The Comic Book Club: Wednesday Comics and Bruce Wayne #2

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan, Mike Williams and Evan Narcisse discuss the Wednesday Comics hardcover collection and the second issue of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.

DOUGLAS: I was excited about Wednesday Comics when it was running as a weekly, although probably more in theory than in practice–I wish comics publishers would stretch out beyond the standard format more often, because form can determine content more than even the people making the content generally realize. The flip side of that is that a lot of people who’ve been doing comics for a while are so acclimated to the standard format that they just did the same kind of thing they usually do here.

Seeing all the stories collected in one place really makes it clear which ones worked in the gigantic size and which didn’t. Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures is huge in scope and uses its pages beautifully–the kind of thing I’d happily read every week forever. I love Ben Caldwell’s ridiculously micro-detailed, zillion-panels-per-page Wonder Woman, too, even though it has to be read at a very different pace from the rest of the book and feels a little like a speed-bump. And I was really impressed by the way Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher’s Flash played with the format of a Sunday comic strip, even though it’s a little less effective if you’re not reading it in an actual newspaper tabloid and watching it mess with the assumptions associated with its format. (I also think it’s kind of weird that Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred’s Metamorpho was clearly done for the book collection–there are two double-page spreads in the course of twelve pages!)

The collection also made me wonder why something like Wednesday Comics couldn’t be done in an actual newspaper. Did any of you see the San Francisco Panorama, the one-off newspaper that McSweeney’s published late last year? One of the great things about it was its comics section, which was more or less like this but with alt-comics people rather than mainstream comics people (for the most part–Erik Larsen did a Savage Dragon story for it). And the newspaper comics reprints from the last few years–those Sunday Press Little Nemo and Gasoline Alley reprints, most obviously, but also all the stuff Fantagraphics and the Library of American Comics have been doing–demonstrate just how great newspaper strips can be if they’ve got a big enough field to play on. If there were something like Wednesday Comics in Sunday papers, I’d be a lot more likely to buy a physical paper on Sundays.

(More on Techland: Clark Kent Finally Works Out He’s Superman After Ten Years)

By “something like Wednesday Comics,” I mean big, full-page strips that let cartoonists show off what they can do with an extended canvas; I don’t mean just superhero stories. I was a little surprised that this was so heavy on the superhero stuff; I wasn’t expecting Kramers Ergot 7 (another project that did fantastic things with a big format), but it’d have been nice to see some humor strips, or romance, or something that wasn’t straight-up action-adventure. (The Supergirl strip was probably the closest thing to a humor strip, although Kyle Baker’s Hawkman was probably the funniest thing here; I was glad to see the Sgt. Rock and Kamandi stories, just for the sake of variety.) God knows DC’s got enough Sunday-funnies-friendly comedy properties in its archives. If only Sheldon Mayer had done Sugar and Spike Sunday comics…

GRAEME: I loved Wednesday Comics as a ‘paper as well, and found the book version to be a very different experience. You’re right that the more formalist play of the Metamorpho strip comes over more clearly in the collection (Making it vaguely worthwhile, for me – I think, when taken as individual episodes, it’s impossibly light and throwaway), and the Wonder Woman story from Caldwell really benefits from the glossy paper, which lets the colors that were pretty much killed in the original version come through and sing. What doesn’t work for me, though, are the strips that played more on the (traditional?) format, the things like Superman, Batman, Sgt. Rock – when taken all at once, they all seem much flimsier than they appeared at first. Even Supergirl, which is worth it if only for Amanda Conner’s wonderful art, feels less substantial in one sitting.

Favorite story in the book: Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures, which feels as much as anything like his tribute to Heavy Metal and John Carter of Mars… Just beautiful, beautiful looking art and a suitably nonsensical story. Runner-up is probably the Flash story by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher, even if again, it suffers from not having weekly interludes between cliffhangers.

What the series – and this book, even moreso – made me feel, though, wasn’t “why can’t they do this in newspapers?” but “why can’t they do this in the comics?” With the possible exception of the pretty-but-poorly-written Teen Titans strip, almost all of the stories here show off their stars in a much better way than their regular comic books do. Is it the lack of continuity, or the choice of creators? I have no idea, but I wish that the regular Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, et al. comics were as funny and imaginative and easy to understand without signing up for DCU 101 as the strips in here.

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