Publisher: Fox Features Syndicate, then Holyoke Publishing, then Fox again, then finally Charlton Comics
First Appearance: Blue Beetle v1 #4 (Fall 1940)
Created By: ‘Charles Nicholas’ (Originally a penname for Charles Wojtowski, original Blue Beetle artist, this became a catchall credit for all Blue Beetle comics no matter who worked on them.)
Throughout the 1940s, young Dan Garret kept the streets safe by day as a rookie patrolman and by night as the Blue Beetle, possessed of powers so mysterious even the writers weren’t totally sure what they were! In both guises he was dogged by ‘demon girl reporter’ Joan Mason, the star reporter of the Bulletin, Daily Blade, New York Chronicle, or Daily Planet, depending on who was writing that particular issue. Though she considered the Blue Beetle ‘a romantic caveman,’ Joan had no particular interest in Dan except as a source of inside tips, but she often found herself entangled in his zany, mobster-and-foreign-spy-battling adventures nonetheless.
In the postwar years, as the popularity of superheroes faded, Blue Beetle stories underwent a shift from jovial costumed adventures to darker, tawdrier stories featuring sexy tied-up ladies on the covers. (Yes, comic books have always been super classy.) As Blue Beetle gradually was reduced to narrating true crime stories in his own book, Joan’s star rose. Her hair was changed from damsel-in-distress blonde to take-no-prisoners brunette, and she began starring in her own backup stories across the Fox list, fighting murderous strippers and engaging in hilarious newspaper-related japes. Sometimes Dan would show up briefly, or his lovably oafish partner Mike Mannigan, but Blue Beetle was persona non grata in these all-Joan, all the time stories.
So What’s So Great About Her?
As you’ve probably surmised from the bio above, the quality of Fox Features’ comics was…variable, as was the artistic integrity. This was, after all, the company that was sued for plagiarizing Superman with their very first issue. And the idea of a feisty girl reporter who occasionally worked for the Daily Planet, was infatuated with a superhero and had no interest in his boring old civilian identity, and whose nose for news often got her into wacky scrapes came from a very clear source.
But two things keep her from being a total Lois clone. One is that she did get those solo stories, while Superman managed to hang onto the limelight throughout the entire Golden Age. (Lois did, of course, get a long-running solo series, but not until the Silver Age.)
The other is that Lois continued past the Golden Age, into the silly, domestic stories of the Silver Age, the clumsy steps towards feminism in the Bronze Age, and the completely rockin’ character she is now. Lois is a well-rounded, complicated character with a back catalogue that stands as a history of women in comics and in pop culture, to a large degree. Joan, fading as she did when Charlton ditched Dan Garret’s police background, remains very purely what Lois was at her inception: a fearless, brassy dame who carries a pen and a gun and is far more dangerous with the former. She’s a fast-talking, wise-cracking time capsule of a bygone era an era, it’s worth noting, when female reporters were few and far between. And she’s usually far more human and entertaining than stilted, awkward Dan.
Joan Mason is inarguably a one-note character, and certainly a product of her time but even after over half a century out of print, she’s a joy to read.
All Great Comics
All-Top Comics #8-12
Blue Beetle v1 #4,9, 13,31-41,47-48,56-60
Book of All-Comics #1
Everybody’s Comics #1
Mystery Men Comics #15
Phantom Lady #13
Zago, Jungle Prince #1
Zoot Comics #7
Blue Beetle v2 #118, 120, 121, 140
Space Adventures #13-14