Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"It's bad job security for a horror comic host to get mistaken for a bum that gets killed in every issue!" Charlton Arrow #1 review

It was from following Mort Todd that I learned a new series called The Charlton Arrow had begun, revisiting old Charlton properties with a roster of great comic book talent, some of them from 1970s Charlton books. I wasn't entirely certain about buying the book until it became available on Comixology for a mere $1.99, a great price for an impulse-purchase. What's inside?

From the cover, you may have recognized the Charlton heroine Nightshade. You might also be wondering how she could appear in this book, considering she's been DC property for some 30 years. The answer comes in the lead story, "The Ghosts of Evil Past" by Paul Kupperberg & Rick Stasi. The story involves a reality-spanning villain called the Wraith who evidently received his powers from Captain Atom and sets out to cross between realities, killing every version of Captain Atom and his fellow heroes which the Wraith comes across. This leads to the cameo by Nightshade, along with the Blue Beetle, Question, Sarge Steel, Judomaster and other Charlton action heroes like Yang of the House of Yang. The alternate reality versions also include the Renee Montoya version of the Question and Rorschach! How do they pull this off? Essentially, they avoid naming anyone by name (even Yang) and obscure their appearances. Amazingly, when the true Captain Atom appears in the climax (as "Adam") he's depicted with the silver skin redesign DC themselves came up with in the 1980s (but minus the chest symbol, gloves & boots). The story is a little audacious, but it's nice to have a tribute to the Charlton super heroes who remain the best-remembered things about the defunct publisher.

The other fantastic story in this issue is "The Hosts of Horror" by Lou Mougin & Mort Todd. In this tale, all of the characters who formerly hosted Charlton's horror comics find themselves cast into limbo together and have to discover a new purpose for their lives. It's played entirely for laughs - appropriately, given most of the hosts were intended the lighten the mood of Charlton's horror books - and Todd does a bang-up job of rendering the old ghouls. It is a little distressing to note how the female horror hosts are mostly depicted as catty towards each other, but this seems to have been introduced for the story's pay-off, wherein the horror hosts decide to become reality TV stars (and catty behaviour is what's expected from women on reality TV).

The other features include a text story, "Career Girl Romances" by Larry Wilson & Joe Staton. "Love Me Never" by Michael Mitchell accurately duplicates the ugly typewritten font of old Charlton books. "The Charlton Western Round-Up" by Steven Thompson is a text piece on Charlton's publishing history, and "Spookman" by Roger McKenzie & Sandy Carruthers brings back a horror character I'd never heard of before. I was surprised to learn this was McKenzie's return to comic books after 30 years and I have to wonder what kept him away, given that he wrote some pretty great comics back in the day.

There are also pin-ups by John Byrne, Mort Todd, Javier Hernandez and Batton Lash. In fact, it was seeing Byrne & Lash were involved that first made me interested in this book (Byrne drew a Doomsday+1 pin-up!). The Todd pin-up is a two-page spread with all of the horror hosts meeting up (along with cameos by some DC & EC horror hosts).

The Charlton Arrow is, overall, affectionately nostalgic. "The Hosts of Horror" was, to me, the book's highlight. It will interesting to see how this anthology series develops and what other creators may be lured in to contribute.

The Charlton revival comics can be found on Mort Todd's site here.

You can buy Charlton Arrow #1 from Comixology here!

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