Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Today in Comics History, June 22, 1978: Well, that didn't happen

This is an expanded and updated version of a post originally published February 4, 2013.

subscription house ad for "The DC Explosion"; printed in DC Comics cover-dated September 1978

Well, The DC Explosion didn't work quite as well as DC had hoped, and instead led to the infamous DC Implosion (Read more about it here).

Wikipedia tells us: "On June 22, 1978 DC Comics announced staff layoffs, and the cancellation of approximately 40% of its line." Yikes! Listed in this subscription ad were titles that were quickly cancelled (All-Star Comics, Batman Family, Black Lightning, Claw the Unconquered, Doorway to Nightmare, Firestorm, House of Secrets, Our Fighting Forces, Secrets of Haunted House [this resumed publication about a year after cancellation], Showcase, Star Hunters, Steel, and The Witching Hour), including a handful cancelled after their first and only issue (Army at War, Battle Classics, Dynamic Classics). Also cancelled were several titles not on this subscription list (Aquaman, Kamandi, Mister Miracle, Secret Society of Supervillains, and Shade the Changing Man). There were even victims of the DCI that were never published (Demand Classics, Western Classics, The Vixen and the not-listed-here Deserter and Starslayer).

Some of the ill-fated books eventually saw publication in the Xerox-only Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, two books released in editions of 35 copies each in order to protect DC's copyrights on the material. Scripts and artwork for some cancelled books were worked into other comics or eventually printed as back-up stories.

covers to Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #1 and 2 (DC, 1978), pencils and inks by Al Milgrom (#1) and Alex Saviuk (#2); logo by Todd Klein

But did you know that DC's longest-running title was also on the chopping block for the DC Implosion until a timely eleventh-hour save? That's right: Detective Comics was planned to end with issue #480, "until the decision was overturned following strenuous arguments on behalf of saving the title within the DC office, and Detective was instead merged with the better-selling Batman Family." (Wikipedia). Whew! Now that was a cliffhanger escape from death worthy of the Batman himself!

Some comics critics have warned that the large amounts of material being published today could eventually lead to another implosion across the industry. We've seen it mostly in smaller publishers going out of business after overextending their lines (CrossGen, some manga publishers). It happened in 1957 to Atlas (later Marvel) and in 1978 to DC. If you're a fan of patterns and conspiracy theories, consider: 21 years elapsed between those events. In 1999, 21 years after DC's implosion, Kitchen Sink Press went out of business after an ill-fated expansion into merchandise (hey, I liked those chocolate bars). 21 years after 1999 is 2020. Now with the advantage of hindsight, did the comic book business have an implosion in 2020, what with COVID-19? Curiously, not really! See "How the Comics Industry Avoided a 2020 Implosion" in The Hollywood Reporter!

To conclude, as it says in the ad: "Please allow 10 weeks for first copies to arrive." To which I add: "Plus eternity." Somewhere, somewhen, a little stuffed bull is still sitting by his mailbox, eagerly and patiently awaiting his mailed copy of Shade #9. Wait on, little guy.

cover of Shade the Changing Man #9; published in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #2 (DC, Fall 1978), pencils and inks by Steve Ditko, letters by Gaspar Saladino

1 comment:

Manqueman said...

Now to be a whiny nit picker but historical correction.
Atlas did not collapse from over-expansion but from shutting down it's own clearly fine working distribution business in order to go with ANC which, unknown to one and all, was about to, well, implode.
Wiki elaborates:
"From 1952 to late 1956, Goodman distributed Atlas' comics to newsstands through his self-owned distributor, the Atlas News Company. He shut down Atlas News Company in 1956 and began newsstand distribution through American News Company,[11][30]: 66  the nation's largest distributor and a virtual monopoly, which shortly afterward lost a Justice Department lawsuit and discontinued its business. As comic-book historian Gerard Jones explains, the company in 1956
"'...had been found guilty of restraint of trade and ordered to divest itself of the newsstands it owned. Its biggest client, George Delacorte, announced he would seek a new distributor for his Dell Comics and paperbacks. The owners of American News estimated the effect that would have on their income. Then they looked at the value of the New Jersey real estate where their headquarters sat. They liquidated the company and sold the land. The company ... vanished without a trace in the suburban growth of the 1950s.'"