The Winner of the $1000 Prize for a Forgotten Comic Book Mystery

Today, discover whether they ever gave out the final prize in the 1980s independent comic book Whodunnit? series.

This is a feature called “Win What’s Never Been Won.” This is about looking back at the history of comic book contests and showing who the winners were of the various contests (if we can tell who the winners are – I don’t think anyone will ever know who won that Clark Bar Superhero Sweepstakes from the late 1970s).

Reader Chris M. wrote in to ask about the awesomely unsung 1980s Eclipse series, Whodunnit?to ask if anyone ever received the $1000 promised in the never published fourth issue of the series (well, technically, Chris wanted to know if anyone ever got the prize from the FIRST issue, but I tend to think the other question is slightly more intriguing since the series actually ended before it could reveal its final winner).


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WHO WAS CROSSFIRE?

It’s hard to quite capture just how much of a game-changer that the direct market was for the comic book industry. You see, in the early days of comic books, comic books were sold on newsstands, just like magazines (in case you ever wondered why the dates on comic books are always further ahead in time than their actual publication date, it is because, just like magazines, the idea is that the newsstand owners would be able to tell when to pull the comic books from the rack and return them by seeing the cover date, so if a book says March on it, it would come out in December or January and you would pull it and return your leftover copies in March).


This setup caused three major roadblocks to anyone who wanted to produce an independent comic book series. First, you’d have to have the capital to print enough copies to be able to get the copies to the stores and then take back the leftovers. Second, you’d have to be able to get newsstand owners to give you a piece of their precious rack space to display your comic. Third, and probably most importantly, since you would have to accept returns of unsold copies, your margins were razor sharp. It was very difficult to make money selling comic books PERIOD, let alone for an independent comic book creator.


The direct market solved all three of these problems in one fell swoop. Now, you only had to print as many copies as were ordered and the comics were not returnable (you had to give the dealers a bigger discount, but that was easily paid for by not having to accept returns) and since there were now all of these comic book specialty stores, rack space was less of a concern (still a concern, but much LESS of a concern). So now, a small print run of an independent comic book could still make money. There was a big boom in independent comic books, which allowed these fascinating comic books that might have been too niche to work for a mainstream publisher.


Eventually, the glut of independent comic books overwhelemed the audience, but for a while there, lots of great comic books were being produced by companies like Pacific, Eclipse and Comico. One of these comic book was DNAgentsa superhero series by Mark Evanier and Will Meugniot that had interest from Marvel and DC (who were also going through a direct market boom, as well, during this period), but Evanier and Meugniot wanted to maintain the media rights to the characters, so they put out DNAgents through Eclipse Comics…

In the fourth issue of the series, they introduced an interesting new villain known as Crossfire. The villain returned in the ninth issue of the series and, well, it did not go well for him…


He had been danced out by bails bondsman Jay Endicott…

And after his murder, Endicott invesigated things and found Crossfire’s costume and gadgets and decided to become the new Crossfire, using the reputation of the villain to make underworld contacts but then fighting crime as a superhero…

Evanier then launched a spinoff series starring Crossfire with the brilliant Dan Spiegle…

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WHAT WAS WHODUNNIT?

In 1987, Evanier and Spiegle launched a fascinating new series called Whodunnit? The series would star Crossfire in his Jay Endicott identity and the concept would be that each issue would involve a murder of a character, with enough clues in the issue that you could reasonably solve the murder, and since it WAS solveable, Eclipse had a gimmick with the book where the first reader who solved the mystery would receive a $1000 prize (and the store where they bought the comic would receive $200)! It was prominently featured on the cover of the first issue…


Don and Maggie Thompson of the iconic Comic Book Buyers Guide would judge the contest (and it was a lot more than just “Who did it?,” as Evanier and Spiegle were making you work for your money!)…

In the second issue, there was a new mystery, where you had to figure out who killed Kangaroo, a member of the rock band, Noah Zark…

Again, the questions were more than just “Who did it?”…

In the third issue, there was a new mystery…

And it had the reveals of the winners for the first two mysteries of the series…

I would normally share a few sample pages, but the way that Evanier and Spiegle made them “fair play” mysteries was to include a TON of detail in the pages, so a sampling would really not make much sense.

In any event, Whodunnit? ended after three issues, so there WASN’T a Whodunnit? #4 to solve the mystery.

Luckily, in one of the last issues of cross fire (again, the independent comic book scene was getting rough by the late 1980s), cross fire #24, Evanier and Spiegle revealed the winner of the final Whodunnit?

There was also an extra story explaining the killer, but, well, that’s a whole lot of comic book story that you really should go out and buy a copy of. cross fire #24 to get, ya know? And heck, just buy these comics anyway, they were really well done!

Thanks to Chris for the suggestion! Okay, folks, I am sure that you have suggestions for remarkable comic book contests! Heck, maybe you WON a remarkable comic book contest! That’d be awesome. I’d sure love to know who won that darn Clark Bar contest that no one can figure out (it might be the toughest mystery in comic book history)! Whatever the case may be, whether you just want to suggest a contest or if you won one, feel free to drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com and I’ll see if I can’t use your idea!


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