Jaime Reyes, the current holder of the mantle of the superheroic Blue Beetle, has once again lost his monthly title.  In honor of another final ish of Blue Beetle, let’s take a trip back to a dusty old corner of the Silver Age and see how that worked out for one of the previous Beetles!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Blue Beetle #54 awaits!

Blue Beetle #54 CoverBLUE BEETLE #54

Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: Bill Fraccio
Inker: Tony Tallarico
Letterer: A. Machine
Editor: Pat Masulli
Publisher: Charlton Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $65.00

Previously in Blue Beetle: Things have been a bit strange in the publishing history of our Beetley pal, something that would continue into the lives of future incarnations as well.  His career began with Fox Features in 1939, the very dawn of the Golden Age, but transitioned to Holyoke Comics for a couple dozen issues before returning to Fox til 1950.  L. Miller & Sons put out three issues circa 1950, restarting his numbering with #1, followed by three issues from Streamline Comics that same years.  Revived again in 1955, Blue Beetle got a series of reprints that started with issue #18 (Charlton routinely kept the numbering of other books, in this case ‘The Thing’, to get around mailing license issues) before going dormant again.  Then, in 1964, came the big changes: A new Blue Beetle #1, new powers and a new origin for Dan Garrett, turning him from beat cop using Vitamin 2-X into an Egyptologist with a magical scarab and undefined (but mighty!) powers.  After issue #5, though, the book renumbered, with the next issue being #50, proving that there is literally nothing new in comics, just variations on old themes.  This issue is the final one of that Charlton Volume 3 Blue Beetle Run, as well as the final issue to feature Dan as the protagonist, for ominous reasons.

We open in Egypt, as Dan Garrett’s lady friend Professor Luri Hoshid makes a startling discovery…

Realizing that she’s fallen right into the middle of what she’s been searching for, rising to her feet to find herself face to face…  Erm, face to eye?  Either way, she has discovered the legendary Eye Of Horus!  Thanks to her young friend Hashim, she is able to climb out and reports her discovery to Professor Philipps, the director of her museum, who turns out to be an untrustworthy sort…

You’d have though that Philipps’ Crazy Eyes would have tipped her off to his nefarious ways, but no matter…  Luri has an ace in the hole in the form of her would-be paramour Dan Garrett, secretly the powerful crime-crushing dynamo known as Blue Beetle!  Philipps succeeds in awakening the Eye, only to be disintegrated for his hubris, as it turns its baleful purple sclera on Luri and Hashim…

Man, that Beetle really knows how to make a timely entrance, doesn’t he?  This issue’s art is handled by Tony Tallarico, who is not always the most consistent penciler around, but part of me is sure there’s a conscious attempt being made here to ape the figure work of Jack Kirby in the Beetle’s attacks.  It’s unsuccessful and doesn’t really have the same power, but it IS there, nonetheless.  (The old apocryphal tale of the editor who couldn’t figure out Marvel’s sudden Silver Age surge in sales and attributed it to “the terrible art” comes to mind here.)  Dan suggests that he and Luri enjoy a night out to celebrate… something?  It’s not clear, as he knows that the Eye Of Horus isn’t gone for good, but nonetheless they go dancing and the Purple Sphinx.  That’s when the Eye arrives and begins transforming people into hawk-headed servants…  including, unbeknownst to Dan, Luri herself!

All seems lost, as our hero drops his magic totem and becomes part of the Eye’s army of bird-creatures, but Luri’s young mascot, Hashim, finds the scarab and quickly puts two and two together.  (Either this boy’s sharp as a tack, or Blue Beetle is really bad at keeping a secret identity.  For the sake of the story, I’m assuming the former…)  Hashim slips Dan the scarab and tricks him into reading the inscription…

One Captain-Marvel-style energy flash later, The Blue Beetle is on the scene!  (The use of the scarab to transform is one of the major reasons that I consider Charlton’s Silver Age BB to be a separate character from the Fox/Holyoke/Etc. Golden Age version, by the by.  Others have argued differently, and mileage varies, but for me, this short-lived incarnation is his own, separate character.)  Blue Beetle is freed from the Eye’s influence, but Hashim is injuring by falling stones, leaving our hero with two problems to resolve.  Leaping into action, Beetle finds that the Eye has revenge on its iris, starting with a fatal flood…

This Blue Beetle’s powers are comparable to Superman himself, allowing him the magical ability to do pretty much anything he wishes.  This, sadly, works against him in most stories, making him seem a bit dim, but this story has stronger plotting, thanks to the work of a very young Roy Thomas.  The future Marvel E-I-C and overlord of Earth-2 at DC would be a staff writer at the House Of Ideas by the summer of 1966, but this issue was one of his earliest professional sales.  Blue Beetle is able to repair the dam, but realizes that the Eye speaks as though they have fought before.  Consulting with the Wizard Shazam Great Pharoah who empowered him, Dan realizes that the Eye fought the Pharoah himself centuries before…

See what I mean about ham-fisted Kirby influence?  Journeying back through the mists of time to the center of the Scarab’s mind, Dan discovers the Eye’s most terrible secret: It’s True Name!

Returning to his friends, Blue Beetle uses some of his own heroic essence to heal Hashim’s terrible injuries, making me wonder if Roy was setting up a kid sidekick situation in these pages.  Unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t terribly clear, Blue Beetle has to leave his lady friend and his new pal immediately to brood about his lot in life…

As endings go, this is pretty standard stuff, especially at Charlton, where plots would sometimes whip back and forth willy-nilly and end just because they had to.  Still, seeing as how this is Dan’s final appearance as Blue Beetle, the question of “blessing or curse” is a meaningful one that will be a definitive answer in the near future.  This issue features a backup story with equally strange art by Fraccio and Tallarico, once again supporting my Kirby-Knockoff hypothesis…

Of course, this issue also features theupcoming REAL end of Dan Garrett as Blue Beetle, in the form of a Charlton house ad that featuring their newly-minted ‘Charlton Action Heroes’ branding…

Not long after this issue, under the editorial helm of Dick Giordano, the Action Heroes line will launch The Peacemaker, a new-and-different Captain Atom, Judomaster and…  a revamped Blue Beetle, written and drawn by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.  That Beetle, one Ted Kord, has an origin that starts with Dan Garrett’s death and the loss of the Scarab, seemingly forever, putting the last notes on the sonata that was the original Blue Beetle.  Of course, that’s down the line a bit, but Blue Beetle #54 works just fine as the end of this particular era, giving us a solid story by Thomas with art that…

Ummm…

…stuck to the printing plates, earning a run-of-the-1966-mill 2 out of 5 stars overall.  Unless you’re a weirdo completist like me, this issue serves mostly as an interesting footnote and a prequel to an Infinity Inc. story twenty-odd years later where the Eye Of Horus returns with a terrible vengeance…

[taq_review]

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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