In the early 1980s, Charlton comics – on its way out, unfortunately – rejiggered the fanzine it had been earlier endorsing as a showcase for amateur contributions. The early issues cast a spotlight on young creators, including a very early Neil the Horse story and some barbarian fare by Chas Truog, plus – of course – Martin Greim’s Thunderbunny in a pair of issues (I always liked the blue tights better).
Also on display in Bullseye was The Vanguards, a sci-fi blast-em-up which features one of the few all-female teams in superherodom – which you’d be hard-pressed to miss, trust me, the book is boob-and butt-shot central.
Decked out like some sort of Charlie’s Angels in space and tricked out like moon hookers, the Vanguards are their leader Celestra, secondary members Cerebra and Corona, and as the all-important fourth member, their fabulous Seventies hair.
Vanguards begins explosively, smack at the tail end of a galactic war – the three-world star system Alpha is shaking off the shackles of oppression, and the AlphaForce is their means to do it. As the AlphaForce’s pre-eminent assault group, the Vanguards are caught in a life-and-death struggle with Android 12, a golden metal homonculus in red short-shorts.
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THEN the Vanguards also have to face off against “Spectra-spores” which look like Silly Putty with rainbow sprinkles and lastly a titanic Animate – a rock monster, more simply put – and THAT is only HALFWAY through their first episode.
The Vanguards is a boilerplate superheroic space opera laden with indulgent fight poses and doubled down on the utter nonsense, dripping with sneers and sideboob, and yet – it was enjoyable as all get out. Despite the frantic, adolescent pace of the storytelling and heavy hand on the art till, the story isn’t without some sense of craft. Moreover, though, a story like The Vanguards, it’s hard to treat it like the enemy – this isn’t the stuff that killed mainstream comics, you know? It’s enthusiastic, ambitious, and most importantly it’s utterly earnest – lacking what seems to be the relentless cynicism of modern industrial comics.
At the end of the story, having defeated the Overlords and their assorted space monsters, the Vanguards return triumphantly to their newly-freed home where Celestra – freshly crowned queen of the liberated worlds (well, we’ll have to have a talk about that) – celebrates by proposing marriage to the dashing pilot of the resistance squadron, Captain Ral. I’m not ashamed to say that I found it honestly touching.
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I’m not sure The Vanguards is a book of which I could read more than an issue, and it’s certainly not a high point in the artform, but it’s a straightforward adventure book done with an earnestness that is, at the very least, refreshing. It’s a palette-cleanser of a comic, which is a virtue all its own.
I did a little internet research and was delighted to see that the book’s creator, Larry Houston, still lists The Vanguards on his LinkedIn profile, as well as another comic I’d not encountered before called The Enforcers. He describes it like this:
A team of superheroes, originally assembled by the demon Helicon, to destroy Omegon, the lover of his beautiful daughter Marylyn. After Helicon is defeated, they remained together to battle against super-foes the police could not handle.
Well, all right! I’m also pleased to report, if the name wasn’t familiar to you, that Larry’s storytelling career didn’t end with the Vanguards; he’s been an animation storyboard artist on shows like Batman:TAS, X-Men, the recent “G.I.Jeff” episode of Community and – most importantly – he was the storyboard director for Pryde of the X-Men, which is amazing. I love Pryde of the X-Men, I love Australian Wolverine, I love everything about it.
Anyway, just so you don’t go away without having at least one genuine what-the-hell moment, here’s one of the two backups in Charlton Bullseye, the nigh-incomprehensible “Tale of a Guardian”:
|This is like Fletcher Hanks directing a radio play.