Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Blue Beetle 0, originally released September 19, 2012. Blue Beetle 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Patrick: The Blue Beetle series is unique among DC Comics for a lot of different reasons. Jaime Reyes is a normal teenager, who comes from the most convincing (and traditionally complete, I might add) family I’ve read since Animal Man. Most teenage heroes don’t sweat being on their own, but Jaime’s decision to leave home to protect his friends and family is appropriately difficult. He doesn’t know how to use his powers, but mostly he just doesn’t know how to live on his own. His life is scary in ways both totally relateable and completely unimaginable. Jaime’s also one of the only Chicano characters I’m reading – and unlike other half-assed attempts at integrating other cultures into comics, Jaime’s culture actually has a bearing on the thrust of the story: characters speak Spanglish, they attend Quinceañeras, their families are large and close. But the zero issue leaves most of that behind to explore the history of the Scarab on Jaime’s back – this is the story of Khaji-Da.
Khaji-Da is a weapon – a sentient robotic scarab that attaches itself to a member of the dominant species on a planet, and then uses its host’s familiarity with local terrains and customs to eliminate all life on that planet. On Khaji’s first mission, he attempts to attach to a little girl who gains the ability to create and command creatures made of dark matter. This freaks Khaji the fuck out, and the scarab bails on the mission, but not before getting pummeled a little by those dark-matter-monsters. Put a pin in that little girl, by the way, this issue names her: Lady Styx.
Busted up, but still game for world domination, Khaji-Da sets out to try again. But a Green Lantern finds him before he gets an honest attempt in, and blasts the little scarab with some kind of construct. Khaji plummets to the surface of the nearest planet, which is Earth (naturally). Khaji-Da is discovered by Mayan warriors, and the scarab bonds with the high-priest Sky Witness. But whether because Sky Witness is such a bad ass or because Khaji-Da has taken one too many blows to be totally functional, the scarab is unable to control its host. Sky Witness becomes a sort of Mayan Blue Beetle and uses the weapon to trounce his tribe’s enemies. Sky Witness lived for over a hundred years, and when he died, he attempted to bury the scarab with his own body by imploding the pyramid around him. Khaji doesn’t much care for this idea and tries to teleport his ass out of there, but accidentally ends up sending the un-armored Sky Witness to the Reach home-world instead of himself. Then the issue buzzes through the rest of Blue Beetle history – as presented in the rest of the series – ending with our hero(es) adrift in space and surrounded by other scarabs.
Shelbs, I know you haven’t been reading the whole series, so I wonder what these two pages were like for you. For fans of the series it’s 90% recap. But, even if you are reading Blue Beetle there’s this business at the bottom of the second page (which leads right into the zero’s conclusion) that happens within the pages of the Justice League International Annual. At the close of Blue Beetle 12, Jaime had connected with his crazy aunt in New York City, and was finally achieving a little bit of normalcy. Without the context presented in another fucking series, it would be a total mystery as to why Jaime’s suddenly in Reach space. So I appreciate that this included a one-drawing, 16-word recap of OMAC teleporting him away.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a character is spirited off to the Reach homeworld – Sky Witness experienced that fate hundreds of years ago. Clearly, Khaji-Da has some baggage to unpack with his own people, but the possibility that Sky Witness is still in play is a lot of fun. Who knows what his role he has in the Reach society? He demonstrated an ability to control the scarab when it was attached to him, and so much of the tech was in his body that he was pulled back to the planet instead of Khaji. Sky Witness could be anything now – king of the Reach, a slave under their yolk, or anything in between. For so long, the conflict in this series has focused on Jaime, and I love that we’re getting a chance to get to know the semi-evil robot on his back.
It’s kind of a running question throughout the series of whether the scarab is capable of emotion. Best to keep in mind that it is a WEAPON designed to KILL ALL HUMANS. But it appropriately realigns its priorities to match Jaime’s. Which makes the reader wonder: are we witnessing Jaime’s mercy or Khaji-Da’s mercy, and what’s the difference? Ultimately, these two characters have disparate pasts but identical presents – their relationship symbiotic, neither can afford to ignore the other.
They’re inextricably linked, and I like the way Khaji-Da’s role in Mayan and Aztec history strengthens his cultural relationship to Jaime. There’s a cool little revelation where Khaji says that the Aztecs he and Sky Witness were fighting went on to remember him as the the merciless war-god: Quetzalcoatl.
I’m a sucker for revisionist mythology, so on my first read, I was enamored with this concept. But the really incredible feat is how well this story connects to one of the pillars of the series as I expressed in my intro paragraph. The Mexican-culture aspects of this series didn’t disappear in the zero issue, they were incorporated into the history of an alien robot. THAT’S COOL.
But I’m really interested to see your take on this, Shelby. I suspect there might be a little too much alien-wankery here, but I could well be blind to it because I’m already invested in the universe.
Shelby: I was relieved when I saw this title involves the Reach; thanks to New Guardians, I’m at least a little bit familiar with their methods of destruction. I thought it was interesting that Khaji-Da, apparently half of Blue Beetle, was their beta release of the scarabs for which they are so well known. We actually found out quite a bit about Khaji, but that doesn’t leave me totally sold on this title.
If I were a regular reader of this title, I would be jumping up and down at an opportunity to learn more about The Reach and their scarabs. But since I don’t already know Jaime Reyes, the only character I’m left to connect with is Khaji, the possibly emotionless, probably soulless, world-destroying killer robot. Except as a narrator, there’s not much of an identity to identify with; I feel more of a connection to Lady Styx than I do any other character in this issue. As an origin story for current readers, this issue is great, but as an origin story to lure in new readers, I don’t think this issue was as successful. Patrick makes the point that Jaime Reyes is a unique hero in the DC universe, but I don’t see that here. The only thing I know about him is he seems to get his ass kicked a lot, due to the semi-evil parasitic robot on his back I’m sure. If not for Patrick’s portion of this write-up, I would feel no desire to pick up this title to learn more. Naturally, this raises the question of how should the zeroes be written. Does the fact that this title is great for readers but flat for non-readers mean it’s a success or a failure as a zero issue? To what extent should the zero issue’s purpose be to lure in new readership? September is winding down, and I’m still not sure. Also, I did a little research: Lady Styx was the primary villain for Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire in 52. Thanks, Wikipedia!
I am intrigued by this title; I want to know more about the relationship between Khaji and Jaime. I like the idea that, a year into the book and we still don’t know if the scarab is capable of feeling emotions. I’m also interested in learning more about Jaime after Patrick’s glowing portrayal. I would love to see a character whose culture actually affects the story. Anyone can make a character a different color, but it takes a little something more to accurately portray a character’s culture and make it mean something.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?