REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS BLUE BEETLE
Mattel's seventh series of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures features some very interesting individuals. Among these, certainly is BLUE BEETLE.
Blue Beetle is one of a number of heroes, that also notably included Captain Atom and The Question, that were brought into the DC Universe as a result of DC acquiring the rights to characters formerly published by the defunct Charlton Comics company. These characters were introduced into DC continuity during 1985's mega-epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, as inhabitants of "Earth-4", one of various Earths in the Multiverse
("Earth-1" is the Earth on which modern adventures and characters exist. "Earth-2" is the home to Golden Age heroes, and "Earth-3" was the home of the villainous Crime Syndicate of America. Other Earths encountered over the years had other non-numerical designations. It was mentioned that the inhabitants of Earth-4 had never encountered anyone from any other Earth before.)
I was well prepared to say in this review that Blue Beetle had been developed in the 1960's along with the rest of the Charlton stable. But as always with these reviews, when preparing the character background, I like to check Wikipedia for detailed information. And this time around, I got a heck of a surprise. It seems that Blue Beetle goes back a lot further than I thought. As a character, he's been around almost as long as Superman and Batman, dating back to an initial appearance in 1939!
The original Blue Beetle, Dan Garret, first appeared in Fox Comics' Mystery Men Comics #1 (cover-dated August 1939), with art by Charles Nicholas Wojtkowski (as Charles Nicholas) (though the Grand Comics Database tentatively credits Will Eisner as the scripter.)
A rookie police officer, he used special equipment, a bulletproof costume (sometimes) and a superstrength-inducing "vitamin", and the assistance of a neighborhood pharmacist to fight crime.
He starred in a comic book series, comic strip and radio serial but, like most Golden Age superheroes, he fell into obscurity in the 1950s.
The comic book series saw a number of anomalies in publication: 19 issues, #12 through #30, were published through Holyoke Publishing; no issue #43 was published; publication frequency varied through the run; and there were gaps where issues were not published, with large ones occurring in early 1947 and between mid-1948 and early 1950.
In the mid-1950s, Fox Comics went defunct and sold rights to the Blue Beetle to Charlton Comics. That company published a few sporadic adventures of the Golden Age character before revamping the hero in 1964. In Dan Garrett's revised origin, he was an archeologist who found a magical Egyptian artifact, resembling a scarab, which he used to fight crime. Charlton tried three times to use the character to carry a self titled series. Two of the attempts retained the numbering of a previous title. These also were eventually replaced with new titles that carried on the numbering.
The new series was short-lived, and in the pages of Captain Atom #83 (cover-dated November, 1966), Charlton introduced Ted Kord, a student of Dan Garrett's who took on the role when Garrett died. Kord was an inventor hero, using a variety of gadgets. This Beetle received his own series in 1967, but the entire Charlton "Action Heroes" line of comic books ceased publication in 1968. With the rest of the Charlton line-up, he was sold to DC Comics in 1983.
The figure produced by Mattel as part of their DC Universe Classics line is definitely the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle.
This version of the character was created by Steve Ditko, and first appeared as a back-up feature in Captain Atom #83 (Nov. 1966), with Gary Friedrich scripting from Ditko's conception and plot.
Ted Kord was a genius-level inventor and a gifted athlete, sharing much more in common with the Fox original than did Charlton's earlier reimagining of the character.
Kord's signature equipment was his bug-shaped personal aircraft, which he entered and exited typically with a cable suspended from the cockpit. He also generally eschewed personal weaponry except for a pistol that made a blinding flash of light and, additionally, a strong airblast to gain the advantage when he closed in for hand-to-hand combat.
Ditko is best known as the co-creator (with Stan Lee) and original artist of Spider-Man at Marvel Comics. While Blue Beetle and Spider-Man have some similar characteristics, such as being wise-cracking, acrobatic, arthropod-themed urban heroes, they evolved into very different characters. Both characters are accomplished inventors (Ted Kord is considered one of the premier minds of the DC Universe), great athletes, and skilled acrobats. Both characters also have strong, if sometimes ill-timed, senses of humor that they use to mask their insecurities -- more so in the case of the Beetle, who has no powers of his own. On the other hand, the Beetle has none of the angst associated with brooding vigilantes like Batman. Unlike Spider-Man, Blue Beetle usually operates in a group rather than alone, but like Spidey, he is a loyal friend. In fact, Beetle has been the best friend of the slightly selfish superhero Booster Gold when the two were paired in the Justice League, and they would continue to feature as a double act until the end of said superhero team.
I doubt it's a coincidence that Booster Gold is a figure in the same series as Blue Beetle.
DC acquired the Charlton heroes in the mid-1980s, and used the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event to integrate them all into the DC Universe. During this period Blue Beetle had his own series, written by Len Wein, which ran for 24 issues from June 1986 to May 1988. Also published during this time was Secret Origins #2 (cover illustrated by Gil Kane), which explained the origins and careers of the Ted Kord and Dan Garrett Blue Beetles in the post-Crisis continuity.
Ted Kord was sometimes shown as an industrialist, the owner of Kord Industries; more often he was short on money, leading to his entering "get-rich-quick" schemes with Booster Gold.
A brief appearance in JLA: Year One showed the young Ted working in Kord Industries R&D, where he designed the JLA HQ security system. Upon meeting the heroes he thought, "Screw the family business. I want to be one of those guys", possibly explaining the company's fluctuating status since he took over. In recent comics, it has been implied that Kord Industries has become a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, headed by Bruce Wayne, better known as Batman.
Blue Beetle is probably best known as the wisecracking member of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis's semi-comedic, five-year run on various Justice League of America titles (notably Justice League International), where he was memorably partnered with fellow third-string hero Booster Gold, and the two quickly became best friends. Among fans, they were known collectively as the "Blue and Gold" team.
After Giffen and DeMatteis left, Justice League America continued to run until #113. Dan Jurgens tied the "Death of Superman" storyline into JLA, in which Doomsday left Blue Beetle in a coma during his murderous rampage and a six-inch scar on the back of his skull. Beetle and Booster both subsequently joined the short-lived Justice League offshoot known as Extreme Justice. Blue Beetle then entered a period of relative obscurity.
In the 80-page special Countdown to Infinite Crisis, published on March 30, 2005, Blue Beetle discovers a revived Checkmate organization led by Maxwell Lord, former bankroller of the JLA, headquartered in a Belgian castle fortress, where Beetle is captured. Lord reveals to Blue Beetle that his intent is to use the organization to ensure that metahumans, including superheroes, will be kept under surveillance and controlled by humans. Lord then gives Beetle an ultimatum to join his organization. When Kord refuses, Lord murders him with a bullet to the head.
That same story had earlier reiterated that Ted Kord had thought the scarab destroyed back in Blue Beetle vol.6 #18 (1987); however, it had been rediscovered, untouched, in a temple in Egypt, and handed over to Kord. It is unclear as to whether or not this is the same scarab created from a piece of future technology magically infused by Nabu the Wizard in the Time Masters mini-series featuring Rip Hunter. Shazam took the scarab upon encountering Kord, fueling speculation about the possibility of the character's return during DC's Infinite Crisis series.
During Infinite Crisis and the "One Year Later" events, the young teenager Jaime Reyes later discovers the scarab and becomes the new Blue Beetle, with a completely different costume. J'onn J'onzz has a statue of Ted Kord in his memorial to fallen Justice League members.
In Geoff Johns' 2007-08 ongoing Booster Gold series, Booster agrees to help Rip Hunter set right the timeline, but at a cost: Rip must help Booster go back and save Ted. Rip Hunter, however, tries to shock Booster Gold into acknowledging his inability to change past "solidified" events.
As Booster Gold prepares to accept his fate, a futuristic Blue Beetle appears with Dan Garrett and Jaime Reyes in tow to show him how to turn the time around Ted's death into "malleable time." Booster Gold betrays Rip Hunter, and with the other Beetles' help, rescues Ted Kord from death at the hands of Maxwell Lord. The four Beetles escape together in time, the technology used to save Blue Beetle preserving the future events the way they were meant to unfold (thus enabling Jaime to keep his powers and his role as the "new" Beetle), with the world at large still believing Ted Kord to be deceased. The story arc, "Blue and Gold" reveals that this act has altered the present, creating a timeline where Max and his OMACs have turned the world into a police state.
Ted Kord realizes that the only way to restore the timeline is die the way he was supposed to do.
As the timeline is restored, Booster Gold believes that Ted Kord died and that history was restored to its original state. However, a shadowy figure holding a glowing blue scarab-shaped item prowls a Kord Industries safehouse to find a Bug and other Beetle paraphernalia. The shadowy figure laughs "Bwa-hahaha", a tradtional laugh of Ted Kord during Giffen's days on the Justice League. It was later confirmed in an interview with the series creator Geoff Johns that the figure is, in fact, Ted Kord.
Which is fine with me. I don't care much for the Jaime Reyes character or costume design, and I didn't like the way Blue Beetle was murdered. If he's still out there -- I hope we see him again someday.
Meanwhile, we have this cool new action figure!
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Blue Beetle action figure based on Ted Kord. There is a Blue Beetle action figure available in the Batman - Brave and the Bold action figure line, but the design is closer to the Jaime Reyes costume.
There is a reason for this. When Mattel first acquired a license to do characters from DC Comics, for reasons that I'm sure only lawyers would understand, that license didn't include the former Charlton characters. When Mattel expanded their license a while back, it now included those characters. Mattel wasted little time in adding Captain Atom and The Question to the Justice League Unlimited series of action figures.
Captain Atom has also appeared in the DC Universe Classics series, The Question was the top winner of a ToyFare poll to recommend to Mattel who among about half a dozen DC characters should be included in a future assortment, and now we also have Blue Beetle. The character never turned up in the Justice League Unlimited animated series for some odd reason, although he was in the related comic book. Nevertheless, the character has not been added to that line.
So really, as far as I know, this is the first major Blue Beetle figure based on the Ted Kord character. And Mattel's done a really superb job with it.
Blue Beetle does not have the easiest costume design in the world. To a degree, it looks fairly straightforward. It is, as one would expect -- mostly blue. In face, the costume is two shades of blue, a sort of light to medium blue, and a darker blue. The darker blue can be found on Blue Beetle's headpiece, tapering down to the shoulders, where it takes on a very stylized bug-like insignia on the chest and back. Blue beetle's gloves, belt, trunks, and boots are also this darker blue, while the rest of his shirt, sleeves, and leggings are the lighter blue.
Sounds reasonably simple, right? Well, there's a twist. The dividing line between lighter blue and darker blue is delineated by a rather thick black line. This isn't just an ink line in a comic book, like one might see outlining Superman's "S" shield, but were you to see it in real life, it's just red and yellow, no black lines around it -- in Blue Beetle's case, those black lines are supposed to be there. They're part of the costume design.
Which must have created some real headaches for the toymakers, or more to the point, for the people who had to make sure that that outline was as well aligned as possible on the figure. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how they did it, but at an observational guess, it appears to have been done in sections, at least in the larger areas such as the chest and back. When I purchased Blue Beetle, there were four of them on the shelf. Among other checks, I was looking for the one with the neatest lines. No one was too badly off, but there were instances where you could sort of see where the painters had stopped spraying just a fraction too soon.
On the other hand, this is also something that could probably be touched up relatively easily. Black isn't exactly an especially hard color to match, for one thing, and a good art supply store should sell paint pens. Try hard enough and you might even find some around that were originally intended for coloring in the panel lines on Gundam model kits.
But it's to Mattel's credit that they did as good a job here as they've done, and they have indeed done a very good and impressive job.
Blue Beetle's headpiece has these yellow lenses in them that are sort of bug out a bit. And impressively, Mattel has molded these from transparent yellow, and glued them in place after the figure's eyes have been painted. You can actually see Blue Beetle's eyes underneath the yellow lenses. This is very impressive in my opinion.
The only other color on him, other than the flesh-tone of the face beneath the eyepieces, is a yellow belt buckle. Everything else on Blue Beetle is -- indeed -- blue, apart from the black outlines.
There's also a little beetle scarab symbol on his right glove. Nice touch.
Accessory-wise, Blue Beetle comes with a small, roundish sort of gun, no doubt one of the aforementioned non-lethal weapons he prefers to use. The figure has a small holster on his right hip that holds the weapon.
Articulation-wise -- well, that's one of the specialties of this DC Universe Classics line, isn't it? Blue Beetle is superbly poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Mattel, or more specifically the sculptors known as the Four Horsemen, have designed an excellent basic sort of "hero body" that can be used for a wide range, and I suspect a considerable majority, of DC's male heroes (and villains), and it's really a great design.
I am also pleased to report that I am seeing an increase in the overall quality. Some of the earlier assortments had some serious problems. Although these problems are not entirely resolved, and doubtless I will be visually studying the figures as closely as I can before purchasing any of them and still hoping for the best once I open them, I do have to fairly say that overall quality has definitely increased, and I sincerely hope and pray it's a growing trend.
The DC Universe has literally thousands of amazing characters, legendary characters recognized worldwide. I sincerely believe that this DC Universe Classics line has the potential to be the single most impressive super-hero action figure line ever. It deserves every chance to be, and Mattel needs to be vigilant about it.
So, what's my final word here? I'm sincerely impressed. I'll admit that the semi-comedic days of the Justice League were never my personal favorite. While I don't need my comics to be the sort of grim-dead serious that seemed to be the order of the day for a while, and still seems to be at another less-than-marvelous publisher these days, The Giffen Justice League, in my estimation, swung the pendulum too far the other way.
That doesn't mean that there weren't some cool characters involved, and I always sort of liked Blue Beetle. And I always thought it was a shame that he never really had an action figure. Certainly DC Comics characters have had action figures of them produced for decades, by a wide range of companies. It's about time Blue Beetle got his due in the midst of that, and he certainly picked the most impressive line ever to enter the action figure world.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BLUE BEETLE definitely has my highest recommendation!