I used to work for a nonprofit agency that closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Boy, that was a treat. Nothing happened the last week of the year anyway, and if there were emergencies (and I had a few) we dealt with them. Still, it was nice knowing that all I had to deal with were the emergencies, and the rest of the time I could enjoy the ennui that this week brings. DC’s main line of superhero books was a lot like that in 2006 — finishing up old business, getting ready for the new stuff, and a lot of transitional material making up the difference.
It’s therefore a little weird saying goodbye to a year that only feels about two-thirds full. For me, the first four months of 2006 tend to blur into a kaleidoscope of carnage and plot maintenance — not unlike the opening pages of 52 #1, in fact – giving way to the relative calm of 52 and “One Year Later.” Still, to get it out of the way, here’s what I said about January’s Infinite Crisis #4, which featured Superboy-Prime’s breakdown:
Time will tell whether Infinite Crisis #4 was the start of an epic struggle that truly rivaled its predecessor, or just a collection of emotionally manipulative scenes. If it’s the latter, for me the manipulation was skillfully done.
Today I think I’d come down on the side of “emotionally manipulative,” because as much as Superboy-Prime and his Hypertime/Limbo roommates didn’t need to be revisited, the end of Infinite Crisis still left a lot of metacommentary possibilities unexplored. That holds for the rest of IC too: at the risk of repeating myself yet again, these events are processes disguised as stories and designed to justify (and bridge gaps between) different editorial policies.
That brings us, naturally, to the ultimate gap-filler of 52, which has been consistently entertaining despite a few clunky subplots and issues. I have no idea how it will read as a whole, because any immediacy its real-time underpinnings might provide would be lost in aggregate readings. In this respect 52 has ceded its medium’s control of time at least in part to the reader, so if it will have any lasting value as a story, the story itself must be compelling. Obviously that’s hard to judge now, because only at the end will we see what the writers considered important; but week to week, 52 has been a fun experiment. Nevertheless, I’m not saying DC should have its own weekly comic, and I’m definitely not too high on Countdown or whatever the follow-up ends up being called.
Part of that is because I’d rather have “big” books like Justice League of America, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman appear monthly — preferably in consistent weeks every month — than enjoy a single weekly comic. As a self-contained limited series that represents (for the most part) the only comprehensive look at the DC landscape during the missing year, 52 is something of an un-crossover. It also takes advantage of a unique situation, one which cannot easily be replicated. Marvel’s troubles with Civil War illustrate the domino effects of a late-shipping linchpin series on its satellite titles. Indeed, Donna Troy/Wonder Woman’s absence from 52 stems at least in part from Wonder Woman‘s tardiness. Maybe DC could do another weekly anthology a la Action Comics, but it can’t tie into the larger DC line too heavily without running those risks; and I doubt DC wants to do such a book without such spinoff-friendly ties.
However, like 2005, 2006 was a good year for the franchise anthology not dependent on monthly continuity. Legends of the Dark Knight and JLA Classified both put out 15 issues in 2006 and JSA Classified came up just short with 14. This allowed the team books to maintain a certain status quo — Wally West as the Flash, for example — while their flagships were being retooled. Although LOTDK gave way to Batman Confidential, there are by now only subtle differences between their stories and those in the two main Bat-books, and I’m sure DC feels that the more Batman, the better. For their part, Batman and Detective each saw 13 issues this year, and Batman threw in the “Jason’s Alive!” Annual as well.
Sometimes the late books were rescheduled almost on top of each other. Despite being published only 9 times in 2006, Green Lantern shipped three issues over a seven-week period in January and February (1/18, 2/1, and 2/22) and twice in November (11/8 and 11/29). Its other four issues came out in March, May, June, and September. Last month Aquaman shipped twice to make up for a missed month, and this week Justice League of America does the same.
To be sure, a lot of books did come out on time, or reasonably close to it. For me, revamped/relaunched titles like Hawkgirl, Atom, and the two Superman books benefited from their regularity. In a year full of relaunches, establishing a habit with the reader/consumer is pretty important. Brian Hibbs put it best:
The tricky thing about comics, is that the periodical is a habitual delivery system. And when you break that habit, you begin to lose the customer. Not just for any specific project, but cascading along all of the other titles that a customer is potentially interested in.
[...] It wasn’t really all that long ago that comics shipped pretty much like clockwork – you knew that Batman shipped the 2nd week of the month (that’s from memory, not fact, don’t be snarky!), because it did every month. And there’s value in that.
I too remember that Batman shipped the second week (and Detective the fourth) back in the day, and yes, there was value in knowing that I could look forward to specific books in particular weeks. I used to be able to catch up on last month’s books just before the current month’s came out, because I didn’t have to look at the Diamond lists to make sure the current week’s books would all be shipping. I don’t want to get into too much of a ship-on-time rant here, but part of the appeal of 52 is that, like the “weekly” Superman books of the ’90s, a) the enforced schedule makes it dependable, and b) the frequency means less catching up is necessary. (Not that catching up isn’t fun, but I’m busier now.)
Again, though, 52 is probably more valuable as a lesson in logistics than an ongoing concern. It was the defining title of DC’s superhero line, not only for its ubiquity but also for its transitory nature. 2006 never quite capitalized on the promises of 2005, and it has left us waiting until ’07 for a lot of the payoff.
So 2006 in retrospect feels like this last week of the year — a very pregnant pause between the big-event holidays of Infinite Crisis and the end of 52. We get a breather from all the hubbub for a while, but most of us just go back to work, tired from the effort of the holiday just concluded, yet gearing up in anticipation of the next big thing.