Mar 8, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 12: 1st Issue Special #3, June 1975

You know those moments when you read a comic that is utterly and completely dated? Or watch a movie or TV show that is the same? Some older superhero comics maintain a timeless quality, regardless of the fact that the plot would be solved with a simple cell phone call nowadays. Others....

This issue of 1st Issue Special is one that has not aged well. The tryout book features a new character every month, ostensibly to see whether or not there is call for an ongoing series of said character. This particular issue, however, falls prey to that malaise that dogs much of Jack Kirby's late 60s, early 70s work: the obviously older writer trying to capture the zeitgeist of the youth to whom he thinks the comics are appealing. Whenever I read a story with Metamorpho, I do my best to like him. He comes from the tradition of the kooky groovy superheroes of the early 60s that gave us my beloved Doom Patrol, The Metal Men, all of these B-list heroes whose adventures are....well, weird.
But I can just never get into him. The only time I've ever appreciated the character was when he pulls what we'll anachronistically call "a Groot" at the very beginning of Grant Morrison's JLA. There he evinces a quality of heroism that I'd call superheroic. But I've never been much impressed with any of the other stuff I've read. Even the Allred/Gaiman story from Wednesday Comics, which, considering its creatorly pedigree, should have been really great did very little for me.
I suppose the problem is that, in contrast to other completely bodily altered heroes like Cliff Steele, Rex Mason doesn't seem to deal with the notion that he's no longer a human. Or, at least, his writers don't, and I think that for characters like this, that's an important, even intrinsic, part of the narrative. I recently found a really old review I did of Doom Patrol for a website back in the early 2000s, and I call Morrison's run on the title one of the most human stories told with superheroes. What does that mean? It means that he takes some of the most outrageously strange heroes in the DCU and tells us a story that is, at its very core, about how we are human, about the choices we make and the challenges we face. For me, Metamorpho has this amazing potential, but is rarely deployed in the same way. I'm not saying that his adventures have to be deep and soul-searching metaphors of the human condition, but some consideration of what he is would add a bit of humanity to "the fabulous freak."

Okay, enough bashing. I feel like all I've been doing with these comics is complaining. So here's a really cool fact: this issue was illustrated by Ramona Fradon. Ms. Fradon was one of those rare creatures in mid-twentieth century comics culture, a woman. (I shouldn't say was. She's still alive). Not only this, but she co-created both Metamorpho and Aqualad, forever, I think, securing her a place in superheroic history. I find this aspect of this project fascinating. Eventually I'll get to Marvel's Girl Comics series, which has brief articles on the important women of twentieth century comics, and Ms. Fradon must surely be one. So, even if I don't particularly enjoy the story (and Sapphire Stagg, Metamorpho's lady-friend is surely one of the most annoying supporting characters in this history of comics), something great that's coming out of this project so far is discovering creative teams and historical facts of which I was unaware, whether it's a discovery like Ms. Fradon or witnessing an early Moore or Gaiman story as they are cutting their teeth on the medium they end up mastering.

More 1st Issue Special tomorrow. The Creeper, I think.

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