They've got your back

As we all know by now, DC is adding “co-features” to (so far) three of its titles: "Blue Beetle" in Booster Gold, "Ravager" in Teen Titans, and the previously-announced "Metal Men" in the new Doom Patrol. Each title will be $3.99, which presumably indicates that each title will contain at least 30 pages of story altogether. Assuming that the headliners will still get 22 pages per issue, this leaves a respectable 8 pages for the “co-feature,” although if it's just 8 pages we might as well call it a “backup.”

Regardless of what you call it, I like this idea quite a bit. Backup stories expose readers to a greater variety of characters, creative teams, and storytelling styles. Furthermore, as long as DC feels compelled to increase its regular titles’ price point, $3.99 for 30 pages is about the same as (and a thin hair more economical than) $2.99 for 22 pages. This is not exactly a new strategy for DC: for books cover-dated September 1980, it added eight pages of story and art to all its books (going from 17 pages to 25), raised the price 25% (from $0.40 to $0.50), and in most cases used the extra pages for backups. Many of these starred familiar characters like Adam Strange, Aquaman, and the (Earth-2) Huntress, but many were used to spotlight the less familiar (Firestorm, OMAC) or to debut new characters (Nemesis). Since Newsarama indicated that “[m]ore books will have co-features added to them in the coming month,” let’s consider who might be returning in backup form.

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Last week I listed five titles which had each run for at least two years, and which were each cancelled during the past year. Blue Beetle is already headed for a co-feature, but I think another would also be a good fit. Considering the other casualties, it would be hard to cram the ensembles of Checkmate or Shadowpact into an eight- to ten-page format; and Kate “Manhunter” Spencer will apparently move to Gotham City to become a supporting character in the new Streets Of Gotham book. Although the Ray Palmer Atom will be part of James Robinson’s Justice League, that’s now been cut to a six-issue miniseries. Accordingly, both Ray and Ryan Choi lack a permanent home, despite All-New Atom’s respectable 25-issue run. Ideally I’d want the Atom to back up another science-hero or sci-fi-flavored title, like The Flash or Green Lantern, but failing that I’d put him in Green Arrow/Black Canary. Maybe Mike Norton could pencil both?

You don’t tease a classic-look Aquaman in Final Crisis without some kind of follow-up. I know he’ll be in Blackest Night, but who expects an Aquaman story to break out in the middle of a Green Lantern epic? No, whatever DC does with whoever turns out to be Aquaman will require its own feature. Still, because it is Aquaman, who these days doesn’t appear to inspire much of anything but general reader indifference, a backup feature is probably about right for starters. There is only one place for an Aquaman feature outside his own book, and that is Adventure Comics. Good thing DC is relaunching Adventure right when Aquaman will need a home.

Firestorm is another revamped character whose most recent title lasted a good while, namely 35 issues over three years (July 2004-June 2007). Since then he’s joined the Justice League, which has raised his profile and facilitated a not-insignificant role in Trinity. If the character’s history is any guide, a backup is in his future. The original Firestorm book lasted just five issues (March-November 1978), but the character joined the Justice League (his co-creator Gerry Conway was the JLA writer) a little over a year later (JLofA #179, June 1980). Consequently, a backup in The Flash (September 1980-December 1981) led to a second series which ran 100 issues (June 1982-August 1990). Assuming there’s no room in the new Flash series, I’d put a Firestorm backup in The Brave and the Bold, and I'd hope his old writer Stuart Moore would be available.

Along the same lines as Firestorm, Stargirl’s ongoing series (Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E.) only lasted fourteen issues (July 1999-September 2000), but her membership in the Justice Society kept her in front of the fans. Frequent appearances in “Justice League Unlimited” probably haven’t hurt either. Giving her a backup feature in Power Girl seems like a no-brainer, considering that book’s JSA-friendly readership. It might even lead to another ongoing series.

Naturally, I’d love more adventures with Team 13, the merry band of D-listers assembled by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang for the eight-part “Architecture & Mortality.” Although more traditional ensemble setups probably wouldn’t work as well in an abbreviated format, I don’t think that applies as much here. While “A&M’s” chapters were each 16 pages long, Dr. 13 played off the other characters more than they played off each other. Seems like that would be relatively simple to translate into shorter stories. Besides, I really want Azzarello and Chiang to reunite for “The Quest For Fear!” It wouldn’t matter what title a “Dr. 13” backup occupied, because I’d read it just for that.

There are other possibilities, of course: Vixen in Justice League of America, Hippolyta in Wonder Woman, or the Human Flame in Secret Six (okay, let's not get crazy)....

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As always, I don’t have any real insight into DC’s plans. However, I will note that thankfully, DC is exploring new options. Whether they’re backups or co-features, putting these new stories into existing titles is a good way to gauge reader reaction while building loyalty to ongoing series. Moreover, if the rumors prove true, then the upcoming Wednesday Comics weekly miniseries would give the publisher another storytelling venue, and possibly a choice of formats (including story length and even page size) to go with it. I've said before that anything which opens up new ways of storytelling is a positive development. If DC fulfills my prediction from the beginning of the year, and expands some books to 48 pages (with a commensurate price increase), I'd be willing to try those out as well.

Finally, I can’t let a post on backup features go by without mentioning one of the better ongoing “parent” series, Detective Comics. Even after its days as a Golden Age anthology had ended, ’Tec was still fertile ground for detectives and hard-boiled characters of all kinds. The Martian Manhunter spent the better part of his first nine years (November 1955-April 1964) as a ’Tec backup, followed by over four years of Elongated Man stories (May 1964-January 1969). Green Arrow had a comparable run of almost four years during the 1980s (#s 521-567, December 1982-October 1986). Longevity didn’t always equal notoriety, though: Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s “Manhunter” spent a memorable eight issues as a Detective backup, and Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, and Cameron Stewart launched the most recent Catwoman series over four issues (#s 760-63, August-November 2001).

Thus, as long as DC is handing out backup features, it would be only natural to set one aside for Detective. However, ’Tec is arguably taking a bigger risk with “Batwoman,” by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. As a character whose biggest exposure so far was a minor role in the over-two-years-ago 52, Batwoman seems more like backup material than any of the former headliners I’ve discussed already. Nevertheless, there’s a certain poetic justice in the notion that Detective Comics, the home of so many successful backups, might still score big with a relatively untested character. I'm looking forward to Batwoman in Detective, and eager to see who gets a backup next.

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