|Art by Adam Pollina. Image copyright whoever the heck owns Defiant now,|
Like many of Defiant’s offerings, Charlemagne has a complicated origin with a shade of mystery. Back in 1973, Charles Smith is told his older brother is dead in Vietnam. Twelve year old Charles refuses to believe his brother could be dead, and sets out to go to Vietnam to find him.
It takes him months of struggle, but the young boy makes it across the world and in the process learns a lot about the culture of the country under attack. Eventually he finds his brother (nearly half way through the double sized issue), but their reunion is cut short by an explosion that catches them both. His brother dies, Charles loses his legs, and he slips in to unconsciousness for twenty years.
On February 23, 1993, his doctors find that his body has suddenly grown not only in muscle mass, but also gained a new pair of legs. Charles awakes moments later, after nearly twenty years unconscious. He immediately sets out for home, only to have the cargo ship he uses for transport attacked by pirates.
By story’s end, he has made his way home and reunited with his parents, but it’s clear that Charles the Great, Charlemagne, has only began his adventures.
Nothing incredibly special in that origin, but it is the writing of Chichester that really elevates the comic past just another superhero story. He wants all the characters to feel real, and he makes every effort to make both his protagonist and the supporting cast, both home and abroad, real people. It’s a nice touch that recurs regularly in Shooter’s post-Marvel projects, but Charlemagne may present it at its most well defined.
While the rest of the series begins to fade in to crossover monotony and barely sticks with me, Charlemagne #1 is well worth the price of admission with its shades of Gladiator, especially since you can find it for well less than its original $3.25 price tag. It offers an intriguing look at a character with tons of potential, even if as the series continued much of the potential was lost to the over-importance of the shared Defiant Universe. (A universe that involved space gods, invisible demons and interdimensional goo, all far from where this comic fell.)
Next time you're at a dollar bin, give the issue a try. It's well worth the buck.