May 23, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Hero Case File #89: The Red Bee

The Golden Age of comics did some real head-scratchers for superheroes.

When superheroes took off as a fad in various comic books, new heroes would pop up on a regular basis.  But for every successful Batman, there were probably at least a dozen that appeared only a handful of times before they were more or less forgotten, often for good reason.

Among the oddest of those forgotten, a character who still gets a mentions once in a while, was the Red Bee.

The Red Bee in action!
The Red Bee in action!

So, what was the Red Bee’s deal?  Did he have the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a bee?  Did he have some wings or a bult-in stinger?  Did he know how to mass produce honey and pollinate flowers?  Well, maybe for the last one, but definitely no for the rest.

See, the Red Bee was Richard Raleigh, assistant district attorney for the pompous-sounding city of Superior City, Oregon.  By night, he’d put on a red and yellow costume and go out and fight crime with a stinger gun, whatever that is, and a bunch of trained bees, particularly one he named Michael that he stored in a secret compartment in his belt.

Let’s review:  he found crime with trained bees.  Some stories suggested he never had more than one or two of them.  And that’s it.

There’s something blessedly absurd in a character like that, and not in a good way.  The Red Bee was unceremoniously killed off in a flashback story showing him stopping a Nazi supervillain long enough for another hero, one with actual superpowers named Hourman, to escape with various innocents out of a trap.  If anything, the Red Bee became more popular in death than he ever did in life thanks to two writers:  James Robinson and Grant Morrison.

Robinson only featured the Red Bee once during his great Starman run.  Once a year, a special issue would come out where Jack Knight would meet up with the ghost of his brother David for a chat about life and super heroics.  One time, Jack was also let in to meet a bunch of deceased Golden Age heroes, and the Red Bee was there, a rather bitter fellow who thought he’d been forgotten.

But Morrison was a different story, and not just because he had Plastic Man refer to the dead Red Bee as an old friend he used to have drinks with during Morrison’s JLA run.  No, Morrison included the Red Bee in his Animal Man run as one of the many inhabitants of limbo, the place where forgotten superheroes go until someone remembers them.  Animal Man encounters a particularly sad Red Bee lamenting his status and wishing someone would revive him.  Granted, every character in limbo is like that to one degree or another, but there’s something particularly sad about the Red Bee saying it since he is, you know, rather lame no matter what you can say about the guy.


Of course, then he cons Animal Man into giving the Red Bee his jacket and calling the guy with an actual series a “sucker” so draw your own conclusions.

That might have been it, but DC loves its legacies.  As a result, Richard’s grandniece Jenna at one point became a new Red Bee, one that even gained some bee-like superpowers.  But, you know, it’s still the Red Bee.  There’s only so much you can actually do.

Pictured: only so much you can actually do.