Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blue Beetle #1

I love Blue Beetle. Admittedly, I have never read any of the pulp comic true-crime dramas featuring Dan Garret or the Charlton Comics version where Garrett (Now with an extra “T”!) became powered by a mystical scarab (Has anybody read them actually?). As a matter of fact, I haven’t even read any of the wise-cracking antics of Ted Kord (Created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko) in his own title. No, I came to know Ted Kord as a second-string superhero and first-rate straight man in the pages of the tongue-in-cheek Justice League International. Paired with his best friend the Booster Gold the two were comedic well…gold!

Ted may not have been as powerful and inspirational as Superman or skilled and clever as Batman, but he was still every bit the hero. Other heroes may have often seen him as a joke, but his heroic, defiant death at the hands of one-time friend and former Justice League financial backer Maxwell Lord is one of the most impactful and emotional moments in comics for me.

So, imagine my surprise when DC Comics announced they were going to hand the mantle of Blue Beetle over to some affirmative action Hispanic teenager right in the middle of their biggest event in twenty years, Infinite Crisis.
Turns out I needn’t have worried as the career of Jamie (Pronounced in Spanish as “hi-may”) Reyes not only paid homage to his predecessor, but also to Ted’s, Dan Garrett as well.

Jamie’s run as the Blue Beetle, written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers with art by Cully Hamner, was a fantastic character-driven series that took place entirely in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, but this version of the Blue Beetle also found himself deeply ingrained in the mythos of several other big-time DC Comics, like Green Lantern, and even long-forgotten aspects of the DC Universe, like Peacemaker. Having become the new Blue Beetle during an epic-event like Infinite Crisis, Jamie even had the benefit of instant recognition as Booster Gold immediately vetted him and brought him to Batman so he could use his new-found powers to help the heroes of the DCU find Maxwell Lord’s evil satellite, Brother Eye. He even had a heart-to-heart with Superman early on in his series. Talk about a jump-start to your career!

What really made the series, however, were the characters. Jamie himself was an earnest, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent teenager who doesn’t really want the near-infinite power of the scarab, but knows how to use it responsibly (“With great power comes, yadda, yadda, yadda…”). His friends and family are no less intriguing and entertaining. His father, Alberto, is a hard-working and compassionate man and full of practical real-world wisdom. Jamie’s little sister, Milagro, is every bit the pre-teen girl and their bickering make for some of the more charming, realistic moments of the series. His friends, Brenda and Paco, are the polar opposite pair who end up together despite their constant bickering. The best character of them all is Jamie’s mother, Bianca, a smart and stern nurse who takes her only son’s super heroics in motherly stride. Her crowning moment of awesome comes later in the series when she stares down tough-as-nails Green Lantern Guy Garder, putting her on par with Batman in that regard.

Oh, there is just so much awesome to go over about this series. In short, if you like the character interactions in such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, you’ll like this run of Blue Beetle.

Which brings us (finally!) to the re-boot. The bar's set pretty high on this one and has a lot to live up to in my opinion. On hefty handicap writer Tony Bedard has to face is the total lack of legacy and nearly every connection to the larger DcnU that catapulted the original. Bedard did a very good job on the issue, which was essentially a rehashing of the origin of the Blue Beetle scarab as an alien weapon and how Jamie came to possess it (Or visa-versa), only minus the a two-generation heroic legacy, a Marvel Family, a crisis of infinite proportions, instant A-list recognition, and several story-archs in between. Given all that, I say Bedard did a pretty decent job.

One thing I LOVED was the appearance of DCU villains in the DcnU, something the reboots have been seriously lacking in my opinion. It was refreshing to see Brutale from Nightwing and Teen Titans villains from The Brotherhood of Evil to appear in the DCnU. Brutale fits especially well working for La Dama.

Ah! La Dama, mi corazón oscuro!
Another of the pre-reboot’s greatest achievements was the main villain, La Dama. As the criminal queenpin of El Paso’s underground, La Dama was a true force to be reckoned with. She was a master of the Xanatos Gambit, many of her schemes had both a sinister and benign element so if one failed the other would succeed. Best of all, Blue Beetle couldn’t touch her, but she couldn’t harm him either. The two shared an uneasy alliance based on a very important secret close to both of them. Any one who read the pre-reboot series knows what that secret is, but I can tell Bedard is trying to keep it under wraps so I won’t spoil it for anyone. I will say this, the reason behind the secret only served to make her a stronger character overall.

The problem here is how La Dama is now the reason for the scarab being in El Paso and getting attached to Jamie.

Let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Originally, the scarab fell out of the sky when the Rock of Eternity blew up and it crashed right in front of Jamie, Brenda, and Paco (“Rock of Eternity”? Don’t ask. Loooong story). Jamie brought it home and it attached itself to him during the night. Now, Jamie accidentally gets the scarab attached to his spine accidentally when he and Paco stumble upon a super villain slugfest over it. I do have to say that it was a pretty cheap plot twist to have Paco and Jamie need to drive right by the warehouse where the scarab just happened to be in just for the sake of plot convenience. That’s actually my point. La Dama was a fantastic villain, but because she is the reason the Blue Beetle scarab is in El Paso, she runs the risk of becoming clichéd if her only motivation becomes wanting the scarab for herself.

In fact, that’s the major criticism I for this single issue. There’s just so much going on in one issue there’s not much room for characterization and many just come off as clichéd. Jamie’s mother, for example. She went from a “Slap-you-upside-your-head-no-nonsense” Mominator to “I’d rather have you hate me that put your life in danger”. And Jamie’s response was “Typical teenager” as well. Brenda doesn’t appear for more than a single page, but she does seem like the much the same character. Paco, however, is immediately the “dropout punk” and that’s pretty much it. I do hope we see these characters flushed out in upcoming issues.

On the plus side, Ig Gurra’s artwork in this issue is top-notch. I even like it better than the majority of the artwork from the pre-reboot series. No offense to Hamner or Rafael Albuquerque, I really do like their style, but I just like this more realistic a little bit better. Just about the only thing I didn’t like was his design for the Reach at the very beginning. I much preferred Albuquerque’s version where they look like classy, green versions of the Blue Beetle armor and those antennae just aren’t threatening at all for an enemy that supposedly evil.

Finally, I just have to ask, “Where's Ted?!?” Yes, due to the condensed version of Blue Beetle’s origin his predecessors simply do not exist any more in the DCnU. I admit, I don’t think anyone is going to miss Dan Garrett that much, but Ted Kord was a true fan favorite character! Especially when teaming up with Booster Gold, who DOES exist in the DCnU. Considering the events of Flashpoint leading up to this reboot where to “Combine the heroes of three universes to battle a major evil” or some such, I fully expect a ret-con concerning Ted Kord sometime in the future during or before the even this all leading up to and an eventual return of the Blue and Gold! Yay Baby!

In the meantime I look forward to finding out if this series can live up to the legacy of the Blue Beetle.

Until next time: Don’t take life to seriously; you’ll never get out of it alive.

By The Chad with 1 comment


Tony Bedard said in an interview that he didn't want to use Ted Kord until Jaime had a chance to get established as a hero, but that he 's still around. I'm really hoping they use him in JLI in the meantime, the book could use a little spicing up and he's just the man to do it.

I'd appreciate him in Birds of Prey too, I loved him as an honorary Bird.

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