For Your Consideration: DC’s First Issue Special HC

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Just imagine…a brand-new concept or character every month. It sort of worked for Showcase and later for a brief run of The Brave and the Bold, but that was in the 1960s. In the 1970s, sales were declining, new launches became risky gambles, and something had to be done. “1st Issue Special was a peculiar book concept based on [publisher] Carmine Infantino’s observation that first issues of titles often sold better than subsequent issues. Carmine’s brainstorm: a monthly series of nothing but first issues. It sounds like a joke, but he was dead serious,” writer/editor Gerry Conway told Jack Abramowitz in Back Issue!

First Issue Special HC

First Issue Special HC


The batting average for the series was low, but its legacy has endured as many of the concepts got resurrected for jokes, cameos, or reboots across the decades. Now, the entire 13-issue run is being collected in First Issue Special HC.

The series launched in 1975 and the first feature was from Jack Kirby, never short of ideas, but was running out his DC contract at this point, having failed to find commercial success with his Fourth World. Once more, he dipped into mythology and turned Atlas into a hero in “a time when man was rising out of barbarism,” writing and pencilling the tale with inks from D. Bruce Berry. Atlas would lie dormant until James Robinson resurrected him for his Superman run.

Kirby’s former partner and briefly a DC editor, Joe Simon, followed up with The Green Team: Boy Millionaires, with art by Jerry Grandenetti, an attempt to spark new interest in boys’; groups, a genre he and Kirby pioneered in the 1940s and 1950s. Here, each member — oil magnate J. P. Houston, movie mogul Cecil Sunbeam, shipping tycoon “Commodore” Murphy, and shoeshine boy Abdul Smith (thanks to a bank error) – was a millionaire and used their resources to have fun and do some good. Intended as an ongoing, two more issues were completed but only saw print in Canceled Comics Cavalcade.

1st Issue Special #3

1st Issue Special #3


Once headlining his own series, Metamorpho had been relegated to a popular guest star so the third issue reunited Bob Haney with Ramona Fradon, just coming back to DC after raising her daughter, for issue #3. “We met at the San Diego Con the summer before that and we were reminiscing. It turned out that we both really loved doing that [Metamorpho] feature. So we thought, ‘Why not do another one just to see what we could do?’ DC liked the idea so we went ahead and did that one issue,” Fradon told Back Issue!

For something completely different writer/editor Robert Kanigher was inspired by the ratings success of Police Woman and came up with Lady Cop with art by veteran romance artists John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta. This story lacked the action pizzazz found weekly on ABC. Gail Simone resurrected her as Ivy Town’s chief of police in All-New Atom.

1st Issue Special #5

1st Issue Special #5


Kirby and Berry were back for #5 with Manhunter, using the designs he and Simon came up with when they created the feature for Detective Comics, but now added a cosmic aspect, that the original, Paul Kirk, retired and passed on his identity to Mark Shaw, who discovered was part of cult of Manhunters, that tried to control the world. While this did not earn its own series, it did inspire Steve Englehart, who used the ideas to fuel his one-year run on Justice League of America, giving us the robotic Manhunters now tied to the Guardians of the Universe. (And yes, it showed little awareness of Kirk’s activities in the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson Manhunter feature from just a year earlier.)

Kirby and Mike Royer tried their own team concept with the Dingbats of Danger Street, which mixed humans and mutants. Royer told Abramowitz that this was initially ticketed as its own series. These misfits included handsome Good Looks, strong man Krunch, the joking Bananas, and Non-Fat, a skinny kid who loves to eat. Like the Green Team, the stereotyping was bad in the 1970s and looks worse today. Karl Kesel, who loves all things Kirby, resurrected the Dingbats and the Green Team in Adventures of Superman #549.

Another popular guest star was The Creeper so Michael Fleisher, Steve Ditko, and Royer gave the antihero a spotlight, fighting long-time Batman foe Firefly, although this did little for him.

1st Issue Special #8

1st Issue Special #8


Arguably, the most successful launch came with Mike Grell’s Warlord in issue #8, since it was the first to gain its own series. Grell originally conceived this as Savage Empire for comic strips but when the syndicates said no, he took it to his new home at DC. The debut story was cover-dated November 1975 with The Warlord #1 carrying a Jan.–Feb. 1976, cover date suggesting this was not to test the waters but to introduce readers to Travis Morgan.

1st Issue Special #9

1st Issue Special #9


On the other hand, the most critically successful issue followed with Martin Pasko and Walter Simonson’s fresh take on Doctor Fate. It was so well liked that it briefly gained a backup slot in The Flash during the DC Explosion and the basic underpinnings have been a part of the character ever since. “That story came about right after I first came to DC and Carmine wanted to give me something to edit,” Conway told Abramowitz. “I think Marty Pasko may have pitched the idea to me. I was very happy to be doing it. Dr. Fate has always been one of my favorite characters— he just looks so cool!”

Simon left staff by this time, but left behind The Outsiders, with art from Grandenetti and Golden Age great Creig Flessel. The misfits included, as Abramowitz wrote: “Lizard Johnny (a human/lizard hybrid), the amazing Ronnie (a four-armed Cyclops), Hairy Larry (a “wheeler dealer” attached to his vehicle, predating Thriller’s Data by seven years), Mighty Mary (with the face of an angel and a massive, scale-covered body), Doc Scary (reconstructed by aliens who didn’t know what humans look like), and Billy (a young boy with a M.O.D.O.K-sized, rock-hard cranium).” Karl Kesel, who loves all things Kirby, resurrected the Dingbats and the Green Team in Adventures of Superman #549.

1st Issue Special #11

1st Issue Special #11


Conway and Steve Skeates partnered up to launch Codename: Assassin, a high-tech espionage tale with art from The Redondo Studio and Al Milgrom. This was Conway’s attempt to being a Punisher-style character to DC but it didn’t gel as hoped. Again, Robinson brought Jonathan Drew, a.k.a. the Assassin, back for Superman.

The second Starman was introduced next in the penultimate issue, an alien brought to Earth in a story from Conway, Mike Vosburg, and Royer. He was blue-skinned, didn’t speak a human tongue. Conway recalled, “I liked the idea of creating a character whose origin was a mystery, whose background was a mystery, something we would develop and discover over time. But again, not knowing whether the story would go beyond one issue, it’s kind of hard to know how much you should put into it, how much you should hold out.” Mikaal Tomas would lie forgotten until Robinson used him in his Starman and Justice League: Cry for Justice.

1st Issue Special #13

1st Issue Special #13


The unlucky thirteenth and final issue was a resurrection of Kirby’s heroes in Return of the New Gods, cowritten by Conway and Denny O’Neil with art from Vosburg. “Return of the New Gods was the one 1st Issue where I believe we had the strongest potential because the New Gods had had a reasonable amount of fan interest,” Conway told Abramowitz. “I think my idea for the Return of the New Gods, as a fan, was, ‘Let’s tie this story up.’ I don’t know that I did a particularly good job, [but] it was a one-shot chance and I thought, ‘Let’s take that shot.’” This did set the stage for the series that followed in 1977 with nice Don Newton art.

The series was canceled with short notice resulting in Julie Schwartz taking his Robin and Batgirl team-up and using it to launch Batman Family. Similarly, a Green Arrow and Black Canary story sat in inventory before being used in Green Lantern #100.

Each issue had a “Story Behind the Story” text page in lieu of letters and I hope they get reprinted here.

While so many other concepts from the era came and went with little impact, one could argue that these thirteen issues provided future creators with a ton of material to populate the ever-growing DC Universe and therefore, this collection is worth a read to see what was initially conceived.

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