For this installment of our ongoing chronology of Charlton’s “Action Heroes” era, we going take another dive into pre-Ditko Blue Beetle run. For the most authentic experience, please imagine me issuing a deep sigh after each sentence.
The cover of Blue Beetle #51 embodies the essence of the series — Tony Tallarico’s suet-limbed concept of human anatomy framed by what resembles a sitcom prop wrangler’s vague concept of a “superhero comic cover.” It’s also the high point of the issue, which inelegantly stumbles downhill from there.
The story centers around one of writer Joe Gill’s favorite tropes — the embittered nerd whose insecurities lead him to lash out against his perceived tormentors. Playing the role of the harried dork in this go-round is Professor Clugg, a brilliant scientist who is mocked by his students and suffers from severe self-image problems.
Despite this cartload of problematic baggage, Clugg somehow manages to attract the affections of a certain Miss Appleton. The shapely blonde is smitten by the harried academic, though Clugg’s rotten self-esteem prevents him from reciprocating her love. After witnessing Appleton chatting with the square-jawed Dr. Garrett, Clugg’s toxic stew of resentments steer him towards drastic action — never realizing that Appleton and Garrett were only trying to figure out the best way to help Clugg deal with his problems.
Clugg’s plan is simple. He uses the power of SCIENCE to imprint his consciousness on a bulky robot which appeared to be assembled from surplus HVAC components. The construct’s name is Mentor — hence the giant serifed “M” on its chestplate — and is a rough amalgam of tropes lifted from Frankenstein and Faust. Mentor is both servant and manipulator to Clugg, encouraging the professor’s worst impulses while providing the means to act upon them.
While Miss Appleton stumbles onto the scene shortly after this weird happening, the co-dependent duo are more interested in the strange azure scarab Dr. Garrett carts around in his pocket. By means of a flimsy ruse, Clugg manages to pilfer the artifact from Garrett’s office and take it back to his robot pal for further analysis. What they discover is…
…that neither Mentor or Clugg are capable of putting two and two together.
They decide to confront Garrett directly about the scarab’s powers. Using Clugg’s previously unmentioned mastery of hypnosis (presumably learned via the mail order ad on the opposite page of the comic), they extract a long and excessively loquacious recap of the Blue Beetle’s origin and superpowers from the entranced doctor. After the infodump finally ends, the scarab transforms Garrett into the Blue Beetle for an awkwardly rendered dust-up between super-hero and super-robot.
It ends when Blue Beetle asks Clugg to put a stop to this nonsense and Clugg courteously complies…
…or does he?
Clugg uses the break to beef up Mentor’s capabilities in unspecified ways, finally unleashing him to…
…break into Garrett’s apartment where he talks smack for a while before deciding to impress Miss Appleton by stealing a WHOLE BAR OF GOLD FROM FORT KNOX.
Mentor’s may have set his sights pretty low, but his souped up capabilities are more than adequate for the task. The robot returns to taunt the still-pajama’ed Garrett with the gold bar before swinging by Miss Appleton’s pad to drop off her gift and maybe blast “In Your Eyes” from his onboard speakers while standing outside her window. (this is how things were done before social media existed, okay?)
I should probably mention that Clugg himself has totally vanished from the story by this point. A few passages of dialogue imply that the professor found a way to physically merge with Mentor, but it isn’t explicitly stated. Perhaps it was meant to be a profound metaphor about the dehumanizing effects of technology. Or maybe Joe Gill’s busy schedule precluded giving a fuck about these sorts of details.
Appleton isn’t impressed by Mentor’s antics and asks for the return of her beloved dumpster fire crush. Mentor decides to go for another few round with Blue Beetle instead. The two titans tussle over the ocean. The Navy gets involved with some artillery fire. Beetle almost loses his scarab again, but is saved by his magical pharaoh benefactor’s modest intervention. Beetle slams his pectorals into Mentor’s metallic crotch. A defeated Mentor plunges into the watery depths, never to be seen again.
Back at the campus, a day of mourning is held for the presumably deceased Clugg. The professor’s former students lament the abuse they heaped upon him, and Miss Appleton sheds a few tears for the misunderstood genius (before embarking on her romantic back-up plan of writing love letters to serial killers on death row).
The frickin’ end.
(“Mentor the Magnificent” written by Joe Gill, pencilled by Bill Fraccio, and inked by Tony Tallarico. Typeset letting.)