I don’t buy any current Marvel or DC superhero comics much anymore. I kind of lost interest in them about four or five world-changing events ago. But when I heard about Wednesday Comics, I was intrigued.
It’s a simple, obvious idea: Take some of the major DC players and do single page, tabloid-sized adventures on newsprint, similar to a Sunday Comics page. I don’t mind catchy, accessible stories that aren’t tied to any kind of “canon”, so I gave it a try. It’s got the usual suspects, like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, and Hawkman, but also lesser characters like Metamorpho, Adam Strange, Supergirl, the Metal Men, Sgt. Rock, Catwoman, Deadman, and Kamandi.
I guess it kind of works, but to someone like me, who is not interested in current superhero comics (and the current methods of writing them), the results are quite jarring. Although I will stick it out to the end, I don’t think there’s a lot here to grab the casual comics reader. (To be fair, I’m not even sure the “casual comics reader” is even the point here. Why should DC care about those now, when it hasn’t for years?)
The main problem is “decompression”. This is a comics term that means “slow-ass storytelling”. There was a time when Batman would need some info on a dude, so he would dress as a sailor, head down to the dockside bars, and listen in on seedy conversations until he got the bit of gossip he needed. This would happen in, like, three panels. The same events these days would be padded out to an eight-issue story arc called “THE DOCK KNIGHT” that would run through four different titles. Like the soap operas they resemble, nothing happens too fast in comics anymore.
A twelve page story, released one page at a time, which is what Wednesday Comics is for each of the titles in it, is not the place to slow down and take it easy. Nevertheless, many of the stories in the first issue have little to nothing actually happen in them. The Sgt. Rock page in issue #1 comprises maybe two panels worth of action and dialogue. Batman has a leisurely conversation, because nothing’s more interesting than Batman standing and talking. The Green Lantern story doesn’t even show Green Lantern doing anything until the last panel, instead opting to focus on the employees at Ferris Aircraft having drinks at a bar. If this were page one of a normal story (that I were holding the entirety of in my hand), I’d feel different, but a hook to grab readers? No one is looking at that and saying, “Oh, I wonder if someone will play a song on the jukebox next issue!” The Metamorpho page in issue #2 is, essentially, a single panel, so I guess Neil Gaiman, its writer, doesn’t have any place he’s looking to go in a hurry.
(In fairness, the Wonder Woman pages almost feature too much jammed into them. I had heard in advance that these pages were nigh-incomprehensible, so I approached them slowly and thus didn’t have too much of a problem with them, but they’re pretty damn dense. Still, I can forgive trying too hard easier than I can forgive lollygagging around.)
Another major problem with some of the stories is that, somewhere along the way, it was decided that we were far more interested in finding out about these heroes’ feelings and emotional issues than actually seeing them do anything heroic. The Superman story is being reprinted in USA Today, so someone feels that this material may be interesting to “civilians” who don’t normally read comics. Unfortunately these “civilians”, like me, want to see Superman flying around and punching dudes and throwing battleships at UFOs and stuff. They don’t want to see a mopey-assed Superman sitting down and whining to Batman about how maybe he doesn’t fit in. What the hell? Who wants to read that? But this is what we get so far for the story of DC’s flagship character.
Some of the stories work. Adam Strange is done in a sort of “John Carter of Mars” way, and it’s going all-out. Kamandi, a post-apocalyptic character, is being done “Prince Valiant” style, and it’s probably the high point of the whole book. The Metal Men are always a good time, and Supergirl is fun so far. The Flash page is split between Flash and Iris West, which is clever in theory (one being a soap-opera type strip, the other a superhero one), but the styles between the two aren’t different enough (or evocative of the effect being aimed for) to make it really work. Still, it’s not bad. Most of the rest are quite competently done, and the only thing I can say against them is that it takes the light from “giving a damn about Hawkman” about 400 years to reach me.
The Teen Titans, on the other hand, is a noisy mess, completely opaque to anyone who doesn’t already know and love these guys. I have no idea in it what is happening to whom or why.
I appreciate the sentiment behind Wednesday Comics, and I don’t feel bad supporting what I think is a good idea. But the results so far deeply illustrate the disconnect between people who are already fans of the genre/medium and those who aren’t. Whatever DC’s intentions for this to be a gateway to bring in new fans, a great deal of it is the usual stuff intended solely for the dwindling completist fanbase, and this is most evidenced by the fact that it’s the biggest names — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — that fail the most.
I hope things pick up a bit in the upcoming issues and I hope that the series does well enough to make the experiment worth trying again, and this time with more of an emphasis on light, fun, continuity-free stories for non-uberfans instead of ponderous navel-gazing.