If you’ve ever spent quality time flipping through the Overstreet Guide or browsing cover galleries on-line, you will have noticed that there are quite a few comic book series that changed their look, if not content and genre, every few years. This can be a fascinating exercise, as you can watch the various trends flow through a specific title. I’ll be looking at a few prime examples over the next couple of weeks, but I thought I’d start with one of my favourites: Blue Bolt.
When it was launched in 1940, Blue Bolt was one of the very first comic book series named for a specific character. The lead character was created by Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby came aboard with the second issue. Most of the initial adventures took place under the Earth’s surface, giving the strip a very sci-fi feel. Eventually, he came back to the ‘real world’ and started punching Nazis, like any good WW2 era hero. For whatever reason, the series took a slight shift and the ‘classic’ Blue Bolt would not appear on another cover for nearly a decade. Replacing him for a short while was Bill Everett’s Sub-Zero Man. Blue Bolt was still the lead story, but I imagine Novelty Press saw that WW2 would bring a shift in taste away from the fantastical and towards the patriotic.
A much more significant shift would take place in mid-1941 when Dick Cole took over as the cover feature and lead story. The Blue Bolt strip (no longer a Simon and Kirby production) was relegated to 6 pages near the back of the book. This must have been one of the first series to shift away from superheroes, and towards a more relatable All-American patriot archetype. Cole was a star athlete at a fictional military academy and helped see America safely through the war years. As far as I can tell, Cole had some minor ill-defined powers, but I’ve not been able to piece together their origins. After the war, Blue Bolt had a another shift in tone. Straightforward military stories were replaced with other ‘patriotic tales’, but these would take place in a wide range of venues – from the jungles of Africa to the local basketball court. Blue Bolt was still around as a 5 or 6 page back-up, but Dick Cole’s series mates now consisted mainly of features such as Edison Bell and Fearless Fellers. It was good clean, perhaps overly sanitized, fun – but it must have been popular as Dick Cole also starred in 4Most Comics and in his own eponymous title in the late 40s.
The year 1950 brought significant changes as Novelty Press sold the title and its inventory to Star Publications. For a few issues, Blue Bolt became a reprint title – featuring some of the earliest Blue Bolt stories as well as Target and the Targeteers and Basil Wolverton’s Spacehawk from another long running Novelty Press series; Target Comics. These all featured spectacular LB Cole covers and are highly sought after by collectors. There was one final shift left for Blue Bolt, and it was a big one. The title was changed to Blue Bolt’s Weird Tales of Terror, in an attempt to take advantage of the horror craze. Blue Bolt himself was absent from most of these issues (except where a particularly ‘weird’ story could be used). This last handful of issues featured some particularly ghoulish LB Cole covers, using those day-glo colours that can be seen on many Cole covers from this period.
So that’s a quick look at one of the most adaptable series of the Golden Age. For more random comic book talk, stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent
Next Week: The Nine Lives of Black Cat
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