Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
The first two parts of this little exploration looked at DC’s attempts to launch ongoing series in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when line-wide events became regular occurrences in the superhero line. However, as those surveys made abundantly clear, said events didn’t seem to relate much either to concurrently-launched ongoing series or to the relative success of said series.
Instead, the number of new ongoing series debuting in a particular calendar year looks somewhat cyclical. There were five new ongoings in 1985 (the year of Crisis On Infinite Earths), up to 14 in 1988 and 17 in 1992, then easing down to 15 in 1994, 13 in 1996, and 10 in 1997. In 1998 and 2000, DC launched only four new ongoing series; in 1999, six; and in 2001, seven. At the risk of exciting you too quickly with more numbers, a later year will have sixteen.
For now, though, we pick up in 2002, at the beginning of a quieter time.
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PHASE VII: THE “UNEVENTFUL” YEARS
DC launched six new series in 2002, among them the creator-driven Power Company (written by Kurt Busiek; 25 total issues), and Lab Rats (from John Byrne; 8 issues). Aquaman got another revival (57 issues), as did Hawkman (66 issues). Coincidentally, both ended up being relaunched in the wake of Infinite Crisis.
2002’s other new ongoings were the luchadore adventure Big Daddy Danger (9 issues) and the cop-centric Gotham Central (40 issues). I suspect Big Daddy Danger was just too quirky for DC’s main audience, and GC’s fate was also eventually tied to Infinite Crisis.
Most of the straight-up superhero books had some kind of lead-in from, or similar tie to, an existing title. Power Company was previewed in an issue of JLA, and introduced its various characters through a series of seven one-shots whereby they interacted one-on-one with DC stalwarts. The one-shots all appeared in January 2002, paving the way for February’s actual issue #1. Meanwhile, Aquaman and Hawkman each spun out of storylines in JLA (“The Obsidian Age”) and JSA (“The Return Of Hawkman”). They also were associated closely with particular professionals, namely Rick Veitch on Aquaman and Geoff Johns, James Robinson, and Rags Morales on Hawkman.
In 2003, one miniseries took care of two relaunches. The summer’s Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day repurposed those series into new Teen Titans and Outsiders books. TT is still chugging along today, at 93 issues and counting; while Outsiders lasted 50 issues before being relaunched (which itself has been cancelled)..
2003 had two revivals: “Dial ‘H’ For Hero,” this time titled simply HERO (22 issues); and Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man (20 issues). Actually, it’s not fair to call Baker’s Plastic Man a revival — more like a unique marriage of professional and subject. Other new superhero titles were the SHIELD-ish Human Defense Corps (6 issues) and Keith Giffen’s Reign of the Zodiac (8 issues). Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s video-game-oriented iCandy was not a DCU book, and lasted six issues. Finally, from what I can tell, the Peter Bagge-written Sweatshop was an ongoing series under the DC bullet, but it too lasted only six issues.
2004 was kind of a strange year for DC in terms of new ongoing series, in part because the new books came from a variety of sources. In February, the “DC Focus” line kicked off with Hard Time (12 issues; written by Steve Gerber), followed by Kinetic (8 issues), Fraction (6 issues), and Touch (6 issues). These non-DCU series featured superpowered people in real-world settings, such as Hard Time’s prison. Hard Time was the line’s longest-lived series, getting a seven-issue sequel (subtitled Season Two) in 2006. DC also published a fantasy/horror book called Toe Tags Featuring George A. Romero. It ran six issues, and like Sweatshop it looks like a miniseries; but (like Sweatshop) I don’t see anything on the cover indicating it was a miniseries.
Back in the superhero line, new ongoings were mostly revivals and/or reboots: Richard Dragon (12 issues), John Byrne’s “starting over” Doom Patrol (18 issues), the Jason Rusch Firestorm (35 issues), and the Kate Spencer Manhunter (38 issues). Grant Morrison returned to the Justice League to launch JLA Classified (54 issues) with a three-issue arc which (incidentally) also led into “Seven Soldiers.” However, the year’s biggest relaunch/reboot was Green Lantern: Rebirth, followed by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Legion of Super-Heroes (50 issues).
Otherwise, new superhero ongoings included Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Monolith (12 issues; currently the subject of a collect-this-now! campaign); and Bloodhound (10 issues), whose crossover with the new Firestorm apparently didn’t help its sales.
Astute readers will notice I’ve avoided talking about Identity Crisis as 2004’s Big Event. This is because at the time, it wasn’t promoted like the traditional line-wide event. What crossovers it had were more in the nature of tangentially-related storylines in books like Flash, Firestorm, and Manhunter. Instead, Identity Crisis was touted as a standalone mystery from novelist Brad Meltzer.
Today, though, we know differently….
PHASE VIII: THE CRISIS CYCLE
2005: Infinite Crisis. The most recent round of line-wide event mania began in earnest with March’s DC Countdown special, which also served as a bridge between Identity Crisis and the miniseries ahead. Accordingly, while DC spent much of 2005 on Infinite Crisis and its predecessors, it still found time to launch a handful of ongoing series. Green Lantern (63+ issues), Supergirl (60+ issues), and Jonah Hex (64+ issues) are still going strong, although JSA Classified (39 issues) and the aforementioned Hard Time: Season Two (7 issues) have since folded.
Now, all of those five series are “unoriginal,” in the sense that each is either a relaunch, spinoff, sequel, or some combination thereof. However, of the five, Jonah Hex’s success is most remarkable to me. Not only had it been a while since Jonah’s last title (1999’s Vertigo miniseries Shadows West), Jonah’s new book wasn’t spun out of anything in the main DC line. Yes, I know it’d be hard to craft an Infinite Crisis lead-in around DC’s Old West characters; but hey, the original Crisis had an Old West sequence. I’m just saying, if DC wanted to do it, it could’ve.
2006: 52. Anyway, we skip ahead to the spring of 2006, when the events of Infinite Crisis #5 had rewritten history in minor but noticeable ways, thereby allowing DC to jump all its books ahead “One Year Later.” Again, this process focused on the existing books, but DC did launch the new Blue Beetle (36 issues) during the initial “OYL” push.
Of course, running alongside much of “OYL” was the year-long weekly series 52, which charted a year in the life of DC-Earth without Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the Justice League. This allowed the publisher to focus on some of its lesser-known characters, while still building up to the big titles’ inevitable relaunches.
Indeed, as the year went on, DC got more productive. Three of the four miniseries which led into Infinite Crisis also spawned ongoing series: The OMAC Project begat Checkmate (31 issues), Day Of Vengeance begat Shadowpact (25 issues), and Villains United begat … another six-issue Secret Six miniseries. 2005 had had a Green Lantern Corps miniseries, so 2006 saw its ongoing sequel (57+ issues). Over the summer, the Brave New World special hyped various miniseries spinning out of Infinite Crisis but it also led into the new Atom series (25 issues), starring Ryan Choi as Ray Palmer’s successor. As for those relaunches, only the new Flash: Fastest Man Alive (13 issues) suffered an early end. Still around today are Wonder Woman (51+ issues), Justice League of America (55+ issues), and Justice Society of America (49+ issues).
Taking their cue from the JLA and JSA anthologies, Batman Confidential (54 issues) and Superman Confidential (14 issues) debuted at the end of 2006, along with the new Spirit series from Darwyn Cooke. Finally, a new Warlord series (10 issues) debuted early in 2006 from writer Bruce Jones and artist Bart Sears, but it was received poorly and exited quickly.
2007: Countdown. By the time 52 ended in the spring of 2007, DC was well into a constant-crossover groove. Countdown was supposed to knit the superhero books together into a coherent whole, while at the same time preparing the readership for 2008’s Big Event. As such, it didn’t leave much room to spin off its own ongoing series.
Regardless, spinning out of 52 were Booster Gold (42+ issues) and Infinity, Inc. (12 issues). 2001’s Green Arrow series was relaunched as Green Arrow/Black Canary (32 issues), The Flash returned (with Volume 2 (1987)’s numbering, so not really a “new” ongoing), and Outsiders gave way to Batman and the Outsiders (39 issues). 2007’s only other new series was Simon Dark, about a Gotham-based monster/vigilante, which lasted 18 issues even without an overt Batman connection.
2008: Final Crisis. Only three ongoing series debuted in 2008: Titans (32+ issues), Secret Six (30+ issues), and Vigilante (12 issues). Vigilante was another relaunch of Marv Wolfman’s ‘80s antihero, Secret Six was the ongoing continuation of Gail Simone’s antisocial band, and Titans was another attempt at recapturing the New Teen Titans’ glory days.
That’s about it for the new series of 2008, unless you want to count a Hawkman Special which upended the character’s history and ended up going nowhere; or, more concretely, the Final Crisis: Legion Of Three Worlds miniseries, which paved the way for the new-original Legion to resume the spotlight. Titans has since been retooled and Vigilante is gone, but at least Secret Six is still around.
PHASE IX: POST-CRISIS, AGAIN
2009: Blackest Night. This year was much busier, although not because of its Big Event miniseries. Blackest Night was an adjunct to the Green Lantern books, not really a breeding ground for new ongoing series. Instead, 2009’s sixteen new books came from all over.
Most fertile was the Batman line, adding Batman And Robin (20+ issues), Batman: Streets Of Gotham (21 issues), Gotham City Sirens (20+ issues), Red Robin (20+ issues), Batgirl (18+ issues), and Azrael (18 issues). Almost a generation later, DC tried again with the ex-Archie superheroes, but The Web and The Shield lasted ten issues each. Justice Socialites Magog (12 issues) and Power Girl (21+ issues) each got their own series, and a big chunk of the team spun off into JSA All-Stars (15+ issues). REBELS (25+ issues), Doom Patrol (22 issues), and Warlord (16 issues) returned, and Adventure Comics got a new no. 1 before resuming its old numbering (20+ issues). Finally, The Mighty (12 issues) debuted to some critical acclaim, but it was outside the main DC Universe and didn’t last long.
Indeed, almost sixteen months later, over half of the Class of ‘09 has been cancelled, with the survivors being Bat-titles, Power Girl, and the we-just-renumbered-it-why-would-we-axe-it Adventure.
2010: Brightest Day. Actually, I take back some of my characterization of Blackest Night. If you don’t count GL: Emerald Warriors (7+ issues) — and I’m not sure I do — it didn’t expressly launch any new series in 2010; but it did lead into many series’ relaunches. The Flash (12 issues), Green Arrow (9+ issues), and Birds Of Prey (9+ issues) all fly the BD banner, thanks to characters revived at the end of BN. The Legion got its own title again (10+ issues), as did the Freedom Fighters (8 issues), and the Batman line expanded further with David Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight (2+ issues) and Grant Morrison’s new Batman Incorporated (4+ issues). The long-promised Batwoman title got a zero issue in November, but it’s since been delayed until the fall of this year. Otherwise, 2010 saw the debut of “First Wave” titles Doc Savage (11+ issues) and The Spirit (11+ issues), both of which have yet to be officially cancelled.
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And that brings us to 2011, with its most excellent newbies Batman Beyond and Xombi, probably some familiar relaunches for the cast of Brightest Day, and the promise of more Batwoman in the fall.
Unfortunately, I think this exercise has, for me, reinforced the conservative leanings of both DC and its superhero-comic readers. The more familiar a series, the longer it can expect to run. Here are DC’s ongoing main-line series launched since 1985 and lasting at least fifty issues:
1. Hellblazer (277)*
2. Flash (1987) (249)
3. Superman (1986) (228)
3. Wonder Woman (1986) (228)
5. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (214)
6. Robin (186)
7. Green Lantern (1990) (183)
8. Nightwing (154)
9. Green Arrow (1988) (139)
10. Superman: The Man Of Steel (136)
11. Birds Of Prey (1999) (127)
12. JLA (126)
13. Legion of Super-Heroes (1989) (125)
14. Justice League/JL International/JL America (114)
15. Superboy (1994) (102)
16. Azrael (101)
17. Batman: Shadow of the Bat (96)
17. Catwoman (1993) (96)
19. Teen Titans (2003) (93)*
20. Impulse (90)
21. Animal Man (89)*
21. Doom Patrol (1987) (89)*
23. JSA (87)
24. Legionnaires (83)
24. Starman (1994) (83)
25. Catwoman (2002) (82)
26. Superman/Batman (82)*
26. Supergirl (1996) (81)
29. Aquaman (1994) (77)
30. Sandman (75)
30. Green Arrow (2001) (75)
32. Batman: Gotham Knights (74)
33. Batgirl (2000) (73)
34. LEGION (70)
34. Shade The Changing Man (70)*
36. Justice League Europe/JL International (68)
37. Lobo (66)
37. Suicide Squad (66)
37. Hawkman/Hawkgirl (2002) (66)
40. Green Lantern (2005) (64)
40. Jonah Hex (2005) (64)
42. Supergirl (2005) (62)
43. Deathstroke The Terminator/D. The Hunted (61)
43. Hitman (61)
45. The Spectre (1992) (62)
46. The Demon (1990) (59)
46. Captain Atom (59)
48. Green Lantern Corps (58)
49. Aquaman/A.: Sword of Atlantis (57)
50. Young Justice (56)
51. Justice League of America (2006) (55)
52. Steel (1994) (53)
53. Batman Confidential (54)
53. JLA Classified (54)
55. Wonder Woman (2006) (53)
56. Secret Origins (50)
56. Outsiders (2003) (50)
56. The Titans (1999) (50)
56. Legion of Super-Heroes/Supergirl and the LSH (50)
[Current series are in bold; * = moved to Vertigo]
Not counting Hellblazer, only eight of those 59 are still being published. The oldest, somewhat ironically, is Teen Titans: as of next week, 93 issues and counting. Moreover, only Jonah Hex stands out among the high-profile superhero books.
To be sure, books like Green Arrow, Aquaman, and Doom Patrol are perennial favorites. Green Arrow’s three ongoing series have produced some 214 issues, more than enough to establish the character pretty firmly in DC’s lineup. Likewise, the two Catwoman series produced almost 200 total issues; and all the Doom Patrols together would also stack pretty high.
However, starting with a new No. 1 isn’t just an all-clear signal for potential customers. It’s also a bow tied on the old series. When DC wanted to start a new Superman series in 1986, to show the world that John Byrne and his collaborators were rebuilding from the ground up, it used the first volume’s final issue for a pretty final-sounding storyline. Part 1 of “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” appeared in Superman #423, and a few months later, Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway inaugurated a new era in The Adventures Of Superman #424. In fact, when Adventures reclaimed its old name in 2006, the final issue of Superman Volume 2 was an Infinite Crisis-related sendoff.
Accordingly, recapturing those numbers restores a certain stability, if not permanence, to the book in question. It’s more than bragging rights, because as we’ve seen, anybody can slap a big number on a single issue to overinflate its significance. Those numbers gain their power from the history supporting them. I’d argue that’s why it’s valuable to see what DC has chosen to support over the years, and (conversely) what the publisher has decided it can tweak. In that respect, I’m impressed that Teen Titans and Jonah Hex have survived somewhat intact. Barring any sudden makeovers, I suspect DC will let its younger books grow and develop without the threat of cancellation and relaunch. That’s what happened in 1986 after the first Crisis, and I think a similar cycle is playing out here.
Paradoxically, though, buying what’s familiar might not go so far if the consumer thinks that a “venerable” Green Arrow or Aquaman won’t need his particular purchase to survive. If a big number intimidates a potential reader, a series of periodic relaunches with new No. 1s seems like a practical compromise.
Nevertheless, the more a feature is relaunched, the less relevant those relaunches become. More importantly, the more DC has to promote the next Flash #1, the less it has to devote to (let’s just say) hyping a new Icon series. If DC would put some of its series on hiatus, as opposed to cancelling one volume so a new one can begin a few months later, it would acknowledge the reality of cancellation-proof series and let more attention linger on the stragglers. Who knows — given time, maybe some of them could become cancellation-proof too.