THE BLUE BEETLEOriginal Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Fox Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Charles Nicholas
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If ever there was a surprise hit in comics, it had to be The Blue Beetle. He wasn't written or drawn very well in fact, his creator and principal early artist, Charles Nicholas (born Charles Wojtkowski), spent
decades in the comics business without doing anything of note except create this one character. He wasn't promoted by his publisher, Fox Feature Syndicate (Jo-Jo, The Bouncer). In fact, his debut was only four pages long, placed toward the rear of Mystery Men Comics #1 (August, 1939). He didn't have a particularly intriguing origin story — in fact, he didn't have an origin story at all; he just turned up in costume, battling evil. There was nothing about him that wasn't derivative of some earlier character — even his name (and no explanation was ever given as to why he'd chosen such an odd one) was a blatant copy of The Green Hornet, a radio hero who inspired several early comic book characters. And he wasn't the first to rip off The Green Hornet, either. The Crimson Avenger beat him into print by eight months.
And yet, from these humble beginnings, he quickly rose to be a major star. With the February, 1940 issue, he replaced The Green Mask as Mystery Men's cover feature, and remained on the cover from then on. The first issue of his own comic was dated Winter, 1939-40. A few months later, he became one of the stars of Big 3, where Fox got extra mileage out of its big three (him, The Flame and Samson). He had a radio show in the early 1940s (with movie actor Frank Lovejoy doing his voice), as well as a newspaper strip — drawn by Jack Kirby (whose creations range from The Vision to Devil Dinosaur, and points beyond), before Kirby became famous in the comics business. And when the other superheroes started dying like flies, The Blue Beetle still had years of life ahead of him.
Like The Guardian and The Black Hood, The Blue Beetle was a police officer in his everyday identity. Patrolman Dan Garret had a partner named Mike Mannigan, who was not only too stupid to realize Garret and The Beetle were one and the same — for years, he was convinced Garret's costumed persona was a master criminal. The love interest, Joan Mason, was also oblivious of Dan's dual identity, despite the fact that she was, like Superman's girlfriend, a newspaper reporter.
The Blue Beetle started out as a shadowy, mystery-type hero, like Batman, but soon became a more standard super guy. Using the experimental Vitamin 2X, supplied by a druggist named Dr. Franz, he acquired the usual array of super strength, invulnerability, etc. Later, Franz was dropped, and The Beetle simply had super powers without any explanation given.
Mystery Men Comics lasted until 1942. In his own comic, The Beetle lasted until 1948, long after the superhero ranks had seriously thinned, and came back for another brief spurt of issues in 1950. That's about when Fox Feature Syndicate collapsed.
Several of Fox's properties, including The Beetle, wound up in the hands of Charlton Comics. Charlton reprinted a few Blue Beetle stories in 1955, its first foray into superheroes (unless you count Atomic Mouse and Magic Bunny). There were also a couple of unauthorized reprints by IW/Super Comics in the early 1960s. In 1964, Charlton brought out a new version of the Blue Beetle character, and in '66 they revised him yet again. Both revisions were among the properties Charlton sold to DC Comics in the early 1980s; whereas the original (this one) somehow wound up in the hands of AC Comics (Femforce, Sentinels of Justice), which has since altered his color scheme and renamed him "Scarlet Scorpion" (no relation).
A character named The Blue Beetle is still around, firmly ensconced in the DC Universe, and familiar to many present-day comic book readers. And if that isn't an unlikely success story, what is?