Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The DC Implosion

I remember the DC Implosion pretty well, since I was there at the time. For those unaware, this was when DC's efforts to expand their line with the "DC Explosion" were scuttled by the suits and they ended up contracting big time instead. It's probably fair to say it was one of the few times in the last 50 years that DC was in danger of being shut down entirely.

Since that fateful time in 1978 when the Implosion rocked DC, the legend of the DC Implosion has grown to the point where many people include a lot of comics on the list of casualties that just don't belong. Things like Hercules Unbound and Metal Men don't count, guys. Their cancellation had nothing to do with the edict that DC's line should be slashed to twenty 40¢ monthly books and six $1.00 bi-monthly books.

The following books were cancelled in 1978 due to all the reshuffling of the DC line. Some of these were axed prior to the word of the Implosion coming down from on-high, but I'm including them anyway because their ends were abrupt and not announced in the comics themselves. Pinning down what was and wasn't cancelled due to the Implosion can be a lot more challenging than you might guess.

  • All Star Comics
  • Aquaman
  • Army At War
  • Batman Family
  • Battle Classics
  • Black Lightning
  • Claw the Unconquered
  • Doorway To Nightmare
  • Dynamic Classics
  • Firestorm
  • House of Secrets
  • Kamandi
  • Mister Miracle
  • Our Fighting Forces
  • Secret Society of Super Villains
  • Secrets of Haunted House
  • Shade, the Changing Man
  • Showcase
  • Star Hunters
  • Steel: The Indestructible Man
  • Witching Hour

The following books were advertised, but never appeared : Demand Classics, The Vixen, Western Classics, and revivals of both Weird Mystery Tales and Strange Adventures (offered for subscription). Also on the table during that time were projects like The Deserter, Starslayer, and a revived Swamp Thing.

Oh, and these books should get honorable mention. They were also cancelled during the general Implosion timeframe, but are rarely included in lists : Challengers of The Unknown, Freedom Fighters, Karate Kid, and New Gods. I don't own any of those final issues, but I'll hazard a guess that those books got to at least acknowledge they were cancelled. Special titles Limited Collectors Edition and the umbrella DC Special Series also disappeared at this time.

Lot of comics, isn't it? One startling footnote to this mass pruning surfaced a couple of years later :

...though we do cheerfully admit that Kamandi was one of about five books that were cancelled in our cutback in 1978 simply because we wanted to have only monthly 40¢ comics, which meant that a handful of decent sellers had to go...
-Paul Levitz, excerpt of lettercolumn response, The Brave and the Bold #162 (May, 1980)

This has always fascinated me, and it makes me wonder which of the other books on the list would have survived without outside forces stepping into the picture. I've speculated on this in the past, but the facts didn't always match up as well as I thought. For example, I would have bet money one of those titles would have been Secret Society of Super Villains. It was an 8 times a year title when bi-monthly was the norm for a second-tier DC book and was also considered strong enough to warrant an oversized special in the DC Special Series. But no, it was already on the chopping block when the Implosion was happening - it just happened really fast.

Let's make a couple of guesses as to what other titles almost sold well-enough to make it through the Implosion :

1) All Star Comics - I admit I'm biased regarding this comic, as it is one of my favorites of the era. But I genuinely believe it sold decently. It ran for almost three years, it was to have had its own DC-sponsored fanclub before that project was junked, and its inventory was transferred to Adventure Comics after it ended. Plus, if we consider All-Star Squadron a "revival," it was more or less back on the stands by 1981.

2) Batman Family - This is a little bit of a cheat, because Batman Family wasn't really cancelled. Detective Comics was cancelled, but smart-thinking staffers at DC salvaged that venerable title by folding Batman Family into it and making 'Tec a Dollar book. Eventually, the "Batman Family" format of the book was discontinued, and it reverted back to being a regular Batman book. Today, it is one of the very few books retained in the Implosion that has maintained its original numbering. So the escape clause that Batman Family temporarily provided for it meant that one of DC's truly historical series was preserved.

And after those? Well, it depends on if Paul was basing his statement on sales reports they already had on hand in 1978, or if it included data that had arrived after the final curtain. Here are the arguments you could make for a few books :

* Firestorm didn't sit on the shelf long, despite the short life of his debut series. He was used in team-ups, the Justice League, and had his own back-up feature in The Flash. By 1982, he was back in his own book, and it had a healthy run.

* Secrets of Haunted House returned to the schedule less than a year after its cancellation in the Implosion.

* Claw The Unconquered had been revived due to promising sales on the final issues on its earlier run.

* Black Lightning was another one of DC's better new heroes of the 1970s, and his strip also found a new home quickly. Unfortunately, his creator (Tony Isabella) didn't stick around DC like Firestorm creator Gerry Conway, and I think that hurt Black Lightning's chances. He did prove to be a linchpin of Batman and the Outsiders a few years later, but Black Lightning should have been strong enough to make it as a solo.

Those are my nominees, but beyond that, I'm not going to commit myself.

And because it's a list that doesn't get cited nearly so often, here are the survivors :

20 40¢ monthly titles

  • Action Comics
  • Batman
  • The Brave and the Bold
  • DC Comics Presents
  • The Flash
  • Ghosts
  • Green Lantern
  • House of Mystery
  • Jonah Hex
  • Justice League of America
  • Men of War
  • Sgt. Rock
  • Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes
  • Super Friends
  • Superman
  • Unknown Soldier
  • The Warlord
  • Weird War Tales
  • Weird Western Tales
  • Wonder Woman

6 $1.00 bi-monthly titles

  • Adventure Comics
  • Detective Comics
  • G.I. Combat
  • Superman Family
  • The Unexpected
  • World's Finest

It's telling about the fickle nature of comics that, less than a decade later, only 11 of the titles judged fit enough to continue in 1978 were still being published in any form, and many of those had either changed titles or relaunched with new series.

A huge thanks to Mr. Jim Van Dore, who caused me to re-examine my own thinking on the Implosion when we interacted in this message board thread. I promised Jim LAST YEAR I would acknowledge the impact that discussion had on this entry, but I didn't realize it would take me so long to get around to writing it. Jim has contributed a great deal to the GCD index on Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, one of the peculiar relics of this strange period of time. Check out the amazing work that's been done to catalog comics that were never officially published. Hats off to those guys!


  1. what a great, well researched article. why aren't you getting paid to write stuff like this?

  2. Clearly, the people with the money haven't recognized yet. ;)

  3. Best article I've ever read on the Implosion. Thank you for setting the record straight that the DC Implosion didn't have anything to do with former publisher Carmine Infantino's attempt to flood the market in 1975/76. This Friday on my blog Diversions of the Groovy Kind ( http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/ ) I'm starting a series of articles on the DC Explosion/Implosion, and I'm sharing a link to your article for my readers. Hope you don't mind the (hopeful) bump in traffic!

    And thanks again for a superb article!

  4. Groovy Agent, my Internet has been spotty the last couple of days, but I wanted to thank you for the kind words and the link. I saw some traffic and remembered your comment. Much appreciated!