Friday, April 29, 2011

First Issue Special

Here's a re-post from a while back...with some updates.

First Issue Special was a short-lived, but extremely influential DC Comics series that ran for 13 issues on the mid-1970s. The concept behind it was that since first issues always sell well, then why not publish a series where every issue is a first issue? It sounded great to a 10 year old Doug who savored each and every issue and hoped it would continue forever. I remember running to the local 7-11 in hopes that a new issue would be out. We didn't have an iPhone app that told us what comics came out each week back then.

A few of the showcased properties (Mike Grell's Warlord, specifically) moved on to their own titles, while a few others (Green Team anyone?) faded into oblivion. Some issues featured long-time characters or concepts (Dr. Fate, Metamorpho, The Creeper) who would eventually appear in their own series again or part of a team book.

Issue by issue, lets look at First Issue Special and see what made it so damn special.

Starting with the first issue, Atlas The Great written & drawn by Jack 'King' Kirby.
Kirby had spent many years at Marvel creating most of their universe with Stan Lee. In the early 70s, he came to DC where he created many concepts (The New Gods, Kamandi) that are still relevant today. Atlas sat dormant as a one-shot until James Robinson re-introduced the character into the supporting cast of Superman (issue #677).
The second issue gave us the previously mentioned and often maligned Green Team: Boy Millionaires by Kirby's ex-collaborator Joe Simon. This was basically Richie Rich meets The Dirty Dozen and I believe they never appeared again. Thankfully.
The star of the third issue was Metamorpho, The Element Man by the wonderful Bob Haney & Ramona Fradon. This character was introduced in the late 60s and continues to be popular today, appearing in several incarnations of Batman and the Outsiders and most recently in DC's well-done, but overpriced weekly Wednesday Comics series. Haney's groovy Teen Titans and World's Finest stories made him quite popular. Ramona is known for her excellent work on Plastic Man, Super Friends, The Freedom Fighters and the Brenda Starr, Reporter comic strip.
Issue four brought us Lady Cop by Robert Kanigher, John Rosenberger & Vince Colletta. This is my favorite issue of the series. I hoped and prayed for a Lady Cop ongoing series, but alas it never happened. I read that writer Gail Simone used the character in her recent All-New Atom series.
Jack Kirby was back for issue five's Manhunter. The character has appeared in countless versions over the years, many times crossing over into Justice League of America and Green Lantern storylines. The most recent Manhunter, by Mark Andreyko haedlined her own series and later was a back-up feature in Batman: Streets of Gotham.
Another Kirby creation, The Dingbats of Danger Street filled issue six. Don't recall much about these guys. I don't think they appeared ever again, but I could be wrong.
The Creeper crawled into issue seven. This Steve Ditko creation combined the qualities of earlier Ditko characters like Spider-Man and Blue Beetle with a touch of The Joker's insanity. Steve was joined by writer Michael Fleisher on this story. The character went on to make many guest appearances. He was killed at one pointed, revived as a French woman (as a Vertigo adult title), then relaunched again as a man. He currently appears alongside Metamorpho in The Outsiders sans Batman.
The eighth issue was the premiere of Mike Grell's timeless sward & sorcery creation Warlord - which became a long-running series, followed by a few miniseries, and a failed re-imagining by acclaimed Incredible Hulk writer Bruce Jones in 2006. Warlord was most relaunched with Grell at the writers' helm. Sales were poor, even after Grell returned to the art, and the book was cancelled.
Doctor Fate conjured up the ninth issue. This issue, by Martin Pasko & Walt Simonson brought the character out of DC's Golden Age and into the 1970s. The character went through a few changes in the 1980s and 90s, appearing in several miniseries and ongoing titles. Fate was a JLA member for a while, became a woman (two to be exact), and was reborn in JSA as Hector Hall, the son of Hawkman. After finally being reunited with his wife Lyta Trevor (The Fury), the two perished in Infinite Crisis. Or did they? A new Dr. Fate was introduced in The Helmet of Fate miniseries and will has shown up in the current Justice Society of America monthly.
The Outsiders by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti were the focus of issue ten. Great title. Great logo. Bad concept. As we know, DC kept the name, but not the characters. I don't believe they ever appeared again.
Issue eleven brought us Codename: Assassin by Gerry Conway, Steve Skeates, Nestor Redondo & Al Milgrom. James Robinson (him again!) recently revived the character in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #1 - making him part of Superman's ever-growing supporting cast.
Starman by Gerry Conway, Mike Vosburg & Mike Royer debuted in the twelfth issue. This one-shot character, alien Mikaal Tomas, showed up in the excellent 1990s Starman series by (you guessed it) James Robinson. This blue-skinned visitor from another planet discovered he was attracted to both genders equally, and entered into a relationship with another man. In the miniseries Justice League: Cry for Justice (by Robinson), his lover Tony is killed, prompting Mikaal to seek justice. Mikaal is current a member of the JLA, and has entered a flirtatious relationship with the recently revived Tasmanian Devil (not to be confused with the WB cartoon character).
The thirteenth and final First Issue Special featured The Return of New Gods by Gerry Conway, Denny O'Neil & Mike Vosburg. This did lead to an ongoing revival series, but without its creator Jack Kirby (who by now was back at Marvel), it was just not the same. The New Gods were brought back many times over the years and became an important part of the DCU in the 1990s, with Darkseid becoming DC's biggest bad guy.
The original New Gods were all pretty much sadly killed in 2008, but reborn in new bodies during the mind-boggling and mind-numbing events of Final Crisis.

So there you have it, thirteen mostly wonderful first issues. It's a shame DC hasn't collected them all into one trade paperback. Maybe someday they will. Fingers crossed as I run to the local 7-11.

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