NAZIS AND WOLVES: PERIODICALLY SPEAKING
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" #8!
Chad Nevett: This week may be a very special column since Tim's shop got short-changed this week and he may not have a copy of "Wednesday Comics"! How will we continue? With a little bit of grit and a whole lotta heart, of course. So, Tim, have you managed to find yourself a copy of "Wednesday Comics" #8?
Tim Callahan: I finally got a copy on Friday night and didn't get a chance to start looking at in until Saturday. Reading "Wednesday Comics" on a weekend is nowhere near as fun as reading it during the middle of the week. It's old news by the weekend! Which is why it makes perfect sense that we post these discussions on a Sunday, right? Wait, that doesn't make any sense at all...
I still haven't finished it all, but I've read the first few strips and I can talk about those. Let's see... "Batman," I like that color scheme, with the sickening green hues. "Give me some sugar," indeed. And, oh wait, for some reason I fixated on the circle close-ups below the title of "Wednesday Comics" this week. It's been the same five images since week one, but I never really stopped to look at them until now. Kind of a weird bunch of drawings, now that I think about it. A Jim Lee Green Lantern? Why? Why not someone more closely associated with the character? Or why not use Quinones himself or at least someone who draws with a somewhat similar style? Jim Lee and Joe Quinones are at opposite ends of the use-lots-of-tiny-lines spectrum.
A Sgt. Rock image by Kubert fits, but it's an older Kubert image and his style is even more loose now. Mazzucchelli's Batman always looks good, but why not use a Risso one. He's certainly drawn the character enough that an image could have been cropped from elsewhere. And is that a Stelfreeze Wonder Woman? And a late-phase Neal Adams Superman? I can't pin down the artist on that drawing, can you?
CN: That's Adam Hughes doing Wonder Woman (a phrase that works on numerous levels), but I'm not certain about the Superman. It looks familiar stylistically, I just can't put my finger on the artist. I'm sure it will come to both of us two hours after this column goes up, because that's when revelations of this nature come to those of us in these situations. I noticed the circle drawings a while back and thought them odd as well. Why were these pictures chosen? Why these characters? Why are they always the same, why not change it up week to week? It's not a major issue by any means, but it does raise some questions.
You mentioned Sgt. Rock and I've noticed that it's one of the strips we've yet to discuss in any great detail, so why not just immediately to it and spend a little bit of time with the Kuberts? I've been torn on this strip. Any excuse for giant Joe Kubert art is fine by me, but, visually, this strip has been a little boring -- at least in the sense that it doesn't really take advantage of the larger paper and uses the same nine-panel grid each week. By the same token, it's one of the most visually consistent strips each week, which is a positive in many ways. Joe Kubert is drawing some very nice looking pages, after all. Adam Kubert's writing, on the other hand, isn't bad... but it's not really that good either. This is a pretty basic plot with no surprises or real tension or... any reason to read except a desire for his father's art to be viewed within the context of a narrative. We've never really touched on Adam Kubert being tasked with writing a strip as possibly the oddest, most surprising aspect of "Wednesday Comics," which I think it may well be. And, I don't think it's paid off.
TC: I did realize that was the Hughes Wonder Woman as soon as I looked at it again, but, yeah, they should have just used the iconic Garcia-Lopez images for the characters that you'd see at Six Flags. (They are the best part about Six Flags.)
"Sgt. Rock" is certainly one of the weaker-written strips in "Wednesday Comics." In one of our earlier column, I put "Sgt. Rock" in the Top 5 just for the greatness of the big, open Kubert layout and the nostalgia of seeing the haggard Rock as drawn by father Joe. But the story has progressed so slowly, and without any real suspense, that it's become one of the worst reads each week. I wonder why Adam Kubert's even writing it. Certainly Joe could have written something this simple in his sleep, and it's not like Adam is bringing a unique voice to the project. If his name was off the credits, no one would have been clamoring to find out who wrote this sucker. Maybe there's a twist coming that will make everything seem better in retrospect, but it seems like just a completely run-of-the-mill second act scene from a Bruce Willis movie right now.
And as much as I love Joe Kubert -- and think he's one of the greatest comic book artists ever -- it wouldn't even be in my Top 10 of best-looking strips this week. This was a strong art week.
CN: I wonder if that is a result of the lack of experimentation with the page. It's not just that this project has so many talented artists, it has a lot of talented artists pushing themselves and trying new things, playing with what these larger, expanded pages can do, while Kubert is doing one of the most simple, basic layouts you can do week after week after week. This is the part where someone pipes up with "Yeah, well, 'Watchmen' did it!" and, no, it didn't. It used the nine-panel grid as its base and then worked with it in a lot of cool, experimental ways. What the Kuberts are doing is producing a mediocre anthology short story that if it were in a regular anthology, people would call nice and okay and lavish some praise on Joe Kubert before forgetting that they ever read it. It doesn't leave a strong impression upon the reader.
Though, I do have to ask: what would your Top 10 best-looking strips of the week be? I just want to know what's bumping Joe Kubert into the bottom five in your opinion -- not that I necessarily disagree, but you made the bold statement, my friend...
TC: Okay, so this is different than my overall Top 5 for the week, which we'll save for the end, as always. But if we're going just purely on the artistry of the panels, and the use of the overall page space, here's how I'd rank all 15 of the artists this week, counting down for extra suspense!
15. Sean Galloway
14. Lee Bermejo
13. Joe Kubert
12. Brian Stelfreeze
11. Dave Bullock
10. Amanda Conner
9. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
8. Joe Quinones
7. Eduardo Risso
6. Mike Allred
5. Karl Kerschl
4. Ben Caldwell
3. Kyle Baker
2. Ryan Sook
1. Paul Pope
Kubert's lucky number 13 this week, and while some of the picks were hard to position -- I went back and forth on where Kerschl, Allred, Risso, and Quinones should fall -- there's no doubt in my mind that Kubert wouldn't crack the Top 10 this week, no matter how much I fine-tuned this list. (And the guys who ended up at #1-4? Those guys are an evolutionary leap ahead of the rest of the pack.)
What about you? How would you rank these artists in this very special all-lists, all-the-time episode of "The Splash Page"
CN: Hmm... my list would have to be, using the same criteria as you outlined above:
15. Sean Galloway
14. Brian Stelfreeze
13. Dave Bullock
12. Joe Kubert
11. Joe Quinones
10. Lee Bermejo
9. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
8. Ben Caldwell
7. Kyle Baker
6. Eduardo Risso
5. Amanda Conner
4. Ryan Sook
3. Mike Allred
2. Karl Kerschl
1. Paul Pope
Yes. Yes, I'll stick with that list. Granted, my list would change tomorrow, but the general feeling of who's near the top and who's near the bottom would remain. I'm sure there are a few surprises in my list, but it is based on this week's work alone, not previous works -- which is why Baker is lower and Allred is higher since I think that's where they ranked this week. We're not too different -- our very top and very bottom picks are identical.
TC: Didn't you think the Fenris drawing in the middle of the "Wonder Woman" page was astonishing? I think the strip had problems this week -- it took me two readings to figure out what order to read the panels in -- but by packing every previous page with tiny panels and then blasting the page wide open with the bound Fenris in week 8, Caldwell showed that he is an artist not to be messed with. Seriously, don't even try it. He will wipe the floor with you!
Let's talk Gaiman and Allred, though. The periodic table layout and dialogue. Cute? Innovative? Or too goofy to work? (All of the above? None?)
CN: I liked the idea of the Fenris drawing in "Wonder Woman," but didn't like the actual execution. It actually made me rethink Caldwell and his work since I've been hoping he'd give us a big shot sometime to show off what he can do without having to give up detail because of space restrictions and... well, this is it? It was a bit sloppy and not to my taste at all really.
"Metamorpho" this week walked a fine line between innovative and goofy... I think the writing crosses the line into goofy, but Allred really grounds it with his amazing skills at pulling off oddball layouts without sacrificing the art. I do think that it's one of those ideas that work better in theory than execution. It's a little too structured, which means that Gaiman is stuck going for some really cheesy, out there dialogue in order to make it work. He kind of traps himself into a concept that's going to leave people appreciating it without actually enjoying it. It's similar to the "Oxen of the Sun" episode in Joyce's "Ulysses" where he changes technique every paragraph, going through the history of the English language and literature -- it's an astonishing display of skill, but it is awful to read, the worst episode in the novel in that regard. Not that what we have here is unreadable, it's just not something that I enjoyed reading.
TC: Then again, the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter is a thrilling virtuoso performance, whereas this is just a guy writing a bunch of hokey dialogue that happens to have a couple of letter combinations in the right places. I was excited to see the Allred page, and to see this level of experimentation, but once I actually read the Metamorpho/Element Girl banter I was disappointed. My favorite part of the whole page ended up being the dialogue from the supporting cast below, as Stagg mocks the Element duo -- and winks at the reader -- saying "Get a move on, you Element moron!" And Java continues to be the real star of the strip with his pick-up lines.
I'm surprised you didn't like Caldwell's Fenris drawing, though. It may be my favorite single image out of all eight issues of "Wednesday Comic" so far. I love the awkward way the giant wolf is bound to the tiny tree, and the creature's almost insectoid snout and rat tail create a wonderful sense of unreality -- and a kind of whimsical horror that matches the tone of Caldwell's "Wonder Woman" perfectly. I love the heck out of that image, though the word balloon positioning and the sketchy characters on the left don't help make the sequence any easier to read. Still, my heart belongs to Fenris, apparently.
What about "Superman" this week? The revelation that Superman realizes that his emo-attitude started when he first encountered the Toy Story aliens? Does that possibly indicate that Arcudi and Bermejo's strip might yet be something more than an object of ridicule?
CN: No, because I've seen that 'revelation' coming for a while now and that doesn't excuse bad writing. Superman having self-doubts as a result of aliens? Fine, great, that could be a good story, but Arcudi's writing here was laughably bad. Did the aliens screw with Batman's mind, too, back in week two? Unless we get a huge revelation that not only did the aliens make him doubt himself, they also made him do it in the lamest, dumbest way possible, then nothing is excused or made better as a result in my mind.
Oh, and I have a great affection for "Oxen of the Sun," I'm just saying that it's also the most difficult episode of "Ulysses" to read because of the amazing structure and styles Joyce uses. It's a monster achievement, but also a warning that if you go too far with these things, you may not come back. Maybe we should treat readers and rank the episodes of "Ulysses" sometime -- there's our next series of Splash Pages: Tim and Chad reread "Ulysses"! Oh, it would make everyone's year.
But, moving on, I do believe we're near the end of this week's column and that means it's Top 5 time. Here is mine for this week:
1. Strange Adventures
2. The Flash
How about you?
TC: Breaking news: Neil Gaiman falls short of James Joyce. Hope the comic book press doesn't pick up that story and run with it, or Gaiman's career is over! And when JamesJoyceBookResources.com offers us a weekly column, we will take "The Splash Page" to a whole new audience!
My Top 5 this week:
1. Strange Adventures
4. The Flash
5. Wonder Woman
Timothy Callahan writes "When Words Collide" for CBR each Monday, reviews comics each and every week, and sort of maintains the Geniusboy Firemelon blog (which he would update more frequently if the audience demanded it) while he's supposed to be working on further book projects. He likes comics, mostly.
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 blogging incessantly about the "Avengers" comics of Brian Michael Bendis.