One of DC Comics’ Biggest Setbacks Mirrors Its Late 2000s Reboot

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The Bronze Age comic book publishing era of the 1970s was a time of expansion and experimentation. As part of this trend, DC Comics has tried to incorporate social issues into their storylines, most famously in titles such as The Green Arrow/Green Lantern series. The creative teams have largely moved away from campier elements of the earlier Silver Age. Another major part of the industry that changed was the comic book distribution networks.

Prior to the 1970s, comics were distributed at discount newsstands. This made them accessible to the general public. However, over time they moved into a niche market, gradually becoming more expensive and sold in dedicated comic shops. As a result of this change, publishers began expanding their lines to appeal to a smaller readership. This may have contributed to a short-term boost in sales, but definitely led to an implosion at DC Comics.

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By the late 1970s, Marvel Comics had a larger market share than DC, in part due to their wider range of titles spanning a variety of different genres. In an attempt to overtake their competitor, DC planned a marketing campaign dubbed DC Explosion, in which they would increase the number of titles in their lineup, as well as the length of the books themselves. This would also be accompanied by an overall price increase.

DC had released new titles regularly until 1978, adding 14 titles in 1976 and another 4 the following year. The blast itself was built into the pages of their books and officially launched on June 1, 1978, with DC expanding its line to 57 pounds. New titles included Army at War, Battle Classics, and DC Comics Presents. Series that had been canceled recently have also made a comeback, such as Aquaman, New Gods, and Mr Miracle. Prices were increased from 35 cents to 50 cents, and dollar comics were also introduced.

Despite their efforts, however, DC’s explosion was a proven commercial failure. Elements beyond the company’s control, such as inflation, rising printing costs, and natural disasters that affected distribution, ultimately led to the initiative’s abrupt halt. The event only lasted three months and was followed by widespread cost cutting, cancellations and layoffs. Over time, this has been called the DC implosion by outside observers. Meanwhile, it was also reportedly decided that DC’s long-running series, detective comics, had to be cancelled. At the time, it was overtaken by the widely popular series Batman Family. This was canceled, however, and the two books were merged. By the end of 1978, DC had canceled a staggering 31 books.


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The canceled series included All Star Comics, Firestorm, and Black Lightning, most of which had only lasted a few issues. Many books have been canceled before hitting shelves, one of the most notable being Vixen, which would have been the first comic to have an African-American woman as the main character. Some stories then made their way into Canceled comic book cavalcade in 1978, a limited series that saw a number of untold stories make their way to print. This ranged from rough sketches to finished material and was primarily done by DC to establish copyright on stories and characters.


Over the years, DC Comics has seen its lineup grow and shrink repeatedly. One of the most recent examples was the New 52 initiative, which saw 52 series release from the publisher in a bid to boost sales. Initially met with success, many books were canceled fairly quickly in a manner similar to what happened over thirty years before. The event also generated a degree of controversy. Some creators weren’t treated fairly, leading to the swift departure of legendary artist George Perez and star writer Gail Simone. The event quickly became messy and was replaced by a more successful DC Rebirth initiative. It just goes to show that comic book publishers should heed the past. Quantity rarely triumphs over quality.



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