Hometown Hero: Blue Beetle #1 by Zoe Tunnell

Folks, I love Blue Beetle.

Jaime Reyes’ debut, written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers with art from Cully Hamner, as the latest in the shockingly long legacy hit when I was 15 (oh god, I am old) and diving into comics for the first time. It was the first DC book I bought monthly and will forever hold a special place in my heart. So when I was asked by CFC if there would be any book I would be interested in covering issue-by-issue, Blue Beetle was an easy answer.

Before we dive into issue #1, however, I want to make something clear: I am white as hell. While his creators are, like me, also white, Jaime Reyes is a Latino teenager, and that identity is a massive part of his character. I am not going to be able to speak to the authenticity of his story and how well it handles his role as a Latino superhero in America. I am skeptical that three middle-aged white guys managed to put pitch-perfect representation onto the page, but either way, it isn’t my place to make that judgment. Luckily, the book is a masterclass in teen superhero writing and series structure, so there will be plenty for me to dig into without shoving my foot into my mouth. 

With that out of the way, let’s get started with Blue Beetle #1.

It is really hard to oversell just how good of a job Cully Hamner did with Beetle’s design. There is a reason the series opens with a near full-page splash showing off his look. From the distinct blue-and-black palette to the sick as hell luchador inspired mask, it is an iconic look that is just as cool now as it was 15 years ago. Following his cool introduction, our hero is put into the situation every fresh new teen superhero wants to start their career: fighting for their life against a berserk Green Lantern.

For context: Jaime made his actual debut in Infinite Crisis, helping Batman and the Justice League infiltrate Brother Eye’s rogue satellite and promptly disappearing as the suit’s survival protocols kicked in. Most of the issue is set before Crisis, showing exactly how El Paso high schooler Jaime stumbled, literally, upon the scarab that would make him the new Blue Beetle. 

These flashbacks give a glimpse at the core of what makes Blue Beetle a special series and also highlight the stumbles it takes in its early issues. Keith Giffen co-writes 10 issues of the volume before John Rogers’ run as sole writer is solidified. Giffen has countless classic runs to his name, such as JLI and Legion of Superheroes, and will likely go down as one of the more prolific creators of the 20th century. As of 2006, however, Giffen was over 20 years into his career and more than a little stagnant. Writing tics, such as overly quippy dialogue and weirdly extreme emotional swings, are present throughout Blue Beetle #1 and drags the issue down in a few scenes, but not to the degree that sinks the ship.

In contrast, John Rogers had primarily worked in television and film at this point, co-creating the incredibly underrated Jackie Chan Adventures series and co-writing the very much rightfully rated film The Core. Rogers’ work following Blue Beetle is full of outstanding character work, genuine humor, and openly progressive views, all of which are also found throughout the latter half of the series. While it is impossible to know for sure, the fact that most of the title’s weak points disappeared once Giffen stepped away can’t help but make me think they were primarily due to his contributions. 

Back to the issue itself, where we are introduced to Jaime’s supporting cast. Brenda and Paco, his classmates, and best friends. His bratty little sister Milagro,  overworked nurse mother Bianca, and equally overworked mechanic father, Alberto. The core cast is present throughout the whole run and is one of the bright spots of Jaime’s corner of the DC Universe.

 Most heroes’ supporting casts get bogged down with other costumed heroes or fantastical beings, but Jaime’s remains his best friends and family. Even in this debut, all of their relationships are established and compelling. Alberto wants his son to have an education and a better life than he did. Paco and Brenda are clearly into each other but too hormone-fueled to do anything about it. Even Milagro, annoying as she is, gets help from her big brother, who does genuinely love her. For a hero who has cosmic powers at his fingertips, Jaime’s family is always there to make sure he has one foot on the ground. 

Back in the present, Jaime’s desperate attempt to fight off the inexplicably brutal assault from Guy Gardner fails, but Guy manages to shake off his bloodlust when he sees he’s been beating up a crying teenager. With a mysterious message about the scarab fueling Jaime’s powers feeling like “every migraine I’ve ever had combined,” the superhero flies off and leaves Jaime alone in the middle of the desert. And after his armor recedes in an upsettingly body horror-tinged fashion, Jaime’s left naked and alone in the desert.

The issue teases the mystery of the scarab a bit before it’s close, showing it bonding with Jaime in his sleep and making him speak in an alien language, as well as a run-in with a spooky lady with no eyes but still seems to see right through Jaime. The final page sees our hero, disoriented and bare-ass naked, stumbling through the desert and mumbling to himself about getting home. As he crests a ridge, Jaime sees the city lights of El Paso and takes stock of his situation. He’s cold, naked, worried that his parents are angry, seemingly hated by the superheroes he helped save the day and…

Yeah. He’s the new Blue Beetle.

Too bad, he has no idea what that means.

Next month: Jaime gets some pants! Oh, and learns that he has been gone for an entire year. Whoops! See you then, folks.

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