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Charlton’s Yang: 1970s precursor of Valiant’s Archer? – Yang #1

August 11, 2013

yang1

Many comic book aficionados of a certain age have a soft spot for Charlton, and with good reason. They were an alternative. While Marvel and DC ruled the field during that company’s time on Earth, as they do now, there’s always room in the world for something different. That’s just what Charlton was: different. Maybe derivative. Maybe kind of crappy most of the time. But they presented a counterweight to the industry titans, the Dr. Pepper to Coke and Pepsi (okay, maybe the Tab). A variation from the norm. A choice. And bless their hearts, they held on for a good long while. In a business where companies come and go, open and fold before a second issue can be run off the presses, a run measured in decades is an achievement.

I don’t know where Yang fits into that flowery opening paragraph. I’m not sure if he’s bad or good — if he’s Yin or Yang, as it were (and as the cover above queries, though in another vein). I’m pretty certain he’s derivative. I’m also pretty sure he looks a bit like Armstrong’s tag-team partner, Archer. So he’s worth a quick word. Two, even.  

Let’s travel back in time for a moment, to the era of giant cars, bad hair, bland clothes and disco. The 1970s were karate crazy, lest we forget. David Carradine, actor/martial artist and eventual victim of auto-erotic asphyxiation, was a bona-fide TV star in Kung Fu. Enter the Dragon — ’nuff said. Comics had karate-chopping comic book characters galore, from the famous to the lesser known to the downright obscure. A fad of this magnitude ensured that any comic company with grand pretensions would have to publish a title — preferably more than one — that featured open-hand blows and kicks to the face. Enter Yang.

Like most of the Charlton catalog, Yang’s backstory was simple, bare-bones even. His entire origin is presented in his first issue, written by Charlton vet Joe Gill, with art by Warren Sattler, and it fills readers in on how he made it from the Far East to (like Carradine’s Kung Fu) the Old West. And the story wastes no time in hurling us bodily into the chop-kick action. Yang’s father is assassinated within the first pages, and on page three we’re bombarded with our first Yang contretemps:

yang1a

Yang is a sheltered prince of sorts, who’s spent his life secluded with books and, of course, instruction in the martial arts. But the murder of his family patriarch and the abduction of his kinsmen by an evil gangster/warlord/whatever leads him out of his enclave and in search of revenge. You might think that his book-learning would give him some wisdom — or at least the ability to sniff out obvious ruses that might as well be spelled in all CAPS (RUSES). As we shall see, that’s not the case.

Our first indication that Yang may not be all that quick on the uptake comes when he pursues Chao Ku, the man who ordered his father’s murder, to a ship anchored in the local harbor. There he’s intercepted by Chao’s daughter — named, naturally, Yin — who, well:

yang1b

Yang’s pursuit of justice is not, repeat not off to a great start.

He’s chained, locked in the hold, beaten repeatedly, starved, and delivered to America, where he’ll serve as a coolie, building America’s railroads. He manages to escape before being consigned to forced servitude, but bumps into Yin again during his escape. He knows she’s not completely on the up and up by now, but, well:

yang1c

Yin pricks him with her poison ring, and Yang is rendered insensate once more. Yes, he fell for it AGAIN. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. (Yang’s remarkable naiveté is most reminiscent of Valiant’s Archer — or vice versa. Both came of age in secluded surroundings, and both found the outside world a bizarre and beguiling place. So there was more in common here than just the Telly Savalas hairstyle.)

Off Yang goes to pound spikes, where he wastes no chance to rabble-rouse:

yang1d

Yang and his flying feet of fury soon break his bonds and he makes his escape, vowing to put an end to evil everywhere, though perhaps falling for every shell game put in front of him along the way:

yang1e

And he’s off and running — literally.

Yang would last into the teens, and would even spin-off another comic, House of Yang, which followed the exploits of a descendent. This is stunning. One would think that Yang would get the heave-ho just as fast as Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer, long before a spin-off could even be contemplated, but perhaps the ’70s martial arts mania was sufficient to support his dim-witted quest(s). It had to have been, because this comic was everything that was wrong about Charlton back then: derivative, uninspired, you name it. Sattler’s art tries at times (some of the panel construction is Ditkoian in its simplicity), but could never hope to drown out the cookie-cutter script.

If Charlton’s charm was being something different, the difference in this case was merely the symbol on the cover’s upper left — or at least that’s all you’d care about if you picked up this book on a regular basis. Yang, we hardly knew ye (and your stunning susceptibility to simple traps), and that’s probably for the better.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Harvey Catalano permalink
    August 11, 2013 11:45 am

    I loved Yang when I was a kid buying up every Charlton comic book I could find. And that wasn’t many because the distribution on Charlton comics was so awful (just like their printing and color). The Television show Kung Fu was the hottest thing going at the time, at least with us dumb kids; that’s why Yang lasted as long as it did. Heck, Yang lasted all the way to 1986 with #17!

    • August 11, 2013 1:54 pm

      Thanks for the pro-Yang viewpoint. Though, it should be noted, the 1980s issues were reprints, as the rights-holders tried to defib that corpse.

  2. sdobrien62@sbcglobal.net permalink
    August 11, 2013 1:47 pm

    to the era of giant cars, bad hair, bland clothes and disco.
    Bland Clothes? You have to be kidding!
    -Sam

    • August 11, 2013 1:57 pm

      Well, I’m always kidding. But my standard view of 1970s clothes is the relentless browns and grays I see on old Kojak reruns. Yes, there was some peacocking going on, but the 70s always struck me as a very beige decade.

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