Brand Echh: Charlton Premiere #3

We’ve talked about CHARLTON PREMIERE in the past. It was Charlton’s attempt at a SHOWCASE-style series that would debut a different character or concept every issue. A try-out comic, in other words. No series that appeared in CHARLTON PREMIERE ever graduated into its own book, but a few of the stories are noteworthy in some respects. For instance, this third issue, published in 1967 just as the nationwide super hero crazy had peaked and was beginning to cool off, debuted a series concept that is utterly bizarre.

Sinistro, Boy Fiend was a parody series devised presumably by its writer, Richard “Grass” Green. Green had been a popular figure in silver age fan circles, one of the best amateur artists of the era. But he never quite was able to transition over to the majors and start making comics professionally. He did do an assortment of stories over the years for various publishers, though–and Sinistro was one of these.

Sinistro wasn’t drawn by Green, however. Rather, the art assignment was taken up by Harry Scarpelli, a longtime cartoonist who did a lot of work for DC’s Archie-like teen humor titles. Scarpelli was a good fit for this story as things turned out, as it plays very much like something that might have been able to sit comfortably in the extended, more surreal edges of the Archie line.

Sinistro is the fabulously named Jack Biceps, a typical American teenager with a very special predilection: rather than being into the do-gooder super heroes like most everybody else, Jack prefers the misdeeds of the super-villains, and aspires to become one himself. To this end, he mixes up a ghoulish formula that endows him with vaguely defined super-powers and sets off on a criminal career as Sinistro, Boy Fiend. Strangely enough, Jack and his buddies are fairly on-the-nose analogues of most of the core Archie cast–Jack (named in a sideways manner after radio character Jack Armstrong) is the Archie figure, his would-be girlfriend Shirlee is a Betty Cooper type, and his two buddies track against Reggie and Jughead pretty precisely.

Sinistro is a very slapstick sort of a story, in the manner of Archie, but what makes it memorable after all of these years is the full-on guest appearances of the actual Charlton Blue Beetle and Peacemaker in the story (Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt is also mentioned but never seen.) –this wound up being the Beetle’s final appearance until he was resurrected for CHARLTON BULLSEYE in the early 1980s. Additionally, Sinistro contends with parody incarnations of Superman, Captain America and Spider-Man along the way of this first and only adventure.

As a bad guy, Jack Biceps is a bit of a foul-up, as you’d expect–and by the story’s conclusion, he’s enough of a failure that he can’t even get himself arrested when the cops show up to incarcerate the members of the “Mosa Dosa” (a thinly disgused version of the Cosa Nostra, obviously) with whom Sinistro has been working.

It’s an absolutely daffy strip, and I’m not sure who anybody involved thought its audience was. It’s probably worth mentioning that it was Charlton editor Dick Giordano who commissioned Sinistro, before he left the company to take an editorial position over at DC/National.

The whole thing somehow feels like a fanzine strip, for all that the final product is a bit more polished than any such fanzine story of the era would have looked. But the strange comedic sensibilities seem as though they come from that arena more than anything else. It’s all still a sight better than the two televised super hero comedies of the period, Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific.

The issue also ran a letters page with fan comments on earlier outings. Two letters here are noteworthy. The first is from Michael Uslan, who would go on to be one of the short-lived DC “woodchucks” interns while also putting together the first college course dedicated to the study of comic books. He’d eventually be driven by his love for Batman to license the film rights from DC, embarking on a long journey to bring a dark and serious incarnation of the Caped Crusader to film. The other letter of interest is from Rich Buckler, an artist who would have a long career in the field beginning in just a couple of years.

3 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Charlton Premiere #3

  1. Seeing as how the facial expressions and exaggerated movements of the characters look EXACTLY like Grass Green’s work, I think it’s safe to presume that Scarpelli was working from Grass’s pencils or layouts at the very least. Perhaps, even though it was Charlton, it was felt Grass’s work didn’t look professional enough. All you have to do is compare the faces with those in any of Grass Green’s later work and you would immediately recognize his involvement here.

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    1. Steven…I got the same sense from the art. Definitely Green’s layouts (as I see it) and maybe even rough pencils. Or perhaps Scarpelli tightened and inked the layouts. Given Charlton’s notoriously low rates, he might not have wanted to put too much time into the finished product.

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