This is the last issue of Secret Origins I’m reading for a while–I’ve decided to dive into some other comics in my longboxes–and was one that I kind of shrugged at both before and after I read it. And it’s not that I have anything against any version of the Blue Beetle; I think that maybe several days in a row of super hero origin stories (many of which were densely written by Roy Thomas) burned me out a little. Or maybe it was the story itself?
Len Wein, who would go on to write the ongoing Blue Beetle series the following month, gives Thomas the month off and writes this as essentially a “zero issue” to the Blue Beetle series (before those were a thing) and Gil Kane is on art Paris Cullins and Bruce Patterson would handle art chores on Beetle’s book). He tackles the origins of two versions of the character, starting with Dan Garrett and then moving into Garrett’s protege, Ted Kord. Garrett as a character had made his debut in August 1939 and the origin story that Wein tells here reflects a numbe of other hero stories of the time, although cursory research indicates this may have been a retconned version of Garrett’s origin. At any rate, Garrett, like Carter Hall, is an archaeologist who Alan Quartermains his way into finding the sacred scarab of an ancient pharoah and goes on to fight crime as Blue Beetle. Ted Kord is a student of his who is beginning a promising career as an inventor and the adventure that leads to his career as the Beetle involves he and Garrett fighting mad scientists and robot on Pago Island during which Garrett is killed and Kord vows to take over the mantle of the Blue Beetle.
Ted Kord was a character that I first encountered when I first read Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1990 or so, and I’d then read a few issues of his tenure in the Justice League. I knew him as a wisecracking science/tech-forward hero who had a giant bug vehicle and was often the victim of lame jokes about his weight. After reading this issue, I did a little research and saw that the character had been originally published by Fox Comics and then Holyoke Publishing before it fell into obscurity and was then picked up by Charlton Comics in the 1960s. DC bought the character from Charloton in the 1980s and he made his first appearance (along with the other recently purchased Charlton heroes) in Crisis; what Wein was doing for the audience was basically recapping those companies had already published and doing what I understand would have been a “picking and choosing” retcon where they decided what was in continuity and what was not.
Now, I don’t know what, if any, fans were screaming “But you took away my stories!” as a result of this–I imagined that Blue Beetle had fans but I can’t imagine the reaction being like Superman fans who were upset with John Byrne. And while I said at the beginning of the review that it was an issue that I wasn’t too excited by, it’s by no means a bad comic. Wein does a solid job of mixing old serial adventures with James Bond type of stuff (Golden and Silver Age, basically) and while 1980s Gil Kane isn’t my favorite, at least the art is dynamic enough to be intriguing, even if in places it feels like a Bronze Age book instead of something from post-Crisis DC.
I’ll come back to Secret Origins later, but maybe more sporadically. This series is showing me that like most anthology series I’ve read, it would have been great on a monthly basis with a breather between stories.
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