My pal Mike Solof recently posted his “I Hate Comics!!!” column here on Comics Spotlight. In its own way, his “Make Mine Make Sense” cry turned out to be something of a manifesto, and while I don’t want to address each of his points, I do instead want to point out something going on in comics that I think is very good.
The addition of Blue Beetle and Ravager, respectively, as back-up features in Booster Gold and Teen Titans, respectively, harkens back to an excellent and overlooked era in comic books and it could well portend some truly awesome storytelling.
First, the economic realities: There are some titles that are going to see their regular prices go up to $3.99. That’s a tough blow because for the first time you won’t be able to get three comic books for $10, and that’s not good for anyone.
Making the best of a bad situation, though, DC has made a solid move with these characters. The new Blue Beetle is a charming property with a lot to offer. I don’t think I even know how much I liked him until I got a chance to write him in the DC Universe Holiday Special 2008 (so yes, maybe I’m biased, but I’m not writing him now).
While far removed in tone and spirit from the Ted Kord Blue Beetle so many of us loved, this new one does have a tone that will fit nicely in Booster Gold, which has been one of the best and most consistently interesting superhero monthlies for many months now.
Ravager, who is a character that will most likely always have some link to the Teen Titans, is a great fit for that book.
What I’m hoping we’ll see through the eight-page back-up stories is solid storytelling and continued character growth, and through those factors some real value should be added to the titles they’re featured in. It’s not automatic, of course, but there are definitely precedents.
Following the “DC Implosion” back in the 1970s, we saw some great characters pop up in following years as back-up features. Personally I remember Firestorm in Flash and Green Arrow in Detective Comics.
Mostly, though, I remember a one-issue comic (it was supposed to be more) called Dynamic Classics, part of the “DC Explosion” that soon became the “Implosion.” Not only did it feature a great Batman reprint from the Neal Adams era, it featured the first chapter of Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson’s “Manhunter.” It hooked me in eight pages.
(If you haven’t read the collected Manhunter in one of its reprints, I offer you two choices: stop right now and go get it, or get out of comics. Yes, it’s that good. Now, back to my point…)
Manunter was everything you could want in a back-up feature. It was solid, it was inventive, daring and it took full advantage of the fact that because it was a back-up no one really cared too much what these two amazing creators did.
They should have cared. They should have been taking notes. In eight-page segments (except the final one, which crossed over with Detective Comics’ main feature, Batman), Goodwin and Simonson put on a storytelling clinic.
Years ago at a dinner, I was blessed with the incredible opportunity any young creator should have been willing to kill for… I was seated at dinner immediately across from Will Eisner. I’ve later had this same point made to me by Jim Shooter and other great storytellers, but Eisner was the first one who said it to me: Anyone who can tell a story in eight pages can tell as story in 22 pages, but the opposite isn’t always true.
A lot of writers, including me, should take this new-old form, the back-up story, as a challenge to do better work. I’m looking forward to doing so.