Blue Beetle and the Legacy of the Mystery Men

Despite its historic debut over 81 years ago, Mystery Men Comics #1 remains one of the most overlooked key comic books of the golden age. The issue's publication date, June 15, 1939 according to the Library of Congress Copyright Office's date of publication records (actual newsstand dates would have varied around the country), puts the debut of its most important character — the Blue Beetle — very near the beginning of the super-hero wavefront that ultimately transformed pop culture. Mystery Men Comics #1 hit the newsstand in the same month as Action Comics #14, Detective Comics #29 (two issues after the debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27), and Adventure Comics #40 (the debut of the golden age Sandman).  There's a Mystery Men Comics #1 CGC 3.5 up for auction at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction coming up from Heritage Auctions this week.

Mystery Men #1, 1939, Fox Features Syndicate, Blue Beetle title panel.
Mystery Men #1, 1939, Fox Features Syndicate, Blue Beetle title panel.

Like the Sandman's debut in Adventure Comics #40 that same month, the Blue Beetle's debut in Mystery Men Comics #1 from Fox Features Syndicate featured the character as a classic pulp-fiction mystery man. In fact, he had more than a few similarities to Sandman in the beginning — he was just a man in a suit, hat, and goggles.  He even utilized gas as a weapon in this issue (in throwable, capsule form). The Blue Beetle's debut story here was drawn by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski, perhaps from a script by Will Eisner. The character was likely created by Wojtkoski.

The timing of this release is worth noting from another perspective as well. The material in this issue was likely in production at publisher Victor Fox's Fox Features Syndicate just as the April 2, 1939 judgment in DC v Bruns lawsuit was handed down.  In that decision, Judge Learned Hand of United States District Court, Southern District of New York, ruled that Fox's Wonderman character infringed on DC's Superman copyright, saying, "Inasmuch as I have found unfair use by the defendants, that means infringement of the plaintiff's copyrights and entitles the plaintiff under the Copyright Act to a judgment for an injunction with costs and to damages and profits."

But this setback didn't sour the tenacious Victor Fox on the super-hero genre. The Blue Beetle character evolved quickly from pulp-like mystery man to comic book super-hero in the early months of Mystery Men Comics. He had his first full-on Blue Beetle costume by issue #2, which would continue to evolve over the next few issues.  He got his first cover on Mystery Men Comics #7, (that's actually the character Green Mask on that #1 cover) and had his own series a few weeks after that. By 1940, Fox had managed to launch a short-lived radio serial and comic strip as well. At around the same time, he was even inspiring readers to dress up like super-heroes and attempt to fight crime, according to the March 29, 1940 edition of the Sacramento Bee newspaper.

A 14-year-old Blue Beetle comes to an agreement with local police. Clipping from The Sacramento Bee via Newspapers.com
A 14-year-old Blue Beetle comes to an agreement with local police. Clipping from The Sacramento Bee via Newspapers.com

Blue Beetle eventually ended up at comic publisher Charlton, who revamped him for the Silver Age.  Charlton then introduced the Ted Kord version of the character in a Captain Atom #83 back-up story by Gary Friedrich and Steve Ditko in 1966.  DC Comics acquired the character along with the Charlton line in 1983.  Mystery Men Comics  #1 features the debut of an important character with a fascinating history, and there's a copy up for auction at the 2020 November 19 – 22 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction coming up from Heritage Auctions this week.

Mystery Men Comics #1 CGC 3.5, 1939, Fox Features Syndicate.
Mystery Men Comics #1 CGC 3.5, 1939, Fox Features Syndicate.

About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.

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