Posted in: Comics, Heritage Sponsored, Vintage Paper | Tagged: blue beetle, Fox Feature Syndicate, golden age
Mystery Men Comics #1 featuring the debut of the Blue Beetle remains one of the most overlooked yet important Golden Age comic book keys.
The first appearance of the original Blue Beetle, Mystery Men Comics #1 remains one of the most overlooked key comic books of the golden age. Hitting newsstands around June 15, 1939, this series was launched very near the beginning of the super-hero wavefront that ultimately transformed pop culture. Mystery Men Comics #1 hit the newsstand in the same month as Action Comics #14, Detective Comics #29 (two issues after the debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27), and Adventure Comics #40 (the debut of the golden age Sandman). Unrestored copies of this key comic book rarely hit the market in anything above low grade. The Mystery Men Comics #1 (Fox, 1939) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white pages up for auction in the 2023 September 28 The Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40239 at Heritage Auctions appears to be the highest-graded copy available at public auction since the Edgar Church/Mile High copy changed hands six years ago.
Like the Sandman’s debut in Adventure Comics #40 that same month, the Blue Beetle’s debut in Mystery Men Comics #1 from Fox Features Syndicate featured the character as a classic pulp-fiction mystery man. Dan Garrett as Blue Beetle had more than a few similarities to Sandman in the beginning — he was just a man in a suit, hat, and goggles. He even utilized gas as a weapon in this issue (in throwable, capsule form). The Blue Beetle’s debut story here was drawn by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski, perhaps from a script by Will Eisner. The character was likely created by Wojtkoski.
The timing of this release is worth noting from another perspective as well. The material in this issue was likely in production at publisher Victor Fox‘s Fox Features Syndicate just as the April 2, 1939 judgment in DC v Bruns lawsuit was handed down. In that decision, Judge Learned Hand of United States District Court, Southern District of New York, ruled that Fox’s Wonderman character infringed on DC’s Superman copyright, saying, “Inasmuch as I have found unfair use by the defendants, that means infringement of the plaintiff’s copyrights and entitles the plaintiff under the Copyright Act to a judgment for an injunction with costs and to damages and profits.”
But this setback didn’t sour the tenacious Victor Fox on the superhero genre. The Blue Beetle character evolved quickly from pulp-like mystery man to comic book superhero in the early months of Mystery Men Comics. He had his first full-on Blue Beetle costume by issue #2, which would continue to evolve over the next few issues. He got his first cover on Mystery Men Comics #7, (that’s actually the character Green Mask on that #1 cover) and had his own series a few weeks after that. By 1940, Fox had managed to launch a short-lived radio serial and comic strip as well. At around the same time, the character was even inspiring readers to dress up like superheroes and attempt to fight crime, according to the March 29, 1940 edition of the Sacramento Bee newspaper. By mid-1941, Fox had signed on with Columbia for a Blue Beetle film serial, but a series of events the next year scuttled that plan.
In 1942, Fox Feature Syndicate was forced into bankruptcy by creditors. One of those creditors, printer Holyoke Press took over the title. With Fox’s Blue Beetle and other titles the publisher acquired under similar circumstances from Frank Z. Temerson, Holyoke decided to get into the comic book publishing business. Holyoke published the series from Blue Beetle #12-30, and after a one-issue transition, Temerson’s staff led by Allan Ulmer and Charles Quinlan, best known for his work on Cat-Man Comics took over Blue Beetle for Holyoke. Less than three months after Fox’s bankruptcy, Blue Beetle was up and running again at Holyoke. One of the early moves that Quinlan and company made was to give the character a sidekick. Sparky debuted with issue #14 of the series, but was replaced by a different sidekick character, Spunky in issue #18.
Blue Beetle in the Post-WWII Era
Victor Fox regained publishing control over the character beginning with Blue Beetle #31 in 1944, after a legal battle with Holyoke. Beginning with that issue, Blue Beetle slowly began to develop near Superman-level power, and his adventures expanded to include science fiction and fantasy elements. Generally speaking, this period of the character covers Blue Beetle #31-44. In August 1946, Blue Beetle (and Green Mask) were halted, and Fox’s rising tide of funny animal and other humor titles completely took over the company. Such titles are all Fox Feature Syndicate published for the subsequent eight months. Perhaps prompted by Samuel “Jerry” Iger, Fox began to put a new plan of “good girl” and crime-focused comics in motion with titles that hit newsstands in April 1947, and Blue Beetle resumed with issue #45, touting itself as the “Return of America’s No. 1 Hero.”
However, the Blue Beetle series was effectively canceled in 1948 with issue #57. This “good girl” era of the series had landed Blue Beetle and much of the rest of the Fox line were on numerous local comic book ban lists, as the industry was feeling heat from public pressure over ostensibly salacious content during this period. The beautiful women drawn by Jack Kamen and others had been increasingly pushing the title character off the covers almost entirely by that time, and true crime-style content sometimes crowding him out of the interior stories. The title would briefly return in 1950 near the end of the Fox Feature Syndicate lifespan, with a more traditional style of superhero story.
Dan Garrett as Blue Beetle eventually ended up at comic publisher Charlton, who revamped him for the Silver Age. Charlton then introduced the Ted Kord version of the character in a Captain Atom #83 back-up story by Gary Friedrich and Steve Ditko in 1966. DC Comics acquired the character along with the Charlton line in 1983. In his current incarnation, Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle was introduced in 2006’s Infinite Crisis and has been the subject of a live-action film in 2023.
Mystery Men Comics #1 deserves to be considered a major Golden Age comic book key, and unrestored copies of this key comic book rarely hit the market in anything above low grade. The Mystery Men Comics #1 (Fox, 1939) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white pages up for auction in the 2023 September 28 The Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40239 at Heritage Auctions appears to be the highest-graded copy available at public auction since the Edgar Church/Mile High copy changed hands six years ago.
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