Along with Pacific, First, and Eclipse Comics, AC Comics was a pioneer of the independent direct market for color comics in the early 1980s, distributing comics directly to a new network of specialty shops. While the other three companies are long gone and many indie publishers are now known for steering clear of superheroes, preferring not to compete with industry giants Marvel and DC Comics’ specialty, AC Comics publisher Bill Black built his company on costumed characters and it prospers to this day. Having already created an interwoven universe of supertypes in his black-and-white Paragon Publications line of the 1970s, Black began bringing them to comic-shop shelves in full color, starting with the very first official AC Comics publication (or “Americomics” as the company was called until 1984), Fun Comics #4.
Superstrong, invulnerable, and puzzled as to where he came from, Captain Paragon (who would eventually drop the military modifier from his name) burst forth from that issue in red, white, and blue glory, as did the sensuous sorceress Nightfall (almost immediately changed to Nightveil), the dimension-hopping yellow-and-green adventurer Commando D, and the stellar-powered alien superheroine Stardust. These heroes would continue for dozens of epic adventures.
Throughout 1983 and 1984, a plethora of costumed crime fighters were sent into the spotlight in a superhero tryout title called Americomics. The dark and ghostly avenger known as the Shade appeared in the pages of Americomics #1, along with the unique cloned multi-hero Captain Freedom, quickly followed by the indomitable street fighter known as the Scarlet Scorpion. Others appeared in additional titles, including galaxy-roamer Bolt (Bolt & Starforce Six #1), who demonstrates the power of flight, near-invulnerability (including the ability to exist in airless space), and the skill of firing tremendously powerful bolts of pure energy, and Astron and Astra (Astron Venture Comics #1), members of a group of para-dimensional police officers. In addition to Black’s original characters, selected creators were encouraged to showcase their own concepts, including Jerry Ordway, John Beatty, and Jim Sanders II. These outside contributions met with varying degrees of success, although Rik Levins’ Dragonfly and Don Secrease’s Colt enjoyed long and popular runs at AC.
Changing market conditions toward the end of 1984 led to using a short-term strategy that turned into AC’s biggest success, when the sudden popularity of black-and-white books prompted Black to edit together some existing stories to create a new superhero book, Femforce. Composed of beautiful, strong, and competent heroines inspired by Good Girl art characters from long-defunct companies in comics’ Golden Age (1938–1954), the team of Miss (soon to become Ms.) Victory, the Blue Bulleteer, Rio Rita, and She-Cat crashed the scene in their own fifty-two-page special with a World War II–era adventure in which they battled Nazi supercriminals Lady Luger and Fritz Voltzman. It was a smashing success, and plans were immediately made for an ongoing color series, which appeared by spring of 1985. The girls of Femforce proved popular and enduring, the title becoming one of the longest-running comics of any kind ever spawned by the independent comics market.
After striking gold with Femforce, the company began to reprint long-forgotten comic-book material in near-perfect full-story black-and-white editions. Starting with the squarebound, trade paperback Golden Age Greats series, and continuing through the ongoing Men of Mystery comic, dozens of classic superheroes have been brought before a new comic-reading audience. Golden Age heroes like the Black Terror, Commando Yank, Golden Lad, the Flame, Captain Flash, Cat-Man, the Green Lama, Pyroman, Miss Masque, the Owl, Black Venus, Captain Wings, the Eagle, Yankee Girl, the Fighting Yank, Black Cobra, Rocketman, Dynamic Man, the Grim Reaper, and countless others round out the AC hero universe. All told, superheroes from more than a dozen former publishers have been showcased in AC’s comics, and the company has intriguingly woven those characters into a number of brand-new stories.
As the comic-book medium hit some of itshardest economic times ever in the mid-1990s, ACcontinued to thrive, with a booming online and mailorderbusiness that rivals and in some cases surpassesits comic-shop presence. With its impressiveoutput, longevity, and creative marketing (not tomention its role as an early showcase for some oftoday’s most popular comics artists, including Ordwayand Erik Larsen), AC Comics stands as a leadinghaven for the superhero in an often-harsh publishingworld. —GM