With DC starting another weekly series and Figs anxious to continue his Morrrison-athon, this seems like a good time to take a look back at 52.
<SPOILER ALERT> .... Due to the amount of plot building and foreshadowing in this series, spoilers aplenty will be tossed about. You have been warned. ... <SPOILER ALERT>
The granddaddy of DC's weeklies would be the Millennium crossover series. I suspect this was issued weekly because DC wanted to confine its annual crossover to the summer. Millennium started off with a bang but ran out of steam quickly after the initial Manhunter reveals. One could argue that the story was forced to move too slowly to wait for each monthly to have a crossover. In any case, DC’s takeaway was that another format would work better for their crossovers.
DC’s next weekly project was Action Comics Weekly. This was run as an oversized anthology title with six different features; a Superman 2 pager, a Green Lantern 8 page lead, and four rotating 8 page features. After 42 issues ACW was reformatted back to a regular length title, once again spotlighting Superman. A number of the features received new titles and minis but DC did not try an anthology title again until the Showcase series in the 90s.
The triangle Superman titles were DC’s next go at weekly storytelling. DC had four titles that were telling Superman stories, Superman, Action, Adventures of Superman, and Superman: Man of Steel, and they decided that rather than having each creative team look for a different perspective to differentiate their title, they’d have each storyline continue from one title to the next. To make sure there were no gap weeks, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow was added to cover 5th weeks. This system required lots of coordination and editorial control but lasted for a number of years, until the titles had a reason to separate after the death of Superman.
It was many years before DC tried another weekly, finally giving it a go with 52. 52 was a comic that DC put a lot of resources towards, essentially putting five of their top writers on one comic. Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Keith Giffen crafted an anthology comic of interweaving stories set during a time the rest of DC’s line was restricted from using, except through flashbacks. The comic was supposed to chronicle what went on during a missing year, and did to some degree, but ultimately wound up focussing more on the stories of its lead characters. DC intended to have a puzzle that would be filled in, showing how the one year later status quos came about, causing fans to become more invested in their characters. Fans became invested in 52 and its focus characters, making 52 DC’s most successful weekly to date, allowing most of the key characters to spin off into either minis or ongoings, and showing that people will read both weeklies and anthologies if the circumstances are right.
After the success of 52, DC almost immediately started another weekly, Countdown (To Final Crisis). Once again, Countdown was set up as an interweaving anthology. This time, the series was set up with one main writer and in the same time frame as the rest of the DCU. Whereas 52 was off on its own, Countdown made a concerted effort to act as a “spine” for DCU current events. This proved to be unwieldy for continuity and unsatisfying as a story. Countdown proved to be a critical failure, mostly ignored going forward. However, sales were high enough that DC decided to try another weekly the next year, Kurt Busiek’s Trinity.
Trinity was a more focussed story, with bigger name characters to increase its draw. It initially focussed on the relationship between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman but quickly veered into an alternate reality story about how the DCU would differ if Supes, Bats, and WW were removed. By going with an alternate reality story, Trinity removed the need to coordinate with the rest of the DCU, however, it also became less “important” in the context of the DCU. Ultimately, Trinity didn’t do as well as its predecessors, whether this was due to problems with the story or because Countdown poisoned the well is debatable.
The next weekly from DC was a departure in format, the broadsheet comic, Wednesday Comics. This was an anthology set up like newspaper comic strips of old rather than comic books. This had big names, working on varied characters, over a shorter time frame. Each strip had its own flavour as the creative teams were varied and were not bound by comic book continuity. Although, widely considered a creative success, more volumes have not been forthcoming.
This leads us to DC’s latest attempt at a weekly comic, Before Watchmen. Before Watchmen is different from its predecessors as it’s more accurately 7 minis with a common backup and trade dress. It remains to be seen if the backup will in some way relate to the other stories or if the minis will have any themes in common beyond working towards Watchmen. Regardless though, with its scheduling and a backup that requires all the minis for the full story, this has to be seen as a type of weekly comic.
So, as DC turns away from the interweaving anthology weekly in favour of linked mini series, the time has come to take a look back at 52 to determine what made it so uniquely successful.