In September, an alien war machine fell to Earth and attached itself to an El Paso teenager, heralding the beginning of a secret extraterrestrial invasion. But you won't find this story in the newspaper or the tabloids -- this is how comic book writer Tony Bedard and artist Ig Guara kicked off their highly-anticipated first issue of "Blue Beetle," one of the titles being released as part of DC Comics' 52 title relaunch.
Though there have been two previous DC heroes called the Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett and Ted Kord, Jaime Reyes is the most recent character to take on the Beetle mantle, as well as one of the newest characters in the DCU, having been first introduced during "Infinite Crisis" after Ted Kord's murder at the hands of Max Lord. While Jaime helmed his own series from 2006 to 2009, when it came to the DC relaunch, Bedard and Guara decided to fully reboot the character from the ground up, utilizing their first issue to retell Jaime's origin story, establish Jaime's supporting cast and explain what the power-granting scarab is and how it's connected to the alien menace known as the Reach.
CBR caught up with Bedard on the heels of the debut of the new series for a discussion of Jaime, divulging plans for exploring the metahuman El Paso criminal world, getting new readers aboard his first issue and to talk about what it means to him on a personal level to be writing one of DC Comic's few Latino superheroes.
CBR News: Unlike many New 52 launches, this issue is pretty much an origin story for the Scarab and Jaime. With so many other books are dropping readers right into the middle of their stories, what made you decide to start with Blue Beetle's origins?
Tony Bedard: The first time Jaime Reyes became the Blue Beetle, it was in the midst of the massive "Infinite Crisis" crossover, and his origin was tightly tied in to the history of the previous two Blue Beetles. That's a lot of continuity to take in before you even begin to get to know Jaime. Since the New 52 launch was very much aimed at getting new readers in on the fun, it seemed natural to reintroduce Jaime in a less convoluted way. So now we meet Jaime on his own terms, rather than in the shadow of his predecessors.
With this first arc diving immediately into Jaime's origins, how did you go about deciding what parts from the old continuity you wanted to keep and what you wanted to tweak or erase?
I was a big fan of the last "Blue Beetle" series. Not only did [Keith] Giffen and [Cully] Hamner do a great job kicking things off, but I'm in absolute awe of John Rogers' dialogue and Rafael Albuquerque's art. So the first thing I had to do was get over my intimidation at the thought of filling their shoes and just try and keep what I loved about the character without trying to ape their style. Also instructive was the High Concept for the series: that it's basically Green Lantern meets Spider-Man. If Jaime springs from the Peter Parker archetype, then I wanted to make things more difficult for him than they were in the first series. Now his relationship with the Scarab armor is more adversarial, his control is less complete, his friends and family don't know his secret, etc. I also did minor tweaks to a couple of character names. But overall, I think what we're doing respects what came before.
When we last spoke about Blue Beetle, you mentioned that you really want to establish the Reach as the big cosmic villains, not unlike the Qwardians. Is this first arc going to get into the motivations and reasons behind the Reach, or is that slowly going to unfold over the course of the series?
We'll meet a couple of Reach operatives who will become major characters in the series, but we're also saving some Reach stuff for later. I want to spend the first ten or so issues allowing Jaime to slowly learn how to work with the armor, overcome its mandate to conquer, and then he can find out what the deal is with the Reach.
Along those lines, as the series is kicking off with the Scarab being a much more openly malevolent force, does this mean Ted Kord and Dan Garrett never had the Scarab in their posession, or had a weaker version? Will the series address how they fit into the new Blue Beetle timeline?
As far as I'm concerned, Ted and Dan were around before, but we are not going to address that for now. We've had an overabundance of "legacy characters" at DC -- a natural result of over seventy years of stories -- and while some of them, like Wally West and Kyle Rayner, are among my favorite characters, too often, a reader, especially a new reader, can feel like they need a flowchart just to understand who someone is. We're intentionally leaving aside the Kord/Garrett history so that Jaime can come into his own, solely on his own terms. He's a terrific character in his own right, with a lot of new fans from "Brave And The Bold" and "Generation Lost" who might not even have read his last solo series. So with all due respect to Ted Kord, whom I love, we're going to let Jaime stand on his own merits for now.
As Jaime doesn't become Blue Beetle until the very end of the first issue, what can you tell us about this first story arc? Will it focus entirely on setting Jaime and his main villains up (La Dama, the Reach, the Scarab, etc.)?
Next issue, Jaime will have to battle all six bad guys we met in issue one in order to pull Paco out from their crossfire -- but the larger question is, just how much control does Jaime have over the Scarab? His battle of wills with the weapon of mass destruction that's fused to his spine will be even rougher than facing off against those super-henchmen. And if Jaime can't make that armor come off, how can he ever return home? That's the gist of the first story arc. Plus, we'll see Scarab Khaji-Kai and his bug-boss Lu-Kreeza from the Reach again.
Let's talk about the characters that are at the heart of the first story arc. While there are subtle tweaks to a lot of the characters, the biggest one is Paco. What was the thinking behind having Paco as a member in a gang the very first time we meet him?
Jaime, Paco and Brenda have been friends since kindergarten, but they've reached an age in which people can grow apart in radical ways. I felt that having Paco falling in with a bad element created new story possibilities, and I want to deal with the criminal underworld in El Paso/Juarez. Paco is one way to explore that world. He's not a bad guy -- he's a faithful friend and he's been protecting Jaime for years. But now he and Jaime are on different trajectories, both feeling new things toward Brenda, and their friendship will be sorely tested.
Since you brought her up, this new Brenda seems very similar to the Brenda from the old series. While writing her, were there big changes to the character and back story (the abusive Dad, the scarily protective Aunt) that you wanted to make, or was Brenda one of the characters you really wanted to keep consistent between the two series?
I'd say Brenda is a lot closer to how she was in the previous book. She's a bit of a tomboy who is developing into a lovely young woman. She's tough and takes crap from no one, yet she is abused by her father. The best, most nurturing relationship in her life is with her aunt, whom she doesn't know is a cold-blooded mob boss.
Brenda's aunt is still La Dama, but this version, like you said, seems to be a straight-up criminal kingpin. How would you sum up this new La Dama?
She is the cartel boss of El Paso, and she is also a gifted bruja, using mystical means to cement her hold on power. There's actually a lot of real-life mysticism in Mexican drug cartels, so much of how she operates springs from real life examples. When you consider actual lady mobsters like Griselda Blanco, our La Dama isn't that far-fetched of a character. She also employs metahuman henchmen and has rivals in Mexico City and further South who use similar methods. There's a whole world of super-crime to build and explore.
I think one of the most fun aspects of the first issue is that El Paso and the teenagers all feel really grounded and realistic; there's a real slice of life tone to the high school and family aspects of the book. Do you feel you're channeling your own adolescent and high school experiences through Jaime?
Oh, yeah. I think the crucible of high school is a pretty universal experience, and I'm trying to channel my inner John Hughes. I also have my twelve year-old son to help keep me current, and I teach Sunday school to seventh-graders, so hopefully my school scenes feel true to life.
While DC is making a big push to spotlight a more diverse line of characters, your book is one of the few where not only is the main character a minority but so is the entire supporting cast. As someone who is Puerto Rican, was it important to you that "Blue Beetle" really represent not just one character, but the full diversity of the Latino community?
Yeah, we're not a homogenous, monolithic entity at all. For example, I'm very White because I descend from Basque stock in Northern Spain, and my last name is French. If you met me on the street, you'd never guess I'm Hispanic, or that my mom founded the Georgia chapter of the League of United Latin-American Citizens, or that my brother is the present State Director of LULAC in Georgia. Brenda's the same way -- a fair-skinned, redhead Latina with an Italian surname. Jaime and Paco are more "obviously" Mexican-American. And then there's the fact that Mexican Spanish is different from Puerto Rican Spanish, which differs from Cuban Spanish, etc.
While the comic is written in Spanglish, are there plans to do another issue completely in Spanish, as was done in the previous series with "Blue Beetle" #26?
I'm not planning an all-Spanish issue. In fact, I worried that there might be too much Spanish in "Blue Beetle" #1. Ultimately, I went with what sounded natural to my ear, based on how I grew up. I tried to make it so that if you don't know any Spanish, you'll still understand what's going on. I actually think there's less Spanish in the next few issues, and there might be a little more later when Jaime takes on the cartel king of Mexico City. Either way, I want this book to appeal to readers of all backgrounds without pigeonholing it as an ethnic book. This is an adventure book about finding your identity and coming of age with the most dangerous weapon in the universe fused to your spine.
"Blue Beetle" #2 hits stores October 19