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No, not Spock – Son of Vulcan #49

March 21, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I was buying some comics and couldn’t help but overhear a conversation that a dealer was having with someone else — I wasn’t eavesdropping, I swear. They were reminiscing about buying comics in the ’60s, and how their tastes had evolved and changed along the way. What struck me funny was when the dealer, when describing how he was a pure DC man (mainly because there were no Marvels sold at his local newsstand), would only buy a Charlton title if their was nothing — and that means NOTHING — else new available. I can’t really convey the tone of his voice. There was almost a sound of horror in it, you know? Like having to slum around with Charlton was the worst thing in the world.

It couldn’t have been that bad, could it?

Well…

Son of Vulcan was one of the lesser Charlton figures, ranking well behind the dudes — like the Blue Beetle and the Question — blessed with the Steve Ditko touch. He was among the arsenal of characters whose rights DC purchased, but, unlike those aforementioned heroes and others, he’s yet to really make much of an impact in his new universe. He’s shown up a couple of times and he’s had a miniseries in the past decade, but that’s about it for the guy.

Here’s his backstory in brief. Johnny Mann was a reporter who was crippled, and when he cursed fate for his injuries Vulcan heard his cries and agreed to bless him with the capacity to do good. To that end he was gifted with an arsenal of powers based on the abilities of the Roman gods.

Handy.

Sounds kind of interesting, right? It can’t be that bad. Can it?

Here’s my verdict. It’s not “cover your eyes” bad. But it ain’t all that great.

“The Diamond Dancers” was scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico, and, in a footnote, this was the first issue of Son of Vulcan as an eponymous book. Before the series had been entitled Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, and with this installment our hero shucked off his old environs in much the same way that Thor got rid of the Journey into Mystery label with issue #126. Also, Dave Cockrum designed SoV’s new look costume (per the notation on the cover).

Enough trivia. Dr. Kong, an old enemy of SoV and a terrible racial caricature, has opened up a Chinese theater next to a jewelry storehouse and is using it as a front in his efforts to steal some diamonds. Mr. Mann sniffs out that something is up, and accordingly makes his identity change:

He’s immediately bested by Dr. Kong’s electrified sword, and his life is only spared when Mars, a banished god and another old enemy, shows up. Mars isn’t so keen on cold-blooded murder, but allies himself with Kong in the theft scheme and helps dispose of SoV’s unconscious body. Where, you ask? Beneath a driven pile on a construction site:

Ten points for originality.

SoV wakes up and prays to Vulcan for a power boost, and said prayer is granted. When he busts out he heads back to foil Kong and Mars, but this time he’s gassed and sealed in a vault. Strike two for SoV. Not only is Mars sporting a Wesley Dodd Signature Brand Gas Mask, but he also knows his welding:

Vulcan taught him modern blowtorch welding techniques? Are we going to learn later that Neptune taught him how to be a longshoreman?

SoV has to call on big daddy Vulcan to bail him out yet again, and this time the God of the Forge has to outsorce the assistance to no lesser personage than King Midas himself:

Mars and Kong have been busy double-crossing each other, and though Mars eventually makes a clean getaway (sans diamonds), SoV sinks Kong’s escape submarine. We’re left to ponder:

I’m not sure that all these questions were definitively answered since the next issue was SoV’s last. Arrivederci.

I have some sympathy for folks who got stuck buying one of these suckers back in the day. The story clunks along, the hero looks like Marvin the Martian, he’s bested at every turn, and characters like King Midas appear out of the newsprint ether to leave us scratching our heads while asking “Huh? Really?” It’s no surprise he’s remained deep on the back bench all these years, and he’ll likely remain there for many more to come.

I know Charlton has its supporters, and I confess to finding some of the material that they churned out intriguing. But much of their superhero stuff… Woof. My heart goes out to the young version of that dealer, standing in front of the newsstand and seeing only D-list titles staring back at him. I’m not old enough for Charlton, but I gather that the equivalent disappointment from my era would have been having to buy books from Malibu or their ’80s/’90s like, i.e. the stuff that’s lining birdcages as we speak.

The horror

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2011 12:38 pm

    Charlton was bad; even the paper their comics were printed on was shoddier than the other publishers. Check out the Freddy (Archie knockoff) series sometime if you really want to see how bad a comic can be.

    • March 23, 2011 11:16 pm

      I’ve seen those around — now I have a little more reason to pick one up. Perhaps instead of the SoV acronym that I used here, I can just give ol’ Freddy the PoS label.

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