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.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Richard Willis said:
As much as "us guys" would enjoy it, I'm sure that no cop anywhere would wear a miniskirt as part of a uniform.
It was the '70s. Back then, female police officers wore skirts (albeit not miniskirts) as part of their uniform, even into the '80s. I recall on Hill Street Blues that Officer Lucy Bates wore a skirt when she was introduced in 1981
But then, in the '70s and even into the '80s, uniformed women police officers on street patrol was though of as a bizarre and outlandish idea (which was explored a bit on Police Story and Barney Miller). It took far longer than it should have for departments to realize that if you were going to have uniformed women police officers on street patrol, they needed different outfits -- not skirts, and not just men's clothes in different sizes.
Speaking of Hill Street Blues and Lucy Bates, when she was introduced she wasn't on street patrol, but when she made that change, they had her in trousers and a leather jacket.
CODE NAME: ASSASSIN:
WRITERS: Gerry Conway, Steve Skeates
ARTISTS: The Redondo Studios, Al Milgrom
PEDIGREE: None (new)
LEGACY: Revived by James Robinson for the "New Krypton" arc of his tenure on the S-titles. This is the first time (of three) we will see James Robinson's name mentioned during the course of this discussion.
Remember how I said that, in the mid-70s, I would buy virtually any new series I found. I was never more excited when Atls/Seaboard launched an entire line of comics! I bought every single one, even (what i called) the "genre" titles (western, war, etc.). I truly thought I was in on the beginning of the next "Marvel Comics." I didn't know the story behind the new company at the time, but none of their series lasted more than four issues. "Code Name: Assassin" reminds me very much of an Atlas/Seaboard character.
Jonathan Drew has telekinetic powers. His adversaries this issue are Powerhouse and the Snake. They look very much like Marvel's Cobra and Mr. Hyde, except Powerhouse has a shaved head, has electricity-based powers and wears red spandex with yellow lightning bolts on the chest. It is as forgettable as the Atlas/Seaboard titles it resembles. Reminds me a bit of...
And he was actually called "Code Name: Assassin" despite never killing anyone.
Strange that in a world filled with superheroes, crooks still can't believe a man can fly!
It's part of the essential illogic of super-hero universes. People being astonished to see flying people despite the fact that flying people have been around for eighty years makes me think of how pro wrestling announcers always act astonished when Johnny Treason turns on his tag-team partner despite that fact that they've seen him do it numberless times in the past.
Philip Portelli said:
Strange that in a world filled with superheroes, crooks still can't believe a man can fly!
It looks to me like the Assassin was consciously intended as a similar character to those Atlas guys: costumed heroes with powers who fight the mob. (Targitt didn't have powers in #1-#2 but gets them in #3, which Conway co-wrote.) The idea is carried out slightly better here, I think.
Conway was also the creator of the Punisher. Mike's Amazing World says the issue came out the same month as the Punisher's second solo story in Marvel Super Action #1.
WRITER: Jack Kirby
ARTIST: Jack Kirby
PEDIGREE: Jack Kirby
LEGACY: Revived by James Robinson for a multi-issue storyline during his tenure on the S-titles.
Jack Kirby's contract called for him write, draw and edit a minimum of 15 pages per week. After The Demon was cancelled, he set about creating a "kid gang" series for the '70s. Management liked it, but liked another pitch, OMAC, more. When 1st Issue Special came along, Jack submitted three pitches: Atlas, Manhunter and Kobra. DC didn't like any of them. Kobra remained on the shelf for a while until DC decided to have others significantly rewrite and redraw what he had prepared. Kobra was subsequently released directly into its own short-lived title, but Atlas and Manhunter both at least made it into 1st Issue Special. Kirby's Atlas was pure barbarian boilerplate. Kirby set up an arch enemy for Atlas to fight and a quest to undertake, but otherwise, the only reason I ranked Atlas as high as I did is that it's Kirby and was created under ridiculously insane contract conditions.
WRITER SCRIPTER: Michael Fleisher
ARTIST: Steve Ditko
PEDIGREE: Silver Age Steve Ditko
LEGACY: (see below)
My first encounter with the Creeper was a house ad for issue #4 in 1968, but the first Creeper story I actually read was in Justice League of America #5-6 nearly 20 years later. Around that same time, I acquired a stack (less than a shortbox) of Silver Age JLAs which included issue #70. Shortly after that, I picked up a few issues of Beware the Creeper. If I'd only waited another 20-odd years I could have had all the seminal appearances in a single collection between two covers without all the hassle.
When I first saw this image, I thought this "Creeper" was a yellow-skinned guy wearing a green and black striped swimsuit. Although I realized this was a symbolic cover (although I didn't know that word when I was four), I thought the Creeper's red fur collar (or cape or whatever it is) was actually a set of tentacles attached to the big blue head.
First Issue Special #7 follows Beware the Creeper #6 after six years. His next continued story was serialized another three years after that in seven issues of World's Finest Comics, beginning with #249. His next appearance after that would have been Showcase #106, but that title was cancelled and the story ended up in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2. [All of these stories are reprinted in The Creeper by Steve Ditko (2010).] Regarding the "legacy" of First Issue Special #7 specifically, I see it more as a transition which helped to keep the character in the public eye between 1969 and 1978. The character went on to have two additional series in 1997 (11 issues) and 2006 (six issue).
From the first "Creeper" story I ever read:
After holding the character in my imagination for 19 years, I was unimpressed.
We are now more than halfway through this discussion.
Things can only go up from here! (?)
Oddly, in 1967-68, DC was debuting features in Showcase but not waiting for sales figures. Often* the first issue of their own title would come out immediately thereafter. Showcase #73(MAR-APR68) went on sale on January 23, 1968. Beware the Creeper #1(MAY-JUN68) went on sale March 26, 1968. I probably bought them both from a street newsvendor in downtown Los Angeles, after having walked there from the job I would ultimately retire from. I was 19. (Little did I know that I would have my 20th birthday in Fort Knox, Kentucky and my 21st birthday in Vietnam.)
This is my very round-about way of talking about The Creeper’s costume. In his Showcase debut, because of wanting to apprehend some robbers, he sneaked into a dressing room (for actors, clowns, whoever). He painted himself yellow, found a green wig, red gloves and boots, and what must have been a woman’s fuzzy red stole. Ditko drew the red thing inconsistently so that it sometimes looked like a cape and sometimes a living thing.
On-sale dates courtesy of Mike's Amazing World.
* This happened with Anthro, Beware the Creeper, The Hawk and the Dove, Bat Lash and Angel and the Ape. The exception was The Inferior Five, which like earlier tryouts had three Showcase issues.
The Atlas story is structured like the first story from Fantastic Four #1: first we're introduced to the characters, then a flashback explains who they are. But in this case the first half of the story is wasted as the action isn't interesting and the element of intriguing mystery is absent. The try-out greatly increases in interest when the flashback starts. Then the flashback structure forces Kirby to rush the story to a conclusion as he runs out of pages.
The closing caption declares "Thus, a great saga begins!!" To me that reads oddly: he's just found Hyssa, the seems to be heading into its climax. But I think Kirby didn't mean the series to be about Atlas's quest for vengeance. His proposal says Chagra rescues "the baby Atlas" when his "farmer folks have been killed by raiders". Chagra's own quest is for the Crystal Mountain, through which he seeks "immortality and power". A crystal ball (=I think, the one Atlas takes possession of in the origin sequence) was to lead Atlas to it. Inside the mountain is "the light force... Atlas uses it to conquer his enemies..."
The Fireflym from the Creeper issue, had previously fought Batman in Detective Comics #184 (1952). The story was reprinted in Batman Annual #3. Fleisher's Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Volume 1: Batman came out in 1976, so it may be he came across the Firefly researching the volume. Another Firefly appeared in Batman #126 (1959), but he was less interesting.
As Jeff noted, Fleisher's credit is for "script". I think the use of the Firefly implies Ditko wasn't the sole plotter, but he may have had some hand in writing it. Not necessarily, though. The subsequent stories in World's Finest Comics are apparently solely his. They're light-hearted one-part stories with one-off villains, and represent Ryder as part of the station's security staff rather than a journalist. The Cancelled Comic Cavalcade story is in their vein.
THE DINGBATS OF DANGER STREET:
WRITER: Jack Kirby
ARTIST: Jack Kirby
PEDIGREE: Jack Kirby
LEGACY: Danger Street by Tom King
As I mentioned in a previous post, Jack Kirby was working on "Dingbats" at the same time his former partner, Joe Simon, was working on his "kid gang" pitch, "The Green Team." Both series were green-lighted and both creators had three issues in the can. Neither series was originally intended for 1st Issue Special, but the first issue of both ended up there. Issue #2-3 of "The Green Team" made it into Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, but the second and third of "Dingbats" had gone missing for DC's vaults at the time and later turned up in the hands of European collectors. They were not published until 2019's Jack Kirby's Dingbat Love, which also included unpublished issue of two proposed b&w magazines, True Life Divorce and Soul Love. Here's how Jack Kirby himself described the characters in his pitch.
GOOD LOOKS - A nice kid and a sort of leader type.
NON-FAT is an eager-beaver Black kid.
KRUNCH is a junior weight-lifter type.
BANANAS is just what he looks like! [An Asian stereotype! Sorry...] He's hair-brained, accident prone--and the resident Jonah.
Kirby goes on to say: "These kids are comic relief in deadly serious situations."
"Dingbats of Danger Street" was not inspired by Welcome Back, Kotter as many have speculated (although I suspect the cover-copy may have been) because it was in production as early as later 1973. Nor were the "Sweathogs" inspired by the "Dingbats" (as other have speculated), because there just wouldn't have been enough turnaround time. I don't know why DC elected to color Non-Fat as Caucasian, but he's Black in TwoMorrows' publications of issues #2-3. the second page of 1st Issue Special #6, a full-page panel, was designed to be a double-page spread, but DC's production team snipped and combined the elements. Jack Kirby's Dingbat Love presents the un-inked pencils as they were intended to be shown.
Issue #2 presented Big Words' backstory, and #3 the "secret origin" of Krunch (both as un-inked pencils as well as in colored and inked format). According to the blurb on the last page, the fourth issue would have featured "The Bananas Story" and the fifth, I presumably, would have spotlighted Non-Fat. Issues #2-3 were also much more serious than the slapstick 1st Issue Special #6, as per Kirby's expressed intent. I am basing my relatively high ranking of "Dingbats of Danger Street" based largely on issues #2-3 as well as the promise of Tom King's upcoming Danger Street limited series.
Personally, I think Kirby's version might have seen more success if 1) he had gotten serious from the start, and 2) if he had called them something other than "Dingbats." I didn't see this on the stands when I was a kid but I can assure you: I wouldn't have bought a series with that title. "Delinquents" might have been more edgy (and successful), although I doubt DC would have approved (not that an alternate title was ever even considered). Otherwise, a better choice might have been simply "Danger Street" (as the upcoming series will be titled).
I've always had the feeling that "dingbat" was something of an archaism, even in the 70's. (To this day, I've never heard anyone other than Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker use the word.) I feel as though this is an example of Kirby as a World War Two Era guy trying to write for 70's kids and just not having the "voice" for it.
I'm reading this lively discussion with interest, but I have to say that I didn't enjoy the original books much. (Well, except for Walt Simonson's Dr. Fate, which was awesome -- and, of course, did not go to series, at least not with Simonson.) I was 17-18 when they came out, about to go to college, and was way too sophisticated (I'm sure I thought) for much of this. And even though I was turned off by many of the titles and/or cover artwork (yes, "dingbats" pinged off my ears as as well), I dutifully bought them anyway, and hated myself for doing so. "This too will pass" or something was probably my excuse for exercising my completist mentality, but the bad taste lingers to this day.
There are some advantages to not being a completist, and one of those is not reading drek when you're young (as I did) and waiting until adulthood to do so. I probably would have been able to engage this material with more fun/insight as an adult, or at least with MST3K as a guide. As a teen, this stuff left scars.
Off-topic, the first place I ever heard the word "dingbat" was also All in the Family, and its subsequent use by friends or pop culture was clearly derived from that. Its popularity seemed to die with that of the show. It was not in use in my part of the world before the show.
The etymology of the word is complicated, and most uses in my research (which is what I call "20 seconds of Googling") are from the 19th century. Clearly Norman Lear had heard the word before, so perhaps it was in use in some New York or Hollywood subcultures.
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