Wednesday, 8 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Blue Beetle #5 (April 1965)

50 YEARS AGO - April 1965
BLUE BEETLE #5 (Charlton Comics)
"The Red Knight"
By Joe Gill (w); Bill Fracchio(p); Tony Tallarico (i) & Pat J. Masulli (e)

This was the final appearance of the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett. The character had been around since 1939 when he first appeared in Fox Feature Syndicate's Mystery Men Comics #1. Like all other costumed heroes aside from Superman, Batman and to a lesser degree Wonder Woman, the character eventually fell out of popularity with the rise of the fright rags which began to dominate comics newsstands in the 1950's. Blue Beetle was revived only months prior to this issue by Charlton Comics in Blue Beetle #2, with new powers and a new origin (also a new spelling of his last name, adding a second 't' to Garrett). Arguably, it's a different character altogether, but at the pace with which comics companies and now even film studios revamp, revise, re-tool and retcon established characters, which is the "real" version of any character?

The stories and art on this Blue Beetle series (4 issues) are of relatively poor quality. 50 years ago, Marvel and DC Comics had very little competition in the superhero game. There was Archie Comics "Red Circle" line of heroes led by The Fly and The Jaguar who were later joined by The Mighty Crusaders and there was Charlton (Tower Comics had yet to join the fray with Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents). Charlton's Captain Atom and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt were minor draws, but Charlton's version of the Dan Garrett Blue Beetle never truly found his audience.

The main story in this issue, "The Red Knight" moves at a brisk pace, arguably too brisk a pace as in the space of two pages we're introduced to Garrett's chess buddy, physicist Lew Coll and his experimental rocket, then he takes off in that rocket and heads to Saturn even as he's just showing Garrett the rocket. From panel to panel it's "hey, check out my new rocket" and then "so long, bitches, I'm going to Saturn!" By the time he comes back he's a changed man. He tells his fiancee to go away and she does so without argument. This is the mark of the rushed story, things just sort of happen and are taken for granted by the writer. The characters are not living, breathing, feeling, thinking individuals, each of their actions serves a story purpose and nothing else. There isn't much for the reader to latch onto with a set-up like that and thus, the short four issue run.

When the villain of the piece finally emerges, he does so fully realized. He goes from a normal man with no powers to riding a flying horse that travels at 600 knots from page to page. His only special attribute, as it's explained is his access to the impenetrable Siliconium, which he finds on Saturn to make a suit out of. Why and how is his horse flying though? It's a question that the creators didn't care enough to answer.

Ultimately, Blue Beetle is interrupted and upstaged in his own book by a Frank McLaughlin short called "Nightmare", which appeared between parts II and III of the main story. It's a three-page sci-fi piece about a man falling into the clutches of demonic-looking aliens, but are they really what they seem? It's not a great short, but the storytelling is a step up.

This issue also had a fan letter from future comics artist Alan Weiss with the added bonus of his re-designed costume / Blue Beetle pin-up. A decade later Weiss would become on of the best cover artists in the comics business. He's one of the finest artists all around, but was mostly a fill-in artist, never lasting on a book for more than two or three issues at a stretch. But in 1965, he was a Blue Beetle fan, one of the few.

Blue Beetle would be revived again by Charlton, this time with some serious gusto by comics legend Steve Ditko, fresh off his storm-out from Marvel. In Ditko's iteration of the character, Garrett has died between issues and Ted Kord has taken up the mantle, with a new, improved costume. This would be the character that was brought over to DC when the publishing titan bought the rights to the Charlton heroes back in 1983. He was also the inspiration for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Nite Owl character from their critical darling Watchmen (Did you know that all of the costumed heroes in Watchmen were based on DC's recently purchased line of Charlton heroes? DC wouldn't let the creators use the Charlton characters so they invented their own interpretations).

DC has since re-vamped the character one final time, in what is arguably the most popular version of the character as young Jaime Reyes. His resemblance to Spider-Man, both in attitude and costume is probably neither accidental nor incidental considering Reyes's mentor Ted Kord was created by Spider-Man co-creator Ditko, but that's some pure speculation right there.

After putting the final issue of Blue Beetle aside and either forgetting about it for all time or simply burning it, it was time for a complete artistic reversal. It was time to check out the latest album from one of the most challenging, but finest artists of theirs or any era:

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues - HQ from Noisefield on Vimeo.

Bob Dylan is one of the most successful recording artists of the 20th century, in terms of sales, artistic quality and influence. The man is a legend. He became that way by challenging his audience in a seemingly impulsive fashion. His artist growth was rapid, he left many in his dust. 50 years ago, he broke all his own rules.

He started out in high school as a Little Richard / Jerry Lee Lewis type piano-rocker but eschewed all rock & roll adornment upon his discovery of folk-singer Woody Guthrie. He drove to New York where he was "discovered" and signed by John Hammond who earlier re-discovered Robert Johnson and would later "discover" Bruce Springsteen. Dylan's first four records were mostly acoustic folk, but a limited band was introduced on a couple tunes on the 'Another Side' album released in '64. The change from protest songs to rockers shocked and stung the folk community, many turned their backs on Dylan for good, swearing off the artist forever. But Dylan always had his roots in rock & roll. His first single "Mixed Up Confusion" is a high energy honky-tonker and there's even a version of Dylan's "House of the Rising Sun" with drums long before The Animals recorded their version. The idea of bringing in a band had always been floating around for Dylan.

He let it all come out on 'Bringing It All Back Home'. No matter how virulent the negative reaction to it was by the hardcore folk contingent, the influence of this album was sweeping. Not only did it inspire a generation of garage rockers, the impact was felt by successful, mainstream bands like The Beatles and The Byrds.

The above video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is also, arguably, the first true promo video, for good or ill. And yes, that rabbinical, bearded figure in the background is legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Another rule breaking artist with a new project out and about at that time was filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis with his bold Color Me Blood Red, circulating in theaters.

As is to be expected from Lewis, this movie is pure sleaze and that's why I love it. It's about a temperamental artist who finds a new material to paint with. I think that says it all. Color Me Blood Red was written and directed by Lewis and stars Don Joseph, Candi Conder, Elyn Warner, Patricia Lee and Jerome Eden. Watch it here:

Color Me Blood Red (1965) - Feature by FilmGorillas


  1. Yeah, that wasn't the final issue. Still five more to come after that one.

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