Could DC have supported 52 titles in the Golden Age? I took a look at 1943. Why 1943? Because DC’s period of innovation was largely over by 1943 (not a lot of new characters after that), plus Kirby was there in 1943.
In 1943, DC titles per month fluctuated wildly between 8-18 titles. Those titles, 20 in all, were:
More Fun Comics
Mutt & Jeff
Picture Stories from the Bible
Star Spangled Comics
So who else would need to get their own titles? If you took 3 more characters from each of the anthology titles and gave them their own titles, you’d get 50. To choose who, I went by cover appearances, then whoever most often had the first story in the book (who didn’t already have their own title).
Bart Regan, Spy
Red, White, and Blue
So we would need two more. Who gets to make the cut? Out of who’s left from their stable of characters, I’d give it Manhunter and Slam Bradley as most worthy.
What would these stories look like? Solo titles were usually 4 stories of 13 pages each. Let’s make them a bit closer to modern length and make them 3 stories of 17 pages each. The anthologies would be 6 stories, averaging 9 pages per story. Let’s make that 3 stories of 15 pages each, with a fourth story that would be only 9 pages long. Back then, most story arcs would be complete in 13 pages. Nowadays, story arcs usually play out over 6 issues to fit trade paperbacks. Let’s compromise on this too and say story arcs could stretch across no more than 5 stories per 2 issues.
Lastly, what would the anthology titles look like? The most popular characters should continue to get extra exposure, while ensuring that the characters without their own titles are not forgotten.
Action Comics – Superman, Vigilante, Mr. America (3 Aces gets the short story)
Adventure Comics – Sandman, Hourman, Genius Jones (Mike Gibbs gets the short story)
All-American Comics – Green Lantern, Atom, Sargon (Hop Harrigan gets the short story)
Comic Cavalcade – Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman (Red, White, and Blue gets the short story)
Detective Comics – Batman, Boy Commandos, Crimson Avenger (Bart Regan, Spy gets the short story)
Flash Comics – Flash, Hawkman, Johnny Thunder (Ghost Patrol – Haunted Tank gets the short story)
More Fun Comics – Green Arrow, Johnny Quick, Spectre (Radio Squad gets the short story)
Sensation Comics – Wonder Woman, Gay Ghost, Little Boy Blue (Black Pirate gets the short story)
Star Spangled Comics – Tarantula, Liberty Belle, Robotman (Penniless Palmer gets the short story)
World’s Finest Comics – Superman, Batman, Drafty (Martin of the Marines gets the short story)
What would their stories be like? Nothing racy or violent that you'd feel uncomfortable showing to a 12-year old, but written with a high school vocabulary in mind. No cussing worse than the H- or A- words. No more than one death per story, and death has to really mean something -- no bringing characters back from the dead or people dying without being mourned, and murder has to be seen as a horrible, reprehensible act by all heroes. Most heroes need more supporting cast, but not too many that stories are slowed down peeking in on them all; maybe 2-5 per hero.
What would be done to revamp these characters to give them more lasting popularity? That should be the subject of its own post...