Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Exfanding Review: Wednesday Comics

Wednesday Comics coverMy local comics shop got Wednesday Comics in late last week, so I didn’t have a chance to read the first issue until this past weekend. And I have to say, despite the reservations I still harbor (as mentioned in last week’s Waiting for), I am truly impressed with what DC has come up with.

For anyone who may not have seen it, WC is a full-on newspaper pullout section featuring one-page stories of DC’s most popular (and some not so popular) characters. Folded up, it’s the size of a regular floppy comic and fits nicely on the shelf alongside Batman and Dark Avengers and The Goon, but fold it out and it’s larger than most newspapers these days.

To recap: the trim size is large, the pages are in color, and each story in the anthology format covers one full page. With a price point of $3.99, WC is aligned with the growing trend of four dollar and above comics, and whereas five years ago my head would have exploded at the mere thought of spending that much on a new book, today it’s par for the course.

So, what’s the big deal about Wednesday Comics? Well, first off, it’s pretty cool to look at and it's pretty cool to hold in your hands. The paper is a bit thicker than most newspapers, and the whole thing just looks good all folded out. Is it a gimmick? Sure, but it’s just an impressive-looking gimmick, and it doesn’t glow in the dark or come sealed in mylar.

So that’s a plus.

And since it’s printed on newsprint paper, though a bit sturdier than your local paper, there aren’t going to be many “mint” copies of this bad boy, if there are any at all. And that’s a wonderful thing, because while collecting perfect copies of comics can be fun, it also detracts from the whole point of comic books.

The...uh...reading them part of comic books.

So, WC likely won’t be a collector’s item, and it is likely to not put your kids through college when you try to flip the book in 15 years (or maybe it will--what do I know?). What it might do, however, is bring in some different folks to the comics shop every Wednesday.

How is that possible, you ask, since all of these "civilian"-oriented books tend to fail? Well, for some reason, it is still more “acceptable” for a grown person to read the comics section of a newspaper on the train than it is for that same grown person to read an issue of Superman. Why? Honestly, I have no idea, but now we can all have our cake and eat it, too, since we get super heroes in the form of the Sunday Funnies. And maybe that train commuter who loves reading his Garfield every day may feel perfectly comfortable reading the Teen Titans every day.

Who knows?

Now, the one knock I have against the issue is that some of the writers go for an anachronistic feel to the stories, to make them read like the old newspaper adventure strips. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is very much an in-joke thing. I know what they’re going for, and so do most week-to-week comics readers, but the guy or girl who picks this up on a whim might not.

And I think something like WC is exactly the kind of thing non-comics people are likely to pick up and take a chance on. Either because of the format or because of the introductory nature of the stories within. There’s absolutely no prior knowledge of DC characters needed to pick up and enjoy the stories. And with DC’s often convoluted back-stories and continuity, that’s key to getting this book out to “civilians.”

On the whole, the stories are quick and snappy, and the art is FANTASTIC and changes dramatically from story to story. The characters and settings are varied, and no two pages read alike. And that’s a Very Good Thing, as diversity is key, especially in comics. There are sci-fi stories, mysteries, straight-up old school super hero tales, funny stories, and space stories. And, while we all know I don’t much like space, there’s still plenty here for me to enjoy.

As mentioned, the pages read pretty quickly, so don’t expect this issue to last you that entire train ride. I read through my copy in less time than it usually takes me to read an average floppy comic. Still, the stories are engaging and fun and interesting, and I am just really digging the format and the concept.

As for picking a favorite story in the bunch, I’d have to say it’s the very first one in the collection, a Batman tale.

When you unfold the issue to its full size, Commissioner Gordon is literally staring back at you. This first story, written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, opens with an intriguing predicament for the Dark Knight and Gordon. The two men face failure and can do nothing to stop what’s coming. It’s a strange sight seeing Batman unprepared for whatever is about to happen next, and his (and Gordon’s) helplessness in this story is striking.

Azzarello is one of the great modern comics writers, and Risso’s noir-influenced line work is perfectly suited for a Batman book. Heck, their run on the character several years ago followed the most successful run the book had seen in the past twenty-odd years, and yet Azz and Risso still kept readers coming back each month.

No small task, that.

They tell gritty, dirty crime stories, and that is essentially what Batman is--a gritty, dirty crime fighter. Seems the obvious pairing, no?

The other creative teams in the collection work well together, too, and the book manages to strike a mainstream feel while using some very indie artists. There’s definitely some cross-over appeal here, and I’m sure more than a few hardcore indie fans picked this up just for the Paul Pope Adam Strange story.

So, when it comes down to a “will I buy the next issue or not” scenario, this one’s pretty easy. I’ll be on board for the next installment, to see where the Batman story goes, and to see how Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho story shapes up (Ha! Shapes up! Get it? Because he shifts...shapes...and...never mind).

Anyway, I’m really curious to see how this book sold because it’s something very different being introduced to a market that historically fears (and loathes!) change. But I have a feeling that WC is going to be a check mark in the Good Idea column for DC, and I look forward to seeing where they take things.

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