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Blue Beetle 1
"The Giant Mummy Who Was Not Dead"

Script: Joe Gill
Art: Tony Tallarico

Before Steve Ditko revamped the Blue Beetle as a backup in Captain Atom, a mystically charged hero of the same name fought the good fight for a 10-issue run. Publication during the Golden Age might have given these books a cachet worth a bit of gravity, but they came 20 years too late. I couldn't resist digging them up for another look anyway.

Chapter 1: The youthful, pipe-smoking Dr. Daniel Garrett, a leading archeologist and authority on ancient Egypt, has been offered the chance to lead an expedition to investigate some "predynastic treasures" at a dig in El-Alil. Garrett passes on the offer "for now," because there had been some nuclear devices exploded in the area! Furthermore, he says that the artifacts have been there for 6,000 years, and that "a few more years won't make much difference." That evening, at home, his studies are interrupted by a knock on the door: it's Professor Luri Hoshid. As he politely asks her to leave, she drops her coat, revealing her shapely young self to be dressed rather daringly as "a dancer in the court of Abydos, 1305 B.C.!" He'd been rude the other times she'd attempted a meeting but this time he waves her in. She gets right to the point, warning him that the proposed dig is at the burial site of Kha-Ef-Re, the Evil Pharaoh! He replies that he'd just changed his mind and will lead the expedition after all, if she'll act as his Egyptian contemporary; she shows her gratitude, to his surprise, with a peck on the cheek.

Soon, they are on site and the workers have dug down to an entryway. A scowling statue flanking the doors causes Garrett to comment that the old Pharaoh was "allied with the powers of darkness." Luri expresses uneasiness, and Dan, taking her hands, asks her to dinner. Then, Garrett, an experienced pilot, flies the two of them toward Cairo in the expedition's twin-engine plane. Suddenly, they find themselves in the path of long-range missiles with "what look to be" nuclear warheads! He wonders who in that part of the world has nukes, and upon which side of the border they're based. Garrett suggests heading back, but Luri warns against it. General Amenhotep, descendent of a mighty ruler, is in command of disputed though unwanted territory down below. From there, he dreams of conquering the world!

Later, in Cairo, the pair happen to be dining in the same place as the General, who is bullying the staff. Garrett challenges him over his bad manners, is restrained by his stooges, and breaks free to punch the General in the gut! Dan and Luri are quickly back in the plane and in the air to avoid the ensuing gunfire.

Next morning, back at the dig, the workers have breached the portal, and the two archaeologists explore the huge rooms. "Oh, Dan...this tomb has an evil smell! I have worked in other excavations but never has my flesh crawled with fear as it does now!" Soon, as they pass through a particular entryway, the workmen ran away as though their lives depended on it! Meanwhile, within, they find evil paintings and a high sacrificial alter...and then, atop the alter, the mummy case of Kha-Ef-Re! On its chest Dan sees a scarab carved of "precious stone"...and a lever which, in a Jimmy Olsen moment, he presses. Immediately, a slit in the ceiling stones opens to flood the room with light! Luri reads an inscription that says that "Kha-Ef-Re will live when the white-hot light touched him again!" Dan wonders if this means the sunlight...or an atomic blast! His attention returns to the blue scarab resting atop the case, guarding it...or acting as the jailer, holding him prisoner in his tomb!

Garrett touches the blue beetle and senses its power, feeling it within himself! And then he is in a dream, transformed back in time and wearing a blue costume, standing before "the most magnificent of the great and good pharaohs!" This presence informs him that the powerful scarab is his as long as he uses its power wisely, and in this instance battles the "mad, bad pharaoh" and his 20th century conspirator. Garrett is suddenly back in the real world, and now magically able to see through solid stone that there's a plane overhead carrying a hydrogen bomb! They must find shelter! The vision power then reveals that Kha-Ef-Re had built a massive lead-lined tomb just around the bend! Speaking a "word from ancient Egypt," Kaji Dha, Garrett is suddenly in costume and crashes through the enormous stone doors blocking that tomb. Just in time...the bomb is about to explode and the Curse of the Tomb of Kha-Ef-Ra is about to come true!

Interlude: a single-page feature on jungle rivers. It looks to be drawn, and nicely, by Vince Colletta, not long before he became a Marvel mainstay.

Chapter 2: The Birth of Evil!

General Amenhotep's supersonic bomber drops a bomb toward the tomb of Kha-Ef-Re! Its searing light bursts above the desert as well as below, thanks to that opening in the stone ceiling! Suddenly Dan and Luri are confronted by a spindly, living mummy...huge, they tell us, and growing every second thanks to the atomic light!...which, fortunately, has left them unharmed. The mummy is soon so large it bursts through the chamber ceiling and into the world! The plane zooms off while radioing Gen. Amenhotep of these developments. In the pit, Luri is scared, while Dan intones his magic words and changes into the Beetle. He then asks her professional opinion: "Where do you think the evil pharaoh would go now?" She surmises it would be to the one who gave him life, and she intends to go there too! The Beetle then flies off without her, to be fired upon by one of the General's fighter jets. The bullets bounce off him. Its pilot "suddenly received a telepathic message, words of fire in his brain which were 'Abandon your aircraft, puppet of evil or else!'" Beetle then zaps the plane with an offhand gesture, causing it to explode! Standing then atop he head of the sphinx, Beetle's vision power shows that "the giant mummy who is not dead" reported to General Amenhotep, who the mummy recognizes as a descendant of his dynasty.

The General then blathers on about ruling the world, calling the mummy a reincarnation of the evil pharaoh, which is an accurate assessment of the situation, come to think of it. The Beetle then arrives on the scene, threatening to invoke hieroglyphics that will put the mummy back in the time and place of his origin. But the mummy blasts him with eye beams, draining our brave Beetle of his power and leaving him unconscious! The General surmises that the beetle scarab is the source of our hero's power, and reaches toward it, while musing that he will have the mummy destroy the Beetle and the scarab both!

Interlude: A single-page educational feature on the Platypus. The art may be by Don Perlin.

Chapter 3: The Mummy's Return!

The General pauses before removing the scarab and smiles evilly, daydreaming of the mummy doing a Godzilla dance through a city. This is the General's final appearance in the story!

Meanwhile, Luri is driving a jeep toward the camp, fearful of Dan Garrett's safety. Instinct leads her to a huge stone altar in the middle of nowhere, just in time to see the mummy leaning over and staring intently at the Beetle. The mummy continues looking on as she shakes Dan awake, handing him the scarab and urging him to say the magic words. Which he does. The mummy finally raises a fist to take him out, and they fight for a page. The Beetle flies into the mummy's jaw and knocks him, whereupon the old guy shrinks to his original size. Just for safekeeping, Beetle places him inside the lead lined chamber and fuses the rock shut with his vision power. Then, a panel to destroy the General's arsenal of missiles. From there, a panel of debriefing with the Great Pharaoh who'd given him the Beetle powers, where Dan is told to go forth and do good. Finally, a panel of sultry Luri with her arms around Dan's neck, as he heroically spurns her in order to be ready when called on another sacred mission. The end!

Then: a two-page text story involving cops and doctors. Then: a three-page story about fossils, with pencils by Nicholas Alascia (sp?) and inks by Vinnie Colletta.

That's 27 pages of mid-grade amusement for your ten cents.

The first round of Charlton action heroes...Blue Beetle, Son of Vulcan, Fightin' Five...tends to be set aside in favor of the later, Giordano-edited books. While DC or Marvel's 1964 comics had better art, I found Joe Gill's writing here to be on a par with that on Marvel second-stringers in 1962: Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man. That is to say, after years of writing western, romance and suspense comics, Gill was now finding his way with costumed adventurers, just as Stan Lee, Larry Leiber and Robert Bernstein (AWOL from DC!) had done a few years earlier.

Tony Tallarico's art had some easygoing charm but never rated well on anyone's list. Certainly his Charlton work didn't show a lot of emotional commitment, in contrast to the new DC and Marvel costume comics. Heroic characters did not suit his strengths; the good-natured, plain storytelling was perhaps more appropriate to romance comics. (Similarly, over at Marvel, one early issue of Thor was drawn by Al Hartley, who had been drawing teen clotheshorse Patsy Walker. Hartley followed some Kirby issues with a surprisingly able but radically different approach...and was replaced immediately by the more conventional but very dynamic Joe Sinnott.)

The cover, with Giordano's inks over Tarrarico, paints an idealized picture of the interior art. Dick added a lot of bulk to the mummy, for starters. The styles didn't mesh, I don't think: it's all technically better but lacks any immediacy. Tallarico's inks weren't as polished but were better suited to his own pencils.

The atmospheric script plays to every kid's interest in old monster movies, and is heavy on historic details. They may even be accurate. The Comics Code banned the living dead, so the story title guaranteed that the old boy still had some life in him. A decade later, Marvel (and writer Tony Isabella) used the same ploy by calling its character The Living Mummy. (Luri does slip up and refer once to the mummy as "undead," but we all know what she meant.)

The tone achieved by the creative team is not as simplistic as Golden Age, but not as fresh and engaging as early Silver Age, either. A fair comparison could be made to the breezy mid-50s' Fighting American, or to DC's backup features. Unfortunately, the book made its debut in the same year as Batman's New Look and the intro of the X-Men. Oy.

Tom Orzechowski
San Francisco CA