Blue Beetle 14

Alternating Currents: Blue Beetle 14, Drew and ShelbyToday, Drew and Shelby are discussing Blue Beetle 14, originally released November 21st, 2012.

Drew: Last month, Patrick accused Blue Beetle of pulling a Million Dollar Baby — that is, getting you emotionally invested in the narrative, only to dramatically switch the story it is telling in the final act. I can totally understand being frustrated with Million Dollar Baby for tricking us into watching a heavy-handed morality play, but I actually appreciate that it did something more interesting with its scrappy, up-and-coming boxer (win or lose, Rocky has already been there). It suddenly became much harder to summarize, wading into heady ideas in lieu of simple events, and found something besides simple pride to mine from the relationship formed between Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank’s characters. With that more specific definition — that Million Dollar Baby switches from a rote, event-driven story to a character-driven meditation on family — I would actually classify Blue Beetle‘s recent tonal change as a reverse-Million Dollar Baby.

Issue 14 picks up with Jaime and Khaji-Kai speeding toward Scarab World. Khaji teaches Jaime a thing or two about the scarab armor, but then it’s off to enact Khaji’s ill-conceived plan to destroy Scarab World. They’re quickly sidelined by Sky Witness, who followed them there, but manage to evade him and the scarab drones long enough to pull a Return of the Jedi on the main reactor. Jaime bumbles his way onto an escaping ship, which Skywitness manages to cling to yet again.

The “hero finds himself escaping from a hostile planet with a stranger, while the villain secretly follows” is a strangely specific note to end consecutive issues on, which makes either this issue or the previous one feel like unnecessary padding. It’s neat enough that the Scarab World is now blown up, which could put a hitch in Jaime using his armor to defeat Sky Witness, but since we already know Jaime’s armor doesn’t work against Sky Witness, my guess is that going off-line will actually make defeating him easier. Oh, right:

WHOOM!Never mind that planets correct your grammar when they blow up — the Scarab homeworld gets blown up in this issue. We don’t really get to see the repercussions of this, but it could mean that all of the Reach’s soldiers have just been freed. I haven’t been reading this title for very long, but between what I’ve seen here and in Green Lanterns: New Guardians, that’s a huge win.

Actually, avenging the death of the Blue Lantern homeworld is the closest this issue comes to wringing any emotion out of the events here. Jaime continues to be scared/surprised at what’s going on here, but he also rolls with it with such an ease that it never really has a chance to sink in. Since he’s accepted literally everything that has happened, it’s difficult for the stakes to ever really raise.

I suppose that’s the long way of saying this issue left me cold. I still appreciate the banter between Jaime and his Scarab, but the issue never really delves deeper than that. Granted, I missed the first twelve issues of this title, which I suspect has a pretty serious impact on my emotional investment in what happens to him. Shelby, am I being unreasonably apathetic here, or did this issue fail to connect with you, too?

Shelby: Patrick: Just kidding! It’s me again. Shelby called me up with a headache, asking me to do her a solid. I agreed, but only on the condition that she write one excellent joke in the comment section. Don’t disappoint me, Shelby! (I didn’t make the terms of this arrangement explicit to Shelby when I agreed to help, but I’m making it damn explicit now.)

Drew, I think your assessment of this issue basically spot-on. There are a few too many well-worn science-fiction tropes and none of them mined for the various emotional triggers they’re so good at tripping. I don’t presume to know what dictates storytelling decisions, but this issue feels… almost clerical to me. Moonrunner seems like a cool dude and all, but I can’t help but suspect that he’s one of those obscure space characters that’s going to figure into Blue Beetle‘s replacement series: Threshold. Similarly, Khaji-Kai dies sort of pointlessly. Actually, as much as I want to get to the future of space comics in the DC Universe, let’s talk about Khaji-Kai’s death.

Or apparent death, anyway. Let’s assume he exploded along with the planet for the sake of this conversation. That’s total falkernaas*. There’s nothing Jaime can do about his own armor, right? We’ve just resigned ourselves to the idea that he’s going to live with this mostly-evil technology forever. But here on Reachworld, he’s befriended a full-blown radical scarab – one that cavalierly refers to the many worlds he’s wiped clean of sentient life in the same breath he mentions blowing up a planet. He’s a certified genocidal maniac, but he’s also Jaime’s only hope for survival. So the dilemma inherent to this situation is: “Jaime needs Kai’s help, but is afraid of him.” Killing Khaji-Kai should have been Jaime’s responsibility. In the end, Jaime’s problem is solved, but not by virtue of his own agency. I realize not every event needs to be a thoroughly realized character moment, but this seemed exceptionally cheap to me.

Drew, I hadn’t considered that the destruction of Reachworld could mean a new status quo for this series. It’s sorta of an asinine thing to consider, as there are only 2 more issues left in this bad boy, but the Reach pop up in the weirdest places. The Reach are the Borg of the DC Universe. (Do you ever type a sentence so nerdy, you can’t fucking believe it?) If Death Starring the planet means disabling the scarabs, then they’re off the table for the foreseeable future. Is that a loss? I don’t know how I feel about it, so I’m going to open it up to the comments – is it a big deal to have a DCU without the Reach?

Hey, what’s up with Sky Witness? I want to like this villain, but his motivations are so narrow, it’s hard to get invested him as a threat. He wants the armor back. Why? What’s he going to do with the armor? Could he take the suit back, even if he defeated Jaime in battle? Does he ever close his mouth?

The next issues promises a run-in with Styx, the superpowered little girl that first damaged Khaji-Da in the Zero Issue. While I don’t think the teases of characters like the Han-Solo-esque Moonrunner or Styx serve the end of the Jaime Reyes saga, I am excited that I might be able to see these characters duking it out in whatever space operatics the Threshold series will bring. Maybe Blue Beetle is a lost cause, so he’s become a footnote in the denouement of his own series. What do you think, guys, are we reading the epilogue to Blue Beetle or the prelude to Threshold? And which is the more compelling read?

*If everything’s being translated by the suit, why do certain alien slang terms (or science-fiction-y sounding units of measurement) not get translated? Moonrunner says that his friend is going to be “sprokked” if something something something. Just saying, it doesn’t sound like the Reach technology is working very hard to translate that shit.

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?

3 comments on “Blue Beetle 14

  1. More bugsuit translation wonkiness: they make a really big deal about putting all of Khaji-Kai’s dialogue in those signs, to make it clear that he’s not speaking English, but for whatever reason, they don’t do that for Sky Witness. That seems like a really dumb oversight, since a pre-colonial Mayan shaman isn’t going to speak any language Jaime or Khaji-Kai are going to be familiar with. Doing it for either everybody or nobody makes sense, but the way it stands now is just dumb.

  2. Just in case we haven’t spoiled Million Dollar Baby enough – more SPOILERS FOLLOW:

    I agree that — in theory — the plot turn in Million Dollar Baby should open the story up for more nuance and into more emotionally resonant territory. The execution, particularly how pedantically Eastwood’s decision to unplug Swank’s life support is portrayed, is really at the heart of what I disliked about the movie. Having not seen the movie in years, I can’t point to specifics, but I feel like I always have this reaction when Eastwood tackles even moderately controversial issues. Like in J. Edgar, he seems to take a “Yeah, so what! They’re gay!” approach to the love story, making his perceived edginess of these issues the whole point. I don’t need to be shocked into accepting that there’s mercy in taking a vegetable off life support, just as I don’t need to be shocked into accepting Hoover had a turbulent homosexual relationship.

    • I don’t really disagree with any of your points, but I think I saw what seemed like the inevitable end of Million Dollar Baby (she wins and he’s proud OR she loses and he’s proud) as just as emotionally manipulative. I totally agree that the ending is controversy for the sake of controversy, but I appreciate that it did something different with its setup, even if it didn’t do more, if that makes any sense. It’s not that I love that ending — it’s just that it interests me more than if it had just been another boxing movie. In that very loose sense — a paint-by-numbers generic story becomes more interesting — I think this series has done the opposite.

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