Splash Page: Wednesday Comics Week Five

Sun, August 9th, 2009 at 4:40pm PDT | Updated: August 9th, 2009 at 10:18pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

IMAGINATION VACATION

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" #5 with a top-notch special guest.

Story continues below

Tim Callahan: Week Five is here, and I'm sure we have a lot to say about the ongoing adventures of the world's most Titanic Teens, right Chad? Also, this week, we're joined by special super-smart guest Matthew J. Brady who will no doubt have something interesting to say about the unusually poor inking on Risso's "Batman" this week and the various lettering gaffes in this issue. Or something even smarter.

Plus, if either of you would like to respond to any of our ultra-special array of guests from last week, let me sum up their dissenting opinions: (1) "Supergirl" is better than we seem to think it is; (2) "Deadman" is better than we seem to think it is; (3) "Superman" is better than we seem to think it is. Discuss!

Chad Nevett: It's good to be back from my vacation in cottage country. Thanks to everyone who picked up where I left off (aka abandoned Tim) last week -- and welcome, Matt.

On the "Supergirl" front, I've praised that strip quite a few times since the first issue. I've always enjoyed it and it made my top five strips of the week in week two. It's a wonderful strip that always amuses and entertains. Amanda Conner's art is superb and funny. The way in which she draws the Super-Pets is 100% perfect. Streaky's look and body language last week was probably the best depiction of a cat since Frank Quitely in "We3." The writing of the strips is loose and funny with each week acting as a whole and advancing the overall plot. I really enjoy it. "Superman" is awful. Just pure, utter crap. I have absolutely no idea how anyone can think otherwise. I can't think of a positive thing to say about it beyond Lee Bermejo's art, which is up to his usual quality, although the coloring is more metallic and dark than usual. He's done better work with the character before, like in that "Gen13/Superman" mini written by Adam Hughes back in the '90s. I stand by my "Deadman" thoughts from last week, though. It's okay. I don't hate it, I don't love it. Enjoyable.

But, enough from me, why not let our guest take the floor...

Matthew J. Brady: Glad to be joining you guys! I'm certainly enjoying the heck out of this series, and the opportunity to discuss its pros and cons is great. I just hope I can keep up.

As for the prevailing opinions (outside of having much to say about "Teen Titans" beyond "ugh"), I'm enjoying "Supergirl," mostly for Amanda Conner's art. She really is pretty amazing, giving a cute, cartoony quality to the action. It's interesting to compare her version of a plane crash to Kyle Baker's this week in "Hawkman." The danger is there, but it doesn't seem as terrifying, maybe because a doggy riding on the wing calms the nerves. "Deadman" might or might not be better than I think it is, but I already thought it was pretty great. Kinda gory this week though. And "Superman"? No, it's not better than I think it is; if anything it's gotten worse each week. Bermejo's art might have been the high point, but here, all I can see is that bizarrely-proportioned baby at the top of the page. Look at those thick arms and bulging forehead! Who knew Superman was such an ugly child?

I don't know about Risso's inking on "Batman" though; are you talking about the look of Alfred? That is a slightly odd design, but I think it's okay. I'm more focused on the cool shadows on the rocks in the Batcave, and I love the different Batmobile designs, including what seems to be one similar to the Adam West TV show and a version of Frank Miller's Bat-tank. Neat!

TC: Risso usually doesn't use crosshatching -- it's all clear lines and spotted blacks, but in this week's "Batman," his characters look like they've been inked by M. K. Perker. And that Batman striding towards us in the final panel is one of Risso's worst Batman drawings ever. It's just not his usual crisp look.

"Superman" is just terrible at this point. Bermejo's art is muddy and the story is mopey and it brings to mind something artist Skottie Young said recently about "Smallville": "Watching Superman movies as a kid I would pretend I could fly. I wonder if kids that watch 'Smallville' pretend they can mope around and whine." That about sums up the Arcudi "Superman" strip as well. Some writers just don't seem to get what Superman's about. Arcudi seems to be one of them, and that this strip is the one that DC shows off to the public each week in "USA Today"? Baffling. I even liked "Teen Titans" more than "Superman" this week. Is that legal to say?

I don't want to seem extra-grouchy, and you'll remember that I've been extremely positive about "Wednesday Comics" in the past few weeks, but what I'm seeing in "Wednesday Comics," five issues in, is an astounding lack of imagination. Here's a series that sets the writers and artists free from the constraints of continuity, from the constraints of normal comic book page size, and what do we get? Sad Superman, Supergirl chasing some pets around, a dull retelling of "The Right Stuff," Deadman punching things, and the Demon filling up space with words. There's more imagination in a single page of "Strange Adventures" or "Hawkman" than there is in five weeks worth of most of the strips.

Do you guys see the same kinds of failure of imagination? Or am I expecting too much from this series?

CN: I don't think you're wrong necessarily, Tim. I think some of your examples are off the mark, like Supergirl chasing around the Super-Pets, which I find a clever, imaginative story. Other than that, I think you're on the money. A lot of these strips are based in the 'core' of the characters, a tactic that's become very popular in the past decade. It's not imagination that people look for, it's clean, definitive versions of these characters, failing to realize that all that means nine times out of ten is that creators are repeating plots and character beats we've seen dozens of times before. One strip that seems totally lacking in imagination for me is "Metal Men," full of cliche characters, lame dialogue, and the most basic plot in the book. It reads like I thought it would: Dan DiDio claims to be a big fan of the Metal Men, so we get a Metal Men story that has every element that anyone with a passing familiarity with the characters could name without thinking -- and it's boring as a result. There's nothing new or original in it. The strips that escape that are the two you mentioned plus "The Flash," which is highly inventive, "Wonder Woman," which is amibitious although not always successful, and... I think that's it. Maybe "Metamorpho," I'm not sure yet.

Now, is that expecting too much? I don't know. I think it's expecting something different than what these creators are shooting for. Which is different, of course.

MJB: That's a really good point, and possibly a good reason why I'm just not really into most superhero comics these days; I've read all these stories before, so why bother with the umpteenth iteration of something I could probably tell in my sleep? The good strips in "Wednesday Comics" are the ones that don't fit into that mold, like "Kamandi," "Deadman," everybody's favorite picks "Strange Adventures" and "Hawkman," and yes, even "Wonder Woman." The latter is one that I'm starting to appreciate simply due to its attempts to do something different, both with the format and the story itself. I've never seen a take on the character like this (although I think I've read blog posts about old Wonder Girl stories that told how she obtained her various weapons or parts of her costume), which makes it genuinely refreshing. And the monsters and villains, and even Diana herself are so different from what I've seen before. Yes, the layouts are confusing and the action is hard to see, but right now I'm willing to give it points for ambition, which is a lot more than I can say for at least three of the other strips.

Flash is another one that seems unique; I have no idea where it's going, but that's because I have trouble telling what is happening from week to week. Is the Iris West strip moving backward in time, "Memento"-style? How many different versions of the Flash are involved? And what on earth happened at the end of the Flash half of the strip? I do like the art quite a bit, although I don't really find myself getting as excited about the visible color dots as most people seem to be. It does look nice though. This one does seem to be the series that will read better as a full story rather than on a week-to-week basis.

CN: I hadn't noticed the possible "Memento" connection with the Iris West part of the strip, though it seems completely obvious now. Nor do I get the big deal over the Benday dots -- I think they're a nice touch, but that's all. They work to differentiate the two parts of the strip, a smart move since the art styles aren't distinct enough to do that alone and something should suggest the difference visually.

The plot, as you point out, is insane. I'm not sure I completely get what's going on either. Did Gorilla Grodd use the Flash as a human particle accelerator to create a minature universe that he can be god of -- and then transport the Flash with him there, while another time-displaced version of the hero remains where he is? That's some wild stuff that, if penned by a certain Scotsman the internet (us included) is fond of, would be getting far more notice, I think. Kerschl and Fletcher are really pushing themselves to tell an engaging, original story that isn't the same old Flash story we've read a dozen times. This story actually makes me want to read about Barry Allen!

TC: I have no idea what's going on with the timeline in "The Flash" strip either, but I love it. Because it does have that little thing called imagination that's so lacking from the bulk of the strips.

And I'm on board with "Wonder Woman" now too. This week's strip convinced me that it's one of the most imaginative comics each week, and the only problem with it -- and it might seem ridiculous to say this -- is that Caldwell's art needs even bigger space. This strip should be blown up and plastered on a wall. Then, people could get into it, I think. Each panel features a beautifully drawn image, but they are so tiny, even at this size, that it's hard to appreciate. Still, it's got more energy and imagination than "Metal Men." And I have to disagree with Chad about "Metal Men" having the basic Metal Men characteristics. It doesn't. It's an anti-Metal Men story. Metal Men stories are about whacked out super-science and enormous threats. DiDio's strip takes away all that makes the Metal Men special and puts them in the background of a comic about a guy talking to another guy. What a waste of the characters. Imagine what Kyle Baker would have done, or Paul Pope? Now aren't you sad just thinking about it?

Anyway, we said that we'd look at one strip in detail this week -- really analyze what works and what doesn't -- so which strip should we tackle?

CN: We've already begun discussing "Metal Men," so let's continue with that. It's seemed like every comic involving these characters I've read mostly because of the dialogue where DiDio goes out of his way to make sure that each character is defined in the broadest manner with hacky phrases, something that's turned me off of what little Metal Men material I've read in the past. The characters are annoying, even more so in this strip.

This week's strip revealed that the Mysterious Man in the Hat is... some scientist that Will Magnus used to work for that is all jealous and stuff, so he's going to blow up a bank? What? I groaned out loud when we got there. Or at lines like "The student should never surpass the teacher!" I think DiDio was going for comedy in that everything the Mysterious Man in the Hat says is contradicted by Magnus, showing him to be completely at fault and crazy, but it's just lame. The 'scientist who's sick of not being recognized for his genius so he turns to crime' plot should remain in 1964 where it belongs, because it's awful. The only good thing about the strip is the art by José Luis García-López and Kevin Nowlan, which is fantastic -- although it's paired with such substandard writing that I think the high quality of art is beginning to frustrate me, too. I keep wondering why these two guys couldn't get assigned to a strip or book with great writing instead.

MJB: I'm definitely in agreement on that point. At its best, the strip is a showcase for Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan's art, as in the installments that saw the Metal Men getting all stretchy and stopping the crooks, or even the first week, when they were all dressed in their goofy costumes. And I even kind of liked the awful puns, in a self-consciously retro sort of way (although why Magnus was so against them doing anything to help was beyond me; he just seemed like a jerk). But bits like this, where everybody stands there while the nerds talk about science rivalries, are just boring, and a waste of a precious week in which the artists could be coming up with more cool visuals. Like Tim says, bring on huge dangers and crazy science? Unfortunately, with DiDio writing, I don't think it's going to happen.

TC: Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan might be the best artists in "Wednesday Comics." Think about it. They could draw anything and it would look great, and they have a style that has enormously wide appeal. Some people might get turned off by Paul Pope's hyper-stylized figures or Kyle Baker's bold exaggeration, but I can't imagine anyone not liking Nowlan's inks over Garcia-Lopez's hearty pencils. That they can give any substance to this "Metal Men" story at all shows how masterful they are, because it is literally just a bunch of robots standing around while two scientists trade lame bon mots. And what's with the (miscolored) Mercury dropping the "Three Stooges" reference in panel three? "I resemble that remark"? Really? That just goes to show how little this comic is meant to appeal to a new, younger audience.

The art is damned good though. Check out how effectively Garcia-Lopez creates three-dimensionality by breaking the borders in panels two, seven, and ten. It's better than "Superman Beyond 3D"!

I hope Pretorius (who, by the way, is apparently not a old time Metal Men villain, but rather a character inspired by "Bride of Frankenstein" -- another hip reference for the kids) does blow himself up by next issue. Maybe the Metal Men would then be free to actually do something for the next seven weeks.

MJB: That's quite true; without the excellent art, the "Metal Men" strip would be something like, well, "Teen Titans." I would posit that Mike Allred's art on "Metamorpho" is accomplishing something similar, giving a great appeal to a goofy concept. That one works better (much, much better, even with the two-week-long double splash page) due to Gaiman's writing, but overall, it's not that dissimilar.

However, if I'm going to recognize the best artist in the series, I think I would have to go with Ryan Sook on "Kamandi." He's been blowing me away with his gorgeous linework that builds the devastated world, gives expressive life to such varied characters, and just flows across the page with wonderfully dynamic action. It might be my favorite strip of the series, which surprises me going up against Pope, Baker, Gaiman/Allred, and Azzarello/Risso.

But unlike Tim, I don't feel grouchy about this series at all; there might be some strips that don't catch my fancy, but for the most part, I enjoy each one I read and find something to marvel at each week. I call that worth my time and money.

CN: Definitely. "Wednesday Comics" is the last thing I read each week, sitting down at the table, spreading it out, and pouring over the pages. It's a consistent highlight of my Wednesdays.

Alright, I think it's Top Five time! What were your guys' top five strips from this week's "Wednesday Comics"? Mine:

1. Hawkman

2. The Flash

3. Strange Adventures

4. Kamandi

5. Supergirl

MJB: As of this week, I think this would be my ranking:

1. Kamandi

2. Strange Adventures

3. Deadman

4. Hawkman

5. Batman

Or something like that. Thanks for letting me join the conversation this week, guys!

TC: My Top 5, for the win:

1. Kamandi

2. Strange Adventures

3. The Flash

4. Wonder Woman

5. Hawkman

"Wonder Woman" cracks the Top 5? Yes, thanks to the power of imagination!

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.

TAGS:  metal men, superman, wonder woman, batman, wednesday comics

 
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