The Blue Beetle Companion
By Christopher Irving – Published by Two Morrow Publishing – ISBN 978-1-893905-70-2 – 128 pages
The Blue Beetle Companion is as odd a book as the characters it documents. You never lose the sense that its really a collection of magazine articles that have been reformatted and reworked as a book. The largest part of it focuses on an obscure golden age character who most people have only heard about because another character took over his identity. Even through Ted Kord or Jaime Reyes appear on the cover of this book it’s really about the Dan Garret/t Blue Beetle and his origins in the 1940s.
The greater share of this book goes to a biography of a gentleman called Victor Fox. There is a – probably apocryphal – story that Fox was DC Comics’ accountant at the time that Superman launched. He is said to have taken one look at home much money DC were making and promptly quit to start his own comic book company. The DC connection may have been apocryphal, but his get rich quick attitude to starting a comic book company wasn’t. His shenanigans and adventures sound like they’d fit right at home with the escapades of the JLI’s Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.
Fox would copy anything if he thought he could get away with it and make money at it. His comic book company produced a series of features that deliberate ripped-off other characters – the first one was so close to Superman that DC sued. Fox’s knock-off of the Green Hornet was called the Blue Beetle. Except that this Blue Beetle doesn’t have much in common with the more well-known technologist Ted Kord or high school student Jaime Reyes, or even for that matter the archeologist Dan Garrett. Fox’s Beetle was a rookie police man/detective/secret agent (they couldn’t decide) called Dan Garret (one t). He occasionally looked like the later Garrett, but there was no magical scarab or for that matter consistency.
Christopher Irving presents a story of how Fox would try almost every possible avenue to promote the Beetle with steadily decreasing results. Radio, newspaper strips, promotional days, having the character appear in your home town (so that’s where JMS got the idea). You name it Fox tried it. And in almost every case they were short-lived and not very good. Irving goes through each of these 1940s twists in detail and there is a descent amount of reproduced material – Fox never cared much for copyright so the early stuff is in the public domain.
What did surprise me was the weighting of the 1940s stuff versus the Silver Age and Modern material. The material on Charlton (from whom DC bought the character) starts on page 99 and this is a 125 page book – that’s 80% of the space. The brevity of the Charlton Comics section and the DC section really doesn’t do the later characters justice. Indeed, it would have been great as several chapters from a larger Charlton Comics companion or even a Fox Comics Companion. Don’t get me wrong, what is there is good, it’s just brief. This is a Two Morrow’s publication so you’d have thought they could have reproduced an interview or two from Comic Book Artist or some where similar. And the most surprising part was that Nite Owl – who was closely based on the Beetle – barely gets a paragraph.
The Blue Beetle Companion is a very good book in as far as it goes – I just wish it could have gone further.