As we’ve spoken about in the past, Charlton went through a tiny and short-lived creative renaissance in the mid-late 1960s under the editorial auspices of Dick Giordano. While the outfit that he was working for continued to crank out comic books merely as to keep their big in-house printing presses operating, Giordano actually possessed some creative aspirations. And so he tried a bunch of different things before eventually leaving Charlton to take an editorial position over at DC. None of what he helped bring about wound up being especially successful, but it was all remembered quite fondly.
One of the best of the forgotten strips of the Giordano editorial era at Charlton ran largely unheralded in the back pages of CHEYENNE KID, a by-the-numbers western series only marginally more exciting than the ad pages that surrounded it. This was Wander, and while it wasn’t a super hero series, it had enough science fiction elements to it as well as a certain sense of self-deprecating humor that it feels as though it belongs in this category.
Wander was the brainchild of writer Denny O’Neil. Denny hasn’t yet quite broken in completely at DC at the time, and he’d had a short and unsuccessful tenure at Marvel. He produced most of his Charlton work under the pseudonym of Sergius O’Shaugnessy, a self-mocking literary reference, especially potent given Charlton’s reputation as a shlock house. And while O’Neil was pretty much simply filling pages in order to pay his rent at this point, it’s clear in Wander that he was at least having fun.
Wander was a gimmick western, and that gimmick was that the title character was an alien from Sirius Five, a traveling salesman from the stars who had crash-landed on Earth in the old west. Wander was true to his assumed name, and in the company of his buddy Jeb Dooley, he wandered around the west, getting into scrapes and adventures and using his advanced science and superior alien physique to even the odds.
Wander also spoke in the manner of a man of Camelot, due to the fact that the last time his race had visited the Earth, it was in the time of King Arthur, so that’s the English that he learned. This gave the series an even more daffy rhythm, especially since O’Neil wrote most of the stock western characters in the stories with comically exaggerated accents. None of this stuff is especially politically correct these days, but here it was done for a laugh, for effect, and I don’t believe it was intended as any disregard by O’Neil.
But the real star of Wander was artist Jim Aparo. While Aparo had been working for Charlton for a while at this point, he hadn’t yet comes to prominence in the eyes of fandom in the way he soon would once he moved over to DC, following editor Giordano. (As did O’Neil, largely.)His work was already polished and kinetic, and he seemed to have a really good time with the playfulness of the series.
Wander ran for 21 installments before eventually vanishing. (Artist Fred Himes took it over after Aparo departed for DC.) They were reprinted by Charlton haphazardly now and then, but they’ve never all been collected in one place. Which is a shame, because it’s a fun series that deserves a wider audience.