4.10.2014

Wednesday Comics: Metamorpho by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred

In 2009, DC published a Sunday-newspaper-style anthology series called Wednesday Comics.
Cover to issue 4.

I loved these things. There were 12 issues altogether, featuring 15 separate characters and stories. I picked up the one above from the shelves of That's Entertainment in Worcester, MA and unfolded it to its full 14" x 20" broadsheet glory and just marveled at it. Once I had them all, I spread them out on the floor and did the same.

These aren't mine. I got the image from here, which is a good overview of the whole thing.

Every issue has at least one panel or page that delighted me with the endless possibilities of the medium. Why the Tribune, say, doesn't partner up with DC to make something like this an ongoing part of the 21st century is beyond me. (Well, not quite beyond me: it's not cost-effective. But it'd be nice if they found a way to make it work.) 

There's a hardcover trade for the whole kit and kaboodle, but if you're in the market for Wednesday Comics, the way to go is to pick up the oversized originals. (Cheaper, too.) The trade is oversized and looks great, no doubt, but for me the message comes through louder and clearer on cheap newsprint and with lots of crinkly folding and unfolding.

I doubt I'll do a post for each of the stories anthologized in WC. Some of them are really cool, though. Like this one:


I didn't (and still don't) know much about Metamorpho or his colorful cast of characters:


I remember the character from Justice League Europe back in the day and from various other back issues I picked up here and there but had no enduring affection for him. Anything Neil Gaiman or Mike Allred are involved with, however, together or separately, is worth a look. Apparently, the genesis for the project was Allred, who asked Gaiman if he would be interested in writing part of a longer-narrative involving Metamorpho that Allred's been working on for years. Gaiman said "Sure." Years later - fans of Gaiman know he and George RR Martin park their cars in the same You'll get it when you get it garage - the story materialized as part of Wednesday Comics.

Gaiman is familiar enough with the original Metamorpho stories written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Ramona Fradon. He wrote a poignant story starring Element Girl, "Fa├žade," that can be found in the Dream Country collection.


Gaiman handles the ancient myths (in this case, following the Metamorphae origin story with Ra and Apep)

 
with his usual neo-postmodern aplomb:  


Wikipedia informs me that Metamorpho is still around in the new 52 but not an especially prominent part of it. I don't think anything ever came of Allred's larger-narrative project mentioned above, and if this Wednesday Comics story is an indication of what it might have looked like, that is a damn shame.

These "Metamorpho fans of America" panels are part of the fun. And informative, too!
There's only a couple of them (there might be one more than represented above, I can't remember.)

The story, while not unworthy of examination, is not the point of today's post, but rather the sense of creative flourish on display. Gaiman's previous Element Girl story was a farewell-to-the-Silver-Age sort of tale; this one is more spirited pastiche. It's more than that, though. This is like seeing two sports stars at the height of their game play the world's best game of ping pong or something like that, an unexpected and unpressured showcase of their virtuosity.


Here's what I did: I had 16 screencaps, so I assigned a number to each of them, then rolled an 8-sided die twice. I let the results determine the order of presentation rather than staying chronological or pursuant to plot. I sometimes prefer a Cuisinart approach to reality, particularly two-dimensional reality. Hope you enjoy.

One of the unfortunate side effects of France's gradual fade from global influence is the disappearance of the word "Zut" from the lexicon.
Ah, Java. So much potential with an ongoing neanderthal manservant character.
And here we come up on the best part of the series (okay, I cheated for this part on the die-rolling; these have to be done in sequence.)
Incidentally, is there any comic book character who wouldn't benefit from having an evil version of him or herself from Roman times?

The panels above are plucked from two unbroken pages in subsequent issues of Wednesday Comics. Here's what Disjointed Observations has to say about the effect of WC's unique construction has on the way the reader constructs meaning:

"The anthology (...) is a neglected area of rhetorical study.  It is interesting to note how taking a text from one place and putting it into another can change the meaning.  For example, a story published in The New Yorker is printed with visual elements (like cartoons) throughout, in narrow columns, often with advertisements on facing pages. When that story is anthologized in a book for students, it is printed on different paper, in a different font, without the graphic elements and advertisements, and with columns that stretch the page. It is hard to argue that one would read the exact same story in different ways because of the context in which each is presented, something that applies to this collection as well.

Appropriately, seeing as how he’s the Element Man, Metamorpho and Element Girl must navigate a maze in which they must shift to each element in the periodic table. 


 Again presented in facing pages, the characters travel through panels that compose the periodic table, with a line of dialogue that incorporates the chemical abbreviation of each element as they pass through. At times these comments are hokey, but this is inventive page design and worth of attention."

If that's too much Lit Theory nerdery for you, don your gasmask...

Okay, so I'm cheating again - these were not assigned randomly. (I love that picture of Java, incidentally.)

I'll leave you with this link to Michael Allred's reflection on the series and these last few snapshots of the story.

When is the last time you called someone a misbegotten moron? I can't exactly endorse such rudeness (and depending on where you live / to whom you are addressing, such recklessness) but, like "Zut" or "nincompoop," perhaps we've bid too hasty a farewell to the expression.
Would make a great tapestry.

4 comments:

  1. Good lord...! I had totally forgotten Metemorpho even existed.

    This looks effing fantastic. Every line Java has is gold.

    I like the little dig at Paul Levitz; Gaiman doesn't seem to have the rabid hatred for him that Alan Moore has, but I'm guessing he's not much of a fan, either.

    "I've summoned it with my CIA bracelet" -- gotta find a way to use that line in a real-world scenario soon.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed! Yeah, those Java lines crack me up.

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  2. First off.. I love Worcester MA. My grandmother lives there. Still bummed they closed the Armor Museum. I hadn't heard about this comic before. The format sounds really cool so I looked and it turns out my library has the trade version! So of course I put it on hold. I am excited to check it out!

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    1. The Armor Museum was fantastic. Nice!

      Next time you visit your grandmother, do yourself a favor and visit That's Entertainment (if you haven't already) - best comics-shop (and more) in the world. Or at least New England. (Okay, at least Massachusetts.)

      Hope you enjoy the trade once it comes your way.

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