In the 60s and 70s, DC and Marvel were flooding the market with all sorts of books. Back when I was more of a 'collector' and less of a 'reader', I didn't pay much attention to books that featured all or mostly reprints. That was my loss, as it took me years to realize just how much gold was to be found between the covers of titles like Fantasy Masterpieces or Secret Origins. One of the real gems out there is DC Special, a typically schizophrenic (apologies for using the loose definition) DC title of the Bronze Age. This title has it all - classic reprints, large handed policemen, earthquakes and a 4-year hiatus. Some of it was indeed 'special' and some... not so much. Let's take a look:
In 1967, DC appointed Carmine Infantino to the position of Art Director. By sheer coincidence, in late 1968 DC Special was launched with an "All Infantino" Issue. Ok, perhaps it was a bit of a vanity project but it's still a wonderful book. You've got some of his better known stuff (Flash, Batman and Adam Strange), but the real treats are the Strange Sports Stories and Rex the Wonder Dog tales. The only problem is that this issue ain't all that cheap anymore, so let's move on. DC Special #5 was a similarly themed issue, but with Joe Kubert as the guest of honor. This is a fine, fine book that can still be found for relative peanuts. My main complaint is that the cover is a bit of a bait and switch as neither Johnny Quick nor Vigilante show up inside. Keep an eye out for cameos by Adam and Andy Kubert. Finally, let's jump all the way ahead to the final issue, DC Special #29. This is a must for any JSA fan, as it is a 34 page WW2 era blockbuster featuring every JSAer, FDR and Hitler. It's a bit over the top (typical of the era) but the Staton/Layton team did a nice job on the art. I've always found it odd that they dumped this supposedly important story at the end of a dying anthology series. This one can be tough to track down, but for the JSA completist, it's a must have. Did I mention the Neal Adams cover?
DC Special also has a lot of issues that may appeal to the various curiosity seekers. For instance, DC Special #10, featuring the great giant-handed cop cover, is an interesting read to get a look at how the Crime genre was handled at DC in the 50s. Sure, these stories are much more tame than those produced by Lev Gleason, Hillman Periodicals or EC, but it's a good chance to see strong 50s work by Curt Swan, Mort Meskin, Nick Cardy and Ruben Moreira. Another great treat is a story drawn by Joe Maneely, a name not normally associated with DC. Similarly, DC Special #6 (another gorgeous Neal Adams cover), showcases DC's western books from the same period. Pretty tame stuff overall, and not an Alex Toth or Mort Drucker story to be found in the bunch, but it's a nice chance to see the DC 'house look' from the 50s. The highlight is some lovely work by Leonard Starr. Finally, if you've ever wanted to see Jack Cole at his best but have had trouble scraping together enough pennies for an Archives edition, allow me to suggest DC Special #15. It's pure comic book genius, as Jack Cole is very quietly celebrated in this issue. This is one of the true hidden gems of the Bronze Age, in my not so humble opinion.
Not all of DC Special lived up to the name, most notably was issue #2. After such a bold statement with the 'All Infantino Issue', I'm sure that fans were expecting an 'All Kane Issue' or even the 'All Kubert Issue' that eventually turned up. Instead, they got Binky. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, but this collection is packed with terribly dated stories from 40s titles such as A Date With Judy. I still don't see how DC thought 20 year old jokes would sell in 1969. After its return from an extended hiatus, DC Special had several 'theme' books, with reprints selected by E. Nelson Bridwell, a man who knew his DC history. Unfortunately, aside from the awesome title "War Against the Giants", DC Special #19 does not have much to offer. The Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman stories are definitely sub-par examples from those titles. The connecting thread of large-sized threats is extremely thin. There's nothing to be gained by spending your money on this one. The last few issues of DC Special were original stories, including DC Special #27. Bob Rozakis wrote some nonsensical stories for DC in the 70s (see Batman Family), but this one wins the 'What the Eff?' award. Ok, so Captain Comet is up in the JLA Satellite and then time shifts thanks to Chronos, and then Tommy Tomorrow shows up and a dinosaur evolves into some Dino-man wearing a costume and then chaos ensures. Anyway, that's the way I remember it and I've been trying to forget it for years.
So, that's a quick look at one of the best, and worst, anthology titles of the Bronze Age. If you see a copy of DC Special in a bargain bin, it's worth taking a peek because you never know what you'll find inside.
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