Golden Age comics are hit or miss. As some of the first comics ever created, they form the foundation of all subsequent comics, so there’s a lot of foundational work that happened in the 1930s which can feel pretty boring. But during the Golden Age, the comic medium was basically unexplored territory, so things could get really weird, really fast, too. Maybe the neatest aspect of the Golden Age is that there are hundreds of weirdos that have lapsed out of copyright protection, making them perfectly poised for new adventures that can be created by anyone.
Take, for example, 711, a hero who broke out of jail every night to fight crime, which is a pretty fun concept. And one of the enemies he fought was Brick Bat, who was a guy who dressed like a bat and threw bricks at people. That’s it. Ant Queen was raised by giant ants and hates people; she has an ant-controlling helmet that predates Ant-Man by 19 years. Futureman fights Bloor from Uranus. It’s great.
One familiar name among these superheroes of old is Blue Beetle, who was owned by Fox Features, and then Charlton Comics, before they were purchased by DC Comics. While DC went on to use a different version of Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), the original was never properly copyrighted, so Dan Garret (or Garrett, depending on which version you’re reading) is up for grabs. So, Golden Age comics fans were pretty excited when the perennially problematic Shocker Toys announced a classic Blue Beetle action figure in 2010, but collectors would have to wait for over ten years for that figure to actually come out.
Along the way, Shocker Toys collapsed under the weight of multiple unfulfilled promises and scandals, was replaced by GBJR Toys, which collapsed again, and was replaced by Creative Comics and Collectibles, who claim to have nothing to do with either previous company… except for the fact that the owner of the first two is listed as one of CCC’s five employees on LinkedIn. Untangling the tragedy of Shocker Toys is another post entirely. The point is that a Golden Age Blue Beetle figure FINALLY came out in 2021. Was it worth the wait?
The original, Dan Garret, went through a few forgotten costume changes before the book’s artists found his most iconic look. During his first appearance in 1939’s Mystery Men Comics #1, he’s a police officer who moonlights as a hero in a suit, a fedora, and a small white mask over his eyes. For his second appearance, he’s a guy in blue, short-sleeved chainmail shirt (made of cellulose), a skirt and a completely exposed face… with the added bonus of two hair-thin antennae poking out his his head, kinda like a really weak version of The Tick. By the fourth issue, he finally adopts his classic appearance, which remains more or less consistent. By the time he finally hit the cover with issue #7, his appearance was locked. He’d obtain a red stripe once Charlton Comics started publishing his adventures, but that happened in 1967, well into the Silver Age.
The original Blue Beetle fights crime with the help of special vitamins, which totally aren’t drugs, provided to him by a local pharmacy, where he’s pals with the genius pharmacist, who also seems to keep the “vitamin” supply on a need-to-have basis. They don’t do anything technically “super”, but they do make him especially athletic and good at whatever you’d need to fight crime.
Blue Beetle drops a literal blue beetle anywhere he’s about to knock some heads together, presumably invoking fear in criminals, but also giving them a warning that they’re about to get their heads knocked together. The plots aren’t too complex, and don’t always make sense; in one, a criminal syndicate blows up a bunch of buildings (and a hospital) while demanding that the local power plant get shut down. Not for environmental reasons, of course; in 1940, radiation was basically considered to be as healthy as life-prolonging cigarettes. No, the small band of criminals just want the power out so they can rob the city… presumably every building at once. Cutting the power to one building at a time never really enters the equation, even though they have access to every building they’d want, ’cause they have enough time to plant bombs in them.
So, the stories aren’t always especially great or logical. But the idea of a cop fighting crime as a superish-hero, while his fellow cops try to capture this mysterious vigilante, is fun. When he returns in the Silver Age, he’s an archaeologist who’s imbued with the powers of a magical Egyptian scarab, and even comes back from the dead to fight Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle in 1987’s Blue Beetle #17 and 18, but no version of the Golden Age Blue Beetle really has any kind of huge presence in DC Comics, except for a DC Cosmic Cards trading card.
Creative Comics & Collectibles made a good figure, and to be fair, all iterations of Shocker Toys released really good action figures when they’d actually come out. But it’s also clear that they made this mold to be a standard male body for multiple figures. Fair enough, but what’s missing here is Blue Beetle’s signature chainmail, one of the most important parts of his costume. If it’s not going to be sculpted on, it could at least be printed on, but it’s not. With subtle shifts in Blue Beetle’s costume across different issues, anything that seems off-model can generally be forgiven; there are artists who didn’t want to bother drawing lots of little chain links.
The figure comes with four pairs of hands, one of which has guns sculpted on, and painted a bit sloppily, but that’s okay. You’ll have to trim off a few extra plastic sprue remnants, too. All of the small flaws are easy to forget when you’re seeing a Golden Age superhero really being brought to life in this scale. There’s a variant with a red belt, but what I’d really like to see is a Silver Age variant. The goal all along has been to have all three generations of Blue Beetle hanging out together on a shelf, and it’s finally possible. I hope that Creative Comics & Collectibles continues to pursue the completion of the shattered wreckage of Shocker Toy’s old aspirations, because there were a lot of public domain superheroes that were in play. Please, though, stop pretending that you know nothing about Shocker Toys. It’s weird and shady. The GB of GBJR Toys is obviously associated with you.
The Phantom, who looks alarmingly similar, came first in 1936. He first appeared in a newspaper strip, which ran for decades on end, but over time, he also hopped into comics books owned by just about every publisher you can think of : Gold Key, King, Moonstone, and even the big three : DC, Marvel, and Image. There was also the 1996 Billy Zane film, which is the most boring action movie ever filmed, and a 1986 Defenders of the Earth cartoon which lasted one 65-episode season, and gave the character temporary… tiger strength, or something, because having no superpowers in a kids cartoon only really works for Batman. There was also a 2009 2-episode live action miniseries on SyFy which never really went anywhere.
The Phantom is the first known superhero to dress in spandex, as well as wear a mask with all-white eyes. He’s also a very early example of the idea that heroes pass down a name through successors; the biggest mystery surrounding The Phantom is how he’s been alive for hundreds of years. Turns out he dies all of the time; someone else just takes over the name. Many current comic fans bristle at the idea of Captain America being anyone but Steve Rogers, or that there are many Captain Marvels. Chill out guys, it’s been a thing for a long-ass time. He’s basically Doctor Who.
Because so many different publications have handled The Phantom, his history becomes very confused at times. Sometimes he’s the 17th Phantom, sometimes he’s the 36th. Sometimes he’s married to someone who hasn’t been born yet. Don’t expect a whole lot of continuity at any time. Just get ready for an adventure, usually in Africa. Countless people have tried to get The Phantom to really work for a modern audience, but as a truly oldschool adventure hero, his re-emergences don’t last long. It doesn’t feel quite like he has a place right now, but that doesn’t diminish his accomplishments, and more than one action figure company are making toys out of the old guy right now.
NECA is going with Phantom’s appearance in Defenders of the Earth, so they’ve gone with purple pants instead of the traditional striped. NECA’s 7″ bodies are ripped to a pretty ridiculous degree, but they manage to hit a mark that feels unusually substantial without going over the line. Their Superman and Batman figures were outstanding. Extra hands, blast effects, and a fuzzy little friend make this line pretty exceptional. The main weak point is really flaky paint on the hands; they’re meant to pop in and out, but it’s impossible to do without losing a significant amount of paint on the pegs.
There’s really no comparison between the two, though, but it’s enough that this is the only 6″ scale GA Blue Beetle figure ever made, and the best Phantom figure ever made. Golden Age stuff has some pretty great moments buried among all of the generic stuff. Like Brick Bat.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.