Saturday, March 25, 2017

Secret Origins #2 (1986)


Secret Origins #2 (May, 1986)
"Echoes of Future Past!"
Writer - Len Wein
Illustrator - Gil Kane
Letterer - John Costanza
Colorist - Anthony Tollin
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Tip o' the Hat - Tony Tallarico, D.C. Glanzman, & Steve Ditko
Cover Price: $0.75

Today's discussion is going to be something of a multi-tasker.  Last Spring I contributed a semi-regular feature to DC in the 80's called USENET Fandom, in which I hunt down some old forum posts from the prehistoric internet and discuss them.  It's a lot of fun... and with the benefit of (30 years of) hindsight, we already know how some of the Usenetters' hopes, fears, and concerns have panned out!

Anyhoo... this week I decided to dig the concept out of the mothballs, with hopefully more to follow.  You can check out the latest piece, right here.  Of the subjects covered was a sentence from the text-piece at the end of the issue we are going to discuss today... Secret Origins #2.  In it, a maxi-series follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths is announced... and it's called, Crisis on Captive Earth.

Figure while I had the issue out, I may as well cover here as well!

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We open several years in the past at Midwestern University where visiting Professor Dan Garrett is conducting a class on Archaeology.  Among his students is a young Electronics major named Ted Kord.  Ted brings up some great points during the lecture, and catches up with Garrett after class to chat some more.  He (and we) learns that the Prof. in the preparation stages for an Egyptian dig.


And so, we advance several months later where he and a Professor Luri Hoshid have uncovered the tomb of Kha-Ef-Re.  Kha-Ef-Re was a horrible monster of a man who was rumored to have been allied with the "powers of darkness".  After some flirtatious banter, Dan and Luri decide to head off to a Bistro in Cairo to share a meal.  As their plane takes off, they are surprised to find themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of ballistics from the forces of the renegade General Amenhotep.


The pair escape without taking any damage, and land in Cairo without (further) incident.  At the Bistro, Dan is still steaming from the attack... and won't stop kvetching about the dread Amenhotep.  Who... it just so happens, is dining at the exact same Bistro!  Dan heads over to introduce himself... and by that, I mean, grab the General by the collar and shout at him.


Dan threatens Amenhotep, who by this point has already sicced his bodyguards on the angry archaeologist.  Dan nails one with an elbow... and runs away.  Really now, Dan... what did you expect was going to happen?


Dan and Luri return to the tomb... and find their workers running away from it, as though they were spooked.  Despite all of that, they decide to enter and look around.  Dan reaches the sarcophagus... and notices a strange azure scarab laying on its chest.  He picks it up to investigate, and suddenly finds himself in a dreamlike blur... where he stands at the foot of "The Great One", who tells him it is now his duty to banish evil from the Earth using the power of--The Blue Beetle!


Luri stirs him from his trance... and Dan is alerted to General Amenhotep flying overhead in a jet.  Dan changes into the Blue Beetle just as the baddie drops a bomb on the dig site.


The explosion somehow stirs the Mummy of Kha-Ef-Re to life... and lemme tell ya, this bugger is huge.


The Blue Beetle makes (very) short work of the monster, and with the threat neutralized, tries to return the azure scarab to its rightful owner... The Great One.  Thing of it is, The Great One don't want it... the power and responsibility are all Dan's.  Our man decides to celebrate this by... dumping Luri.  Really now...


And so, in the months and years that followed... Dan Garrett wielded the power of the Blue Beetle to banish evil wherever he found it.  But that's not the end of our story...


Years later, Garrett receives a frantic knocking on his front door... why, it's his old pupil... Ted Kord!  Dan invites him in for a cuppa, and asks him what's up.  Ted felt he had nobody to turn to because, ya see... he helped orchestrate the end of the world!  Dan's all "splain", and so he does.  He had been working with his Uncle Jarvis Kord on some experiments.  It is explained that Jarvis was estranged from his (Ted's) father.  One day after work, Ted leaves to go home.  No sooner does he step off the stoop then the laboratory... well, goes boom!


Emergency Services arrive, and tend to the fire (and Jarvis' body).  Ted sneaks back in after the firefighters leave and comes across an apparently fireproof briefcase.  Inside it is a map of Pago Island, some notes, and a film reel.  Ted watches the flick, and is shocked at his findings.


Dan's still not clear on exactly why this concerns him... and so, Ted shows him the filmstrip.  Apparently Uncle Jarvis had worked on creating an army of robots... an army that poor Ted unwittingly help improve!  Dan's still confused... I mean, Jarvis is dead, riiiiiight?  Well, Ted thinks the body was bogus... and the explody lab was a ruse.  He asks Dan if he would accompany him to Pago Island... because, ya know... Dan's got that archaeological wisdom.


Days later, the pair arrive on the island... and are immediately ambushed by a bunch o' bots.  They capture our boys and take them to their leader... wouldn'tcha know it, it's Uncle Jarvis!


Jarvis explains his entire plan... because he's a bad guy, and that's what they do... before instructing the bots to "Crush!"  Lucky for Ted, he brought himself a bonafide superhero when he picked Dan Garrett.  He "beetle's up" and breaks free... before, well... breaking everything.  Jarvis crawls away and activates the "elector"... which much to his dismay, kills him.  Before the explosion, Dan shields Ted's body with his own.


When the dust settles, Ted finds Dan under some rubble.  Dan realizes his time is up... and pleads with Ted to take the Blue Beetle mantle.  Ted instantly agrees... just before the ground gives way, sending Dan into the Earthen abyss.  Ted is able to crawl out of the cave with his life.


Our (new) man travels back home to consider how he is going to fulfill his promise... after all, Dan got his powers from the scarab... which is currently buried under who-knows how much rubble.  Ted decides to rely on his engineering expertise... and constructs the familiar-to-us Bug vehicle.  Well, that's one thing down... but, how can Ted himself be a productive member of the superhero community without any superpowers?


Well, lucky for him... he's got the abs of a Greek God, and just enough smarts to arm himself with gimmicks galore with which he can take it to the streets!


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Boy-oh-boy... they sure do cram a lot into these Secret Origins, don't they?

Let's start with Dan Garrett.  I gotta admit, I know very little about him.  Outside of him popping up from time to time in books like Booster Gold (vol.2), I don't think I've ever read anything with him in it.  He comes across here as... a lot less cautious than I expected.  Didn't have him pegged as such an impetuous fella.  Even if we just look at the scene at the Bistro... it's pretty "out there" and reckless, right?

What's more... he didn't even seem to have a plan.  He just grabs a horrible renegade general by the collar... while the baddie is surrounded by security detail.  Hot Head doesn't even begin to describe it!

I don't know why, but I thought it was humorous that as soon as he's bestowed with the power of the Blue Beetle, his first thought is to break it off with his lady-friend.  It's like then he'll be responsible and cautious.  I really want to believe the art from that scene, as it has him just leaving her behind there standing on a rock.  Too much!

We do get a sweet page of Beetle surrounded by his rogues gallery from the Golden-Age Fox Features/Charlton days.  I thought that was a really cool inclusion... even though, I doubt I could name any of them had the captions not been included!

Onto Ted... the Beetle I (and many of us) know a whole lot better.  His origin story is, as far as I can tell, pretty close to the Ditko original.  It feels a bit out of place for a post-Crisis origin story... though, I can't quite put my finger on why.  It's old-fashioned and convenient... but, I can't outright say that's a "bad" thing.

The art in this issue, like I mentioned in my USENET Fandom piece, feels (like the story itself) old-fashioned.  I compared it to how I feel about Carmine Infantino illustrated issues of the Flash late in the pre-Crisis era.  Just feels a lot older than it ought to.  Not bad by any means, just really not what one might expect from a book that hit shelves in 1986.

Overall, this was a really good way to introduce a new generation of readers to the Blue Beetle lore... and a perfect lead-in to Ted's ongoing series... which would hit in the month that followed.  Not sure how much of it is still in continuity (if any of it), but I think it's still worth checking out.  Doesn't look like this one is available digitally, though I do believe it has been collected in the SHOWCASE Presents: Blue Beetle trade paperback.

Before we close out, I wanna point folks over to a few great Blue Beetle resources.  First, Kord Industries... a wonderful blog dedicated to all-things Beetle.  A wealth of information and commentary can be found there... and afternoons can be lost there!  There's also our pals at the Silver and Gold Network who host the Beetlemania! Podcast.  As of this writing, there are three episodes, so it won't take long to catch up!  Both resources are most certainly worth your time.

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