1. “The Valley of the Giant Bees!” (Batman #84, 1951)
“Robin! He’s been captured and made a jester in the court of the queen bee!” And he didn’t even have to change outfits for his new job, imagine that. Our story begins with Batman and his youthful ward on the hot trail of sugar thieves. (That’s right, sugar.) Trailing the crooks to a remote area outside Gotham, the dynamic duo are knocked over by a sudden wind; when Batman comes to, he’s horrified to discover the wind was generated by the flapping wings of giant bees, Robin is nowhere to be found, and the sugar thieves he was tailing were in fact hypnotized into feeding their gigantic insect masters! Batman flies back to the city to warn the citizenry of the threat, but he’s too late — the giant bees are already attacking radio towers and random pedestrians. Fortunately, our valiant hero is there to beat them back with… a giant parade balloon shaped like a spider? Okay, then. The story ends with Robin rousting Batman from his hallucinations; it turns out it was all just a dream and they get back to the business of busting the sugar thieves, who are actually stealing supplies for their illegal liquor still. Later, Batman pulls something out of the Bat-plane’s exterior: “a stick we picked up when we landed in that field, Robin… but note its strange shape — exactly the shape of a stinger from a giant bee!” Dun dun DUNNN….
2. “The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk!” (Action Comics #291, 1962)
“Say! It’s Silver Age Mr. Mxyzptlk! You fun-loving so-and-so, what have you been up to lately? Pulled any mischievous pranks lately, you whimsical scamp?”
“Oh, you know, nothing special. I took a break from hassling the big blue boy scout to have some fun with his cousin. In the process, I nearly caused the deaths of two test pilots, turned a whole city into war-mongering Bizarros, created gigantic bees to terrorize a police picnic, and — oh, yeah! — I tried to con Supergirl into marrying me by resurrecting her dead parents and making them force her to become my bride.”
“You okay there, fella? You look a little green.”
“Damn, Mxyzptlk. You got dark.”
3. “The Case of the Giant Bees!” (Adventure Comics #69, 1941)
True fact: this story features the debut of the Sandman’s more conventional superhero costume and the first appearance of Sandy the Golden Boy, his youthful sidekick. It also has giant bees, as you might have guessed from the title. Wesley “Sandman” Dodd is driving along a lonely New England road when… “Wow! That’s a BEE — and he’s bigger than I am!” Luckily, a harpoon through the thorax is all it takes to shrink the bee-beast back to its normal size. Long story short: Old Man Buttsford (heh) fed his bees a “super-thyroid extract” to make them bigger and more productive, but he went a mite too far with the jumbo juice and turned his bees into human-sized monsters with intelligence, an ability to communicate in English, and a thirst for more than just nectar. “The world is in danger of being flooded with a race of bee-monsters!” screams Buttsford to his daughter before he’s lifted skyward by some giant drones, a line of dialogue and an exit that even Samuel L. Jackson would be hard-pressed to sell. Lucky for us, a man and a boy in matching capes is all it takes to punch the bees, wrangle them together in the hive and seal its opening shut, ensuring the sentient bees slowly suffocate inside. Wow, that’s… kind of the opposite of heroic, now that I think about it. “Yes, Sandy, listen to their screams as they slowly succumb to a horrible death! And tomorrow, I’ll teach you how to deal with perps who whines about their civil rights!”
4. “The Conquerors of Time!” (The Flash #125, 1961)
Here’s a fun fact: The world’s largest bee is about four times larger than the European honeybee. Wallace’s giant bee gets it name from the 19th-century English naturalist who found it on a remote Indonesian island; after going missing for several decades, it was spotted earlier this year when a search team visiting the North Moluccas laid eyes on a member of Megachile pluto for the first time in 38 years. Though fearsome in appearance, the bee’s giant pincers are more for transporting resin than biting, and the bee — which flies solo instead of forming hives — lacks the stinging defences of its smaller relatives. I mention all this because it’s more fascinating than the mundane truth about prehistoric bees, which — although we do have evidence they were buzzing around 100 million years ago, in the time of the dinosaurs — never grew to a size that allowed them to pick up a superhero sidekick. Alas.
5. “The Giant Bees” (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #409, 1974)
Bees at a picnic can be a nuisance, but giant bees that rip your gold jewelry right off your neck? That’s just plain rude. At it turns out, these giant bees were bred by a well-intentioned scientist named Professor Bugsby and turned into thieves by Peg-Leg Pete, who pins the crimes on the bumbling professor. Naturally, Mickey saves the day by convincing Chief O’Hara who’s really behind the crimes, but I wouldn’t rush to pin any medals on the guy. I mean, whenever someone commits a crime in the comic-book Disney-verse it’s either the Beagle Boys or Peg-Leg Pete, and since I don’t see any giant money bins around…
6. “Not the Bees!” (Monsters Unleashed #9, 2018)
Meanwhile, at a “home of agribusiness and seriously unwise sciencing,” someone in the food science division is experimenting with size-changing Pym particles to enhance food production. What could possibly go wrong? “Are you covered in… honey? Oh no… NOT THE BEES!” Oh, yes. The bees. And remember, kids: if you ever find yourself inside a hive full of angry giant bees, you can save the day (and your skin) through the magic of interpretive dance. Just ask the mighty Scragg. From the book’s opener: “Known to the world as Kid Kaiju, Kei Kawade has the inhuman ability to summon and create monsters simply by drawing them. Joined by creature expert Elsa Bloodstone, Kid Kaiju and his team protect the world from monsters gone bad.” I haven’t picked up this series aside from this one issue, but it’s nice to see Marvel coming out with titles that lean into its goofy giant monster roots.
7. “Bee Ball!” (Scooby-Doo #37, 2000)
Of course the Scooby gang has tangled with giant bees. Name me a monster they haven’t dealt with over the past 50 years. That’s right, the first episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? — “What a Night for a Knight” — debuted on CBS almost 50 years ago on September 13, 1969. I’m sure someone has written a great thesis about the enduring appeal of a talking dog and a gang of meddling kids solving mysteries, but for me the only lesson the show ever taught me was this: there are no real monsters in the world, just crooks running real estate scams who want the rest of us freaking out so they can sneak off with the money. In this story, Scooby and the gang investigate rumors of a local beekeeper creating “a breed of giant, mutant, killer bees.” It all ends with a giant chase and fight involving sports equipment before (shocker!) a real estate scam is revealed. So pretty much what you’d expect from an outing with Mystery Incorporated.
8. “The Hive of Atlantis!” (Gorgo’s Revenge #1, 1962)
The posters for the 1961 British-American film starring a giant lizard rising from the sea and terrorizing English folk screamed “LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE!” Uh-huh. Sure. (“This monster attacks London, not Tokyo! See! Totally different!”) Rip-off or not, Gorgo was popular enough to score a 23-issue series from Charlton, which included work by such greats as Steve Ditko and Dick Giordano. Presumably because the editors thought the sight of a giant lizard smashing its way through China and fighting sharks underwater wasn’t exciting enough for their readers, this issue’s back-up story finds the lab coat-clad Dr. Felix Reed and his comely companion, Phoebe, exploring the Great Basin Desert of the American West, a place where Dr. Reed believed the ancient land of Atlantis once stood. Their search for fossils leads them to a massive beehive, which is buzzing with life once more after being exposed to sunlight and air for the first time in 10,000 years. Free to look for food again, the giant bees frighten the cowboys who first spot them flying across the range, and soon they’re flying as far as Paris(!) in search of sustenance that sadly no longer exists in our present-day world. While fighter jets scramble to shoot down the massive insects, Dr. Reed has the brilliant idea to… do absolutely nothing and let the giant bees die of starvation. Which they do. Huh. Well, that was… anti-climactic. Oh, and somehow Felix and Phoebe fell in love along the way, because what lady wouldn’t swoon at the sight of a man in a lab coat who saves humanity by doing jack-all to save it from the menace he unwittingly unleashed? I’m getting the vapors just thinking about him right now. If those Mystery Science Theater folks ever branch out into comics, they would have a ball with this one.
9. “The Origin of Bee-Man” (Double-Dare Adventures #1, 1966)
We’ve met Bee-Man before when I took at a look at dubious bee-themed characters, and I’m sad to report he hasn’t gotten any better with age. My theory about how he came to be: when Marvel’s Spider-Man became a runaway success, other publishers tried to deliver their own Marvel-ish heroes in the same mold. The only problem was that those attempts tended to be heavier on the “-ish” than “Marvel.” Archie already had the Fly, so they didn’t have to work too hard to re-jig him for the go-go Sixties, but Harvey… oh, poor, sweet Harvey. Not content with cornering the kids’ comics market with stories of dead kids and giant baby ducks, Harvey came up with a few short-lived super-heroes, including Spymaster, Magicmaster, the Glowing Gladiator… and this poor fellow, a shady scientist whose lust for fame and fortune led him to the site of a meteor crash where — “THE BEES… SAVE ME FROM THE GIANT BEES!” You can almost hear the writer tasked with coming up with an origin story thinking: “Oh, Peter Parker only got one spider bite? That’s adorable. Let me show them how a real hero is born.” Surprisingly, the concept of a superhero who got his bee-powers from giant Martian bee venom never clicked with readers, and after two issues Bee-Man was never seen again.
10. Space Travellers #6 (UK’s L. Miller & Son, c. 1956)
Blast ’em, shirtless guy! Blast ’em good! This item was sent my way by a friend who had heard about my apian obsession. I’m mighty obliged to him sending some giant bees over my way. (Now that’s a sentence you don’t hear every day.) I can find next to nothing about this British sci-fi series except that it ran for 10 issues in the 1950s — and, as you can plainly see, it was “always full of exciting adventure!” The cover image features characters from the U.S. newspaper strip Twin Earths, a 1950s sci-fi series featuring duplicate Earths and flying saucers that was reprinted in this British book.
11. “How Lois Lane Fell in Love with Superman!” (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #53, 1964)
It’s the story of how Lois fell in love with Superman. Of course giant bees are involved. The thing you have to understand about Silver Age Lois Lane stories is that things just… happen. For instance, in this story set early in Clark Kent’s career at the Daily Planet… why does Lois think Superman is a “conceited show-off”? Why does Superman man a kissing booth at a charity picnic? Why does Perry White send Lois to an uninhabited desert island to report on earthquakes that’s so remote Superman has to fly her? Why does it happen to be the same island where “a scientist once performed experiments with a growth-ray” AND where a piece of red kryptonite recently landed? Doesn’t matter: like I said, things just… happen. All of this is set-up to get us to the meat of the story: the Red K deprives Superman of all his powers but also gives him telepathy. So not only does he have to save Lois from giant bees and snakes without using his powers, he also has to hear her thoughts while he’s doing it — and what she’s thinking about him isn’t pretty. Naturally, our gal comes around when she sees how resourceful and self-sacrificing Superman is without his powers, but now I’m thinking a few unkind thoughts about Superman. Within the span of a few hours, our powerless hero constructs a palm-leaf hut, hammock and two-story water wheel for drawing fresh water from a river. Way to make us normal guys look bad, Super-JERK.
12. “I hate bees!” (Calvin and Hobbes, 1992)
Technically not from a comic book, true, but I’ll happily make an exception for Bill Watterson. Is he the greatest comic-strip artist ever? I don’t know if I would go that far. But he’s certainly in my top three.