Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2

The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 by Steve Ditko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Action Heroes Archives, Volume 2, contains Captain Atom 83-89, Blue Beetle 1-5, Mysterious Suspense 1, Charlton Portfolio 9 and 10, and Charlton Bullseye 1, 2, and 5, all originally published by Charlton Comics Group, all with art by Steve Ditko.

In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths and reading most issues of Who's Who, I was enamored with a trio of new DC characters I'd previously never heard of, namely Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and The Question. While I enjoyed the DC versions of the characters, I started scouring flea markets and yard sales whenever I could, unearthing issues of Charlton Bullseye and reprints of Blue Beetle. Yes, I was a popular kid...

I didn't know what my attraction to the formerly Charlton characters was at the time but now I'm thinking it was that they were way more like Marvel characters than DC characters.

After reading a few stories in this volume, it was pretty clear that Charlton was the poor man's Marvel comics in its day. Captain Atom gets depowered and unmasked on TV a handful of pages into his second appearance. Likewise, the Blue Beetle gets his ass handed to him and arrested for the murder of the original Blue Beetle. Shit like that never happened in DC comics in the 60's.

You can almost feel Ditko's anger at Marvel in the artwork. It's more edgy than his work on Spider-Man and has more life than his final work at Marvel. Some of the poses are updates on poses he used in Spider-Man, like Ted Kord hunched over his work bench or Captain Atom straining to stop a menace with much of his power gone. There's a sequence where Blue Beetle battles an octopus underwater that I think is pretty spectacular for the time period.

The colors in this archive edition are really vibrant and a nice change of pace from the muddy coloring of the back issues I acquired over the years. The stories are simplistic by today's standards but on par with Marvel stories of the same time period. Captain Atom goes up against menaces like The Ghost and puppet themed Punch and Jewellee while Blue Beetle battles gangs of scrubs like The Squids and the Madmen. The Question's tales are short backup features and have a certain punchiness to them as he fights The Banshee and other menaces.

It's easy to see why DC would want to acquire these characters when Charlton went out of business but I have to think they would have fit in better in the Marvel universe. Also, I have to wonder how things would have gone differently for Charlton if they'd had a wider distribution, or, God forbid, social media at their disposal.

As a piece of Silver Age comic book history and a repository of seldom-seen Steve Ditko art, I have to rate this one pretty highly. Four out of five stars.

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