Charlton Comics was an American comic book publisher, noted for its Action Heroes line: Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question, Nightshade, Peacemaker and others. Its properties were acquired by DC Comics in the early 80s; comics by this publisher have been retroactively set on Earth-Four.
Charlton Comics was a sub division of Charlton Publications, active from 1946 to 1985. During that time, the company (which was a totally self contained operation with its own printing plant, unlike other comics publishers at the time) published titles covering all of the popular genres, notably war, western, funny animal and horror titles. They were widely circulated and popular because of their comparative cheapness, but for much of their history had very few continuing characters (exceptions included Yellowjacket and Beetle Bailey). They purchased properties belonging to several defunct publishers at various times, including Fawcett Publications, and in the mid 1950s acquired the Blue Beetle, whose adventures they briefly reprinted before moving to new, original stories with an updated version of the character in 1964. Other characters the published around this time included Nature Boy, Mr Muscles and Zaza the Mystic.
The Action Heroes
In 1960, Charlton introduced the character of Captain Atom in the pages of Space Adventures, and while that series (drawn by Steve Ditko, who worked for Charlton pretty much continuously until the company's dissolution) was short lived, when Charlton launched their 'Action Heroes' line in 1966, Captain Atom became central to it. The reimagined Blue Beetle (now an archeologist named Dr. Dan Garrett instead of, as previously, a policeman named Dan Garrett) had limited success in 1964–65 thanks to the efforts of Joe Gill and later a young Roy Thomas , as did Son of Vulcan, but it was Steve Ditko's return to the company and his collaboration with Dick Giordano which sparked the creation of a full fledged line of superhero titles intended to compete with DC and Marvel. The line included titles starring a redesigned Captain Atom (who nonetheless retained his previous continuity), the World War II era crimefighter Judomaster, a rather confused vigilante named Peacemaker ('he loved peace so much, he had to fight for it', and displayed this with a vaguely disturbing tendency to dress up as a high tech stormtrooper and go charging into international trouble spots), Pete Morisi's pacifistic martial arts master Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt and a new Blue Beetle, a young inventor named Ted Kord who had taken up the mantle of his mentor and friend, the now deceased Dan Garrett. The new Blue Beetle started life as a tryout in Captain Atom #83–87 before graduating to his own title, his slot in Captain Atom being then taken by the line's single solo superheroine, the 'Darling of Darkness', Nightshade. The Blue Beetle's own mag also had a backup feature, The Question (featuring a faceless crime buster) while Judomaster shared space with the adventures of steel fisted private eye Sarge Steel and Thunderbolt played host to first short lived super team The Sentinels (Brute, Mentalia and Helio, who along with Captain Atom were about the only genuinely super powered characters in the range at the time) and later (in his last issue only) the Prankster, a practical joking revolutionary in a nightmarish police state of the future, created by Jim Aparo. The Peacemaker's backup feature was The Fightin' Five, a series about a covert peacekeeping force who repaid Peacemaker's hospitality in the end by ousting him from his own book! One issue of Charlton Premiere (a 'showcase' title) also featured two obscure characters called Spookman and The Shape, but they never caught on. Ultimately, neither did the Action Heroes line, despite some very good stories; it had fizzled out by December 1967, only the Blue Beetle managing to cling on until October 1968, though he still only managed to rack up five sporadically published issues.
From 1967, Charlton concentrated primarily on licensed properties, in particular Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters such as the Flintstones, Top Cat and The Jetsons, Chic Young's 'Blondie' and King Features' 'Flash Gordon'. They published series' based on TV shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man in the seventies, and from 1975–79 published (rather infrequently) the bleak science fiction saga 'Doomsday+1', which featured early work by John Byrne. The superheroes 'E-Man' and, in one E-Man backup tale, 'Liberty Belle' (no relation to the DC character) also appeared in the seventies, though E-Man would have more success at First Comics in the eighties, and Captain Atom briefly resurfaced in the pages of Charlton Bullseye, an in-house fanzine. By the eighties though, Charlton's fortunes were flagging and only the war, mystery and funny books were still running for the most part (a curious exception to this was The Fightin' Five, which continued to be published until the early eighties). The characters in the former Action Heroes line were sold to DC in 1983 (after a brief reemergence at AC Comics, also in 1983) at the request of managing editor Dick Giordano, and many of them have since been integrated into the DC Universe (exceptions include The Sentinels and The Prankster, sadly).
Charlton Comics finally ceased publication in 1985.
- Charlton Comics characters were originally going to be featured in Watchmen. However, when DC discovered that Watchmen would leave most of them unusable for future work, they instead convinced Alan Moore to create his own characters.