Monday, September 14, 2009

Blockbuster Weekly/Comics Cavalcade Weekly

I first became aware of Blockbuster Weekly/Comics Cavalcade Weekly through the August 2000 edition of Comic Book Artist #9, which was later elaborated upon by Michael Eury in Dick Giordano: Changing Comics One Day At A Time. Together, they explain what DC Comics initially had in mind for the Charlton Action Heroes after their acquisition.

In 1983, Paul Levitz purchased Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade, Peacemaker, the Question, Sarge Steel, and Thunderbolt from Charlton Comics' Ed Konick for $5,000 each, along with a modest royalty fee per use. This was done as a "gift" to Dick Giordano, a longtime DC editor who had started his career overseeing the Charlton line. Giordano in turn bought Son of Vulcan for Roy Thomas, as it was the first book he had ever scripted. It was Giordano's hope to pick up with the characters' continuity right where he had left off in the late 1960s, even suggesting DC reprint the original stories as springboard "flashbacks" to the new adventures. If possible, he would have even enjoyed working with some of his original stable of creators, but DC's marketing department didn't want what they felt was unsellable, dated material. As a compromise, Giordano began work on what he hoped would be America's first weekly comic series, featuring a mix of DC and Charlton characters, as well as rookie and veteran talent. Even then, marketing was hostile to the prospect of convincing vendors to sell on that schedule.

Giordano had high hopes for his Blockbuster Weekly, and was very protective of the Charlton acquisitions. He refused to allow any of them to guest-star in DC books until Crisis On Infinite Earths, where they would be introduced as having existed on their own world before integrating into the DCU. Neal Pozner was heavily involved with the initial proposal, and an ongoing cheerleader of the book. Associate Editor Robert Greenberger was tapped to help build the title, which was to be a standard format 32-page newsstand comic broken up into 2-4 page chapters for each character. The Superman newspaper strip had been revived before his 1978 motion picture, and was still running in 1983, so plans called for its inclusion in Blockbuster. That feature was in the hands of Marty Pasko, George Tuska and Vinnie Colletta, and each Blockbuster installment would fit a week's worth of newly colored strips onto two comic pages. Giordano assigned several of the other segments to these creators:

  • Blue Beetle was to be by Steve Englehart, Dave Ross and Alex NiƱo. In the series, Ted Kord would have been married to a wife supportive of his adventuring.
  • Judomaster was to be reunited with his creator, Frank McLaughlin, who penned a post-war tale involving a cybernetic survivor of Hiroshima seeking revenge. McLaughlin also worked up an unpublished Secret Origins story.
  • Peter Cannon-- Thunderbolt would also returned to creator Pete Morisi (in more ways than one.) As with Judomaster, it was to be written, penciled and inked by the same man. Unlike Judomaster, Morisi had an ownership stake in T-Bolt, which led to a rocky relationship with DC, until all rights were recovered by PAM in the 1990s. Morisi produced eighteen unpublished pages for Blockbuster, a complete story, and another twenty for a Secret Origins tale that has yet to see the light of day.
  • Peacemaker was Keith Giffen's to write and pencil, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, and inked by Gary Martin. Having read 24 of the pages, I can safely say it was for the best that Ambush Bug and Justice League International were made available instead of this painful dud. Unfortunately, Paul Kupperberg seems to have also read them, as he incorporated Giffen's idea of voices emanating from the helmet guiding Christopher Smith into a later misguided deconstruction. Giffen's serial was completed, and considered for release as a special, but nothing came of it.

Giordano realized he didn't have time to fully nurture the project in the face of his many other duties with the company, and turned the book over to Bob Greenberger, who renamed it Comics Cavalcade Weekly. Greenberger staffed the remaining features as follows:

  • Captain Atom was turned over to Paul Kupperberg and a pre-Concrete Paul Chadwick. Here, Nathanial Adam was an astronaut on the space shuttle Champion who tore his suit while repairing a communications satellite. He somehow ended up in a S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator, which gave him his powers. The inexperienced hero would then work with S.T.A.R., but not the inexperienced penciller. Slow in producing pages, Chadwick was soon replaced by Denys Cowan, who also provided the character's first Who's Who page.
  • The Question would come from Mike W. Barr, Stan Woch and Rick Magyar.
  • Sarge Steel would be handled by Andy Helfer, Trevor Von Eeden and Dick Giordano.

Dave Gibbons produced a cover, and a mock-up of the first issue (colored by Tom Ziuko) was presented to Paul Levitz and Jenette Kahn for their disapproval. None of the features seemed to measure up, especially in their demanding format, and nothing came of any of the efforts. Watchmen didn't end up elevating the Charlton characters, so they were instead introduced piecemeal to new readers, usually in radically altered forms. Dick Giordano took another pass at Sarge Steel with Max Allan Collins, and DC took another pass of their own. Eventually, DC did try the weekly format with an oversized Action Comics, which I understand sold decently, but not enough to justify the effort it demanded. Over a decade and a half later, 52 finally validated the publishing schedule, if not the anthology format.

Below are pages from Blockbuster Weekly in various states of production, mostly from Giffen's Peacemaker. You can find more art from Judomaster and Captain Atom in Comic Book Artist #9.

Blockbuster Weekly #1 pg 1 - Judomaster
Blockbuster Weekly #1 pg 1 - Peacemaker
Blockbuster Weekly #2 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #2 pg 3
Blockbuster Weekly #3 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #3 pg 2
Blockbuster Weekly #4 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #4 pg 2
Blockbuster Weekly #4 pg 3
Blockbuster Weekly #4 pg 4
Blockbuster Weekly #6 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #6 pg 3
Blockbuster Weekly #8 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #8 pg 2
Blockbuster Weekly #8 pg 3
Blockbuster Weekly #8 pg 4
Blockbuster Weekly #9 pg 4
Blockbuster Weekly #10 pg 4
Blockbuster Weekly #13 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #13 pg 3
Blockbuster Weekly #13 pg 4
Blockbuster Weekly #14 pg 1
Blockbuster Weekly #15 pg 2
Blockbuster Weekly #15 pg 4


DamonO said...

Very informative and interesting posting. Thanks much for sharing this.

Paul Kupperberg said...

I forgot all about Paul Chadwick being on Captain Action. I don't recall ever seeing any pages from Paul or Denys on the feature, although I do still have the scripts for the first batch of episodes. (I also have copies of Pete Morisi's unpublished Thunderbolt origin story.)

And while the "voices in the helmet" type of schtick may be old (forgive me) hat today, that stuff was still new and fun back in the old days. I remember writing Peacemaker as being demented fun.

Paul Kupperberg

Diabolu Frank said...

Cowen's take on Captain Atom in Who's Who was pretty nice. Chadwick's first two page spread for Blockbuster was reprinted in Comic Book Artist #9. If you'd like, I can scan the full image and temporarily post a link here. Posting full pages permanently makes me itchy for fear of copyright violation.

Sorry about the snide remark about Peacemaker. I always hated heroes with severe psychological disorders, especially when they were a major factor in the hero's motivation. It was neurosis, not a ghost, right? I can't criticize overly much though, as my exposure to your Peacemaker wasn't very detailed (a little Checkmate/the first issue of the mini/Fleming Eclipso/maybe Vigilante?) Also, I only read the original Peacemaker after yours, so I didn't know the guy was inherently reprehensible, potentially warranting the revision. Then again, the sadism might have outsold the benevolent psychopathy.

I envy your possession of the Peter Cannon origin. PAM's gorgeous run was my first exposure to Charlton as a child, so I've always had a soft spot. Somebody ought to buy T-Bolt from Morisi's estate and do something with this material.


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