Who here remembers Charlton Comics? There isn’t really much reason to remember them. There’s E-Man, of course; a series worth seeking out. And there’s Steve Ditko who was willing to take a hefty pay cut in order to create comics without interference from Stan Lee. But otherwise?
Charlton was around for forty years. They published comics in about every genre there is. Their super-hero books included Captain Atom, the Blue Beetle, and Ditko’s The Question; characters eventually bought by DC comics where they still appear. In fact, Alan Moore originally intended to use the Charlton heroes in Watchman until DC decided to use them elsewhere. Moore then converted the Question to Rorshach, the Blue Beetle to Nite Owl and so on. Watchmen went on to fame and acclaim, leaving the Charlton characters behind in relative obscurity.
During their time of publication, Charlton was known for two things. First, they had their own printing press, where they used very cheap paper, and their own distribution system. This saved them a lot of money. Second, they paid extremely low rates to their creators, which saved them even more money. But you get what you pay for and, with the exception of Ditko, artist Jim Aparo, and editor Dick Giordano, most of their talent in the 60s was either very young or very mediocre.
Charlton touted its parody mag as "Teen's Top Comic" with the mottos "Join the In Crowd" and "We're so in...we're out!" Each cover was a mish-mash of illustrations and blurbs for the stories along with a photo of a pop star who receives a black and white pin-up inside. In this case, the featured characters are Miss Bikini Luv (who is featured in every issue), Blooperman (even though he is a minor component of the “Bestest League of America” story) and Miss Park Overtime (whose “Dear Park” feature is reduced to a list of contest winners this time). The featured pop star is Petula Clark, known for the hits Downtown and Don’t Sleep in the Subway. The cover art is by Jon D’Agostino, a longtime Charlton and Archie comic artist but who also, as John Dee, lettered the first story in the very first issue of Spider-Man.
The inside front cover features a black and white pin-up but not of Petula Clark. It is, instead, a photo of the Hollies, whose hits include Bus Stop and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother The one on the left is a very young Graham Nash.
Return to Peculiar Place is an ongoing serial introduced in Go-Go #1, June 1966. It is a confused riff on the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows with a title derived from the film Return to Peyton Place which is a sequel of the 1957 film. (The TV series was also on at this time.) It is the story of Walter Warlock a Frankenstein monster-ish ghoul who loves Barbara Madison while being harassed by “the underhanded and vicious town elder, P.S. Peculiar.” Because it is a parody of a television show, the stories begin with previews of later events interrupted by black and white parodies of TV commercials rendering the whole thing nearly unreadable. (This format was dropped after this issue in favor of a more straightforward approach.) It is written by DJ Arneson, who worked mainly for Charlton and Dell but is also known for his work on the LBJ super-hero parody comic The Great Society. He also ended up writing the Dark Shadows comic book in the late 60s and was honored in 2015 for his comic Lobo “the first African-American hero to have starred in his own comic book.” The penciller is Mo Marcus and the inker is Rocke Mastroserio, both Charlton regulars.
In Go-Go #5, the Sheriff arrests Walter for murdering P.S. Peculiar who was actually eaten by the crocodile/alligator hybrid called the crocagator. Here, though, the story begins with Chet Huntley of the Huntley and Brinkley Report, giving his signature “Good-night David” signoff followed by a preview of Walter and Barbara’s wedding, then off to the sponsor with an ad for “Blowzooka” bubble gum.
The story finally begins with Walter behind bars for murdering P.S. Peculiar but, in the “old Cranberry Swamp,” the crocogator Captain Hook, vomits Peculiar up whole and alive. After another “ad” for Blowzooka, P.S. Peculiar taunts Walter at the window of his jail cell, telling him he will make sure Walter is executed for his murder since he will be the judge in the trial. Barbara shows up and assures Walter that Peculiar can’t be the judge at a trial for his own murder. They vow to get married soon after the trial. The show is interrupted with a special bulletin about how a mouse in the clockworks sabotaged Big Ben. Back to the show in time for coming attractions. Now married, Barbara throws a frying pan at Walter and calls him a “no-good, two-timing bum” and Walter’s doctor is sued for malpractice. “But, your honor,” says Dr. Risso, “all I did was look at Mickey Peculiar’s throat with a candy-coated stick! How was I to know he had diabetes!” That, I’m afraid, may be the funniest bit in the story.
The Swingin’ Saga of Superella is a Cinderella parody written and drawn by the same duo that created the upcoming Bestest League of America story; Gary Friedrich and Grass Green. It is the first story in the “Farthest Out Fairy Tales” series. Our Cinderella is “Superella” because she becomes some sort of super-hero though you can’t tell that from these 4 pages. As the story begins, Mrs. Gertrude Ginch of East 88th Street in Manhattan literally cracks a whip as she forces her stepdaughter Ella to wash 14, 333, 069 dishes. Her daughters Wick and Ed (get it?) are excited because they are going “to the Mayor’s son’s hop at Gracie mansion tonight.” Ella is told she can’t go unless she finishes the dishes. While she works, her stepsisters taunt her that “Mayor Limpsly’s son’s gonna choose a bride at the hop tonight.” (The mayor’s name is a parody of then-mayor John Lindsay.) But Ella gets the dishes done and puts on “this rockin’ set of threads” she bought “with purple stamps I saved.” (A take-off of Green Stamps.) But her stepmother and sisters won’t let her go unless she passes a “hip” test. When asked, “Who’s the swinginest song-writer pushin’ a pen today?” Ella answers “Beethoven,” and fails the test. She is left home in bed wishing she could be “as cool as my stepsisters.” “Unlax, baby! Your prayers are answeredville!” says her Super Godmother who comes on the scene toting a portable radio on which she is supposedly listening to the Beatles, although only “Yeh, Yeh, Yeh? Twang Tromp! Bang!” comes out. (This may have been a decent putdown of the Beatles in 1964 but… three years later?) Super Godmother says, “Cool it, chick! Like, I’m your shook-up Super Godmother! Now just play it boss for a second ‘til the Beatle record I’m digging is over, and I’ll take care of everything,” which sounds to me more like 50s beatnik slang than anything anyone would say in 1967.
Uttering more outdated jargon, the Godmother then recites a spell, which goes, “By Ringo’s bangs, by Dylan’s curls, turn squareville Ella into a super girl!” Suddenly Ella is wearing a red miniskirt with a blue cape but she’s still a square so her Godmother whacks her over the head with her wand and recites, “Split the scene with Frank and Bing, and like the Beatles, make this chick swing!!!” Now Ella is cool. (Supposedly.) She hops around and declares, “Scoobie-doobie dee, the Beatles send me! Scoobie-doobie dye, Bobby Dylan is my guy!” “Holey Mamas and Poppas!” says the Godmother, “I’ve done it again. She’s a real honest to Elvis swinger!” The Godmother gives Ella glass go-go boots and tells her she must “make the scene with the mayor’s son before twelvesville.” Then, she leaves without telling Ella what her super powers are.
The story continues next issue. I don’t know if anyone cares (I barely care myself) but let’s wrap this up. Part II is scripted by Sergius O’Shaugnessy, Denny’s O’Neil’s pen name. (What happened? Did Gary lose interest?) Ella accidentally discovers she can fly and bend “a big steel thingis with my bare pinkies.” She dances with the mayor’s son at the ball, putting a super squeeze on him that entrances him. (“Groan…she’s the nicest girl who ever broke all my ribs!”) As expected, she rushes off at midnight, leaving a glass go-go boot behind and the mayor’s son takes the boot around to see whom it fits. At the Ginch residence, Ella’s stepmother makes sure the boot shatters before Ella can try it on. Ella pulls out the other glass go-go boot but drops and breaks it. She grabs the mayor’s son in a bear hug, begging him to forgive her. He recognizes the super squeeze and asks her to marry him (“Will you be my super spouse?”) She accepts (“Yup.”) “And as for you, vile, nasty stepmother,” says the son, “I’m gonna have my daddy raise your taxes!”
Introducing the * is a story about a “mod, zany swingin’ group” that doesn’t yet have a name. Readers are invited to send in their ideas to win prizes. The artwork appears to be by Mo Marcus and Rocke Mastroserio again but I have no idea who the writer is.
So, the * get thrown out of a studio. (They all appear to have British accents and names like Alfie and ‘Enry and Gabby.) They decide to make money by putting Alfie up against a wrestling champion. After putting Alfie through some training, the group goes to the champ’s manager who signs a contract before realizing that the group is full of hot air. The match goes off but Alfie is so scared of the champ that he is frozen stiff. The others dress in Robin Hood outfits and use the wresting ring’s ropes to shoot Alfie as an arrow right into the champ’s solar plexus. Alfie is declared the winner but the crowd boos the result. The group responds by playing their music and the crowd gets up to dance.
The “Name the Mod Swingin’ Group Contest” follows. First prize is a “Cordless Radio-Phonograph,” second prize is “a real, honest-to-goodness, six-string guitar,” and third prize is “3 Herman’s Hermits official Sweat Shirts personally designed and autographed by Herman, himself!” Go-Go #9 announces the winner is Gerald Smith of 2110 East 10th St. Apt. #1, Eric, PA 16511. His winning entry? The Modkees. Really? That’s the winner? What? Was Gerald the only one who entered?
Next up, at last, is The BLA vs the Marvelous Super-Heroes (in a pulse-pounding, pile-driving, power-packed) Showdown. It gets a separate entry of its own at Go-Go #6 (Story 4).
The two page Dear Park… section (like “Deer Park,” get it?) lists the names and addresses and supplies pictures of the “final twenty winners in my Dear Park contest.” (Best names of the winners: Lover Girl Robinson from Monroe, Michigan and Baby Bug from Agana, Guam.) I don’t know the exact details of the contest. In Go-Go #1, at the end of her story, Miss Park Overtime (get it?) says ""How would you like to ask me a question or for some gear advice? Turn to our fab new contest on page 31 and get all the details!" But I don't have page 31 so that's the end of that. But the story features kooky questions with silly answers, often with a pop music bent, and that is the kind of question that the readers sent in for the contest. Such as this one from Bob William of Vancouver in Go-Go #3: “Did the Searchers find the Beatles under the Rolling Stones?” Park’s answer? “Maybe! If they did, though, it was because the Byrds hit the Animals with a Lovin’ Spoonful.”
This prizewinner round-up brings an end to the “Dear Park” series but there is one storyline that appears in every issue of Go-Go, as I mentioned, and that is The Wild Life and Adventures of Miss Bikini Luv, a teenage model and movie star. This story, Bikini Hawaiian Style begins with Luv riding a surfboard alongside rock star Elvin Prisly as she co-stars in one of Elvin’s films.
(Jim Aparo, by the way, illustrates this story, in some of his earliest published work, still a few years away from becoming one of the definitive Batman artists. The writer is D.J. Arneson again.)
Luv is smitten with Elvin. “You are so gear! Whenever you sing, I just break out in itsy-bitsy goose bumps all over,” she says. After the “hard day’s work,” Elvin admits that he’s beat. “Oh? Gee, you sure don’t look like a beatnik, Elvin,” says Luv, who is, unfortunately, somewhat of a dumb blonde stereotype. Elvin’s manager, the Colonel (who looks more like Colonel Sanders than Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker) steps up and orders the “two to be seen together while the movie’s being shot! So, tonight you’re going to the Wahini A Go Go!” Elvin doesn’t want to go but he does what the Colonel wants. He arrives at Luv’s door with an orchid. She is so overwhelmed that she covers him in kisses, stepping on his blue suede shoes in the process. At the club, three members of the Volcano’s Angels motorcycle club show up and harass Elvin. One of them tries to kiss Luv. “Then, with the same finesse and fury he has displayed in countless celluloid capers, Elvin attacks” and knocks out the three bikers. Luv kisses Elvin again, this time in public where the press can take photos. When a reporter asks Elvin if he loves Miss Luv, he replies, “I usually most always don’t answer no questions lessin’ the Colonel’s around to give me advice.” But Sam Catsman (the film’s director), seeking publicity, steps in and announces that Elvin and Luv are engaged. Elvin passes out when he hears the announcement.
The news goes out around the world. Women cry over Elvin’s impending marriage. Men cry over Luv’s impending marriage. The Colonel jumps up and down on the newspaper and yells “I been good to you, boy! Why do you want to destroy me…err…yourself…err…us!” Luv listens to “Hound Dog” as Catsman says, “Baby, this is the biggest break of your career! Of course, you do love him, don’t you?” “What? Err…yes, of course!” says Luv, “You know you can just call me Luv!”
So, does Luv marry Elvin? D.J. Arneson is so uninterested in this scenario that he dispenses with it in the first panel of the story in Go-Go #7. Luv calls Maxie, her agent, and cries “I can’t go through with it, Maxie! I can’t marry Elvin Prisly! I just can’t! It’s all over between us! I’m coming home!” And that…is that. Which is just as well because I don’t think there were too many kids all that fired up about Elvis Presley movies by 1967 anyway.
We’ve come to the end. But, wasn’t there supposed to be a pin-up of Petula Clark? Yes, there is. It’s a black and white photo on the inside back cover showing Petula with her gold record for “Downtown.”
So, there you have it. Go-Go #6 in all its glory. You can see what a mess it is. You don’t really need me to recap that “Return to Peculiar Place” is unreadable, “The Swingin’ Saga of Superella” is predictable, “Introducing the *” is lame and “Bikini Luv” is dated. Though, yeah, “The BLA vs the Marvelous Super-Heroes” is sort of okay, I guess.
Go-Go is a miserably bad series and Go-Go #6 is a miserably bad comic. Even with the two webs I gave to the BLA story, I have to give the entire issue one web.
Next: Yet another parody from yet another publisher. It’s Inferior Five #7.