Sunday, July 28, 2013

Legacy Character Study: Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)

Pictured:  A bit of a different direction.
And so, we arrive at the third and final part of this look at the men to take up the mantle of the Blue Beetle. It’s time to go over a common corollary of Legacy Characters known in some corners of the internet as the “Affirmative Action Legacy.”

To put it bluntly, most comic book creators half a century ago were white guys, so most of the heroes were white guys. With the more politically-correct present, you will often find that the successors of classic characters are minorities, women, or both.

Examples:
Atom (Ray Palmer)- White guy
Atom (Ryan Choi)-   Asian guy

Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake-  White
Damien Wayne- Half white, ¼ Middle-Eastern, ¼ Asian 

The Question (Vic Sage)- White guy
The Question (Renee Montoya)-  Latina Lesbian

Following in the grand tradition, the third Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, is Hispanic. As such, this presents a wonderful opportunity for the writers to sneak some Spanish swears into a comic book! (And they did.) Oh, they also told an amazing story that was read by relatively few, but enjoyed by those who bothered to read it.

Character Conception
Creating a successor that was so vastly different from his predecessors was a stroke of necessary genius. Keith Giffen (writer/creator) was well aware that no one could out-Ted Ted, so he didn’t even try. Instead, he told a story that was immensely different to what had come before, and was an excellent read in its own right. He changed the hero’s abilities, setting, enemies, and style from the original, and it worked out for the better. Much like Ditko before him, Giffen respected the stories that came before, but put his own spin on the material.

Secret Origin
Jaime Reyes (pronounced High-May Ray-Ezz) was an ordinary teenage boy who stumbled upon the mystic scarab and was whisked into the world of heroics! Seriously, that’s it. He just found the darn thing walking home from school one day.

An origin so nice,
they showed us twice.
Yeah, I'd like to see Ted try that.
Powers/Abilities
Jaime Reyes, like Dan Garrett, can access the scarab’s power, but to a further degree than Dan ever could. The scarab provides the basic set of superpowers:
Super-strength, flight, durability, heightened senses and heightened reflexes.
Along with that, the scarab generates near-skintight armor which allows many secondary superpowers, some of which are still undocumented:

Generation of Blade-arms
Turning visible objects visible
Extra-dimensional vision

It’s been said that the scarab’s abilities change with the wielder. Basically, you’re only as powerful as you believe you are. This is why every person who owned the scarab got different power levels. 

Enemies

The only major lasting villains of real note would be the Reach and the Black Beetle.
….We’ll talk about those when we get to that point in his history.

Character History
When Ted Kord had been doing his research into the ongoing conspiracy he had discovered, the mystical scarab was taken away by a wizard known as Shazam. Long story short, an event called Day of Vengeance happened, and Shazam was killed when his home (the Rock of Eternity) exploded, which sent the scarab hurtling through all of time and space. With the potential to land anywhere, the scarab eventually landed in….  El Paso, Texas, of all places.

Jaime Reyes, a local teenager, picked it up as he walked by. He kept it for no other reason than the fact that it looked cool. That night, as Jaime slept, the scarab crawled into his bed and fused itself into his spine.

Om nom nom...
Now, such bodily horror is, well, quite horrific when it happens to you. So what the scarab did was hack into Jaime’s mind and tell him exactly what was happening, so as not to alarm him. However, there were two problems with this plan.

1. The scarab didn’t speak Spanglish or either language comprising it.
2. Jaime didn’t speak the scarab’s language.

So, yeah, not the best of introductions for these two. Soon after, Jaime was basically drafted into the fight against Brother I (an intelligent satellite that Maxwell Lord, the man who killed Ted, was using to further his evil scheme) by Booster Gold, who basically teleported in, said “Come with me,” and teleported out. Turns out that the scarab was the only thing on Earth that could actually detect the cloaked satellite. After spotting and dis-orbit-ing Brother I, Jaime teleported away from the battle as quickly as he was drafted. It seems that the scarab really wanted to get away from the Green Lanterns as soon as possible. Hmmm….

Jaime was next seen running away from Guy Gardener. Most people who spend time with Guy have similar reactions, though. But in this case, Guy was in a blind rage, attacking Jaime and trying to kill him. He did come to his senses, though, and flew off after what amounts to a “my bad.”

After hitchhiking home, he discovered that he had actually been gone a whole year.  In real life, this was because all of DC’s comics had jumped ahead by a single year (the missing year was shown in the excellent mini-series “52”). In the comics, this was because the scarab’s dimension-jump teleportation was slightly off. When Jaime returned home, his family was happy to see him. But, as he had been gone a whole year, they were understandably upset with his nonchalant return after all the grief they had gone through. Then Jaime did the unthinkable….  He revealed his secret identity to his family!

Can I get a "dun-dun-dunnnnnnn?"
 That’s…. actually a good idea. It explained his absence, it keeps him from having to make up excuses to explain why he sneaks off all the time; it’s a great idea. In fact, the whole Blue Beetle series became somewhat of a subversion of the superhero clichés in general, as you’ll soon see.

Other cliches were fair game.
After rescuing imprisoned super-teens, and joining up with established characters like Oracle, Phantom Stranger, and the latest Peacemaker, Jaime discovers that the mystical scarab isn't actually mystical. The scarab is alien technology. Apparently, the scarab is the creation of a race known as “the Reach”, which is designed to transform a member of a planet’s dominant species into a “protector,” controlling their mind with its AI and allowing an invasion force to descend relatively unchallenged by the locals. But when the scarab landed on Earth in ancient Egypt, it came into contact with magic for the first time, which broke it. Half-busted, the scarab remained hidden until it was discovered by, you guessed it, an archaeologist known as Dan Garrett, who was able to access a couple Reach abilities using the code-word “Khaji-Dha,” (the scarab’s serial number, of all things).  Jaime’s scarab has only a partially-functioning AI, so when it bonded with him, it didn’t take control of his body, but talks to him in his head. The scarab’s creators, the Reach, are the sworn enemies of the Guardians of Oa (the bosses of the Green Lanterns), so all Green Lantern rings will instinctually attack Jaime on sight.


Speaking of the Reach, they finally ended up making their way towards Earth! And with their fearsome technology and firepower, they…  opened up diplomatic channels and attempted to gain the Earth’s trust by allying themselves with the humans? Yep. Remember that I mentioned that this series subverted a lot of clichés? The “alien invasion” was one of them. Yes, the Reach were evil, but they wanted to take over Earth the easy way, saving their firepower.

Jaime fought the Reach as the main villains of the series, ending up befriending the scarab’s AI and bringing it over to the side of the humans, culminating in the grand finale where Reach infiltrators invade Jaime’s school dance. Instead of destroying the place, the group of Reach is called the “Khaji-Dha Revolutionary Army,” inspired by the independence demonstrated by Jaime’s scarab, and attempting to destroy any and all threats to the Earth. They unfortunately decide that Jaime’s a threat to their goals, and the customary fight ensues. After a kamikaze dive to defeat the Reach, Jaime heals over a period of weeks, and his school pretty much figured out that Jaime was the Blue Beetle. When Jaime runs away, and the Blue Beetle returns down the same hallway, it’s not hard to put 2 and 2 together.

After that, Blue Beetle gained a new arch-nemesis, the Black Beetle, who resembled a larger, black version of Jaime. Black Beetle’s origin is unknown, as he presents new ones constantly.

During Blackest Night, Jaime helps to defeat Ted Kord, who was among those who returned from the dead as a Black Lantern. Like Captain Atom, Jaime was recruited to join the rest of the former JLI in the mini-series Generation Lost, which I still won’t spoil. Sorry for that, I promise that I’ll go over the events someday.

This is the point where I go over the changes in the New 52 version, but the rebooted Jaime is essentially a retelling of the same story, with the main difference that Jaime is now the first Blue Beetle as opposed to the third, and there are multiple factions already going after the scarab. 

Alternate Versions
Jaime’s popped up in a few alternate universes, including the events of Flashpoint. Not as many as Ted or Dan, what with his relative newness, though. However, Jaime was the first character that Batman teamed up with in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and he became a flagship cast member and founding member of that show’s version of the JLI.

Which one's Brave and which one's Bold?
Not only that, Jaime became the Blue Beetle (even meeting up with Booster Gold) in the fan-favorite episode of Smallville “Booster.”

I... AM... IRON... BEETLE.
But wait, there’s more! The “Reach” storyline from the Blue Beetle comics was awesomely adapted into the entire second season of Young Justice. And the fans rejoiced.
But wait, STILL MORE! Test footage has surfaced for a live-action Blue Beetle show, starring Jaime Reyes. Nothing seems to be actively moving forward, but the fans are assured that they haven’t given up yet, so that’s a positive.

This was supposed to be a show twice already.  Then again, Green Arrow and Ant-Man were supposed to have movies by now.
Final Thoughts on Jaime
Jaime is nicely different than, but respectful to, the Legacy's history. All the Beetles were good people, and Jaime is no different. I mean, how many teenagers, when possessed into transforming into what the most desire to be, would actually become a dentist? Not many besides Jaime. All he wants is to do right by his family and his friends. And that makes him good enough to be Ted's successor in my book.


Final Thoughts on the Legacy
The Blue Beetle. Each incarnation a classic in their own right, completely different from the last. I doubt that Jaime will be the last Blue Beetle. Which one’s my favorite? All of them, in their own way.

Dan’s my favorite 40’s adventurer. Ted’s my favorite not-quite-Batman. And Jaime’s my favorite teenager who gains powers from a small, many-legged invertebrate. Yep, I like him more than Spider-Man.

And so, the Blue Beetle retrospective comes to an end. While the character, in all his incarnations, has remained in relative obscurity, there have always been loyal fans, myself included. I’m glad to see that in an age of reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, people still remember the classics. And on that, it’s time to end this three-parter.

Thanks for reading.  

P.S. Sharp-eyed readers will no-doubt want to know how the three incarnations of the Blue Beetle all managed to meet, despite none of them being in operation at the same time.


In four words….

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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