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" #11, in which the strips race toward their final installment, a surprise villain appears, and the Demon and the Catwoman continue to bore everyone.
Chad Nevett: The penultimate (I love that word) issue has arrived and it's stronger than last week's disappointing release. Nearly every strip this week had something that had me interested, even "Teen Titans"! I think this is the first week where I wouldn't rate "Teen Titans" the worst strip of the week... so, if nothing else, that makes week eleven something special, don't you think?
Tim Callahan: This week's issue is better than last week's and it gives me hope for the finale. But I wouldn't go so far as to say "Teen Titans" moves up from last place -- what's it better than? -- even if the appearance of Deathstroke enlivened it a bit. Deathstroke makes everything better. Imagine how terrible "Identity Crisis" would have been with no Slade at all!
Many of the strips that faltered (or just sat there) last week seemed reinvigorated this week. "Green Lantern" finally exploded into action, giving us the best installment of the strip so far; "Kamandi" not only gave us a dramatic moment, but Sook's art looks fully-rendered, and appropriately inky, once again. The "Metal Men" put a clamp on the bad guy, literally; "Metamorpho" pops back into action, after his fake-out "death." I could go on.
For me, "Wednesday Comics," with its enormous pages, works best when its actions and ideas become explosive. It's a playground for inventive, dynamic visuals, and the problem with last week's issue was that it was clearly in "calm before the storm" mode. That kind of pacing works fine for a straight-up 12-part story, but when the whole issue is filled with that kind of stasis, it makes the reading experience suffer. Issue #11 doesn't have that problem. It's race-to-the-finish time for all the strips, and that makes for a whole lot of goodness.
CN: I liked "Teen Titans" more than "Metal Men." There, I said it. I really like the idea of Deathstroke having to take on a new identity in order for him to kill the Teen Titans. It's a cool idea, although it's delivered to us in the most ham-fisted denouement (I love that word, too) you can imagine. But, that idea pushes the strip past "Metal Men," giving it a 14th-place finish for the first time ever. That has got to be one of the most backhanded compliments I've ever given...
Action is good. It's not just that that's where this format works best, it's where superhero stories work best. It's an action genre and while dozens (hundreds?) of fantastic superhero stories have been done without a great deal of action, the characters and stories will always work best when there's some fast-paced KICKSPLODE! going on. Although, by that token, one of my favorite strips this week doesn't contain any action: "Strange Adventures." It has a scene in a museum and yet it's still fantastic. Then again, that strip already had its action scenes, so a slower page doesn't feel out of place -- and acts as a breather in the middle of this issue.
I have a question: just how tough is Sgt. Rock? He gets shot in the back several times and stands back up to kill him some more Nazis! Is next week's strip going to be nine panels of him digging the bullets out, loading a gun with them, and killing Nazis with no clear resolution, suggesting that he'll be doing that forever? Because, if so, I would love that.
TC: Sgt. Rock is the Nick Fury of the DC Universe, if Nick Fury were a zillion times tougher. Didn't Keith Giffen even try to make Sgt. Rock more Nick Fury-like by putting him in charge of one of the "Suicide Squad" incarnations in the modern day? I may be misremembering that, but rather than look it up online, I'd rather just wait for the internet backlash against my ignorance. That's how things are supposed to work, right?
Or maybe I remember correctly, and it was just a really dumb idea to make Sgt. Rock more like Nick Fury, because even Nick Fury can't pull bullets out of his body and use them to shoot Nazis. (Which would be an amazing conclusion to the strip, by the way.)
There's just no way I could ever place "Teen Titans" above "Metal Men." First of all, Slade's ruse doesn't even make sense -- it makes way less sense that the Magneto-as-Xorn disguise that caused such a fanboy uproar -- and this week's "Metal Men" had that great Garcia Lopez artwork. So it wins, just because of that. I'd place it even higher than 14th place. Hmm, we've never done a bottom five, since we're such positive, life-affirming, pro-awesomeness guys. But if we did a bottom five this week, mine would be #15: Teen Titans, #14: The Demon and Catwoman, #13: Superman, #12: Deadman, #11: Metal Men.
Other than some slick artwork, "The Demon and Catwoman" has been almost as much of a space-waster as "Teen Titans," don't you think?
CN: Sgt. Rock has been overshadowed by his Marvel counterpart, hasn't he? And Nick Fury is The Man, for the record.
The Deathstroke ruse makes sense in that dumb comic book sort of way. It provides some explanation as to why the supposed deadliest man in the world can't kill a bunch of teenagers. And it's kind of sweet... they're his family! Awww! Where's that big fuzzy heart of yours, Tim? It should be swelling with warm feelings of love right now! So, yeah, I'd put it above "Metal Men," but only because great art paired with really bad writing just makes me angry instead of raising the quality of the book/strip in my eyes. It's a weird personal issue that I have. It's a waste of Garcia Lopez and Nowlan's talent to be drawing this crap, so I just get frustrated and hate the strip more...
My bottom five: #15: Metal Men, #14: Teen Titans, #13: The Demon and Catwoman, #12: Superman, #11: Deadman. As usual, our tastes aren't too far off, except for one glaring difference that is barely a difference.
I'm not sure what the point of "The Demon and Catwoman" has been. It hasn't been an interesting clash of two characters, it's been... boring. I could never muster up the energy to care about that strip. Many great stories have come out of putting too very different characters in a room together and seeing what happens -- this isn't one of them. It's a plot-driven strip when the draw here was seeing these two character interact and drive the strip forward.
TC: Even when the strip has been filled with action, with blasts of eldrich fire and cat-fu moves, it's still been curiously lacking in force. It has seemed so hollow and pointless since the very beginning. Less substantial than a Hostess Fruit Pie ad.
Maybe it's worth talking about why. What makes "The Demon and Catwoman" so thin and devoid of substance, when something like "Strange Adventures" seems to have so much depth and heart? I'd say both Stelfreeze and Pope used roughly the same number of panels over the past 11 installments, and both stories feature a male lead, a female lead, and a central villain. So why does one work so well and the other seem so pointless? What makes comics work?
CN: There's a substantial lack of drama and emotion in "The Demon and Catwoman," something that "Strange Adventures" has in such abundance that I'm sure Pope could have lent some to Simonson and Stelfreeze. The Demon is not a deep character despite his poetic speech patterns. He's a superficial character much of the time except when placed in conflict with Jason Blood and treated as a curse as the man looks back over the centuries that he's lived. The dual nature is there with Jason Blood as a tragic figure, but that's not even touched upon here, going for action that comes off as stilted and lacking in meaning. Events happen in "The Demon and Catwoman" with little motivation or context. It's just a series of events unfolding because that's where the story is going. It's all bombast and bluster, long-winded speeches that signify nothing, offer no insight, no emotion, no connection. "Strange Adventures," on the other hand, slows down enough to give us the meaning underneath the action. Adam Strange, a man of two worlds, both lives worthwhile but one more so... His struggle on Earth to return to Rann -- that's what Jason Blood's struggle is, except Blood wants to rid himself of the Demon! Catwoman want to be human again! But, we don't get any of that. It's just Super-Evil-Magic-Lady-Must-Be-Stopped because... well, she's got to be stopped. Not only that, but each strips introduces a new threat of some kind as Morgaine le Fay comes up with new attacks, but they're all brushed aside without much struggle. I never got the sense that anything was at stake in "The Demon and Catwoman," whereas "Strange Adventures" made me believe that these events mattered.
TC: And I'd say that Pope's inventiveness adds to the quality as well. Stelfreeze is a fine artist, an excellent artist, but there's nothing in his strip that we haven't seen before. Even while drawing a story about magic and and the supernatural, it still feels constrained and typical. Pope's Rann (and even his Earth) feels otherworldly, appropriately enough it feels strange. And there is a vulnerability in all of his characters, while the Demon and Catwoman just seem so mechanical in their words and deeds and even appearance. It's just the difference between something that feels alive on the page and something that feels dead on arrival.
But we said this was one of the better issues of "Wednesday Comics," so why are we wasting so much time worrying about the bad stuff. What really struck your fancy this week? What blew you away?
CN: "Batman" as always was great. Eduardo Risso's art is just fantastic. The look of shock/concern on Batman's face... the tears in Luna's eyes... the way the attack dogs slink away... Wonderful. The aforementioned "Strange Adventures," of course. Ben Caldwell's latest attempt to move from vague/dream-like to specific/real in "Wonder Woman" produced the best-looking strip yet. "Sgt. Rock" was great just because Rock takes bullets in the back and gets up. "Supergirl" was better than last week, but hasn't reached the quality it was for the first half of the run. And, finally, "The Flash"... "The Flash" is pure emotion, pure drive, pure heartbreak... "The Flash" broke my heart, Tim. It broke my heart.
TC: Me too. It's a powerful piece of storytelling, and it has surpassed anything else that's going on in "Wednesday Comics." I couldn't help but think that the ongoing "Flash" comic doesn't stand a chance when put side-by-side with this 12-parter. This is certainly the best Barry Allen story I've ever read, and I've read a lot of them.
I liked "Hawkman" this week, with the Aquaman appearance (do you think he went straight to Dinosaur Island after being a jerk to Supergirl a few weeks back?), and the undersea creatures vs. T-Rex battle. Though Baker's art on the T-Rex (and in the final panel in general) looks like it went through some photocopy filter. It's a choice he's been making with the dinosaurs since they first appeared in this strip, but it seems even more obvious here -- or reproduced in even poorer quality. I suspect it's not the reproduction, though. I suspect that it's Baker trying to give it a different look, but I'm not sure what it amounts to. What do you make of the grainy, practically bleached Baker artwork this week?
CN: I think it's just meant to be a different coloring approach to bright sunlight than what we're accustomed to in comics. It works for me and didn't stand out in a big way this week since it's been like this for the past few weeks. Looking at it, it doesn't seem like the sun is out directly, but as a guy with eyes very sensitive to sunlight, I can tell you that it's still bright out with a thin cloud layer -- more bright, actually, as the light source is spread out over the entire sky rather than originating from just the sun. I actually like the look of this strip quite a bit. Baker's layout is different than past weeks, but it's also more frantic and uses two characters with very different sizes, so it needs that altered layout and shot choices.
Wow, we've gone on quite a bit, so maybe we should do our Top Five to balance out the bottom five... and then come back next week for the finale...
1. The Flash
3. Strange Adventures
TC: I will take your Top 5 and raise you a Top 5 (which is pretty much the same Top 5), as I type Top 5 again, and again. Top 5!
1. The Flash
2. Strange Adventures
We are nothing if not consistent. Or maybe it's that some strips are just better than others? I can't wait for next week, when Kerschl's Flash will explode across all 15 pages! (That will happen, right?)
CN: One can only hope.
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.