Blue Beetle Mania

02-BlueBeetle-Origin-00

The Blue Beetle’s history extends as far back as Batman’s, a fact that has been obscured by a convoluted publishing history – accompanied by an ever-changing plethora of reboots and other gimmicks – that in all probability inspired the equally checkered past of Michael Chabon’s metafictional Escapist.

Created by Charles Nicholas, Rookie policeman Dan Garret debuted as The Blue Beetle in a crudely written and drawn four-page story that appeared near the back of Mystery Men Comics #1 (Fox Feature Syndicate, August 1939). The character at that point was a straight rip-off of the Green Hornet … which is a good a explanation as you’ll get for Garret’s alliterative codename.

He adopted a variation of the more familiar chain-mail gear in his second appearance and -after a few more visual tweaks –  soon gained enough popularity to earn his own title, a radio show and a syndicated newspaper strip ghosted by Jack Kirby.

To keep up with the ever increasing number of super-powered heroes clogging up the newstands by 1941, the Blue Beetle gained extraordinary abilities thanks to the miracle drug “Vitamin 2x.” Those powers would wax and wane throughout the Golden Age depending upon the needs of the story.

Everything remained status quo until the 12th issue of the Beetle’s own comic, when the Fox imprint seemingly dissolved and the character’s title continued under the auspices of Holyoke. Two issues later, Garret received a teen sidekick.

After 19 issues, Victor Fox regained the rights to the character and erratically published Blue Beetle comics until the ‘50s. During that time, the opportunistic Fox ensured the title reflected the trends of the day.

When “headlight comics” proved to be sure moneymakers, the Beetle found himself shoved off-stage by a succession of femme fatales. (Sparky had long since disappeared, poor kid.)

He also narrated “true crime” stories once Charles Biro’s Crime Does Not Pay started dominating the field.

And frankly, many stories were just plain bizarre.

After the Fox imprint finally gave up the ghost in the mid-‘50s, Charlton acquired the rights to Blue Beetle and printed a few stories that did little to alter the character … aside from changing his name to Dan Garrett.

When the success of Marvel and DC’s Silver Age titles brought super-heroes back into vogue, Charlton called upon writer Joe Gill and artist Tony Tallarico to revamp the Blue Beetle.

To their credit, Gill and Tallarico tried to provide a rationale for the Beetle motif by reintroducing Garret as an archaeologist who finds a mystic scarab. Otherwise, this all-new origin story was essentially Fawcett’s Captain Marvel with Egyptian trappings.

That particular incarnation wasn’t successful, so Garrett was killed off and replaced by this guy …

Sadly, Steve Ditko’s Blue Beetle was no more successful than the previous attempt and faded into comic-book limbo. Eventually, however, DC picked up the rights to the Beetle and other Charlton characters and incorporated them into their universe following the cataclysmic events of the company’s wildly successful Crisis On Infinite Earths mini-series.

The Ted Kord Blue Beetle evolved from that point into the Bwa-ha-ha hero so many modern fans loved … at least until DC decided to make headlines several years later by blowing the poor sod’s head off.

Leading, of course, to yet another new incarnation of the Blue Beetle.

*Phew.* I suppose the one constant throughout the decades of Blue Beetle’s existence has been change, which means we’ll probably see a few more versions of the character before everything is said and done.

In the meantime, however, let’s go back to a simpler time and enjoy the original, Golden Age hero who briefly found enough success to become a multi-media sensation a la Superman and Batman.

From Blue Beetle #1 (Fox Publications, Winter ’39-’40), here’s the “Origin Of The Blue Beetle” as drawn by Will Eisner (!) and the character’s creator, Charles Nicholas.

03-BlueBeetle-Origin-01

04-BlueBeetle-Origin-02

05-BlueBeetle-Origin-03

06-BlueBeetle-Origin-04

07-BlueBeetle-Origin-05

08-BlueBeetle-Origin-06

09-BlueBeetle-Origin-07

10-BlueBeetle-Origin-08

11-BlueBeetle-Origin-09

12-BlueBeetle-Origin-10

13-BlueBeetle-Origin-11

14-BlueBeetle-Origin-12

15-BlueBeetle-Origin-13

Hmmm … Dan Garret’s working-class background – replete with snobs and bullies – and desire to avenge his father’s death is somewhat similar to Marvel’s Daredevil. I guess there are only so many ideas under the sun.

Sheena-Na-Gig

sh09p022

It’s another typical day for Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle: Greedy criminals out to exploit a sacred jungle secret, a well-meaning – if not overly competent – boyfriend in peril, an evil twin and easily duped caricatures of African tribesmen.

And, to top it off, art by the man who steered the character through 12 years of these crazy adventures – Robert Webb!

From Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle #9 (Fiction House, 1950), here’s “Luru Temple Of The Dead.”

sh09p023sh3

sh09p024

sh09p025

sh09p026

sh09p027

sh09p028

sh09p029

sh09p030

sh09p031

Nemesis Of Crime

Black_Terror_00828-

The Black Terror and Tim take on The Scar, a master criminal who … um … had a scar on his face.

Hey, they can’t all be as memorable as Lex Luthor or The Joker you know! At least this guy had enough style to whip up a halfway decent death trap!!

The story originally appeared in Black Terror #8 (Better/Standard/Nedor, November 1944). The writer and artist are not credited.

Black_Terror_00829-

Black_Terror_00830-

Black_Terror_00831-

Black_Terror_00832-

Black_Terror_00833-

Black_Terror_00834-

Black_Terror_00835-

Black_Terror_00836-

Black_Terror_00837-

Black_Terror_00838-

Black_Terror_00839-

As a bonus, here’s Alex Schomburg’s cover to Black Terror #8.

Remembering John Severin

A portrait of John Severin by his equally renowned sister, Marie. The image is taken from the TCJ site but originally appeared in Graphic Story Magazine #13.

John Severin, who passed away earlier this week, wasn’t as celebrated by fanboys and girls as Jack Kirby, Neal Adams or Wally Wood. Yet, his work easily belongs alongside those individuals and select others as among the best oeuvres to ever grace the medium of comic books.

His easily recognizable style served gritty realism and outré humor equally well, a feat that seemed effortless in Severin’s hands but was never really equalled by his contemporaries or successors.

How many other artists can you name who could master media parodies for humor magazines like Cracked, brutal war adventures for such titles as Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos and Blazing Combat and memorable chillers for Warren’s famed Creepy and Eerie publications.

Severin also maintained a strong work ethic throughout his entire career – which spanned a good 60 years or so –  without a notable drop in quality.

You’d think an artist with such a resume would only be discussed in hushed tones, but the sad fact is the genres where Severin left indelible marks don’t quite carry the same cachet in the Direct Market as funny-books featuring mutants in long underwear.

Fortunately, the sheer amount of quality work Severin left behind coupled with the sincere expressions of appreciation found throughout the Blogosphere and Twitterverse the past few days ensure his efforts will never truly be forgotten.

From Prize Comics Western #110 (Prize, March-April 1955), American Eagle tackles “Red Slavers” in a amazingly non-stereotypical Western drawn by Severin early in his career.

014 Prize Western 110 Page 12

015 Prize Western 110 Page 13

016 Prize Western 110 Page 14

017 Prize Western 110 Page 15

018 Prize Western 110 Page 16

Let’s jump ahead a few years for a tale about an “Abominable Snowman” from Creepy #6 (Warren, December 1965). This story was written by Bill Pearson and illustrated by Severin.

CreepyMagazine 006-40

CreepyMagazine 006-41

CreepyMagazine 006-42

CreepyMagazine 006-43

CreepyMagazine 006-44

CreepyMagazine 006-45

Finally, here’s a parody of Alien from the magazine where I first encountered Severin’s work, Cracked. The humor may not have aged particularly well – it was a bit of a hoot when I was 17 – but I still find the Severin’s art as captivating as ever.

“Allien And How To Watch It” originally appeared in Cracked #149 (Major Publications, November 1979).

Cracked164-006

Cracked164-007

Cracked164-008

Cracked164-009

Cracked164-010

Cracked164-011

Cracked164-012

Obsession For Men

HollywoodConfessions02p02

Let’s wrap up Valentine’s Day with a classic romance comic that turns the formula on its head: This time, it’s the man who impulsively throws away a chance at true happiness while the spurned woman remains calm and resolute.

The story, entitled “Success Or Else,” is taken from Hollywood Confessions #2 (St. John, December 1949). It was drawn by a talented young buck named Joe Kubert. I wonder whatever happened to him?

HollywoodConfessions02p03

HollywoodConfessions02p04

HollywoodConfessions02p05

HollywoodConfessions02p06

HollywoodConfessions02p07

HollywoodConfessions02p08

HollywoodConfessions02p10

The Quick And The Dead

National 28-44

Thanks to Mark Waid, the Golden Age Quicksilver found new life as a prominent supporting character in the Wally West Flash and Bart Allen Impulse titles. Of course, Marvel Comics’ tendency to repurpose the code names of defunct super-heroes forced Waid to rename the Quality Comics hero “Max Mercury.”

Although Quicksilver/Max headlines today’s tale, he doesn’t really play an integral role in bringing the villain to justice. Perhaps that is because the real star is Fred Guardineer, who lends his atypically striking art to the effort. Given his masterful depiction of an otherwise lurid murder mystery, it’s easy to see why Guardineer would become such an integral part of the wildly successful Crime Does Not Pay comic.

From National Comics #28 (Quality Comics, January 1943), here’s “At The Circus!” The art, if you haven’t already guessed, is by Guardineer.

National 28-45

National 28-46

National 28-47

National 28-48

National 28-49

National 28-50

National 28-51

Get Off My Lawn!

35

The Golden Age Spider Woman was an unusual heroine even by the era’s standards. Helen Goddard, a beautiful shut-in who lived alone in the Ozarks, dressed up as a gigantic spider to keep intruders off her property.

Given that the character only appeared once before fading into the mists of comic-book history, it seems Ms. Goddard’s quest for solitude was a rousing success.

The following tale originally appeared in Major Victory Comics #1 (Harry A. Chesler, 1941). The story and art are uncredited.

36

37

38

39

40

41

Poor Man’s Batman

wow21p33

As conceived by writer France Heron and artist Jack Kirby, Mr. Scarlet was Fawcett’s answer to Batman, one that was every bit as cold and ruthless as Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original depiction of The Dark Knight.

The tone of the series rapidly softened, however, as the Crimson Crusader (Hey, why not?) adopted a sunnier attitude and picked up a teenage sidekick, the unfortunately named Pinky. Competent, if unexciting, adventures ensured.

Somewhere along the way, though, somebody in the Fawcett bullpen came up with a brilliant idea: What happens when a masked crime fighter succeeds beyond his wildest dreams?

In the case of Mr. Scarlet, a district attorney in his civilian life, the hero finds himself standing in the unemployment line. The character was so good at his work that illegal activities in Gotham City – believe it or not, Scarlet’s hometown was identified as such in Wow Comics # 1 – ground to a screeching halt and the good citizens no longer required the services of criminal law attorneys.

The end result effectively lampooned the concept of millionaire crime-fighters as Mr. Scarlet literally became the “poor man’s Batman.” The remainder of his adventures, which lasted until 1948, found the super-hero struggling to support himself and his ward as he continued battling the threat of the month.

Until Peter Parker came along 14 years later, I’m not sure comics saw a more hard-luck super-hero than Fawcett’s Mr. Scarlet.

From Wow Comics # 21 (Fawcett, January 1944), here’s the excellently titled “Out To Lunch – With Danger.” The art is uncredited, but the story is provided by one of the medium’s greatest writers: Otto Binder.

wow21p34

wow21p35

wow21p36

wow21p37

wow21p38

wow21p39

wow21p40

wow21p41

wow21p42

wow21p43

wow21p44

wow21p45