A now-defunct comic book company which, although low in budget and even lower in production quality, left a lasting mark on the face of comics.
The company was a division of Charlton Publications, an equally low-budget magazine company. Its main technique for success was keeping costs low; it used a printing press made of plastic (instead of the more reliable and accurate metal) that had originally been used to print cereal boxes, and kept the same one from its opening in 1931 until closing its doors in 1986.
In The Golden Age of Comic Books, it was just one of many start-up comics companies jumping on a fad, but by The Silver Age of Comic Books, when it got into superheroes, it had acquired a certain reputation; though its rates were among the lowest in the business, it gave writers and artists a high degree of creative freedom, which made it attractive to both newbie creators looking to break into the industry and old hands dissatisfied by the corporate policies at the Big Two. Steve Ditko was both of these at different times, and created some of the company's most iconic characters, such as The Question and the revamped Blue Beetle (who was originally yet another company's Golden Age character.) While these days, it's mostly remembered for its "Action Heroes" line, it also published a slew of romance comics, horror comics, war comics and film/television adaptations.
Over time, though, Charlton's fortunes faded, with the vagaries of the comic-book industry and the deterioration of their press into nigh-unusability. Its publishing slowed, then stopped, its Action Hero characters were sold to DC Comics, other properties were sold to other publishers, and it closed its doors for good.
Said characters were integrated into The DCU, with some faring better than others; the aforementioned Blue Beetle and Question have probably fared the best, though Captain Atom's been relatively high-profile as well. In addition, these were the characters that the cast of Alan Moore's Watchmen were based off of, marking them for a permanent place in comic history.
Currently, DC's new multiverse has Earth-4, a world where the Charlton characters are the main heroes, if not the only heroes. It really hasn't been elaborated on much, aside from the world basically being Moore's original idea for Watchmen.
Among the characters originally owned by Charlton Comics are:
- Blue Beetle
- Captain Atom
- The Question
- Sarge Steel
- Son of Vulcan
- Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt (his original creator has since reclaimed the rights)