Friday, March 13, 2009

On the return of the Double Bill, and the sort of return of Blue and Gold

This week, DC announced that they were going to start running back-up stories in some of their monthly titles. Booster Gold will get a Blue Beetle backup story, Teen Titans will get a Ravager backup. This is in addition to the recently announced Doom Patrol titles by Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark, which will have a Metal-Men backup by the old JLI team up of Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis writing, and Kevin McGuire on art.

Further details are a little sketchy - no announcements of creative teams, and it hasn't been made 100% clear if the backups will shave any pages off the main title, or if will be entirely additional pages. The story states "The co-features will be presented in pages added in addition to the regular series’ stories", but that's not completely clear - it could still grab a few pages while still offering three or four pages of extra material.

DC has been toying with this format for a couple years now. The "Countdown to" books (Mystery and Adventure) featured two stories, and the Tales of the Unexpected mini from 2006-07 had the Spectre as the main feature and the delightful Doctor Thirteen story as the backup. For many, it was the first example of "B-side syndrome" in quite a few years, where the backup was more praised and talked about than the main feature. We got a series of "Tales of the Yellow Lantern Corps" stories in the GL titles, to serve as a way to introduce the concept of the new Corps that would play such an important role in the Green Lantern books for a few years to come. Plus, they've been doing their latest (and most under-appreciated, AFAIC) weekly series Trinity the same way, with the front story by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, and the backup feature plotted by Kurt, dialogue by Fabian Nicieza and art by a rotating team of folks. As opposed to the other titles, the two stories in Trinity have been connected, both serving to further the single narrative of the book. In some cases the "backup" feature has moved to the front of the book as elements of its stories become more important to the main tale. It's been quite the success using this newish storytelling format.

At recent conventions, Bob Wayne has said that they think the format has a lot of plusses. for one thing, it gives a hot talent who might not be able to handle a full-sized monthly title a way to get their work out there on a more regular basis. Secondly, it gives the reader more value for their dollar. "Their dollar" indeed - alas, everything's a trade-off in this world, and so too here. The books that will get these backups will be rising in price to 3.99 an issue. But with just about a third more story pages per issue, it's a damn fair trade.

I grew up on books with multiple stories in each issue. Flash use to have Firestorm as a backup, and Superman had a few backups - the "Action-Plus" stories that featured a rotating set of heroes (Including Air Wave and Green Arrow), and the stellar "Private Life of Clark Kent" and "World of Krypton" stories. It was a great way to give a character who couldn't support their own book a place in the sun, like the aforementioned Firestorm. It also let newcomers to the US industry get some exposure. Like those Tales of the Green Lantern Corps stories drawn by Kevin O'Neill that got him banned by the Comics Code for his entire style of art.

(In a weird way, Kevin's style bears similarities to Will Elder's, in the way that he packs each panel full of signs, labels and other widgets and nernies that have you going through the page with a fine-tooth comb for jokes. Will called This "Chicken Fat", as in "the part of the soup that is bad for you yet gives the soup its delicious flavor")

The two books they've chosen to add the backups to are eminently logical. Ravager, already a member (or at least an ally) of the Teen Titans, has enjoyed a wave of popularity that got her her own miniseries, the just-ended Terror Titans. This gives Ravager fans another reason to pick up Teen Titans, and avoids the risk that a solo book might not fly. Blue Beetle (Both current Beetle Jaime Reyes and previous one Ted Kord) has been a recurring character in Booster Gold already, so adding him to the book makes very good sense. Both characters have a more lighthearted tone, and considering Beetle is a recurring (and very popular, if my personal observations on action figure sales are any evidence) character on the new Batman: the Brave and the Bold series, so getting back in a book one way or another (o'course, he's also in Teen titans) is a GREAT idea, and might even bring new readers to Booster. Since both sets of characters are logically linked, it gives them the chance to do crossovers within the book, if you will , and have the two features team up for one big story, like Trinity's been doing.

When asked if we might see Renee Montoya (the new Question) in her own adventures, Greg Rucka has limited his answers to a cryptic "wait till June". Considering this announcement, it's given some the hope we may see a backup or two appear in the Bat-books. Considering Kate Spencer (aka Manhunter, who, like Blue Beetle, has a loyal and vocal following that wasn't quite large enough to keep their books afloat) is the new District Attorney of Gotham city, a Manhunter backup would also make a hellalot of sense. So too in the Superman books - they've going to be writing about a great deal of characters, all trying to take Superman's place while he's on Krypton (scroll down to see my pieces about that story) - breaking the books into smaller stories might give each a chance to shine.

From a math point of view, I'm curious how DC will actually make more money on the book by adding a commensurate additional number of pages. 8 more pages of story to a 22 page book (not counting ads) is more than a third again as much, and the books are also going up a third again as much, from 2.99 to 3.99 each. Since I assume they're not going to pay the creators any less per page for doing the backups, I can only assume that there's a lower per-page printing increase that makes adding pages cost-efficient, or they hope the larger books will sell more, making them more profitable. No matter what, the attempt to cushion the blow of the high price by offering a commensurate amount of new material (as opposed to Marvel's weak inclusion of extra pencils and other "additional material" to their increased books) can be nothing but commendable.

As I mentioned earlier, Booster Gold has featured several Beetles in the title since its inception. The latest story featured the Scarab almost being destroyed back in Egyptian times, potentially removing all the Blue Beetles from history. In the last issue of Blue Beetle (just released a couple weeks ago) we are presented with what seems to be the origin of the Black Beetle who "first" (time travel = problems with tenses and chronology) appeared in Booster's "Blue and Gold" storyline which featured the return of Ted Kord. Ever since Justice League International, Booster and Beetle have gone together like Ra-ma la-ma la-ma ka ding-a da ding-de dong. There's a LOT of potential story there, and it's infuriating that DC Editorial has (supposedly) said that they will not bring Ted back in any permanent way. Yeah, they bandy his name about regarding Blackest night, but that's just to match us squirm.

Since its return, Booster Gold has mixed humor and adventure expertly, delivering time-travel adventure that you don't need a map to understand, and a look at some characters who haven't gotten a fair look in years. Any chance to attract more readers is a good move, and I look forward to see what Dan and co. have for us next.

In short, I'd buy that for a(nother) dollar.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, eagerly await the announcement (which I think is coming--it's the only reason for moving her to Gotham) that Manhunter will be a backup feature on BATGIRL or something. Hopefully, though, it will still be Andreyko. Without him, Kate's just another chick in tights.