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A Thing of the Past: DC’s Late 80s/Early 90s Checklist System

Like the name says, this is just about little “blasts from the past.”

I was flipping through some old (circa 1990) DC comics when I came across the DC Checklist that they used to print in their more expensive comic books (like Legends of the Dark Knight). At the time I thought their checklist system was kind of weird, but it is especially so looking back at it now.

Read on to see a sample…

It is not that the system is a BAD one, it is just funny to have a checklist of comic books from a company where you need a series of symbols and a LEGEND to understand the checklist.

29 Comments

yeah! i was looking at this just the other day… trying to get all those symbols straight does my head in, and i can’t imagine it was much easier for anyone else!

It’s funny. There were a lot of terrible comics later in the ’90s, but when i look at that list, I keep thinking, “Man, that was a good comic. And so was THAT, and THAT, and THAT…”

Well, it IS a handy idea. Every week, my LCS publishes a list of what’s in, and I make a list so I don’t forget stuff.

A checklist is, certainly.

It is the symbols that make it amusing.

Oh man, I remember those from when I first started collecting DC books (late 80s, or thereabouts). Before the internet…hell, before even having a proper comic book shop…these checklists were the only way I knew about the DCU outside of the one or two books I’d read that month.

Love that they start off with a Swatch Watch :P

Ah, I liked the page on the early Vertigo books, short descs on each book coming that month and most of them sounding interesting (and many of them in retrospect being pretty great).

It’s funny. There were a lot of terrible comics later in the ’90s, but when i look at that list, I keep thinking, “Man, that was a good comic. And so was THAT, and THAT, and THAT…”

Back then, in the 90s, DC was pretty good while everyone else sucked. While not totally immune to the 90s (there were quite a few mullets for example), DC for the most part avoided a lot of 90s excesses and cliches. Of course under Didio, Harras and Lee in 2011, it looks like they’re finally going to give in to the 90s twenty years later.

Funny triangles or not, that penultimate issue of the Question was a good one.

I would say “the 90s” at DC didn’t start in the relevant sense until Doomsday (December ’92) and the beginning of Knightfall (April ’93), and then seriously kicked in post-Zero Hour with Fate and Extreme Justice (on the hell-in-a-handbasket side) and Starman (on the other side). It’s in that late-92-to-late-94 timespan when Guy Gardner becomes a morphing human gun, when Ron Marz invented stuffing girlfriends into refrigerators, when Superman gets a mullet, when the 90s-riffic Bloodlines happens, etc.

1990, ’91, and ’92 are still fundamentally part of the DC post-Crisis second golden age: when Vertigo hadn’t yet launched but all the proto-Vertigo books were in full swing, we had the second half of Suicide Squad, Grell’s Green Arrow, Gaiman’s Books of Magic, the tail end of the Giffen JLI/JLE, Waid’s Flash, the first couple years of Legends of the Dark Knight, etc., etc.

Ricardo Amaral

July 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

80% of all these titles were very good. And I like the symbols. It was a time when formats mattered.

Ricardo Amaral

July 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

And then @Jacob T Levy explains it all. Curiously, I abandoned comics for almost 10 years exactly after Doomsday and especially after DC got rid of all Giffen items (especially his awesome and criminally underrated Legion of Super-Heroes which was transformed into this dumb generic book with new code names and spandex).

The Crazed Spruce

July 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Y’know, I never could figure out the difference between “New Format” and “Deluxe Format”. And don’t even get me started on “Prestige Format”….

Mike Loughlin

July 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm

DC had a mini-Renaissance in the late-’80s. It’s too bad they stopped doing what they did best and started chasing Marvel and Image. Going from story-driven to event-driven, going from art that serviced the story to losing the pin-up arms race, and becoming too editorially-driven almost stopped their creative success stone dead. Of course, the more things change…

CrazedSpruce:

I’m doing this kinda from memory, but I think the breakdown of formats is as follows:

Standard: Regular ol’ newsprint paper with, I believe, either letterpress or straight litho printing. This is what the comics they’d carry at the supermarket or corner shop would typically carry.
Deluxe: Whiter, thicker paper that used an offset printing process allowed for better color reproduction and more sophisticated shading. This printing process was used primarily for direct market titles.
New: This used the same printing process as Standard comics, but on the better paper.
Prestige: These were essentially graphic novels with single issue pagecounts. Cardboard stock covers, sometimes coffee table book sized pages, high quality printing. If you’ve ever seen a graphic novel that only has 48 pages or so, that’s generally Prestige format. One shots and event comics would typically be Prestige format.

I don’t think DC has had the same broad spread of excellent quality across so wide a percntage of its line again since that late80s/early90s mini-Renaissance/Golden Age/Belle Epoque.

I knew the Superman and Batman books were great as they were coming out, but all the other series from that time I wasn’t reading at the time and later went back and tracked down and read (JL/I/A/E, Suicide Squad, Flash, … ) were fantastic as well.

DC was on an unholy tear during that period. Every one of their major franchises had a good-to-great run (or two). However, the real action was on the B-list titles. You could randomly pick up just about any DC comic from that period and expect a good read.

It is amazing in hindsight. The Death of Superman probably killed that era. They figured out that they could sell a lot more comics with a buzz-worthy event than quality story-telling. Like a junkie, DC has been chasing that first high with ever declining results ever since.

Ricardo Amaral

July 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

In publishing terms, DC was always good at building a long tail list of properties, because it focused on long term sales with very strong choices and a great deal of care in stable teams (or writers at least). Marvel was always stronger at month-to-month sales, not really much of a long term thinking. It was soap opera to DC’s sitcom approach.
For me, the end of that era was at the end of JLI/JLE under Giffen. DC started looking for a “return to traditional” comics (whatever that meant) with the disastrous Dan Jurgens JLA. Actually, if you come to think of it, it was Dan Jurgens’ Zero Hour which started the “Geoff Johns” style of rebooting (get rid of what you don’t like and keep what you like), it was Dan Jurgens’ Death of Superman who brought DC into the shock-event era. Not that it’s all Dan’s fault (it wasn’t), but he is clearly an icon to what happens when an average writer at best becomes the guiding light of a whole universe (yeah, I am talking about Geoff Johns too).

I would say “the 90s” at DC didn’t start in the relevant sense until Doomsday (December ’92) and the beginning of Knightfall (April ’93), and then seriously kicked in post-Zero Hour with Fate and Extreme Justice (on the hell-in-a-handbasket side) and Starman (on the other side). It’s in that late-92-to-late-94 timespan when Guy Gardner becomes a morphing human gun, when Ron Marz invented stuffing girlfriends into refrigerators, when Superman gets a mullet, when the 90s-riffic Bloodlines happens, etc.

I hear what you’re saying, but even at their most 90s, with Bloodlines and everything, they were still very restrained and far less 90s than what was going on with Marvel, Image and Ultraverse. I mean, that Guy Gardner morphing human gun stuff and Ron Marz girlfriend in fridges stuff and Superman mullet stuff, etc, was still much better than a lot of the crap going on at the same time elsewhere. Although not as strong as it’s late 80s/early 90s renaissance, DC stayed pretty strong until Jennette Kahn stepped down. Once Paul Levitz took over it just got boring and bland.

DC said things were going to be a lot less complicated after Crisis Of Infinite Checklist Legend Symbols, but it really just made things worse, particularly when they revamped Sideways Triangle and introduced Fractal.

Man, those books took forever to read.

I think Deluxe books were on “Baxter” paper, while New Format was on “Mando” and standard format was on newsprint. I could be way off at this point.

The bit that always seemed oddest to me was “New Format”, because I knew from the day they introduced it that before long the name would start to seem even more silly than it did to start. It was, however, a nice format for a comic, not too much more expensive than a standard format book but a lot better looking.

Standard Format = Cheap paper, big dots printing and 24 pages.

New Format = Nice paper, good printing and 24 pages

Deluxe Format = Even better superwhite paper, the same good printing as New Formant and something like 28 pages.

Prestige Format = Paper the same as New or Deluxe (not sure) 48 or 64 pages, good printing and a squarebound cardstock cover – and no adverts.

This reminds me of DC’s Direct Currents that I used to get in my box. While it probably cost a lot to do it (essentially a 4 page flyer that had a checklist of every DC title that month and hyped two titles/stories that were newsworthy, I guess), I wasn’t reading DC then, and they did pique my interest (must have been around ’88 or so; V for Vendetta was a mini at that point).

I wonder if this checklist move was a replacement for those, maybe?

They did them both concurrently. I think they stopped Direct Currents…hmmm…I am going to say sometime in 1993.

I just caught this last comment — Direct Currents was going on for a while past 1993. Into 1995, I think, along with at least a special preview of 1997. Which I have, so I know I’m not just making stuff up there.

1994 was actually my first guess, but I just couldn’t recall seeing one in 1994, so I went with 1993.

So they lasted all the way until 1995, eh?

It is amusing to have to learn semaphore just to figure out information about the book you want to get.

The selling point of the paper stock/format isn’t really a big thing now, huh? Not like back then — woo hoo, New Format!!!

A lot of Image books have covers with the same paper stock as the interiors, which allows them to print a 32 page book as a 32 page book, not 32 plus a stapled on cover (36 pages).

The Direct Currents apparently expanded from what Smokescreen described. The issues I have are comic book size, possibly more like 24 pages if not 32, same deal as what I described about the Image books (ints. and covers same stock), and a lot of it was B&W, with some featured pages in color. I have a couple from early Vertigo era, one from the Zero Month, and one from maybe ’95, I think. I know I do have a 1997 preview, but perhaps it wasn’t a regular publication at that point. I know Stuck Rubber Baby was a featured book on one of the issues, but I’m not sure when that originally came out.

I’m actually going to be digging around for them for something else (you’ll hear from me about it soon), so I’ll let you know what I find.

The selling point of the paper stock/format isn’t really a big thing now, huh? Not like back then — woo hoo, New Format!!!

I guess the big things back then were 1 – The difference in printing quality was immense. 2 – The difference in price was quite large too.

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