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Witching Hour
The Strips

Martian Manhunter & J. Hex New!

Superman and The Flash New!

Justice League of America

Jonah Hex

Green Lantern


Green Arrow and The Flash


The Flash


Gotham City Police Dept.

Johnny Thunder and Shazam!

Batman, Green Lantern,
and The Flash


Metal Men

Pete Ross and Lana Lang

Superman & J'onn J'onzz

Charles M. Jones

Batman and Robin

The Flash and Zatanna

Jor-El and Lara

DC Prez Jenette Kahn


Clark Kent and Lois Lane

The Haunted Tank

Superman and Lois Lane

The Unknown Soldier

The Vigilante

The Private Life of Clark Kent

Green Arrow and Black Canary

Sgt. Rock and Easy Company

Witching Hour

Green Arrow, The Human Target,
and Superman

Super Friends

Lois & Clark

Green Arrow & Black Canary

Superman & Jimmy Olsen


Batman & Shazam!

Justice Society of America

Phantom Stranger and
Phantom Girl

Batman and Robin

Black Lightning

Private Life of Clark Kent

Green Arrow and The Warlord

Eclipso / Mr. Mxyzptlk

The Flash & Adam Strange


Lightning Lad & Chameleon Boy

Justice League of America

Wonder Woman

Zatanna and Professor Zoom

Firestorm, the Nuclear Man

Swamp Thing

Gotham City Police Dept.

Bizarro World

The Atom

The Flash and The Mirror Master


The Batman and the Joker

Lex Luthor and Brainiac

The Flash

Enemy Ace

Green Arrow & Black Canary

Hawkman & the Flash

The Phantom Stranger

Legion of Super-Heroes

Green Lantern


Batman and Red Tornado

Green Lantern and the Flash

The Creeper

Robin, the Boy Wonder

Justice League of America

Legion of Super-Heroes

Elongated Man and Plastic Man

Superman Family

The Flash and the Spectre

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen


Hawkman & Hawkgirl


Wildcat & Dr. Fate

Batman & Robin


Plastic Man

Bob 'Answer Man' Rozakis

Batman & the Flash

Green Arrow & Green Lantern

The Atom

Batman & Robin

Coming soon

Jimmy Olsen & Lois Lane

Steve Trevor


Steve Savage

The Flash

Johnny Thunder

Sgt. Rock & Easy Company


Johnny Cloud

Green Lantern

Lois, Clark & Jimmy

Plastic Man

Perry White & Jimmy Olsen

Martian Manhunter

Madame Xanadu

Bruce Wayne


Swamp Thing

Fred Hembeck

Witching Hour
Uploaded October 12, 2000

It's probably no secret to anyone reading this, but the comic book industry doesn't seem to be doing so well these days, at least not in comparison with years past. Sales are down, costs are significantly higher, and the overall market has diminished substantially.

We all have our pet theories about the cause of the decline. Personally, I don't blame any one specific development, but rather a congruence of many contributing factors, not the least of which is the sheer range of entertainment choices available now in the marketplace, all competing for the same disposable spending money. If I were still in business school, it would make for a fascinating business strategy paper.

We throw terms like 'Golden Age', 'Silver Age', and 'Bronze Age' around fairly readily to describe comic book history. I'm not sure what you'd call the current state of affairs. We're out of the Bronze Age, to my mind. From my perspective, the cut-off would be the speculator-fueled mini-boom of the mid-eighties. Maybe we should call the period from the mid-eighties through the ensuing bust in the early nineties the 'Pyrite Age'. This still leaves us needing an appropriate name for right now, however. 'Cubic Zirconia Age', perhaps?

One of the hallmarks of the earlier eras in comics publishing was the much wider diversity of genres than what we see now. In addition to the ubiquitous super-hero books, we saw humour lines, westerns, science-fiction, crime books, literary adaptations, sports titles, horror, mystery, adventure books, and many others.

DC has had many successes in the non-super-hero arena over the years. Their Showcase title routinely featured non-super-hero characters and concepts over its original run, even devoting issues to the heroics of firefighters, frogmen, spelunkers, and secret agents. The Brave and The Bold title is perhaps best known now for many years of Batman team-ups and as the launching pad of the Justice League of America, but it also saw many other genres within its pages. These included Joe Kubert's The Viking Prince, the Silent Knight, and the original Suicide Squad (not to be confused with the infamous Suicide Squid, of course, of which as little should be said as possible).

The real heyday for diversity in publishing probably occurred during the 1960s and the 1970s, prior to the creation of the direct sales market. With newsstand sales as the de facto sole distribution method (I suspect that subscription sales were proportionally negligible), publishers routinely overprinted books, and retailers and distributors could return unsold books. The extent of the overprinting allowed publishers to significantly amortize their costs over the total runs, and this likely made it easier to sustain otherwise marginal titles. With the introduction of the direct sales market, retailers and distributors started tracking orders and sales much more carefully on a title by title basis, to avoid having any unsold - and non-returnable - books. In turn, this moved publishers in the direction of printing-to-order, and, consequently, each title became an individual profit center.

(Yes, I know, you want me to talk about the three witches - Modred, Mildred, & Cynthia - shown in the strip at the top of the page, and maybe throw in a couple of Sandman references while I'm at it, too. Stick around; I'll get to it.)

As a profit center, basically, each title generates a particular revenue stream based on sales and costs. As a corporate entity, DC has to pick and choose which revenue streams to nurture and support, which ones can be used as cash cows to support less successful titles, and which ones need to be dumped in order to free up operating capital for other purposes. You're right - that all sounds very corporate, doesn't it? Well, guess what - DC is a corporation, and there's a profit motive at work. They didn't install Ms. Kahn just because of her art history background; they brought her in because of a stellar background in successful kids-oriented publishing.

Consequently, the early 1980s saw a shakeout of sorts in DC's roster of titles. Jonah Hex fell by the wayside, to be resurrected some time later as an SF-meets-western riff, with Hex being transported from his original 1800s setting to a post-apocalyptic future. War comics, like G.I. Combat, vanished from the publishing schedule, finally giving Sgt. Rock a respite from so many years of World War II. Cain and Abel shuttered the windows and locked the doors on the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets, respectively, and the other horror titles also faded into the cold, dark night.

Still, you can't keep a good character concept down forever, even if you pull the four-colored rug out from under them. Not only did they have their fans in the readership (after all, someone was buying the books), but they had their fans among the echelons of comics professionals, and there's nothing a comics writer likes better than to bring a character out of an undeserved limbo.

Examples? Plenty of them. Marv Wolfman brought Beast Boy out of the back issue bins to play a primary role in that New Teen Titans series he put together with George Perez. Len Wein reintroduced the Seven Soldiers of Victory within the pages of the Justice League of America during one of their annual Justice League/Justice Society slugfests. Denny O'Neil brought Richard Dragon and Shiva back from obscurity and into the pages of The Question. And Alan Moore brought Cain and Abel back from, well, wherever they were, to become story elements in an issue of Swamp Thing.

Moore used them as a story device; they acted as storytellers to a dreaming Abigail Cable, providing a framing sequence around the original Swamp Thing one-shot by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson from House of Secrets #92. A few years later, Neil Gaiman built upon that appearance by integrating the two horror hosts into his own Sandman series.

From that point on, Gaiman evidently regarded the older horror-based characters as open territory. For example, he picked up Lucien from the long-cancelled Tales of Ghost Castle title, and the three witches - maiden, mother, crone (see, I told you I'd get there!) - from the pages of 1969's Witching Hour.

- NP

The copyrights, trademarks and publication rights to Fred's cartoons belong to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Fred Hembeck where appropriate. Proud Robot Productions graphics, site design, cartoon re-coloring and commentary copyrights belong to Neil Polowin and Proud Robot Productions.

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