Welcome back to El Paso, folks! After a long month away, I’m here to talk about Blue Beetle once again! Specifically, Blue Beetle #2. I’m not going to lie here. This issue is…more than a little rough at points. The divide between Giffen and Rogers’ voices is as clear as ever in the writing. Cully Hamner, while an incredibly talented artist, steps a bit too far into stereotype territory for some new characters. Let’s dive in.
Picking up right where the first issue left off, Blue Beetle #2 opens on our brave hero wandering buck-naked through the desert. To Jaime Reyes, he just helped the Justice League save the world, crash-landed from orbit, fought a Green Lantern, and is now trying to find some pants. Hell of a first day. The present-day plotline in this issue is its most potent and delivers on one of the book’s most memorable scenes. As Jaime scrounges through a Goodwill donation box outside a gas station, he’s confronted by a big burly white guy in a trucker hat with a shotgun trained on him. As I said last column, I have no way of knowing the split between Giffen and Rogers, script-wise, but what happens next- the gun-wielding dude warmly telling Jaime he doesn’t have to sneak around and unlocking the bin for him- oozes Rogers to me.
Rogers is a pretty well-off white man, as he will readily admit on his very active Twitter account. Still, he very clearly understands the responsibilities and advantages of his platform. Across work both in television and comics, a common theme emerges of the most genuine threat: those in positions of power, wealth, and authority. I recently re-read the criminally underrated Dungeons & Dragons run he did with Andrea Di Vito. His foreword in the collection primarily focuses on how generic fantasy tropes like the chosen hero blessed of an ancient bloodline further real-world ideas like inherent genetic superiority. Not the most radical take on the genre, but an indicator of Rogers’ priority as a writer. Scenes like the one in Blue Beetle #2, where tropes like the ignorant redneck are flipped in favor of humanistic compassion, are firmly in his wheelhouse.
Unlike one, Mr. Keith Giffen, who I have a sneaking suspicion, runs the flashback plotline in this issue—picking up with Jaime, having bonded with the scarab but not yet aware of its powers, hanging out with Paco and Brenda. Their dialogue is…not great, to be frank. Between Paco making a tasteless fat joke and later calling Brenda, who is biracial, “mutt,” it’s just a very mean-spirited and low-hanging teen conversation. Things improve slightly once The Posse, El Paso’s discreet local super-team, arrives on the scene, but some glaring problems mar even their appearance.
As someone who has read this series a half-dozen times, I know The Posse ends up being a fantastic group of characters and a welcome addition to Jaime’s supporting cast. In their first appearance…they aren’t quite there. Written off by Jaime as just another gang, the character designs from Hamner look like they came straight out of central casting for a network cop procedural and don’t do a lot to challenge his accusation. The Posse is made up of Damper, the invisibility cloaking leader, the eyeless telepath Probe, the little person bruiser Thump, acidic sweat dripping Scour, and the supernaturally gorgeous charming Bonita. While they don’t make the best first impression, Damper’s commitment to not starting fights for no reason and only doing what is necessary to protect their family is a bright spot and a reliable indicator of what lies ahead for the team.
While Jaime’s family isn’t nearly as prominent as they were in #1, the three scenes we get with his parents and little sister are strong and very important. The first, Jaime arguing with his father over picking up shifts at the family business, is an excellent continuation of the first issue and sets up a tragedy that comes down shortly. The second has Jaime recovering from his brief fight against The Posse, the first time he ever armored up with the scarab and sneaking into his bedroom at night before his parents notice he’s gone. It’s a familiar scene to anyone who has read an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man or a similar teen-hero-with-a-secret-identity book. The key difference here is that Jaime has a trusting, happy family. No Uncle Bens or Flying Graysons here, both of Jaime’s parents are alive, and both trust and love their son.
The final scene, which is also the finale of the issue, is by far the most important. Throughout the present-day plot, Jaime has worried about how upset his parents will be after spending an entire day and night away from home with no warning. After getting dropped off by the kindly gas station owner, he attempts to sneak into his room only to find his little sister having moved in. As his mother charges in after hearing Milagro scream, she is shocked to see Jaime. But not as shocked as Jaime is to see his dad, far skinnier and walking with a cane, enter the room after her. That’s right, folks, Blue Beetle is a surprise part of the line-wide One Year Later initiative DC was undertaking at the time.
The surprise is a genuine one, as the issue’s cover managed to avoid the tell-tale OYL branding and makes for a fantastic cliffhanger ending. Whereas most OYL stories either barely used the gimmick (such as the various Superman books only showing him having not had his powers for a while before regaining them) or relied on schlock reveals (Catwoman having a baby and keeping the father a mystery), Blue Beetle‘s use of the time-skip is masterful and gives so much genuinely unknown energy to a title that could have quickly fallen into a rote teen hero niche, which is really Blue Beetle‘s greatest strength, as a series. It has all the tools to deliver a perfectly serviceable teen hero book, like the dozens before it, but thanks to a brilliant creative team, it manages to tweak the formula just enough to provide exactly what the genre needs. Something that truly gets underway in Blue Beetle #3, as you’ll see next month.
Peacekeeper arrives! Jaime tells his parents he’s Blue Beetle! Brenda punches him in the stomach!