The Middle Ground #60 | First Things First

The news last week about the return of First Comics makes me happier than it has any right to. Although I haven't read an incredible amount of the publishers' 1980s/1990s output--which included a couple of gems, which I have read: American Flagg! Nexus! Those two alone feel like they should earn First a place in most comic lovers' hearts--the publisher holds a weird place in my heart for being, I'm pretty convinced, the first American indie publisher I ever bought a comic from, way back when.

Even stranger, that comic was the third issue of a crossover series--the only crossover series I think First ever did, in fact? They were, after all, a publisher that specialized in creator-owned books, so it wasn't like there was much of a shared universe going on on a regular basis--that featured two characters I knew absolutely nothing about. So, why did I buy Crossroads #3, starring Luther Ironheart (Robot cop from Howard Chaykin's American Flagg!) and Mike Baron's Badger? Well, because it just looked kind of awesome.

Okay, there was a little more to it than that. My memory is fuzzy, because I was only about 13 or 14 when this happened, but I seem to remember picking up the issue in Futureshock, my local(ish) comic store--and suddenly any Scots of a certain age are nodding their heads in agreement, remembering the small, cramped store with stacks and stacks of random comics on shelves with little-to-no order or reason whatsoever--because I loved the cover (A Steve Rude painting, although I don't think I even knew who Rude was at that point; I just thought it was a cool image, and that the two characters looked like fun), and because I had read something in some fanzine somewhere that said that Badger had been created by Mike Baron, whose Flash run at the time was proving to exert a curious fascination for me (One that, even years later, I can't quite work out whether I actually liked it or not. But I did pick up every issue). I remember reading it excitedly --New characters! New publisher! I was branching out!--and enjoying it, but apparently not enough to go and pick up any other Badger comics; to this day, I've never read an issue of any solo Badger title, something that I still kind of regret.

(American Flagg!, as I said, I have read, but even that came years later, and through a curiosity about Chaykin and whether the series stood up to the hype; it really does, if you're curious.)

Like I said, I really haven't read enough of First's comics to really have any idea of their place in comics history, but that issue of Crossroads got me to pick up some Nexus--don't ask me how that worked--as well as some Dreadstar, E-Man and even some Classics Illustrated (Kyle Baker's Cyrano De Bergerac is still one of my favorite comics), and from those, I ended up having this idea of First as a wonderful magpie publisher, picking up gems of books from other publishers and giving them a home and place to thrive --or, at least, exist. There wasn't necessarily a connective thread between the books other than their being good, but somehow, that was enough, you know? I have an enormous amount of goodwill toward First Comics as a company and, maybe, as a concept as well; I have no idea what to expect from the reborn version of the publisher, but if it ends up being as winningly random and utterly fun as the original, it feels like a welcome addition to an increasingly conservative comics industry. Here's hoping there's an audience out there for it.

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