Thursday, January 11, 2007

Week after Week after Week...

From a superhero comics industry point of view, the story of 2006 is 52.

It's a huge hit, and it flies in the face of most of the trends of superheroes, In age where only name hero books sell, massive production delays, and "waiting for the trade," DC managed to put out a comic book, without missing a single ship date, starring third and fourth string characters, that managed to get over 100,000 fans to go into the shop EVERY WEEK to pick up the new issues as they come out. It's even managed to get some big outside attention for introducing new characters, bringing, hopefully, maybe a few new people into the comics shops.

But is it an aberration, a blip in the face of an adverse tide, or could it be a sign of things to come? That is, could the success of 52 be duplicated? I'm split:

No, it cannot:

1. 52 is a novelty act. A lot of the early attention to it was they fact that it was new. "FOUR all-star writers!" "Rotating artists!" "Real-time storytelling!" "A new issue, EVERY WEEK!" "Never before attempted! Can we do it? or will we CRASH AND BURN?" Well, now we know it CAN be done, and done reasonably well, so the morbid curiosity has worn off.

2. 52 is a limited series. Over 100,000 readers are willing to commit an extra $2.50 a month to watch the experiment in action, but I doubt they are willing to commit it indefinitely. But once enough people had invested in 16 or so issues (the standard 3 month trial period), people could justify sticking it out until the end. An ongoing would suffer a lot more reader attrition.

3. 52 has "importance." Coming directly out of Infinite Crisis and the One Year Later launch, 52 "lays the groundwork" for the "new" DC Universe. Any and every DC Comics fan feels a need to read 52 just to know what the future of their favorite sandbox is going to look like.

Yes, it can:

1. First off, 52 proved a weekly series CAN be done at all. Now that we know that it can be done, publishers can try refining the process down, actually improving it and taking full advantage of the new pacing possibilities allowed.

2. 52 starred non-name characters, and has MADE them important. Which shows the viability of characters that may not be able to support a title on their own, but can be combined to create new and interesting stories (and WITHOUT making them fight crime together on an arbitrarily defined super-team).

3. 52 is not really that much of a crossover. Thanks to the One Year Later launch, it takes place in its own little temporal world. Most of the DC U books have been able to put out nine issues since last March that didn't require ANY knowledge of 52 to understand. And 52 doesn't make you read any other books to understand the story. Any future weekly series could be exactly as isolated from the other books, or it could be even further tied into the larger universe!

I mean, let's face it; 52 is too big a success for DC (and Marvel) NOT to try to replicate its success. So the only real question is how could they improve on it (Ignoring generic suggestions like "better art" and "better writing")? What's the strength of a weekly series, and what production or editing decisions can be made to best take advantage of those strengths? What's the weakness, and how can it be shored up?



Tom Bondurant said...

Well, DC's done weekly comics at least three times in the recent past: Action Comics Weekly, which lasted 42 issues, or just under 10 months; the "weekly" Superman titles of the '90s, which ran for several years; and "No Man's Land," which also took advantage of one main Batman book coming out each week.

The difference, I think, is 52's strict adherence to real-time storytelling. The other examples cited above didn't have that -- their stories were just told in weekly installments, although "No Man's Land" spanned a year (1999) in real time, beginning on January 1 and ending on Dec. 31.

52 can do real-time storytelling, by and large, because it doesn't have to coordinate simultaneously with two dozen other titles. This is partly due to its principal characters, who are off limits to the "One Year Later" books. Similarly, the "OYL" books will fill in their own gaps, with 52 perhaps helping tie down those gap-filling events.

Accordingly, I think making a 52-style real-time book work alongside the regular line of titles will require a degree of coordination that might be unsustainable. Basically, the regular line of titles will be constantly out of sync with Countdown or Real-Time Theatre or whatever it's called, so any major event spread out over a few issues of a monthly book will have to be reduced to its "actual time" in order for it to fit the weekly's chronology.

Right now that's not an issue because 52 and the OYL books don't interact that much, but if they did ... wow. DC might have to hire someone to be the "continuity coordinator," the Mara Jade to Emperor DiDio -- and yes, I am ashamed of myself for that reference.

One solution, as you suggest, is to remove the weekly from the "day-to-day" events that the monthlies chronicle -- maybe set it in space, I guess, or in another time period -- but if part of 52's appeal is its connection to the DCU, then that might not be so desirable. Right now I just don't see how you could tie a weekly real-time series more closely to the regular monthlies without having a better handle on the big picture.

Tom Bondurant said...

P.S. I would really love to see a weekly real-time series revisiting the Justice Society's adventures in the 1940s. It would revisit a lot of All-Star Squadron territory, I know, but I think it could work.

SallyP said...

I've been loving 52 actually, although I am still quite depressed about Booster and Buddy. *sob*

However, as Tom points out, I think that it does succeed because it is filling in a story that has already happened, since all the regular books are now "One Year Later". Therefore, I suppose that a similar weekly could work, if it went back and filled in little bits and pieces of continuity, perhaps a Batman story one week, a
Superman story the next, and a Green Lantern the next, and occasionally have them intertwine.
But in order not to interfere with current books, it would have to be filling in the past.