Monday, November 28, 2016


I have always been a sucker for cheap combo-packs----of baseball cards, of 45 rpm records, of comic books----where you get a sealed stack of them for a low price, but all you can see is the front one and the back one (and sometimes the back one is covered). During the period of 25-cent comics, when this issue of MONSTER HUNTERS was published, you would get, say, 10 comics for a dollar. Given the choice of four comics I could select for a dollar at 25 cents each, or 10 random comics for the same dollar, only a fool or someone who played it very safe would not go for the stack of 10, unless you were just buying one and knew exactly which one you wanted. However, by 1975, I was more likely to have a dollar in my pocket than just a dime, so I bought many of these combo packs. MONSTER HUNTERS was exactly the kind of thing you’d find there. I remember that you’d sometimes have all-Charlton combo packs at lower-rung department stores and even supermarket magazine racks.

MONSTER HUNTERS ran for a few years, beginning in 1975 and continuing 18 issues until fading out in 1979. The early issues (such as this one) featured new material, but as the series went on, it became primarily reprints from older Charlton horror/mystery titles. In fact, according to Comic Vine, issue #17 is an exact reprint of #3, under review here, but with a new cover (which we’ve reprinted for you....#17 is the one with the big GARRR on it). Considering that on the subscription offer page Charlton has almost 50 different comic publications available, and no one would read even a fifth of those, it’s unlikely that most people who bought the issue 17 would remember the issue 3. Charlton always had the refreshingly unpretentious budget-label mentality regarding re-use of material: hey, it’s just a comic book, it’s a throwaway product, who the hell cares!

The title MONSTER HUNTERS was well-chosen, with the then-recent success of both Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and would sound just the right echoes in the mind of the adolescent comic book buyer (or in my case, the person who found this in the middle of a sealed combo-pack stack). Each of the stories in this issue would vaguely qualify as monster hunting, although to be honest, any story with a protagonist and an evil creature of some kind could fit under that broad banner.

On some level, MH is a ripoff of the well-regarded and very popular comic BORIS KARLOFF: TALES OF MYSTERY, which ran from 1962 through 1980 and was inspired by the THRILLER TV series that Karloff hosted and sometimes acted in. Karloff served the same function in the TALES OF MYSTERY comic, host and sometimes participant, as he did on the TV show. Here in the MH comic, we have a similar host, named Colonel Whiteshroud, who somewhat resembles Karloff’s “Colonel March of Scotland Yard” in appearance, though not enough to generate a lawsuit (interestingly, in the issue under review, the character is not named! He just appears and narrates....). 

This issue features three comic stories--one about a doctor doing experiments with apes somewhere in that mystery continent that exists only in comic books and pulp stories and Sam Katzman-produced serials and jungle films who is threatened by the local political dictator, another which is a clear knock-off of Kolchak and features a newspaper man working parallel to but separate from a cop in investigating a “vampire” case, and finally a story about another mad doctor who has created a kind of Frankenstein “Plant Man.” Each of these stories starts off with a bang, creates a lot of excitement and intrigue, and then finishes kind of abruptly, with either a gimmick ending or a quick and unsatisfying resolution. It’s as if the creators were going along just fine after six pages and then realized that it was supposed to be a seven-page story. Ooooops! Better wrap this baby up quickly! Considering Charlton’s low pay and minimal editorial supervision, that may well have been what happened. That kind of roughness is both the strength and the weakness of Charlton Comics, depending on your perspective, and mirrors in content the jagged page-cuts and imprecise Warhol-esque printing of the comic art. As someone who likes low-budget movies and quickly-written genre fiction, to me it just adds another level of interest, a level that a slicker, more closely edited comic would be lacking. Hey, I’ve got a doctor doing experiments with apes, I’ve got a ripoff of Kolchak, and I’ve got a “Plant Man” on the rampage....and let’s not forget the two-page short story filler at the end, The Key To Magda’s Heart, which is a caffeine-fueled knockoff of The Picture of Dorian Gray and some gruesome fairy tale I can’t remember (and which is set in Transylvania, of course). What more could you want for 25 cents....or in my case, a dime.

It’s all about killing time in an entertaining manner--and smart phones and internet surfing cannot compete entertainment-wise with a throwaway 70’s Charlton comic book buried in a ten-for-a-dollar multi-pack. When I was at the County Tax Office the other day to get my annual car registration, I was the ONLY person of the 50+ in the waiting room NOT hooked up to some portable device. And it’s not just my age. Surely 40% of the folks there were older than I am, and they were all sitting like zombies being fed corporate and military-industrial-complex-filtered news and Yahoo “trending” stories and various clickbait “lists”, while the younger people were listening to sh*tty hip-hop or checking tweets from B-list celebrities of the month or reading about the fucking CMA Awards. All of them killing time separately while rubbing elbows in tight seating, not chatting with each other about the coming of Winter or the latest Dallas Cowboys game--the older ones weren’t even showing off pictures of their grandchildren, as I do whenever I get the opportunity. They were all just sitting there, glazed-eyed. Where the fuck is the Monster Hunter who can track down the fiend who created this virtual mental-vampirism that has everyone under its spell? Where is the Kevin McCarthy who can break up this Invasion of the Body Snatchers? No, it’s too late. Trying to fight this off has as much of a chance as a legion of Amish trying to fight off electricity and those other nefarious 20th Century influences. Let it go. Let it all swirl down the toilet.

Charlton’s buildings and presses in Derby, Connecticut, were destroyed in 1999----and as they came down, so did a lot of whatever worthwhile was left elsewhere. However, don’t give up.....BTC is here to remind us all of what’s useful that survives, and maybe when this phony “virtual” age dies off, we can re-build on a more-solid foundation, one where MONSTER HUNTERS matters, where Jim Varney is still alive, where the cut-out racks are full of Flamin’ Groovies, Good Rats, and Kim Fowley albums, where Colonel Bruce Hampton and Captain Beefheart are the ones reviewing the troops, where I can turn to a still-active-and-recording Lightnin’ Hopkins for social commentary and life wisdom, and where I can see an Al Adamson double-bill at the drive-in. It’s no surprise that third-rate zombie TV shows and movies are so popular now----it’s the defining metaphor of the age. Just ask sociologists or historians of popular culture 75 years from now as they sift through the ashes. Zombies looking at themselves mirrored in their smart-phone screens! Those zombies can have this world where the late, once-great Lou Reed recorded with Metallica and then praised a Kanye West album. I certainly don’t fucking want it!!!

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