Friday, April 8, 2011

"We Tease Him A Lot, 'Cause We've Got Him On The Spot..."

Around the middle of 1975, DC unveiled its DCTV line, consisting of a quartet of  comics tieing in to television series then currently airing.  The four titles were Shazam!, Isis, SuperFriends, and Welcome Back, Kotter.  

Of these, Kotter seems to me the oddest for DC at that point in time.  The others are more logical choices.  With Shazam!, it was simply a case of re-branding an already existing title.  Isis was a made-for-TV super-heroine created as a companion to Shazam! on CBS' Saturday morning line-up.  The SuperFriends comic was based on an animated show that was, in turn, loosely based on a DC comic, Justice League of America.  DC was a little slow out of the gate with SuperFriends.  By 1975, it had been two years since new episodes of the series had been produced.  The extant episodes, however, had been run over and over on Saturday mornings by ABC, and new episodes would appear within a few months.
On the other hand, Kotter just doesn't really fit into the DC line of 1975.  True, the company had published 109 issues of The Adventures of Bob Hope and 124 of The Adventures of Jerry Lewis (the first 40 as The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis).  However, those titles had disappeared with the passing of the Silver Age at the dawn of the decade.  Humor was, for the most part, notably absent from DC's Bronze Age publishing strategy.  So were adaptations of TV shows.  Those were mostly the province of Charlton, whose 70's offerings included comic books based on The Six Million Dollar Man, Space: 1999, and Emergency!, and Gold Key, who continued to churn out god-awful Star Trek comics, as well as other TV inspired comics.  I'd really like to know what went on behinds the scenes that led to DC pursuing the Kotter license.
The debut issue's story, "So Long, Kotter!", concerned the efforts of the Sweat Hogs to convince Kotter to remain as their teacher at his alma mater, James Buchanan High, after the school board approves his request for a transfer.  The art by Jack Sparling and Bob Oksner finds a sweet spot between portraiture and caricature that effectively captures not only the actors' likenesses, but the personalities of their characters as well.  The backgrounds are a bit sparse and lacking in detail, but, then, so were the show's low budget sets. Elliot S! Maggin, best known for his work on Superman, here proved himself one of the rare super-hero writers actually capable of writing humor.  He turned in an amusing, though not laugh out loud funny, script that nicely recreated the feel of a typical Kotter episode.  
Maggin and Sparling did not remain with the title past the second issue.  Subsequent stories were written by the likes of Tony Isabella, Mark Evanier, Bob Toomey and Scott Edelman and drawn by Ric Estrada and Oksner. 
The first issue is the only one that I currently own.  I picked it up for a quarter at Mid-Ohio Con this past October.  Back in the day, as the kids say now, I also picked up #'s 3, 6 and 7.  The third issue had Kotter competing for the Sweat Hogs' affection and respect with Vinnie Barbarino's mobster uncle.  In #6, the Sweat Hogs somehow find themselves babysitting an elephant.  I seem to recall a scene where they attempt to bathe the pachyderm by running her through a carwash.  "Camp Waterloo" from issue seven featured the Sweat Hogs and their teacher as counsellors at a summer camp, competing in a series of sporting events against their counterparts at a rival resort.  Throw in Bill Murray and you've got Meatballs.
Apparently, comics readers of the era didn't feel that Kotter fit in with DC's line, either, as they failed to buy it.  After ten issues and a tabloid sized Limited Collector's Edition, Welcome Back, Kotter, the comic book, came to an end, thus closing out one of the stranger chapters in the history of DC Comics and the Bronze Age.


  1. We never had any of this stuff on TV over here -- not in Wales when I was growing up anyway. I've still not seen Super Friends or Isis to this day, though I do have a bootleg of the woeful -- but strangely wonderful -- Shazam show. Welcome Back Kotter did eventually make it to Welsh screens around 1979, probably in response to the success of Saturday Night Fever. As a result, all these TV ads were exciting and oh so exotic to a youngster never likely to see the shows. They provided a glimpse into an unknown world...

  2. You're not missing much by not having seen SuperFriends. For the most part, it was pretty bad. That didn't keep me from watching it every Saturday morning, however.
    Isis, which I recently watched an episode of on Hulu, was of the same quality, in both writing and production values, as Shazam! If you have a soft spot for Shazam!, then Isis might hold similar appeal.
    As for a "glimpse into an unknown world" I used to feel the same way reading about all the comics sold only in comics shops back when I lived in a small town without one