Why did Marvel have 'split books' and DC had 'back ups'?

Why was this? Possibly Marvel split books had equally popular heroes thereby more democratic than Detective's Batman and Martian Manhunter or Batman and Elongated Man? I think I've answered my own question here, errr ... Okay:  which format did you prefer?

Could DC have had a split book - Hawkman and Atom was one, but the format never really took off - unless I've overlooked something. What characters would have been worthy of equal-billing?

Could Marvel have had back up strips - there was Tales of Asgard in the back of JIM/Thor, but I think that was it. What minor Marvel heroes could have been a back up, rather than a co-headliner?

Views: 1426

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

DC had Ray leave the Freedom Fighters' book to become a backup in Black Lightning, IIRC.

The White Tiger backups did indeed happen and tie in with the main story at its close.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Maybe I'm remembering wrong, but I seem to recall a handful of DC style backup stories in the late 70s / early 80s, none too memorable and I'm thinking they were mostly inventory fillers.  Maybe around the time page counts jumped from 17 to 22 pages?  I recall one with Jarvis in Avengers, one with the Vision somewhere (Avengers or Marvel Tales maybe), and one in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man with the White Tiger (but I think this one was by Roger Stern, who was writing PPTSSM at the time and it tied in to the main story).  Anyone else remember this too?

DC's Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, and Action Comics were originally multiple-feature anthologies, and DC's Silver Age back-up strips were a survival of this format. It did use a split-book format in some titles, as I'll explain. Early Silver Age Marvel used a back-up strip format in some titles but eventually adopted a split-book one for Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish.


When Supergirl debuted in Action Comics #252 (1959) each of the above DC titles still carried three features. Supergirl's debut story was the first instalment of her own feature, which replaced "Tommy Tomorrow". The other two features in Action Comics at that point were "Superman" and "Congorilla"(1). The three features in Adventure Comics were "Superboy", "Aquaman" and "Green Arrow". Those in Detective Comics were "Batman", "Roy Raymond", and "John Jones, Manhunter from Mars". In all these titles the lead features took 12 or 13 pages and the other two 6 to 8.


"Congorilla" was dropped from Action Comics after #261; from #262 (1960) it was split between "Superman" and "Supergirl", and arguably became a split-book. Supergirl's stories were sometimes cover-featured - #262 is an example - but usually Superman appeared on these covers in some form. To judge by the story page counts given at DC Indexes, for the next couple of years the book was often evenly split, or nearly so. In #262 the split was 13/12. Sometimes the split was even in Supergirl's favour (I noticed #298 and #304 with 12/13, and #306 with 12/14). Issues with a split clearly in Superman's favour seem to become more common in 1966/67, but there were still evenly split issues; the latest I've found with Supergirl's feature was #371 from 1968. When the LSH's feature replaced Supergirl's in the title the Superman stories were always cover-featured but the issues were still often (but not always) evenly split (so e.g. the split was 15/8 in #379 but 11/12 in #380.


In Detective Comics "Aquaman" replaced "Roy Raymond" from #293, and ran to #300. With #301 (1962) Detective became a two-feature title, split between "Batman" and "John Jones" at 13/12 but with Batman's stories always cover-featured. When editor Julie Schwartz took the title over from Jack Schiff with #327 in 1964 he replaced "John Jones" with "Elongated Man" and changed the split so that Batman's feature was dominant. (Initially it was usually 15/10 or 15/9, but e.g. #333 was 14/10 and #339 16/9. Later in the decade I found splits of 16/8 and 14/9.)


World's Finest Comics was initially primarily an anthology title with a line-up of features from other titles.(2) In the 50s the lead feature became Superman/Batman team-up stories. Reportedly, this was really due to a page-count reduction. The issue from the same month as Supergirl's debut was #101, which carried a Superman/Batman team-up story, "Tomahawk" and "Green Arrow". Tomahawk had his own title at the time, so at the time both the supporting features had slots elsewhere; but "Tommy Tomorrow" replaced "Tomahawk" in the title from the next issue (and later Green Arrow continued to appear in the title for a while after he lost his).


"Mark Merlin" was introduced as a regular feature for House of Secrets in #23, and was usually the cover-feature from #25 (#26 is the exception). At that point the issues carried three stories. This format was continued to #60. In #61 (1963) "Eclipso" was added to the title and the title became a split book. "Mark Merlin" remained the main cover-feature to #65 ("Eclipso" got a prominent box on #60). The covers of ##66, 67, 70, #73, featured "Eclipso". Mark Merlin was converted into Prince Ra-Man in #73 and from #75 (1965) the covers carried logos for both features. "Prince Ra-Man" was cover-featured on ##74, 75 77, Eclipso on ##78, 80, and both appeared on ##76, 79, in which they fought. The story page counts varied; often one or the other feature had an extra page, but sometimes Eclipso's had 2 or 3 more.


Strange Adventures #190 (1966) co-featured "Immortal Man" and "A-Man", with a split cover and a 13/12 split issue. (Both characters had appeared in earlier stories but had not been created as feature characters. Immortal Man had earlier appeared in stories in #177 and #185; the latter story was cover-featured. A-Man had earlier appeared in #180 and #184 and been cover-featured on both occasions, but had not adopted a costume or a sobriquet in those stories.) However, after #190 both features only appeared intermittently and not again together, "Immortal Man" once more, and "A-Man" twice.


The story page-counts above are derived from DC Indexes and the GCD.


(1) Congo Bill became Congorilla in #248, but I don't happen to know at what point the name of the feature was changed. The GCD's page on #252 lists the feature as "Congorilla".

(2) The line-up of the first issue, which was titled World's Best Comics, included four features which were, as far as I can tell from the GCD, original to it; "Young Doc Davis", "Punch Parker", "Drafty #158" and "Lando, Man of Magic". Toonopedia confirms this issue to be where the last character debuted but doesn't have entries on the others. However, none of these features was cover-blurbed. "Young Doc Davis" apparently ran four issues; "Punch Parker" two; "Lando, Man of Magic" ran seven. "Drafty #158"/"Drafty"/"Drafty and Tim" appeared in ##1-3, 6-14 and some issues of Boy Commandos. (That is, I take it these were all the same feature. The first four instalments are the ones listed by the GCD under the first name and are credited by the site to artist Ed Moore. The subsequent World's Finest Comics instalments are listed as "Drafty", credited to Stan Kaye, and noted as having a supporting character called Tim. The Boy Commandos instalments are listed as "Drafty and Tim" and credited to Kaye. The stories were 4 pages long, and might be counted as humour filler.)



Louis asked if Hank Pym had  a back-up in the Avengers for a while.

I doubt it.

I remember NO issues where Hank was on a solo adventure.  Except, in the U.S., Hank Pym originated as Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #36 and ran solo until #44.  Then the Wasp was introduced.  And Hank gained some powers to grow, as Giant-Man.  Now, during this period, there were unconnected back-up features that were more along the lines of the first 35 issues of TTA... and those features have been collected in the 4th volume of Atlas Masterworks: TTA #31-51 (or similar numbering).

The back up features started using the Wasp as a framing device, and they were called "Tales from the Wasp" or "Tales by the Wasp".  Except for her as narrator, they had nothing to do with Antman/Giant-Man.  Eventually, these were all dropped as well, as the main feature with Giant-man floundered, and struggled to find a niche. The back-up features became a thing of the past with the addition of The Hulk as of TTA #59... and Giant-Man ends as Namor arrives to replace his strip in #70.

So, in the US, there was no real "place" for back-ups with Pym... however, his feature adventures MAY have been reprinted overseas as back-ups to reprints of Avengers..... I don't know.

I don't understand.  Why do you say Strange Tales #110 does not feature the star on the cover.  Human Torch is right there.  Are you saying that because Dr. Strange begins as the second feature, he should have appeared on the cover?

Dr. Strange doesn't get a cover of his own until #130...and even then, he never get's one of his own under Ditko until #139!

Uvu-Lad said:

Kirk G said:   As I recall, Dr. Strange virtually always got short shrift or a narrow strip across the bottom or to one side of the cover.

My theory is this was due to Stan's initial plan for Dr. Strange. With Doc, I think Stan was going for an under-the-radar, in-crowd vibe. In Strange Tales #110, the splash page reads "quietly, without fanfare". We were supposed to hear about The Master of the Mystic Arts in hushed whispers.
Strange Tales #110 is a "hot" book at the moment, and the Slab flippers are up in arms about having to buy a Marvel key without the star on the cover.
Unfortunately, Dr. Strange got into the cover rotation too late, and #146 is the only Ditko drawn full cover of the run.

There was a story prior to Pym becoming Ant-Man, but it wasn't a series.

OK, 'the man in the ant-hill'.... but that's a few months before TTA #35, right?  That was the first appearance of Henry Pym....and his first Anthill adventure....in TTA #27 to be exact. (Sorry I got the first costumed appearance off by one issue.)

Randy Jackson said:

There was a story prior to Pym becoming Ant-Man, but it wasn't a series.

To answer Dandy's initial question,  I think it has to do with how long the second or third features are.  In a 22 page book, if you fill more than 10 or 12 pages, you're the lead feature.  Therefore, anything left, that is shorter than 10 pages, by definition, is a back-up feature.

The only exception to this that I know of, are two:  The Mighty Thor in "Journey Into Mystery" was backed up by five pages of Tales of Asgard (also Thor related content).

And The Amazing Spider-Man first appears in Amazing Adult Fantasy #15 as the lead feature, and has three or so back-up filler stories (only recently reprinted in the AAF Omnibus...and in a Marvel Milestone edition, as I recall...)

Somebody mentioned the Angel. In addition to his brief back-up in the original 1960s The X-Men (all the original X-Men had brief origin stories as back-ups from issues #38-57), Angel also had a back-up in the otherwise all-reprint Ka-Zar #2-3 (1971), finishing up in Marvel Tales #30. Hercules had a one-shot, original story in Ka-Zar #1.


(Continued from my above post.)


As for Marvel's back-up strips, Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk debuted as sole features in their own titles, albeit initially with the issues often divided into sub-stories or chapters. But Marvel's next wave of heroes - Thor and Ant-Man, the Human Torch as a solo hero the next month, Iron Man later in the year - were introduced as new lead features in anthology titles. Spider-Man debuted the same month as Thor and Ant-Man, but is a special case as publisher Martin Goodman didn't want to do the feature, with the result that Lee put it into the lead slot into the slated-to-cancelled Amazing Fantasy. The issue sold so strongly that Spidey then got his own, solo title.


When the heroes started appearing in the anthology titles their stories were often 13 pages, with two 5 non-series stories supporting. Likewise Marvel's westerns of the era often had back-up stories. For example, Two Gun Kid #60 (1962), which featured the debut of the Silver Age Two-Gun Kid, had two "Two-Gun Kid" stories and a 5 page non-series story between them, splitting 13/5/5.


"Dr Strange", which debuted in Strange Tales #110 (1963), was initially a 5 page back-up feature. "The Human Torch" was the lead feature. In #115 "Dr Strange" (which had skipped ##112, 113) went up to 8 pages, in #120 to 9, in #125 to 10 (for the first time by snagging a page from the lead feature, which by then co-starred the Thing). When the S.H.I.E.L.D. feature started in #135 (1965) it took over the page count of the Torch/Thing feature, which at that point was 12.


Split covers appeared on #123, #133 and covers with subordinate boxes featuring Dr Strange on a number of covers from #118. #130 was the sole cover with a main Dr Strange image and subordinate Torch/Thing box. On Strange Tales Marvel held off making any feature logo part of the masthead while the Torch and Torch/Thing features were running. A S.H.I.E.L.D. badge appeared next to the logo on most issues from that feature's debut (#136 is an exception), but not a Dr Strange one until #150. The S.H.I.E.L.D. feature debuted as the new cover-feature; Dr Strange had a subordinate box on #136, a head-shot on #144 and was used as a framing figure on #139 (that cover being cobbled-together from interior art). Consequently, it was arguably only from #146, when "Dr Strange" began alternating on the covers with the S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and #150, when its logo was added to the masthead (and the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo fully integrated into the masthead), that the former became a full co-feature.


From Ant-Man's introduction Tales to Astonish initially followed the 13/5/5 structure. #44, which introduced the Wasp, and #49, in which Hank became Giant-Man, had 18/5. From #52 to #56 this became the normal structure, although #54 had 13/5/5 again. From ##51-56 the back-up story (where there was only one) or one of the back-ups (where there were two) was a "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" 5 pager. ##57, 58 instead had 16 page lead stories and 7 page Wasp solo adventures back-ups. #59 had a 18 page lead and a 5 page "Let's Learn About Hank and Jan" back-up. The Hulk's feature began in #60 (1964) and was co-featured with Giant-Man's from the beginning. From #61 he was co-featured with Giant-Man in the cover-logo. While Giant-Man continued to appear in the title the majority of the covers were split, but I should note the Hulk only had subordinate boxes on #65, 66 (Giant-Man's box was subordinate on #69). The page split was initially 14/10 in Giant-Man's favour, but had become 12/10 by Giant-Man's last appearance. With the next issue, #70 (1965), the Sub-Mariner took over Giant-Man's pages and masthead space. The covers of ##70-72 featured main Sub-Mariner images but the Hulk had a subordinate box on #70 and a floating head on #72. ##72-75 split the covers between a main image and subordinate box and alternated the features between them. From #76 the features alternated on the covers.


From Iron Man's debut Tales of Suspense followed the 13/5/5 structure to #45 (the introduction of Happy and Pepper), which split 18/5. #46 was again 13/5/5, ##47-49 were again 18/5. With #50 13/5/5 became the norm again. (#55 instead had a 13 page lead Iron Man story, a "All About Iron Man" 4 pager, a 1 page pin-up, and a 5 page "Tales of the Watcher story.)  With #56 the format reverted to 18/5. From ##49-59 the back-up story (where there was only one) or one of the back-ups (where there were two) was a "Tales of the Watcher" 5 pager. Some of these were anthology-style stories like the "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" ones, some stories about the Watcher.


A "The Power of Iron Man" logo was part of the masthead from ##53-58. Captain America joined the title with #59 (1964) and was immediately co-featured on the covers and in the masthead. Sometimes the covers were split, sometimes one of the features had a subordinate box, up to #69, but they loosely alternated in prominence to that point. From #70 split coves and subordinate boxes were dropped and they alternated on the covers. By that point the page split was 12/10 in favour of Iron Man.


In Thor "The Inhumans" 5 pagers replaced the "Tales of Asgard" feature from #146 (1967), and ran until #152, after which the "Thor" stories became full-length.

Page counts for this post from the GCD. It's easy to miss things and make mistakes with posts like these. Any corrections are welcome.

Following up on Luke's spot-on analysis a few post back of how and why Action functioned as a split book, here's the cover to an issue from 1966 that actually used the split-cover format to hammer that point home.

Captain Comics:

"all the original X-Men had brief origin stories as back-ups from issues #38-57"

NOT quite. Marvel Girl only got a "feature" that spotlighted her powers, not an actual origin story as the other 4 members of the group did. I remember that last installment had art by Roth & Grainger. It made me dearly wish Grainger had inked ALL of those Roth issues so casually massacred by Vince "scratchy lines" Colletta.

I was amazed when I realized Sam Grainger was the only member of the creative team who actually came back for the mid-70's revival.

Nice summary, Luke.

What I noticed some time back was, certain featured stayed lead features, even when the 2nd feature got the covers. It was only a few months before the split books literally SPLIT into 2 books apiece that DR. STRANGE got the front half of the book; ditto for CAPTAIN AMERICA and HULK.

Steve Ditko seemed to get repeatedly snubbed on DR. STRANGE. He never once did a cover for the feature (the one on his final issue was a production department paste-up job).  It has been suggested that Stan Lee resented Ditko having created the series 100% on his own, the acolades Ditko was getting for Spider-Man, and the fact that Ditko demanded and got CREDIT AND PAY for writing the stories (with Lee writing the dialogue).  That money had been going into Lee's pocket. Once it began going into Ditko's pocket., Lee STOPPED TALKING to Ditko, and Ditko had to deal with Sol Brodsky when dropping off completed episodes.

Reply to Discussion



No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.









© 2020   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service