Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WWWednesday: Dick Hammer

WWWednesday: Dick Hammer
by Chris Wisnia

Every Wednesday, A Comic A Day boldly diverts from the printed page to read and review a different webcomic, examining at least its first, previous, and current installments. If you have a webcomic you'd like A Comic A Day to review, please e-mail me with a link to and a synopsis of your work. Put "Review my webcomic!" in the subject line so I don't mistake your request for spam . . . unless your comic is really called "Work from Home and Become a Millionaire," in which case, tell me more!

Yes, I'm playing catch-up, thanks to the welcome distraction that was Star Trek: The Tour, the three day weekend, and my infrequent assess to the Internet. Fortunately, these "WWWednesdays" will provide a sense of stability to my cumulative efforts, acting almost as a hard deadline for the days I've missed, since I need to get online for viable, mid-week content, anyway. In other words, no Internet on Wednesdays means nothing even to read, and as a geek that practically sets his watch by when he's reading comics, we can't have that now, can we?

A few weeks ago, I reviewed John Hageman, Jr.'s Social Vermyn because he was my neighbor to my left (your right) at last year Alternative Press Expo, so this week I decided to tackle Chris Wisnia's Dick Hammer, as he was my neighbor to my right (your left). Wisnia, a friendly guy that probably prefers to be reviewed by his first name if only using his last name wasn't just so darn scholarly sounding, obviously has a passion for The Way Things Used to Be, proven in large part by his love of Kirby-era monsters. Though his collected works are quite ecclectic, ranging from the supernatural, to horror, to the downright weird, all of them are bound by an undying love of the Golden and Silver Ages, if not in their blatant presentation, than in their campy-for-camp's-sake wordiness. Interestingly, by totally owning this step backward, Wisnia has made a definitively dramatic step forward in his graphic storytelling style . . .

Enter: Dick Hammer. I discovered Dick (uhm, yes, let's go back to using last names, eh?) while looking for Wisnia's other webcomic Spider-Twins, recently advertised in his Tabloia e-newsletter. Unfortunately, the three-image character design primer wasn't substantial enough to review, though I see where he and EIC Rob Oder are going, continuing their ongoing effort to make their comics linguistically awkward to review. Nevertheless, when I saw Dick Hammer as my other webcomic selection, I couldn't resist, and, yes, when it comes to detective noir, Hammer nails it. Offered in a daily strip format once a week, the incredibly slow pacing of the first two months' installments (featuring one city-scape after another, for the most part) was actually hilarious to behold in sheer retrospect, an undoubtedly intended tongue-in-cheek of the on-line serialization process. I thought the same thing to a much lesser degree with Von Allen's the road to god knows . . .; sometimes, a weekly website visit just pales in comparison to the rapid turning of the page.

Still, once the story gets going, it get going, as Hammer responds to a frequent client/trusted friend's call for help. Beat up by his girlfriend, the wealthy Kaplan wants the girl back, but preferably under the nose of his apparently unsuspecting wife. Hammer respectfully takes the job and finds the dame at her house, dodging a few tails and taking gruff from absolutely no one. He returns the galpal, collects his pay, and even confronts the mrs. in these first few chapters, which read effortlessly once one accepts the tone and smoldering attitude of our fearless hero. Indeed, Dick Hammer is really just Dick Tracy on a series mad-on, sans creepy villains but rife with social commentary and surrounding by an upper class, all with ulterior motive.

Wisnia's art isn't as solid as I've seen him display firsthand, but it's just as confident, stretching the panel boundaries of the standard daily strip format and utilizing his ink to its fullest capabilities. It's moody and scratchy, just like his characters, which compliments the story perfectly. Above all else, from his newsletters to the actual implementation of his art, Wisnia and the whole Tabloia crew know exactly what they want to accomplish with their brand and they go to great lengths to make it happen. At the same time, it seems effortless and fun on their part, which means that it really can't always be.

Warning: Dive into Dick Hammer only if you have some significant amount of time on your hands, because Wisnia and Oder's supplemental material is a visual meal in itself. Still, you owe yourself a comprehensive trip through their entire on-line offerings. I know this because their site always tell me so! You'll see . . . they definitely put the "ham" back in "Hammer," and who knew it was even in there in the first place?

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