Second Features: More bang for your buck?

Second Feature Nomad now appearing in Captain America #602

Second or backup features are becoming increasingly more prevelent in comic books, especially when it comes to the big two: Marvel and DC. This change in publishing strategy seemed to coincide with the price hike in the majority of comic books and the cynic inside me has always thought this just a shallow move to justify the increase in cover price. We’re maybe a year on since the intial price hike and a lot of second features are still around, not only that they seem to be growing and included in books they weren’t before. Could it be that there is more to the second feature than I had previously given credit?

Of course the second feature isn’t something new, quite the opposite, the lack of a second feature in comic books is a relatively modern trend in comic book history and in true comic book fashion it seems you can’t keep a good idea down. The advantages to the reader at first seem obvious, you get two stories for the price of one but what if you don’t like one of the stories or it contains a character you’re uninterested in or you get less pages of the story that you are intersted in, sacrificed for a mediocre backup story. Well, I guess that’s just tough and at least it gives you something to bitch about whilst surfing the web. I try to look at it like the free toy in your cereal packet, you didn’t buy it for the toy and usually it’s a bit of tat that’s totally useless but every now and then you’ll come across something you really want and love especially when some real thought and effort has been put into it.

The second feature allows characters that cannot or shouldn’t support their own book a chance to shine. How often have you cursed the comic book gods because a book that you loved was cancelled because not enough people were picking it up? The second feature allows the characters from that book to be reborn albeit in a more condensed throw away manner but at least you can still get your hit of the stuff you love. A perfect example for me would be the recent cancellation of S.W.O.R.D. by Kieron Gillen, something I’ve been pretty vocal about, I think those characters would be the perfect addition as a backup to maybe an X-Men book or even a S.H.I.E.L.D based book like Secret Warriors.

From a publishers point of view there are more advantages to the second feature than just placation of an ever demanding and increasingly disgruntled customer base. Placing a second feature in a book, which often means less pages for the main story, allows writers and especially artists more time each month to get their work in on time. This in itself is something that should not be sniffed at as it could help to stem the increasing tide of late books and event fatigued titles spoiling other books…ahem…Captain America: Reborn. It also gives publishers the chance to try out new talent without actually having to entrust them with their own book in a very clever and inventive way. If you can tell a story in a more condensed ongoing format, imagine the work you could do with 22 or even more pages at your disposal, if they cock up the back up then you really haven’t lost much as people were probably buying that book for the main story anyway. Every now and then a publisher will put out a book starring a character we haven’t seen for a good long while and then it’ll disappear just as soon as it appeared, this is generally for no other reason than the company need to use it or lose it. You never know when you may want to use a character you own or stop anyone else from using them, copyright law requires that the character in question is fixed to a tangible medium. Second features allow publishers to renew their copyrights without putting out a pointless book they have no intention of seeing all the way through.

As the amount of second features increases you’re bound to find more and more that you like and enjoy, it occurs to me that if the trend continues you may even begin to buy books because of or solely for the second feature. If this proves popular how long before we see an even more welcome return to grace of the anthology book, books made up of second, third, fourth features nobody and everbody is the star. The point is a change is coming in the way we read comic books and I think it’s something, we, the audience should try to embrace. “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit

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