Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey is a classic American comic strip, a judgment I make without hesitation. Though I missed the strip's early years, I have been reading and mostly enjoying it for decades. I do find the disconnect between Camp Swampy and the real world disconcerting, given that we have troops fighting two wars in the Middle East, and visibly wince whenever Walker and crew inflict another one of their tired "Sarge beating the crap out of Beetle" episodes on us, but, overall, I'm a fan.
Dell's Four Color #622 [April, 1955] is Beetle's fourth comic book appearance. After these "tryouts," he went on to star in roughly 150 comic books from several publishers. His last comic books were published in 1992, but, of course, his strip continues to run in over 1800 newspapers around the world.
Walker launched the Beetle Bailey strip in 1950 as pretty much just another college kid strip. A year later, Beetle enlisted in the U.S. Army and established the strip's identity forever more. The Beetle who appears in this comic book looks very different than his modern incarnation and it seems to me that Walker, credited by the Grand Comics Datebase [www.comics.org] was still figuring out the character and his surroundings.
The inside front cover has a one-page strip of Beetle taking a college correspondence course, showing far more ambition than he shows today.
In the issue's lead story, Beetle and his fellow soldiers are cleaning a coal bin so that it will be spotless before the General inspects it. The complication is that a new shipment of coal has arrived and the driver wants to unload it. The funniest element of the tale is the idea of a military bureaucracy that would require a spotless coal bin, but that element is ignored. Perhaps Walker thought it would go over the heads of the comic book's presumably young readers.
"Patents Pending" is a much funnier story with Beetle and his pal Killer coming up with absurd inventions that, for some reason, the General and Captain Dobbins feel are worthy of being tested for possible use.
The third (untitled) story is a flashback to Beetle's college days. It's a typical high school/college plot and runs a bit long, but it delivers an amusing ending.
The issue's finale - "Time On His Hands" - feels more like one of Harvey's Sad Sack comic books, than a Beetle Bailey. Annoyed by the latest of Sarge and the soldiers being late, a Colonel Epaulets orders Sarge to buy and install a clock. The Colonel even looks a bit like a Sad Sack character. There's also a minutely risque sub-plot involving a captain trying to get rid of the pin-up posters in his office before his wife visits him. Again, that sort of thing, as well as the inside back cover gag with a similar theme, would be more common to Sad Sack than to Beetle.
The back cover also has a gag strip. That adds up to 36 pages of story and art for a dime with the only advertisement being one thin strip across the bottom of a page that touts Dell comic books in general and shows the covers of issues of Jungle Jim and Krazy Kat.
I don't know if this issue of Beetle Bailey will make the cut for the sequel to my 1000 Comic Books You Must Read, but I do know I'm having a blast reading old comics in preparation for that book. Look for more of this in future TOTs.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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