Brand Echh: Americomics #3

We’ve gone over the history of CHARLTON BULLSEYE in prior installments of this feature, but just to quickly summarize once again for newcomers: at the very start of the 1980s, longtime publisher Charlton was nearing the end of its time producing new material for comic books. One of the final things they attempted was a series called CHARLTON BULLSEYE, which would publish the work of aspirating comic book creators–but for no payment whatsoever. Amazingly, Charlton was deluged with submissions, many of them featuring the Action Heroes characters they’d originated in the 1960s and which were remembered fondly by fandom. CHARLTON BULLSEYE ran for 10 issues before poor sales put it out of its misery with much inventory still left in hand.

Enter Bill Black, a cartoonist and prospective publisher who had produced a number of high-quality fanzines and who was beginning to experiment with doing full color comic books for the expanding Direct Sales Market of comic book specialty shops. Black had also worked alongside friends on a number of stories for CHARLTON BULLSEYE, and he saw an opportunity in the magazine’s demise. He brokered a deal to print some of the stories that had been intended for CHARLTON BULLSEYE in his own new color comics line–mainly material worked on by himself and his circle of friends. Charlton agreed to this, though they thereafter sold the rights to all of the Action heroes characters to DC Comics, which put an end to Black’s outfit AC continuing to use them. Still, Black got a few issues out of the material he’d taken control over, including this issue–AMERICOMICS #3.

Probably the most popular character among the Charlton Action Heroes was the Steve Ditko revival of the Blue Beetle. Ditko recast the formerly-omnipotent Beetle as a more ground-based crimefighter, one who relied on inventions of his own design, such as a flash-gun and a flying craft called the Bug. Ditko also designed a new costume for the character, one that followed his principle that you should be able to see only a small portion of a hero’s costume in order to be able to identify them. His Blue Beetle sported a very cool twin-blue design that’s largely been in service ever since. Ditko’s plotlines for his new Blue Beetle involved him having taken up the costumed mantle from his predecessor Dan Garrett, who had perished on the mysterious Pago Island. The question of just what had happened on that island was a running subplot for several installments before Ditko eventually revealed the full origin of his new creation in the pages of BLUE BEETLE #2.

There were fans of both incarnations of the Blue Beetle, of course. One of these was Rik Levins, an artist who would eventually break into the mainstream, where he headed up CAPTAIN AMERICA for a number of years. But in the early 1980s, Levins was just getting started. He’d worked with Black on characters for the new AC line, most notably Dragonfly, and he’d also crafted a story piting the two Blue Beetles against one another for BULLSEYE–a story that was among those languishing in the BULLSEYE slush pile. So it was a natural for AC to make that story the centerpiece of an issue of AMERICOMICS, which functioned as a tryout comic, with a different feature showcased every issue.

Levins wrote the story as well as illustrating it, with Black providing the inking and Black’s wife Rebekah adding the colors. Pat Broderick, who had already transitioned over to working at Marvel on MICRONAUTS and the like, provided a cover showcasing the two Blue Beetles at each others’ throats. (Somebody, presumably, Black, put a Blue Beetle logo right atop the Bug on the cover, which is some unfortunate placement–especially since there’s a workable dead area directly below that. ) Much as with the AMERICOMICS SPECIAL that introduced the SENTINELS OF JUSTICE, a team comprised of Charlton Action heroes starts, this issue of AMERICOMICS seemed to be ubiquitous among comic book shops throughout the 1980s and early 1990s–I have no idea how many copies had been ordered, but almost any place that you would go would still have a stack of them for sale at cover price (or sometimes less.)

The story is a credible effort, better drawn than it is written. It’s relatively basic super hero fare, but it’s executed with a certain degree of panache. It’s difficult to work out who the story was intended for apart from readers who had followed the earlier Blue Beetle adventures a decade and a half earlier, since its events turn so solidly on those previous stories. But the basics are all explained relatively well along the way.

AMERICOMICS #3 also featured an adventure of the earlier Blue Beetle written and by Leo J. Laney in a quasi-Jack Kirby style. Again here, Black provided the inking, with Neal Stannard contributing the final dialogue and copy. This story, too, had been intended for CHARLTON BULLSEYE.

The back cover, by Rik Levins, was apparently intended to be the front cover when this would have been an issue of CHARLTON BULLSEYE.

Apparently, this is the cover that Rik Levins did when this story was intended for CHARLTON BULLSEYE.

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