Having walked away from Spider-Man with issue 38 (July 1966), Steve Ditko, at the height of his powers, was in a perfect position to provide us with a pinnacle in the career of a surprisingly long-lived superhero, the Blue Beetle.
“Surprisingly” because the character began as Fox Comics’ rather cheap rip-off of the popular radio hero Green Hornet in Mystery Men Comics 1 (Aug. 1939).
I could understand criminals being afraid of a hornet. But a beetle?
In his debut, the Blue Beetle posed as a criminal mastermind and felled gangsters with gas, just like the Green Hornet. Quickly re-imagined as beat cop Dan Garret (one T), and empowered by an armored costume and Vitamin 2X, the character gained his own title and even had brief exposure in a Jack Kirby newspaper strip and on radio.
Charlton Comics revived the superhero in the 1950s, and revamped him in 1964. This time, the Beetle was archaeologist Dan Garrett (two Ts) who acquired an array of powers — flight, telepathy, strength, the ability to project lightning and who knows what else — from an Egyptian scarab amulet when he pronounces the magic words “Kaji Dha.”
That’s the character Ditko used as a springboard for his own version, an imaginative one that reflected some of his Objectivist philosophical principles.
Introduced in Captain Atom 83 (Nov. 1966), genius millionaire industrialist Ted Kord inherited the identity but not the powers of the Blue Beetle from the dying Garrett. Ditko seemed concerned to demonstrate that a person wouldn’t need super powers to handle whatever menaces appeared, but could rely on his own rationality, ingenuity and training.
Ditko’s story in Captain Atom 85 (March 1967) illustrates that theme. Disabling an enemy sub with his underwater bazooka, Kord fights off frogmen in hand-to-hand combat. And with the help of his versatile “Bug” air-sea craft, the Beetle rescues a falling jet and even fights off a giant octopus.