Thursday, June 10, 2010

'Wednesday' collection evokes old Sunday serial comics

Here's a review of DC's new Wednesday Comics collection that appeared in today's Entertainer supplement of The News Herald:

There was a time when one of the highlights of any kid’s weekend was reading the Sunday morning comics sec-tion from the local paper. Eight or 10 pages would contain classics like “Dick Tracy,” “Prince Valiant,” “Li’l Abner,” “Steve Canyon,” “Flash Gordon,” “The Phantom,” and many more.

Generally, these Sunday stories were the payoff for serials that built throughout the week in the daily paper with a major event taking place in the full-color pages on Sunday. There was something magical about the rhythm of reading serialized stories — the repetition of words, images and ideas; the way a serial could bring sharp focus and slow development to a fleeting moment in time.

Those adventure strips are gone now, for the most part. Newspaper comics sections have dwindled. The popular strips indicate that most people want quick chuckles from their comics, apparently, rather than serialized action and suspense.

All of this factored into the surprise of learning about DC Comics’ experiment last year of printing serial comics in a broadsheet format hearkening back to those glory days of the Sunday comics. Each week, in its 16-page “Wednesday Comics” package, DC presented one-page installments starring a wide variety of its heroes and heroines, written and illustrated by many of the best talents working in the field. Each week, the stories would advance a page at a time.

That experiment has now been gathered into one giant hardcover tome, “Wednesday Comics” ($49.99, 200 pages). It’s of a size (11-by-17 inches) that encourages opening it on the floor or the kitchen table and leaning over it to take in the details; this isn’t light bathroom reading.

(The project’s title refers to the day new comics arrive in comic shops across the U.S., making Wednesday the new Sunday.)

The DC regulars are featured — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — and their tales are serviceable. But the real standout stories are the Prince Valiant-style post-apocalyptic world of “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth” by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook; Paul Pope’s “Strange Adventures” that looks like Flash Gordon on LSD; and the Flash time travel conundrum by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher.

Although written for adults, this collection exudes the wide-eyed innocence and adventure missing from today’s “graphic novels” that gives the retro project an instant appeal. This is especially evident in the “Metamorpho” tale by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred; the “Supergirl” misadventure by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner; and writer/artist Kyle Baker’s “Hawkman,” which employs computer-aided textures to give depth to a tale of a hijacked jet that crashes on Dinosaur Island.

If you like your full-color heroes in oversize adventures — or if you fondly recall the bygone days of Sunday comics — then this is the book for you.

See you in the funny papers.

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