DC ran more back-up stories than Marvel in the 70s/80s. The Marvel ones that spring to mind are the brief revival of “Tales of Asgard” in Thor in the early 80s and “Tales of Atlantis” in Sub-Mariner in the 70s. The episode depicting the sinking of Altantis in Sub-Mariner #63 comes to a memorable climax, with the king who has triggered its destruction facing his end in his deserted tower as the city is destroyed. The Supermegamonkey website has the page. The story was by Steve Gerber and Howard Chaykin.
My favourite of DC’s backups is “The Private Life of Clark Kent”, which eventually moved into Superman Family. It was about Clark interacting with ordinary people rather than supervillains. Sometimes the stories were humorous, sometimes they shot for a poignant note.
Many of the back-ups in Julie Schwartz-edited titles in the 70s were drawn by Dick Dillin, whose work I always like seeing.
The DC Explosion was a plan to increase the size of DC’s titles and add back-ups. This format was used for some issues briefly, but the plan fell through. However, DC revived the plan when it restored its titles to a larger size in 1980.
But in the 80s DC’s back-ups often seemed to be second-tier productions, behind the lead features in quality: or so it seems to me. There were some that graduated to their own titles: “Firestorm” (his feature was revived in The Flash before he again received his own title), “Arion, Lord of Atlantis” (originally a back-up in Warlord).
One back-up series that seems a very good idea to me now is “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” in Green Lantern. I thought it was hit-or-miss at the time, but I now think it served the lead feature well by introducing GLs like Ch’p and gave the creators opportunities to do stuff that was different.
George Perez did the opening instalments of “Firestorm” in The Flash.(1) (Pat Broderick started on the feature on the final The Flash instalments.) The Martin Pasko/Keith Giffen/Steve Gerber “Dr Fate” stories from The Flash were brilliantly drawn and compelling. Curt Swan did the first "Superman 2020" stories in Superman #354-#355.(2)
DC Comics Presents ran the “Whatever Happened to…?” series about forgotten characters, but I haven’t seen too many of those. The best I saw might be “Whatever Happened to… the Crimson Avenger?” from #38, in which the Avenger learns he’s dying and goes into action a final time.
Does anyone have any favourites?
(1) Jim Starlin pencilled the Typhoon three-parter that followed. Typhoon was originally going to appear in Firestorm #6 but the title was cancelled. The unpublished issue (with art by Al Milgrom) was included in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #1, and the GCD tells me it appeared in a 2011 collection.
(2) Also the first of the three "Bruce (Superman) Wayne" stories, which depicted what would have happened if Kal-El had been adopted and raised by the Waynes. The three stories waste the premise, I fear, but Swan's art gives the first one class.
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I was never a fan of Glanzman's art, but I did enjoy U.S.S. Stevens for its sheer authenticity, if nothing else.
In 1969, when I couldn't get current DC and Marvel books for awhile I was forced to branch out in my comics reading. I started reading the series The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz in the Charlton title Fightin' Army.
Sam Glanzman was the artist. To me he seemed well-suited to the very realistic war stories in that series.
I'm really looking forward to that U.S.S. Stevens collection, too. I've only read a few of the stories he created in the 70s, but the ones he provided for the 6-part Joe Kubert miniseries a few years ago were outstanding.
Some artists remain static once they've figured how to draw the things they need to draw, and some keep growing. Glanzman was one of the latter. His style never changed, but you could see his art improving from outing to outing.
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