Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Blue Beetle 13, originally released October 17th, 2012.
Patrick: Did you guys see Million Dollar Baby? I’m going to spoil it right here, so fair warning. The first two-thirds of the movie is a rousing sports movie: Hilary Swank plays a lady-boxer and Clint Eastwood plays her curmudgeonly coach/manager. During one of the big bouts, Hilary Swank falls and breaks her neck. She breaks her neck. The final 45 minutes of the movie become a morality play exploring Clint Eastwood’s decision to take his paralyzed pupil off life-support. The plot, the tone, the pacing — it all turns on a dime. Suddenly you’re watching a different movie with the same characters. I hated this shift, partially because I felt the message of the later third was heavy-handed, but mostly because I liked the boxing movie. Million Dollar Baby lured me into its world with something I found genuinely attractive and then took it away from me. Blue Beetle, why you gotta Million Dollar Baby me?
Jaime Reyes is already locked in combat with some reach drones when we flip to page one. His scarab armor makes itself useful and fends off the attackers. Jaime’s too far from Earth to just fly home, so they land on the Reach homeworld, looking to bum a ride. Luckily — like, impossibly luckily — Jaime runs into Khaji-Kai, literally the ONLY BEING on this planet that wouldn’t want to kill him on sight.
A little background on Khaji-Kai: Kai is actually the first scarab warrior the readers are introduced to in Blue Beetle 1. At the time of his introduction, he’s just wrapping up wiping out all life on his home planet, when a sudden sadness comes over him. This is odd for scarab warriors — there is normally nothing left behind of the host’s will or emotions. He later keeps tabs on Jaime, and is like 30 seconds away from confronting him when they’re called to invade the Blue Lantern planet of Odym. Khaji-Kai is blasted with Saint Walker’s healing ray, and the consciousness of the host creature blinks back to life. Kai (or the being inside that armor) recalls Jaime’s unexplainable ability to command his armor, and seeks him out.
Okay, caught up. Khaji-Kai and Jaime decide to team up to destroy the scarab homeworld (which… seems to be a separate planet from the Reach homeworld… hey, I just work here). But things are going to get tricky because Sky Witness — the original wearer of the Khaji-Da armor — has sprung back to life and wants his scarab back.
I chuckle every time I finishing writing one of these little recaps. Oh, space. The science fiction elements of Blue Beetle have mainly served the color the domestic drama that Jaime Reyes was going through. For the purposes of the first 12 issues, the Blue Beetle powers could have been magical or vaguely supernatural or whatever — the story would have been basically the same. On a superficial level, the setting has moved to outer-space, but most meaningfully, the setting moved away from Jaime’s friends, family and culture. In space, no one can you you claim that this is a fundamentally different series.
There’s also the knowledge that issue 16 will be Blue Beetle’s final issue — making this arc the character’s last hurrah. I grow increasingly worried that this conflict is going to revolve around aliens fighting other aliens on alien planets. This series did such a nice job of connecting the conflicts with the values of its characters, and the thought of a battle to destroy killer robots wearies me.
And maybe I’m being too hard on this issue. Tony Bedard is doing an impressive job of connecting the disparate elements from earlier in this series and focusing them on a single mission: destroy the Reach. And penciler Ig Guara achieves some arresting imagery — especially for a comic so firmly entrenched in that semi-realistic, American-animation style. Take the reveal of Reachworld, for example.
I wish the design of Sky Witness would have retained the feathered-war-serpent look of Quetzalcoatl — as it stands, he just sorta of looks like your standard emaciated zombie-type. Which is fine, but not really as compelling as the form of a Mayan god.
Drew, I know I entered this title into our pull list kicking and screaming, but so far, this series has not at all been representative of why I found it attractive in the first place. Much like the boy who suggested an evening of racy TGIF programming, I’m starting to feel like I’ve lead you astray with this recommendation. How does all this silly space stuff sit with you?
Drew: Hahaha. Yeah, I guess I know what you’re going through here. I guess I should say that I do have some familiarity with Jaime Reyes; I’ve actually enjoyed this character quite a bit on Young Justice. The constant bickering between Jaime and his scarab is a treat — like the odd couple, but with violence instead of tidiness — and unlike anything else I’m reading. It’s a shame that exploring the mechanics of that relationship pulls Jaime away from his family life, where the scarab can be a clever stand in for Jaime’s worst thoughts — the devil on his shoulder with no angel to balance his advice.
Still, understanding how Jaime keeps the scarab in check could prove interesting. The zero issue set up a “the scarab is malfunctioning” explanation, but I could see “Jaime has incredible restraint” as being a really compelling story. The Green Lantern mythos has kind of steamrolled willpower into the cocksure braggadocio typified by Hal and Guy, but I’d love to see a character whose power is simply keeping his inner demons in check. I don’t know much about Jaime’s home life in this series, so I can’t speak to any specific temptations he might struggle with, but that would be an interesting idea to explore for any teenage character.
But enough about what I think this series could be — we have an actual issue to discuss. Patrick is right to dismiss much of the space operatics as just a little too goofy, but there’s still a lot to like here. I’m particularly pleased to see that Jaime’s relationship with the scarab is very similar to what makes me like his character so much on Young Justice. They bicker and squawk endearingly, and I was surprised to realize that they’re relationship is very similar to the one I have with my phone. Jaime uses the scarab for all kinds of things — from navigation to a source of information — and gets super frustrated when it doesn’t work the way he wants it to.
Making the scarab an occasionally unreliable, dispassionate piece of technology actually makes their relationship incredibly relatable. Sure, Jaime’s life is in the hands of the scarab, but that only makes it more effective as a commentary on our own reliance on technology.
At the same time, the scarab has it’s own will, and even a sense of pride. I was particularly fond of the little pep-talk the scarab gives Jaime as they approach Reachworld:
It’s a clever explanation that the scarab is so prideful, it would help deceive its own kind just to “win.” The scenes that follow are pretty standard fish-out-of-water fare, but it’s enjoyable enough. I’m less impressed with Sky Witness, who reanimates for the express purposes of being a villain for the next arc. His Wile E. Coyote near-misses are a little too silly for me, but I’m willing to accept that as part of the lighter tone of this title, which I’m otherwise quite fond of.
So you don’t need to feel embarrassed to have recommended this at all, Patrick. There’s clearly a lot of good things going on in this title, even if we’ve taken a detour from the elements that originally drew you to it. Its openly silly tone is charming, even when the silliness becomes a little much. It’s a shame we probably won’t be seeing more of Jaime’s home life before the end, but taking him off-world hasn’t completely robbed this series of its soul. Shoot, now I’ve got to find time to read the back issues.
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?