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Context

King Bee was the second supervillain-in-the-modern-sense who clashed with the Justice Society.

He appeared in 1943, not long after the Brain Wave (Henry King, Sr.).

Unlike the Brain Wave (and the Psycho-Pirate, who followed him), King Bee didn’t stick. Unless you count the versions of Queen Bee as a successor, I guess.

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Background

  • Real Name: Elmer Pane.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base of Operations: Unspecified location, likely in the coastal DC/Boston/NYC corridor.
  • Height: 5’5″ (1.65 m). Weight: 130 lbs. (59 Kg.).
  • Eyes: Unrevealed. Hair: Dark brown.

Powers & Abilities

Elmer Pane had experience as an exterminator of vermin. He also was a brilliant, self-taught entomologistA scientist who studies insects. and biochemist.

However, he seemed to have little opportunities to develop people skills.

One also gets the impression that his eyes were weak, requiring both a strong optical correction and protection from bright lights.

He could operate handguns, though he didn’t seem to be particularly accurate.

Mr. Pane’s big breakthrough was extracting “the insect hormone”. It could be used to turn men into insect or arachnid hybrids, with superhuman powers and an obedient (but simple) mind.

These mutates were too powerful for most mystery men of those days to handle directly. Superhuman heroes such as Dr. Fate, the Spectre, etc. could handle them fairly easily. But athletes in bright costumes had to avoid direct confrontation.

1947-but-also-1941 appearance

The King Bee later learned how to mutate himself to have fly wings, without apparent side effects.

He also started packing some sort of sci-fi handgun, characteristics unknown.

Mutated henchmen – termite men

These guys had termite-like heads, and their hands had mutated into pincers. They seemed silent and none too bright, but followed orders well.

Two such guys could slowly force open a bank vault, using their pincers and great strength. The door seemed to be about 12cm (4¾ inches) steel.

On the other pincer, Hawkman (Carter Hall) could punch them out without major issue.

They had a special backpack-and-hose that shot some sort of gunk to immobilise people. That worked even on Hawkman, but liquefied when exposed to extreme heat.

This paste may have been the same thing termites use for nest construction. If so, I’m sorry to say, it’s mostly faeces.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - termite men

Termite men operating gunk projectors.

Mutated henchmen – borers

These guys had hairless, vivid pale pink skin. They could speak, albeit haltingly, despite their fangs.

Borers also had a shell on their back, looking like a snail shell.

According to the best experts in the field (such as Annabelle and Fatoumata, age 4, who like picture books about animals), snails aren’t insects or arachnids. Some hypotheses :

  1. It was meant to be the sort of shell found on hermit crabs. Look, crabs have a lot of legs, so at least they’re closer to insects than snails, right ?
  2. Some armoured thorn beetles have a growth on their back that could conceivably look like this.
  3. It could be a misunderstanding based on the shape of a rolled-up pill bug.
  4. In some 1940s art Hawkman’s wings are drawn in a strange way that looks a bit like this. So perhaps some sort of beating beetle wings ?

They could bore underground with ease, and even break thru most kinds of cement.

Borers could withstand punches from the Sandman (Wesley Dodds), unless he put extra effort into those. OTOH, they assumed that they were vulnerable to .45 ACP rounds.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - borer man and sandman

Borer.

Mutated henchmen – water bugs

These could swim at startling speeds, leaving eddies in their trail.

However, they had to be equipped with a helmet and air tank to stay underwater for more than a few minutes.

They likely had enhanced strength.

The leader was Chick Dempsey, a semi-famous swimmer desperate for a job. He still had his full mental faculties, but the other water bug henchmen were unquestioningly obeying him – all drone-like.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - water bug men and spectre

Water bug men.

Mutated henchmen – hornets

These guys had hornet wings.

These seem assisted by a sort of backpack with coils and motors. Logic suggests that this equipment allowed them to fly much higher than would otherwise be feasible.

Other gear included :

  • A full helmet + mask with a rebreather and goggles, to operate at altitude. There was a decorative spike over the nose, like a cartoon mosquito’s stinger.
  • Their costumes had yellow furry bits, evoking a hornet. This loosely suggests that they were insulated against cold from altitude.
  • They had SMGs looking like Thompson M1s, but with a narrow elongated barrel evoking a stinger.

They only ever said “ssss”. Though it might simply be because they wore 1940s rebreathers.

There seemed to be eighth of these, sometimes operating in two teams of four.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - hornet men and doctor fate

Hornet men.

Mutated henchmen – spiders

These guys :

  • Could weave giant sticky webs.
  • Had good but not superhuman night vision.
  • Had augmented but not superhuman strength.
  • Likely could sense vibrations along their web.

They seemed entirely instincts-driven, with little intelligence.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - spider men and doctor mid-nite

Spider men, do whatever a spider can.

Mutated henchmen – ants

These hairless, beefy guys are superhumanly strong. One can crumple a 1940s police cruiser like an accordion, and two can rip smaller 1940s bank vault doors off their hinges.

One statement is that they can lift a locomotive – about 100 tonnes back then. But it’s unclear whether it was one guy or several.

Starman (Ted Knight) also survives an ant-man punch without major injury, though he’s clearly spending a lot of Hero PointsDC Heroes RPG concept expressing narrative importance/immunity.. And knows he’s not going to soak a second blow.

“Class 15” or — more likely — “Class 20” is a reasonable estimate. And so it was six or five guys who stole that locomotive.

They are surprisingly fast, and adept climbers.

The ant-men received their orders by radio – their headbands and antennae are receivers. They always repeated their orders aloud, and seemed rather dim. For instance they’d obey whoever was talking through the radio emitter.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - ant-men attack

Ant-men.

Mutated henchmen – grasshoppers

These of course could leap over fairly tall buildings in a single bound. And travel surprisingly long distances via tireless hopping.

They were strong (especially their kicks), durable and fast. Their skin seemed to have chitinous properties. Even the Atom (Al Pratt) thought that he wasn’t strong enough to fight those guys.

However, they had a high metabolic rate. If they exert themselves for too long, their hunger would lead them to devour a good chunk of the nearest farm field.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - grasshopper men kick

Grasshopper men.

Mutated henchmen – flies

Fly-men could walk on walls and ceilings. They could also, well, fly.

Like the rest, they blindly obeyed their commands.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - fly men stuck

Fly men.

“Dobermants”

King Bee’s lab was also protected by three mutated attack dogs, with more than the proportional strength of an ant. So perhaps a bit under “Class 10”.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - dobermants attack

“Dobermants”.

History

During the 1930s, Elmer Pane was a freelance vermin extermination contractor.

Fascinated by insects, he also maintained entomological habitats in his home.

However, his unusual appearance and unimpressive physique made him a target for ridicule and bullies. It also made it difficult to make sales as he went door-to-door to offer his services.

Humiliated, Mr. Pane wished he was strong enough to beat bullies back. He started working on a way to endow himself with the proportional strength of an insect.

The insect hormone

His research produced an edible that would endow a human with the abilities of an insect species.

However, it also made the person with these abilities simple-minded and obedient. And by this point, Pane had ten bucks left to his name.

Mr. Pane therefore contacted the mob as “King Bee”. He offered them the services of his insect-men for their jobs, against ⅔ of the income. Since his mutates clearly had scary powers, this was a success.

After several such partnerships, the King Bee was wealthy. He had a top-notch research lab built deep within a forest, perhaps in New Jersey.

Buzz for justice

However, a series of spectacular operations brought him to the attention of the Justice Society of America.

As usual, the JSAers split up to address eight different schemes. Each was run by King Bee in partnership with a different mob, using a different kind of insect mutate.

In the end, the entire team converged on the King Bee’s lab.

Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt easily disposed of the mutated guard dogs, and Pane was quickly arrested. Browsing through his research papers revealed the means to cure his mutates.

time travel oh no

In 1947, King Bee and his cell mate the Sky Pirate were freed by Per Degaton.

Both joined his team, which then proceeded back in time to December 7, 1941. Their other colleagues were :

  • Professor Zobar Zodiak, aka the Alchemist.
  • Wotan.
  • Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday).

The idea was to leverage the Pearl Harbour attack as a diversion, and storm the US from another direction.

King Bee and four hornet drones were intercepted above Manhattan by Hawkman and Plastic Man (Eel O’Brian). King Bee lost, but Per Degaton remotely detonated explosives planted in Pane’s gear.

This nearly killed Hawkman, and seemingly slew King Bee.

Retroactive

There’s no reason to think that King Bee didn’t exist during the 1940s of the DC Universe. After whichever Crisis is current as you read this.

King Bee - DC Comics - Justice Society JSA 1943 - makes his discovery

Description

The costume was only worn as a Per Degaton operative. Otherwise, he had ordinary clothing – and wasn’t personally in the field anyway.

Personality

Not really.

Marvel Universe Adaptation

(This section proposes ways of using this character in Marvel Universe stories).

If you’ve always fantasised about introducing certain Marvel characters in the 1950s DC Universe — which you’ll have to admit is niche, but I’m not judging — then here’s your guy.

Spider-Man, the Wasp, Ant-Man, the Scorpion, etc. and even Red Circle’s Fly are trivial to introduce via the King Bee.

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DC Heroes RPG

King Bee

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 02
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 02
Inf: 02 Aur: 02 Spi: 02
Init: 009 HP: 005

Skills:

Gadgetry: 05, Scientist: 05, Weaponry (Firearms)*: 03

Advantages:

Scholar (Biochemistry, Entomology), Stroke of Genius (“The insect hormone”).

Connections:

Underworld (Low).

Drawbacks:

Distinct Appearance, and likely has two MPRs (poor eyesight, light sensitivity) plus an Attack Vulnerability against bright lights.

Motivation:

Power Lust.

Occupation:

Scientist.

Wealth:

006

Equipment:

Ordinary handgun [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 08, R#03].


Design Notes

This guy never made any impression, and even Roy Thomas disposed of him within a few panels. So his Attributes are clearly lowballed.

Especially his Mysticals, as everyone just kicked him around and distrusted him.

With his fly-like wings he perhaps had Flight: 06. Since he wasn’t wearing a mask or any other high-speed flight equipment.

What his handgun did is unrevealed.

King Bee - DC Comics - All-Star Squadron appearance

The very-briefly-seen costume, wings and handgun.


Insect mutates

They generally had beefy thugs stats. But they have been reduced to INT 01 WIL 01, with a SIA toward obeying their orders.

Another issue is that some of the mobsters they worked with were scared of them. One crew even tried to eliminate their insect mutate allies once the job was done, out of fear and disgust.

Termite guys

STR 05, Claws: 06, Sharpness (Claws): 02.
Sharpness only vs. immobile obstacles/objects.
Gunk-thrower [BODY 02, Snare: 08, Range: 02, Ammo: 04, Limitation: Snare ain’t got no Range, use the listed Range instead, Snare is its own AV, but only for termite henchmen].

Snare APs assume that a Team Attack took place.

Borer guys

DEX 05 STR 05 BODY 05, Digging (Tunnelling only): 08, Skin Armour: 02
Partial Attack vulnerability (- 2CS RV vs. ballistic).

Water bug guys

DEX 04 STR 04, Swimming: 06
Their sci-fi-looking suits likely were the equivalent of Cousteau-Gagnan open-circuit scuba diving suits, with ordinary stats.

Hornet guys

Flight: 08.
COSTUME AND MASK [BODY 02, Cold immunity: 02, Enhance (RV vs. particulates, vapors and gasses): 02 (cap is 05), Enhance (RV vs. facial attacks): 01 (cap is 05), R#02, Advantage: Life Support (Thin Atmosphere)].
Thompson M1 [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 06, R#04, Advantage: Autofire].

Flight APs are high enough to allow them to intercept a Douglas DC-3  .

Spider guys

There just isn’t any usable data in the story.

Ant guys

DEX 05 STR 11 BODY 07, Acrobatics (Climbing): 06
Radio headset [BODY 01, Radio coms (receive only): 06].

Grasshopper guys

DEX 05 STR 07 BODY 06, Jumping: 08, Skin armour: 01
Partial Attack Vulnerability (- 1CS vs. ballistic)
MPR (high metabolic rate).

Fly guys, no one can deny

Cling: 03, Flight: 05

“Dobermant”

They’re seen for but one panel. Perhaps large dog stats without Shrinking, DEX 04 STR 08, Claws: 10, Running: 06 – or something like that.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Primarily All-Star Comics Vol. 1 #18.

Helper(s): The Shell Game Squad (Bil, Ethan, Darci, Kevin).

Writeup completed on the 22th of July, 2022.