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.
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.