Comic Fodder

Weekly Comics: Before and After 52


A weekly comic? Insane. Or is it? It's happened before. Now, rumors say it's happening again.

With 52 now 39 weeks into the grand experiment and a lot of the kinks seemingly worked out of the weekly format (for a single book), no doubt DC is regretting having to break up the band in week 53. But that doesn't mean they can't try again. Rumors have begun to spring up of another DC weekly. Rich Johnston of rumor-column Lying in the Gutters has spilled the beans.

Expect official confirmation and plenty of news on that previously LITG-rumoured 52 weekly sequel "Countdown," the DC Universe book being "showrun" by Paul Dini, in about a month.

One little titbit I've discovered is that, befitting the title, the issue numbering system will start at #51 (shipping the week after "52" #52) and, week by week, count down to #0. Instantly grabbing the considerable audience from "52" and getting them to commit for another year - albeit one that runs alongside current DC continuity.

That sounds about right for DC's current model. That is, if you ignore that most other major titles are shipping one-to-two months off schedule once you look past 52 for punctuality.

52 was not DC's first attempt at a weekly. Readers may be reminded of DC's post-Crisis go at turning flagship title Action Comics into Action Comics Weekly. readers may recall (or not) that the attempt lasted from issue 601 to issue 642. Of course, the series also put Superman on the back-burner of his own title and didn't feature any of the sort of epic storytelling that has been seen in 52. Stories were largely an issue or two from standard pitches, with little in place to draw readers back week after week. Especially when the title might feature characters the readers might not find appealing for an issue or two. Obviously the attempt didn't take, and with 643, the series returned to a monthly title.

Readers who followed the Superman titles throughout the 1990's will recall the "Shield System". At one time, DC had four ongoing Superman comics, all in continuity (Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Superman, Superman: Man of Steel). All of the books fell under a single editorial team which ensured the creative teams worked in very tight relation to one another. Frequently, stories would criss-cross all four titles in a single month, the editors treating the stable of Super-books as a single title with multiple writers, each handling a separate portion of a single story.

From the Superman Homepage:

For many years a small triangular box had the year and a number saying what week of the year the comic came out, however with issue #154 of Superman (cover date March 2000) the triangle box was replaced with a Superman "S" shield, still containing the year and week number. Since the four regular titles of that time mostly had a continuing storyline, this triangle number or shield number was very useful in keeping one's collection in the correct reading order.

The Triangle or Shield Numbering system ran for 11 years before DC Comics stopped using it in 2002, with Action Comics #785 being the last issue to use it.

In effect, the Super-office was putting out a weekly book, which could be seen as either sustaining all four titles or hurting all four titles as readers chose to stick with a weekly format or give up on all four titles altogether. Berganza, editor at the time, decided to splinter the teaming of the books and give writers greater creative freedom. Sales may have already been falling on the Superman books, but during the next few years, Superman fell from two comics a month to two Superman titles per month.

In the context of the Shield System, 52's overall quality of storytelling should be noted. The Superman stories under the Shield System may not have always been as weel scripted as possible, as each issue seemed more intent on providing a single beat for each story and often packing the rest with filler. Writing often seemed stilted as writers may not have been able to cut free of the needs of the overall Superman-office, rather than best serving an individual comic (see The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, and Return of Superman books for examples).

DC (like Marvel) has realized that, in the information age, their readers will wait between issues. Former mainstays of predictable delivery are now so far off of their former monthly schedule, this reader has mostly quit paying attention to see when those issues will actually appear. Instead, this reader has found it valuable to treat it like a happy surprise when Wonder Woman or Action Comics finds it's way to the shelf.

A weekly comic may appear significantly more attractive as DC allows its flagship titles to fall off of anything resembling a reasonable production schedule. After all, when comics fail to ship on time, every month late is a month DC cannot sell a comic, ie: make a profit, from the flagship comics with a built-in audience. A comic which is coming out each week guarantees some income (perhaps the companies are also not losing money publishing comics they know won't sell when they allow A-List talent to take their sweet time. You know, this is my big opportunity to take a pot shot at the Kuberts at this point, and ask why they take so long when Curt Swan drew approximately 897 comics per year. But that's a topic for another day.)

In many ways, 52 has done the heavy lifting for any future creative teams. Editors Steve Wacker and Michael Siglain (as well as their assistant and associate editors, Harvey Richards and Jeanine Schaeffer) should be given tremendous applause for figuring out how to make a weekly comic work. Unlike the Superman "Shield System", this comic is given the entire DCU as a playground, from islands full of mad scientist to death cults on the edge of space and dozens of characters. The storylines, while seemingly headed to a single point, have interesting arcs amongst themselves. There may be a lesson here regarding comics having a beginning, middle and an end.

52 must come at quite some literal cost. DC has put a small army behind 52 with a minimum of 3 editors, 4 writers, 1 break-down artist, plus the rest of the staff one might expect per a "normal" comic, four-to-five times a month. The writers involved are considered the best DC has to offer, and one would assume, paid as such. It may be that that what this particular supergroup managed to pull off was based largely upon a shared vision and whatever it is that makes these guys top-selling writers in the first place. It's unknown how much creative in-fighting has occured, or even how writing assignments are truly broken up (although it's not impossible to guess). Can another creative team manage to pull this off, or will they be their own undoing?

There's something to be said for Didio's "TV-style" writing teams. It's seemed to work so far, at least on 52. With someone like Dini (see rumor again) on as a "showrunner" on a title, with both TV and comic experience, the sky seems to be the limit. If that works here, would Didio try it on lines of books and get back to the era of the Shield System?

As a reader who is finding it far easier to remain engaged in a comic which is available as frequently as the average prime-time show than the sporadic release of many other titles, the notion of a weekly comic is something for which I can find space in my budget. It shall be interesting to see, if the title is in continuity (and not displaced by a year) if the editors can establish a single spine from which the rest of the DCU can hang. Perhaps a weekly comic is exactly what is needed.

So, how do you feel about a weekly comic after 52? Has 52 been an experience you want to continue?
What did I get wrong? Questions? Comments? Come on, I can take it.