With much fanfare, the “Watchmen” movie finally arrived in 2009. Tucked into almost every graphic-novel-to-movie article on the film was at least a brief mention of the fact that all of the key Watchmen characters are based after some obscure DC Comics characters that the company purchased in the early 1980s.
What’s not thoroughly explained is just who those guys are and where they came from. The “Watchmen” group is a collection of heroes once published by Charlton Comics Group, a small company out of Connecticut that was actively publishing until the 1980s.
According to many reports, Charlton wasn’t much of a comic-book publisher. It only produced comics as a secondary business. Instead, it focused on regular magazines, and only printed comics when its presses had free time.
But truth be told that over the decades of its operation, Charlton really did publish a lot of comics. The problem was that for the most part, they weren’t good comics.
The Charlton Comics System
In fact, Charlton actually created a two-way street for its comic book creators. Writers and artists could do practically anything they wanted and Charlton would throw it on the presses. That freedom, however, came with a low pay rate. For the Charlton creators, they had three options:
- Exercise their reative freedom for miniscule pay.
- Learn the craft with Charlton and then graduate to another, higher paying publisher.
- Or churn out tons and tons of comics for Charlton to make a living wage.
The Early Origins of the Watchmen
In 1966, Charlton Comics editor in chief Dick Giordano decided the time was right to launch a new superhero line of comics, and the Action Heroes was born. And it was those characters that Alan Moore adapted into the “Watchmen.”
Later on in the 1980s, after Giordano moved to DC Comics, the company bought the entire lot of Charlton superheroes (minus one) and had them join forces with the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. It wasn’t long before these Charlton purchases were showing up in DC comic books, and a few even managed to earn their own solo series.
The Charlton Characters and Their Watchmen Counterparts
So who are these Charlton heroes and their “Watchmen” counterparts?
- Blue Beetle (Nite Owl) — A technology hero, Blue Beetle is really Ted Kord, a brilliant millionaire scientist. Just like Nite Owl, he has a ship full of gadgets called the “Bug Ship.” Blue Beetle, whose costume was designed by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, was recently killed off and replaced by a new Blue Beetle, who you can check out in the new series that’s being published by DC now. However, thanks to several time-travel stories with his pal Booster Gold, Ted Kord still shows up every now and again.
- The Question (Rorschach) — The Question was a hard-living, self-righteous detective who wore a special putty on his face, which made him look like a living mannequin. The Question shared the same book (and artist) as Blue Beetle while at Charlton. At DC, he helped unravel the mysteries of “52” before succumbing to cancer. He too has been replaced by a newer version. The new Question is likely to pop up in the pages of DC’s “Batwoman.”
- Captain Atom (Dr. Manhattan) — Born of nuclear energy, Captain Atom went through many changes while at Charlton. Sometimes he was a space hero, other times he was a military man. Since arriving at DC, he’s been a prominent character for many years. Arguably one of the most powerful superheroes in the DC Comics stable, one DC storyline nearly had him turn evil, but those plans were interrupted when fans figured out the story too early and the “surprise reveal” was switched to another hero. After a back-up run in “Action Comics,” he’s now starring in his own self-titled book.
- Peacemaker (The Comedian) — Peacemaker is an operative for the Pax Institute, which seeks non-violent ways to solve the world’s problems. Fighting for peace? Sure, that’s the way 1960s-era comic-book logic worked. Most recently, a person claiming to be Peacemaker has shown up in the pages of the 2007 series of “Blue Beetle” comics.
- Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt (Ozymandias) — The “minus one” mentioned above is Peter Cannon, because a deal worked out in the 1960s between Charlton and artist Pete Morisi meant that the artist kept all the rights to the character. Still, DC later signed a temporary deal to publish a few Thunderbolt comics in the 1980s and a short-lived series in the 1990s. Like Ozymandias, Peter Cannon was a genius with a lightning-quick mind. He was also a highly trained combatant thanks to his ability to access and use his entire brain.
- (Silk Spectre) — The only “original” character for the Watchmen was Silk Spectre. At the time, Charlton Comics didn’t have a significant female hero, though writer Alan Moore said he based the character off of DC’s Black Canary and Phantom Lady.
More Charlton Superheroes
Of course, DC had a few other Charlton characters that Moore could have used in his “Watchmen” story, including:
- Son of Vulcan — A young reporter favored by Roman gods, S.O.V. had the ability to summon a vast array of weapons, resist fire and other assorted powers.
- Mercury Man — A space-faring hero much like Captain Atom, he could fly and had super strength.
- Yellowjacket — I’m not kidding here: Yellowjacket fought crime by commanding swarms of yellowjacket hornets. To complete the bee-ish motif, he even wore a yellow and black-striped costume.
- Sarge Steel –– A tough soldier and secret agent who got even tougher when one of his hands was replaced with cybernetic parts. He’s usually part of the DC Universe’s U.S. government operations.
- Nightshade –– A female hero who could have inspired Silk Spectre — except Nightshade has actual superpowers (in the “Watchmen,” only Dr. Manhattan has them). Nightshade could manipulate shadows and “beam” people across great distances. Her most recent appearances where in the DC book called “Shadowpact.”
- Judomaster — His name is JUDOMASTER. What do you think he does? Make Popsicles? He’s been replaced by a new version as well, and appearing in “Justice Society of America.”