Cool Things: Blue Beetle

Okay, we’re back to our regularly scheduled segment which contains considerably less romance than last month’s installments. This week we’re taking another look at a comic book that tackles the ever-popular (in American comics) superhero genre in a different and refreshing way. Today we’re going to look at the Blue Beetle.

What’s that? Not familiar with the big blue bug? Not surprising. He’s never been an A-list hero and he’s had three different gimmicks over the years. I’m only familiar with his most recent incarnation, Jaime Reyez (pronounced “high-may ray-ez”) who first appeared in the DC event comic Infinite Crisis. I haven’t read Infinite Crisis but Blue eventually got his own series and I have read some of the trade paperbacks collecting his adventures there.

In the form of most superhero books, the Blue Beetle series was not really interested in telling a single overarching story but rather just takes us along from story to story as Jaime tries to balance being a high school student and being the Blue Beetle. Notice that I don’t mention anything about maintaining a secret identity. That’s because Blue doesn’t have one.

Yes, just like Shazam/Billy Batson Jaime makes no real effort to hide his superhero identity from his friends and family (the world at large is in ignorance of his identity). In fact, almost the first thing he does after his first hair-raising superhero adventure is reveal to his family – who haven’t seen him in a year – that he’s the Blue Beetle. No excuses. No hastily constructed lies. A simple explanation that, yes, weirds his family out quite a bit but they also come to accept.

In fact, short term weirdout for long term understanding and cooperation is a theme of Jaime’s career. Both his family and some of his closest friends are in on the secret, helping him spot crime as it happens and running interference to keep the world at large from knowing who he is. Even his girlfriend knows about his other career, in fact she’s a superheroine herself, working the magic angle of things even as Jaime works the technology side.

The upshot of all this is that Blue Beetle reads more like the adventures of a tight knit group of friends with a passion for justice than a single knight suffering through a lonely crusade. It gives the title a warm, energetic feeling missing from many comics these days.

To go with that, the story also has a great sense of humor. Blue announces his victory over thugs by using the power of Science, wears a suit of armor that thinks for itself and believes it’s onboard weaponry has theological implications and faces a giant robot named Thinko! that always spells its name with an exclamation mark. The humor is quirky, charming and fun, never mean-spirited or hostile.

Most of all, the title is nuanced. In one story line Jaime, who lives in El Paso, Texas and is the son of a Mexican immigrant, gets roped into being a kind of figurehead for the border patrol. The story carefully examines the issue, Jaime’s father taking him back to Mexico to see the kind of circumstances that drive people to sneak across the border while Peacemaker, his mentor and trainer in the field of superhero work, points out that even the vigilante boarder guards aren’t really that different from the people who don capes or cowls and go out to protect their communities. And through it all we’re shown that an unsecure border will be exploited by those who seek to profit off of moving things like drugs or guns illegally and such activities often come at the expense of those with more legitimate reasons to want to cross the border.

You don’t get that kind of careful, nuanced, detailed coverage of muddy situations from mainstream newspapers. But this “comic” book? Yeah, it manages to do all of that in spades.

Blue Beetle sadly only ran for a few years before low sales caused the title to be canceled. But what is there is really good and worth your attention, so go check it out. With the New 52 in town enough popularity for an old character like Jaime may even bring him back for another crack at breaking into the market. Or at least so we might hope…

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