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“Showdown in Sunuria”

  • Writer: Jon G. Michels (also credited as “Soul & Inspiration” is Dave Kaler)
  • Pencils: Steve Ditko
  • Inks: John Byrne
  • Letters: John Byrne & Barb Weaver

At the close of the 1960s, Charlton’s superhero titles (including Captain Atom) had been cancelled, and licensed properties had become the company’s bread and butter; publishing comics featuring popular cartoon characters such as The FlintstonesThe JetsonsTop Cat, luring several such titles away from Gold Key Comics. Charlton also published Bullwinkle and Rocky, based on Jay Ward Productions’ Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show.

Charton Bullseye was a fanzine published from 1975-76 by the CPL Gang highlighting Charlton Comics. It was a large format publication, with color covers on card stock and black & white interiors (although the first issue was black and white throughout). Charlton Bullseye published several previously unpublished Charlton superhero and adventure stories, along with articles on Charlton comics, news, reviews, pinups, and more.

The CPL Gang was a group of comics fans who published the fanzine Contemporary Pictorial Literature (CPL) in the mid-1970s. Founded by Roger Stern and Bob Layton, the CPL Gang included Roger Slifer, Duffy Vohland, and the young John Byrne, all of whom themselves became comics professionals by the tail-end of the 1970s.

CPL rapidly became a popular fan publication, and led to the CPL Gang forming an alliance with Charlton. They first got permission to publish a one-shot called Charlton Portfolio (actually CPL#9/10) in 1974 which included the unpublished sixth issue of Blue Beetle.

During the mid-1970s, both Marvel and DC were publishing in-house fan-zines publications, and Charlton wished to make a return to the superhero market, as well as establish a fan presence. The positive response to Charlton Portfolio led to the CPL Gang getting approval to publish a Charlton-focused fanzine, Charlton Bullseye. This in turn led to Charlton giving Layton and Stern access to unpublished material from their vaults by  Steve Ditko and many others. Much of this material made it into the five issues of Charlton Bullseye, including the continuation of the story dropped after Captain Atom #89.

When this comic was published, the United States was embroiled in the Watergate scandal.  The Rocky Horror Show opened on Broadway in March.  April brought us the Fall of Saigon and an end to the Vietnam War.  And the first Monster Truck, Bigfoot, was created by Bob Chandler (truly a great American milestone).

This is and the story in Charlton Bullseye #2 are the two last published Captain Atom stories drawn by Steve Ditko, the Captain’s creator, and the character had been absent from the spinner racks for eight years.  Before the story, we are treated with a quick refresher on the main players.

This is the first time the Ghost’s captors are referred to as “Sunurians” in print.  Also notable, Captain Adam’s name has changed from Allen Adam to N. Christopher Adam.  It isn’t indicated what the “N” stands for, although the Modern Age Captain Adam’s first name is established as “Nathaniel.”

In the mysterious land of the Sunurians (Sunuria?), the Ghost is pleading his case with the ruling council.  He wants to teleport Captain Atom to them because he has spent the past eight years idle and wants revenge.  This seems to contradict the ending of Captain Atom #89 in which the Sunurians were about to send the Ghost out to bring Cap to them.  Why did they decide to wait so long?

The High Priestess addresses the council and the Ghost.  She says if he fails in his attempt to defeat Captain Atom, it could mean his own doom.

Meanwhile, in New York, Captain Atom and Nightshade are fighting a giant robot.  As Nightshade goes after it in her gliding Nightshademobile, Cap enters the robot by becoming intangible and confronts the baddies inside who are operating it.  They draw weapons but lose sight of Cap when he bends light rays to become invisible (New power?  Invisibility isn’t new, but he’s never mentioned “bending light rays” before.).

Captain Atom throws the surrounding thugs around as Nightshade boards the robot.  She uses a “black light beam” to blind a goon.  As another thug reaches for the self-destruct button, Cap throws an atomic fireball at him.  No longer under the control of the men onboard, the robot pitches forward.  Nightshade hits her head and blacks out.  As Cap is radioing Gunner for emergency medical help, he and Nightshade vanish.

They reappear in Sunuria, surrounded by the Ghost and a few Sunurians.  Captain Atom runs away, leaving the unconscious Nightshade behind (bad form, Captain).  The Sunurians tell the Ghost that he must tend to the injured Nightshade before pursuing Captain Atom; it is their “warrior’s code.”  The Ghost agrees, knowing Cap can’t escape Sunuria.  They discover she has a hairline fracture of her skull, which they can heal.  However, if she suffered brain damage they cannot help her.  The Ghost thinks if that is the case, it would be kinder to let her die.  He still does not realize that she is his friend Eve Eden or that Atom is his friend Allen (er… N. Christopher I mean) Adam.

Meanwhile, N. Christopher Adam is flying around Sunuria, commenting that it looks like something dreamed up by H. Rider Haggard.  He sees evidence everywhere that the Sunurians worship the Ghost.  He is attacked by some Sunurians (women again; we’ve never seen a male Sunurian) but manages to evade them before having a thought that completely baffles me.

“Whoever runs this set-up must’ve been frightened by a Xerox machine.”  A Xerox machine was, in 1975 (and today) primarily a photocopier.  If the Sunurians are frightened by photocopiers, that would seem to indicate they are afraid of copies.  Which makes no sense because they are all blonde pony-tailed women (as if clones or copies of one woman).  If that is the case, wouldn’t they then love Xerox machines?  Or does he mean “fear them” in the way Christians are taught to “fear God?”

As Captain Atom flies off to find a place to hide (to conserve energy for the inevitable confrontation with the Ghost), the Ghost is having troubles of his own.  The high priestess shows up wanting to know why he isn’t fighting Captain Atom and is letting “her finest troops” take on the superhero.  Rather than point out that he is obeying the Sunurians’ own crazy “warrior’s code,” the Ghost takes offense to her referring to the soldiers as “her” troops.  He points out that he rules, and that they are his troops to do with as he pleases.  She agrees, begrudgingly.

Meanwhile, the Sunurians have found Cap’s hiding place.  He gets fed up with outrunning them and sets out to find the Ghost and Nightshade in earnest.  I can’t help but wonder why he left Nightshade behind in the first place.

Speaking of Nightshade, the Sunurians restore her with “healing rays.”  The Ghost drags her behind him, calling out to Captain Atom.  He threatens to kill her if Cap doesn’t surrender.  Rather than run the risk that the Ghost might be bluffing, Captain Atom comes up through the floor beneath him and socks him in the jaw.

It ends there.  I’m guessing they took a full-length story and chopped it in half to make room for “The Guardian Spiders” featuring Damara of Arcadia and Balor the Barbarian, “ROC-2000: A Family Album,” a Blue Beetle pin-up and an article about the hero, an interview with Nicola Cuti, and a couple other pin-ups and articles.

The artwork of this story, despite the lack of color, is absolutely beautiful.  John Byrne’s inks really compliment Steve Ditko’s pencils.  According to editors at Charlton, Ditko didn’t like to ink his own work.  I wonder what he thought of Byrne’s work.  As Ditko grants few interviews, we may never know.  I’d love to hear his thoughts on what became of Captain Atom after the character left his hands.  Perhaps I have some earnest Googling to do tonight.  Anyway, the story itself is passable.  It feels incomplete and a bit lopsided on its own.  I give it a C.  Add that to the A+ artwork and Charlton Bullseye #1 gets a B from me.

This “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC.  This universe became Earth-4.