Reading Comic Books Out of Order #1— “Blue Beetle: Black and Blue”

Foreword: A few months ago, I finished playing the funny and great game Lego Batman: 2. Just as I got my Platinum Trophy in the game, it was as though I was overcome with a craving for Batman. I quickly found a way to satisfy that craving, starting by devouring Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a stellar and recent animated series that took the Dark Knight away from the grim figure he has become, partly due to Christopher Nolan’s celebrated film trilogy. Little did I know that The Brave and the Bold would become more or less a gateway drug for the world of DC Comics characters at large. I became more attached to heroes I already knew, like Green Arrow and Superman, while meeting and loving ones I was less familiar with like Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, B’Wana Beast and Firestorm. After devouring TBATB, i moved onto the seminal Batman: The Animated SeriesThe New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond. I’m now on the last season of Justice League, a series that I might not have started had it not been for my good friend Robin recommending it. Since starting the series, my interest in the world of these heroes has gotten deeper and deeper, to the point where I’m now starting to read comic books. I’m no stranger to the medium of graphic novels; I’ve read “classics” like Maus, the important work of Joe Sacco and the addictive Y: The Last Man. But my main barrier to entry for the tales of the plethora of superheroes that now populate the world was that their stories are just so darned hard to start. And by that I mean find their “origin story,” which in itself becomes further complicated thanks to DC and Marvel’s propensity for retconning. Until I begin a serious quest to find these comics online, I have begun to buy comic books collected as graphic novels wherever I can find (and afford) them. I will then discuss the books in the context of my knowledge of the comic books or comic-book-related TV series I have read/watched. My hope is that with each passing post I’ll become more and more learned in all aspects of what makes a comic book good or not-so-good. I dedicate this (I hope) series of posts to Robin for gently nudging me towards the realm of comic books.

While at a BMV yesterday, I picked up two graphic novels. The first of the two I read was Blue Beetle: Black and Blue, which I quickly learned was actually the last volume of that particular series.

bluebeetleBlue Beetle is the story of Jaime Reyes, a high-schooler in El Paso, Texas. Jaime is actually the third Blue Beetle to exist; the first was Dan Garrett, and the second was Ted Kord. Jaime is the first Beetle to completely use the power of the Scarab, a mystical item that has seemingly limitless power. The scarab itself is sentient and often converses with Jaime, sometimes suggesting ways to escape a situation or getting feedback on whether to kill an enemy with nukes (Jaime’s answer to the latter is always an emphatic no). Jaime quickly learns that he almost became a killing machine; the scarab is in fact the technology of an alien race called the Reach. Their plan is simple; send a scarab to Earth, a human will find it, bond with it, and become an infiltrator that will allow the Reach to take over the planet. The scarab that Jaime finds, that Garrett and Kord previously possessed, turns out to be damaged, and therefore does not control Jaime’s mind to do the Reach’s bidding. Jaime is also blessed with a very understanding set of friends including Paco and Brenda (who end up dating) as well as a girlfriend named Traci 13 (who is magic, though I don’t know her backstory).

Black and Blue, as mentioned, is the finale of Matthew Sturges and Mike Norton’s run before Blue Beetle is rebooted in the New 52 series. Despite not being a thick volume, it runs through a gamut of stories, involving hopeless losers getting revenge on people who piss them off, android daughters and a time-traveling foe who pushes Jaime to the brink of madness. As a result, the end does feel a bit rushed—some readers have suggested that Sturges and Norton didn’t know the end was coming and so felt the need to tie everything up in a bow before their time ended.

An important plot point happens when Jaime is at a dance with his friends which is suddenly interrupted by a group of Reach who call themselves the Khaji-Dha. They are Reach revolutionaries, so to speak, and ask Jaime to lead them. Jaime refuses when they talk of “ridding the world of corruption” which involves killing, among others, the Justice League, and in turn they attack him. They turn out to be too strong for him, until the scarab suggests that he use a scarab function that will disable all of the others’ powers at the cost of a 27-day wait for his own scarab to reboot. Jaime accepts, saving the world at the cost of the life of one of his friends, in a moment that should end up being sad but somehow ends up devoid of emotion due to the book’s strange treatment. None of the other characters seem to be visibly pained, making the friend’s death ultimately meaningless and trivial.

When the scarab reboots, Jaime notices that it has become more bloodthirsty, and it’s even more apparent just how violent the scarab becomes when Jaime is attacked by the Black Beetle, a time traveler. When Black Beetle attacks Jaime’s younger sister, Jaime flips his lid and allows the scarab to disengage all safeties (meaning allow Jaime to kill). Jaime nearly does it, in turn morphing his Blue Beetle suit into something horrifying. Black Beetle reveals that he is Jaime from the future, and Jaime is horrified of what he might become.

The series’ final story is a portrait of “rushed.” The story begins with Jaime talking about how he almost took over the world and says that the story doesn’t paint him in a very good light. Jaime finds himself drawn to a pyramid, and when he goes with his friends, he finally figures out why his scarab has become more bloodthirsty; the reboot “fixed” it, paving the way for Jaime to become an agent of the Reach. This indeed happens, except his friend Peacemaker, who has the entire scarab database downloaded onto his brain, ends up being able to talk Jaime down. The end is anti-climactic; there’s no sense of anyone being in danger, and Jaime doesn’t even leave the pyramid while under the Reach’s “spell.”

Still, the book has a lot going for it. Jaime has clearly taken a page out of Peter Parker’s book, often cracking jokes. A particularly hilarious scene happens when he’s confronted by a slew of his enemies, including Catalyst, The Squids, The Mad Men, Firefist and the Masked Marauder. Jaime has “notes” on each one, making fun of Marauder’s beard and Catalyst’s being French.

The best exchange in the book was so good that I scanned it:

bluebeetlesnap

 

The dialogue in the book does vary, though, This collection came out in late 2010, but even by then a character saying “epic fail” is still cringeworthy. Later, Brenda mentions that Paco had been watching The A-Team on Hulu; why namedrop Hulu? There’s no real value added to namedropping a streaming service.

Along the way, there are nice tie-ins to other heroes. At the beginning of the book, Traci asks Jaime a slew of questions about working with Batman. At the end of the book, Jaime buys his sister a Booster Gold toy, apologizing that the store is out of Batgirls. (His sister ends up making a face but then decides that her Ted Kord doll will just have to marry Booster Gold instead). There’s a quick cameo by the Green Lantern Corps who are cleaning up after the Khadji-Dha fiasco.

This being an end, I do look forward to seeing what else Jaime gets up to before his scarab is rebooted.

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