1. “Hive!” (Tomb of Terror #8, 1953)
While EC’s New Trend comics are justly hailed for their storytelling craftsmanship, we shouldn’t let that blind us to the output of other companies churning out quality horror tales at the same time. For instance, while Harvey would later find its niche as the four-color purveyor of kid devils, ghostly children and poor little one percenters, in its early years it was a prolific publisher of many genres, including such horror titles as Witches Tales, Black Cat Mystery and Tomb of Terror. In the latter’s “Hive!” we meet Charlie, a fellow tending beehives for a wealthy lady who loves her honey. One night, he has dreams of giant bees kidnapping him for their queen… who just happens to be his boss! As if things aren’t frightening enough, the jealous bees who took him decide he’s not worthy enough to be her mate, and they start stinging him to death with their giant stingers… until Charlie wakes up, and realizes it was all a horrible dream. Whew! Good thing nothing similar to that experience could happen to him in real life, right? Right?
2. “Beware… the Bees!” (Mystic #7, 1952)
This ominously titled tale begins with an introduction to Casper Green, a miserly man after Scrooge’s heart. (“Beautiful money! Green manna! How lovely it is! How soft to the touch!” Sheesh, get a room, Casper.) When being a ruthless money-lender doesn’t satisfy his greed, he answers an ad for a scientist’s assistant that pays $100 a week (about $965 in today’s money). He’s dismayed to learn the job involves taking care of the man’s bees, but he toughs it out for the money. He almost leaves after a painful encounter, but then learns the scientist’s secret for never getting stung: a serum that he’s been working on as part of his bee research. “But I can’t let you have it!” the scientist says. “It’s not perfected yet! It works on me… but I’m not sure what it’ll do for others.” Later, Casper breaks into the lab and drinks the serum anyway, so desperate is he to keep the job that makes him so much money. And then… well, you can see what happens next up top. Let’s just say Jeff Goldblum just gained a new buddy for his next support group meeting.
3. “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?” (Astonishing #28, 1953)
In this story, which appeared in once of several horror-suspense titles published by Marvel predecessor Atlas, a wandering hobo ends up at the Abernathy Apiary looking for a meal and place to sleep. The farmer offers him both if he helps out around the farm, but it isn’t long before the bum besmirches the good name of bums everywhere by killing the farmer over his stash of money hidden in a fake beehive. Unfortunately for him, his act of murder does not go unavenged for long; the bum’s hands aren’t even off the farmer’s throat when the bees start swarming and stinging him in a most unpleasant way. The now-very-lumpy bum falls unconscious from the pain, only to wake up in… well, see for yourself. No, there’s no explanation offering for how ordinary bees built a hive big enough to entomb a man, or if the man was somehow shrunk down to the size of a bee — or even, come to think of it, why the bees would care about a human killing another human. Nor was there any effort to give the guy’s death an ironic twist in the way that an EC story might have done. The moral here seems to be: “Don’t kill beekeepers.” Which I think most kids in the ’50s managed to do. BLUB!
4. “The Man in the Bee-Hive” (Tales of Suspense #32, 1962)
When Tales of Suspense #32 hit the stands in June 1962, thrill-seeking kids with only 12 cents in their tiny hands had their choice of Journey Into Mystery #83 (containing the first appearance of Thor) or Amazing Fantasy #15 (featuring the debut of Spider-Man)… or this story with a story about a guy kidnapped by bees. I’d like to think that somewhere out there is someone who’s staring very hard at his still-near-mint copy of this book and thinking, “Yeah, I probably should have gone with Amazing Fantasy.” The story introduces us to an unsavory sort who tries to rob a beekeeper, only the beekeeper gets the drop on him instead. “Have you ever wondered why the bees in the apiaries don’t sting me, even though I wear no veil?” the dapper beekeeper explains. “I am a mutant! Ever since birth, I have been able to work miracles by the power of my brain! My greatest feat is to reduce a man’s size! And now, I shall reduce us to… the size of — bees!”
And so he does, allowing the burglar to feel the terror that comes from running through a beehive when you’re the size of something that can ride a bee like a horse. And then, just when he thinks his number is up, the man is returned to normal size… or so he thinks, because the beekeeper then confesses he only hypnotized the man into thinking he was trapped inside a beehive. Either way, the guy is sufficiently wigged out to get on his merry way… but not before he picks up the very, very tiny gun that used to be his. Dun dun DUN!
5. “Long Live the Queen” (Journey Into Mystery #88, 1963)
In this tale set in ancient Egypt, we meet Queen Phareeta, “a kindly monarch loved by her people,” and her evil cousin, Asmara. Being next in line for the throne, Asmara decides one day she has waited too long for the fates to take care of Phareeta, and so she plots her cousin’s demise by means of a few drops of poison in her food. But unknown as Asmara, someone saw her tampering with the royal meal and her murderous intentions are exposed. While awaiting execution, Asmara summons an aged sorcerer to her cell: “I know that you have studied the mystic arts of reincarnation. I want to be brought back to life after my execution!” He tries to explain it’s not that simple, but she hears none of it — she demands he do it, or her hidden treasures will never be his. Later, the good queen offers to spare Asmara’s life if she promises to forget her “mad ambition,” but Asmara demands to be executed, so confident is she in the sorcerer’s skills. Sure enough, the sorcerer is true to his word… it’s just too bad Asmara never specified what kind of queen she wanted to be in her next life.
6. “To Bee Or Not to Bee!” (Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #73, 1977)
In the opening panel of this story, our resident master of scare-emonies introduces us to a man on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. “As you may have gleaned, Professor Alton Mayne is the world’s foremost authority on bees,” Boris Karloff says. “Unfortunately, he’s developed a bee in his bonnet that is certain to unleash a hornet’s nest!” You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Karloff. Born William Henry Pratt in 1887, the British actor adopted the stage name “Boris Karloff” while touring in Canada. Famous for his horror roles in films like The Mummy and Frankenstein, later in life he leaned into his reputation as master of horror by hosting spooky TV shows and editing several horror anthologies. In 1963, he lent his name and likeness to Gold Key for a horror comic based on his TV Thriller show; it was renamed Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery with the third issue. Each issue would feature several stories, each one introduced by Karloff and sporting such titles as “Murder in Marble,” “Satan’s Highway” and “They Came from the Deep!” In this story, a scientist trying to help humanity through building better bees ends up creating giant intelligent bees with a thirst for world domination. As one would.
7. “The Insanity Swarm!” (Adventure Comics #463, 1979)
Sing along with me now…
Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman!
All the world’s waiting for you
To defend us from the bees…
No, you’re not afraid
Don’t need no can of Raid
To smack those bugs all black and blue!
So, the 1970s. It was a weird time for a lot of reasons. For our purposes, let’s focus on just one of the weirdness highlights: the media hysteria over “killer bees.” The Africanized honey bee was first introduced to Brazil in 1956 as a way of increasing honey production in that country; when several imported swarms escaped quarantine, they spread throughout South America and made their way north. While their aggressive nature made them more dangerous than other bee varieties, media reports of their “invasion” of the U.S. tended to sensationalize their threat to humans over their actual threat to native ecosystems. Because of these media reports,the phrase “killer bees” entered the public consciousness and a new mass panic was born. The 1978 film The Swarm was one of the higher-profile attempts by Hollywood to scare audiences with killer bees; I’m almost positive writer Gerry Conway had that movie in mind when he scripted this tale (the source of our Bee Month banner up top) pitting Wonder Woman against a swarm of bees. Our amazing Amazon is visiting the Houston Aeronautics Training Program when suddenly… “THE BEES! THE BEES!” A familiar face is behind the bees’ swarming of the military base, but the one thing our special guest villain didn’t account for was Diana’s un-bee-lievable bee-wrangling powers. (Sorry.)
8. “Bee Vixens From Mars!” (Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight #1, 2013)
Grindhouse films span across horror, action, science-fiction, erotica and other genres — they’re also called B-movies, exploitation films, or even “paracinema” if you’re running in academic circles. Either way, they’re typically films that serve up plenty of what their audiences are looking for: sex, violence and gore, and not necessarily in that order. Most American grindhouse theatres were closed by the 1980s, with home video and cable channels delivering the low-budget thrills audiences could only once get in those grimy venues. But a fondness for grindhouse lives on in places like the 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez film Grindhouse and a pair of Dark Horse mini-series from writer Alex De Campi titled Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight and Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out. From the marketers: “Bringing the flavor of midnight exploitation flicks to comics, Grindhouse delivers four two-issue gore operas, starting with Bee Vixens from Mars, pitting a one-eyed southern Latina deputy against lusty alien chicks bent on laying eggs in the entire male population!” Let me state for the record that I am not in favor of that outcome.
9. “Howl” (Animosity #13, 2018)
From the marketers at AfterShock Comics: “One day, the Animals woke up. They started thinking. They started talking. They started taking revenge. Now, a dog and his girl are trying to get away — out of New York City, and all the way to San Francisco, to the only person who might be able to protect and save her.” Think The Walking Dead, but with intelligent animals. Which, now that I think about it, is a way scarier concept. In truth, animals gaining sentience (an event known as The Wake in this universe) leads to some interesting scenarios, with some animals fighting back against the humans that once enslaved and slaughtered them and others finding different paths. This issue is the culmination of a story arc that finds our young hero discovering the Orchard, a farming community where humans and animals work together in harmony — but that spirit of co-operation doesn’t extend to The Hive, a nearby community of bees whose members are enslaved by the Orchard residents despite the important job they play in pollinating their crops. When rising tensions lead to the death of the Hive’s queen, it does not end well for the humans. Moral of the story: never, ever piss off the bees.