MARTHA THOMASES: 52-Skiddoo
This is the week that DC’s 52 came to a close. The company’s first attempt at a weekly comic since Action Comics Weekly more than 15 years ago, unless you count Mike Carlin’s interconnecting but freestanding Superman series. It was, by most accounts, a commercial and critical success. 52 re-defined what comics can do, as narrative and as pop culture events.
When I was a kid, a comic event was a much smaller achievement. I started reading comics when I was five (for those of you keeping track at home, that was 1958). My parents would go to the train station on Sunday mornings to pick up the just-delivered New York Times, and I’d get to buy a comic. One comic. Because it had to last all week, I wanted the one with the most story. Eventually, after lots of trial and error, I decided that DC was the best for me.
It’s not that I didn’t sample Marvel. I did. But the book I tried had a story that was continued next month. When I looked for the next issue thirty pulse-pounding days later, it wasn’t there. Newsstand distribution was like that. I was happier getting a DC book, with two – sometimes even three – complete stories in each issue.
(Kids today, they have it easy. They can buy multi-part stories in trade paperback collections. In my day, we had to walk to the convenience store, picking up deposit bottles so we could afford to buy comics that might not even make it to the racks. In the snow! With no shoes!)
This is not to say we didn’t enjoy events. I remember in 1961, when there was a “novel-length” (that meant it took up a whole issue) story, “The Death of Superman,” that made me cry when Krypto said goodbye. There were Wonder Woman stories where she used a Paradise Island computer to imagine what it would be like to have adventures with herself as a baby (Wonder Tot) and a teenager (Wonder Girl). Basically, just being allowed to get a comic was enough of an event.
In those days it was assumed that most kids would read comics for a couple of years in grade school, then discover the opposite sex and go one to other amusements. There was no reason to worry about continuity, because no one expected the readers to stick around long enough to notice.
The late 1960s changed comics, like it changed so much else. There were cool underground comics, like Zap and Young Lust and Bijou. College kids read Marvel and weren’t embarrassed about it. All of a sudden, it seemed, comics weren’t just for kids anymore. Readers were all ages, and, drugs or not, they had memories. Hence, the direct market.
Since Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 1980s, publishers have competed to see who could have the most important crossover events. Like Crisis, they involve all the characters in the publishers “universe,” and they change that universe forever, or at least until next summer. Usually, this means a character or two dies. Death is cheap drama in comics, where not every hero deserves a farewell from Krypto.
Some work, some don’t, some have good stories, some spin off good characters. What they seem to have in common is a way to clean house and make Big Important Statements. And every year, they have to get bigger.
52 is over. Personally, I would not have been able to follow it without the help of Doug Wolk and his fabulous 52 Pickup, and, next week, Countdown begins. Another year-long crossover event, with a weekly fix. We seem to be in the age of everyday epic events. I’ll be there, because Paul Dini is a solid, professional writer with a love of the same characters that mean a lot to me.
Here’s hoping it’s worth the walk to the drug store.
Writer and creator of Marvel Comics’ Dakota North and contributor to their Epic Illustrated, Martha Thomases also has toiled for such publishers as DC Comics and NBM before becoming Media Queen of ComicMix.com.
(Artwork copyright 1961 National Periodical Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Renewed by DC Comics.)