Sunday, September 1, 2013

1st Issue Special #5 (August 1975)

Can I just say for the record that 1st Issue Special is one of the worst titles for a comic book series ever? I'm going to refer to it as First Issue Special for the duration of this review, but even that is under protest. This was an awful title for a "try-out" series that was in reality often used as a dumping ground for completed first issues of books DC had decided not to publish.

First Issue Special #5 is one of those castoff books, and it almost doesn't seem fair. Jack Kirby did "modern" versions of all his Golden Age DC strips when he returned to the company in the early 1970s, and while both the Sandman and the Guardian (in Jimmy Olsen) are usually remembered, this revival of Manhunter is more obscure. Well, not true - it's the Kirby Connection that is obscure. Manhunter got co-opted by Steve Englehart a couple of years later in Justice League of America and remade into something lurking around the DC Universe to this day.

Thing is, I wonder how closely Steve read this comic? Or if he even did? It's been a little while since I read the JLA story, but the usage of the Manhunters in the intervening years doesn't really hew very closely with how things are spelled out here. Mark Shaw also got changed around a great deal to suit other people's purposes. I guess I shouldn't complain, since DC had already consigned this version to the proverbial wastebasket, but I found it interesting and wish we could have seen Kirby do something with it.

Oh, by the way, that cover? It's totally repeated on the splash page, and that sequence is just as insane as it looks like it would be. "The Chopper" is a pretty crazy villain for a one-off. And then, it's not even Mark Shaw who fights him, but an older Manhunter. I get the idea this unnamed hero is supposed to be Paul Kirk, and I'd imagine someone at DC not being happy about that. After all, the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter strip (which wasn't even originally intended to be connected to the Golden Age one) was still relatively fresh in readers' memories.

As Kirby superhero comics go, this one is actually a bit reserved. Relatively speaking, of course - it's still pretty wild. There's also a plotline involving a murdered man that I don't think anyone has ever bothered to resolve. I doubt anyone cares at this late date about bringing Al Beefer ("The Hog") to justice for the death of Joe Burk and his numerous other criminal activities. Just the way it goes in comic book land.

I really enjoyed First Issue Special #5, but it did leave me with lingering wistfulness over what might have been. However, it did feature this ad, and that automatically makes any comic book 50% cooler.

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