COMPLETELY STRIPPED OUT
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've brought their signature comic book chit-chat style to COMIC BOOK RESOURCES. Join them in this week's finale, as they discuss DC's experiment in oversized weekly comics.
This week: "Wednesday Comics" #12, in which everything stops, even the Flash.
Tim Callahan: Here we are, twelve long weeks later, and we get to talk about an issue that's nothing but page after page of endings. It's weird reading fifteen consecutive endings in a row, isn't it? It's like 15 nails in the coffin that was "Wednesday Comics," except it's a coffin made of chocolate and sunshine, because this was a series we enjoyed each and every week, even when some of the stories (or coffin bits? This metaphor is strained beyond all sanity) weren't as good as the others.
Maybe we should do something different to commemorate the finale. How about we begin with a list this time, and rank all 15 strips in overall quality (as if we sat down and read all of the fifteen installments of each strip right now and reflected upon them, which we probably aren't going to do because we are pretty busy and may or may not have all the issues piled next to our bedside table right now). But we read these things each week, we can remember them. So, the Top 15 "Wednesday Comic" strips, overall. Go!
Chad Nevett: Wow, way to put me on the spot. I will agree, firstly, that this was an odd issue to read with the endings. Very weird. Now that the agreement is out of the way, the complete Top 15 "Wednesday Comics" strips according to me:
1. The Flash
2. Strange Adventures
9. Wonder Woman
10. Sgt. Rock
11. Green Lantern
12. Metal Men
13. The Demon and Catwoman
15. Teen Titans
Honestly, the only parts of that group that matter are the top five and bottom four. Those I stand behind, but the six strips in the middle could be rearranged without me arguing too much. As with most things, the very good and very bad stand out, while the mediocre just sort of blend together.
TC: Here's my take on the overall Top 15:
1. The Flash
3. Strange Adventures
7. Wonder Woman
9. Green Lantern
10. Sgt. Rock
12. Metal Men
14. The Demon and Catwoman
15. Teen Titans
The strength of the "Batman" conclusion in issue #12 catapulted it to the #2 spot. I think it was the best ending out of all 15 strips. That kiss? So much subtext there!
And I thought the conclusion of "The Flash" strip was a great cop-out that completely works in context. It doesn't even try to make sense out of its crazy story, but it just pulls back to a different layer of reality to show that all is good in the world.
And the poor "Demon and Catwoman" story even had a final strip that showed a bit of humanity, though the "hey, let's go get it on" ending was a little creepy. Between that and the multiple female death scenes, I couldn't help feeling that this issue was a great cross-section of what American comics are all about in 2009. Dead ladies! Sexual innuendo! Pointlessness! And a little bit of greatness!
CN: Ah, but what about the finale of "Strange Adventures"? The reflection about the nature of Adam's reality and his future, the dwindling panel layout that vanishes at the bottom of the page... so good! Though, you are right about the "Batman" finale being fantastic. Why must Batman always fall for the bad girls?
Are there any endings besides "Demon and Catwoman" that you thought didn't work? How about any that were bad endings for good strips? I thought the "Supergirl" ending was a little too cutesy, which is weird considering the cute nature of the strip. The whole 'the aliens are cats and dogs' angle was a bit much. "Hawkman" also ended in a bland sort of way -- aside from Hawkman climbing inside the T-Rex to kill it. It just sort of ended with everyone else doing all the work while Hawkman and Aquaman hung out all useless-like.
TC: The "Metal Men" ending was weak, with another case of oh-the-Metal-Men-got-blown-up, but I guess that's what we get from anything "Metal Men," and I can't fault DiDio for ending a Metal Men story like a typical Metal Men story. Well, I can, but I won't.
The "Kamandi" strip ended strongly, and as lame as "Superman" was, that final image of Supes flying home is about a good a way to end a Superman story as you can get. Bermejo's normally metallic sheen even seems softer in the finale. I did find the "Hawkman" ending strangely cluttered, but the T-Rex stuff was so good, I give it five stars for making me smile like crazy.
No, I don't think any of the good strips had any bad endings, but some of the mediocre strips certainly didn't get saved in the final installment. "Sgt. Rock," I'm looking at you. (You too, "Green Lantern," even with your luscious artwork.)
And, at the end of the day, "Wonder Woman" was a failure, I think. Caldwell's a heck of an artist, and I love his attempts at experimentation, but I still don't know what was going on in that "Wonder Woman" strip. It was a mess. Maybe I'm just not up to the challenge.
CN: Maybe a reread of all 12 pages of "Wonder Woman" will reveal what was going on, but I was a little lost, too. Something about that strip just kills my focus. I got the general idea, but it left me unimpressed. I mean, reading Caldwell's blog post about the washed out colors eventually becoming more solid as the world Diana is in becomes more real to her is a great idea... it just doesn't actually make reading the strip better. On the contrary, it made those initial weeks much, much worse. It gets back to what we talked about with "Metamorpho" and "Ulysses" a few weeks back: experimentation is great, but when it gets in the way of clarity and enjoyment, it's a liability. Or, to put it another way, at some point, you've got to ask yourself if the trade-off is worth it and I don't think it was for "Wonder Woman."
Reading an entire issue of endings was, as we said, odd, but also illuminating. You mention that mediocre (or, bad) strips weren't saved in the end, while the good ones remained good: did any of these endings really do anything except illustrate what was good or bad about particular strips? We were expecting something different and that doesn't seem to be the case (nor should it be). "Sgt. Rock" was a mediocre strip with a mediocre ending -- what else would its ending be? Issue 12 is just the summation of the previous 11 with no real differences or changes in quality -- for good or bad.
TC: So let's talk about the bigger picture, then. Two questions for you: (1) Did "Wednesday Comics" work? Did it use its format well and make for a worthwhile 12 weeks of reading? (2) Are you interested in seeing more of this format? Should "Wednesday Comics 2" make an appearance sometime next year? If not, why not? If so, who would you like to see for creative teams and characters?
Once again, we're entering the essay portion of the "Splash Page."
CN: I'm not picking creative teams and characters. I see people doing that a lot and I have no interest in it. I wouldn't have picked many of these strips and a lot of them worked very, very well. Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook on "Kamandi"? Was that on anyone's wish list really? Or Karl Kerschl and Brendan Fletcher on "The Flash"? The best strip was done by creators with a character that no one would have called for! Let Mark Chiarello make those decisions since he's better at it than the rest of us. And, I just thought of someone for the next time they do this: Eddie Campbell. Give that man a page to do whatever it is he wants to do. The world will thank you. Even if it's just one page out of the whole project.
So, I guess I've answered your second question: yes, I'd like to see more. I won't be heartbroken if we don't and I do have some reservations about quality should this continue indefinitely into the future, but, sure, bring on more weekly newspaper-type comics! My only wish is that they don't do 15 12-part serials again. My biggest complaint about "Wednesday Comics," which I've had since the first issue is that format choice. Where are the one-off strips? Shorter stories? More variety, dammit! Maybe split up pages, have certain creators do four-panel comic strip type serial. Really look at the wide range of things this format lends itself to and explore all of them.
Beyond that, I think "Wednesday Comics" was an interesting experiment. I looked forward to reading it each week. Some strips more than others, but that's going to be the same for everyone. We may not have liked them, but some people's favorites were stuff like "Metal Men" and "Sgt. Rock." Probably even "Teen Titans" (though I never read any fan championing that piece of garbage save for my 'it's not the worst strip this week!' defense last week). I plan to reread all 12 issue sometime in the next week or two, so we'll see that goes. I'm debating between doing whole issues or going by strips. What do you think?
TC: I'd like to go strip by strip, but who knows when I'll get a chance to do that. I'm curious to see how some of the strips work when read sequentially. A 12-page story isn't much, so will even the good strips hold up under close scrutiny? A "Flash" story that takes three months to tell is one thing, but a "Flash" story that takes 15 minutes to read is something else, even if it does contain everything you need to know about comics within its pages (not really, but it tries!).
I don't really like the idea of picking creative teams either, and when I've seen people on message boards try to play that game it tends to be stuff like, "Marvel should do a version of Wednesday Comics and have Bendis and Maleev do Iron Man!" which, to me, completely misses the point of "Wednesday Comics," but maybe their big-page Iron Man would be awesome, so who am I to judge? I do second your vote for Eddie Campbell, and while I won't bother making any suggestions for creative teams on characters, I would like to see completely different creators if a "Wednesday Comics 2" hits the stands. I love Pope, and Kerschl, and Azzarello, and Risso, but let's see what some others can do. Let's see a Gilbert Hernandez strip alongside a Jim Lee strip. Let's see Jeff Smith and Bernie Wrightson.
There I go suggesting creative teams, but I'm just giving examples. (Good ones, though!)
And, hell yeah, let's make some strips non-ongoing. It could be 12 consecutive weeks of a "Airwave" gag strip, or a two-parter with "Black Canary" and then we never see the character again. Whatever. But don't be afraid to mix it up, Mark Chiarello, because as good as "Wednesday Comics" was, "Wednesday Comics 2" can be even better!
One final topic before we wrap things up for good. What do you say to the people who may not have bought "Wednesday Comics" because it didn't "count"? The stories were outside of continuity, and thus they don't matter in the grand DC narrative. So can you blame the fanboys and fangirls for skipping this comic?
CN: They're morons who don't care about good comics, just about propping up trademarks and would rather read bad stories that 'count' than good ones that don't, and that's just stupid. Of course I blame them. Who cares about continuity in the face of quality? You don't buy a comic because you don't enjoy it, fine -- but if you need it to be an official up-to-date-in-continuity story, I question your sense of what qualifies as an enjoying read, and I have no use for you. You are a huge part of what's wrong with comics. (And that's them, not you, Tim... you're what's right with comics, of course.) What a stupid reason not to read something. My god.
Okay, now you give your take, which I assume is similar to mine, but nicer and more reader-friendly.
TC: Wow, I didn't expect such a strong reaction. (Ha! Of course I did!) I, too, think it's a stupid reason not to read "Wednesday Comics," but I can understand the complaint. I don't agree, but I could see where some section of fandom has been so conditioned to buy the stuff that "matters" and the stuff that "changes the ____ Universe, forever, because the _____ Universe will...Never. Be. The. Same." etc. etc. I know I'm conditioned to buy that stuff, and I'm aware that I'm doing it, but that doesn't help me stop. So if there's a one-shot or an annual and I don't care about the creative teams and I think it's irrelevant to the main plotline of the series or the comic book universe, I skip it. While something from a creative team I don't care about that's an essential part of some bigger storyline...well, I'm always tempted to buy that sort of thing, even though I feel clean and happy when I don't (yes, "Blackest Night: Titans," I'm looking in your general direction, metaphorically, because I totally did not buy you!).
And I also think about this sometimes: I never read fanfic, largely because it seems absolutely terrible (from the tiny bit I've sampled), but also because fanfic doesn't count. It counts less than an Annual written by Frank Tieri. It counts less than a "Hawkman" strip in "Wednesday Comics." And so if people see "Wednesday Comics" as some kind of high-class fanfic, maybe they're skipping it because of that. They wouldn't be totally wrong.
They'd have bad taste, but they wouldn't be totally wrong.
Then I also think about this: none of the stories count. Ever. Even the ones that seem to count will be retconned or retold in a new way at some point. I defy you, Chad Nevett, to name one major story from Marvel or DC that hasn't been changed, removed, altered, upended, or reimagined at some point. The plots don't stick, not forever anyway. All that matters is the style in which the story is told. And in "Wednesday Comics," a few of them were told with crazy mad awesome style. That will stick. At least in my mighty heart.
CN: Well, yeah. They're all fictional stories, so they all count and they all don't count, so who cares about some silly concept like continuity? Worry about the content, style, presentation, technique, insanity, energy, and every other element that makes reading a comic worthwhile. And, man, if this hypothetical reader couldn't find something in "Wednesday Comics" to love, I don't know what to think.
And that brings us to the end, I believe. It has been a fantastic twelve weeks of cool comics in a wonderful format. Hopefully, it returns and makes this first run look like a dry run. And, hopefully, if that happens, Tim and I can come back to discuss it.
TC: Until then, I will use these 12 issues as blankets to keep my warm during the cold winter months. Then, when seasonal affect disorder strikes, I'll pull back a "Kamandi" page and it will cheer me up. Wait, "Kamandi" is as depressing as hell. "Batman," then? No, that's tragic too. I guess it's just me and Wonder Woman, then, spending the winter trying to figure out what Ben Caldwell was up to.
And eagerly awaiting the not-yet-announced volume 2, featuring Eddie Campbell!