Charlton Comics started in 1946 and went out of business in 1985. The company published a wide range of comic styles, reflecting a variety of currently popular trends, much the same way Timely/Atlas did. Charlton published War Comics, Horror Comics, Cartoon Comics, Teen comics, Humor Comics, Superhero Comics, Kung Fu Comics, Action Adventure Comics, Romantic Comics and Science Fiction Comics. The wider company published song-lyric magazines (popular in the 1940's), puzzle magazines (of the type often found at supermarket check out lines), Digest-sized story magazines, and paperbacks under the imprints Monarch and Gold Star.
Charlton began as a magazine printing concern, Charlton Publications, of which comic books were only one facet. Begun in 1940 under founders John Santangelo, Sr. & Edward Levy, the company was originally called T.W.O. Charles Company, named for the two sons of the co-founders, both of whom were named Charles. The company renamed itself Charlton Publications in 1945. In its early years the company's lead editor was Al Fago, brother to Timely comics' lead funny animal artist, Vince Fago.
Charlton was a unique company in that the entire production chain of its comic books (as well as its other output) was entirely produced under its own auspices, From Editorial to Printing to Distribution, directly from the company's headquarters/printing plant in Derby Connecticut. While in one way it gave the company singular control of its product, it also meant that if the company didn't particularly care about the quality of its output, it had to answer to no one. Since the comic-book line was essentially created as a way to keep the company's massive printing facility up and running overnights, (since ceasing the industrial printers and then starting them up again could be prohibitively expensive) they were decidedly less critical about the quality exhibited by their comics. Charlton was notorious for the low quality control they exerted over the comics they produced, as well as for the extremely low page rates they paid to their artists and writers. At the same time, the company often exerted less stringent editorial control over their comics, which could let artists exhibit a distinctively expressive style even at a time when "house styles" were dominant in the comics industry.
The company's fortunes ebbed and grew across the decades, often dependent on how other larger comics concerns were doing. For example, as the comics boom ebbed after WWII, so did Charlton. As the boom in horror comics in the 50's grew the industry as a whole, so grew Charlton, if on a smaller scale. Its lead horror title, featured seminal early work by the young Steve Ditko in what was at the time one of the most garish and violent horror comics of the era. Charlton's knack for imitation happened in the wake of the 1960's "Marvel Age of Comics," when Ditko left Marvel and lent his talents to Charlton -- precisely BECAUSE of the lesser editorial control-- and the quality of its product went up commensurately. The same minor revival happened in the mid-70's; all of these accompanied by the influx of fresh new talent in the industry, who would find a welcome work opportunity (and that lower paycheck). Soon-to-be-stellar artists like Dick Giordano, who later became editor-in-chief before moving to fame and fortune at DC, Jim Aparo, and others in the 60's, and John Byrne, Joe Staton, Wayne Howard, and others in the 70's got their starts at the Derby, CT based funnybook company.
Charlton's loose editorial oversight permitted craftsmen like Ditko and his collaborator Joe Gill to give vent to some of the most extreme Ayn Randian libertarian politics ever exhibited in comics, in text heavy dialog balloons spouted by characters such as The Blue Beetle and especially The Question, a character created specifically to embody those political views, and a precursor to Ditko's own later character Mr. A.
Critical appraisal of most of Charlton's output would rate most of what they produced poorly versus the larger competition, though some genres were superior to others. The superhero books were a pale comparison to the likes of Marvel & DC, but their feeble horror and ghost titles managed to be moody and often downright weirder than their competitors comic-code neutered products.Some actually rate Charlton's Romance comics -- a feeble, pallid imitation of real-life at best from almost any company except the likes of St. John in the 50's-- on a par with its competitors, even with its rotten printing, off-register colors and coarse cheap paper.
One place where Charlton was able to exhibit some distinction was in the comic-book slum of that genre which attracted primarily young female readers and which no boy would admit to reading (but when the females were well-rendered, almost all male readers did at one time or another) The Romance comic book. Larger companies like Atlas and DC produced some distinctive and notable romance titles for some time in the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Some smaller companies like St. John produced romance books that were uniformly excellent (or at least of passable readability, given comics' inability to deal at the time with anything approaching an adult theme. St John at least tried) Charlton was in no place to compete on quality, given its low production values, so they competed by turning out a dizzying volume of romance titles from the late 50's through the early 80's. The company hit its peak from about 1958 to 1966, with just some titles during this period being: Brides in Love, Cowboy Love, First Kiss, I Love You, Intimate, Just Married, Love Diary, My Secret Life, Negro Romances, Pictorial Love Story, Romantic Secrets, Romantic Story, Secrets of Love & Marriage, Secrets of Young Brides, Sweethearts, Sweetheart Diary, Teen-Age Love, Teen Confessions, and Teen-Age Confidential Confessions. This incomplete list nevertheless is exemplary of a practice used on the company's entire line, and an approach to comic book making: most of these titles were purchased from bankrupt competitor companies, many rehashed the same stories again and again, and examples exist documenting Charlton's note-for-note plagiarizing stories and swiping poses for those stories form other companies. And while the comics code imposed a sterility on these comics that a superior producer like St. John did not have to deal with, these books' art almost makes up for the tired soap opera of the narratives.
While it is true that readers of romance comics claim that DC's art was superior to that of Charlton, such is a matter of personal opinion. The author of this paragraph and apparently an extreme fan of romance comic art in general is of the view that from the late 1950's to the mid 1960's, Charlton's romance titles were just as good as those from DC and probably a shade better. At the very least, the artwork, by the likes of Vince Colletta, Nicholas Alascia, Jon D'Agostino, Sal Trapani, Charles Nicholas and others, could stand against the rest of the romance books on the rack, even if Charlton's were more cheaply produced. Colletta in particular excelled at implying a subtle eroticism to his figurative posing that meant that Charlton could count on the appeal of some of these titles to easily excited adolescent boys as well as the books' intended audience, young girls.
These sorts of business practices were at work at all comic book companies, or at least at the companies that weren't DC or Dell, and Charlton engaged in the same behaviors across all their titles across all genres to a certain extent, at least until the company hit a new stride in the mid 1970's. Nevertheless, for all the originality of a title like E-Man, there were still the same lame rehashes in the romance, ghost, and war titles right up until the company's demise.
DC Comics bought the rights to several characters from Charlton Comics, and began exploiting them as their own. When writer Alan Moore proposed a limited series for DC to be entitled WATCHMEN, his original concept made use of these moribund Charlton characters. But because a comic book company will rarely kill a potentially moneymaking character property, DC management refused to permit the Charlton acquisitions to be used in Moore's magnum opus, so he adapted them. (e.g. Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, The Question became Rorschach, etc.) Several of the Charlton characters made significant appearances in DCs Crisis on Infinite Earths story arc, some might say to lesser dramatic effect. During the Crisis, DC editorially explained where the hell these superheroes had been for all of DCs history by saying that these heroes came from a reality known as Earth-4 and became merged with the New Earth after the Crisis and part of the eventual retcon of the DC Universe. The Charlton heroes from Earth-4 that appeared in the Crisis included Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Peacemaker, JudoMaster, Thunderbolt and the Question. Not every hero was bought by DC Comics. One such minor hero was Mercury Man. He was a hero from a post apocalyptic planet Mercury. Another was E-Man, who had been decidedly more popular.
In 1996 Roger Broughton, owner of Sword In Stone Productions, purchased the rights to the remaining Charlton Comics and characters (the Fightin’ 5, Gunmaster & Bullet Boy, and Atomic Rabbit, and after being bought from Fawcett, Don Winslow) that had not been bought by DC comics, who now own the rights to most of Charlton’s superheroes. Later he also bought the rights to the titles and characters of the old ACG comics group ( Magicman, John Force: Magic Agent, Nemesis, Herbie “the Fat Fury” Popnecker, the Hooded Horseman, Cowboy Sahib, and Commander Battle and his Atomic Sub.)
In 2002 he changed the name of his company to the "Charlton Media Group". Since then he has announced attempts to revive the various titles and characters that he owns, but so far nothing new has come of it other than a number of reprints of Charlton and ACG material in Europe, and the licensing of the rights to produce new Nemesis, Magicman and Herbie stories to Dark Horse as yet the other characters remain untouched. Thus far his attempts to make good on his questionable investment has been unsuccessful.
Charlton's Greatest Heroes
Nevertheless, it remains true that some of Charlton's biggest successes themselves did not originate at the company. Blue Beetle, for example changed hands 3 times before being acquired by Charlton and being given a successful makeover. It should also be noted that because of Charlton's wide range of genres covered that they did not have an extensive pantheon of heroes, at least compared to companies like DC Comics and Marvel Comics. They did have several heroes however that made up a cool list. Many of these heroes went on to have a big legacy in the DC Universe. Below is an alphabetized list of Charlton's more famous Characters:
There is probably no hero more loved in all of Charlton Comics than the Blue Beetle. Charlton bought the rights to the original Blue Beetle Dan Garret from Fox Comics. This eventually (in a way) kept him out of the Public Domain unlike his counterparts Samson and the Flame from the same publisher.
Despite the popularity of the original Blue Beetle, Charlton completely rebooted the character. He had different powers, origin, occupation, secondary characters and even his last name had a different spelling with an extra t. Unfortunately for the character he was not as popular after the reboot as he was before so to solve the problem they decided to reboot the character again. This time Dan was killed off and Ted Kord became the next Blue Beetle. Ted Kord was created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko.
When DC bought the rights to the characters they bought both Dan Garrett (with two t's) and Ted Kord and continued on this the story instead of starting over with the original Dan Garret (with one t). This technically means that the Dan Garret (with one t) is suppose to be in public domain but it is difficult to clarify with name similarities and so not much has been done with it. Dynamite Entertainment revamp the character and called him Scarab. They also used his sidekick Sparky who is in Public Domain.
Captain Atom was created for Charlton Comics also by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko in Charlton Comics his name was Allen Adam when he was bought out by DC comics his name was changed to Nathaniel Christopher Adam. His costume was also changed several times. There were two three main costumes however and one of them may have been a printing mistake.
In the first issue Captain Atom has a blue costume on the inside of the book but a gold one on the cover. He did then wear the gold costumes for quite a while with small variations until he went to the blue and red costume with the silver arms. It wasn't until he went to DC that his costume changed to the mostly silver costume he wears today
E-Man and Nova Kane
E-Man was a character introduced during the company's last major revival in the mid 1970's, and proved that the firm could produce entertaining, engaging comics even at its typical bottom-of-the-barrel rates. The character, and his girlfriend, exotic dancer turned superheroine Nova Kane, were not purchased by DC but attempts have been made to revive the characters by companies like First Comics and Comico. The characters were created by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton. E-Man was a being from outer space who existed as pure energy, and was discovered by Nova, an exotic dancer. E-Man modeled himself after the humans he saw and could blast energy, turn into pure energy and distort his form much as the classic character Plastic Man could. Cuti's well-executed scripts and Staton's strong, appealing art were decidedly more lighthearted than most superheroes of the time and that quality helped differentiate the book from others on the racks, and the book soon became the sales leader for the company (with the exception of its huge line of animated character licenses, which were being sold for very young children). It certainly helped to sell the book that Nova was designed as an attractive and well-proportioned redhead, and was often portrayed in various states of undress. Even so, the title has a cheery innocence about it that was never sullied by Nova's bustline or midriff on display. Cuti and Charlton eventually turned Nova into a superhero as well with the same powers as E-Man, which allowed Staton to draw her in a skimpy skintight one-piece costume. The title featured a variety of intriguing back-up features, several by Steve Ditko, including his decidedly oddball character Killjoy, and eventually settled on a backup featuring a charming robot called Rog-2000 which featured very appealing early professional work by a young John Byrne.
Judo Master and Tiger
Judo Master was created by Joe Gill and Frank McLaughlin. Judo master was a World War II vet that save a man's daughter while at was in the specific and is taught judo by the grateful father. Judo Master eventually gets a sidekick named Tiger. Judo Master was another of the characters bought by DC Comics and has subsequently gone through many changes. Lately the new Judo Master is a woman named Sonia Sato.
Mr. Muscles was created by Jerry Siegel and was the star of a two issue self titles series. He may not have been one of the greatest Charlton characters but he did have a fortunate chance to have his own book even if it only lasted two issues. He only appeared in one issue after that.
Nature Boy like Mr. Muscles was also created by Jerry Siegel. Actually Nature Boy shares a lot with Mr. Muscles. Not only do they share the same creator, they were both fortunate enough to have a very small run in their own self titled comic.
Nightshade was only in a handful of Charlton Comics but she did have a powerful legacy in DC Comics. She was created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko. In DC Comics Nightshade appeared in many issues of the Suicide Squad and Shadowpack. She has also gone through many evolutions that has made her a very popular hero.
Peacemaker first appeared in Charlton Comics as part of a team known as the Fighting 5. He then had his own series that lasted five issues. Peacemaker was created by Joe Gill and Pat Boyette and was completely rebooted in the DC Universe.
The Phantom is one of the oldest superheros ever and is considered to be the first by some. The Phantom first appeared two years before Superman, Batman and the Blue Beetle. Charlton picked up the hero and he was their longest running superhero series. He was created by Lee Falk.
The Question first appeared in Blue Beetle and was created by Steve Ditko. The Question was considered one of Charlton's bigger heroes even though he never had his own series. In DC Comics the Question became quite popular in his own title self titled comic and the Question Quarterly. The Question became popular again in the Justice League Unlimited cartoons and the 52 series where he died of cancer and passed the torch on to Renee Montoya.
Sarge Steel was created by Pat Musulli and made his first appearance in Sarge Steel #1. Sarge Steel was not an a typical hero and was private eye and Viet Nam veteran. His name and power came from his hand that was formed in a fist.
When Sarge Steel came to DC Comics his character became more entrenched as a government agent. He did a lot of work with Project X and the suicide squad. This has put him in a situation of being pitted against and worked for the more costumed superheroes.
Son of Vulcan
Son of Vulcan was also created by Pat Musulli with the help of penciler Bill Fraccio. Son of Vulcan was really Johnny Mann who was several injured in war and cursed the gods who allowed him to end up this way. His prayer/plea does not go unanswered as Vulcan himself arrives and tells him his troubles or not of the gods by the failures of man. Not only that but Vulcan gives him the power to fight for justice.
Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt was created by Pete Morisi. Peter Cannon was an orphaned child who was raised by Tibetan monks. The monks were very grateful to Peter's parents
Yang was created by Joe Gill and Warren Sattler. Yang was more of a Kung Fu fighter and sometimes didn't fit the superhero mold to some. The truth is he wore a costume and set out to fight crime. He even wore a costume that was the same issue to issue.