RETRO REVIEW: Americomics Special #1 (August 1983)

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Or – “I’ll Never Long For What Might Have Been…”

Starting in the 1950s, Charlton Comics began experimenting with superhero tales, debuting Captain Atom late in the decade, transitioning into the mid-60′s with the full slate of Action Heroes (Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker and friends) before sliding off into eventual oblivion.  These days, the Charlton Action Heroes are probably best known for inspiring the story that became Watchmen, but DC’s updated version of Captain Atom and Blue Beetle ended up factoring heavily in the JLI, while the Question went on to a long run under the pen of Denny O’Neil.  But in between 1966 and 1985, Charlton’s properties didn’t get a lot of play, save for the time they banded together as the Sentinels of Justice!  Ya don’t remember the Sentinels, you say?  That’s okay, turns out they never really happened…

AMERICOMICS SPECIAL #1 – “Sentinels Of Justice!”
Scripter: Dan St. John/Greg Guler
Penciler: Greg Guler/Matt Feazell (backgrounds)
Inker: Greg Guler/Matt Feazell (backgrounds)
Colorist: Bill Fugate
Letterer: Greg Guler
Editor: Bill Black
Publisher: AC Comics
Cover Price: $2.00 (Current NM Price: $3.50)

Previously, on Sentinels Of Justice: Allen Adam was launched into space in an experimental rocket, causing him to gain incredible cosmic powers, returning to earth as the nuclear-powered Captain Atom! After his college professor revealed his secrets to him, Ted Kord replaced his teacher (albeit minus the amazing super-powers that his mentor took with him to the grave) as the high-flying Blue Beetle! Thanks to her mother originating in another dimension, Even Eden has strange shadowy powers from a shadowy planet, teaming up with Captain Atom in the cause of freedom as the heroine called Nightshade! Driven by the pursuit of justice, crusading journalist Vic Sage used advanced gadgetry and the power of mystery to ruthlessly oppose crime and corruption, making an example of the criminals of Hub City as The Question! This is the story of the Charlton Comics superteam that never was, The Sentinels of Justice!  We open in the underground lair of the Evil High-Pressure Sales Man the villain known as The Manipulator…

A of independent comics from the 80′s were done on the cheap in black-and-white, but this book is quite well-drawn and colored vividly (sometimes too vividly.)  The Manipulator sends out his various footsoldiers, assembled from some of the heroes individual baddies, to wreak havoc in the city.  This brings their enemies out of the woodwork, starting with the Blue Beetle…

I really like the animation feel of the art here, like lost storyboards for the Charlton cartoon that never was, and it’s interesting to see that strong Steve Ditko influence in the Beetle’s figure in panel five.  The bug shown here is of a different design then the one we’d see at DC a couple years later, but it’s still a pretty awesome design.  The Batman elements of Blue Beetle of at the forefront as he arrives at police headquarters to see the Superman-like Captain Atom.  As their police contact explains that there are villains on the loose, Nightshade arrives…

The real tragedy of this book comes in the fact that Nightshades costume here is probably the coolest iteration of her suit that we’ve ever seen, using the original blue and orange color scheme with elements of catsuit and killer knee-high hussar boots.  With our team assembled, Captain Fisher explains the ins-and-outs of the macguffin, and the heroes set out to save the day…

Unlike what we see these days with the whole quantum energy flux blah blah blah, Captain Atom is played pretty much as a flying brick, trading punches with the most powerful villains, while Blue Beetle plays the wisecracking acrobat ala Spider-Man, leaving the faceless hero known as The Question to be Batman.  It’s a pretty good choice, honestly…

There’s some lovely (albeit kind of generic) banter between Question and Beetle as they layeth the smacketh downeth on an army of madmen, leaving Nightshade to take down the Fiery-Icer, who for reason that have never been explained, wears a four-slot toaster on his head.

Things quickly go badly for the heroes, as The Banshee arrives to zap Blue Beetle to the ground, and The Manipulator, knowing that his macguffin is no longer attainable, makes a run for it..

The heroes thwart the villains in not-so-very exciting fashion, leaving everyone to wonder what in the world the Manipulator was thinking…  Turns out that he may not have been the brains of the outfit after all…

“Who is this shrouded figure?”  Hell if I know.  I’ve done some digging here and there, and I cannot find any explanation of who exactly this figure was supposed to be, but that last caption tells an interesting story in iteself.  AC Comics (aka Americomics Comics, apparently) had licensed the character from the limping remnants of Charlton Comics in preparation for having a Sentinels of Justice ongoing series, only to find that Charlton ended up selling the rights outright to DC Comics for what I hope was an obscene amount of money (but probably wasn’t.)  This issue was the only thing that AC managed to publish with the licensed characters, and it’s clear from the text pieces that it was a close shave getting the comic created at all!  Which is kind of a shame, in that it’s a good looking book, with very professional production values and nice art.  Of course, the story is pretty much by the numbers fighty-fighty exposition, without a whole lot of character for any of the heroes, and little to no explanation of who in the world all of these returning villains are.  This issue did, however, lead to AC’s own in-house version of the Sentinels of Justice, featuring Captain Paragon in the Captain Atom role, the Scarlet Scorpion in the Blue Beetle role, with existing AC characters filling out the roster…

The Sentinels didn’t last too long, but in their wake was launched Femforce, AC’s longest-lasting title.  You have to ask yourself what sort of effect it might have had on comics as we know them had AC maintained the Charlton stable, though.  Not only would Femforce probably have been different, the much-vaunted revamp of JLA in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths would have been down it’s longest-tenured member.  No DC Captain Atom would probably have meant no Major Force, which is awesome for Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, but you have to wonder what Alan Moore would have turned his creative muse to instead of creating Watchmen.  Imagine a world where Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family were the impetus for that story instead?  Or Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan reviving a zen-tinged version of Minute-Man or Mr. Scarlet instead of The Question?  Imagine what might have happened if AC revived all the Action Heroes, and they managed to make Peacemaker actually GOOD???

Naah, there are limits to even Imaginationland, as Butters Stotch will be happy to tell you.  In any case, this issue is more interesting as a footnote in comics history, a ‘might-have-been’ story that delivers some pretty good art, but sadly wouldn’t have set the world on fire to see these characters in action again.  AC would go back to a similar well with other companies’ characters some years later, an interesting story I’ll have to get to one of these days.  Either way, Sentinels of Justice is a well-intentioned take on characters who are nearly unrecognizable these days, and earns itself 3 out of 5 stars overall on the nostalgia factor, and it is interesting to ponder the ‘coulda/woulda/shouldas’ of it all.

Rating: ★★★☆☆