Wednesday Comics

Review by KC Carlson

Sometimes comics can be a very magical place.

You’ll find out why later. But for now, let’s look at Wednesday Comics: The Collection.

In a more perfect world, the original newsprint version of Wednesday Comics should have shown up on our front porch every Sunday morning. (And actually be called Sunday Comics, as it is in editor Mark Chiarello’s presentation mock-up for the project.) That way I could have read it over and over while waiting for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Tom & Jerry to come on the television.

Wednesday Comics cover
Wednesday Comics
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(And just to make this daydream even more outlandish, every month our paperboy — Paul Levitz — would ride his bicycle up to our door to collect the money for this wonderful four-color treat.)

Of course, in our so-called real world, Wednesday Comics was originally published late last summer as a weekly collection of comic strips — actually printed on oversize newsprint — designed to emulate the classic Sunday newspaper comic sections of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Instead of Flash Gordon or Little Nemo in Slumberland, this time around, we’re reading newspaper strips that never were, featuring the exploits of The Flash and Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.

The original format serialized 15 different strips, featuring both iconic DC stars and many of their cult genre characters. These have now been collected into one physically impressive, 200-page hardcover collection, also called Wednesday Comics, although the Wednesday part is now meaningless. (It referred to the day the original format arrived in the shops.) Make no mistake — in form and content, these are Sunday strips.

The best part of the project is that all of the strips have a timeless quality about them, which automatically elevates the overall project into sky-high levels of imagination. Rather than getting lost in the now much-too-restrictive continuity-driven miasma that the recent DC Universe has become, Wednesday Comics doesn’t fit in (nor should anyone try to force it). That makes it both fascinatingly unique and a true breath of fresh air. If you’re reading this collection and wondering how the Superman story ties into the recent Krypton storyline or screaming “That’s not how Adam Strange works!”, then not only have you wasted your money, but you’ve spectacularly missed the point of the entire project.

It may seem like a mixed bag of characters for the book — DC’s greatest (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) are there to help sell the project while some quirkier characters (The Demon, Metal Men, Metamorpho) are there to show not only the depth and breadth of the DC Universe, but to offer up interesting genre possibilities as well. The old Sunday funnies were nothing if not eclectic, featuring space opera next to jungle adventure shouldering up to wacky comedy and more.

Some quick takes on the various elements of the book:

I love the mix of “old master” artists like José Luis García-López and Joe Kubert alongside newer guys like like Paul Pope and Ben Caldwell. That really adds to the “timeless” feel of the project.

My favorite strip of the bunch (as well as the one which propelled me through the weekly version of the project) was Supergirl, as gloriously cartooned by Amanda Connor. What a showcase for character storytelling, as the facial expressions alone drive you through this wonderful story! Jimmy Palmiotti’s plot is basically just an excuse for a Super Pets romp (but it allows for plenty of “awww…cute!” moments for Amanda to show off). Some might think it’s slight stuff, but for me it’s Best in Show!

High marks also go to the wonderfully goofy pairing of Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred on the equally goofy Metamorpho. It reads like the great lost issue of Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon’s offbeat 1960s series. From the bizarre “bumpers” (“Kids! If you synthesize a new element you can win a free trip to the set of the Metamorpho TV show!”) to the inspired “snakes and ladders” game to the crazy two-page periodic table, the whole story is just great fun! I want more!

I love the fact that the Green Lantern strip was set in the wonderful “New Frontier” era (more or less defined by Darwyn Cooke — who really should have been here) that has helped to redefine the Green Lantern character in recent years. Both Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinoes nail the era in dialogue and art style.

I haven’t read a lot of Paul Pope’s projects prior to this project, but his Strange Adventures story will make me seek them out. His pulpy take on Adam Strange lived up to the Strange name, but it was also probably one of the closest examples to the actual Sunday strips this project tried to emulate. Pope’s art (and especially the scratchy lettering) has a wonderful gritty feel to it that immediately made me feel like I was reading a classic SF strip from the 30s or 40s.

Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s take on Kamandi was also a revelation to me, and it made me feel like I was reading an adventure from that classic era. Unlike a lot of fans, I’ve never really warmed to Kamandi as a character, but this story completely sucked me right in.

It’s so great to see José Luis García-López on the Metal Men, as the characters match his light-hearted approach so perfectly. It’s too bad the dialogue doesn’t match the quality of the art — it’s full of clichés and quips that never quite land.

Another surprise for me was Kyle Baker’s Hawkman. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he would develop another great art style for the project (he is one of comics’ most interesting artistic chameleons, after all), but I also loved the herky-jerky quality of the story, rapidly careening from scene to scene — just like the classic old newspaper strips — never lingering in any one place.

But the story I spent the most time with (other than reading Ben Caldwell’s itty bitty Wonder Woman panels) was Karl Kerschl and Brendan Fraizer’s take on The Flash. Not only did they nail the Gardner Fox/John Broome era of the character, but they really used the format of the traditional Sunday page to huge advantage in their story. From their use of the Iris West classic romance-strip pastiche to counterpoint the main story, to the page where other classic Sunday comics are used as background elements while time is breaking down in the main story, everything fell into place perfectly. Plus, they made me fall in love with Iris West — one of the most beautiful women in comics — all over again. I hope Julie Schwartz, wherever he is, gets the chance to read this story. (I’m sure DC still sends Julie comps, probably via Cosmic Treadmill.)

I could go on and on. This is obviously an art-centric project, and some stories succeed more than others, but every story in this project shows the creators at the top of their game, doing what they do best. I’m sure that the next guy will have different favorites than mine. This collection is truly an embarrassment of riches.

What’s also cool about this (assuming you’re kinda rich), is that both formats of Wednesday Comics are equally desirable. The original, weekly format is more authentic, what with its pulpy newsprint and its much larger reproduction size. But the collected edition is the one that you can put on a (very tall) bookshelf to pull out time and again to read over and over. It’s got nice slick paper and and great reproduction. I’m guessing that DC will do a more affordably-priced paperback edition at some point, but if you can afford it, you should spring for the hardcover. Here’s why: because of its super-large size, the TPB is going to be much more susceptible to wear and tear than the hardcover, and potentially more easy to damage. Also, the hardcover has a huge advantage in that it will lay (mostly) flat on a table for reading. You can probably make your TPB do that as well, but because of its size, don’t be surprised if the binding ultimately falls apart.

The collected edition of the book also has lots of extras. There are two extra single page strips (Plastic Man and The Creeper), reportedly created in case someone (*cough* Pope) missed a deadline and something was needed as a quick substitute. There’s also an informative introduction by editor Mark Chiarello; a generous sketch/design section, fully annotated by Mark; a quick look at alternate logos for the project by Rian Hughes, for those logo geeks (like me); and essential creator bios that, trust me, you will need.

The book is dedicated to Archie Goodwin, the legendary writer/editor and Chiarello’s mentor. I can think of no better tribute, as Archie lived one foot in the world of comic books and the other in the inky pages of newspaper strips. The only thing missing from Wednesday Comics is a Batman (or better yet, Slam Bradley) strip by Archie and the recently passed Al Williamson. They would have been the first ones to say yes. (And Archie better be on that magical DC comp list as well.)

For all the wonderful artists, writers and other creative folk who made this such an amazing book, it’s really Mark Chiarello’s project. Mark has devoted his long DC career, mostly working behind the scenes, to making sure that comics keep achieving their true potential. His drive is not only endless to make everything as visually beautiful as possible, but also to inspire others to do their very best work. Which was his role on Wednesday Comics. You should look at what well-motivated people can do.

There was another guy who was really good at that. His name was Archie Goodwin.

Sometimes comics can be a very magical place.

(The publisher provided a review copy.)

5 Responses to “Wednesday Comics”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    I am very happy with the image of Paul Levitz, Eternal Paperboy – who even after umpteen years of running DC can still pull off “childlike wonder” – delivering to Schwartz, Goodwin, et al.

    I wish my webcomic skills were up to the task.

  2. Joshua Says:

    I picked this up from Amazon on your recommendation, and my wife (who’s not that into comics except for a few things like Mysterius and Locke & Key) pronounces it “gorgeous”. I look forward to reading it, since I never picked up any of the originals.

  3. Scott Says:

    My wife similarly thought this “looked wonderful”, but she didn’t read it.

    I have to admit that while I started every story, I could only finish the first one (Batman). The stories just seemed too slight to bother with… which is largely my problem with newspaper strips and why I don’t read many of them on an ongoing basis.

    I did look at all of the pretty pictures, tho’.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Its strength is much more visual than plot, yes, but I’m looking forward to rereading the stories all in one lump, where I can descend into the stories at greater depth. I hope you enjoy it, Joshua, and I hope the pictures were satisfying enough to you, Scott.

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