It’s rare in the world of the “Big Two” comic book publishers (Marvel and DC), that an attempt to create a new, popular character is made. Rarer still is when these characters are any good, and go on to achieve anything resembling what qualifies as success in the comic book biz. In fact, an argument could be made that the last true breakout character to come out of the big two is the X-Men’s Wolverine, a fact that only gets sadder when you consider that he was created in 1974.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important is that point comics are all about nostalgia at this point. If you’ll allow me to paint in broad strokes for a moment, comics nerds, like most nerd subcultures, really just want the same itch to be scratched over and over again, despite whatever protestations they make to the contrary. They say they want new stuff, but sales numbers seem to indicate that old stuff is far preferred.
Still, occasionally Marvel or DC will test the waters with a new character, and that is exactly what happened in 2006 with the Blue Beetle. Admittedly, the Blue Beetle isn’t an entirely new character, there had in fact been two characters who had used the name previously. The first, Dan Garrett, was created in the 40s, and is somebody no one really cares all that much about. The second, Ted Kord, created in the 60s by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, was a fun character who was sort of a hybrid of Spider-Man and Batman. Ted reached his highest level of popularity in the 80s/early 90s as a member of the Justice League, after which he sort of faded into background, until 2005, when DC decided it was time to shoot him in the head.
What followed was a bunch of big event crossover nonsense which I don’t particularly feel like recapping, so let me just say that eventually this lead to a new Blue Beetle being created; a high school student from El Paso named Jaime Reyes. While Ted Kord had been a “Batman who was actually friendly,” sort of character, Jaime could best be described as a “teenager who became Iron Man by accident.” Jaime was fused with a strange alien scarab, which could wrap around him in blue and black Iron Man-esque armor, allowing him to fly, shoot energy blasts, and all kinds of other superhero stuff.
Jaime was given a brand new solo series, which running for twenty-five issues under co-creator John Rogers, was an absolute blast. Rogers, a former stand-up comic, and a screenwriter who currently works as head writer and creator of the TNT show Leverage (and also, by the way, has a thoroughly excellent blog which I can’t recommend highly enough), moved the series away from the sort of ultra-violence that predominates modern day comics, understanding that above all else, superheroes should be fun. The series was infused with humor and action in equal abundance, and even when it was serious, never sunk to the level of being “gritty.” Jaime ended up an incredibly likeable protagonist as well, an excellent coming of age arc about a kid finding his place in a world full of space aliens, giant monsters, alternate dimensions, and high school drama. Top notch pencils by artists Cully Hamner and Rafael Albuquereque didn’t hurt either.
Recently though, I’ve been a little worried about Jaime. His series was cancelled shortly after Rogers’ departure, relegating him to ensemble roles in books such as the frequently abysmal “Teen Titans.” Furthermore, recently DC has been killing off legacy characters at an alarming pace, and I’ve had this inkling that Jaime could be next on the editorial chopping block. So, it was with great relief that I read this news last week: DC is working to get a live-action Blue Beetle television series made.
Now, I know that DC is pretty bad at marketing, but even they’re not so bad that they’ll kill off a character right before giving him a television show. Understand, I’m not actually excited about the show itself. Judging by Smallville, the odds of it actually being any good are pretty slim, but this does mean that an exciting new character will be around for quite some time, and it comics, it doesn’t get much more rare than that.
Unless of course the show doesn’t get picked up, then Jaime is boned. So. Boned.