It’s not entirely unfair to say that, for the most part, many comic books during the first decade of the 2000s could be reasonably described as the zit on the otherwise painstakingly pert ass of the industry. Coming out of the muscled and, uh, totally epic storylines of the 1990s, the early 2000s ushered in an era of new conservatism in which stories felt more boilerplate, spearheaded largely by creators whose work was trying to recreate the titles of their own youth for the new youth.
Okay, okay; it wasn’t an entire loss — after all, we did get Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, the neurotic reboot joy that was Ultimate Spider-Man, and various other titles we’d save from the cosmic void if pressed — but, between the Bill “Fuckit, Marville” Jemas era for Marvel and the hard push to return to Dark and Gritty at DC, that whole period between 2001-2009 was, at the very least, a rough one for mainstream comics as a whole. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and as the 2010s began to crest into view, one of comics’ saving graces came from DC’s then-Editorial Art Director Mark Chiarello, who asked, simply, why not make one-page anthology comics a thing again? Thus we were blessed — however briefly — with 12 issues of Wednesday Comics.
Anthology comics were nothing necessarily new, even in the long-past days of (checks notes) 13 years ago. A staple of the British publishing industry for decades and a long-lost art saved, seemingly, among the most indie of indie zine publishers, the idea of doing a weekly collection of one-page comic strips felt like an awkward relic of the past to mainstream American publishers and readers who had been pumping out (and reading) monthly 22-page comics every week since the Vietnam War. After all, it was 2009! Who even reads newspaper comics anymore?! DC had no problem taking that risk – or, at least, Chiarello was able to maneuver his way around whatever objections were raised – and it paid off in multiple ways, with each of the twelve issues published in a massive 14” x 20” broadsheet newspaper format similar to Sunday newspapers, with each story done by a different all-star creative time of comic mainstays who were told to develop the characters that they most wanted to write and draw.
The short-run anthology received massive praise from critics, despite only achieving minor sales success among fans largely due to the publication’s “retro” newspaper formatting and shortened story layout. (Each of the weekly strips only had 12 pages in which to tell an entire adventure, after all.) Those who didn’t get on board the Wednesday Comics train, however, truly missed out, just based on the line-up of creators alone.
If it wasn’t enough to have talent like Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons scripting a Kamandi story, Adam Kubert writing a story featuring arguably his father’s most iconic creation, Sgt. Rock, or Walt Simonson playing around with lesser-known Jack Kirby creation The Demon, the rogues gallery of writers also included powerhouse storytellers Brian Azzarello, Jimmy Palmiotti, Kyle Baker, Dan Didio, Kurt Busiek, Paul Pope, Karl Kerschl, and Dave Bullock. From an uneasy Superman handling an alien attack as written by BPRD’s John Arcudi to a Metamorpho diamond heist designed by Neil Gaiman; a bank robbery foiled by the Metal Men, Hawkman trying to deal with some of his most unlikely threats yet, to Supergirl just trying to make those pesky super-pets behave, there was literally something for everybody in the stories of Wednesday Comics.
These comics stories wouldn’t be their full selves without their artists though, and the teams behind the project were all too aware of that; ultimately providing one of the most impressive and fun lineups of collective artists in comic anthology history. The draw of Wednesday Comics for potential artists is an obvious one – how many times in their careers would artists have the opportunity to play around with the real estate of something like a 14” by 20” page? – and, sure enough, even more than the stellar talent brought together to write the material published in the series, it’s the artists who are the true stars of the entire Wednesday Comics project.
It seems hardly fair to compare this mashup of talent to anything else in history when you have something like Eduardo Risso reteaming with his 100 Bullets collaborator Brian Azzarello for a pulpy Batman treat, Mike Allred illustrating Metamorpho with gleeful pop art joy, Ryan Sook’s impossibly fun Kamandi channeling the classic newspaper strips of Hal Foster with verve, Amanda Conner bringing a very sincere warmth to Supergirl, the master Joe Kubert himself paired with his son for Sgt. Rock, Brian Stelfreeze returning to mainstream comics years before his (justly-)acclaimed Black Panther run to make The Demon and Catwoman come alive, and so many others.
(This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some creative misfires in the bunch, of course; the less said about the presence of Eddie Berganza or Paul Pope in the series the better, as beautiful as the latter’s Adam Strange turn on Strange Adventures may be. Every anthology title is almost guaranteed to have at least one clunker in there, if only to make everything else look better by comparison. At least here, problematic or downright cruel creators are generally paired with people who bring some level of talent, or at least interest, to proceedings.)
It’s been said that there’s not much of a market for comics anthologies here in the US in the same way that they are overseas, but after revisiting something as dynamic, fun, and face-paced as the collective Wednesday Comics, I’d say that the proof is in the pudding. Given the immense, growing talents of creators old-school and new in the industry these days, now is a better time than ever to consider the Wednesday Comics method: throwing all of the best things into a pot, returning to a classic recipe, and making something short, sweet, and absolutely incredible as a result.