After the terrific 52, the turgid Countdown and the I’ve-still-not-gotten-through-the-thing-but-God-Rita-is-annoying Trinity, DC’s latest experiment in weekly publishing takes a traditional turn. Wednesday Comics, as its title suggests, is a throwback to the US comics section of old – full-colour, lavishly illustrated strips to be enjoyed by all the family.
OK, so there’s no humour in here – this would have been a great chance to bring back Angel and the Ape or the Inferior Five – but other than that it smacks of the supplements of old. Let’s take it from the top . . .
Batman: This starts where many a traditional Bat-tale has begun, with the Caped Crusader summoned by the Bat-signal. While it’s a scene we’ve seen a thousand times, it’s refreshed by writer Brian Azzarello telling us how Commissioner Gordon feels about his dependence on Batman. Eduardo Risso provides gorgeous moody art, intelligently coloured by Trish Mulvihill. And the letters of Clem Robins are spot-on, stylish yet unobtrusive.
Kamandi: Dave Gibbons gives us an all-narrated strip featuring Jack Kirby’s post-apocalypse teenager. It’s a style I hated as a kid, but here I loved it. The measured, storybook narration evokes the loneliness Kamandi feels . . . and besides, he’s the Last Boy on Earth, who’s he gonna talk to? Ryan Sook’s art is spectacular, and he even does his own letters. Extra points for the ‘Kamandi created by Jack Kirby’ banner at page bottom, complete with spot illo by The King – I’d love editor Mark Chiarello and assistant Chris Conroy to such acknowledgments a requirement throughout. It adds a fun design element and a sense of history appropriate to this project.
Superman: A swift and fun read from John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo, with the Man of Tomorrow facing a strange new foe. I always like Superman facing a strange new foe. Barbara Ciardo could paint my wagon anytime, as her colour work here is classic stuff, while Ken Lopez letters up a storm. As with the Batman strip, the only tweak I’d make to this page would be to add some kind of ‘continued’ slug at the bottom.
Deadman: No tweaks necessary here, as co-plotters Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck hit the bullseye first time out. We get a recap of Deadman’s origin and are dropped straight into a murder mystery, along the way getting more details of his mission, a sense of Boston Brand’s personality and a cliffhanger ending. Bullock shows how a design-led page doesn’t mean leaving the story behind, while Heuck – a new name to me, but one I like for it’s onomatopoeic qualities of kebab consequences – gives the story an engaging tone. Dave Stewart adds the swinging colours, Jared K Fletcher letters – and yes, that includes a Next Week panel.
Green Lantern: This gets off to a slow start, but a fun one as the Ferris Aircraft gang go for a drink and wonder where Hal Jordan is. Well, he’s in the last panel and, as drawn by Joe Quinones, looking fabulous in a strip that seems to be taking its stylistic cues from Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier. Kurt Busiek, one of my favourites, writes and I’m delighted to see him working on something a little more contained than Trinity. And Pat Brosseau letters by Lantern’s light.
Metamorpho: This package be a homage to a great American institution but Neil Gaiman shows that, like fellow Brit Dave Gibbons, he knows his publishing history. In a single page he introduces his cast and sets up the adventure, while not skimping on the immediate entertainment. The story and character beats perfectly capture the style of Metamorpho creators Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon, who both get a namecheck at page bottom. Mike Allred was born to draw the Fab Freak of 1001 Changes, so it’s a good job someone gave him the script. He’s not aping Fradon – Allred is too much his own man – but Lordy, he captures her cast well. And Laura Allred colours them just spiffingly, while Nate Piekos provides suitably jolly lettering.
Teen Titans: Writer Eddie Berganza gives us a rundown of the various Titans teams since the Sixties before reaching the present lot, on whom I’m assuming the next 11 episodes will focus. That being so, the history lesson was unnecessary – I prefer a ‘this is our cast, let’s begin’ approach. Sean Galloway’s art is eye-catching, and modern and, er, well, I’m sure the kids will just love it. I liked the thoughtful layout, but wasn’t keen on the washed-out quality of his palette and the beyond minimalist facial features. Nick J Napolitano has one of the best names in comics. He’s also a terrific letterer, as he shows again here.
Strange Adventures: This Adam Strange feature fits the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers mould nicely which is likely why Paul Pope has tweaked his costume for Thirties spaceman style. Wife Alanna, too, gets a makeover, looking less the science chick, more the space seductress. And it works. Pope’s story moves faster than a zeta beam, Jose Villarrubia’s colouring is sublime and the only thing that stops this strip getting a perfect 10 is the lettering, which I assume is by Pope. Its freeform nature/messiness works as a design element in the artwork, but is bloody annoying if you’re actually trying to read it. Oi, Ken Lopez, get over here …
Supergirl: Amanda Conner illustrates hubby Jimmy Palmiotti’s script, which sees Kara Zor-El trying to keep those gosh-darn super pets under control. Paul Mounts colours, John J Hill letters and Mart has the pants charmed off him. Oh, and is that Mr Palmiotti cameoing as Pet Shop Dad?
Metal Men: It’s one of my favourite teams illustrated by two of my all-time favourite artists. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez pencils with the style and drama of a master, while Kevin Nowlan complements him with perfectly laid blacks. Mulvihill and Lopez do that hoodoo they do so well, again. Writer Dan Didio provides a simple set-up that neatly showcases the robots’ very human personalities. And seeing the team in Sixties gear was a hoot.
Wonder Woman: My least favourite of the bunch. God bless writer/artist Ben Caldwell for his obvious enthusiasm and desire to provide value for money but my word, this was confusing. Almost 50 panels ranging from small to tiny, drenched in purples and pinks, packed with hundreds of splodgily-lettered words – I found this terribly tough to follow. If it hadn’t said Wonder Woman at the top (in a horribly flouncy new logo) I’d have been hard pressed to tell who was starring in this strip. To be fair, it’s very much a prologue to the main event, and I liked the grey ladies, the mention of ‘Aphrodite’s veil’, and am intrigued that here Diana is ‘the last Amazon’ but I really need some simplification if I’m going to enjoy this ride. Don’t dial down your ambition Ben, but focus on the vital stuff and throw out the rest.
Sgt Rock and Easy Company: The great Joe Kubert draws to a script written by son Adam and all is right with the world, as our hard nut hero faces torture by the Nazis. In the tradition of many a modern Sunday strip, the top tier here is entirely detachable – it adds nothing to the story, allowing it to be chopped away to fit different page slots. Hopefully this is a one-off nod rather than a signature of the strip.
Flash: Ah, now this is clever stuff – a quick, amusing Barry Allen vignette for the top half of the page, a tie-in Iris West romance comics-style strip at the bottom – complete with her own logo! Topped off with a fabulous All-Flash Golden Age page header. Karl Kerschl, you’re a very clever boy. Other clever boys are co-scripter Brenden Fletcher, letterer Rob Leigh and colourist Dave McCaig. The Iris panels are likely being blown up even now by the ghost of Roy Lichtenstein.
Demon and Catwoman: I’ve never liked Jack Kirby’s rhyming Lord of Hell, far as I can tell, he’s less than swell. But I think I’m going to like him here, as written by Walt Simonson and illustrated Brian Stelfreeze. Because if he’s presented as attractively as his alter ego Jason Blood, and co-star Selina Kyle, he’ll be a stylish, seductive soul. Steve Wands does his usual magic with the calligraphy set.
Hawkman: At the start I found the bird narration conceit silly, but by the end was grateful to finally learn why any bird would ever follow the Silver Age Hawkman. Kyle Baker, I flap too. And you draw wonderfully.
So that’s it, 15 strips and as many approaches to the Sunday page. One or two instant favourites, a couple I didn’t take to, the rest all well worth my time and money. I worried that as an artist-led project the stories would be terrible, but there’s a lot of promise here. Mark Chiarello dedicates this book to the late and legendary DC editor Archie Goodwin and you know what? I think he’d be thrilled to bits.