Brand Echh – Blue Beetle #54

This obscure issue of Charlton’s BLUE BEETLE series–not the version re-conceptualized by Steve Ditko but the earlier, super-powered version, seems like any other throw-away Charlton comic of the era–good for a few moments of entertainment, but not at all memorable for any particular reason. But this issue is noteworthy for being one of the earliest works of one of the most storied names in the history of the medium.

Before he came to Marvel, before he was hired by DC’s Mort Weisinger for a job that lasted less than two weeks, Roy Thomas was a school teacher and comic book fan who put most of his efforts into working on fanzines, typically in concert with his friend and mentor Dr. Jerry Bails. So when Charlton, seeing an opportunity to maybe generate some goodwill and get some work done cheaply, reached out through the fanzines soliciting scripts for potential stories, Roy decided he’d try his hand. He submitted two: a Son of Vulcan story and a Blue Beetle story. Both of them wound up seeing print–though not before Roy was firmly ensconced in his new role as Marvel staff writer and assistant editor.

So this issue of BLUE BEETLE represents some of the earliest work Roy Thomas wrote for comics. Reading over it, you can see that he doesn’t entirely have the hang of things quite yet–it would take working under Stan Lee for that to happen. But he’s enthusiastic and energetic, and he could string words together, which no doubt made him far better than most others who submitted their stories to Charlton for publication. And the outfit was only paying something like $2.00 a page for stories, so you get what you pay for.

The story was illustrated by Bill Fraccio, who had a long career in comic books stretching back to the Golden Age of the 1940s. I can’t say that I’m really attracted to his work–there’s a definite crudity to the panels and images. Fraccio drew every sort of comic book during his time in the industry, and so it could simply be that, like so many others, depicting super heroes wasn’t his strong point.

I think it’s apparent that, while Roy had become a fan of the new Marvel heroes, here he was channeling they style and approach of his favorite comic book author of the period, Gardner Fox. There isn’t a whole lot of characterization of any kind in this story, but there is plenty of plot, and Roy leans on his education in coming up with interesting historical facts that he can exploit and make dramatic.

Never one to let a good idea go, Roy later introduced the villainous Scarlet Scarab in the pages of INVADERS as a bit of a nod to this story. Even later than that, he produced an INFINITY INC. tale that was a direct sequel to this adventure–by that time, DC had purchased the Charlton heroes lock, stock and barrel.

Fraccio’s Blue Beetle sadly looks like an over-inflated balloon a lot of the time, as in the final panel here.

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