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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A jolly holiday with NANNY & THE PROFESSOR

Here's a special Easter re-post of one of my favorites. I hope you do enjoy this the second time around.
Bcak when ABC needed a replacement for THE FLYING NUN, they turned to AJ Carothers, a writer for MY THREE SONS and Disney (THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE, EMIL AND THE DETECTIVES). Carothers took one part MARY POPPINS, one part BEWITCHED plus a little pinch of FAMILY AFFAIR and gave us NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR. This short-lived (54 episodes) sitcom starred British actress Juliet Mills as Phoebe Figalilly, better known as Nanny. This Disney-influenced mini-classic is best remembered for it's groovy theme song composed by Steve Zuckerman & Fred Calvert, and performed by The Addrisi Brothers.
"Soft and sweet, wise and wonderful

Oooh, our mystical, magical Nanny

Since the day that Nanny came to stay with us

Fantastic things keep happening

Is there really magic in the things she does?

Or is love the only magic thing that Nanny brings?

You know our Nanny showed us

You can make the impossible happen

Nanny told us
Have a little bit of faith and lots of love

Phoebe Figalilly is a silly name

And so many silly things keep happening

What is this magic thing about Nanny

Is it love....or is it magic?"

In the pilot, Miss Figalilly arrived from the UK and is hired as housekeeper and governess for the Everett family.

Professor Harold Everett (Richard Long) is a widower with three children in need of guidance: Hal (David Doremus), Butch (Trent Lehman), and Prudence (Kim Richards).

Nanny almost instantly won over the family's hearts with her magical powers. She could talk to the animals, had ESP, had climate control capabilities as a harp is gently plucked over the soundtrack.The show was adapted into a series of three paperback novels by William Johnston, published in 1970: Nanny and the Professor, What Hath Nanny Wrought? and The Bloop Box .
A NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR comic bookwas published by Dell Comics in the early 70s.

After leaving primetime, the concept returned to ABC on Saturday mornings via the ABC SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE.

Cougarish Juliet Mills later married TV hunk Maxwell Cauldfield (Miles Colby on THE COLBYS) and then appeared on the campy NBC soap PASSIONS as 300-year-old witch.

Richard Long died in 1974 at the age of 47. David Doremus no longer acts, but lives Los Angeles. Sadly, Trent Lehman committed suicide in 1982 at the age of 20. Kim Richards appeared in a string of NBC series and in several Disney movies including a cameo the recent WITCH MOUNTAIN remake. Rumor has it she later appeared on some reality show, but that has yet to be confirmed. I'm hoping for a NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR dvd release some day soon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kidsploitation: To Market, To Market

Shipped home a bunch of my favorite books from my childhood. This one was about two chickens who went grocery shopping. I used to read this over and over. Is it any wonder why I'm vegan today?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Foodsploitation: Humpty Dumpties

When Humpty Dumpty slipped and fell,
He suffered from a fractured shell,
And when he saw his cracks and creases,
Poor Humpty simply went to pieces,
He'll make a happier landing, though,
In candy-sprinkled yeasty dough
This frightens me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why I Hate Birthday Parties

From 2009: I had only one damn birthday party when I was a kid...and my siblings mortified me during the "pin the tail on the donkey" portion of the festivities. I spent most of the party hiding under my grandmother's bed. If I only had this book back then...
I also hate the song Happy Birthday to You and refuse to sing it.
How many of these copyright protected characters can YOU name?

I had another birthday party when I was a teen for my 16th or 17th...
My parents actually allowed us to have beer! (But it was lite beer if I recall correctly).
Look at all these other great party books...
As an adult, I actually enjoy throwing parties-but never birthday parties. I like cocktail parties. My parents had a liquor cabinet that had the same bottles of booze in it for my entire childhood. They never once threw a cocktail party. They never had friends come over for drinks.
But they did have an absolutely groovy collection of drink mix guides for some reason. Maybe one day they planned on finally letting loose and enjoying the Nite-Life?
Maybe they wanted to be like the people in those drink recipe books.
Young, sexy, hip with not a care in the world. That would have been nice.
On a similar note, I used to fantasize that my parents were really Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson.Burt & Angie would pour each other glasses of Martini & Rossi and lounge around our Malibu home on the shag carpet and cuddle in front of the crackling fireplace on a chilly autumn evening.

Maybe Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme would come over one night to hang around the piano while Burt tickled the ivories. 

Or maybe they'd all go out on dad's boat.  How romantic. Ah - the glamourous life I could have had. Well I think we should all pour ourselves a nice glass of Martini & Rossi and "say yes". Just don't sing Happy Birthday to me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Tonight on PBS, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS makes its triumphant return to American television. These are words I thought I'd never type. In the years since the original program ended, ardent fans had always hoped that we'd return to 165 Eaton Place - but never imagined that it would actually ever happen.
The original show ran for 68 episodes over 5 seasons on MASTERPIECE THEATER, the Emmy-winning weekly anthology series which featured mostly English produced period dramas. Later seasons of MASTERPIECE THEATER presentations would go on to include comedies, mysteries and contemporary docudramas. Some productions even hailed from Australia and even the USA!
From Austen to Zola, if there was a classic that need to be adapted it usually wound up on a Sunday night from 9-10PM. But it was the drawing room soap UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS that put MASTERPIECE THEATER on the map. Created by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins and developed by John Hawksworth, the serial had a charm that made it a sensation in over 40 countries. Pictured above: The first paperback novel inspired by the series.
Set in the Edwardian era that spanned from the turn of the century through the Great Depression, the series told to story of the Bellamy family and their servants with world history as a backdrop. Pictured above: An illustrated social history of the period covered by the series.
Before DALLAS and DYNASTY, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS took us into the elegant world of the rich and powerful, offering us characters who were not only rich with money, but also rich in the dramatic sense as they dealt with the social and political changes of their time. Pictured above: The cast in later years, including Lesley-Anne Down as Georgina.
While the upper crust had their share of triumphs and tragedies, the domestic staff also experienced good times and their share of hardships, creating a microcosm of British society. Pictured above: early set photo includes the doomed Lady Marjorie (Rachel Gurney).
Center stage in all this was parlour maid Rose Buck (played co-creator Jean Marsh). We saw this world through Roses's eyes as characters dealt with love, birth, sickness, pain and death - and everything in-between. Pictured above: Mrs. Bridges and Rose overllok desserts fit for a King - King Edward, who pays a visit to the Bellamys.
Rose is the only character who returns in the new three episode series - joined at last by Eileen Atkins as the matriarch of a new family who moves into the Eaton Place home. Pictured above: a 1974 novel.
Part of the fun of the original series is learning what the responsibilities of each servant is. From the butlers to the footmen to the scullery maids to the cook - the hierarchy is more fascinating than that of the English aristocrats.
Pictured above: Thomas (John Alderton), Mr. Hudson (Gordon Jackson), Rose and Mr. Bellamy (David Langton).
There are some great moments of comedy throughout the series - notably those involving kitchen maid Ruby (Jenny Tomasin - pictured below) and cook Mrs. Bridges (Angela Baddeley).
Period detail in the production design is outstanding, from the furniture to the costumes to the vintage automobiles in later seasons.
Two characters from the original seriesThomas Watkins, the chauffeur, and Sarah, the house and nursery maid, left the series and later resurfaced in a 13-episode spin-off called THOMAS & SARAH.
The intrigue, scandals and indiscretions of the folks at 165 Eaton Place undoubtably inspired the Robert Altman film GOSFORD PARK and the recent wonderful and acclaimed DOWNTON ABBEY. An American attempt to recreate the magic of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS called BEACON HILL aired on CBS in 1975 to critical dismissal and poor ratings.
Pictured above: a 1972 novel.
Unforgettable characters like James Bellamy (Simon Williams - pictured below) have also inspired American soap opera anti-heroes for decades.
I hope that the new series lives up to the memory of the old, and that new episodes continue - possibly reuniting us with other favorite characters and actors from the original show. I'd love to see what Sarah (Pauline Collins) is up to.
But until that happens, we have our memories and DVDs of the original classic to get us through. Pictured above: a 1974 novel.
So, I salute UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS and all the joy it has given us fans over the years. Pictured above: Georgina's wedding day to the Marquis of Stockbridge (Anthony Andrews).
And I hope that new fans continue to discover this great series for years to come. Pictured above: A Christmas family portrait featuring one of my favorite characters middle-class secretary Hazel (the lovely Meg Wynn Owen), who marries James.