One of my fondest memories about collecting comics growing up was the elusive “fifth Wednesday.” In a market driven by monthly superhero titles all delivered across an average of four Wednesdays each, these were the rare instances when a fifth Wednesday appeared on the calendar and altered the schedule at Marvel and DC. Now technically speaking, one in three months will contain a total of five Wednesdays, meaning there will be approximately four each year. However, when you can still count your age on fingers and toes, these things seem much more rare.
In the early 2000s, these release dates would feel something like a holiday. Typically the overall offerings would be decreased, but they were replaced with a smattering of annuals, one-shots, and other special comics. With the typical weekly cost of a pull list decreased, it functioned as an excuse to try something new, and said new offerings all felt a bit special.
Fifth Wednesdays are no longer as obvious across the direct market and local specialty retailers. More advanced planning, bi-weekly releases, and the expansion of new markets have all assisted in decentralizing Wednesday as the high holy day of comic book readers. Yet looking at the most recent fifth Wednesday (May 29, 2019), it’s apparent that DC Comics still values this tradition and the possibilities it offers many, many years after I was finally able to drive myself to a comic store each Wednesday. Here’s how DC is building the case for this oddball tradition.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of treating fifth Wednesdays as something special is that it allows publishers (and the direct market collectively) to avoid tedium. As readers, we get excited to follow up on specific cliffhangers or see what our favorite artist has prepared, but the actual act of purchasing physical comics can fall into a weekly cycle much like depositing paychecks, running laundry, or threatening to delete Twitter. It’s the same drive and same cycle of series, week after week, for as long as you stick to it. Lots of top-notch local stores increase the value of that visit with excellent staff, but there’s always a risk of this cycle becoming a tedious routine.
The fifth Wednesday helps to alleviate the standard expectations of arriving at your local store every few months. Unexpected new issues, the beginnings and finales of events, and annuals featuring guest artists all help to offer both changes in the routine, as well as a chance to try some new comics. For readers who have been making this weekly pilgrimage for years or even decades, it’s one small way that publishers can help maintain the surprise of entering a comic store and push back on delivery and digital models in the direct market.
Of course the surprise and enjoyment of a fifth Wednesday is predicated on the quality of releases that a publisher selects. This is where the most recent example from DC Comics is incredibly useful. Reviewing the list of new comics set for the end of May, it was clear that this Wednesday was something special. Not only were there a lot fewer new titles available (only seven), but each one stood apart from the standard set of monthly or bi-weekly series fans would come to expect. The closest things there were to a regular release in the standard DC Comics line were Annuals from Detective Comics and Catwoman. Both of these issues were larger than standard and featured both non-typical stories and creative teams. Even for regular readers of either series, these would stand out.
Everything else featured at the end of May was truly outside of the ordinary. There was a quad-fecta of event releases well worth running down. The newest Black Label series, Batman: Last Knight on Earth, started with a bang in its massive 50-page launch of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “final Batman story.” There was also the launch of a new Superman event, and preview of two upcoming series, in the pages of Superman: Leviathan Rising #1. At the same time, DC Comics' current event, Heroes in Crisis, finally provided fans a resolution to some tragic losses. As if that wasn’t enough, Doomsday Clock delivered a long-delayed chapter hyped to contain the series’ biggest revelation yet.
Even for readers less interested in the news-making events of a comics publisher, there was a special, seasonal release with The Dog Days of Summer #1, a delightful collection of short stories featuring the many superpowered animals of DC Comics. Taken with all of the other releases, it ensures that there is something for every superhero reader’s taste, whether that’s seeking out the silly or the serious.
It is worth returning to the quad-fecta of titles delivered on this fifth Wednesday though, as they aren’t just a list of DC Comics’ most notable series, but provide a summary of the top talent guiding the publisher. These comics feature writers Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, and Tom King, who may possess more influence over the publisher’s direction than any other creators. They are the names used to sell new ideas and when combined with artists like Greg Capullo, Gary Frank, Yanick Paquette, and Clay Mann, it’s a murderer’s row of raw skill. However readers might feel about the individual series being represented, it’s impossible to dismiss the collected accomplishments of this crew and the popularity of the stories they are currently telling.
It’s in this way that DC Comics isn’t simply offering a pleasant change of pace or a fun round up of impactful, individual issues; they’re also delivering their current resume as a publisher. Even with fewer titles than a typical Wednesday, this smaller collection provides a better representation of where the company is going and why fans should stick around. It’s as much a thesis statement about all of DC Comics as it is a single, fun day. There’s a lot of value in either of those propositions, but when taken together it’s difficult to imagine a better day to hit your local comic book store.
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