Under the Radar: DC Special Series #21 – Frank Miller’s First Batman Work (Jolly Jinglings Special)

Welcome to a special Jolly Jinglings edition of Under the Radar.  This is an ongoing segment where we spotlight comic books that haven’t attracted the widespread attention of the comic book community that they should.  In today’s installment we present DC Special Series #21.

DC Special Series (DCSS) was a short-lived ongoing series from DC that ran from 1977 to 1981. This series flies under the radar as a whole due to its unique format.  It was published in three different sizes: digest, floppies with oversized page counts, and treasury.  Also unique to this title is the fact that neither the title DCSS nor the issue number ever appeared on the cover. Some issues contained original content, others reprints. Our spotlight today focuses on one specific issue, #21. 

Cover to DC Special Series #21 – Notice No Title or Issue Number is Displayed

DCSS #21 was a 68-page, holiday-themed anthology released in December 1979 (but with an indicia dating it Spring 1980) and featuring five unique stories and creative teams. The issue included [writer, penciller and inker]:

  1. Jonah Hex by Michael Fleisher, Dick Ayers and Romeo Tanghal
  2. Batman by Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller and Steve Mitchell
  3. House of Mystery by Bob Rozakis, Romeo Tanghal and Dan Adkins
  4. Sgt. Rock by Robert Kanigher, Dick Ayers and Romeo Tanghal
  5. Legion of Superheroes by Paul Levitz, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and Dick Giordano
Title Page to the Batman Story in DCSS #21

All five stories are the reason we chose this issue for Jolly Jinglings as each focus on a holiday theme, but it’s that second story that had us choose it for Under the Radar.  You see, this is Frank Miller’s first professional work on Batman.  In a short 10-page story titled Wanted: Santa Claus – – Dead or Alive!, Batman thwarts a department store robbery with a little help from some unexpected sources. It’s a fun holiday-themed story, that in any other instance would be relegated to the generic back issue bin.  The fact that this book is Frank Miller’s first Batman work though makes this a piece of comic history.

In my opinion, there are a few factors that keep this issue from being more widely regarded.  First and foremost is the title.  You have no idea by looking at the cover that this is DC Special Series #21. Some folks file it under “DC Holiday Special,” others “Super-Star.” Regardless, it’s not an easy issue to track. Secondly, it’s the gap between years on the character.  It’s well known that Frank Miller began his legendary run on Daredevil with issue #158, with a cover date of May 1979. It’s not forgotten by many fans that his first work on Daredevil was actually in Spectacular Spider-Man #27, with a cover date of February 1979. That’s only a gap of only three months. The gap between DCSS #21 and The Dark Knight Returns is over six years. 

Action Sequence Featuring Batman From DCSS #21

Although I’ve never seen DC Special Series #21 in a $.25 or $1.00 bin, I have seen it regularly mixed in with common DC back issues at a very reasonable price.  It’s not unusual to find this issue priced at $5.00 or less at comic book stores or conventions.  To me, this book is under appreciated.  It should command the same attention from the comic book community as Spectacular Spider-Man #27.

Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is considered by many to be the most important comic book of the past 50 years.  His work on Batman Year One has inspired not only generations of comic book creators, but animators and film directors as well.  It all started with DC Special Series #21, an issue that is often overlooked.  An issue that – if you keep an eye out for it – you may find flying Under the Radar.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of our Jolly Jinglings content here!

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