Thursday, June 23, 2016


These don't line up all that well.
The Charlton line of Action Heroes were added to the DC properties in a fashion which seemed almost an oversight. With the Crisis on Infinite Earths bearing down on all of DC's multitude of realities (sorry, Planet of the Capes, you're only a memory now), the alternate Earth containing the Charlton heroes debuted and bowed in a single issue of the story. The next time any of these characters showed their faces, it was in the newly-integrated DC universe.

Nothing about this is acceptable.
Their inclusion in the recently-revamped continuity naturally had much to do with DC's then-executive editor Dick Giordano, who'd cut his teeth at Charlton as an artist and editor. His affection for these suddenly-available character brought them over to DC where, for the most part, they flourished. Keith Giffen's take on The Blue Beetle overshadowed the character's incarnation in his own ongoing series, while Nightshade enjoyed a pivotal supporting role in Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and the Question enjoyed both a three-year run scripted by also-Charlton vet Denny O'Neil and, later, a trippy miniseries helmed by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards. Other characters, like Peacemaker, Son of Vulcan and Thunderbolt (subsequently removed from DC's roster as it turned out that the rights weren't precisely locked down) had a tough time finding a niche, while Captain Atom has been able to maintain a top-tier kind of exposure while mostly being relegated to "showing up and blowing up."

But only one of these incarnations sank everyone with equal aplomb: The Living Assault Weapons, a.k.a THE LAW!

"It's a really special day for me!"
Arguably a book intended for longtime fans who wanted to see the Charlton heroes all in one place, it also completely changed the looks, personalities and motivations of all of these characters, as though they were being groomed for a new readership ignorant of the characters' pasts. Which was it? I honestly fucking don't know.

Produced by Bob Layton and Dick Giordano himself, the "revamped and updated" Charlton Action Heroes was largely an unwanted  and unnecessary update. No one was asking for a new and different Blue Beetle or Question, who'd done perfectly well on their own.

Of the heroes who did receive major updates, it's tough to call much of them "improvements." Peacemaker, a hero most famous for wearing a toilet seat as a helmet, traded in his outhouse couture for a structurally anonymous red-and-yellow affair which made him look like a man armored in condiments. Nightshade, following an encounter with DC's interim 90's-era mystic Jared Stevens - the knife-laden, overcoat-bedecked "Fate"- ended up looking like a television with a broken vertical hold (alternately: A busty zebra, a dumped-over salt cellar on an asphalt street, a full-body prison suit, etc).

Our villain.
To prove its bonafides as an in-universe spectacle, the LAW encountered some stalwart DC regulars - Besides Fate, Deadman's Rama Kushna and Nanda Parbat play a role in the story, Captain Atom's Kingdom Come costume made its mainstream debut and the adventure begins with the JLA getting sucker-punched by the book's big baddie, Avatar, the world's first big-budget motion capture supervillain.

The all-powerful Avatar, of course, turned out to be an old Charlton hero, because any book with Captain Atom runs a real chance of repeating the errors of Armageddon 2001. Rip "Judomaster" Jagger's old sidekick Tiger taps into otherworldly demonic forces and becomes the flame-headed hater out on a mission of vengeance against war and its wagers, which is neat but you have to again ask the question "who is this book for?"

The LAW was missing a few key ingredients to bring back old fans -- the characters weren't only decked out in new and often-unflattering outfits, but they lacked the character and qualities they'd possessed both in previous DC appearances and in their old Charlton days. Also missing was any appeal to new readers, confounded with just enough nod-and-knowing-wink references to voluminous backstory to baffle any baby-faced newcomers.

Probably the problem with LAW -- and the reason that it fizzled after this appearance -- was that it was trying to revamp and update almost a dozen characters all at once in the same story. With only six issues with which to work its magic, LAW short-shrifted almost everyone involved, including the creative team. The next time most of these characters showed up, they'd either be wildly different or back to where they were beforehand, making the entire series a bit of a bad memory ...

Ah-ahhh, he'll save every one of us.


Bram said...

That is a pretty bit of calligraphy there, though. Who's the letterer?

Calamity Jon said...

That, my friend, is the good-as-gold John Workman!

Unknown said...

I remember being super excited for this book. . . and then suddenly, WTF splashed over like a tidal wave. As you said, the characterizations were different from any incarnation and the costumes hideous and bland at the same time. My biggest disappointment, as ridiculous as it sounds, the coloring. "Let's see, we've got Browns, blues, red, and yellow. Nothing else needed."

Calamity Jon said...

Hm, that's a good point I hadn't considered. I wonder if they were intentionally limiting the Charlton heroes to that palette, in an attempt to give them a distinct identity from the more mainstream DC heroes, whose costumes stick to the brightest parts of the color wheel for the most part.

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