1st Issue Special #11 (February, 1976)
“Code Name: ASSASSIN”
Writers – Gerry Conway & Steve Skeates
Artists – The Redondo Studio (Nestor & Frank)
Embellisher – Al Milgrom
Cover Price: $0.25
Heyyy, it’s another 1st Issue Special… the book only a handful of us… and James Robinson, seem to recall. Such an interesting and ambitious endeavor was this series. It would be interesting for DC (or even Marvel) to try something similar today… of course, that would require people making new (non-derivative) characters and we all know that ain’t ever gonna happen!
With my pithiness outta the way, let’s check out Code Name: ASSASSIN, who sadly (to my knowledge) lay dormant after this initial outing… until James Robinson breathed some new life into him some decades later… which appears to be a trend for some of these newbies!
We open outside of an office on the thirtieth story of a high rise building in Midtown Manhattan. Inside there are a trio of mooks led by a Mr. Carmody. They are sweating over someone they call “The Assassin”. They believe themselves to be safe and secure up so high, but we know better… ain’t that right, True Believer? The Assassin himself is hovering outside the window, being held aloft by what we will learn is his telekinetic powers. Moments later, he crashes through the window, sending the grubby little mobsters scurrying. What’s interesting here is that it appears that the Assassin knows what his foes are going to do before they do it. It is indicated via some puffy pink word balloons that he can read their thoughts.
The main-man Carmody crawls over to his desk where he finds his pistol. I mean, really now… you’re a mob boss who thinks a guy called “The Assassin” is after you, and you’re not packing heat 24/7? Sloppy work, Carmody. You ain’t long for this biz. Anyhoo, as he draws his weapon, he realizes that he’s already staring down the business end of the Assassin’s. The Assassin squeezes the trigger first, however, his type of ammunition is non-lethal.
With Carmody slumped out, our man proceeds to invade his mind searching for some answers. What he finds is that there’s a safe inside the desk that houses some important documents. The Assassin uses his pocket blowtorch (!) to break in… and procure the docs… and from the looks of it, enough cash to choke a whale. During the safe-cracking bit, we get a very optimistic footnote that the story of the creator of the pocket blowtorch would be explored in “future issues”. Sorry, Gerry…
In the time it takes the Assassin to loot the chest, one of the mooks comes to. The baddie picks up his pistol and attempts to shoot our man in the back… whatta coward. Anyhoo, the Assassin’s spidey-sense tips him off that there’s a bullet on the way, and he dodges it. In so doing, he also unleashes a blast of “mental energy” at the mobster… so strong a blast that the poor doofus is left brain-dead. Something the Assassin suggests is “almost as permanent as death”… c’mon pal, that’s pretty permanent.
We jump to the morning after as the police arrive on the scene. That’s another thing about these 1st Issue Specials… we get these weird scenes with officers reacting to stuff. They’re all kind of draggy and exposition-heavy too. The officers are joined by a Dr. Stone and we learn that the Assassin is a man named Jonathan Drew… who is also his patient. The officers conclude that it doesn’t matter who the Assassin is, because after taking down Carmody… he’s as good as dead!
Ya see, he’s as good as dead because Victor Grummun the Mob-Master will surely take him out! We helpfully shift scenes to the… bwa-ha-ha!… this is the vaunted Mob-Master… as in “The Master… of the Mob”? This leisure-suit wearing putz? Good Lord… and look at his inner-circle… yeah, they ought to strike fear in the hearts of men worldwide.
Our yacht captain disco king is introduced to his two newest and most creatively-named associates… The Snake and Powerhouse. One of his minions claims that they are the key to taking down the Assassin. Mob-Master is skeptical, and insists that they provide him an exhibition of their powers… so we get a scene that drags on for over three-pages. Oi. We observe that The Snake is… well, snake-like. He’s fast and slippery… though he appears to headbutt fools rather than bite or constrict around them. Powerhouse is… c’mon, he’s a really strong dude. He can also somehow conduct electricity through his over-sized body. The Grummun is duly impressed by the show.
Back in Manhattan, the Assassin returns home. He sneaks into his window… which kind of begs the question, why? The police seem to know his identity… not sure how much of a secret this all is. Maybe he just feels cooler doing it this way… we’ll go with it. Anyhoo, he is surprised to find Dr. Stone waiting for him inside. The Doc pleads with him to “quit this deadly game” and “this game of revenge”… to which, Drew replies that it’s not… a game. Stone tells him he’s been lucky thus far, as he hasn’t had to kill anyone yet… guess we’re keeping that brain-dead thing between us, eh?
It is here where we get treated to the Assassin’s Secret Origin. We take a trip via flashback to a younger Jonathan standing before his parent’s graves. Next to him stands his older sister, and for a time guardian, Marie. We then shift forward several years… Jon is in grad-school, and is taking part in a research experiment concerning E.S.P. being conducted by a Doctor Andrew Stone.
Now, this is pretty great… just as Stone is about to pull the switch on the machine Drew is connected to… one of the lab assistants trips over the power cable! This causes the testing equipment to explode… with Drew still attached.
Our man was either comatose or simply kayoed, however, when he woke up he found that he could move things with his mind.
Some time later we get a short scene with Jon and Marie on a city street. She tells him that she’s been working for a very dangerous man… named Victor Grummun… uh-oh. No sooner does she spill the beans than a sports car barrels down the road and unleashes a clatter of machine-gun fire straight into her back. Helluva crack-shot riding shotgun, eh? Nobody else got hit… not even Jon, who was standing less than a foot away! He reacts to this as you would expect… he uses his TK powers to make the sports car go boom! There’s a caption at the bottom revealing that the men inside survived… which had to have been added after the fact, there’s no way anyone could have gotten out of that blast.
Back in the present, Drew is so angered by the story he’s telling that he shatters the glass bottle he was holding. His hand begins to bleed, however, thanks to his TK powers, he’s (somehow) able to close the wound.
He heads back into the night… this time with his sights set on Grummun’s yacht… which gives us the scene that takes place on the cover of the book! I miss the days when that was a thing.
After taking out one of the guard-goons, our man finds himself jumped by… The Snake and Powerhouse! Uh-oh! How is this gonna play out? Well… your guess is as good as mine in this case, dear reader. The only way we would have found out is if people wrote in and begged for more… which they didn’t.
Read enough 1st Issue Special, they all start to blend together… don’t they?
This wasn’t a bad issue, in fact, for what it was I rather enjoyed it. There’s just a feeling of sameyness for books of this type. We start with an action scene… meet a member or two of the prospective side-cast… go into flashback mode, where someone close to the character gets hurt or killed… then back to the present where the new hero is about to take on their first big threat, only to be cut off by an overly optimistic “same Bat-time, same Bat-Channel” message to close us out.
With that out of the way, I liked the concept… however, I’m not sure folks were ready for the solo escapades of Jonathan Drew. We’ve talked in the past about DC’s various “answers” for The Punisher… Wild Dog and Vigilante (Adrian Chase) foremost among them. I gotta wonder if Code Name: ASSASSIN was the first. After all, Gerry Conway created them both! Punisher first appears in Amazing Spider-Man #129, which only hit shelves two-years before this, with a cover-date of February, 1974!
We’ve got a pretty similar back-story for the two as well. A loved-one gets taken out by the mob, and the one left behind swears revenge. We get a new wrinkle with Drew’s ESPer powers, but overall, not too terribly different. A suppose another difference between the two would be ASSASSIN’s relative NERF-ness when compared to ol’ Frank’s ballistics. Though, we do see Drew brain-dead a fool, and not really show much remorse for it. These two may just be cut from the same cloth!
The dialog here quite suited Drew as a somewhat hesitant… yet at the same time, headstrong vigilante. We get the impression that his only interest in justice is his being honor-bound to avenging the loss of his sister. I’m guessing if this were to continue, that plot would either be left to bubble in the background or solved straight out and lead our man deeper into the criminal-element. I mean, he’s dealing with the *snicker* Mob-Master here… you gotta figure his tendrils run deep throughout the DC Universe! Maybe he and the illustrious Mr. Beefer from the Manhunter piece would’ve become running buddies! I could see them having a stranglehold on the DCU’s underworld… Lex who?
The Redondo Studios art here was fantastic. The text piece (included below) makes a big deal out of outsourcing the art to the far off Philippines… which, seems so quaint in 2016 where I can send an email to the Philippines just as fast as I can send one to someone in the next room… it’s actually kind of hard to recall a time where it was any different. Pretty scary, that. The cover is done by Mike Grell, and it looks swell as well. From the text piece (again, included below) there seemed to have been a lot of passion (or at least effort) put into this particular issue. It’s really too bad that he (and, honestly… most of the 1st Issue Special gang) didn’t really go anywhere. Maybe if things went different we could’ve had a Code Name: ASSASSIN/Lady Cop team-up book!
Overall… I think this is worth at least a flip-through, with an asterisk. It ends on a cliffhanger… and not a terribly intriguing one. However, this is an issue of 1st Issue Special, which in and of itself makes it worth checking out. It’s just such a strange odd novelty… truly a piece of weird comics history.
(Instead of the) Letters Page:
Interesting Ads (if you think model kits are interesting, that is):