The superhero comic.

Wednesday Comics #1 (of 12)

Oh, I bet you've heard of this one. It's just about Thursday right now, so I suspect a good 50% of the comics internet has already weighed in, and you might be feeling some fatigue. I'm personally tempted to just pack it in early and declare the thing an unqualified success based entirely on the strength of the Sgt. Rock page, whereupon Joe Kubert draws nine giant panels depicting: (1) Sgt. Rock being punched in the face; (2) Sgt. Rock, having recently been punched in the face; or (3) Nazis leering at Sgt. Rock's face, punched.

It's absolutely wonderful, exactly what I bought this thing hoping to see, and it probably should have been in Kramers Ergot 7 as a standalone piece. The hell with serials.

And I'm sure that's not the last Kramers mention you'll hear in reference to this comic, DC's new weekly series; it's a 16-page color newspaper, folding out to devote most of its space to one-page, 14" x 20" chapters of 15 continuing superhero stories. It's the brainchild of editor Mark Chiarello, the art-inclined mastermind of prior DC anthologies Batman: Black & White and Solo (and, lest we forget, the very first Hellboy colorist); some folks have even been calling it Chiarellos Ergot, given its generous dimensions and the varied, lavish visual approaches of its contributors.

But that line of comparison obscures one of the special pleasures of Wednesday Comics, I think. This comic might be $3.99, but it's disposable. Delicate, even! Maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but I hadn't realized this thing was a newspaper-newspaper: no cover stock, no staples, just a pulpy stack of folded-over comics, like Paper Rodeo. Leave this little number by the wrong window long enough and it's actually gonna toast; shit, my copy looks worse for wear after nothing more than scanning in a few images. I wasn't around or anything when the Diamond box opened this morning at my local retailer, but I imagine speculators burst in early to rush their take to the acid-free snugs like EMT personnel spiriting an inattentive bicyclist down to the emergency room.

That's great, isn't it? Not because I've got a beef with speculators or whatnot -- shoot, eBay to your heart's content, be my guest -- but for being such a very fine extension of one of my favorite aspects of DC's first contemporary stab at a weekly series, 52.

That project had its share of problems, definitely, but it always seemed primarily functional as a pamphlet. Not a chapter of a book (though it told long stories), or a free-floating continuity locus (despite its function as a back story gap-filler), but a weekly comic, best suited to consume quickly, every single week. It was like something charmingly out of time for DC, paced to allow the reader to ponder its storylines for a few days only; even its haphazard visual approach seemed to mark it as fast-eatin' funnybook stuff.

Wednesday Comics takes this same feel and applies it to a look-at-this candied drawing spectacular, printing all those pretty pictures on big flimsy pages.

I was briefly reminded of another famous DC-published pamphlet, Promethea #32, in which that lovely, ad-free story urged you, the reader, to physically destroy it, to literally pull the comic apart and glue it together again to form a new, different, equally readable version of the tale it told. And pamphlets are endangered things, we realize, and they keep getting brighter and prettier, more like design objects, all-considered, super-specialized - to urge the reader to do actual transformative violence to the comic's body is to demand they break free of obeying the form, and I'll be goddamned if it didn't soothe me strange. First time that 'magic' stuff worked for me.

Then the moment passed, and I relized there was a different, more obvious connotation to this thing: it's nostalgic as fuck.

It's titled "Wednesday Comics," and everything is formatted as a Sunday newspaper feature; it's romantic and longing. Don't mistake this for a PictureBox newsprint production; besides the paper quality being a little higher, there's an acute sense of self-awareness at work as to its medium. It's wistful, even a tiny bit melancholic, way down deep - it trades the old pamphlet format for the much older newspaper strip style, as if to relive the glory days of when comics were the strongest thing going, where like rainbow tints in the spray were the hues that splashed and poured from the cylinders of the New York World, like how life with like then, and then now, for now.

I presume this series is supposed to be old-fashioned yet forward-looking; indeed, even trying a format like this in today's market could be taken as an indication that the future remains open. Yet there's undeniably something to the fact that so many of these 15 debut chapters position themselves as throwbacks, ranging from Dave Gibbons' & Ryan Sook's '30s or so adventure strip spin on Kamandi to an excellent, Clowesian saga-of-multiple-strips approach to the Flash by Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher, Rob Leigh and Dave McCaig.

Even as unique a stylist as Paul Pope -- colored by the always-welcome José Villarrubia -- sets his Adam Strange in a decorative Rann of smooth curves and barked educational factoids, leaning back elegantly, but pronouncedly. In here it's organic, mind you; a man in the midst of a theme, aware.

Of course, it could just be that vintage-informed art happens to exploit the format in a more pleasing way. John Arcudi's & Lee Bermejo's bronzed, painterly Superman episode is arguably old-timey in that illustrational Alex Ross way, but it runs through its superhero-on-creature fight scene plainly, with a stiff Man of Steel failing to sell the action en route to an unappealing plot setup in the final panel.

And while the 100 Bullets team of Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso craft a decent enough Batman opening, I can't say it looks much different from your typical page of comics from the pair, except wider on the sides and apparently trusting in the larger format to make things look better on its own. They're right, granted; only Sean Galloway seems to really suffer from the format on a generally clumsy Teen Titans page, cramming characters into indistinct time-lapse layouts and tossing them against blank or toned backgrounds as they fight. Others, like Brian Stelfreeze on a Walter Simonson-written Catwoman/Demon piece, just do their thing, in neat layouts, a little larger than usual.

Some even take the chance to pay tribute to earlier comic book periods, perhaps in the spirit of a generally nostalgic forum. I can't say much for the Metal Men page from writer/executive editor Dan DiDio -- dressing funny superhero characters up in 'wacky' '60s/'70s clothes to go out in the real world is about as cloying as these things can get, regardless of some nicely chunky art by Juan Luis García-López & Kevin Nowlan, with colorist Trish Muluihill -- although anything that moves Neil Gaiman to attempt what may be a full-blown Bob Haney homage (on Metamorpho!) can't be all bad.

That one's got art by the Madman Atomic Comics crew of Mike & Laura Allred and letterer Nate Piekos, which offers its own strange texture; somewhere along the way, and I don't know where, Madman stopped being a story evoking groovy-cool comics style drawn in a highly individualistic manner -- one that owed as much to the alt comic likes Jaime Hernandez as anyone else -- and started taking on the groovy-cool aspect merely by looking like itself. Despite its departures, it came to embody its subject matter in a way that overcame the niceties of plotting, and its that aspect it brings to the table here.

Part of the might of visuals, folks; it's something an art-focused superhero project like this can make use of, powerfully, given the expanded format. I can't help, however, but wish more of these starter pages dove deeper into their use of space, of the production values at hand.

I think it's one of the more divisive pieces, from peering around online, but I found Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman page to be a little closer to what I could have fallen harder for in a project like this (barring further Sgt. Rock punchout parties, which could a new anthology by itself), a sort of neon-drenched anime smash-up of the dead basic Wonder Woman concept and a Winsor McCay dream strip. It doesn't work perfectly, no -- Caldwell's layout expands and contracts from big panels to clusters of tiny ones, leaving some of the action confusing while stuffing in exposition where it can fit -- but it effectively transforms Wonder Woman into something that seems native to this newspaper, something a little retrospective, if never really like Little Nemo in Slumberland, yet emphatically modern as well.

Don't let me understate the fun of this comic, though. It's a sturdy whole in spite of its faults, and its presentation has charm to burn. I'm really looking forward to seeing it around every week, and watching its stories develop. Even while some of them seem simple, others are harder to place with certainty.

Kyle Baker, for instance, brings this terrific, befuddling Hawkman page, starting off with a huge, distorted close-up of a bald eagle, apparently narrating the story. Hawkmen can communicate with birds, you know, and the bald eagle sings his praises as an improbably diverse flock joins him dangerously in the sky.

"We flap," the bald eagle intones, not for the last time, as Hawkman bursts into action right toward the reader in a massive center image, sword drawn and mace swinging. The narration builds in portent as the legion approaches an airplane, the pilots with guns to their heads. The birds flap onward.

"Our master knows his place in the universe. He is a leader."

And the next issue slot screams BATTLE AGAINST TERROR!

Shit, this sounds pretty wry. And big, loud and muscular! The latter's my first impression, and the former will need space; its tone will be serialized. It's the last thing in this issue, and as good a grace note as any.