Tag Archives: First Comics

Jon Sable Freelance #1 (First Comics, June 1983)

In this episode we’ll take a look back at Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance #1 that hit the spinner racks on February 19, 1983.

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Off the Spinner Rack: May 1983

This month I take another trip back to my prime comic book collecting years via the Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics to revisit the comics that were on the spinner rack in May 1983.  I’ve decided to make this a monthly feature on Fante’s Inferno, but instead of covering 12 months of a particular year, I’ll be choosing the years at random.  1983 was my peak collecting year as this month’s list will show.  But as with previous month’s purchases I’ve featured on my site, there were still a few misses that I’ll need to hunt for at my next comic convention.

Alpha Flight #1

Alpha Flight #1
Written and drawn by John Byrne

Amazing Spider-Man #243

Amazing Spider-Man 243
Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Romita Jr, inked by Dave Simons

Avengers #234

Avengers 234
The Witch’s Tale
Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott

Doctor Strange #60

Doctor Strange #60
Assault On Avengers Mansion
Written by Roger Stern, penciled by Dan Green, inked by Terry Austin

Fantastic Four #257

Fantastic Four 257
Written and drawn by John Byrne

Fantastic Four Annual #17

Fantastic Four Annual 17
Written and drawn by John Byrne

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #8 & #9

Indiana Jones 8Indiana Jones 9
The Crystal Death (#8)
Written By David Michelinie, penciled by Kerry Gammil and Sam De La Rosa

The Gold Goddess (#9)
Written by David Michelinie, penciled by Dan Reed, inked by Danny Bulandi

Jon Sable Freelance #4

Jon Sable Freelance 4
The Origin Part 2: Battlemask
Written and drawn by Mike Grell

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #8

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe 8

Rom #45

Rom 45
Cry, the Mother Country
Written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey

Thor #334

Thor 334
Written by Alan Zelenetz, penciled by Mark Bright, inked by Vince Colletta

Uncanny X-Men #172

Uncanny X-Men 172
Scarlet In Glory
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Paul Smith, inked by Bob Wiacek

What If #40

What If 40
What If Doctor Strange Had Not Become Master of the Mystic Arts?
Written by Peter Gillis, penciled by Jackson Guice, inked by Sam Grainger

Fourteen comics bought in May 1983 for $10.40 ($24.98 in 2016 dollars).  Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance wasn’t as easy to find as the others as our local comic shop didn’t carry it.  That book warranted a monthly trip to Heroes World in White Plains, but it was worth it.  Issue #4 was a powerful story and I continued to read Jon Sable Freelance for the next several years.  Alpha Flight quickly became a favorite title of mine, and along with Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men were the three titles that I looked forward to the most each month.  I started reading X-Men after Alpha Flight had been introduced in issue #120 and hadn’t picked up that back issue yet, so Alpha Flight #1 was my introduction to the team.  That issue is still a favorite of mine and even today when I find a copy of Alpha Flight #1 at a comic convention, I’m still tempted to buy it even though I already own three copies.

Missed Opportunities:

Black Hood #2

Black Hood #2
The Dark Destroyer
Written by Gary Cohn, drawn by Pat Boyette

Candle In the Wind
Written by Rich Margopolous, drawn by Dan Spiegle

The Fox
Written and drawn by Alex Toth

The New Mutants #7

New Mutants 7
Flying Down to Rio
Written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Bob McLeod

Star Wars #74

Star Wars 74
The Iskalon Effect
Written by Mary Jo Duffy, penciled by Ron Frenz, inked by Tom Palmer

Marvel Super Special #27

Marvel Super Special 27
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon and Tom Palmer

Groo the Wanderer #4 (Pacific Comics)

Groo The Wanderer 4
The Turn of the Wheel
Written by Mark Evanier, drawn by Sergio Aragones

Black Hood #2 and the Red Circle titles weren’t on my radar back then, but I’m looking forward to finding a copy at a con one day just for Alex Toth’s story.  New Mutants was another consistent purchase for us, but I’m not sure why I never picked up #7.  By 1983 Star Wars had taken over my life and it was also rare to miss that title.  Our introduction to Evanier and Aragones’ Groo the Wanderer started with issue #7 of their Pacific Comics run, but once it was published by Marvel I didn’t miss an issue in the first three years.  This month’s review of the comics of May 1983 reminded me to stay on the lookout for the seven issues I’m missing from Pacific’s Groo run.


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Off the Spinner Rack: January 1985

Lately I’ve been looking back on the comic book runs that hooked me during the 1980s.  Back then my brother and I would visit our local comic shop every Saturday and plunk down a few bucks for the latest issues of The Uncanny X-Men, The Fantastic Four and Thor among other (mainly) Marvel titles (by the mid-80’s there would also be a few independent titles in the mix).  I recently opened up the old box o’comics and wondered how many comics I would have bought on a month to month basis during my prime years of collecting.

I recently discovered the fantastic Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, a comic book database that allows visitors to search for the titles that were on sale during a particular month and year.  I figured I would use my usual 30 year benchmark to look back, and I was able to track down our exact comic book purchases for January 1985:

Alien Legion 6 Cover
Alien Legion

Alpha Flight 21 Cover Alpha Flight 22 Cover
Alpha Flight #21 and #22

Doctor Strange 70 Cover
Doctor Strange #70

Fantastic Four #277

Groo The Wanderer 2 CoverGroo The Wanderer 3 Cover
Groo the Wanderer #2 and #3

New Mutants 27
The New Mutants #27

Thor 354 Cover
Thor #354

Uncanny X-Men 192 Cover
Uncanny X-Men #192

Void Indigo 2 Cover
Void Indigo #2

Looking back on this list, the titles we bought that month aren’t surprising.  At that point in our comic collecting we were primarily Marvel readers, with only sporadic purchases of DC titles.  Alpha Flight, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Thor and The Uncanny X-Men were consistent favorites of ours for several years and would make up the bulk of our comic book collection.  Bill Sienkiewicz’s art got me hooked for a second time on The New Mutants, and Groo the Wanderer by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones would become a new favorite over the next twenty or so issues in 1985-1986.

Missed comics:

Cerebus 70 Cover

Crisis On Infinite Earths 1
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

Jon Sable Cover 24
Jon Sable Freelance #24

Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance were also consistent purchases for us, but that month’s issues sold out at our local comic shop before we could buy them.  Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 was a flat out miss on our part and that’s one I regret not picking up back then.

January 1985’s purchases added up to a whopping $9.05 for ten comic books ($19.86 today adjusted for inflation).  The same number of comic books today would run me about $44.  In my opinion we got better art and more story/character development per issue for a fraction of the price back then, and it’s no coincidence that my comic book purchases over the last year or so have been mainly back issues.  Sure they cost a few bucks more nowadays, but I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia I get when I find a back issue from the 80’s that I missed the first time on the spinner rack.  In a way I’m glad we missed a few issues back then.

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Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance

Recently I opened up a box of  old comics from my youth and revisited a few titles that I enjoyed back in the 80’s.  One of the comic books that caught my eye was one of my favorite independent titles of that decade: Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance published by First Comics.  It instantly brought me back to my prime years of comic book collecting.

Jon Sable Freelance by Mike GrellFirst Comics

Jon Sable Freelance by Mike Grell
First Comics

My brother and I started collecting comics around 1977, and our collection is still intact.  Very few issues are mint or near mint condition, with 90% falling into the category of “well read.”  When comic book values increased during the 80’s we bagged and boarded them in an effort to keep them in good enough condition to fund our retirement, but that wasn’t realistic since we read them enough to crease the spines and wear out the covers.  There was a time when I would buy near mint copies of some of the comics that were worn out, particularly some Claremont/Byrne/Austin issues of The Uncanny X-Men, but I stopped several years back when I opened up our box o’comics, looked at the wear on the covers, and was transported back to a days when I read them the first time around.  Each worn cover was a reminder of the fun I had reading them, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for a mint copy.

We were strictly Marvel and DC readers in the early years of our comic book reading, buying most of our comics at the local convenience store.  But on our first trip to the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York around 1982, we discovered something that we only could have imagined in our dreams, a store devoted entirely to comic books: Heroes World.  Our corner store probably had about 10 Marvel and DC titles, mostly for the well known characters (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Marvel Team Up, Action Comics), but Heroes World had dozens of titles (and back issues!!!).  It was our first exposure to independent comics.

Jon Sable: Freelance #1 hit the stands with a cover date of June 1983.  The cover shows Sable dressed completely in black with his signature battlemask with a skyline in the background.  We were familiar with Mike Grell from his work on Warlord with DC, and his art and writing got us instantly hooked on Sable.

Jon Sable is a New York based gun for hire in with a secret identity as successful children’s book author B.B. Flemm.  Issue #1 begins on the eve of President Ronald Reagan’s visit to New York City for a speech at the United Nations.  Sable is established as a thorn in the NYPD’s side as the press questions Police Captain Winters’ ability to control security for the President’s visit.  Sable returns home from a TV interview as B.B. Flemm and gets in his target practice at his home shooting range until his alarm signals an intrusion.  Sable makes quick work of the three intruders and calmly walks to the car of the man who sent them into his home.

Sitting in the back seat of the chauffeured car is President Reagan.  Sable passed his test by taking out the president’s three best men and is offered a job to add an extra layer of protection for his speech the following night at the U.N.  Reagan has received information that there will be an assassination attempt, but when Sable attempts to politely decline, the Gipper subtly encourages him by informing Sable that he is fully aware of his children’s author alter ego, and his multi-million dollar career would take a hit if his secret is revealed.  Reagan seals the deal by informing Sable that the assassin is Milo Jackson, a former teammate of Sable’s on the 1972 Olympic shooting team and fellow mercenary in Rhodesia several years later until  Jackson disappeared after selling out his fellow mercenaries in an enemy ambush.  Sable accepts the job.

No spoilers here.  Grell puts together 28 pages of tight storytelling and fantastic art that made me count the days until the next issue arrived.  Sable’s flashback sequence of his days as an Olympic athlete and mercenary in Rhodesia are just a small taste of his origin story that would be told over four issue arc from #3 to #7 that still ranks as one of my favorites.  When I dug into the box o’comics again and saw the cover for issue #3, I remembered the first time I saw it on the rack at Heroes World and how it stood out among the other comics with the sable horns added to the B and L of the title font.

Fast forward to November 1987 and the premiere of the TV series Sable.  I had grown up on The Incredible Hulk TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno and the TV adaptations of The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America and Dr. Strange but after Hulk ended in 1982 it was difficult to find a comic character on TV with the exception of three subsequent made-for-TV Hulk movies.  When I found out about the pilot for Sable, I was happily surprised that this independent comic book character was getting mainstream attention.  But my enthusiasm quickly faded as I realized the show bore little resemblance to Grell’s comic book.  Twenty five years later I’m still wondering why they felt the need to completely change Sable’s battlemask. 

Jon Sable, Freelance was a title that made me count the days to our next trip to the comic shop.  Looking back on this comic book thirty years later, I’m reminded of what I enjoyed about it the first time around.  It was sharp, cool, and had a great lead character.  Hopefully one day someone that truly respects the property will bring Jon Sable back as a TV series or feature film and keep it true to the Grell’s original comic book.

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