Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Freedom Fighters, and how they grew 

by Tony Seybert

PART TWO: Crisis on Nazi-Earth! Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Freedom Fighters

i. the town that didn’t love the justice league

Let me tell you about my little Indiana town when I was a kid. Two thousand people. It was rumored that the head of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan lived nearby, out in the country somewhere. (It never occurred to me to be skeptical.) Christianity was the official religion but the real religion was basketball.

And we had one place to get comic books: the drug store.

So the comic-buying community was small, and few were as devoted as I was. I could afford three comics a week and a candy bar, and I rarely gave up the candy bar for one more comic book. And I bought Marvel Comics almost exclusively. Daredevil! The Fantastic Four! The Incredible Hulk! The Amazing Spider-Man! Marvel Team-Up! Jungle Action! (Damn, did I love Jungle Action! That was a great comic book!)

I bought Bat-Man occasionally. And The Brave and the Bold. (Some of the Haney stories still haunt my more perplexing dreams.) And I loved The Joker!

Most of the guys I knew read mostly Marvel, but almost everyone read one DC comic, or maybe a guy would have some of his brother’s comics from a few years back laying around. My younger brother read The Flash. My friend Jay had nice runs of Green Lantern and The Legion of Super-Heroes. Everybody had a few issues of Superman here or there. And I eventually warmed to most of them. (Not The Flash. He has some great villains, sure, but he’s never done much for me at all.)

But it is one of the great tragedies of my childhood that this was a town that seemed not to give a rat’s ass about the Justice League. I don’t remember a single kid who was crazy about the JLA. For team books, it was The Avengers or The Fantastic Four or The Defenders (this was the time of the Steve Gerber issues) or The Legion of Super-Heroes or (a little later) The Teen Titans. I was insane for The Secret Society of Super-Villains for its short run. (Great book! I don’t care what any of you say!)

ii. the little cross-over that could

I do remember one issue. One kid had a few comics that his brother had left laying around when he went to college, and among those comics was JLA #108, the second part of the JLA/JSA team-up for 1973, guest-starring the Freedom Fighters. It had a great cover, with Superman, Bat-Man, Dr. Fate and the Sandman rushing forward to fight with Uncle Sam, the Black Condor, the Ray and the Human Bomb. WTF?

I must have read the first few pages because I knew the premise of the story: The Freedom Fighters are on an alternative Earth (Earth-X) where the Nazis did not lose the war until the 1970s. During the annual JLA/JSA team-up, several heroes from both teams are shunted sideways across the ether (whatever) to Earth-X where they help the Freedom Fighters to save the day! I even remembered Uncle Sam sitting backwards on the chair and filling us in. But none of the rest of it looked familiar when I got my copy of Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 3.

So I don’t think I read the rest of it. I’m a little surprised to note that it’s from 1973. I must have been looking at it when it was only two or three years old, but I thought for sure it was older than that. It seemed ancient then, almost like a relic.

I don’t think this is the place to go into my own personal distaste for the Justice League when I was a kid. I’m over it now, and I have a greater appreciation for the DC comics of the Silver Age. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t long after my dismissal of JLA #108 that I picked up Giant Super-Team Family #4, and my love affair with the Justice Society began. It reprints All-Star #33, with the JSA fighting Solomon Grundy, and it’s on the edge of brutal at times. The line-up in this issue is the definitive JSA roster: Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, the Atom, Johnny Thunder and Wonder Woman.

Over the years, I picked up a few issues of the JLA/JSA cross-overs, and I was, and still am, an All-Star Squadron fanatic. That was a great series. Especially the first 30 issues or so.

And I even warmed to the JLA eventually, but the only time I ever bought it on a regular basis was during the much-maligned Justice League Detroit era. I still like the first year or so of that series. So sue me!

But getting back to the JLA/JSA cross-overs: I was at the comic book store last year, looking at the reprint collections, and, for some reason, it struck me to look to see if I could find the reprint of that comic book about The Freedom Fighters and Earth-X and all that silliness. Since the 1970s, I’ve become a little more familiar with these people and these concepts. I’ve even read the first appearances of the Human Bomb and Phantom Lady in a reprint of Police Comics. I’ve seen reprints of The Ray and the Black Condor. I saw Uncle Sam in an issue of Secret Origins.

(And remember that great Freedom Fighters “origin” in All-Star Squadron, and the heroic sacrifice of the Red Bee? He didn’t have any bees left in his belt buckle, but still he fought bravely on when a lesser man would have said, “I’ve run out of bees in my belt buckle! I can’t fight the Nazis without bees in my belt buckle!”)

Not to mention the info in Steranko’s History of Comics and all the other reference books and magazines where I’ve gleaned various odds and ends of arcane comic book lore.

I found the classic saga of Earth-X in Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 3. (Along with: a very weird Mike Friedrich team-up involving a weird Robin costume and Solomon Grundy, as well as a lost alien boy and his lost alien dog; the greatest JLA-JSA team-up of all, the Seven Soldiers of Victory adventure; and, the one where Sandy turned out to be a monster. But not really.)

iii. what is going on?

I enjoyed JLA #107 and #108 when I read them last year, but I think it’s mostly for the basic premise and the characters and the art. To tell the truth, I can’t even begin to tell you exactly how the various teams — cobbled together from the Justice League, the Justice Society and the Freedom Fighters — defeated the Nazis and freed Earth-X. I think Hitler turned out to be either a robot or a crooked real estate developer with a rubber mask like the villain in an episode of Scooby-Doo.

“I’d have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for these meddling Quality heroes!”

So let me take a little break here and read it again and try to remember what the heck was going on.

So I just re-read it, and this reading confirms my initial impressions. This is kinda dumb.

I don’t want to bag on Len Wein’s writing abilities. Writing team books looks difficult, especially given the complexities and limitations of the format of the JLA/JSA team-ups, and the rather formulaic structure of the old JSA stories as well. Sometimes it works better than it does at other times. The structure worked really well in the Seven Soldiers of Victory three-part story. For one thing, it was three parts, and there was a little more room for the story. Wein kicked ass in JLA #100 to #102.

It doesn’t work quite as well in the Earth-X story. The Seven Soldiers of Victory storyline had a mystery to solve: What happened to the Eighth Soldier of Victory? Everybody had his or her mission to find one of the missing Soldiers, and they pieced together what happened after a series of strange adventures in time.

The Earth-X story has a much more complex mission: Free Earth-X from the Nazis. So three guys from Earth-1 and three guys from Earth-2 (along with stowaway Red Tornado) go to Earth-X and get attacked by Nazis, but they are helped by the Freedom Fighters. The Nazis have these mind control doo-jabbers that make it impossible for most people to resist them. (The Freedom Fighters are immune because … well, they just are.) Anyway, Dr. Fate mixes up a batch of dues ex machina stew and finds out where the three mind control thingamabobs are, so they separate into three teams and go to destroy the things.

For the record: Destination One: Eiffel Tower, Paris.
Team: Bat-Man (Earth-1), the Ray, Dr. Fate, the Human Bomb.

Destination Two: Mt. Fujiyama, Japan.
Team: Superman (Earth-2), Doll Man, Green Arrow, Phantom Lady.

Destination Three: Mt. Rushmore, U.S.A.
Team: Black Condor, Sandman, Uncle Sam, the Elongated Man.

The Red Tornado stayed with the dues ex machina stew to “act as liaison,” whatever the heck that means.

Destroying the machines does not stop the mind control, and the mind control waves cause the heroes from Earth-1 and Earth-2 to get all paranoid about the Freedom Fighters and they start accusing Uncle Sam and Co. of wanting to take over the world and they all start fighting. But the Red Tornado is immune to the waves because he is an android, and he traces the waves to a swastika-covered satellite where the Red Tornado discovers a Hitler robot and a bunch of Nazi soldiers and the real brains of the operation, a really tedious robot/computer that has become independent of the Nazis that created him and is using the mind control waves to rule Earth-X because … well, I’m not sure. The Red Tornado gets really bored with the exposition and destroys the computer and Earth-X is saved! Hoo-ray!

I love this story anyway. In your face, weak plot!

iv. were they called the french fighters before 9-11?

The premise, that Earth-X is a world where the Nazis took over and The Freedom Fighters fought them into the 1970s, is fascinating and it’s too bad we never got to see a series about THAT! (I do like what few issues of The Freedom Fighters I’ve seen.)

The art is great. From the Nick Cardy covers to the Dick Dillin pencils to the inking by Dick Giordano, these books sparkle and shine, and it is fun to look at them. I suppose that is what I like most about JLA #107 and #108. Just looking at them.

And I love the Freedom Fighters. What a bunch of misfits!

Uncle Sam is incredibly corny. How much more Saturday Evening Post can you get? But he’s great anyway. Does he have any powers aside from super-optimism, super-cheerfulness, super-homespun wisdom, and super-strength? I love the way his hat never falls off.

Doll Man is, like, the size of a doll. WTF? No ants. No talking to them, no riding on their backs. No shrinking to the size of an atom, can’t ride sound waves through a telephone line. So basically, he’s just a little guy with a punch that’s like a regular guy’s punch. Awesome. In his comic strip, he had a female counterpart (who I think was called Doll Doll) and he rode a dog! No doubt about it, this guy is fucking awesome!

The Ray has the silliest costume ever. It’s like, dude, wear an overcoat or something, I can’t fucking see! And what is up with that fin on his head, is he going to play a prank at the beach and pretend to be a shark? Does he turn into light or does he just run really fast, which means he has the same powers as the Flash? What? What? I’m confused. What’s the point? But he’s still awesome!

The Human Bomb was being set up. They called him the Human Bomb because he sucked and they knew he would bomb. They knew he would never have his own comic or a movie or any merchandising. And they went ahead with it anyway, the cruel bastards. He swallowed a secret formula to keep the Nazis from getting it and it gave him the power to blow things up with his hands, just by touching them! His costume is the ultimate in minimalist super-hero wear, and you have to give him credit for doing as well as he did with so little to work with. He never gave up. The Human Bomb is awesome.

The Black Condor’s origin is ultra-wiggy. He can fly because he was raised by condors. In Mongolia, I think. For real! I am not making this up, I swear! He’s the ultimate existential super-hero. He can fly because it never occurred to him that it makes no sense. And it doesn’t stop there! He makes his way to Washington where it turns out that he looks just like a murdered Senator! So he takes the guy’s place and pretends to be the Senator and nobody ever notices. Not even the Senator’s girlfriend. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a frequent guest star. Washington was a really wacky place when the Condor was around. They didn’t call it Crack Comics for nothing! Great art by Lou Fine.

Which brings us to Phantom Lady, who is totally hot, with a totally great costume. I forget what her powers are. I think she distracts you with her cleavage and then she clobbers you. The whole black light ring was just a ruse. “Hey, Slugger, didn’t you see that broad was clobbering you?” “No, no, uh, it was, uh, it got dark, uh, and I couldn’t see, and, uh, I guess she has a black light ring or something.” “Yeah, boss, dat was it! She uses a black light ring.” “A black right wing? She clobbered you with Alan Keyes?” “No, a black light ring!” I adore Phantom Lady. I have a Phantom Lady figurine that’s always perched nearby, looming over me, protecting me. Thanks for the memories, Phantom Lady.

I don’t really know what else to say about The Freedom Fighters. They got their own comic book series for a few issues. I didn’t read it at the time. I did pick up a single issue a few years back and I really enjoyed it. If I ever get a little extra money again, I’ll start trying to compile a collection.

It should have been the DC version of the Defenders, but no such luck. They got a guy who escaped from a Thomas Nast drawing. And a guy who’s six inches tall and rides a dog. And a guy who flies because he was raised by condors. And a guy who blows things up by touching them. And a guy who dresses as a banana. And a chick with a yellow and green costume and spectacular cleavage who has some gimmick that I can’t remember. (A black light ring, that’s it! Wait. How can it be black and light? If it’s black, wouldn’t it be dark? I’m confused again!)

Yeah, I love the Freedom Fighters! All the dumb shit that makes comic books GREAT, rolled up into one neat, little package. If they ever bring them back, I’ll read it. Hell, I’ll write it!

PART ONE: The story of the first Freedom Fighters (who are actually the second Freedom Fighters, even though they all died before the first Freedom Fighters got together, and most of them aren’t actually dead anymore)

i. the cure for not having a headache

Ouch. Writing that title made my head hurt. Give me a minute to go over my notes and figure out what’s going on.

I have a list of names:
* The Red Torpedo
* Miss America
* Neon the Unknown
* Invisible Hood
* Magno, the Magnetic Man

In one of the old DC Universes, these heroes, aided and abetted by Uncle Sam and the Hourman, crossed the dimensions between Earth-2 and Earth-X just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. They put a stop to the attack, but these five were killed on this very first mission of the Freedom Fighters.

(Apparently, it has recently been revealed that they weren’t all killed, but I’m already having trouble dealing with a retcon of a retcon that happened pre-Crisis, and I don’t think my little mind can handle the convoluted comic book continuity capers that must ensue when trying to make this little extra-dimensional waltz assume the semblance of coherency in the post-Crisis DC Universe.)

Uncle Sam made his way back to Earth-2 and eventually assembled his new Freedom Fighters, the group we know and love from the 1970s JLA cross-over and the short-lived series: Phantom Lady, Black Condor, The Ray, The Human Bomb, Doll Man.

ii. the quality of quality

You have to wonder what the hell was going on at Quality Comics in the early 1940s. The Freedom Fighters group we’re familiar with is made up of Quality’s first-string heroes. Well, not Blackhawk or Plastic Man, but the Freedom Fighters were the A-Team at Quality. Big-name heroes in the manner of Flash and Green Lantern and Hawkman, folks who can crash in and bust heads when Bat-Man and Superman and Wonder Woman aren’t available, these are awfully thin on the ground at Quality Comics. That’s why Quality’s answer to the Justice Society is made up of a guy who rides a dog, a giant banana, a guy who flies because he was raised by condors, and the Human Bomb. (I mean, it’s right there in his name! Bomb! He’s a Human Bomb!)

Read Steranko’s History of Comics, the chapter on Quality Comics, to see how quickly you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Quality heroes. And there are A LOT of heroes at the bottom of that barrel. It’s real thick down there. Be sure to scrape with something really sturdy.

The five heroes mentioned above were chosen by Roy Thomas to be the sacrificial lambs for his Earth-X storyline in All-Star Squadron #31 to #35. But Roy was probably not specifically picking Quality’s lamest heroes. Believe it or not, he was picking the next in line after the Human Bomb when he started recruiting Quality heroes for Uncle Sam’s suicide mission.

The Red Torpedo was a guy with a red torpedo that he rode around in. It could fly through the air as well as in the water. According to Steranko, “former U.S. Navy officer Jim Lockhart invented a man-sized, flying, floating machine” that lasted less than 20 issues.

Magno, the Magnetic Man, is nothing more than a name to Steranko. He’s just one feature named on a list of the comics that Paul Gustavson drew. Magno looks kind of like Marvel Boy. And he has magnetic powers, I’m guessing, from his name.

Invisible Hood doesn’t seem to be mentioned in Steranko at all. He turns invisible, I guess. And wears a hood. And, according to the text in All-Star Squadron, he is sometimes known as Invisible Justice. And he has a razor in his shoe. (I made up the last part.)

Then there’s Neon the Unknown. Steranko has a whole paragraph on Neon. He says Neon the Unknown was almost as bad as the Red Bee! That’s just mean. You’re a mean man, Steranko. Neon was “virtually gimmickless, … dressed quite plainly in blue, with a red scarf tied around his head like a gypsy. It billowed freely behind him like a cloak. He had no dual identity and could fly, fight or perform any manifestation he desired with the aid of a mysterious neonic ray.” Steranko says the art for Neon and the Red Bee was “competent” but that the scripts were “uninspired and threadbare.” The Red Bee! Uninspired! Threadbare! Bite your tongue, Steranko! He had a belt buckle! With bees in it! I suppose you’d like it better if he had ladybugs!

iii. ‘gee, i’m sleepy’: the origin of miss america

Miss America rounds out this 1940s suicide squad. Steranko says Miss America “was drawn by Elmer Wexler and starred Joan Dale, a girl reporter who was endowed” (weren’t they all) “with magic powers by the Statue of Liberty.” Steranko’s synopsis doesn’t even begin to describe the Miss America origin story. It is a SCREAM!

Miss America first appeared in Military Comics #1, which is also the first appearance of Blackhawk! It was reprinted just a few years ago in a Millennium Comics edition, which I have, and I dug it up to check it out for this essay. The best thing about Military Comics is that it’s terrible. Not just in a “merely terrible” Golden Age way, but in a sort-of stereotypical Golden Age way. It’s like the worst stories from any ten Golden Age comics all put into a special “Worst of the Golden Age” anthology. Pee-yew!

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh.

So, by comparison, Miss America doesn’t come off too bad. It’s still pretty damn dumb.

Joan Dale, girl reporter, goes out to Bedloe’s Island before meeting with her boss. Sitting on a bench, she gazes in wonder at the Statue of Liberty and thinks, as any sensible person would, “Gosh! Just think of all the good a person could do if they had the powers that the State of Liberty must possess!! I wish I had them but … Oh well … Gee, I’m sleepy!”

She falls asleep and the Statue of Liberty steps down from the pedestal and calls to her.

“Joan! Joan!”

The Statue overheard Joan’s reverie and she gives Joan her magic powers and Joan promises to do her best.

“I will never let you down!” says Joan.

She wakes up and, like any sensible person, she tests her new powers by making a tree disappear.

She takes the ferry back to Manhattan to meet her boss and some crazy old guy starts making a speech about democracy and is attacked by ruffians (who are known for hating old guys who speechify about democracy on the ferry).

Joan turns them into doves and the old guy takes it pretty much as just another day on the ferry. As a New Yorker in 1941, he was probably seeing stuff like that all the time. He thanks her for helping him and says, “You’re the real Miss America!” (As opposed to the fake Miss America that would soon be appearing in Timely Comics. You know, the one with the glasses?)

So that’s how Miss America got her name. (The old guy also named Dr. Mid-Nite and the Blazing Skull later that same week.)

So she spends the rest of the six-page adventure busting up a sabotage ring, turning people into trees, making clues appear in metal fragments, blowing up the bad guys and making things fly. You know, the usual.

I think the writers were stealing equally from Ibis over at Fawcett and from Liberty Belle over at DC. (Even though Liberty Belle wouldn’t appear until 1943. I got my story and I’m sticking to it!) Because, you know, Ibis has that groovy stick and he just says, “Stick, turn the bad guy into a mushroom and olive pizza.” Presto! He’s taken care of the bad guy and gotten dinner just like that.

This is pretty much how Miss America’s powers work.

And Liberty Belle had some kind of a mystical connection with the Liberty Bell and when it rang, she got a little stronger. Only instead of the Liberty Bell, Miss America has the powers of the Statue of Liberty! The whole statue!

(Man, those French were SUCKERS to give that away! With powers like that! Maybe they thought the powers of the Eiffel Tower were sufficient. (Which leads to the question: If the Statue of Liberty fought the Eiffel Tower, who would win? Winner takes on the Great Wall of China!))

I think Miss America is way more powerful than Ibis. He has to have the stick. All Miss America has to do is point and say, “Ibis, drop the stick,” and Ibis drops the stick and she turns him into a macaroon.

iv. was there a point to this digression?

Getting back to the All-Star Squadron, I have to ask: What the hell was Roy Thomas smoking when he wrote the death scene for the original Freedom Fighters? (It’s in All-Star Squadron #32.) I’ve been thinking about that for two days, ever since I re-read that scene trying to get a better idea of the powers of the first Freedom Fighters. I love All-Star Squadron (and Roy Thomas’s writing) as much as ever, but re-reading this segment, I notice for the first time that it’s kinda … unlikely? Nonsensical? Dumb?

They beat off the first attack of Japanese Zeroes and are standing around patting themselves on the back when a kamikaze flier somehow sneaks up on them, crashes into the Red Torpedo’s red torpedo, and everyone (except Uncle Sam and Hourman) is killed.

(And then Uncle Sam – with his top hat still on his head! – is clinging to some driftwood and quoting Melville! But we’ll not get into that.)

As obscure and as lame as these characters might be, these are some extremely powerful entities! Look at Miss America! She has the power of the Statue of Liberty! She can kick Ibis’s ass! She can probably go four or five rounds (at least) with the Spectre! Johnny Thunder’s thunderbolt probably whimpers in a corner when she walks into the room! She’s on about four pages of All-Star Squadron #32, and in that four pages she:

* Saves the Freedom Fighters from falling into the sea by turning a passing albatross into an invisible “glider-kite” where they hang out while waiting for the Zeroes;
* Blasts a Zero from the sky with an energy blast from her hand; and
* Recreates the Red Torpedo’s red torpedo out of random atoms just by pointing and concentrating. (This makes her sweat a little.)

Neon the Unknown, from Steranko’s description as well as from the All-Star Squadron appearance, seems to be almost as powerful as Miss America. Magno’s powers seem to be Magneto class. The Red Torpedo’s red torpedo is quite an impressive piece of machinery. (I don’t know about the Invisible Hood. I mean, you can’t see him. He’s invisible. So I don’t know what his powers are.)

And they get taken out by a kamikaze pilot.

This makes no sense. Was Roy purposely imitating the weak plots and silly comic book stories from the Golden Age? Or was he being lazy for story purposes?

(I have to admit, I’ve gotten kind of fond of Joan Dale while writing this essay. It might be affecting my objectivity.)

Earlier, Uncle Sam commented that this batch of Freedom Fighters was a bunch of rookies, hungry to make a name for themselves. (That’s why he recruited Hourman, to have a veteran mystery man on the mission.) But I got to rummaging around and I’m kinda dubious about this kind of a rationalization for their early demise. After all, Roy Thomas tried not to stray too far from publication dates and the way they related to events in the real world. So I was hoping for a little consistency. And I looked at the first appearances of these ill-fated super-folks:
* Invisible Hood – Smash Comics #1 (August 1939)
* The Red Torpedo – Crack Comics #1 (May 1940)
* Neon the Unknown – Hit Comics #1 (July 1940) (This is also the comic book that had the first appearance of the Red Bee. Neon lasted to #17. The Red Bee lasted to #24.)
* Magno – Smash #13 (August 1940)
* Miss America – Military Comics #1 (August 1941)

Can ya dig it? The “rookie” Invisible Hood” appeared a half a year before the guy who was recruited to give the group a little experience. (Hourman’s first appearance was Adventure Comics #48 (January 1940).)

Roy Thomas got some ’splainin’ to do!

Enough pedantry for now!

Another thing that struck me was how much more powerful those original dead Freedom Fighters are than the more commonly known Freedom Fighters of the ’70s series. Maybe the Ray and Magno might be a good match-up. And the Invisible Hood and the Black Condor might provide a pretty good conflict. But Neon or Miss America alone could pretty much wipe out the whole team!

Imagine Doll Man attacking Miss America, and she tries to come up with something relatively harmless to turn him into, and she points and says, “You’re a six-inch guy riding a dog!”

Or the Ray attacks and she turns him into a six-foot banana!

And yet, the second group of Freedom Fighters – a recruitment poster, a guy who rides a dog, a giant banana, a guy who was raised by condors, a human bomb, and a woman with magically distracting cleavage – managed to fight off the Nazis and survive into the 1970s!

That first bunch was a pretty powerful crew! I don’t think it was bad luck that got them killed on Earth-X. It was bad writing.

v. where did THAT come from?

Author’s note on the Red Bee: While researching this essay, I noticed that the Red Bee does not have an origin. (There’s a note on the letters page in All-Star Squadron #32.) There are so many ridiculous origins floating around in comic-book land that it’s hard to see why there was no effort in producing something of an originic nature for the Red Bee. I’m imagining the editorial meeting where they were discussing the contents of Hit #1. They got a great new idea about a guy who has a hollow belt buckle and it’s full of bees that do his bidding. (And he has a favorite bee named Michael.) The guy presenting the idea shows them the Lou Fine art and everybody is momentarily swayed. Then somebody says, Come up with an origin and we’ll make him the headliner in Hit #1.

But how would someone get a hollow belt buckle full of bees? You can see the problem. This is why the Red Bee has not had an origin for almost 70 years. Because it is such an unlikely outcome that considering how it came to be can only cause insanity.

DC should have a contest for the fans to come up with the origin of the Red Bee, and then pick one at random (because how could there be a “best” submission from a bunch of crazy people) and publish it as a special edition written by Len Wein with cover art by Alex Ross and interior art by Jerry Ordway. (Maybe I should have picked Roy Thomas to write it, but hasn’t he done enough to the Red Bee? At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?)

So, did the Red Bee find his belt buckle on the side of the road, telling people it “must have fallen off a truck”? Was the belt buckle a gift from bee-like aliens? Perhaps the Red Bee was just a guy who was nice to bees and the hollow belt buckle was their idea.

Here’s my personal favorite. (Keep in mind that I am now insane.) The Red Bee’s father was a kindly beekeeper who was killed by monocle-wearing, kraut-eating saboteurs from an unnamed foreign power who were trying to disrupt America’s honey supply. The Red Bee was a police scientist who specialized in crimes involving insects. (There are a surprising number of such crimes in comic-book land.) When he heard of his father’s death, he vowed to find the killers, and he used his natural affinity with bees to coax them into the hollow belt buckle his father had given him on the Fourth of July when he was a kid. Then he came up with the gayest costume he could find to give him an advantage over the bad guys who would think he was some kind of a sissy and thus misunderestimate him.

Do I win?

Tony Seybert is a copy editor for the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, California.


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