The Blue Beetle
Times Past, 1939
Death Rides on Horseback
by an unknown author, story from The Blue Beetle #1 (Winter 1939-1940)
The hand of a killer hovered over a frightened city, and policemen strode their beats in the shadow of death, until the Blue Beetle took a horseback ride in Central Park!
Editor’s note: The following story is a text story taken from Fox Feature Publications’ Blue Beetle #1. This story, written by an unknown author, stars the original Blue Beetle at a time before he had super-powers, which would develop very gradually over the years and were often portrayed inconsistently.
In the Blue Beetle’s first appearances, he wore different versions of his costume, starting in his first appearance with a blue business suit with a mask and a tie that had a beetle insignia, very obviously inspired by the Green Hornet. With the very next issue, he began wearing his familiar chain-mail costume, although it was short-sleeved for a few issues before finally covering his whole body, protecting him from bullets and knives.
The Blue Beetle was originally an outlaw vigilante, hunted by the law with the same fervor as outright criminals. This situation wouldn’t change until after the United States entered World War II.
Officer Bannon’s gray eyes narrowed as he raised his hands and gazed into the gaping muzzle of a .45.
“So, you’re the killer on horseback, eh?” he said mockingly. “Well, it’s a pity…”
The bark of the automatic stopped whatever he had attempted to say. The burly policeman slumped to the ground, clutching his stomach. A moment later, hoofbeats were heard disappearing into the fog that blanketed Central Park.
A week later, another policeman was found murdered on his beat. Two days later, another. Then, with diabolical precision, every dawn brought the news of a new death. Always a policeman… always the mysterious hoofbeats.
The 14th Precinct police station was filled with stern-faced, blue-coated officers. A husky voice rose above the clamor, and the noise of many voices subsided into respectful silence. All heads were turned in the direction of Sergeant Maddon.
“Boys,” he began, “Thirty policemen have been murdered within so many days. A killer, clever and expert, is loose somewhere in this city.” Maddon’s anger was rising with each word. He strove to remain calm, took a deep breath, and continued. “Unless this murderer is apprehended within the next twenty-four hours, the entire police system will collapse, and chaos will fill the city. If, in twenty-four hours, the killer is not captured, New York City will be under martial law!”
Fiercely determined to end this threat to their force and to avenge their murdered comrades, the officers went grimly back to their posts, after listening to repeated emergency orders.
That night, the city was alive with watchful men. Extra-duty men were put on all beats, and blue-coated figures were seen everywhere, marching in pairs, fingers itching and ready to pull the trigger for that one fatal shot.
Midnight. One o’clock. Two. Three. The city was very quiet now. The nerves of the police force grew tenser. Heavy jaws set tightly. The prowl cars nosed along the empty streets like suspicious, nervous cats.
Then… a yellow jet of flame through the shadows. A shrill scream. An agonized groan. Another uniformed figure falling before the sound of receding hoofbeats!
At once the extra-duty man summoned help. Two police cars whizzed off in the direction of the park just as a muffled form on horseback galloped toward the entrance. The sharp report of gunfire echoed from the still, grim walls of surrounding buildings, but the horseman had leapt the park wall and was disappearing through the ghost-like trees.
Suddenly, before the speeding patrol cars charged, a second horse and rider! The moon’s light picked out a bright blue gleam across the shoulders of this mysterious horseman.
“The Blue Beetle!” shouted Sergeant Maddon, who was seated next to the driver of the first car. “So he’s in this, too. Now we’ve got two horsemen to catch.”
“I don’t like this mystery stuff, Sarge,” the driver grumbled. “I just hope that first guy isn’t headless or somethin’. Where the devil did they go?”
Both horses had disappeared, and only the faint pounding of their hoofbeats could be heard in the distance.
But while the baffled police raced aimlessly through the park, the Blue Beetle crashed headlong through the trees, in hot pursuit of the killer. The two riders rounded the bend of the reservoir, and for a moment their horses’ hoofs clicked a sharp staccato on the asphalt bridge as they crossed. But again the speeding hoofs were dulled as they headed across the open expanse of the Great Lawn.
The old watchtower, now used only as a weather observatory, looked calmly down from atop the steep cliff, on the two racing figures as the distance between them rapidly decreased.
Skirting the lake at the foot of the cliff, the Blue Beetle’s horse spurted forward with a sudden burst of energy, but at that instance the first rider turned suddenly, and the barrel of his .45 gleamed wickedly in the moonlight. The Beetle’s horse buckled forward, mortally wounded.
But the Blue Beetle flew over the falling horse’s head and landed on the back of the killer’s steed!
Grasping the killer’s arm and pinioning them behind his back, the Blue Beetle took the reins and tried to stop the horse that was charging straight for the rocky face of the cliff. But the animal would not slow down. The Beetle jerked the reins, almost tearing the bit from the horse’s mouth. The rocks loomed above, threateningly.
Straight into the rugged wall raced the horse and his two riders! The Blue Beetle turned in time to see the stars blacked out by a section of rock that slipped quickly back into place as they passed through.
“Photo-electric eye, eh? Very ingenious!” At that moment, the horse came to a dead stop, jolting the Blue Beetle from his precarious perch to the floor.
“Yes, indeed. Very ingenious, my friend. And very smart of you to fall so neatly into my trap.” The Beetle looked up into the muzzle of the gun that had murdered so many police. The man on the horse sneered down at him.
“You see, I’m not afraid of those well-meaning Boy Scouts in brass buttons, but you, my friend, have always been somewhat of a problem to me. I’ll have to admit that you’re a lot slicker than those policemen. Almost my equal. I couldn’t very well afford to have you around after I had demoralized the force to the extent that I planned. When I am ready to take over this city in my own way, I can have no extra worries on my mind. That’s why I invited you here tonight.”
“Thanks. The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.”
The killer’s eyes narrowed, and his ugly face grew hard with fierce anger. He reached up and pressed his hand against the wall of the cave into which they had entered.
“Further conversation is entirely unnecessary. When they dig you up, that shiny blue outfit you’re wearing won’t fit your bones as snugly as it does that thick hide of yours.”
At that instant, the floor slipped from under the Blue Beetle! Down into a dank darkness he fell, landing like a cat on all fours. “Great Caesar! I’ve got to get out of here!” He heard the satisfied laugh of the murderous horseman as the floor closed over his head.
The Blue Beetle quickly took stock of his surroundings.
“What the–? The walls of this place are curved! It’s an old water main left from the reservoir that used to be here before they filled it up.”
He hurried along the big pipe, feeling his way along its rusty walls. It was pitch black and chill, smelling of damp earth. A rat scurried between his legs. At last he came to the end. A dead stop. There was no escape!
Suddenly his frantic hands grasped a handle. He pulled and twisted and jerked with all his mighty strength. Metal scraped against metal. Something tore loose, and a great torrent of water swept him back through the pipe.
“The other reservoir! This main must lead into the one that is still in use.”
Swimming against the rush of the water, the Blue Beetle managed to get through into the bottom of the reservoir. In the dark, icy water, he found the gate he had opened and pulled it back in place to prevent the water from flooding away into the old main. In another moment he was on the surface and heading for the bank. He scaled the wire fence and ran with the speed of an arrow to the road.
When Sergeant Maddon rounded the bend on the road for the fifth time, still in vain pursuit of the killer, he saw a policeman hail him and stopped.
“Dan Garret! What the deuce?”
Five minutes later, the old watchtower witnessed a strange sight. A green and white police car cut across the Great Lawn and headed straight toward the bleak face of the cliff. On the running board, an ordinary policeman named Dan Garret pointed the way.
Straight through the rocks raced the car and came to a stop inside the huge cave. Garret leapt from the car and sprang upon the surprised killer. One clip of his fist sent the man sprawling unconscious to the floor.
Maddon bent over the man. “What a tough baby! He’s got a jaw like iron. Garret, you must be supernatural to have kayoed him so easily.”
“Oh, it was nothing, Sergeant,” Garret said modestly.
“There’s only one other guy who could have done it: the Blue Beetle.”
Dan Garret nodded and grinned. “Yeah, he’s the next guy we’ve got to get, and I’d like to take care of him myself.”