Charlton vs Mighty MLJ

Two parallel universes from two silver age comic book publishers examined ad naseum!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Team-Up Tuesdays: WATCH those Crusading Sentinels of Justice... MAN!

Today we see the genesis of Charlton vs Mighty MLJ... some interesting quotes that tied the two publishers' creations together in a historical context... and caused yours truly to examine them as parallel universes ultimately attached to the DC Comics multiverse. First an interesting pic from Shadoblivion's web page which nicely echoes the acclaimed Watchmen cover and the characters involved:

First the original Sensational Seven from the 80's seminal Watchmen run, featuring (from top left to bottom center) Doctor Manhattan, the Comedian, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, Captain Metropolis, Nite Owl and Rorschach.


And from Charlton, (from top left to bottom center): Captain Atom, Peacemaker, Nightshade, Thunderbolt, Judomaster, Blue Beetle, and the Question. While listed as the Sentinels of Justice,  three of them: (except during Crisis) Peacemaker, Thunderbolt and Judomaster weren't offical members.





What is interesting is the following quotes from Comic Book Artist #9:
  • CBA: I always had a suspicion there was an element of the MLJ characters—The Hangman, The Shield, etc. —within Watchmen, and upon recently reading your intro to the Graffitti Watchmen special edition, I read that my inkling was indeed true. You were exposed to the MLJ characters, such as The Mighty Crusaders, and so on.
  • Alan: Right. That was the initial idea of Watchmen—and this is nothing like what Watchmen turned out to be—was it was very simple: Wouldn't it be nice if I had an entire line, a universe, a continuity, a world full of super-heroes—preferably from some line that has been discontinued and no longer publishing—whom I could then just treat in a different way. You have to remember this was very soon after I'd done some similar stuff, if you like, with Marvelman, where I'd used a pre-existing character, and applied a grimmer, perhaps more realistic kind of world view to that character and the milieu he existed in. So I'd just started thinking about using the MLJ characters—the Archie super-heroes—just because they weren't being published at that time, and for all I knew, they might've been up for grabs. The initial concept would've had the 1960s-'70s rather lame version of the Shield being found dead in the harbor, and then you'd probably have various other characters, including Jack Kirby's Private Strong, being drafted back in, and a murder mystery unfolding. I suppose I was just thinking, "That'd be a good way to start a comic book: have a famous super-hero found dead." As the mystery unraveled, we would be lead deeper and deeper into the real heart of this super-hero's world, and show a reality that was very different to the general public image of the super-hero. So, that was the idea.
  • When Dick Giordano had acquired the Charlton line, Dave Gibbons and I were talking about doing something together. We had worked together on a couple of stories for 2000 A. D., which we had a great deal of fun with, and we wanted to work on something for DC. (We were amongst that first wave of British expatriates, after Brian Bolland, Kevin O'Neil, and I was the first writer, and we wanted to work together. ) One of the first ideas was that perhaps we should do a Challengers of the Unknown mini-series, and somewhere I've got a rough penciled cover for a Martian Manhunter mini-series, but I think it was the usual thing: Other people were developing projects regarding those characters, so DC didn't want us to use them. So, at this point, I came up with this idea regarding the MLJ/Archie characters, and it was the sort of idea that could be applied to any pre-existing group of super-heroes. If it had been the Tower characters—the T. H. U. N. D. E. R. Agents—I could've done the same thing. The story was about super-heroes, and it didn't matter which super-heroes it was about, as long as the characters had some kind of emotional resonance, that people would recognize them, so it would have the shock and surprise value when you saw what the reality of these characters was. 
When you compare the golden age crop of MLJ heroes (see below for our heroes in all their grandeur):

Then compare them to the Watchmen's fictional precursors, the Minute Men from the same 1940's era:



Immediately, the character that most imitates his inspiration is Hooded Justice, whose noose around his neck calls to mind Hangman. How about Dollar Bill and Blackjack (how many dollars have guys named Bill and Jack lost while playing this card game)? Mothman and the Fly are no-brainers, or if you want a oldie moldie comparison perhaps Firefly? Nite-Owl and Black Hood have the gimmick clad knights of the night modus operandi going for them, while Comedian and Black Hood have similar sense of costumed flair. Regardless, that these two sets of characters were the dawn of a literary classic.

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