SPOTLIGHT ON
THE 1973 DC COMICS REPRINT TITLES

AN EPISODE OF THE "WAR OF THE SHELVES"

 

 
In early 1967 the almost unthinkable happened: Marvel overtook DC in sales numbers and became the new number one of the industry - only five years after DC themselves had snatched that position from Dell (who had taken a terrible tumble due to a misfired cover price policy). This was now indeed the Marvel Age of Comics.

But while Stan Lee, in his April 1968 Stan's Soapbox, declared "the fatuous little feud we've been flaunting before the public" to be officially over and that "from this moment on, we'll no longer refer to our competition as Brand Echh", there was still plenty of room to consolidate and expand the number one position.

Ever since 1957, Marvel had been severely restricted in terms of the number of titles they could put out every month. Due to the bankruptcy of its new distributor, Atlas/Marvel had no choice but to switch to Independent News, who were owned by National Periodical - who also happened to own rival DC Comics. The resulting contract limited Marvel to a monthly publishing output of eight titles only (Cooke, 1998). But that was all to change. By the beginning of 1968, DC Comics and Independent News were purchased by Kinney National Company - and since Marvel's titles were selling better than DC's, any kind of distribution cap was lifted. The result was instantly visible as the title count went up from 14 for January 1968 cover month to 20 by July 1968.

Ownership changes took place at Marvel too. On July 1st 1968, the Wall Street Journal announced the purchase of Martin Goodman's Magazine Management Company (including Marvel Comics) by a business conglomerate called Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation, owned by Martin S. Ackerman (who was also president of Curtis Publishing). But only a year later, in mid-1969, Ackerman was ousted from Perfect Film's board of managers (accused of diverting $6 million in pension funds) and replaced by new CEO Sheldon Feinberg in mid-1969, with the company being renamed Cadence Industries in 1970. Goodman had never had a particular interest in what he published (Hilgart, 2014), but he was proud of being a publisher who sold well and was able to read trends. Feinberg, the former CFO of Revlon, was the first in a long series of top management at Marvel who had never read a comic book in his life, had no previous connection to publishing, and was in it for one reason only: to make more money.

There was just one problem: comic book sales were in a steady decline. As a consequence, the only way to make more money was to make sure you got a bigger slice of the shrinking market - and one way to achieve that was to put out more titles. And since the space at the sales point was not going to increase, you could at the same time push the competition (which from Marvel's perspective of superhero titles was primarily DC) off the shelves.

Marvel was the comic book industry's number one, but until mid-1972 DC still published more titles - that is until Marvel launched the "war of the shelves" through a proliferation of titles.

"[Marvel] did flood the market, but remember, this was that period (...) where Marvel suddenly decided to put out a whole bunch of books (...) trying to get market share (...) lots of stuff came out in the '70s because of this approach." (Roy Thomas, in Cooke 2001)

By the time DC realized what was happening, it was already too late, even though Carmine Infantino, DC's publisher since 1971, did try to stem the tide in 1973 by emulating Marvel and putting out a few new as well as some reprint titles in order to boost DC's output and keep from getting pushed off of those shelves. It was a valiant but ultimately ill conceived move which only had a minimal and, above all, short lived effect. By June 1974 Marvel's titles at the newsagents outnumbered those put out by DC by leaps and bounds.

 


This chart doesn't take into account black & white magazine format publications (of which Marvel put out a cartful too).

 
The new titles all broke new ground for DC, but their success was underwhelming to say the least. Shazam! kicked off in February 1973 and was, of course, DC bringing Fawcett's Captain Marvel into the fold - but since DC couldn't call him that any more (again, Marvel had been swifter and more cunning) they came up with Shazam. It was a title DC had a hard time letting go, but poor sales sank it after 35 issues in May 1978. Prez, featuring a teenage President of the US, was launched in August 1973 and turned out to be a total failure which only lasted for a mere four issues. Plop! (another title with an exclamation mark), "the new magazine of weird humor", fared somewhat better and at least racked up a total of 24 issues between September 1973 and November 1976.

If the new titles weren't going to stop Marvel storming away in the title number race, maybe reprint titles would. Infantino had of course noticed that the House of Ideas was not only launching new titles but also busy recycling their 1960s superhero material along with 1950s horror and sci-fi stories from the Atlas period. However, there was a fundamental problem there: Marvel was really good at reprints and had material (at least as far as superheroes were concerned) which was "classic" but less than ten years old - and which was actually in demand. In comparison, DC had put out only a handful of reprint issues since the early 1960s, and most of their Golden and Silver Age material just wasn't hitting home with current readers any more - after all there was a reason why Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams had to reinvent Batman in 1969 to save him from cancellation.

But Carmine Infantino tried hard to turn things around (as he had indeed done in the late 1960s), and with the blessings of the top brass at DC (Sacks, 2014) he put out a number of reprint titles in 1973 to stem Marvel's tide. Needless to say the waves just kept coming.

 

 


Wanted #6
(February 1973)

 

WANTED

Launched - August 1972
Cancelled - September 1973
Number of issues - 9

Strictly speaking Wanted (sometimes also referred to as Wanted, the World's Most Dangerous Villains) was not part of DC's 1973 rush of reprint titles, since it launched in August 1972. The reason it is listed here is that five of its total of nine issues were published in 1973, and that it illustrates the problems DC had with its reprint material in an exemplary way.

Wanted was published monthly and based on an interesting concept: Rather than spotlight the heroes, the title featured their most notorious adversaries. The problem was that most of the villains showcased weren't exactly A-listers, and some of them were downright obscure unless you happened to be an expert on the DC superhero in question (any takers for the Dummy, the Human Fly Bandits, or Dr. Clever?).

DC could dig deep into an extensive vault of previously published material, and for Wanted they even used material from comic books which at the time of their original publication hadn't even belonged to DC yet (such as Quality Comics' somewhat unfortunately titled Doll Man).

The fundamental problem (which few at DC seemed to understand even in 1973) was that it wasn't just the storytelling that was old and outdated, it was the characters themselves.

 

Compared to Marvel's 1973 superhero reprint titles, which had titles such as Marvel Super-Heroes (reprinting Hulk stories from 1966), Marvel's Greatest Comics (reprinting Fantastic Four material from 1966) or Marvel Triple Action (repackaging Avengers stories from 1965) and all of which featured the new type of superhero which had put Marvel at the top in the first place, DC was trying to reheat twenty to thirty years old material which compared even less favourably to Marvel now than it had before.

The title was discontinued after only nine issues.

 

 


Legion of Super-Heroes #3
(May 1973)

 

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES

Launched - February 1973
Cancelled - August 1973
Number of issues - 4

The first of the 1973 reprint titles was Legion of Super-Heroes, launched with a February 1973 cover date. Supplied with new covers by Nick Cardy, it featured - no surprise, given its title - material starring the Legion of Super-Heroes which had previously been published between 1964 and 1966 in Adventure Comics (with stories from Action Comics dating from 1957/58 added for the final two issues).

It switched from monthly to bi-monthly publication after two issues, before ceasing publication all together after a mere four issues. While these were mostly newer stories from less than ten years ago (and therefore pretty much what Marvel was repackaging in its superhero reprint titles), the already mentioned problem was that these were 1960s stories featuring heroes (such as Triplicate Girl) and villains (such as Computo the Conqueror) which had more of a 1950s feel to them.

Now of course DC could not reinvent itself through what had already been published. However, material such as this had been a contributing factor in Marvel's success - the repetitive blandness of what Stan Lee would increasingly enjoy calling "Brand X" in the mid-1960s.

 
Considering these historical facts, a reprint title such as Legion of Super-Heroes with material from the mid-1960s was really not the best idea. The majority of comic book readers must have felt the same way, given the extraordinary short life-span of this title.
 

 


Secret Origins #1
(March 1973)

 

SECRET ORIGINS

Launched - March 1973
Cancelled - November 1974
Number of issues - 7

Only one month later, DC launched another superhero reprint title, and Secret Origins - which featured the origin stories of various DC heroes (and villains) - was arguably the most interesting of Infantino's 1973 reprint releases. Strictly speaking, this was actually volume 2 of Secret Origins, since DC had released a 84-pages one-shot with the same title (and concept) back in 1961, but the indicia of Secret Origins #1 from March 1973 simply ignored that and stated "Vol. 1 No. 1".

The first issue featured origin stories of Superman (from Action Comics #1, June 1938), Batman (first two pages from Detective Comics #33, November 1939), Ghost (from Flash Comics #88, October 1947), and Flash (from Showcase #4, September 1956). It also featured an entire page penned by editor E. Nelson Bridwell, providing some background for the title.

"When we decided to publish a comic magazine featuring the origings of the great DC heroes and villains, we began digging back into the past to find when and where the origins were first printed. We made some surprising discoveries. Take Superman. His origin was first told in Action #1 - yet that version was one which had never been reprinted! What a collector's item! So you have it at last - in this mag."

DC was definitely trying, and more mature comic book aficionados will no doubt appreciate the depth of DC's history and the material made available in Secret Origins. But if you weren't a die-hard DC fan at the time (and after all Infantino and Bridwell were trying to at least hold their ground if not expand their market base here), Secret Origins was probably only able to generate limited interest.

Marvel even put DC in a tight spot in terms of sales pitch terminology; after all, how often had Stan Lee told potential buyers in a cover or splashpage blurb that they were looking at an "instant collector's item" - not from 1938, but fresh off the press.

It probably also didn't really help that Superman and Batman together only covered a total of 3 pages, whereas the Ghost got 9 and the Flash 12. In that respect, Nick Cardy's newly produced cover was nice, but slightly misleading.

 
Secret Origins #2 featured the origin stories of Supergirl (from Action Comics #252, May 1959), Green Lantern (from Showcase #22, September 1959), and the Atom (from Showcase #34 (September 1961). E. Nelson Bridwell again provided some background (on the origins of Green Lantern and the Atom), but this was now down to one third of a page.

Secret Origins #3 was down to two reprinted origin stories, those of Wonder Woman (from Wonder Woman #1, Summer 1942) and Wildcat (from Sensation Comics #1, January 1942). The title was still on a bi-monthly schedule but appeared in the July/August 1973 publication slot. This was because DC discovered another point that put them at a disadvantage with Marvel - cover dates.

"Cover dates on comics didn't match magazine dating norms, and by 1973 Marvel's cover dates made them appear newer than DC's, so DC decided to skip using May 1973 and go straight to June." (Levitz, 2010)

Continuing deep into Golden Age territory, Secret Origins #4 featured Western hero The Vigilante (from Action Comics #42, November 1941) and Kid Eternity (Hit Comics #25 , December 1942 and published at the time by Quality Comics).

 

Secret Origins #2
(May 1973)

 


Secret Origins #3
(August 1973)

 


Secret Origins #4
(October 1973)

 


Secret Origins #5
(December 1973)

 
Secret Origins #5 only featured one single character, but although this was another dip into Golden Age material (from More Fun Comics #52 and #53, February and March 1940), the Spectre must have been a lot more familiar to the average reader than the previous issue's protagonists.
 

Secret Origins #6
(February 1974)

 


Secret Origins #7
(November 1974)

  Secret Origins #6 not only had more familiar characters in the form of the Legion of Super-Heroes, their origin story was also a lot more recent material (originally published in Superboy #147, May 1968). The Golden Age did pop up again, though, for the origin of Blackhawk (from Military Comics #1, August 1941, published by Quality Comics).

With the indicia still calling it a bi-monthly title, Secret Origins #7 didn't make it to the newsstands until November 1974, missing three publication slots and thus with a delay of six months.

Featuring Robin (from Detective Comics #38, April 1940) and Aquaman (from More Fun Comics #73, November 1941), this was to be the title's last hurrah - unbeknownst to readers and possibly even the editor, since the letters page makes no mention of neither the delay in getting this issue out nor the fact that it will be the final one. As a matter of fact, readers were even told to keep the letters coming.

 
However, regular comic book readers knew that a lengthy hiatus between two issues hardly ever pointed to something good, and certainly not with a bi-monthly title. The plug was obviously pulled after all the copy for Secret Origins #7 was already done and ready for the printers, and nobody was going to put in an extra effort to announce the cancellation. Interestingly enough, there are - although admittedly with the benefit of hindsight - a few indications which underscore the problems DC was facing with titles such as Secret Origins. Two in-house ads show that DC had, by now, decided to go with characters and titles that had a long standing and were well know (Superman leading the way, but also including Kirby's Kamandi and, interestingly, the reprint Black Magic, as well as popular culture icons such as The Shadow) - and that, as far as the war of the shelves was concerned, DC decided to fight back with bigger titles instead of more titles.

"What DC lacked in quantity, it (...) made up for in size. The majority of Marvel's comics were in the standard 36-page, 25 format, with its Giant-Size books delivering 68 pages for 50. DC, on the other hand, dove back into the giant-size comics in a big way in early 1974 (...) Twelve ongoing comics were published as 100-page bi-monthly series between March 1974 and April 1975 - nearly a third of National's full line of books at the time (...) [featuring] a mix of new stories alongside reprints of classics culled from DC's deep library of archival material." (Sacks, 2014)

 
 
DC simply had a fundamental problem with its reprints, mirrored by a letter published in Secret Origins #7, where a reader wrote about the "crude writing and artwork" (concerning the Spectre story from 1940). The material was, quite simply, too old and couldn't even compare favourably with Marvel's reprints of the Lee/Kirby/Ditko monster stories from the 1950s.

In DC's defence, it has to be said that - according to the Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation (which had to be printed once every twelve months in order to qualify for Second Class shipping for printed matters) - Superman was still the best selling title across the board in 1973, with an average of 309,300 sold copies per issue. The bad news was that Amazing Spider-Man had continuously been closing the gap, selling an average 273,400 copies per issue in 1973 (while Batman stood at 200,500). Only one year later, in 1974, Amazing Spider-Man would edge past Superman (288,200 versus 285,600), and whilst the Man of Steal managed to claw back once more in 1975, Amazing Spider-Man would just keep pulling away as of 1976 - all to the tune of dropping sales figures across the board. These numbers are just another indication that Marvel's "new" kind of superhero was clearly ahead of DC's more "traditional" fare in terms of popularity and therefore sales. Marvel was winning the contest for very specific reasons, and a reprint title such as Secret Origins not only failed to address those, it almost amounted to putting DC's shortcomings on display for all to see (possibly even more so than Legion of Super-Heroes).

"[DC] were getting their asses kicked in by Marvel at the newsstands [but] they were not reading the Marvel books - never analyzing or trying to figure out what the competition was doing (...) you would talk to these people and they wouldn't know what was going on in the business except at DC Comics." (Joe Orlando, in Infantino & Spurlock, 2001)

But maybe DC was just throwing titles out there - not unlike Marvel - with a "what the heck" attitude. If it sank, it at least got a certain presence on the newsagent shelves for a while. For Secret Origins, that presence ended, after only seven issues, in November 1974.

 

 


Four Star Battle Tales #1
(March 1973)

 

FOUR STAR BATTLE TALES

Launched - March 1973
Cancelled - November 1973
Number of issues - 5

Four-Star Battle Tales started its short publication life with a cover date of March 1973. As the title implies, it reprinted 1950s and 1960s covers and stories from All-American Men of War, Star Spangled War Stories, Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, and G.I. Combat.

Some of the talent was still associated with war genre comic books at the time (such as Joe Kubert, who received a special profile page in Four-Star Battle Tales #4), while others pencillers had since moved on to DC superheroes (such as Irv Novick). Special editorial pages looked at science-fiction war stories (issue #5) or the personality of Lawrence of Arabia (issue #1).

In 1973, DC had the market pretty much covered for war comics, and most of the titles which served as source for the reprints in Four-Star Battle Tales were still ongoing books: Our Army at War (featuring Sgt Rock), Our Fighting Forces (featuring the Losers), G.I. Combat (featuring the Haunted Tank), and Star Spangled War Stories (featuring the Unknown Soldier). Added to that fold was the genre-crossover title Weird War Tales.

Trivia note: Although the indicia identified the title as Four-Star Battle Tales, the cover copy actually always displayed the title as Four **** Battle Tales.

 

 


G.I. War Tales #1
(March 1973)

 

G.I. WAR TALES

Launched - March 1973
Cancelled - October 1973
Number of issues - 4

G.I. War Tales was also launched in March 1973, and just like Four-Star Battle Tales reprinted 1950s and 1960s covers and stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Our Fighting Forces, Our Army at War, All-American Men of War, and G.I. Combat - in other words exactly the same sources.

As mentioned, DC had been the undisputed number one in the field of war comics for a long time, with strong original characters and highly influential creative talent.

 
Throwing out two reprint titles at the same time was clearly a grab for shelf space, but it was also a legitimately valid business idea. Unlike with superheroes, material from the 1950s and 1960s was still valid fare for fans of war comics. However, even so, G.I. War Tales got decommissioned after only four issues.
 

 


Johnny Thunder #1
(March 1973)

 

JOHNNY THUNDER

Launched - March 1973
Cancelled - August 1973
Number of issues - 3

Johnny Thunder was the first of two western genre reprint titles DC launched in 1973; as the title implies, it featured stories starring John Tane. The son of a sheriff, he followed in his mother's footsteps and became a schoolteacher but finds himself increasingly at odds with the promise he made to his mother never to use guns. In order to keep his vow yet still fight the evil he encounters the way his dad did, he creates a fictional persona named Johnny Thunder, the identity of which he assumes by changing clothes and blackening his hair.

With an origin story that clearly leans into the general superhero concept of a "secret identity", Johnny Thunder was created by Alex Toth and Robert Kanigher for All-American Comics #100 (August 1948) - and was actually one of the first non-superhero characters published by DC Comics. All-American Comics would be renamed All-American Western in November 1948 with Johnny Thunder as the cover feature. Editor E. Nelson Bridwell again provided some background information on Johnny Thunder in issue #1.

 
Western comics became popular in the years immediately following World War II when superheroes went out of style, and all of the big comic book publishers started putting out Western titles around the time DC launched Johnny Thunder. Their popularity peak around 1960 (not the least because Westerns were all over American TV) before the genre in general started to lose its appeal. As far as comic books were concerned, the interest swung back to superheroes, although a handful of titles remained, answering to a (fairly solid) niche demand.

DC had tried to latch onto the darker reflection of the Wild West shown by Western movies of the 1960s by setting up a "weird western" sub-genre in 1968, ultimately leading to Weird Western Tales in 1972 and its newly created Western anti-hero Jonah Hex. The formula worked, and editor Joe Orlando even derided Marvel's more traditional Western fare ("Kid titled Western heroes") on the letters page of Weird Western Tales #15 (December 1972):

"It's really a pleasure to see hard work rewarded. It would have been much easier to put out half a dozen "Kid" titled Western heroes - all fighting in improbable situations - and all exactly alike. Time has been taken to develop all the characters that have appeared in WWT [Weird Western Tales] - beginning with Outlaw and El Diablo and through Billy the Kid and Jonah Hex. It has been our thought that quality Western stories can exist (...) We will continue to take the time to develop our characters rather than merely xerox them."

 

In that sense, Johnny Thunder was somewhat out of time, reprinting stories originally published between 1948 and 1957 in All-American Western, All Star Western and Western Comics. In issue #1 E. Nelson Bridwell had encouraged readers to send in their feedback, and in issue #3 revealed that exactly five had done so - and that this would be the last of Johnny Thunder.

"This page contains all the letters received so far on the first issue! That may help to explain why this is the last issue of Johnny Thunder (...) maybe today's Western readers go more for the Jonah Hex type than the clean-cut range riders of the past."

Maybe E. Nelson Bridwell ("Mr. Bridwell" to four of the five letter writers) should have just asked Joe Orlando beforehand.

 

 
From a more general perspective, Johnny Thunder #3 shines an odd light on DC Comics. While one might applaud the editors for not trying to simply copy Marvel's flamboyant style and Stan Lee's hyperbole, the tone displayed here is right at the opposite end of the scale, as editor Bridwell comments on the cancellation of Johnny Thunder with "at least Shazam! is doing well" and an in-house ad for the new and upcoming Prez title simply states "coming". It all felt very underwhelming, rather resigned, and even self-deprecating - almost as though DC knew it was losing ground to Marvel but still, and for the life of them, just couldn't figure out and understand why.
 

 


Trigger Twins #1
(April 1973)

 

TRIGGER TWINS

Launched - April 1973
Cancelled - April 1973
Number of issues - 1

Trigger Twins has the dubious honour of being the 1973 reprint title with the fewest issues - one. As its title implies, it reprinted two 1957/58 stories from All Star Western featuring the Trigger Twins as well as one 1960 story featuring Pow-Wow Smith from Western Comics. The cover itself is a reprint (as was th case with all three of the Johnny Thunder covers), taken from All Star Western #94 (April 1957).

The Trigger Twins first appeared in All-Star Western #58 (May 1951), created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. The core idea was a sheriff named Walt Trigger who, unbeknownst to the general public, has a twin brother (Wayne Trigger) who isn't in law enforcement but is more accurate and faster on the draw with firearms than his brother. As a consequence (and running theme) Wayne impersonates Walt repeatedly - and even requires a twin of Walt's horse to make sure no one suspects the switch of the two twins.

Not surprisingly, this concept didn't really hold up for long. Again, as with the other reprint titles, E. Nelson Bridwell introduced the backgrounds of the Trigger Twins and Pow-Wow Smith but already mentions that "due to scheduling changes, it is only planned as a one-shot (unless it sells very well, in which case a comeback is possible)".

 
The indicia was even more optimistic than Bridwell entertaining the possibility of the title selling "very well", indicating a bi-monthly publication schedule. But the reality was that Trigger Twins didn't survive the first standoff.
 

 


Boy Commandos #1
(October 1973)

 

BOY COMMANDOS

Launched - October 1973
Cancelled - December 1973
Number of issues - 2

DC had thrown out a number of reprint titles for the first quarter of 1973, but a few months into that year realized that none of it was selling. Having seen superhero, war and western material fizzle out, Infantino made a last effort ditch to stem the tide of Marvel titles (which was still surging and hitting the newsstands relentlessly) at least a little bit. And this time, DC would bring out its secret weapon - the thorn in Marvel's side: Jack Kirby.

It was already over two years ago that Carmine Infantino had contracted Kirby away from Marvel (back in February 1970), but "the King" leaving the House of Ideas had caused shockwaves. Maybe some of that party killing effect could be repeated.

In putting out Boy Commandos (volume 2) for the October 1973 cover date production cycle (issue #1 actually went on sale at the end of June), editor E. Nelson Bridwell certainly tried to make certain that readers knew this was Kirby - a "Simon and Kirby Special", in fact. Inside, readers would find some of the very first Boy Commandos stories Simon and Kirby had created, back in 1942, when they had been signed on by DC, and "kid gangs" seemed to be increasingly popular.

 
But the rather unfortunate Bridwell - who again put together some background notes for Boy Commandos #1 - was faced with the familiar problem these reprint titles all shared (yes, it was Kirby, but it was mid-1940s material and it felt old, even by reprint standards). Plus he had a new problem, too - the label "Kirby" wasn't really selling all that well at DC. Most of his Fourth World titles had been cancelled the year before, and in August 1973 Kirby would be notified that Mister Miracle would be dropped as well.

Kid gangs were no longer popular in 1973, and Boy Commandos folded after only two bi-monthly issues, only just making it past Trigger Twins.

 

 


Black Magic #1
(November 1973)

 

BLACK MAGIC

Launched - November 1973
Cancelled - May 1975
Number of issues - 9

The final reprint title that DC launched in 1973 was another "Simon / Kirby Special": Black Magic. Reprinting stories from the mid-1950s Prize Publications series of the same title (Prize left the comic book business in 1963, selling their properties to DC), there was no background information from E. Nelson Bridwell for Black Magic, since Joe Simon himself was the editor of the reprint title.

Published every other month, Black Magic was probably the closest DC ever got to Marvel's reprint titles (some of which also repackaged 1950s Kirby monster fare), although ironically the material wasn't actually marked as reprints, neither through an editorial textbox on the first page of the stories nor in the indicia (a somewhat frivolous procedure, but one also pursued for a time in the late 1960s by Marvel, although they never completely dropped the word "reprint" from the indicia).

Black Magic would last for nine issues until the curtain call came in May 1975, and when it did bow out, it was the last title standing from Infantino's 1973 attempt to curb Marvel's attempt to bully DC off the newsstands and shelves.

It is probably also the 1973 reprint title which today enjoys the most attention, since the nine Black Magic titles provide a far easier access to these stories than the original first volume issues do.

 
However, some of the artwork had been reworked for the reprints, and since the original Prize issues were pre-code, a few actual alterations had to be made in 1973 in order to conform to the Comics Code (Mendryk, 2009).
 
 

 
To say that DC Comics lost the "war of the shelves" would be an understatement; by the end of 1974, Marvel titles on the newsstands outnumbered DC's two to one.
 

And although that kind of expansion would not prove sustainable for the House of Ideas, the lines were drawn.

This was also true in terms of publishing policies. Halfway through the year 1973 DC dropped the attempt of bolstering the title range by having regular comic books featuring only reprint material and instead went for the 100 pages Super Spectacular formula, combining some new material with mostly reprint pages.

In fact, when Detective Comics changed to the 100 pages format for its December/January 1973/74 issue, a lot of the reprint material wasn't even Batman related...

 

... as astute readers could notice in advance from the cover of Detective Comics #438 shown in an in-house ad from Black Magic #1).

 
It seemed like this was the only way DC could sell any reprints at all: if readers wanted to keep following their favourite hero's current adventures they would have to put up with getting any and all kinds of reprint material stuck into that same comic book. And naturally, they would have to pay extra for that. Not surprisingly, the move wasn't really the silver bullet DC may have hoped for.

"While the 100-page package was popular with DC's staffers, it faced resistance from both fans and distributors (...) some consumers balked at the inflated price point, especially because the majority of material within each issue was reprints." (Sacks, 2014)

DC was trying different publishing concepts for their reprint material, but unlike Marvel, they didn't really have an idea of how to sell it - something which the House of Ideas had been doing systematically (and very successfully) since the early 1960s. But then, as pointed out again and again here, the fundamental problem was that DC's archival material simply wasn't in demand - it was the old stuff that had been pushed aside by Marvel's new approach to comic books since 1961. Even Carmine Infantino himself knew that all too well, reflecting on his promotions to Editorial Director in 1967 and then DC's Publisher in 1971:

"The DC books were very sterile-looking in those days." (Infantino & Spurlock, 2001)

Of course that was exactly the type of material (or even older) that DC was trying to sell as reprints in 1973. But unlike today, there was no sizeable customer base made up of adults who either felt nostalgic or were interested in comic book history. Kids and teenagers wanted new, exciting stuff.

 
And although Infantino tried to stem Marvel's flooding of the newsstands by putting out a few reprint titles in 1973, he probably knew full well that all it would accomplish was a few more titles on some shelves for a limited amount of time and very limited sales figures.

In terms of overall sales figures, however, DC didn't fare that badly. In 1973, Marvel roughly sold a total of 6.5 million comic books, with DC at 5.5 million copies. However, the comic book industry as a whole was struggling and in a downward spiral. In 1975, Marvel lost $2 million (Daniels, 1991), while DC's business returns were in the red for $1 million. Although doing only half as badly as Marvel, Infantino was fired by the Warner Brothers top brass (Howe, 2012).

In its obituary the New York Times called Carmine Infantino "the man who saved Batman" but only made the briefest of mention regarding this time of Infantino's career, merely stating that "during the 1970s, Mr. Infantino served as DC’s publisher" (Fox, 2013).

 


Carmine Infantino
(1925 - 2013)

 
Infantino definitely tried, but it simply wasn't the best of times for DC - and most certainly not for any reprints of it's "line of Super-Stars".

 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

COOKE Jon B. (1998) "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas", in Comic Book Artist #2

COOKE Jon B. (2001) "Son of Stan: Roy's Years of Horror", in Comic Book Artist #13

DANIELS Les (1991) Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, Harry N. Abrams

FOX Magalit (2013) "Carmine Infantino, Reviver of Batman and Flash, Dies at 87", New York Times Obituary, 5 April 2013

HILGART John (2014) "Review of: The Secret History of Marvel Comics", The Comics Journal

HOWE Sean (2012) Marvel Comics - The Untold Story, Harper Collins

INFANTINO Carmine, with J. David Spurlock (2001) The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. An Autobiography, Vanguard

LEVITZ Paul (2010) 75 Years of DC Comics - The Art of Modern Mythmaking, Taschen

MENDRYK Harry (2009) "Black Magic at DC", published online at kirbymuseum.org, 18 January 2009

SACKS Jason (2014) American Comic Book Chronicles - The 1970s (1970-1979), TwoMorrows Publishing

 
FURTHER READING ON THE THOUGHT BALLOON
 
  Marvel Comics had a clear and very successful strategy reagarding reprint material and reprint titles, ever since starting in 1962. There's a three part overview of Marvel's 1960s reprint titles starting here.
 
  To this day DC Comics lacks a cohesive approach to reprinting their classic material - even when it's as recent as from the Bronze Age. There's an overview of DC's (flawed) Batman reprints from the 1970s here.
 

 
 

The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


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uploaded to the web 15 May 2021