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Airdate: May 15, 1940
Main Characters/Actors: Dan Garrett (Frank Lovejoy)
Is Dan Garrett anyone’s favorite Blue Beetle?
Granted, that’s a little bit unfair seeing as he was the only Blue Beetle for several decades, but you’ve got to wonder… Are there people (who weren’t you know… alive during the 40s) who hold Dan Garrett up as their favorite Blue Beetle when Jaime Reyes and Ted Kord exist?
That being said, Dan Garrett was popular enough to get his own radio series between May and September of 1940. For an anti-drug, anti-gang morality tale that seriously misrepresents the effects of smoking marijuana (or “dope”) on human behavior, well… It was a thing.
(Look, all of these old-timey radioshows can’t be The Shadow or the KKK-busting Adventures of Superman. Some of them had to be the superhero version of public service announcements and in many ways, that’s what Blue Beetle was.)
The first episode of the Blue Beetle series centers on Dan Garrett’s origin story and it is both incredibly dated and incredibly dramatic. The titular character is introduced in this really weird (but rather charming way) with the announcer kind of dragging out the Blue in “the Blue Beetle” before launching into a description of the story to come.
On this first foray into superhero-hood, Dan Garrett is going up against “dope” dealers who are infesting his neighborhood and impeding his work as a cop. I actually like that Dan is a cop that recognizes that there are things that the cops can’t (or won’t) handle themselves. Sure, slapping on a bright blue costume and fighting crime isn’t exactly the road I’d take, but clearly there’s a reason why I’m not a masked hero.
So when I say that this episode is a morality tale, I really mean it.
Remember, this is the same era that brought us Reefer Madness so you know that we’re going to get all sorts of strange shenanigans that don’t at all mesh with the “typical” experience of smoking or consuming marijuana. (Weirdly enough, I’m certain that the episode calls “dope” opium several times which is… not correct at all.)
While Dan is complaining to his mentor about how much paperwork is involved in policing, they hear a newsboy crying out about the suicide of a famous actress. When they read the paper, they (and we!) find out that the actress blamed “dope” in her suicide note, claiming that it had become her master.
Moved by the actress’ death, Dan Garrett vows that he’ll either get to the bottom of the dope racket as himself or he’ll do it as the Blue Beetle.
In the next scene, Dan chases down a dope peddler and winds up getting shot for his efforts. By a machine gun at that. I don’t know how terrible guns were back then, but somehow he doesn’t wind up being cut in half by the machine gun fire and it’s just… weird.
One thing that makes Dan different from the Blue Beetles that come after him is that he does have superhuman strength. One recurring theme in the Golden Age of comics is the use of scientists and serums to give heroes their powers and Dan doesn’t escape that. The mysterious but helpful Dr. Franz (who I think is his mentor) gives him a serum that not only heals his wounds, but gives him superhuman strength and stamina.
The next morning, when Dan wakes up, he finds out that members of the dope racket have been awfully busy and that several cops have been killed. I’m just going to point out how terrible these gangsters are at their job that not only does law enforcement keep finding their hideaways, but they keep killing cops.
I mean… way to stay under a low profile, I guess.
This spate of cop killings incenses Dan and he manages to charm his way out of the hospital by the end of the day. When he goes back to Dr. Franz, he actually walks with the bullet that the doctors pulled out of him for forensics purposes. I can’t imagine it, grabbing the bullet that nearly killed me in order to get someone not even remotely affiliated with the police to examine it.
Okay so I just want to point out that a French novelist is a viable suspect for being a drug dealer. This is some novel shit and I am loving it.
What I don’t love is how the only woman in this radioplay is presented.
Yes, it’s the forties. I’m not expecting feminist portrayals of women, but the commissioner’s daughter is treated so badly. She exists to fawn over Dan Garrett/The Blue Beetle (she literally donates her blood to him because she likes him) and then, after getting kidnapped as she attempts to follow him on the hunt for the dope racket, she gets to play a desperate damsel in distress who desires smooches from dashing detective.
It’s not a good look when that’s basically it for her characterization.
When I compare this to other radio shows I’ve listened to, the Blue Beetle series really doesn’t hold up very well. Twelve minutes (or about half of an episode) felt like it was twice as long and the quality of the episode isn’t the best on top of that.
Honestly, this was the first and last episode of the Blue Beetle radioshow I’m listening to because at this point, I’m liable to fight Dan Garrett myself. Part of the fun of listening to these old radio show episodes is how weird they are and looking at the different problematic aspects. But this first episode of the Blue Beetle show?
Well it was preachy, tended towards the boring, and didn’t make me care about Dan Garrett at all.
Next Radioplay Day, we’re going to start “The Klan of the Fiery Cross” (AKA “that time Superman took on the KKK and won”). It’s a sixteen-part arc on the Superman radio show so we’re going to be going at it two or three episodes at a time. I’m also considering doing some video or audio reviews of Graphic Audio superhero dramas to break up the monotony of listening to the same series on end for months so keep an ear out for that!