves already?
TC: I think the series has solidified itself by this point, and the cream has risen to the top, and the trash has sunk to the bottom, and all those other metaphors that I could use to describe the fact that we are stuck saying the same things basically every week. I suspect that we're going to end up with a pretty similar Top 5 for the rest of the run, with, at most, one or two variations in a given week. I don't think that's bias, or a lack of openness to new strips, I think it's just a matter of recognizing that people like Risso, Sook, Pope, and Baker are just better at this sort of thing than some of the other writers and artists. Some of the strips have gotten better -- "Kamandi" has become one of the best each week by this point -- and some of the others have gotten worse -- "Superman" started with promise but has become worse than "Smallville," and "Metal Men" has turned into a story that wastes the feature characters in a story that's from a "Wild Dog" comic, circa 1988 -- but the really good stuff is still really good, and "Teen Titans" is still really bad. (Sorry Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway, but you've done much better work elsewhere, and this format doesn't seem to suit you at all.)
Here's what we should do, starting next week: we should examine one strip in great detail. Really explore the use of the graphic narrative, and how the writer and artist work to create certain effects. We could start with a mid-range strip, and delve deeply into what it means at a stylistic level, and see what it has to tell us. Because this wide-swath discussion is just going to keep coming back to the same strips over and over.
But I know you're out of town for the next few days, so, we'll save that in-depth discussion for next week. And meanwhile, I'll recruit some "Wednesday Comics"-reading peers to chime in on what they like about the series. Let's get a few new voices into "The Splash Page" this week.
First up: Bleed Surfer and man-about-town Brett Williams!
Brett Williams: In defense of "Deadman," I think the work that Dave Bullock is doing is out of this world! Sure, the story may not be a James M. Cain slow burn, but I don't think it has to be. It's my understanding that "Wednesday Comics" was conceived, at least in some part, to be a gateway into the DC Universe for new fans. In that way I believe the "Deadman" strip succeeds admirably. Maybe it's not the greatest Deadman story ever told, but it's fun, it's flashy, and it allows Bullock to make the most out of the larger format. With the possible exception of "Metamorpho," "Deadman" is doing more with the space provided than any other strip in the book. The art is big, bold and action-packed, and I think it deserves some credit for that. If I were a novice fan picking this up, I think I'd be impressed by what I saw in "Deadman" each week. The lifelong comic fan in me certainly has been.
As for the strip that has surprised me the most, it has to be "Batman." As much as I love Azzarello and Risso, my love for them is resigned to "100 Bullets." I read "Broken City" a couple of years back and it didn't do much for me, but I'm seriously considering giving it another shot after "Wednesday Comics." Opposite of what I said about "Deadman," the Batman strip is a great example of the slow burn. This isn't just the Caped Crusader pummeling bad guys writ large. While that would certainly have been a joy to see, what Azz and Ris are doing on Wednesday Comics is a joy to read. This is Azzarello doing what he does best: writing a deep, involved crime drama, this time with Batman at the center. I love how he's using Bruce Wayne, as well. Because being the world's greatest detective requires more than just a mask and gadgets. This strip feels like a serialized crime drama and so far it's been the best at utilizing the serialized format. Each final panel is an enticing invitation to next week's issue. Great stuff!
TC: Huh. I do like the page layout of "Deadman," and Bullock's a hell of an artist (when he's not drawing those terrible covers for the soon-to-be-cancelled "Exiles"), but I don't see any compelling story underneath the artwork. Maybe it will come together by the end and I will shout to the world, "Brett was right all along!"
And I know what you mean about "Broken City." I read it again recently, and it's a not-very-good hard-boiled "Sin City" pastiche. Nowhere near as good a "100 Bullets," and I'm glad to see Azzarello and Risso doing something more poetic in this "Wednesday Comics" strip.
Next up to join the discussion, the internet's own Android Moser:
Andrew Moser: For my $4, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's "Supergirl" is the breakout star of "Wednesday Comics." Tim and Chad, neither of you have had much to say about this one, but week-in, week-out "Supergirl" makes the most out of the serialized, one-page-per-issue format. Each "Supergirl" chapter develops the ongoing story (which, admittedly, is just now starting to be revealed with issue number four) while still giving the reader a one-and-done story with a full-fledged beginning, middle, and end. Some of the stories in "Wednesday Comics" feel awkward and truncated by the format, and while they will no doubt read better in collected format, "Supergirl" always provides a cathartic reading experience while still leaving me looking forward to the next installment - all in one page! Even Azzarello and Risso's "Batman," Palmiotti and Conner's closest competition in my eyes, has bigger gaps in its transitions than "Supergirl," which flows seamlessly from one week to the next.
In the "Splash Page" for the first issue of "Wednesday Comics," you guys talked about how beautiful the series was, but how the writing wasn't necessarily on the same level. Amanda Conner provides the best of both worlds, giving us great art that also tells a clear, concise narrative. While none of the artists featured in Wednesday Comics are storytelling slouches, the true test is to read the story without the words. Can you tell what's going on in "Hawkman" as easily as you can in "Supergirl"? What about "Green Lantern"? The rest of the strips in Wednesday Comics are more dependent on the captions and word balloons to fill in the gaps and transition the reader from panel to panel, but Conner could captivate an audience without a word. (This is in no way meant to impugn the work of Jimmy Palmiotti, whose dialogue only enhances the whimsical tone of "Supergirl.") Sure, comics are meant to be read not just seen, but it always comes back to that old adage: show don't tell.
"Supergirl" does have a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe ("Mel Mouse"/"Air Mel," anyone?), which might not be to everyone's liking, but in a book with as wide a variety of styles as Wednesday Comics, it's a good balance to the darker "Batman," pulpy "Strange Adventures," and retro "Metmorpho." And if Wednesday Comics has any chance of bringing new, younger readers to the comic book fold, "Supergirl" is it.
TC: "Supergirl" sure is appealing, and I can see how it might bring in new readers, but I don't see "Wednesday Comics" operating as a recruitment device at all. I think it almost completely fails on that level, and as I said in our very first week's discussion, it works best as a celebration of the end-of-the-print-era. I could be wrong, though, and stuff like "Supergirl" SHOULD be targeted at that group of nascent comic book readers we hear might possibly exist. (I'm still not a fan of the coloring on "Supergirl" at all, though. Too much orange, too much use of gradients!)
Hey Chris Eckert, Funnybook Babylonian, what do you think about this oversized newsprint series?
Chris Eckert: We're at the one-third point in each of the Wednesday Comics, and with any finite narrative there's a closing of possibilities as you move closer to the end. I remember wild visions of what might happen in "Secret Invasion" dancing in my head after the first issue was released, and saw those visions snuffed one by one as each subsequent issue plodded along, closing off all manner of intriguing branches of possibility. So bearing in mind that we should be done with Act I of each of these twelve page stories, who's actually doing something with their hour upon the stage?
Many of the serials have barely advanced from their initial premise: Superman's feeling out of place. Krypto and Streaky are feisty. Something's wrong with Green Lantern's buddy. Deadman has some monsters after him. Trident hates the Titans. The Metal Men are still standing around a bank lobby. Initially, I was not a fan of Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook's Prince Valiant pastiche, but I'm definitely seeing the advantage to such an exposition-heavy format: their story's actually moving forward. This isn't to say I was expecting a massive sprawling narrative from any of these stories. No matter how big the pages are, these are still only twelve page stories. But the best of the stories are expanding beyond their first note. Adam Strange and Allana have been captured and escaped, and I expect kinetic chase scenes and blue baboons on the rampage. Hawkman needs to rally the troops to take on the Crab People. Even the thus-far glacially paced Metamorpho strip brings in another character to mix things up this week.
At the end of the day, this seems like more of an artists' showcase than a writers', and perhaps it's telling that some of the most ambitious and usually satisfying strips are by cartoonists like Pope, Baker, Kerschl, and Caldwell. Azzarello and Risso, too, since they've worked together so much they might as well count as a single creative unit. But even when there's nothing groundbreaking going on, "Wednesday Comics" still holds simple pleasures like watching Joe Kubert draw the hell out of Sgt. Rock and some evil Nazis at the age of eighty-two. Not every page can be expected to re-invent graphic narrative.
TC: Everything you say is true, especially because you agree with basically everything I've been saying all along. Therefore, you must be right!
Jessi Reid, aka Jessi Awesome, now that you've become part of Mark Waid's inner circle and a harbinger of the Era of the New Awesome, you must have some opinions about "Wednesday Comics," right? Even if I might disagree with them?
Jessi Reid: "Superman" has had some cheesy lines (Batman's "super prozac" from issue number three, anyone?) but for the most part, I cannot skip it simply because of the beautiful coloring Barbra Ciardo has done over Lee Bermejo's inkwash art. "Superman" is not a terrible story in my eyes -- it just hasn't developed very far yet. Brett's commentary on "Batman" is how I feel about the "Superman" plot -- sure, nothing overwhelming has happened and Superman isn't KA-POWing foes just yet, however I believe that we're only going to see great things in the coming weeks. I'm sure that the storyline is deeper than what we've seen so far, and I still have hope.
Like Chris pointed out, there are stories in here that are taking a long time for the plots to unfold, but I don't think its necessarily a bad thing. I'm happy that some of the writers have decided to go at a slower pace than others because I don't want the stories muddled with lines upon lines to read every week ("Kamandi") especially in newspaper format -- my interest dwindles. Especially since I have tiny arms and they get tired of holding the paper after awhile.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm enjoying reading "Wonder Woman." I'll agree that the format is different from the norm of "Wednesday Comics," and the coloring is off, but I do believe that the story being told is an interesting one at that. Tim has been rooting for it to turn out to be one of the best comics in the line-up and I couldn't agree more. At first the stylized panel format strained my eyes to look at but as every week passes by I fall more in love -- how can you dislike the ghosts flowing across one side of the paper to the next, explaining to Wonder Woman who they are before the action starts? It's cleverly done. Also, the comic itself does well as a one-shot. Yes, one through four do have a continuity to them but if someone were to pick up any one of the issues they wouldn't be as lost with Wonder Woman as they would the other comics and that alone makes me feel like its doing something right. It is reminiscent of real Sunday Comics -- how many of those four paneled strips confuse you because you need to have read the past issues? Every dream of Diana's holds up on its own.
"The Demon and Catwoman" is another one that has caught my interest. The story is a little wacky and its one of the slower moving comics but you throw in anything Gotham related that has an occult essence, I'll eat it up. I am absolutely loving Demon's narration in issue four, too.
I'm not going to delve into Azzarello, Pope, or Kershl as these guys have been praised enough, but they are favorites of mine. Especially "Batman."
TC: I feel almost completely opposite about the "Superman" strip. Not only is it terribly written, but I think the coloring is grotesque, and as it's moved farther and farther away from its absurd opening strip, "Superman" has become one of the worst comics in this series. I'm with you on "Wonder Woman," though. And I think we just have to be patient and learn how to read it properly. It's difficult to read largely because it's so different than the rest of the strips in "Wednesday Comics," but I think it will all make sense in the end. Dream-like sense, perhaps, but I can see how all the images will tie together.
"Kamandi" has too many word? Huh. I felt that way in the first installment, because it was all exposition about Kamandi's past, but I love the matter-of-fact writing coupled with the best-looking art in each issue. Honestly, I'm not sure the words add much to the story. It's ALL about the art with that one. It's still my favorite strip, though.
That will do it for this fourth installment of the "Splash Page." Next week, Chad returns to provide his responses to the opinions of this week's guest contributors. And we'll talk "Wednesday Comics" just like the old days! But better!
Timothy Callahan writes "When Words Collide" for CBR each Monday, reviews comics each and every week, and maintains the Geniusboy Firemelon blog while he's supposed to be working on further book projects. He also knows that the images in this week's column don't much relate to the discussion, but he's in San Diego right now, and he can't hear your complaints from all the way over there.
Chad Nevett writes his "Random Thoughts" and "Reread Reviews" for COMICS SHOULD BE GOOD, reviews as many comics as Tim, and contributes to the GraphiContent blog while not reading Joe Casey or Jim Starlin comics.