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
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.
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?
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.
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?