charlton comics

Blue Beetle v.1 #5

Cover of Blue Beetle #5 by Steve Ditko“The Destroyer of Heroes” / Untitled – Nov. 1968

Plot: Steve Ditko
Art: Steve Ditko
Script: D.C. Glanzman
Lettering: A. Machine
Published by Charlton Comics

At a Hub City art museum, critic Boris Ebar lectures his students on the misshapen, dirt-colored piece known as “Our Man”: “This anonymous work is a perfect example of art that reveals the true spirit of man…man as he really is.” Ebar highlights the missing eyes and heart, as well as the closed hands that symbolize, “man’s inability to solve or control the illusion we call existence.”Passer-by / art lover / part-time action hero Ted Kord comments to his companion Tracey that it’s a shame that a majority fo the folks gathered around Ebar seem to support that claim. One of those in agreement with the poor state of man is the gorilla-faced Hugo, the artist behind “Our Man,” who thinks to himself: “That’s exactly how I feel! Man is an incompetent nothing in a world of mystic terrors…all without meaning or purpose!”

The Hub City art museum seems to be the action hero hangout, as none other than Vic Sage drops by. Ebar calls out to Sage for support in his argument, but Sage will have none of it: “Your views and that thing belong on a junk heap! But it’s perfect for all of you…perfect for self-admitted nothings who have nowhere to go in their world of nothing!” Kord tells Tracey that he’d prefer Sage’s company to Ebar’s, and they venture in to the next exhibit, where more heroic pieces are on display. These, says Kord, are representative of an artist who thought better of the world.

But the group of nihilist beatniks that follow Ebar’s opinion find the room of heroic art unbelieveable — suitable only for fairy tales. Not only that, but the art is offensive to them; it represents what they feel they can’t be. Sage opines: “It’s so unfair, isn’t it! You can’t have what you want and wishing for it should be all the effort you need to get anything.”

Meanwhile, the artist Hugo has found particular offense with one statue, called “The Unconquered,” and raises his fist to smash it. Kord lays hands on Hugo to prevent the destruction of the artpiece, and soon the nihilist beatnik parade has gathered around to threaten violence to Kord. Sage steps up to support the man who is secretly Blue Beetle, as does Tracey, but the beatniks vamoose, worried that the cops might be called.

Kord thanks Sage for standing with him, and Sage insists that it should be the other way around — Kord saved an inspiring piece of art. Ebar suddenly appears at Sage’s shoulder, demanding an apology for the earlier embarrassment, but Sage retorts: “I owe you nothing! How you feel about your own evaluation of art is your business! Don’t try to use me to foster your opinions!”

Sage leaves, and Kord and Tracey stand admiring “The Unconquered.” Something about the statue has struck a chord with…Kord, “It’s proof that man is not helpless! man can set a goal and achieve it. As the sculptor did with his statue, so can anyone else! But man has to motivate himself!”

But Hugo has championed a different statue, “Our Man,” to represent his philosophy of humanity: “Man doesn’t have the power to achieve anything! Man is a helpless speck in an unknowable universe ruled by strange forces that control man’s will and destiny! By himself, man is nothing and can do nothing!” Hugo walks home, full of bitter resentment for “The Unconquered,” thinking that everything that shows man as heroic is really evil. The illusion of man’s worth should be obscured, he believes. In him, he feels a command to destroy the heroic artwork. Once the symbols are destroyed, man will finally be satisfied his true lowly place in the universe.

A few days pass, and the Blue Beetle sets out in the Bug to perform a nightly fly-by of the art museum. Part of him worries that the ruffians will return to destroy the art, and part of him wonders if he’s making excuses just to see “The Unconquered.” But the Beetle’s instincts were correct — as he touches down on the roof, he catches a strange sight. The “Our Man” statue appears to be mobile. Inside the costume, Hugo comes to the conclusion that Beetle’s existence carries worse import than the artwork: “He dares to set himself up as a god! …He’s trying to be a hero…to be better than everyone else!”

“Our Man” takes a swing at the Beetle, and the Beetle returns in full. But “Our Man” has an armor-plated suit: “He can’t hurt me, and he knows it!” thinks Hugo inside the suit, “He’ll have to quite, to ive up and I’ll expose his heroic pose!” The Beetle keeps fighting, trying to set “Our Man” up to knock him off-balance, but the walking sculpture plants a right hook across the Beetle’s jaw. Hugo thinks: “Why does he keep fighting me! He should run! He can’t win! His evil heroics keep him trying to achieve the impossible! The fool still tries to overcome his fate, to struggle against the laws of destiny!”

Beetle goes over the edge of the museum, and “Our Man” shatters the ledge with a kick, sending the Beetle plummeting. A guard comes out on the roof to investigate the noise and Hugo runs away, fearful that the police will be crawling all over when they find the Beetle’s body.

But Beetle’s not down for the count yet. He grabs onto a conveniently placed flagpole and uses the momentum to swing back to the roof. He summons the Bug and tries to track down “Our Man.”

Meanwhile, “Our Man” rampages through a Hub City park, destroying statues of town heroes. The beatniks have assembled there and cheer on the sculpture-on-sculpture violence. As a police officer protects a passing woman and her child from the falling debris, Beetle swoops down from the Bug to save the day: “You seem to get your kicks out of destroying. I get mine from kicking the destroyers.”

The beatniks step in again to protect “Our Man,” their faces contorted with rage as they hurl baseball-sized rocks at the Beetle. As Beetle gets pummeled, “Our Man” takes his cue to exit, stage left. The beatniks form a line to stop the “fascist” boys in blue from arresting their hero, challenging the officers to display their “gestapo-type brutality.” The Beetle swings back up to the Bug, having lost “Our Man”‘s trail.

Boris Ebar appears on a Hub City news station the next day to champion the beliefs and actions of “Our Man,” promising to replace the destroyed park statue with one that, “doesn’t signify a self-glorifying act or a so-called heroic deed.” Ebar reiterates his opinion that “Our Man” truthfully represents the lowly state of real humankind and encourages viewers to embrace this poor estimation of themselves. Heroes, he says, present a fantasy of perfection that no one can live up to. “Our Man” represents the acceptance of imperfection, and the inability to raise oursselves above our flaws.

In the hallway at W.W.B., Sage’s colleagues encourage him to televise Ebar’s exhibit, citing the prestige of being “in on this hot fad,” but Sage will have nothing of it: “Sorry, gentlemen. That statue is trash to me!”

The nihilist beatniks in the meantime have created a hero cult for “Our Man,” celebrating the pessimistic view of life that he represents, and working to channel their spirit to give “Our Man” the strength to, “overcome the disbelievers.” Hugo feels called by forces beyond his control to take up the “Our Man” costume again.

At a society party, a chap who looks suspiciously like Syd Starr debates the qualities of “Our Man” with other party-goers: “This rat race of always proving yourself is insane!” But a woman who looks suspiciously like Celia Starr counters: “You smear the best as unworthy so you have an excuse to remain as lousy as you are!”

The argument spreads across the party. A man: “…And no one will ever be perfect so why knock yourself out trying, why kid yourself? We are all like “Our Man!” Still another: “I see! The doctors that treat you and your family…the people that make your drugs, build your cars…anyone who’s action affects the lives of others shouldn’t try to do their best…why bother, huh?”

Down in the alley, two kids enter the philosophical debate: “You’ll be a super hero with no legs but I’ll give you super powers so you won’t need them and everyone will feel sorry for you!” says one. “That’s stupid! Why wreck me if you can give me powers!” says the other.

Tracey, watching “Our Man” coverage on television, wonders when someone will counter the nihilists properly. “The best way would be to present a better example!” says Kord, who suddenly has an idea.

Vic Sage agrees to cover the exhibit containing “The Unconquered,” which ticks off the supporters of “Our Man” to no end. Ebar and his critic pals get together to threaten to force Sage’s sponsors to drop out. Ho-hum, that again? Sage tells them to mind their own business.

Meanwhile, Hugo feels the call of the “Our Man” and takes up the costume again. He sets out to destroy the exhibit while the police are investigating a bomb scare, but Vic Sage is there to slow him down. Sage launches himself toward the walking sculpture, and Hugo again wonders why anyone would enter into a fight that they have no hope of winning. He smacks Sage away, but Blue Beetle comes swinging in just in the nick of time. He grabs “Our Man” between his knees and carries him to a rooftop, but the statue-man manages to overpower him. He flips the Beetle over, and socks him across the chin: The outcome can only be the Blue Beetle’s defeat! No one will ever think well of or look up to him again!”

The Beetle takes blow after blow, but manages to avoid the direct hit. Below, the cruel faces of the nihilists yell “Stomp him! Cripple the Bug!” But Sage doesn’t give up on the Beetle yet. Beetle manages to get in a kick that puts “Our Man” off balance, and the hero shifts his gameplan. He keeps “Our Man” off of his stride, and manages to use the weight of the statue costume to flip his opponent. Below, the crowd calls him a dirty fighter.

Hugo feels as though the forces that called him to fight the evil of heroism have abandoned him. He gathers a moment of strength and catches the Beetle with a double uppercut. He glances a kick off of Beetle’s chest, but that only sets him up for a double kick from the Beetle. “I’m getting so tired, weak!” thinks Hugo. “He won’t let me rest! He keeps coming at me…he won’t let up….”

Below, the crowd starts to plot ways to help “Our Man.” But their hero has begun to doubt himself: “I am now a mere man against one who truly has supernatural powers. I never had a chance against him! I never had a chance for anything! Why fight on…I was doomed to defeat from the start! Even with powers, how could I hope to achieve anything. It…it’s an illusion!” Beetle lifts “Our Man” above his head and spins him like pizza dough at the edge of the building. “I surrender. Don’t destroy me! Please! I didn’t mean it!” exclaims Hugo.

Below, members of the crowd distract a policeman and steal his revolver. One of them aims and fires at the Beetle. “Hey! Don’t they know there’s never been an open season on people!” yells the Beetle as “Our Man” runs away. Sage kicks the gun from the shooter’s hand and says, “Because you deliberately turned yourself into a mental cripple…that doesn’t excuse your actions! Since you won’t think I’ll tell you! Your feelings don’t determine anything! Especially the life of a human being!”

Hugo manages to slip out of the costume. The nihilist finds the empty “Our Man” shell and celebrate his getaway, but Hugo’s just glad to get out of the conflict alive.

Sage stands below, watching the Blue Beetle’s Bug fly away: “I wouldn’t have missed this night for anything!” He’s confronted by Ebar, who says he’s gotten two sponsors to drop Sage’s show in Hub City. But Sage replies, “If sponsors or anyone else lets you do their thinking for them, they’re in trouble, not me!”

Tracey asks Kord how black and blue he is the next day, and Kord responds that no matter the pain, he couldn’t stop fighting: “All through the fight in the back of my mind I saw, ‘The Unconquered!’ I was fighting for everything it stood for…to me! For the best in a man whatever it is, whatever it took to make that statue…whatever it takes to achieve anything worthwhile! It can only be done by struggling to succeed! ‘Our Man’ could only have won if I gave up…on what that statue stands for, for what it means to me!”

The nihilists make a shrine to “Our Man,” hoping that one day, he’ll reclaim it. But Hugo has other ideas: “By himself, manis to helpless. Unless he has some supernatural powers like the ones the Blue Beetle has to help him! Everyone else is like ‘Our Man’…we can achieve nothing! We are doomed to failure before we try!”

But somewhere else in Hub City, a young man hammers away at some schoolwork. A classmate mocks him: “You’re crazy, Lou! You got to be a genius or like the Blue Beetle to solve those problems. Give up like me and Huck! You’ll pass anyway!” But the student stands strong: “No! If I give up, I’ll never know! They can be done and I know I can do them! I know it!”

His secret known only to Prof. Rodor, Vic Sage assumes the identity of the Question to help his fight against injustice!

Boris Ebar returns, now giving away more nihilistic art as a present to Syd Starr: “When I saw it, I knew a man like you would love to have it! …A man who understands the finer points of culture and humanity.” Syd scratches his chin, faux-thoughtfully, and replies: “Yes, I can see it…it reall is all you say…it’s very moving…very enlightening…deep feeling…and…and…”

Syd takes a moment to admire the picture, a painting of a tiny, huddled man being trampled by larger feet beside a bent and smoldering cigarette butt. An empty soup can completes the collage. Ebar explains: “It represents man’s inhumanity to man! The refusal of man to help his fellow man get out of the gutter! …The real attached can is pure genius! It proves the reality, the truth of it all!”

Syd falls, as they say, hook line and sinker. He shows his new art piece to coworker Nora Lace. Nora has a painting of her own, given to her by Vic Sage. This painting features a worker standing in a triumphant pose atop some cragged architecture. What does the art critic Ebar think about it? “I denounced it as childish, lac[k]ing in any aesthetics…it’s an insult to man and humanity!”

Ebar accuses Sage of buying the painting to insult him, but Sage replies that he makes his own decisions without caring whether it pleases anyone else. As Sage walks away, Ebar confesses his hatred: “Sage has an evil soul!” He implores Starr to get rid of Sage, but Syd has exhausted all methods of getting Sage fired.

Later, in Ebar’s apartment, the bitter art critic can’t get over his hang-ups: “That blasted painting! Why did Sage have to bring it into my life again! …It keeps accusing me…It makes me think of when I felt like…No! I must not think about then!” After some more paranoid soul-searching, Ebar hires two thugs in a west side Crown City alley to take the painting and destroy it.

The thugs burst in on Nora, who has fortunately just finished a date with Mr. Vic Sage. As the thugs enter her apartment, a third faceless figure explodes on them from behind, throwing double punches. A couple of strong ones on the chin, and the crooks decide to vamoose. The Question checks on Nora, and then chases down one of the crooks.

“I’m not talking and you can’t make me!” says the crook. “Suit yourself!” says the Question, releasing the gass from his belt buckle. “Then you will never talk to anyone again!” The thug tells Sage he was hired to steal the painting, and then breaks free, panicking in the gas cloud. The Question lets him go, as he has bigger fish to fry — namely, Boris Ebar!

Sage drops by to see his old friend, Professor Rodor, and they put together a prank involving a glass tube blow gun, and a quick-drying solution that reacts colorlessly and odorlessly. With these objects in hand, Sage sets out for Ebar’s.

“Oh, how I wish I could see Sage’s face when he learns the painting’s gone!” thinks Ebar, smugly sitting on his couch. There’s a knock at the door and Ebar goes to check it, assuming it’s Syd Starr. But no one waits for Ebar at the door. Instead, the figure from the painting has appeared on his door. As Ebar checks the hallway, the painting starts to dissolve. When Ebar turns around again, it has disappeared: “Did I really see it? That accursed painting won’t give my mind any peace! Why won’t it leave me alone??”

Ebar returns inside his apartment, where a larger version of the figure has appeared on his wall. He covers his eyes and turns away in fear and confusion, and again the painting begins to dissolve. When he returns his gaze to the wall, the painting is gone again: “It knows I betrayed it! I joined those who claim this is a world we never made! That we can’t help it. It’s not our fault…we’re innocent! But that cursed painting keeps asking Why? Why didn’t I? Someone has to keep giving the world shape and direction! Yet, I took no part in it. I let others do as they wish and I hate what they made for me! I never questioned…or judged what was right…I accepted what others said was right!”

The painting appears again, this time larger: “Stop! Stop accusing me!! I couldn’t help it! I tried and failed!” The Question, standing around the corner with a blowgun, dissolves another painting by firing one of the chemical pellets at it. The hero thinks, “He won’t be able to take much more of this!”

As the painting disappears again, Ebar doubts his sanity. He decides the only way to find peace is by destroying the original painting. He pulls a sword-dagger and sets out for Nora Lace’s apartment. The Question gives chase, and is spotted by some citizens outside. He ducks around a corner, transforms into Vic Sage again, and gives the curious followers the slip.

Ebar, in the meantime, bursts into Lace’s apartment with sword drawn, demanding that the painting be destroyed: “You don’t understand! It won’t leave me alone! …Destroy it! I’ll pay anything you ask…just destroy it now!” Nora provides the painting, but says: “I won’t destroy this art to satisfy your emotional exercises!”

Outside, the thugs have returned for the painting, wanting the remainder of the money they feel is coming to them. “I should never have let you talk me into coming back! I’m still shaking from that guy!” says one. Unfortunately for him, “that guy” happens to be right behind. Sage retransforms into the Question, and comes up behind them in a cloud of gas. The two panic and start running, but the Question socks them both with knockout punches. He removes his mask, and runs into the building, hoping it’s not too late to save Nora or the painting.

Inside, Boris is pleading with Nora: “Don’t force me! Don’t make me do it! I’ll pay you…but destroy it!” But Nora has no such plan: “I’m not a hired accomplice to any crime! Any force will start from you!…You want the painting destroyed…you, alone will have to do it…if you can!” Sage enters at this moment and adds his two cents as well: “Well, Boris, it’s up to you! Your terror brought you here…what you can’t bear to face is within your reach to destroy! What stops you?…The figure on the canvas?”

Boris draws his dagger closer to the painting, but the eyes of the painting stare back at him: “I’ll show you…Stop! Stop staring!…Stop accusing me! I didn’t mean to betray you! I tried to be like you…I tried! You expect too much of me…I’m only human! Why won’t you let me lie to myself? Why do you keep making me see what I let myself become…stop it! I must destroy you…to destroy the proof of what I once wanted to be!” Boris lunges with the dagger!

At the last second, Sage pulls the painting away like a matador withdrawing a cape from the horns of a charging bull: “Why cover your eyes now, Boris? You blinded yourself a long time ago! You’ve been refusing to see…refusing to know! You act now physically as you did then, mentally!”

Boris falls to the ground, curling into the fetal position and covering his hands with his head. A police officer comes to the door to ask about the commotion and the two unconscious thugs: “Oh! Vic Sage!…I guess you can explain it all!”

Syd Starr stands backstage in a panic the next day, worried that Sage will tie him to Ebar on the broadcast: “No matter where I go, I’ll have people whispering about me…hating me!” But as Sage doesn’t do anything of the sort, Syd digs deeper into his paranoia: “He’s making me sweat till the trial…that devil! I know him. He wants to disgrace me so my father will pick him instead of me to take over! I’ve got to stop him, somehow!”

Sage has another one of his coworkers on his mind: “That’s it, Nora. The rest of the evening is ours!”

One Response to “Blue Beetle v.1 #5”

  1. Anthony Lloyd says:

    Sadly the last Question by Ditko but in keeping with previous stories excellent

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