Thursday, March 26, 2009

If You Blinked You Missed: Charlton Comics' Prankster

Created and written by Denny O'Neil (under the pseudonym of "Sergius O'Shaughnessy"--I guess Denny didn't want Stan Lee to know he was moonlighting) and illustrated by the magnificent Jim Aparo, the Prankster appeared only one time--as a back-up feature in the final issue of Charlton's Peter Cannon...Thunderbolt (#60, August/September 1967). The concept of a sci-fi superhero who's pledged to battle a "Big Brother"-like government that's pretty much outlawed all that makes us human (laughter, love, art, music...like the intro says) is pretty heady stuff--especially for the dawn of the Groovy Age, when Batman's camping it up on TV, Marvel's Galactus is the most challenging concept in comics so far, and Charlton is known as...well, as the comics you buy after you've bought everything else.


Man, dig that early Aparo art!

That O'Neil fella proved he had a lot to offer, didn't he, Groove-ophiles? It wouldn't be long before he'd drop his Marvel writing (on strips like Dr. Strange, Patsy and Heidi, and Millie the Model), stop moonlighting for Charlton, and head to DC Comics where he'd become part of a mini-revolution that would help push comics into more intellectual, important, and mainstream arenas. He would help return Batman back to his more serious "creature of the night" roots. He would help create "relevant" (or "socially conscious") comics in his legendary run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow (both usually in tandem with the equally legendary Neal Adams), winning loads of awards along the way. Denny would go on to become a highly successful comicbook editor, television writer, and a novelist, to boot. You'll be hearing a lot more about the talented Mister O'Neil both here and on my upcoming 80s blog, BLINDED ME WITH COMICS, Groove-ophiles! Peace!

8 comments:

  1. A prank-playing hero fond of disguises strikes out from his subterranean lair against a dystopian future state ruled by a fascist leader who's madly in love with his computer...frankly, I'm beginning to wonder what else Alan Moore might have borrowed from Charlton!

    I only ever knew this story from a recap in a Fred Hembeck strip many years ago, unlikely as that may sound, so I'm delighted to see the real thing after all this time.

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  2. i must have blinked, i totally missed this.
    pretty cool!

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  3. Reading THE PRANKSTER today for teh first time in oh, 35 yeras or so, I'm put in mind of Harlan Ellison's classic story (that I had NOT read when I originally saw this) "REPENT HARLEQUIN"...SAID THE TICKTOCKMAN.

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  4. I'd read both this and "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" when they came out and have always seen them as being connected, since Harlans's story had won the Hugo Award the previous year, and I sensed inspiration.

    Or maybe it was just in the air!

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  5. Boy, Charlton could always be counted on for fun, couldn't they? I always bought Charlton comics sporadically, but when I did, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    I missed the Prankster (this comic was out a couple of years before I started buying comics off the stands)....but it seems typical of the type of great originality Charlton was capable of producing. In addition to O'Neil and Aparo, having Dick Giordano around to oversee this whole thing couldn't have hurt either!

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  6. Great stuff. Thanks for posting this early Aparo art.

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  7. Glad you enjoyed this little buried gem, fellas. I agree--I was struck by the similarities between "V..." and Prankster as I wrote the piece. Don't know why I didn't mention it. Brain fart? And I'd say, at the very least, you could call "Repent" an inspiration for Prankster. What I find cool about the links between "Repent", Prankster, and "V..." is how we can get so many unique and different takes on the same premise.

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  8. Back at a 70s comic con I asked the publisher of the fanzine Charlton Bullseye about this feature. He said he tried to find the second part of the story, and that Jim Aparo told him he had the script, but returned it to Charlton when he heard "Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt" was cancelled. It was apparently lost after that. Any one know any more about this?

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