Know Thy History: The Red Bee
DC Comics’ New 52 initiative has brought several long forgotten heroes back from ignominy. Animal Man and Swamp Thing were rescued from the dustbins of Vertigo past. Grifter and Voodoo were deemed to be the least bland of the WildCATs and were granted their own titles. Frankenstein, Harley Quinn, and The Demon were rescued from second-banana heaven and are the headliners for team-based titles.
And yet, I must ask: wither The Red Bee?
The Red Bee debuted in Quality’s Hit Comics #1 way back in July 1940. He was created by Audrey Anthony “Toni” Blum (one of the few female comic creators in a male-dominated industry) and Charles Nicholas (who I think was really Chuck Cuidera … I’m not totally sure because apparently three different comic creators used that pseudonym, including JACK friggin’ KIRBY).
The Red Bee’s secret identity was Rick Raleigh, assistant to district attorney Tom Darrow. He hailed from Superior City, Oregon, which, despite its lofty (vaguely northern Michigander) name was a hive of scum and villainy. He’d seen far too much crime and corruption slip through the courts.
Hence, to ensure that justice was indeed served, Rick Raleigh decided that the best way to fight crime was to disguise himself as The Red Bee. This involved wearing red and yellow striped tights, a blazing sweater vest, a puffy see-through pirate shirt, and a fetching red mask… which is a combination that even Alan Scott would find too flamboyant.
But The Red Bee wasn’t all about garish outfits. He also had a variety of bee-based powers … except, perhaps surprisingly, the power of flight. The Red Bee was an excellent swimmer, though. Because that’s what bees are known for, right? Swimming? Anyway, the Red Bee had a stinger gun, which is befitting of his name. Also, he could summon a swarm of trained bees.
Hey, stop giggling!
I mean, bees are terrifying! Ask Nic Cage!
As you can see from above, the bee’s name is Michael. He lives in The Red Bee’s belt buckle. The DC Wikia claims that Michael is his his favorite bee. At first, I thought that this was something so ridiculous that it couldn’t possibly true (Wikipedia apparently agrees, since their entry on the Red Bee has the Michael portion under a “citation needed” tag), but there it is.
Incidentally, these bees that live in The Red Bees belt do more than freak out cowardly, superstitious criminals. The also aid The Red Bee in daring escapes. Thrill as an army of trained bees provide our hero with a razor!
The Red Bee’s enemies bore colorful names, like Boss Storm, Dr. Marah, and the Swordsmen Kalak and Rugi. And then he took the fight to the Nazis in World War II. In fact, he ended up joining the All-Star Squadron. Unfortunately, his bee-based powers couldn’t save him from the bitter cruelties of war. The Red Bee was killed by Nazi supervillain Baron Blitzkreig while saving the lives of his comrades.
As you can expect, The Red Bee remains one of the most disrespected characters in the DC Universe to this very day. Technically. (I say “technically” because the original Red Bee is in public domain.) Modern day appearances of The Red Bee still have him dead as a doornail… which is quite a feat for a comic universe where characters come back to life every other month. He’s also become a punchline. He appeared as a ghost in James Robinson’s Starman as a mopey hero complaining about how crappy he was, and killed off, again, in The Golden Age. He also showed up in a canceled characters limbo in the pages of Animal Man.
Eventually, DC tried to awesome the Red Bee up by giving the job to his daughter, Jenna Raleigh, and giving her hybrid insect powers and a less embarrassing costume.
Yaaaaaawwwwwwwwnnnnnnn. I’m sorry. The original Red Bee may have been kinda silly, but at least he was unique. New Hotness Red Bee is just so generic that I have a hard time believing that she’s surviving the DC reboot.
The Red Bee’s most recent appearances has been in several Lamest Superhero lists. Take these with a grain of salt, though. First of all, the true lamest superhero, Madame Fatal, is never mentioned on these, and it’s not a lamest superhero list without an entry about him/her. Secondly, half the characters on these lists are members of the Legion of Superheroes. Hell-ooo! Matter Eater Lad is supposed to be kinda lame! (And yet secretly awesome!)
Incidentally, Cracked.com published the only Lamest Superhero list to include both Madame Fatal and The Red Bee, making them the foremost authority on lame superheroes.
It still really seems really unfair though. I mean, Ant-Man’s power was controlling friggin’ ants, and Hank Pym is one of the most respected members of the Avengers. You hardly see him showing up in Lamest Superhero lists.
Given that he only originally appeared in 24 issues, the details of The Red Bee’s career is rather sparse. We never even find out how he got all his bee-related gadgets. On the other hand, the story behind his co-creator, Audrey Blum, is far more interesting. Ms. Blum was an aspiring playright, but comics are what paid the bills … and, The Red Bee excepted, she was good at it. When she went to work at Eisner-Iger studio, she was the only writer on staff other than Will Eisner himself. Which means that, along with The Red Bee, she was responsible for penning stories of Black Condor, Dollman, Kid Patrol, The Ray, and Uncle Sam. If it’s tough to figure out what Ms. Blum wrote, it’s because she employed a veritable litany of pseudonyms: Tony Boone, Anthony Bloom, Tony Blum, Toni Boone, Toni Boon, Toni Adams, Bob Anthony, Tony Adams, Anthony Lamb, Anthony Brooks, Jack Anthony, A. L. Allen, Tom Alexander, Tom Russell, Bjorn Tagens … but most famously as Toni Blum.
As the only woman in a mostly all-male studio, she was the object of affection from pretty much all her co-workers (who, by all accounts, treated her respectfully). She once dated Will Eisner, who recounted their romance in a semiautobiographical comic he wrote (renaming Ms. Blum “Andrea Budd”). Legendary artist George Tuska, who was smitten with Ms. Blum but too shy to act on it, once punched out fellow artist Bob Powell for making crass remarks about her. And when Will Eisner went off to fight World War II, Ms. Blum took over writing duties for pulp heroes The Spirit and Lady Luck (who, incidentally is getting a new lease of life in DC’s New 52 as one of the members of the Justice League).
As for co-creator Charles Nicolas… depending on which one he was, he either created The Blue Beetle, was the first illustrator of notable military comic hero Blackhawk, or became Jack friggin’ KIRBY.
Now that’s quite a pedigree for a C-List hero who has bees in his belt.
(Read up on the further adventures of the Red Bee at the Hit Comic Archives in the Digital Comic Museum.)