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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #343

Today’s Reason could be considered a relic from a bygone era. Could it ever return in today’s market? U-Decide! (Archive.)

Oh, right. And Kirby is coming.


343. Try-out comics

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I miss the try-out book. In the olden days, the try-out comic was a device by which the major companies would test new properties. If they were well received and sales looked good, an ongoing series would be launched. Comics like these jump-started dozens of hugely popular titles that continue to this day.

Showcase is probably the most notable of these types of comics. With its fourth issue, it launched the Flash and ushered in DC’s Silver Age, which revitalized the superhero concept for a new generation. Showcase begot further titles and concepts like Challengers of the Unknown, solo Lois Lane, Adam Strange, Green Lantern, Aquaman‘s solo series, the Atom, the Metal Men, Enemy Ace, Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Angel and the Ape, etc. I could go on and on. The company brought the title back in the mid-to-late 70s, but it quickly folded.

Another early try-out anthology was the Brave and the Bold, before it transformed into a team-up book. The Justice League, Teen Titans, Metamorpho, Silver Age Hawkman, and the original Suicide Squad made their debuts in this title.

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DC’s try-out comics petered out by the 70s, but they appeared to pass the baton onto Marvel. Marvel Spotlight birthed Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, Moon Knight, and Spider-Woman. Marvel Premiere provided runs for Dr. Strange and Iron Fist before adopting a quicker rotation and trotting out solo attempts for guys like Ant-Man and Falcon.

My favorite examples from this type of comic, however, are the guys who never took off, never got their own titles, and, in some cases, were never seen again. The ugly ducklings who never got enough love and weren’t given a chance to morph into swans. Every title had ‘em. Cave Carson appeared in both Brave and the Bold and Showcase, but never got to star in his own series. When’s the last time he showed up anywhere? The same goes for Tommy Tomorrow, who would remain trapped in back-up status until he dropped off the face of comics. There’s also the lovely Maniaks, and the bodacious B’Wana Beast, a concept so unpopular that his third issue of Showcase was never published. I love these guys. Where else but Showcase could something like Jason’s Quest get a chance to live?

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Look at the stuff Marvel threw at us in the ’70s: characters like 3-D Man, Paladin, Torpedo, Tigra, Jack of Hearts, and even the mighty Woodgod all got their fifteen minutes of fame, but their solo careers didn’t take off. Who the hell is Monark Starstalker (answer: Howard Chaykin doing space adventure!)? And why’d Alice Cooper get his own comic?

DC returned to the format in the mid-70s with First Issue Special. All of these were awesome, and only one of them, Warlord, had any lasting success, but as we know from Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, that almost didn’t come to pass. Look at what else this title published: The Green Team! Metamorpho (again)! Lady Cop! The Creeper (again)! Manhunter! Joe Simon‘s Outsiders! And, possibly the greatest of them all, Jack Kirby‘s Dingbats of Danger Street! Brilliant, weird, and unloved: that’s First Issue Special for you.

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Unfortunately, anthologies don’t sell anymore. I blame the the death of the newsstand. Back when comics were bought on impulse and could be seen on racks everywhere, comics like Showcase and Marvel Spotlight had a better chance, but in today’s industry, it’s easier to try out a mini-series or just launch a doomed ongoing in the hopes of picking up readers. You may remember a Showcase revival that was tried in the 90s and didn’t last. We probably won’t see another one, and it’s a shame.

Me? I’m hoping for Showcase and Essential volumes collecting all the cool oddities of the past. Imagine a hefty tome filled with Cave Carson, Space Ranger, and Jonny Double, or Red Wolf and Weirdworld. I’d buy ‘em, though I’d probably be the only one. Then again, I never thought they’d put out an Elongated Man volume…

Which try-out book was your favorite? What was your favorite creation from it?


For the moment, we do have Marvel Comics Presents….

And Darkhorse Comics Presents on myspace is an innovative way to “try out” concepts as well. I want a Shugarshock miniseries!

Cave Carson does turn up from time to time (he even got his origin retold in “Secret Origins,” though that was a while ago now). He tends to get used in stories where characters are going underground, in the same way the Sea Devils sometimes turn up in underwater stories–which at least makes him easier to work in that Tommy Tomorrow. (Who was sort of retroactively combined with Kamandi at the end of Crisis, and boy did that not take.)

And I’d love to see a Showcase/Essential volume like that. One that collected various short-lived DC series of the ’70s would be cool, too (“Showcase Presents Joe Simon Telling Today’s Youth What’s Wrong With Them,” containing Brother Power and Prez, maybe?).


December 10, 2007 at 4:27 pm

Tommy Tomorrow is in the Space Cabbie issue of Starman.
Damn good issue that.

I want to know more about Jason Quest, never heard of him before.
What’s the deal there?

Yeah, actually, Jason Quest has piqued my curiosity, as well. Couldn’t find him on wikipedia.

From here:

“In 1969, thanks to his successful revamp of WONDER WOMAN, Mike Sekowsky was a hot commodity at DC and he was given a free hand to develop new features for SHOWCASE. Thus was born “Jason’s Quest”, described as “the unusual story of a boy … his bike … his search.”

SHOWCASE #88 set up the situation: Late in 1969, Jason Davis’ father was mortally wounded in a shooting. Summoned to his deathbed, the blonde young man listened to a stunning series of revelations. His real name was Jason Grant, Jr. and his natural father had been murdered when he was an infant. The killer was a mobster named Tuborg, who sought the elder Grant’s latest invention. As Tuborg’s killers combed the house for witnesses, Grant’s servant, Davis, rushed to the nursery, commanding the housekeeper to take Jason’s twin sister into hiding while he did the same with young Jason. Over the next nineteen years, Davis moved himself and Jason constantly, always trying to stay one step ahead of Tuborg.

In preparation for the day Jason would take over the fight, Davis drilled commando training into the boy’s head. With his final breath, he gasped, “Your sister … somehow your father secreted on her person evidence that will end Tuborg and his evil empire. In the fireplace at home … the box your father gave me — it has your papers … money … and — and … I’m … I’m … sor –”

Unknown to Jason, Tuborg had planted a bug in the hospital room and heard every word. Finding Jason’s sister was now their number one priority. What followed was a race between Jason and Tuborg to get to her first. In London, Jason found a picture of his sister but failed to recognize her in a chance encounter. She was wearing a black wig and calling herself GeeGee.

After evading Tuborg’s assassins for days, armed with nothing but his wits and his motorcycle, Jason crossed paths with GeeGee again in #90. This time he recognized her. Unfortunately, Tuborg’s men were everwhere and Jason was forced to flee — dragging his sister along. Constantly on his guard, Jason never had a moment to explain to GeeGee just why he was so desperate to talk to her. They were finally forced to split up but Jason asked her to meet him at a prearranged location the next day.

Watching him ride away to safety, she commented that “if he expects me to meet him tomorrow — he’s off his chump! If I EVER see that crazy man again — I’ll take off in the OPPOSITE direction as FAST as I can go! Goodbye — and good riddance!”

And that’s as far as “Jason’s Quest” ever got. In the mid-1980s, long before he was a bankable name, Kurt Busiek cited the series as a dream project in a COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE interview. Wonder if he’s still interested.”


December 10, 2007 at 10:25 pm

In London, Jason found a picture of his sister but failed to recognize her in a chance encounter. She was wearing a black wig and calling herself GeeGee.

Shame they didn’t go the same way as in Terry Laban’s Vertigo mini ‘The Unseen Hand’ and have the separated brother and sister hook up (unknowingly) during in a drug fueled orgy (in the name of religion), and then have neither seem too weirded out when they realize.

And in 1990, in the surreal comic book limbo that Animal Man wandered through towards the end of Grant Morrison’s run, “past the great ruined cities of Atlas and Warren,” he briefly met Jason, who was still riding his bike with guitar strapped to his back, still looking for his sister.

Guess he’s out there still…

…riding through limbo forever, long dusty circles on that endless tank of gas, perhaps stopping from time to time to strum a few bars, waiting, waiting, for his own series to finally start….

…I can actually remember seeing the book when it came out. I was eight or so, and picked it up excitedly, thinking that it was Johnny Quest, not Jason’s Quest. I realized my mistake and put it back down immediately, so maybe that’s why the book never got the green light, and because of me he’s out there riding through limbo, waiting, waiting, waiting…

And remember Spidey himself essentially debutted in such a book, at least that’s how Stan Lee used it.


December 11, 2007 at 12:58 am

Even Woody couldn’t get Maniaks to sell?


“Which try-out book was your favorite? What was your favorite creation from it?”

Showcase. Bat Lash.

Though the Dr Strange revival in Marvel Premiere was stunning (well, it was at the beginning and the end – the middle was a mess). And, in a shout out for the Little Company That Tried Once In A While But Not That Often, Charlton Premiere was great fun, with the Shape, Spookman (officially: insane) and Children of Doom.

I have read comics published since 1976, but I try not to talk about that.

whats the deal with 3-d man? I cant find anything on the wikipedia

3-D Man was a character created in the 70s, but his adventures took place in the 50s. Basically, one of those guys with the spirit of his dead brother partially possessing him (strangely not as uncommon as you’d think), with all his normal human abilities (strength, agility, vision, hearing, endurance, etc.) multiplied by three.

Kurt Busiek’s Avengers character, Triathlon, was partially based on 3-D Man.


December 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

The LAME part of 3D-MAN is that the brother’s spirit was embedded in his GLASSES.

When his brother concentrated on the phantom image of his brother (in the glasses) he was able to let his brother out of the phantom dimension and into ours.

HERE are some pages with the info and a body illo of 3D MAN.






3-D man was basically a comic parallel to Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Sha Na freaking Na, a last-ditch attempt to cash in on a 50s nostalgia that had already run its course. And it was just about as lame as it sounds.

My favorite try-out book was probably also Showcase. My one favorite issue would have to be the first Hawk and Dove. When I was eight or nine years old, though, I also loved Anthro, Dolphin, and especially Manhunter 2070.

Really though, was there ever a better one-shot try-out than the first Spider-Man?

With honorable mentions to the first Deadman run in Strange Adventures, and Warlock again (Starlin’s, this time) in Strange Tales.

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