The Jack Kamen Issues That Got Blue Beetle Banned, Up for Auction

Best remembered for his work at EC Comics across a range of genres including science fiction, horror, and crime, Jack Kamen also made noteworthy late-1940s contributions to publishers like Fiction House and Fox Feature Syndicate, where his good girl artwork on titles like Phantom Lady among others is also highly sought after by collectors. Kamen did extensive work for Fox on titles like Dagar, Desert Hawk, and Rulah, Jungle Goddess, and his Blue Beetle work is also highly sought after by collectors.  This era of the Blue Beetle series is well known to have garnered a couple of mentions in Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, but that's only part of the story.  In 1948, shortly after the harder-edged true crime story and good girl art era had begun for this series, a number of major metros around the country put Blue Beetle on their banned comics lists.  An important part of comic book history that has long been sought after by collectors, there are a number of the Blue Beetle issues including the legendary Blue Beetle #54 pictured in Seduction of the Innocent, plus #47, 50, 53, and #56 with Kamen covers or content up for auction in the 2022 December 1 Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40214 at Heritage Auctions.

Blue Beetle (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947/1948)
Blue Beetle (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947/1948)

1948 is an under-discussed flashpoint for the comic book industry and its battle with would-be censors.  Even as the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers announced its code guidelines and the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of a New York State statute prohibiting the sale of publications with "pictures and stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime" in WINTERS v. PEOPLE OF STATE OF NEW YORK, dozens of cities across the country were preparing local comic book ordinances designed to circumvent that decision.  Blue Beetle and much of the rest of the Fox line were on most of those lists. While much of the Fox line survived the 1948 era, Blue Beetle effectively ended that year with issue #57.  With the beautiful women of Kamen and others increasingly pushing the title character off the covers almost entirely, and true crime-style content sometimes crowding him out of the interior stories, perhaps Fox felt there was no longer a point in keeping up the pretense. But undaunted by the times, Fox would launch five new titles within three months of cutting Blue Beetle.

The title would briefly return in 1950 near the end of the Fox Feature Syndicate lifespan, with a more traditional style of superhero story.  But a few years later when moral panic over comic books was on the rise again, two of these Kamen-era issues were singled out in Seduction of the Innocent.  The cover of Blue Beetle #54 is pictured in the book with the rather blunt caption "Children call these 'headlights' comics."

Wertham also singled out a panel from a half-page feature on late 19th and early 20th century New York City gangster Monk Eastman in Blue Beetle #56.  About this panel, he notes, "In one comic book is a sexy picture of a blonde female dressed in a string of beads and a scrap of material. She says: 'A gentleman, he never blackjacked a woman. He hit them with his fists.' Millions of children have been taught that this kind of thing is the smart thing to say."

Of course, elsewhere in the book Wertham offers what he represents as a child's description of Blue Beetle, after noting that the boy has read the title "many times".  As quoted by Wertham, the kid described the character by saying, "He is like Superman. He is a beetle, but he changes into Superman and afterwards he changes into a beetle again."

These 1947/1948 issues featuring work by Jack Kamen are an important part of the history of the period, and there are a number of the Blue Beetle issues including the legendary Blue Beetle #54 pictured in Seduction of the Innocent, plus #47, 50, 53 and #56 with Kamen covers or content up for auction in the 2022 December 1 Fox Comics Showcase Auction #40214 at Heritage Auctions. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

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Mark SeifertAbout 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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