Here are some names. See if you recognize them.
Woodgod. Firehair. The Liberty Legion. The Maniaks. Jonny Double. The Green Team. Monark Starstalker. Sea Devils. The Warriors Three. Anthro. Seeker 3000. Lady Cop. Red Wolf. Nightmaster. Atlas. And of course, who could forget… the Dingbats of Danger Street?
Well, actually, a lot of you probably forgot about them, if you ever knew them at all.
So, okay, how about… Iron Fist? Warlock? Or… Ghost Rider. Dr. Fate. The Son of Satan. Bat Lash. Moon Knight. The Spectre. Spider-Woman. The Creeper. Werewolf by Night.
A few more nods that time, more likely.
So okay, try these — Dr. Strange. Green Lantern. The Flash. The Atom. Adam Strange. And of course everybody knows Lois Lane.
Now, what do they all have in common?
Simple. They all auditioned for a solo strip in a tryout book: Showcase, Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight, 1st Issue Special… it used to be standard for Marvel and DC to let a character have a shot in the rotation in one of those books before greenlighting an actual ongoing title all their own.
Some were successful right out of the gate…
Some, well, not so much.
Some were brief hits and then fizzled after a year or two in their own title.
Others started slow and went on to become big names a couple of tries later.
And a few keep popping up over the years, never quite enough of a hit with fans to sustain a regular ongoing title, but still fondly remembered by many of us.
Some of my favorite comics were those one-shots. That was where I first became a fan of Howard Chaykin, whose “Monark Starstalker” in Marvel Premiere was an interesting preview of the kind of SF adventure strip he would later perfect doing American Flagg!… not to mention the nifty adaptation he did with Roy Thomas of the Solomon Kane story “Red Shadows.”
I’ve already reminisced in the column about how much I enjoyed the original Moon Knight appearances in Spotlight, and how delighted I was to find the Warriors Three issue at a recent show, but I will add that all these books made me a fan of Marvel’s try-out books, period. I just really liked the idea. When DC revived Showcase around the same time, I was first in line for that too.
Audition books like these were always hit-and-miss, you never quite knew what was coming — but to me, that was the fun of them. Sure, they were often a place to burn off an inventory story some editor’d had sitting around forever, and there was always the chance of getting something lame like that… but on the other hand, you also often got something really remarkable, something too weird to try in a regular title.
Really the last gasp of the ongoing tryout title was in the 90’s — Action Comics Weekly gave a few characters a shot, and there was Showcase ’93 and ’94… but to be honest, those books were a pale echo of what the real Showcase or Marvel Premiere were like. Those 90’s Showcases were more like a repository for B-list characters and backup strips. I don’t think there were any actual NEW characters that debuted there. Today, new characters get floated in a mini-series that you have to commit to buying for four to six months. That’s a lot bigger risk, and so you don’t see it as much. DC’s Solo had possibilities, but that was more of an artist’s showcase than a REAL version of… well, Showcase. Or Spotlight, or Premiere.
It’s a shame. I think publishers and readers both would benefit from an ongoing, hey-what-the-hell-let’s-try-it anthology book, but I just don’t see it happening the way the market functions today. Which is a pity, because today’s oh-why-not, it’s-just-a-one-shot, let-the-kid-do-his-nutty-idea story sometimes turns out to be tomorrow’s giant hit book.
But if they don’t have a place to publish it, we’ll never know what we’re missing, will we?
See you next week.
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