Usually I can be distracted simply by the shiny and sparkly, but last week it was an apparently high proportion of miniseries in DC’s September superhero solicitations. Specifically, DC has solicited 20 issues’ worth of DCU miniseries to 29 issues’ worth of ongoing DCU series; which works out to 39% of DC’s new-material superhero output. I didn’t have a lot of data last week to put that in proper context, but I’ve been working on it.
Boy, have I ever….
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In recent years, we DC readers have grown accustomed to miniseries as part of the larger Event process. A miniseries can be more versatile in this regard than an ongoing series. More to the point, it’s something extra — something which suggests by its very existence that it is simply too much for an ongoing-series arc. Still, assuming that DC wants to grow its core DCU/superhero line without straying too far from the well-established serial-storytelling techniques, I’d imagine it would want to get readers hooked on the ongoing titles. While miniseries can be gateway books, their final issues can also provide convenient jumping-off points. Even a bad ongoing series can trade on at least some reader loyalty.
For the next few weeks, then, we’ll be looking at the last several years’ worth of DCU/superhero output. Basically, I tried to count every ongoing, miniseries, and special issue which carried the DC bullet without any caveats. Thus, while not everything is devoted to the in-continuity “DC Universe” itself, there are no imprints and no cartoon adaptations. I also tried to weed out most of the pricier reprints, but a few probably slipped through.
Many, many thanks to Mike’s Amazing World Of DC Comics for putting together his “Master List” — while I’ve adapted his spreadsheet somewhat, it (and the whole site) is a fantastic resource. Many thanks also to the DC Timeline site.
Although the current string of Events stretches back to 2004, I wanted to go back a little farther for comparison’s sake. Therefore, this first installment covers the pre-Identity Crisis years of 2001, 2002, and 2003. 2001 featured two crossover events (“Our Worlds At War” and Joker: The Last Laugh), both relatively late in the year. On January 22, 2002, DC announced that it had promoted Mike Carlin to Vice President and Executive Editor of the DCU line; and announced that Dan DiDio had joined the publisher as Vice President-Editorial. On February 8, 2002, publisher Jenette Kahn retired, and Paul Levitz became President and Publisher. The DC Timeline site (same link as above) states further that DiDio replaced Carlin as Editor-in-Chief on February 12, 2003. DiDio wouldn’t become Executive Editor of the DCU until 2004.
(By the way, while this series of posts will necessarily cover DiDio’s tenure, drawing contrasts between it and the last years of Mike Carlin’s reign, I’m attempting to offer these statistics without undue editorializing.)
So, if you’re still awake, let’s get started!
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There are certain titles which, at least by dint of their longevity, have become mainstays of DC’s superhero line. I call these nine series the “core” or “foundational” titles: Detective Comics, Action Comics, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, and Legion of Super-Heroes. These may take breaks or go through cosmetic changes, but they will never go completely away.
At the start of 2001, 33 titles comprised the DCU/superhero line. The Batman group was pretty dominant, with its two core titles supplemented by eight series: Azrael, Batgirl, Batman: Gotham Knights, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Nightwing, and Robin. There were still four main Superman titles (with The Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Man Of Steel as additional “main” titles), plus Superboy and Supergirl (Peter David version). The rest of the DCU line included Birds Of Prey, Hitman, Hourman, Impulse, JSA, the Legends of the DC Universe anthology, Walt Simonson’s Orion, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Martian Manhunter, The Spectre (J.M. DeMatteis writing Hal Jordan), Starman, The Titans, and Young Justice.
Of those 24 “non-foundational” titles, only three are still published today (Nightwing, Robin, and BOP); while four survive in somewhat altered forms (LOTDK, Supergirl, JSA, and Young Justice). Titans has recently been revived, and Batgirl is returning as a miniseries form. Thus, there seems to be some volatility in a good part of the “non-foundational” series. In fact, in each of 2001, 2002, and 2003, the DCU line suffered a net loss of at least one ongoing series. (All dates are calendar references, not cover references, unless otherwise noted.)
New in ‘01: Green Arrow, by Kevin Smith and Phil Hester (Feb); Suicide Squad, by Keith Giffen and Paco Medina (Sept); Doom Patrol, by John Arcudi and Tan Eng Huat (Oct)
Cancelled in ‘01: Hitman and Hourman (Feb), LOTDCU (Apr), Starman (June)
New in ‘02: The Power Company (Jan); Hawkman, by James Robinson, Geoff Johns, and Rags Morales (March); Lab Rats, by John Byrne (Apr); Aquaman, by Rick Veitch and Yvel Guichet (Dec); and Gotham Central, by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark (Dec)
Cancelled in ‘02: Orion (April), Superboy (May), Deadman, Impulse, Suicide Squad (Aug), Lab Rats (Nov)
New in ‘03: H-E-R-O, by Will Pfeifer and Kano (Feb); Outsiders, by Judd Winick and Tom Raney (June); Fallen Angel, by Peter David and David Lopez (July); Teen Titans, by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone (July); and Plastic Man, by Kyle Baker (Dec)
Cancelled in ‘03: Superman: The Man Of Steel (Jan), The Titans (Feb), Azrael, The Spectre, Supergirl, Young Justice (Mar), Doom Patrol, Power Company (July), Harley Quinn (Nov)
Accordingly, although DC began 2001 with 33 ongoing DCU/superhero books, it ended 2003 with 29.
Month-to-month, DC didn’t supplement its ongoing series that often. In January 2001 the regular issue of JLA was replaced by six issues’ worth of a fifth-week mini-event called Justice Leagues; and in January 2002 The Power Company launched with seven character-spotlight issues (the actual issue #1 shipped in February). Certain series went biweekly for upwards of three months at a time; and I also counted title-specific Secret Files issues as part of the regular-series run. There weren’t too many late books either — Green Arrow and Wonder Woman skipped a couple of months each in 2002, but that was about it. Accordingly, as of 2003 the total monthly number of ongoing-series issues varied only between 29 and 32.
Therefore, the real potential for line expansion seemed to be in miniseries. In 2001 the DCU line included 75 issues’ worth of miniseries, spanning 20 different titles. This works out to about 1.4 miniseries issues per week, with 8 “vacant” weeks. That might seem pretty skimpy, but in 2002 the numbers decreased to 51 issues of 13 different miniseries. Clearly that’s less than one issue per week; and indeed 2002 featured 13 weeks without DCU miniseries.
(A couple of notes: the 2001 miniseries numbers don’t include Legion Lost or Legion Worlds, since they were collectively the de facto ongoing Legion title. I also lumped together JLA/Haven: Arrival and the first issue of the Haven miniseries.)
In 2001, miniseries averaged 16 percent of the total DCU monthly output, varying from 5 percent in January to 30 percent in August. Those numbers didn’t change much in 2002. On a month-to-month basis, miniseries made up anywhere from 7% (3 of 44 issues) to 22% (9 of 41) of the DCU total. On average, miniseries were 11 percent of the total, as compared to the ongoing-series’ average of 86 percent (80 percent in 2001).
However, in 2003, the miniseries numbers jumped dramatically. DC published a total of 164 issues of DCU/superhero miniseries, spread over 36 titles and 53 weeks. This was almost three times the 2002 count, and was about double the 2001 count. Moreover, only one week out of those 53 was without any DCU miniseries. For the year, miniseries made up 30% of the DCU output, compared with 66% for the ongoing titles. In fact, after May 2003, the number didn’t go below 32%, and was as high as 37% in August, September, and November. Therefore, the 39% figure I projected for September 2008 looks a little more reasonable.
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Even so, what was DC doing with its miniseries? Mostly Batman and JLA stories. 2001 included the first issue of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the last issue of Robin: Year One, and the JLA-centric start of the Haven miniseries. Of course, 2001 also had six issues and a Secret Files’ worth of Joker: The Last Laugh, plus eleven “Our Worlds At War” specials. The Just Imagine Stan Lee … miniseries started in 2001 and finished in 2002. However, with the Big Daddy Danger and Forever Maelstrom miniseries, 2002 started to get away from the DCU a bit.
That diversity continued in 2003, which saw the DC bullet on such non-superhero miniseries as Bad Girls, Caper, iCandy, and Peter Bagge’s Sweatshop. Naturally, though, 2003′s 36 miniseries also included 9 Batman miniseries (counting Matt Wagner’s Trinity and John Byrne’s Generations 2); six JLA miniseries (including Formerly Known As The Justice League and two issues of JLA/Avengers); and four Superman miniseries (including Birthright). Last but not least, the infamous Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries hit the direct market in May 2003, quietly heralding the start of a perpetual Event Season for the next five-plus years.
While the miniseries might have been getting more diverse, the ongoings seemed to be consolidating into more straightforward superheroics. These three years saw the ends of Hitman, Hourman, Starman, Orion, the Peter David Supergirl, and Young Justice. Although some of the new series included the likes of Fallen Angel, Gotham Central, and Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, others relaunched venerable characters like Green Arrow, Aquaman, and Hawkman. Of course sales figures enter into these decisions; but for now I’m more concerned with the kinds of books, ongoing and miniseries, which went on these schedules.
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Just a brief word about the DCU line’s special issues: they weren’t used that much to advance the plotlines of the ongoing series. To the best of my knowledge, only 2001′s Flash: Iron Heights, 2002′s Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure and Green Lantern Legacy, and 2003′s Superman: The 10-Cent Adventure tied directly into current arcs. In any event, the specials themselves accounted consistently for 4 percent of their particular year’s DCU output, regardless of the miniseries numbers. We’ll see how much that changes as the years (and the events) progress.
Next week we’ll look at 2004 and 2005, as Identity Crisis gets DC’s superhero readers ready for full-on crossover action. Bring your calculators!
Appendix: The Titles
2001 DCU miniseries
Batman: Hollywood Knight (3 issues, Feb-Apr)
Batman: League of Batmen (2, Apr-May)
Batman: Orpheus Rising (5, Aug-Dec)
Batman: The Ankh (2, Nov-Dec)
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (1, Dec)
Deadman: Dead Again (5, weekly in Aug)
Enemy Ace: War in Heaven (2, Mar-Apr)
Green Lantern: Dragon Lord (3, Apr-Jun)
JLA/Haven: Arrival and Haven: The Broken City (2, Nov-Dec)
JLA: Black Baptism (4, May-Aug)
JLA: Gatekeeper (3, Oct-Dec)
JLA: Incarnations (7, May-Oct, Dec)
Joker: The Last Laugh (7, weekly Oct-Nov)
Just Imagine Stan Lee (6, Aug-Dec)
Robin: Year One (1, Jan)
Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool (2, Jan-Feb)
Superboy’s Legion (2, Feb-Mar)
Superman and Batman: Generations 2 (4, Aug-Nov)
Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle (3, Oct-Dec)
“Our Worlds At War” specials (11, June-Aug)
2002 DCU miniseries
Batgirl: Year One (1 issue, December)
Batman Family (8, weekly Oct-Dec)
Batman/Aliens II (1, Dec)
Batman/Deathblow: After the Fire (3, Mar-Apr, July)
Big Daddy Danger (5, Aug-Dec)
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2, Jan-Feb)
DC First (4, weekly in May)
Forever Maelstrom (2, Nov-Dec)
Green Lantern: Evil’s Might (3, Aug-Oct)
Haven: The Broken City (9, Jan-Aug, Nov)
JLA: Destiny (4, Jun-Sep)
Just Imagine Stan Lee …(7, Jan-July)
Superman: Day of Doom (4, weekly Nov-Dec)
2003 DCU miniseries
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell (6, July-Dec)
Bad Girls (5, Oct-Feb)
Batgirl: Year One (8, March-Oct)
Batman/Aliens II (2, Jan-Feb)
Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity (3, June-Aug)
Batman: City of Light (3, Oct-Dec)
Batman: Death and the Maidens (5, Aug-Dec)
Batman: Nevermore (5, Apr-Aug)
Batman: Tenses (2, Aug-Sept)
Big Daddy Danger (9, Mar-June)
Caper (3, Oct-Dec)
Cinnamon: El Ciclo (5, Aug-Dec)
Demon: Driven Out (4, Sept-Dec)
Dr. Fate (5, Aug-Dec)
Empire (7, Jun-Dec)
Forever Maelstrom (4, Jan-Apr)
Formerly Known as the Justice League (6, July-Dec)
Human Defense Corps (6, May-Oct)
iCandy (4, Sept-Dec)
JLA/Avengers (2, Sept, Nov)
JLA/Spectre: Soul War (2, Jan-Feb)
JLA: Age of Wonder (2, Apr-May)
JLA: Scary Monsters (6, Mar-Aug)
JLA-Z (3, Sept-Nov)
JSA: All-Stars (8, May-Dec)
JSA: The Unholy Three (2, Mar-Apr)
Lobo Unbound (4, June-Nov)
Rose and Thorn (1, Dec)
Smallville (5, bimonthly March-Nov)
Superman and Batman: Generations 3 (12, Jan-Dec)
Superman: Birthright (5, July-Nov)
Superman: Metropolis (11, Feb-Dec)
Superman: Red Son (3, Apr-June)
Superman: The Kansas Sighting (2, Nov-Dec)
Sweatshop (6, Apr-Sept)
Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day (3, May-June)
2001 DCU special issues/one-shots
Batman/Scarface: A Psychodrama
Batman: Gotham Noir
Brave and the Bold Annual (reprint)
DC 100-Page Super Spectacular: Love Stories Replica Edition
Flash Annual Replica Edition
Flash: Iron Heights
Green Arrow by Jack Kirby
Green Lantern: 1001 Emerald Nights
Green Lantern: Willworld
Harley and Ivy: Love on the Lam
JLA: Act of God
JLA: Gods and Monsters
Nightwing: The Target
Secret Files and Origins Guide to the DC Universe 2001-2002
Secret Files President Luthor
Superman: Where is Thy Sting
Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth
2002 DCU special issues/one-shots
Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure
Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score
Flash: Time Flies
Green Lantern: Brightest Day/Blackest Night
Green Lantern Legacy: The Last Will And Testament of Hal Jordan
JLA/JSA Secret Files and Origins
JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice
JLA: Secret Origins
JLA: Shogun of Steel
JLA: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Shazam and the Shazam Family Annual
Sugar and Spike Replica Edition
Superman and Savage Dragon: Chicago
Wonder Woman 80-Page Giant
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
2003 DCU special issues/one-shots
Batman: Child of Dreams
Batman: Hong Kong
Batman: Hush Double Feature
Batman: The Golden Street of Gotham
Birds of Prey: Batgirl/Catwoman
Birds of Prey: Catwoman/Oracle
DC Comics 100-Page Super Spectacular Replica Edition
Elfquest: 25th Anniversary Edition
Even More Secret Origins
H-E-R-O Double Feature
JLA: Liberty and Justice
JLA: Welcome to the Working Week
Outsiders Double Feature
Plastic Man 80-Page Giant
Superboy #147 (Replica Edition)
Superman Vs. Darkseid: Apokolips Now!
Superman: Blood of My Ancestors
Superman: Last Stand on Krypton
Superman: The 10-Cent Adventure
Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003
Wonder Woman: The Blue Amazon
World’s Best Comics: The Golden Age Archives Sampler