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...
It took me a long time to get through my stack of new comic books this year! The reason was that I had some extra money for a change this year so Megan and I went through the bargain bins at Keith's Komix and bought a whole bunch more. So not everything on this list were Free Comic Book Day comics, but they were bought on Free Comic Book Day, so I'm including them!
With that explanation out of the way, the top 10 were...
10. Magicka #0. This new company called Red Giant Entertainment put out a lot of free comics this year to plug their new product line. Some of them were 'eh', some of them came close to making it onto the top 10 list, but this one is the one that made it. Magicka is a cute, fun, family-friendly fantasy. There's one very funny page about apple ogres. But what really got it onto the top 10 list was the pretty, painting-like artwork. If Magicka can maintain this level of quality, I'll have to look for it again. (Magicka was also a flip book with another new book called The First Daughter, but I wasn't as impressed with that.)
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventurers. It seems like Archie just tried this reboot only a few years ago, but now IDW is giving it a try. The story is funny, clever, and memorable. The art is good and dynamic, though not what I'd consider exceptional.
8. Hourman #19. I don't have a lot of issues of DC's attempt to reinvent Hourman for the 1990s as a time-controlling android. Normally what I like best about him is his crossover potential with the JSA, but they barely appear here (despite being prominently on the cover). What I do like a lot is how the mystery villain cleverly manipulates all of Hourman's surprisingly large supporting cast into turning on him. I did not like what happened to Snapper Carr at the end, but Hourman can control time, so I'm sure it got undone eventually.
7. Marvel Adventures: Giant-Size Avengers #1. I liked -- not loved, but liked, Marvel's canceled continuity-lite, family-friendly Marvel Adventures imprint. I love the Avengers (normally; it bothers me that the Marvel Adventures version has X-Men mixed in on the team). I like the Agents of Atlas, who clash with the Avengers in this story. I like Kang, who arranges the clash. I like how all the characters are handled, though Kang is defeated much too quickly (to wrap up the story in one issue). Plus Leonard Kirk artwork. Plus a bonus reprint of the first appearance of Namora! I would have rated this higher had the first appearance of Namora not been such a letdown.
6. Howard Chaykin's Amerikan Flagg! #12. I've never owned an Amerikan Flagg issue before. I probably wouldn't have liked most of them. From what I know of Chaykin, he's too dark and cynical for my tastes, but this isn't Chaykin's original Flagg series, but a limited series revival from First Comics back in '89. John Moore writes a fun comic romp that wraps up ....whatever had been going on and apparently gives Flagg a happy ending with his girlfriend. I do like happy endings!
5. Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity. Don Rosa doing the ducks, plus Magica De Spell? All that's missing is the Duck Tales theme song! Huge fun! For free? Thank you, Fantagraphics!
4. [Untitled Image Comics 20th Anniversary Sampler]. How did this sampler with 4-page outtakes rank so high? It isn't for the cliche "Guarding the Globe", or 'Invincible with More Superheroes'. It isn't for the boring "Crime and Terror". It isn't for "Revival", which is both too gruesome and too derivative of similar TV shows. It isn't for "It-Girl and the Atomics", though that was pretty decent (and reminded me of one of my favorite webcomics, Superhero Girl). It isn't for "Near Death", a well-written crime procedural told from the point of view of a ...bounty hunter? The outtake is too brief to be clear on that. It was well-executed, but not exciting. No, what excited me was to see that Chris Giarrrusso's G-Man -- a world where Peanuts-like characters are superheroes -- is not only still around but on its third volume already! I thought I'd seen the last of it after volume one and now I have so much catching up to do!
3. [Untitled Dark Horse Comics Sampler]. A 10-page complete story about Avatar: the Last Airbender? Yes, please! In it, Sokka and Suki visit a collectable shell shop, but it's not really about shells or Sokaa and Suki -- it's about comic book collecting and how the hobby shuts girls out. Plus you get a two-page treat of Art Baltazar's He--Boy, moving his Tiny Titans shtick successfully over to Dark Horse's properties. There's also an outtake from something called "Juice Squeezers", but I was bored by this particular attempt to combine coming-of-age story with superpowers.
2. Superman: Last Son of Krypton #1. I had given up on regular DC Comics continuity some time ago, so I am surprised to learn that DC was actually cranking out good stuff as recently as this 2013 limited series. Geoff Johns and Richard Donner (yes, that Richard Donner) write the story of what would happen if Superman was given the chance to raise a baby from Krypton. Adam Kubert, doing his first art assignment for DC I've ever seen, makes it all look really good (even though I don't like how Adam draws chins). I wish I had the rest of the series now!
1. Steam Wars #1.
SO glad I picked up this free comic from Antarctic Press. I've never been an AP fan, so it was extra impressive to see how good this steampunk reimagining of Star Wars is. It's smart, it's funny, it's simultaneously derivative yet creatively original. In some ways it improves on the original! (In this version, Luke is immediately likeable instead of whiny.) It zips through about half the plot of Star Wars: a New Hope in 26 pages. At such a breakneck pace, it must have lots of new directions planned after it covers the movies, and I hope to see them.
Ah, the best of the best! But now to take the opposite direction...the worst of the worst...
10. Dungeons & Dragons: Infestations #1. IDW got the license for D&D around 2012 and chose to write about Eberron, one of D&D's more gonzo campaign settings. Trying to avoid fantasy stereotypes as if they were bad things, we're treated to a Sherlock Holmes-like elf and his dwarf John Watson with tattoos and piercings. Grr...even this Eberron setting looks more like 19th century steampunk than D&D. Very disappointing.
9. Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter #3. This time, IDW got famous D&D novelist R.A. Salvatore to write them a drow story. That's going to work out great, right? Not when your writer is still accustomed to novel pacing. Here we're treated to 22 pages of one long scene in a seemingly slight story about a girl who runs away with her father's murderously evil intelligent sword. That's why you're supposed to keep them under lock and key, Dad!
8. Checkmate! #4. This is the original Checkmate! series from DC, back in '88. It's a spy thriller where the boss looks like Alfred Hitchkock and the spies dress like superheroes and shoot harmless batons at people instead of bullets. It might have worked if the lead character here was interesting, but he's just one of many Knights in the organization and doesn't stand out. There's a more interesting back-up feature -- more interesting in that it was drawn by Don Heck, showing he still had his art chops into the late '80s -- but the whole book was frustratingly disappointing.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (free comic book day one-shot). Can you stand the thought of Venom as a hero? Can you believe Flash Thompson as Venom? Can you believe that the Guardians of the Galaxy is based in modern times and not the 30th century? Can you stand the costume redesigns on Drax the Destroyer and Star Lord? Can you stand Gamora at all? ("Most dangerous woman in the galaxy"? Nope, sorry -- that's Mantis, not this joker's daughter.) Face it, the only reason you would read this at all is for Rocket Raccoon. Why not just give him a new solo series? *Sigh*...
6. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (free comic book day one-shot). Thank you, Papercutz, for giving us a continuation of the original TV series that includes all the stupidity and clownishness of the original. For once, a reinvention might have been welcome.
5. Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #10. Oh...this is why this series got canceled back in '99! After Mark Waid left, it was turned over to hack writers and artists who didn't take it seriously. Everyone looks like a clownish ape. Cap's greatest secret fear is a fear of snails?? Yeah, I didn't think so.
4. Love and Rockets #1. After hearing so much about the Hernandez Brothers and Love and Rockets over the years, it was a shame that this issue was both boring and impenetrable at the same time. Jaime's Hernandez's art is pretty, but his story is the boring one. I don't understand his shrieking woman and am turned off by all the obscenities. Gilbert Hernandez's story is the impenetrable one. There's a lot of screaming in this one too. And a boy grows up and...wrestles a pig. I think. There are two more back-up features, neither of which grabbed me.
3. All You Need Is Kill/Terraformers (flipbook). So this is what passes for manga these days? In the first story, the aliens are bulletproof, but if you hit them just right with an axe, you can kill them, even if you're just a skinny girl on a farm who's probably never killed anything more dangerous than a chicken before. Right....The other half is about man's first encounter with aliens on Mars. How disappointing, that man's first encounter with aliens will be when they just casually stroll past and then start killing people.
2. Futures End #0. Ah, DC -- now this is why I abandoned you! A
dark future where superheroes are being brutally and gruesomely
transformed against their will into cyborgs to serve Jack Kirby's
Brother Eye concept from OMAC? Pass. Oh, and this will bring the
Batman Beyond character from the TV series into the mainstream DC
universe? Double pass.
1. Banshee: Origins. So, apparently there was once a Sopranos-like TV show called Banshee, which is really disappointing because for a moment I thought IDW had somehow secured a license for Marvel's mutant superhero! Two crooks fall in love, they want out, but they can't get out, blah blah blah. Because everyone's a bad guy, why should I care? Is the bald crossdresser supposed to distract me from the endless cliches? Naw. It's simply the most disappointing comic book I've read all year. Congrats, IDW!