Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Retrospect: The Blue Beetle"

The Blue Beetle has been around for a very long time.

First introduced in Fox's Mystery Men Comics #1 (August, 1939), makes him one of the oldest of the costumed super heroes. In fact, it wasn't until the second issue of that title that he received the familiar azure costume which would basically stay the same for many years (appearing in more of a "Green Hornet" garb in the first issue). The original GA version of the BB was, in his civilian life, a man named Dan Garrett.

Fox published this character in both Mystery Men Comics as well as a title of his own for most of the 1940's (as well as the publisher: Holyoke). For a short while BB even had his own teenage sidekick named: "Sparky". Then in the mid- 1950's, Charlton Comics acquired the rights and published a few issues as well, reprinting older tales, and he also appeared in their title: Space Adventures. His origin was also told in Charlton's Nature Boy #3(1st. issue, and this was probably BB's actual first silver-age app.). BB's popularity was such that he even appeared in a short-lived newspaper strip, and a radio show as well as a "pulp" magazine.

In the late 1950's-early 1960's, I.W./Super Comics reprinted a couple of his GA tales in a title called: "The Human Fly", then BB went into hiatus until 1964 when Charlton decided to revive him in ten issues or so of a rather uninspired series, and then he disappeared once more until he showed up as a back feature in Captain Atom as a different hero with a revised costume and origin designed by Steve Ditko(in this version he was a man named Ted Kord). He graduated to his own title and in the second issue of that the fate and true origin of the second version was told, as well as the fate of the original golden-age BB. (An interesting side note here is that in 1965 in BB V2 #5, cover dated March-April, well-known comic book guy Al Weiss's first published pro work was in the "l.o.c." page of this issue where he won a contest to redesign BB's costume!)

After the 1960 series he disappeared again, showing up only in the Charlton Portfolio(a tale originally slated for publication in the 6th. issue of the Ditko version but never published, it's been since released in the DC hardcover Action Heroes Archive V's 1 & 2) and Charlton's last showing in the Charlton Bullseye comic book #1 (1981). There were also two different reprint issues of BB published in 1977 by Modern Comics.

Later on, AC Comics got permission to do new stories of the various Charlton heroes (BB, Captain Atom, Nightshade, etc.) and he got an issue of Americomics(#3), and it was shortly thereafter that DC Comics finally got all of the Charlton character rights and reintroduced him and his fellow Charlton heroes in the pages of the limited series, Crisis on Infinate Earths. Several of these heroes got either their own titles, or at least, limited series, including Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Peacemaker, Thunderbolt & The Question.

Towards the end of the first DC BB title, the original GA BB was both reintroduced and killed off for good, and although BB's title didn't last but just 24 issues, he remained a constant character as part of The Justice League America (an friends) until he was assassinated in the pages of Countdown to Infinite Crisis. The character also appeared in such myriad titles as The L.A.W. limited series, Secret Origins V2, Extreme Justice, and Showcase '94 (among others) and there was also a storyline that related to BB in DC's Time Masters limited series. In truth, there's been more appearances of a character called "The Blue Beetle" in various issues of DC Comic titles total than of the previous appearances of such a character in all of the preceeding titles published by other companies before them.

If you click onto any of the links in red ABOVE it'll show you various incarnations of the character in various companies and titles. (Scans courtesy of the GCD.)

But you know how comics go. DC had killed off the original version of "The Question" in the pages of their "52" title, and revived him in another form, and thus we knew we wouldn't have to wait long until they did the same with BB because, well, not using him would be a wasted property.

And so, in Infinite Crisis, we got us a new version. One that's completely different from previous ones. As the character, Jaime Reyes, he first appeared in Infinite Crisis #3 (2/06) and as the costumed BB, in Infinite Crisis #5 (4/06). He came in the form of a hispanic, male teenager whom "the beetle scarab chose". (He wondered why the scarab had skipped over the previous BB and not given him powers, but as anyone who's ever read the Ditko version knows, the Ted Kord version did that chosing himself, and NOT the scarab.)

To summerize parts of the Origin of this newest version of BB, I turn to the two-page sequence as the back-up in Week 32 (02/07) of the "52" series.

According to that, the BB scarab was residing in The Rock of Eternity, but when the old wizard "Shazam" was killed and The Rock of Eternity was destroyed it landed on a vacant lot in El Paso, Texas. There it was discovered by teenager, Jaime Reyes, who took it home, and in his sleep that night the scarab fused itself to his spine.

When he awoke he found himself hearing babbling alien languages and seeing unintelligible communications from the scarab. In time, Jaime discovered it could create an armor around his body, as well as a number of weapons ("Transformer-like"). This whole storyline reminds me very much of "The Amazing Spider-man" and "Nova", in which both were teenagers and had powers thrust upon them unwittingly, and then had to learn exactly how to use such powers for the good.

To quote "Powers and Weapons": The Beetle Armor can reconfigure to create energy cannons, blades and shields, and wings which give The Beetle the power of flight. The A.I. ("alien intelligence") weapons system allows Beetle to look onto and track any energy source--biological, technological, or mystical".

The writers on this newest BB series on the first 14 issues were Keith Giffen & John Rogers on issues 1-6, 8-10, & Rogers (by himself) on 7, 11-14. Artists varied from Cully Hamner on 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, &10, Cynthia Martin on 3 & 6, Duncan Rouleau on 5 & 9, (and additional inkers and the like). I especially liked Rouleau's Alex Nino-ish work, but all of it has been very "acceptable" and good.

Our story opens in issue #1 with BB in the desert fighting the Guy Gardner Green Lantern. It flashes back to an earlier scene in El Paso, Texas where Jaime and his friends, Brenda and Paco are walking through a vacant lot and he finds the "Beetle Scarab". Back and forth between scenes of the GL battle, and Jaime talking with his fathe at his dad's garage, and finally to where Jaime meets an eyeless girl named "Probe", to the end where he finds himself alone and naked in the desert.

In the continuing storylines we find that Probe is a member of "The Posse', a group I would compare to Marvel's "Wolfpack" of teenagers with extraordinary abilities and powers. Flashback to the scene where he's naked in the desert but finally finds his way back home after borrowing some clothes from a Salvation Army-type deposit box and given a ride, where his family wakes up with a shock! Seems he's been gone, not just "that night", but an entire year!

This is later on explained that when he was helping members of the Justice League (in space) that he was in a dimension where time was different and what was just a short time there, was several months on Earth. Jaime also finds that his father has since lost his garage and walking with a cane due to being shot by someone gunning for one of his employees.

In continuing storylines he gets acquainted with "The Oracle" by pc (aka:"Barbara Gordon"), meets "The Phantom Stranger", travels via a 4th. World "Mother Box", eventually makes up with Guy Gardner, and even meets the makers of the BB Scarab, which turns out NOT to be of a mystical nature at all, but advanced alien technology. All along the way he discovers other powers he now possesses from the Beetle Armor.
He also finds Brenda has been removed from her home after her father's death (who had abused her) and now lives with her aunt (who's much more than meets the eye) and re-meets The Phantom Stranger when he attempts a rescue of other Posse members from a prison of their own making. We see more of a romance budding between Jaime and Brenda as well, and his and Paco's friendship takes a step further when they actually begin working together.

Paco, in fact, helps Jaime buy back his father's garage and becomes partners in that business.

Up to this point, this series is really very, very good. The only real complaint I have about the introduction of new characters these days (especially in "The DC Universe") is that you have to go through a lot of extra BS before you get to their personal stories. Such as the case with this new BB that began in the pages of DC's Infinite Crisis limited series. You really have to read all of this before you can get the whole picture of the character. Even so, it was nice to see some cameos along the way of the original Golden-Age, AND the Silver-Age BB's and it was interesting how the writers tied these older versions of the hero into the current one.

Thus far, I give this series an "A". Stay tuned for a Part II review of this title at some future date.


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