Or – “The Little Azure Scarab That Could…”

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It may surprise some of our readers to know that Blue Beetle, chronologically speaking, is one of the oldest heroes extant, dating back to August of 1939, a little more than a year after Superman. This means that Beetle predates The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman, and only trailed Batman into print by a month or two. BB had been printed by Fox Comics, Holyoke Publishing, Charlton Comics, and Americomics before being purchased by DC, and even had a relatively successful run as a radio character. Such was his popularity that, when superheroes were no longer commercially viable, he hosted his own anthology series, narrating “true crime” tales in a “Crime Does Not Pay” vein. This particular character is either the third or fifth Beetle, depending upon how one counts, and his new series is technically Volume SEVEN (taking into account that Charlton Comics, notorious for changing the titles of existing books to get around postal statutes, had three different volumes of big Blue), so young Jamie Reyes has some pretty big shoes to fill. 13 is considered unlucky by many, but will this issue succumb to triskaidekaphobia?

Previously on Le Coléoptère Bleu: the Justice Society went back in time, then came forward with the help of Nabu, the brains behind Doctor Fate. Nabu had created the BB1.jpgoriginal blue scarab that empowered Dan Garrett (Blue Beetle I), that was later lost, but created a new scarab to allow the JSAers to travel forward in time. This scarab fell into the hands of the wizard Shazam, then fell to Earth when his home on the Rock of Eternity was destroyed, to be found by Texas teenager Jaime Reyes. Jaime was later conscripted by Batman and Booster Gold as part of the attack on Brother Eye during Infinite Crisis, and was lost for a whole year. Returning home, he has tried to settle into his role as keeper of the new scarab, but things have been difficult, including the revelation that while he is bonded with the Scarab, the knowledge that would allow him to USE it effectively has been downloaded into another man, who has become the new Peacemaker. Also, the origins of the scarab are not mystical at all, but extraterrestrial in origin, and it’s creators are here to monitor him, and possibly take it back.

That was a bit of a mouthful, wasn’t it? We kick off this month’s festivities with Blue Beetle and Peacemaker actually meeting with an extraterristrial member of the race that made the scarab. The alien is puzzled to see that the device has been repeatedly exposed to “quantum improbability energies,” and Jaime has no clue what this means…

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Maybe they WON’T be repossessing the scarab after all… unless they’re up to something. I mean, a mysterious alien race with unknown motives coming to Earth must a good thing, right, Mike Donavan? Pay no attention to the big-haired woman eating a rat behind that curtain… And I have to say, I love the tipsy Zatanna anecdote, ranking right up there with my favorite moments involving her, and she doesn’t even actually APPEAR in the book. Nice piece of dialogue, there. The alien, however, tells both of the heroes that he intends to help, even empathizes with their plight…

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That’s the first mark of a problem: when they want to keep it secret. Sociopathic behavior at it’s finest (“Oh, I didn’t mean to hit you! Please don’t tell anyone!”), and it triggers my warning sensors, as well as Peacemakers. “Any alien encounter you don’t wind up dead or probed, take the win… Especially probed.” Heh. “You’re stories are getting weirder, you know that?” replies Blue Beetle. Nothing phases this kid. Case in point: During the one year gap, a series of events conspired to keep Papa Reyes distracted (a missing son will do that) and caused him to lose the family garage. When he sees Jaime and his friend Paco cleaning up the place, he starts to chide the boys…

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Turns out that the Wayne Foundation offers loans for qualified candidates, and they’re qualified (though, I’m sure, Batman/Bruce Wayne may have made sure there weren’t any hitches in the loan process), and Jaime bought back the garage, with help from Paco’s insurance settlement from his destroyed truck. While Jaime and Paco contemplate how much getting up at 4 a.m. is gonna suck, the aliens have a similar feeling as regards their assessment of Earth’s champions.

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Uh oh. Violence never solved nothin’, accordin’ to Gary Cooper, didn’t they get the memo? While the new Blue Beetle has patched things up with his father, he (refreshingly) has another parent to contend with, and Mrs. Reyes isn’t sure she likes having her son consorting with aliens. She wants to meet them, and get their measure, but Jaime points out, “I’m not sure how to do it. ‘Hey, aliens, want to swing by for empanadas on Sunday?'” I like the smartness of the teenagers dialogue. Mama Reyes is insistent that they learn more about the aliens, as they built the thing that has changed Jaime’s life, and it’s actually IMPLANTED in his body…

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Isn’t is refreshing to see a family unit working together to deal with something, even something as weird as a teenager with superpowers? A sudden call from one of his associates alerts Jaime to something strange going on downtown: “Rioters armed with laserbeam weapons” have run riot. A quick flight later, Blue Beetle is on the scene. A local newswoman tries to interview him, but only makes him have to protect her and her cameraman. Suddenly, Jaime thinks that the rioters look vaguely familiar…

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A quick call for help brings Peacemaker to the scene, and Jaime quickly pieces together what’s going on. Only he and P.M. can see the ghost armor, and a quick scan confirms: all the rioters have scarabs of their own, albeit malfunctioning ones with only partial power. Why not just power them up and hit them with a horde of Blue Beetles, you ask? Simple: the aliens can’t do it…

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The aliens are stunned that Jaime has made the armor adhere to his “No Killing” rule, (apparently, the scarabs are notorious killing machines, or at least MAKE notorious killing machines), but Beetle and ‘Maker are working less lethal options. “Trying talking with them!” says Peacemaker. “Sorry, I don’t speak “Crazy RAAAHR!” replies Jaime. God, I like this kid. Peacemaker tells him he means their SCARABS, and Beetle gets the picture, overriding their programming, and forcing the aliens to recall their bugs. The alien leader is appalled at Jaime (“Non-violence? FREE WILL?”), and Beetle realizes that their aim was to try and create another Blue Beetle, but one they could control. Returning home, his mother hails him as a hero, but Jaime tries to tell her the truth about the aliens upleasant intentions. It’s too late, though, as the aliens have made diplomatic contact, and they’re all over the news. Jaime and Peacemaker watch the television, wondering what to do next…

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I know I say this a LOT, but… That can’t be good. The mentor/student (Mentee?) relationship between Peacemaker and BB is one of my favorite parts of the story, I hope that’s not completely destroyed in coming issues. the art here is quirky, but consistent, and I find myself enjoying it. Even armored, Blue Beetle looks smaller and less bulky that the regular heroes, as befits his teenage form. The writing is nice, especially the smartass dialogue that Jaime gets with his elders, and the mystery of exactly who and what the aliens are was nicely handled. I like the strong family unit, and enjoy seeing a hero who isn’t a lone Caucasian tough guy against the world.

I’d say my only complaints about this book are the legion of plotlines that have been introduced. None of them have been abandoned, per se, but there’s been a lot going on, and many times it’s hard to keep the threads separate and distinct. With New Gods, kidnappings, repossessions, alien invasions, et al, it seems like everything but the kitchen sink is on board. This issue was one of the quieter of Blue Beetle’s run, with most of the action on the homefront, but still some forward motion on the main plotpoint. Blue Beetle #13 scores a well-rounded 3 stars out of 5. I think tomorrow, I need to review something that didn’t work for me at all, I’ve been far too happy with the last few books I’ve read.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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3 Comments

  1. Brent F.
    April 10, 2007 at 6:11 am — Reply

    I loved reading JLI as a kid, and Ted Kord was one of my favorite characters. It always pains me when they kill off old characters and replace them with younger ones, but Jaime Reyes is an exception. He is a great character that stands out in a crowd of teenage superheroes. This is how DC should have handled Kyle Rayner.

  2. April 10, 2007 at 7:56 am — Reply

    Agreed. I think the difference is in the WAY the deaths are handled. Ted went out as a hero, and his efforts triggered the eventual downfall of Checkmate. Victor Sage, on the other hand, had an excellent “death scene” on New Year’s Eve, followed by a couple of appearances where he just sort of limped along until he died in the snow. Sure, it’s poignant for MONTOYA, but for Vic, it felt… anticlimactic. Victor Sage should have died the way V for Vendetta did, in a spectacular gesture against the evils of his world.

    But, in a perfect world, sales would have kept Ted and Vic alive and on top of the charts. I’ll say this for DC, they’re certainly willing to take chances with characters, and with Jaime, it’s totally paid off, with a nice, fresh twist on the teenage hero genre. Only time will tell if Next Question is as solid a foundation…

  3. Brent F.
    April 10, 2007 at 4:00 pm — Reply

    Indeed, I believe Jaime Reyes will become the prime example of how to follow the legacy of a firmly established character, while Kyle Rayner will remain the prime example of what not to do.

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