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When I was scanning the Saturday schedule at San Diego Comic Con, I came across a panel that might escape the notice of many people, considering the deluge of events planned for that day. DC Comics is holding a talk called “DC Comics: The Weeklies” to discuss their new series that will come out every week. With weekly titles again a part of the comics industry, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the good and the bad that can come with comics that come out each week.
A number of years back, I heard then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, when asked about weekly comics, say, “We don’t publish weekly, we publish strongly!” Even beyond the groan-inducing pun, it was a noteworthy comment because within a few years Amazing Spider-Man was being published three times a month (though this only lasted a couple of years) and some miniseries would roll out on a weekly basis. Still, for the most part, Marvel has stayed away from weekly series. DC has experimented much more with the schedule, and had some success with it, but it’s still the exception rather than the rule for them.
DC’s biggest successes with weekly comics came in the 2000’s prior to the company-wide reboot. 52 and Countdown (later in the series called Countdown to Final Crisis) were both weekly titles that had a large measure of buzz and good sales. 52, a weekly series written by an all-start team of Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka and drawn by numerous artists (layouts were done by Keith Giffen and distinctive covers were supplied by J.G. Jones), was a weekly series that ran for 52 issues (one year). It is still the longest weekly series published by a major comic book publisher, slightly longer than Countdown, which started right after 52 and ran for 51 issues.
Rather rapidly, though, DC has shifted again into publishing weekly comics, now in the “New 52.” The Batman Eternal series is very successful and The New 52 Futures End must be doing well enough that DC will be launching in October a third weekly title Earth 2: World’s End, which will last for six months. Futures End also has a set end, after eleven months. It is not entirely surprising that the longest a weekly comic has ever lasted was one year and that there have not been more long-term weekly comic series – it is a difficult schedule to uphold, for creators, production teams, and fans.
Part of the reason that 52 (an underrated series that I feel is one of the best miniseries published by the “Big Two” in the 21st Century) worked so well was that its duties were divided, between four writers who collaborated on plots but tackled issues individually and a group of artists. The rapid pace doesn’t lend itself to artistic excellence, so the creative teams must be very disciplined and organized to stick to the schedule.
The unrelenting schedule also puts pressure on the production and printing teams because there is no leeway. If a monthly comic is a week late, most fans don’t even notice and it doesn’t really affect the following month’s issue. With weekly comics, though, one delay means that every other week is delayed.
Weekly comics can be challenging for fans as well. Not every comic book reader lives near a comic shop, so weekly trips can be inconvenient. Also, just keeping up with the reading pace might be difficult for those who read many series or have lives that only allow so much comic-reading time. Even for those who can get the issues and have the time to read them, the sheer number of issues and stories can feel like too much. There is a reason that most of the most successful weekly series have been focused on an ensemble rather than a single character.
Things might be changing, though. Digital distribution makes it much easier for fans to get issues and tablets make it easier to read constantly. Online purchasing of comics makes it simple to binge-read a series, as has become popular with TV series, if you get behind or started late. From a storytelling perspective, the advantage of weekly comics is that it’s possible to tell a huge story and/or one with a lot of character moments without taking years to get through it. So in the right hands, a weekly series can feel very immersive.
It’s interesting that Amazing Spider-Man (for a time it was three times a month) and Batman Eternal have done very well while focused mainly on one character. So perhaps there is an appetite for weekly series. However, these are also (arguably) the two most popular superheroes in the world. The test will be whether The New 52 Futures End and Earth 2: World’s End can sustain interest and sales. Perhaps a year from now, when these two series are over, there will be even more weekly series attempting to last longer than 52 and head into a second year.