DC released a collection of this series two years ago, and I've been considering posting some thoughts on it ever since (occasionally, not continuously). Specifically, I want to rank the issues first through thirteenth. The decision that has been holding me up is whether to rank low to high, high to low, or in numerical order. But Tom King's Danger Street is scheduled to begin next month and that has provided impetus. 

When I read the stories in this collection in 2020, some of them for the first time, I discovered that some of them were clearly better than others. In fact, it occurred to me that I could pick any two issues of the series, compare them side-to-side, and pick a favorite. For example, there are three Jack Kirby comics in the series' 13-issue run, and it's pretty easy to pick my first, second and third favorite among them. The problem is, enough time has now passed that I must read some of them again because I just can't remember which I preferred between, say, Lady Cop or Code Name: Assassin; between The Outsiders or The Green Team.

As the story goes, because first issues generally sell better than subsequent issues, publisher Carmine Infantino decide to publish a series of all "first issues." I will be ranking them taking into consideration the following criteria: concept, writer, artist, pedigree and legacy/potential. The collection includes editorials introducing the feature for most of the issues. By "pedigree" I mean was it a new character/concept or a revised/reintroduced one? By "legacy/potential" I mean did the character/concept go on to be used by other creators? 

Gerry Conway (from his introduction to the collected volume): "As a concept, the 1st Issue Special series was, frankly, frankly, more than a little half-baked. Supposedly a tryout book for new concepts or revised and reintroduced characters, it didn't really serve that purpose effectively. One-shot appearances don't do much to project reader interest in a character or series. They also don't provide a creative team sufficient time to develop whatever potential a new or revised character might have. And in the case of 1st Issue Special, production requirement didn't allow for much pre-development of any idea either." 

I have decided to present the issues in publication order, BUT... because it's been two years, I'm going to want to reread them all before I even get started, so bear with me. 

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MANHUNTER:

WRITER: Jack Kirby

ARTIST: Jack Kirby

PEDIGREE: Golden  Age Simon & Kirby legacy character (name only)

LEGACY: Manhunters, Millennium 

RANK: 3rd

It sometimes seems to me that Kirby's '70s tenure at DC was a string of bad timing. When he first made the move from Marvel, his contract called for him to take over an existing title. He requested a series which had no current creative team (so as not to put anyone out of work), one on the verge of cancellation. He was assigned to Jimmy Olsen and the rest is history. Jimmy Olsen was okay, but man, I would have liked to have seen him introduce all those "Fourth  World" concepts in Challengers of the Unknown. But the Challs had already been cancelled.

Yesterday I discussed Jeanette Kahn's decision to bring back New Gods only after Kirby had left the company. For First Issue Special, Jack decided to bring back Manhunter, one of his and Joe's characters from the Golden Age. Unfortunately (for Jack), Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson had recently completed a hugely successful revamp of Manhunter. That didn't deter Jack, though; he simply reinvented the character. In that respect, the new Manhunter is a "legacy" character in the same way Gerry Conway's Starman could have been.

The new Manhunter is Mark Shaw, a public defender recruited by the Grand Master of a mysterious group known as "the Shan" to take the place of an aged (but unnamed) retiring member. This single issue, like Atlas and Dingbats of Danger Street, very likely would have been the last if not for Steve Englehart. Englehart brought back the Manhunters as an unsuccessful, pre-GLC, offshoot of the Guardians of Oa, and the Shan as the Manhunters' corrupt leaders. Make no mistake: Kirby intended the Manhunters and the Shan to be a force for Good, but Englehart reinvented them for Evil. He also reinvented Mark Shaw as a supposed "good guy" who called himself the Privateer. (He ended up being a kind of a horse's neck, anyway, but we need not go into that here.) Years later, Englehart brought the Manhunters back as the central component of the Millennium crossover.

DR. FATE:

WRITER: Martin Pasko

ARTIST: Walt Simonson

PEDIGREE: Golden  Age 

LEGACY: Back-up series in Flash #306-313 (?)

RANK: 2nd

I first encountered the story from this issue in 1985's three-issue Dr. Fate reprint series. You'll notice this cover, too (like that of #12)* is by Joe Kubert. In this case, though, the interior artist, Walt Simonson, is much more interesting than Mike Vosburg. I doubt this issue of 1st Issue Presents led directly to the character's back-up feature in Flash (probably not, as Dr. Fate appeared a time or two elsewhere between the two), but at least they assigned another artist with an interesting  style to that series, Keith Giffen. 

*[Brief digression here: I suggested the other day that Conway & Vosburg's Starman might have been more successful if an artist with a more interesting style had been assigned to the interior as well. I also pointed out that that character's "legacy" was fulfilled by James Robinson in his post-Zero Hour series. I didn't mention the much more successful "Starman" series (from Adventure Comics) by Paul Levitz and "an artist with a more interesting style," Steve Ditko. I think the fact that that series lasted 12 issues (plus a wrap-up in DC Comics Presents) bears out my theory that a different approach might have saved the feature years earlier. Furthermore, I think the concept of and "alien Starman" stayed in the collective mind of DC editorial as the same logo created for the Conway/Vosburg Starman was used for the Levitz/Ditko one. In any case, this Starman, too, was later folded into the James Robinson series.]

Setting pedigree, legacy and potential aside for a moment, Pasko and Simonson's Dr. Fate is the best issue of 1st Issue Special we have seen so far in this discussion, easily capable of standing on its own merits, and perhaps the best individual issue of the entire series. Dr. Fate has a Golden Age pedigree, but 1st Issue Special #9 didn't have a particular legacy other than to keep the character in the public eye. If you are familiar with the contents of 1st Issue Special and have been paying attention to my choices so far, you already know which issue I'm going to slot into the #1 spot.

This was without a doubt one of my favorite Dr. Fate stories of all time. I thought it was incredible. For the iconography alone, it deserves an applause.

Another problem is that Ted Knight already had a "legacy" (although he wasn't called "Starman") as established one month earlier in All-Star Comics #58, the Star-Spangled Kid.

Exactly. I knew Starman. Starman was a friend of mine. And you, sir, are no Starman.

Conway's version is merely the first in a long succession of unsuccessful revivals of Kirby's "Fourth World" concepts, including attempts by John Byrne and Walt Simonson.

And all those revivals failed, didn't they? I think that's because of what I realized in 1972: Kirby's Fourth World was pictures without a story.

The only series I really looked forward to during that period was New Gods, which attempted some old-school Kirby razzle-dazzle. But other than that, it was a dead fish. It didn't have good stories, anything resembling characterization or subplots, believable dialogue, or (checks notes) women. Pretty pictures, I thought at the time, but not much else that Lee/Kirby hadn't already done (and done better) in Thor. In fact, pretty much concurrently with New Gods, Stan Lee and John Buscema were doing Kirby better than Kirby in the original Thor. At least there, for example, they included the 51% of humanity that is my favorite, the part that doesn't have dangly bits.

Needless to say, I was even less impressed by the lesser titles, Mister Miracle (yawn), Forever People (wincingly painful to an actual child of the '60s) and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (which starred some musclebound hero pretending to be the same comedy-relief character I'd been reading about since Giant Turtle-Boy Olsen).

It was, in fact, Kirby's Fourth World that taught me that all those people who screamed that Stan Lee was just Jack Kirby's typist were wrong. It was clear from even the best of the titles, New Gods, that Kirby desperately needed an editor to sift his good ideas from his bad ones; a scripter to write dialogue that didn't hurt my ears; and to do actual writing, as opposed to page after page of pin-ups with stock characters ("Hi! I'm young and hip Harvey Lockman!").

Getting back to "Return of the New Gods," it was journeyman Conway trying to make a story out of almost nothing, and having the middling success you'd expect. That alone didn't bother me. But what did was Orion wearing a superhero costume. Really, the most enduring image that arose from New Gods (aside from Darkseid, which finally gave DC the Big Bad it needed) was Orion's striking (albeit weird) armor and Astro-Sled (or whatever it was called). Ditch that, and it's just a bunch of people in costume without a story. Which is how I regarded "Return of the New Gods."

When he first made the move from Marvel, his contract called for him to take over an existing title. He requested a series which had no current creative team (so as not to put anyone out of work), one on the verge of cancellation.

That's not ... exactly the case, according to Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed. But read it yourself and take from it what you will.

Jack decided to bring back Manhunter, one of his and Joe's characters from the Golden Age.

As you note, Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson had also done a Manhunter character in Detective Comics. It was clear (to me, anyway) that this was a revival of a character, but one I'd never heard of. (This was pre-Internet, mind you.) So here comes another revival. I read it with great interest, looking for more clues about this Manhunter from the past I knew nothing about.

I didn't get many clues. As to the actual contents of the issue, I don't remember and don't care. This was the sort of toss-off junk Kirby was doing a lot of at the time, and I gave it no more attention than it deserved.

This was without a doubt one of my favorite Dr. Fate stories of all time. I thought it was incredible. For the iconography alone, it deserves an applause.

Hear, hear. I had a soft spot in my head heart for Dr. Fate every since I first saw him in Justice League of America #21. I don't know why. Maybe the helmet, maybe the snazzy blue-and-gold outfit, maybe because of all the JSAers that were re-introduced in the early to mid-1960s, he was one of the few who was not a punchy guy, but one with legitimate super-powers that were poorly explored. And I wanted them explored!

So when this issue came out I was greatly gratified, and I'm pretty sure it's the first time the ankh was associated with Dr. Fate (and Simonson used it everywhere). That actually showed some thought, trying to use an actual heiroglyphic symbol with a character long associated with ancient Egypt. DC was not known for its thought in those days, and I wanted someone to pick up this baton and take it further, into the whole Egyptian pantheon and all those mysterious heiroglyphic symbols. This could be great!

Alas, Dr. Fate was not taken to series, which told me all I needed to know about 1st Issue Special: It was BS. These weren't concepts that anyone really wanted to take to series, or they would have done so with Dr. Fate. It was just "First Issue!" sucker-bait, as I had pretty much guessed at the outset. So I just felt worse about buying this series, which was by and large obvious crap.

WARLORD:

WRITER: Mike Grell

ARTIST: Mike Grell

PEDIGREE: None (new)

LEGACY: 133-issue series plus six annuals and occasional reboot series

RANK: 1st

Remember me saying that in the mid-seventies I would buy the first issue of virtually any series just to get in on the beginning of the next "Big Thing"? Warlord was the first (but not the last!) time I bought the first issue of a "new" series hoping to get in on the beginning, only to discover the series had already begun. Back in those days, I was more-or-less dependent upon an adult giving me a ride to Ahmann's Newsstand on Main Street or Droste Drugstore on the west side of town to get me comic book fix. I did happen to find #2, missed #3, found #4. After that I didn't see an issue of Warlord for a long time. I wasn't all that broken up about it, though; sword & sorcery/fantasy never was really my thing.

Years later I passed on Grell's Starslayer (initially), but I was in for Jon Sable. In the '90s, I replied to an ad in CBG which was selling complete sets of certain series. I ordered Tomb of Dracula but the seller informed me it had sold. He offered to refund my money, or I could choose another series. I chose Warlord. I read about the first 50 issues, then my attention turned elsewhere. In the early 2Ks I tried again, started over at the beginning, got about 50 issues in, and gave it up for a second time. It was okay for what it was but, as I said, I'm not really into sword & sorcery/fantasy.

But Warlord was the only real (?) success of 1st Issue Special.

Luke Blanchard said:

I speak of spotlights rather than try-outs because such titles were sometimes used to launch a series that had already gotten the go-ahead. The Warlord is a case in point, as its first issue appeared two months after the spotlight.

What you say is true; Warlord had already been green-lighted for a series prior to its 1st Issue Special try-out spotlight, but I'm going to count it as a "win" for 1st Issue Special anyway because I'm leading this discussion otherwise, which feature would you count? Other than Dr. Fate and Warlord, the series was decidedly lackluster. Read what this guy thinks of it.

Captain Comics said:

Alas, Dr. Fate was not taken to series, which told me all I needed to know about 1st Issue Special: It was BS. These weren't concepts that anyone really wanted to take to series, or they would have done so with Dr. Fate. It was just "First Issue!" sucker-bait, as I had pretty much guessed at the outset. So I just felt worse about buying this series, which was by and large obvious crap.

I'm going to try to give you an alternate way of looking at it. Several times during the course of this conversation I have mentioned Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Most of the time those twin tomes are mentioned on this board, someone usually says how much he wished DC would reprint them. (I, myself, am one of those people.) But I know what's in CCC, and most of it is "by and large obvious crap." But I want it because it is a window through time, just as 1st Issue Special is. No, "these weren't concepts that anyone really wanted to take to series"; I don't think DC even thought that they would sell; I don't even think they hoped that they would sell, necessarily. 

It may have been tedious to follow this series in real time, but now there's a hardcover historical collection of this "sucker bait", and I approach it from that angle, the same as I would Cancelled Comics Cavalcade.

Now I'm all set for Danger Street

I once read a piece where the author maintained that Mark Twain had a "tin ear" for prose, and was capable of producing stuff that was brillaint and stuff that wascrap, without seeming to notice the difference, I sometimes feel that Kirby was the same way.

Captain Comics said:

It was clear from even the best of the titles, New Gods, that Kirby desperately needed an editor to sift his good ideas from his bad ones; a scripter to write dialogue that didn't hurt my ears; and to do actual writing, as opposed to page after page of pin-ups with stock characters

I believe that Kirby was the right guy at the right place at Marvel for the exciting new era at Marvel that was super heroes. His litany of romance, war, monster, western comics were just the image that viewers wanted - and HE didn't write them. Enter the Fantastic Four, and he found an even better niche (which Marvel was loaded with.) Jack was the big guy as far as art was concerned, even if he only did layouts; his inkers did a great job of "completing" his art (a comment which might well apply to Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino at the same time.)

Surely if he was so good at drawing, he deserved a crack at writing; but I think that was where the relationship started going a bit awry. Co-plotting is one thing; solo plotting and dialoguing is another. A strong editor might have created a Kirby series of books that would still be running today, but again it seems to me that Jack did what he wanted and as long as it wasn't total junk, it hit the pages.

Enter DC. It looks as if the relationship between DC and Jack Kirby was perceived in two different ways by the two different parties. DC seemed to want Jack Kirby art on their books*, while Jack seemed to want an outlet for his incredibly creative output. Jimmy Olsen was a compromise between them; and Jack was given free rein (deservedly) and made a really interesting storyline. It tied into his Fourth World ideas and that was a good thing; it gave Darkseid and Apokolips a "hook" into the main DCU.

But Jack was a genius, with ideas all over the place, and one must assume that he figured DC would give him an outlet for these. A couple got their chances ("Spirit World", "In the Days of the Mob") but I think DC didn't WANT to try to break out of the comic book market. I'd figure that the same occurred about the same time with the tabloid issues; they were reprints so no real financial risk was required on the properties (oh sure, new covers in some cases, but no investment in new art.)

It was a recipe for disappointment. Jack's expectations and DC's expectations both seem to have not been fully met, and I think Jack was more comfortable at Marvel with both situations being the same; thus the return to the HoI.

*I think DC would have given Jack Kirby an all new Superman title - maybe Jack Kirby's Super Action Comics - if he had expressed interest in doing a Superman title. I know I would have bought that!

"That's not ... exactly the case, according to Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed."

Cronin and I approach this "legend" from two entirely different directions.

"In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, find out whether Jack Kirby really came to DC in 1970 with a tremendous boast about what book he wanted."

Right off the bat: "tremendous boast." He immediately puts a negative (and, I maintain, incorrect) spin on it. Cronin also mentions Kirby "bragging about how he could turn [DC's worst-selling book] around." Boasting and bragging does not sound like any other story about Jack Kirby I have ever heard, so I have to weigh Cronin's conclusions against... well, every other story. Ironically, he does quote, verbatim, the very interview from which this legend sprung. Although he admits "the quote likely DID get said at one point," he deems it more false than true; I, OTOH, using the exact same evidence he presented, deem it more true than false. 

"But read it yourself and take from it what you will."

I'll go with Cronin's own assertion: "I could easily see Kirby saying, 'Give me the worst-selling Superman title, especially if there's no creative team attached to it.'"

I've heard that DC expected/wanted/hoped that New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle would be new versions of Thor, Fantastic Four and Captain America.

I almost added an addendum to my last post, as it occurred to me that I was leaving out some crucial context for my remarks. I didn't, because they were so ill-formed in my head, and so they remain. But they are, as I said, crucial.

The context of 1st Issue Special is that it came out in 1975-76, my senior year of high school. I was growing up -- college loomed -- and I wanted my beloved comic books to do so with me. I desperately wanted comic books to become more sophisticated, and thereby more acceptable. The 1966-69 Batman wasn't that far in the rear-view mirror, and I knew what grown-ups thought of comic books -- and what they thought of other grown-ups who read them. (Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC weren't that far in the past either.)

But comics stubbornly refused to grow up with me,. In fact, Marvel seemed to have stopped growing at all. The Great Leap Forward of the '60s were gone with Lee, Kirby and Ditko, and tentpoles like Amazing Spider-Man (where Peter Parker had stopped aging) and Fantastic Four seemed content to run in place. DC Comics seemed to be actually regressing with titles like 1st Issue Special, Prez and Brother Power the Geek. The much-touted Fourth World, as I noted above, was a bit of a disappointment to me, and eventually got canceled in favor of shallower fare, like Kamandi, OMAC and The Demon.

Is that a fair assessment? No. There were lots of bright spots in the early Bronze Age if one cared to look, like the Englehart/Rogers/Austin Detective Comics, the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter, the Thomas/Smith Conan the Barbarian, the Fleisher/Aparo Spectre, anything by Mike Ploog or Berni Wrightson, the Gerber Man-Thing, the Gene Colan Tomb of Dracula, the Marvel magazine line, and so on. Warren titles were still a going concern, and the soon-to-be awesome Indie scene was stirring. (I know Star*Reach had arrived by the time I went to college, and so had First and Pacific, too, probably.) 

I might be getting some dates wrong -- I'm not really sure if the Fleisher Spectre, for example, was early Bronze Age --  but I hope the point is made. The ratio of good books to bad books in the early 1970s was probably about the same as other eras.

That's the analytical approach, which is the one I usually favor. But my reaction to the mid-1970s is emotional, and that's not something I'm good at. Were the Fourth World books as bad as I describe? No, but I desperately wanted them to be better. Was 1st Issue Special utter crap outside of Dr. Fate and Warlord? Well, objectively, kinda. But most of it was no worse than many of the 1950s books I'm now buying from PS Artbooks, which I read with pleasure -- because I have no emotional attachment to that era. Free of that context, I can view such books for what they are, not for what my 17-year-old self wanted them to be.

Had I been five years younger, or maybe five years older, when I first read 1st Issue Special, it would probably benefit from the warm blanket of nostalgia. But it came at a time when I was getting restless with my hobby (and, hormonally, probably everything else). I wanted steak, but Marvel and DC persisted in serving me Hamburger Helper, and that colors my perception of the books produced at the time.

Which I hope explains my harshness in this thread. Also, 1st Issue Special kinda stunk.

Fair enough.

Here's my ranking of 1st Issue Special, best to worst:

1. Warlord

2. Dr. Fate

3. Manhunter

4, New Gods

5. Starman

6. Dingbats of Danger Street

7. The Creeper

8. Atlas

9. Code Name: Assassin

10. Lady Cop

11. Metamorpho

12. The Green Team

13. The Outsiders

It would make a bizarre line-up for a huge team-up.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Fair enough.

Here's my ranking of 1st Issue Special, best to worst:

1. Warlord

2. Dr. Fate

3. Manhunter

4, New Gods

5. Starman

6. Dingbats of Danger Street

7. The Creeper

8. Atlas

9. Code Name: Assassin

10. Lady Cop

11. Metamorpho

12. The Green Team

13. The Outsiders

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