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Blue Bolt Comics
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
The first ten issues of Blue Bolt Comics featured stories by Joe Simon and/or Jack Kirby, dealing with the super-hero Blue Bolt. The Simon and Kirby Blue Bolt stories are in the tradition of such 1930's science fiction comic strips as Brick Bradford, Flash Gordon, and Don Dixon. These stories star a macho adventurer who gets involved in warfare in exotic, fabulous, sf kingdoms. Everyone in these tales wears exotic costumes, which often invoke the dress of barbarian and ancient warriors. The kingdoms are full of advanced science, but their feudal political institutions are at the level of the Dark Ages. The heroes of these tales are always leading armies into combat. The plots of these stories tended to be conventional war stories; their visual appearance was hugely exotic.
Blue Bolt has fabulous strength, due to the treatments given him by Dr. Bertoff. But the non-super-powered heroes of the comics, such as Flash Gordon and Brick Bradford, were also musclemen of great power. So Blue Bolt hardly behaves in a different fashion from any of them.
The stories have some features that reflect comic book traditions, rather than those of the Flash Gordon-like sf strips. Blue Bolt's costume is similar to those of comic book super-heroes. More importantly, comic books of the era were strongly pacifist, and filled with criticisms of the Nazis and their war mongering dictatorship. The Blue Bolt tales maintain this tradition of pacifist social criticism. They constantly compare the events in the exotic kingdoms to both events in real life Europe, and pacifist social ideals. This gives a political perspective to the Blue Bolt tales that seems largely lacking in the "war is fun" comic strips.
The Green Sorceress and the Cycotron (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Blue Bolt opposes the Green Sorceress. The Cycotron is an atomic machine invented by the noble Dr. Bertoff; its spelling is what is given in the comic book - it lacks the letter L found in that real life machine, the Cyclotron.
The Green Sorceress Reforms (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The Green Sorceress temporarily becomes good, and disbands all of her armies and stops the production of munitions. This story strongly reflects the pacifist ideals of may Golden Age comic book writers. It also reflects their opposition to munitions manufacturing, which is seen as directly linked to causing war. See Siegel and Shuster's Superman origin story, "Revolution in San Monte" (Action Comics #1 and 2, April and June 1938), which embodies similar ideas.
The futuristic city here has huge towers, with rounded, cylindrical tops. Such cities, like the rest of the art in Blue Bolt, tend to be in the Alex Raymond tradition.
The Shrinking Serum (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Blue Bolt is shrunk to tiny size by Dr. Bertoff; he tangles with a giant robot.
War in the Fourth Dimension (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The Green Sorceress sends her troops through the fourth dimension, in order to penetrate the defenses of Dr. Bertoff's city. The fourth dimension here is viewed in two ways. There are attempts at a mathematically realistic view of 4D space, with interesting effects on vision, motion and intersection with our 3D universe. This is not handled in a mathematically rigorous fashion, but it is still a worthwhile and visually interesting attempt. Combined with this is a completely different idea, that of the fourth dimension as an alien landscape, another world filled with strange monsters. These two ideas, however contradictory, allow Simon and Kirby to flood this tale with a continuous stream of storytelling concepts and images. It is the richest of the Simon and Kirby Blue Bolt tales, considered as a work of pure science fiction.
The depiction of a cylinder leading into the fourth dimension (p4) shows good art. The abstract black patterns surrounding the cylinder anticipate the style of art Kirby would often use in his Fourth World tales in the 1970's.
The opening of the tale looks at sinister magic practiced by the Green Sorceress. Its ideas, including sinister ancient books of magic produced by pre-human alien civilizations, reflect the tradition of prose sf writer H. P. Lovecraft. The opening also contrasts the good science of Dr. Bertoff with the evil magic of the Green Sorceress. These ideas will not recur much in other Blue Bolt tales.
The Menace of Marto (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Marto, a highly evolved human who is nearly all head, offers his evil services to the Green Sorceress. This story is one of the most focused on Blue Bolt's perfect physique, which is envied by Marto.
There are good illustrations of a lab full of advanced machinery. Like other futuristic machines in the comic books, these reflect geometric, Constructivist and Art Deco ideas.
The Green Army's Blitzkrieg (1940). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Blue Bolt demobilizes his army, in hopes that peace is at hand; meanwhile, the Green Sorceress sees Earth dictators in Europe and their war methods. This is the first Simon and Kirby tale to bring in events on the Earth's surface; these events will become even more important in the next three stories.
The Rescue of Blue Bolt (1941). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) When radium mining by the Green Sorceress causes volcanic eruptions on the Earth, surface people enter the underground world for the first time. Origin of surface people scientists Everett Smith (wise old man), Ann Barton (beautiful young scientist) and Carl Pfeiffer (evil, opportunistic scientist). Ann Barton is a courageous, intelligent and decent woman. She is a completely non-sexist portrayal.
The Sorceress Strikes the Surface World (1941). Writer: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Blue Bolt visits the outer world, and meets Bucky Williams, a reporter on the New York Dispatch. Bucky is in a Simon and Kirby tradition of tough, working class, highly decent New Yorkers. These people have intelligence and determination.
Despite the fact that Blue Bolt came from our Earth originally, in this tale he has something of the feel of an alien being visiting Earth for the first time. Blue Bolt's materialization on the streets of New York City anticipates the Forever People's arrival in various locales in Kirby's Fourth World tales.
Blue Bolt wears a blue suit and tie for his sojourn in the upper world. His suit is nice looking, but far from the glamorous gear often worn by super-heroes in their secret identities.
It is hard to see how Simon and Kirby could have continued the Blue Bolt series after this. 1930's sf comics like Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon have a static quality, considered as works of storytelling. Each episode tends to show our hero leading his troops into battle or engaging in single combat against some futuristic enemy. While the enemy might change, the basic situation does not. Our hero always winds up fighting someone. Hence, there is no forward propulsion of the plot. Plot developments hardly seem meaningful: no matter what occurs in the plot, the hero will be right there, fighting some one. This gives a terribly static quality to the storytelling. Unlike the sf stories that appeared in comic books in the 1950's and 1960's, in 1930's comic strips the plot never leads to any meaningful developments in anybody's life. Such a downgrading of the importance of plot is against the mainstream traditions of American comic books from the 1930's to the 1970's, in which plot tended to be all-important.
Simon and Kirby partly follow the comic strip approach. No matter what happens in the plot of the tales, Blue Bolt always winds up fighting either the Green Sorceress, or her armies. This gives a static quality to the Blue Bolt tales, somewhat reminiscent of 1930's sf comic strips. But, Simon and Kirby also include plot developments in each episode. These are more in comic book tradition: the plots are important, and are resolved logically and meaningfully in the course of the tale. This makes the Blue Bolt stories half way between comic book and comic strip traditions, when it comes to plot.
Superpowered Lois Blake (1941). (Title supplied by me.) Blue Bolt takes Lois Blake to the underground world, where she too is equipped with powers and the ability to fly. Lois Blake becomes a full partner of Blue Bolt in this tale. She gets exactly the powers that he does. She also gets a costume similar to his, in this completely non-sexist tale.
The Rattlesnakes of the Deep (Vol. 3 No. 9, February 1943). Writer:? Art: Alan Mandel. On vacation, Blue Bolt investigates a Nazi sub that may be landing on the beach of a Southern US resort town. There is an interesting choice of a Fifth Column villain here, and perhaps some social criticism is intended. Alfred Hitchcock's film Saboteur (1942) also depicts US upper classes as possible Nazi sympathizers. Both the villain in this story, and in Hitchcock's film, are the sort of upper class, social register types that many ordinary Americans deeply distrusted.
The story has some mild ingenuity in the way the sub is signaled. It reminds us that comic books had almost always been a full color medium, and that comic book authors "thought in color" when they plotted their stories.
The art shows Blue Bolt in a swim suit, along with sailors. By this time, Blue Bolt is functioning largely as a soldier for the US Government, and his tales take place against a non-science fictional World War II background.
(Vol. 3 No. 11, April 1943) Art: Dan Barry. Dramatic art on splash panel shows Blue Bolt parachuting while holding a machine gun.
A Spy at the Home (1945). Tale signed by: Tom Gill. (Title supplied by me.) Blue Bolt goes undercover at a rest home for flyers, where information is leaking to the enemy. Like "The Rattlesnakes of the Deep", this tale shows ingenuity in its ideas about how enemy spies in the US might be operating. I tend to enjoy most the Blue Bolt tales of this era, that get him out of combat, and into more domestic espionage situations.