DC recently completed its latest weekly series, the twelve-part anthology Wednesday Comics. Although the stories themselves are somewhat uneven, the cumulative effect of fifteen giant stories unfolding in an homage to the Sunday comics sections makes this worth seeking out.
I'm not terribly optimistic that comic books will ever regain the kind of popular readership, particularly among young people, that the medium enjoyed in decades past, but Wednesday Comics seems like the sort of thing that has the best shot of reaching new readers. With so many different characters and creative teams to choose from, even the most skeptical readers will likely find at least a few stories that pique their interests, and the (mostly) continuity-free stories provide an ideal entry point for those just discovering the DC universe.
That said, Wednesday Comics is more than just a clever gimmick. DC has put together some great writers and artists for the stories, including Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred on "Metamorpho", Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones on "Green Lantern", and the current Power Girl team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner on "Supergirl". Throughout, there is a palpable sense that these stories are labors of love for the writers and artists; even the stories that don't work seem to be made with more care than some perfunctory fill-in book, and I'm more likely to revisit these stories to see if I missed something than some gratuitous, pointless event tie-in. (Countdown: Arena, I am, as always, looking at you.)
The best stories in this anthology are those that make the best of their unique format. Gaiman and Allred's "Metamorpho" makes great use of the 14" X 20" dimensions the broadsheet pages give them, crafting entire days as a single panel that its characters then wander through. Such a trick might be jarring on a smaller page, but it works brilliantly here. "Metamorpho" also features a support feature where three children answer what they claim to be reader questions about the Element Man. The fact that these children seem to come from a strange alternate universe where Metamorpho is absurdly popular only adds to the charm.
Similar structural trickery can be seen in "The Flash." Under the banner of "Flash Comics", we see multiple small comics in the various issues, including "The Flash", "Iris West", and "Gorilla Grodd". Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher have put together an entire world within a world here; there's a real sense that "Flash Comics" has run in the Sunday newspapers for years, largely unchanged since the 1960's, and this is simply the first time we've noticed. It's a fun device, particularly when much of its story relies on some of the wackiest comic book science this side of the Silver Age.
There are a bunch of other stories in Wednesday Comics that I would recommend without hesitation. John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo's "Superman" is both gorgeous to look at and manages to tell its story in the grandest, most iconic brushstrokes possible. It's a story that feels huge, even if the story only moves forward at a pace of three or four panels per week. My personal favorite, however, might just be "Supergirl", if only because there's something so gloriously, deliriously awesome about devoting most of the story to Kara chasing after her misbehaving pets. The fact that Streaky and Krypto are absolutely adorable probably helps, too.
Not every story is a triumph, though. Ben Caldwell's "Wonder Woman" is probably guilty of overreaching, trying to cram a cryptic, lyrical take on the Amazonian princess into such a small amount of space. The fact that each week features twenty to thirty panels on just one broadsheet page is probably the most obvious indication that he is trying to do too much in not enough space. I didn't really care for Paul Pope's take on "Strange Adventures", but part of the point of something like Wednesday Comics is to try out a wide variety of creative styles; I suppose it would be unlikely that I would be a fan of all of them.
Wednesday Comics is a breath of fresh air in an industry where superhero stories are increasingly stuck inside some fairly well-defined strictures. Its anthology approach and innovative format make sure that Wednesday Comics is quite unlike anything we've seen in quite some time, which should be more than enough to earn it a recommendation. The fact that the stories inside are actually quite good feels almost like a bonus.