Review: Superman and Batman break free in Wednesday Comics

Once upon a time, in an era so far removed from ours that many of those reading these words will not have the slightest idea what I'm talking about, the Sunday comics section of your local newspaper was not the burial ground of half-baked, endlessly recycled gag strips about wisecracking cats and uninteresting families.

You didn't have to look at any given installment of fossils like Beetle Bailey and Family Circus and hear the creak of jokes that first appeared in those venues not years, but decades before; there were continuing adventure strips, some of them downright glorious, with vistas of art and detail that made their exotic settings live and breathe.

And they weren't shrunken to microscopic size and stacked on top of one another in a manner that rendered futile any attempt at evocative detail, but allowed to stretch, magnificently, across the entire page. It was the time of Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff and Chester Gould and Hal Foster, and it was beautiful.

Wednesday Comics ($3.99), the new weekly from DC Comics, is a game attempt to recapture some of the spirit of those bygone days, in a newsprint tabloid format that resembles a comic book when folded but becomes a simulacrum of one of those bygone Sunday pages when unfurled.

The characters, all of whom appear in one-page installments, are all DC Comics mainstays, but the format allows significant variation in art styles, from the Kamandi strip by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook, which apes the storytelling style of Raymond's Flash Gordon, to the more cartoony takes on characters like Supergirl and the Metal Men. Name creators include Neil Gaiman, who here launches Metamorpho, and Joe Kubert, whose signature Sgt. Rock begins his first weekly installment under heavy interrogation by a Nazi officer who we trust to be not long for this world. Some of the art, like Kyle Baker's Hawkman, and Lee Bermejo's Superman, is gorgeous.

The funniest experiment? The Flash standing up his girlfriend, Iris West, because of the latest plot of Gorilla Grodd shares its page with an installment of the soap opera strip Iris West, about a lovelorn lass who cannot understand why her boyfriend keeps standing her up. We don't know how long that can be kept up, but kudos to creators Karl Kerscl and Brenden Fletcher for as long as they manage it.

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