4thletter is… dead characters. (Blue Beetle Talk)

December 31st, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sorry, just a bit of sarcasm there. Seriously guys, I know you love Hawkeye/Beetle/Spoiler/The Aquarian/New Warriors/JLI, but no one actually has a vendetta against these characters. Do you know why companies kill them? They kill them because you love them. They know that every character, from Skin to Ronnie Raymond to Doug Ramsey to Bill Foster, is someone’s favorite, except Wyatt Wingfoot, of course. This is especially true on the internet. Killing a character, or hinting that you will kill one, is a surefire sales and word-of-mouth bump. That’s why they do it. They’ll get a rise out of you each and every time.

It’s okay to be upset, but not to the point that you’re throwing out ad hominems and death threats at writers.

Just… be real about it. It’s just comics, dog, it’s not that serious. It sucks, yeah, but that’s life, right? It’s cool to come up with scenarios to bring them back to life or critique why they died, just have some perspective.

Anyway, Blue Beetle.

Like a lot of the DCU, I first encountered Ted Kord in the pages of the Death of Superman. He, along with Booster Gold, were part of the JL(A?) that went up against Doomsday before Superman. I had no idea that those two were the jokey-jokesters that they apparently were in JLI. I thought that they were just two heroes with cool costumes, but that’s possibly because I’ve always thought of goggles as being kind of cool. (Don’t tell anyone I told you that.) Plus, geez, they went up against the guy who killed Superman!

I thought that Blue Beetle was pretty cool, and then promptly forgot about him and the rest of that Justice League until probably about the time that Formerly Known as the Justice League hit. That was good stuff, so I became a mild fan. Countdown hit after a while and bam, Beetle was dead.

And the internet knew the sound of a billion angry keyboards, epithets and incensed forum posts a-typing.

I thought that the Beetle parts of Countdown, save for the bits where Bats and J’onn were jerks to him, did a good job of showing that he was a hero. I particularly liked the bit where Beetle realized that he had a choice between doing wrong and living or remaining a hero and dying.

“My name is Ted Kord. I am the second man to call himself the Blue Beetle. I tell myself there will be a third. And I hope whoever he or she may be, they do better at it than I have.”

He realizes that he can’t stop what’s happening, not even remotely. Lord’s plan is going to take effect, and it’s “Join me or die time.” Beetle’s response?

“Rot in Hell, Max.”

That, lads and ladies, is a true hero. Defiant to the end and ready to spit in a villain’s face.

He was right about there being a new Beetle, too.

The new Beetle is Jaime Reyes. (It’s not Jay-me, by the way. It’s pronounced more like High-may. Sorry, I’m a stickler for Spanish.) He’s the brainchild of Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner. He’s from El Paso, Texas, and got the Scarab that gave Dan Garret, the first Beetle, his powers.

I really, really like Jaime. He’s quite a believable teenager, thanks in no small part to some smart dialogue from the writers. Jaime was missing for a year thanks to the events of Infinite Crisis, unbeknownst to him. While he was gone, his family came apart. His father was shot, but not killed, and his mother turned into a wreck. When he got back, the very first thing he did was reveal his powers to his understandably freaked-out family.

Yes. That is excellent and it was so nice to see. Jaime is still a teenager, still in high school. He isn’t super smart, or agile, or whatever. Shoot, he doesn’t even know how to fight. But, he understands that family is one of the most important things in a person’s life. He trusts them enough to give them his secret. His best friends, too.

After that, Jaime is almost a traditional Marvel hero. He’s inexperienced, flawed, and honestly, he doesn’t even want to be a hero. He didn’t ask for this, and he definitely didn’t ask for the JLA to take him into space and leave him there. He’s been dealt a raw deal, but he’s going to deal with it as best he can.

I like Jaime. I think that he’s a worthy successor and his book is a lot of fun. It sucks that Ted had to die to make way for him, but that’s comics. You can either embrace the illusion of change and hold onto your favorite characters until they stagnate, or you can embrace actual change and watch your favorite characters grow old, die, retire, or whatever, only to be replaced by new and improved versions or, heaven forbid, actually new characters!

It’s just comics, baby. Love them or leave them. Bad stories are a given in any medium. Whether it’s War Games or Onslaught, something out there is going to rub you the wrong way. Enjoy the good stories, ignore the rest. Just don’t be afraid to try something new.

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17 comments to “4thletter is… dead characters. (Blue Beetle Talk)”

  1. I was less upset about Ted’s death (characters can die, I’m cool with that) than I was about the hack job they did on Max Lord’s character. And by the time all the other IC tie-in books started coming out and then the Killer EmoBoy Prime stuff I’d given up on DC. I hear good things about several current DC titles. And I won’t buy them. I’m tired of investing in characters only to have them shat all over by some new editorial team in 5 years looking to push their current massive crossover event.

    I forgot what it was that pushed me away from Marvel, but it was something similar. So much that I was only mildly annoyed when they destroyed my favorite team to set-up Civil War.

    Nowadays if a mainstream title from either REALLY manages to impress me I’ll grab the trade (Batman & the Monster Men or Nextwave for example). Though I still buy stuff from DC/Marvel imprints like Vertigo, Icon or Wildstorm. But I can’t bring myself to support bad storylines and stupid crossovers by buying monthly books from either company…

  2. I understand where you’re coming from completely. But, that’s really the nature of serial fiction. Writers and readers want bigger and badder, so they’re going to constantly push characters in new directions. Oftentimes, these new directions will suck.

    I think it’s better to enjoy the good stories of today wherever you find them. Marvel and DC have a very good midlist/C-list going on right now, with Blue Beetle, Firestorm, Iron Fist, and a few other books. You may not be able to avoid every crossover, but you can avoid a lot of them and still get good reads.

  3. Between this and the entry on Ms. Cain, I think there’s a lot of bright sides to see in everything we might potentially despise on a knee jerk reflex.

    I’m still with the initial poster about Max Lord, and that’s really what prevents me toward liking the sacrifice that Ted made. Yet I enjoyed Magneto’s portrayal in Planet X… I’m not sure why that is, but I did like the whole Blue Beetle II made a stand bit. Would every single criticism of these events stem from the supposed investment we make in the events and characters or just irrational hatred? Perhaps something completely different?

    Anyway, I still buy DC, even with my dissatisfaction. Because you’re right, I’ll buy the books when they kill off my characters, I want to see their heroic downfalls and get pissed off. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not.

    The new Blue Beetle has my money for the reasons you listed and he’s been fairly disconnected from main DC happenings. It is his book and One Year Later, after all. I’m hoping that DC continues to decentralize their characters from the main events, because while I do appreciate the fireworks, sometimes it is just good to get nitty gritty with the individual characters and avoid the potential clusterfuck.

    Helps me get my mind off of the “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS TRAVESTY.”

  4. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that Max Lord being a villain, and a human one, was pretty dumb. It was a definite low spot in the DCU. I guess I like it in spite of Lord being evil?

    You probably liked Planet X better because it was setup by the issues that came before it, no matter how subtly, and the reveal wasn’t out-of-nowhere in the whole “Yeah, uh, we need a villain. Pick one at random” way that DC Countdown was.

    Would every single criticism of these events stem from the supposed investment we make in the events and characters or just irrational hatred? Perhaps something completely different?

    Well, I look at it like this. The outraged reactions are a sign that companies are doing their job. They make us care/love/interested in these characters and do it well. I bet if you look hard enough, there’s the equivalent of HEAT for, I dunno, Slapstick or someone. But, sometimes, and it is really, really hard to tell when, the outraged reactions seem to switch from “Aw, man, my favorite character!” to “Aw, man, I’m going to cut the hands off that piecea crap writer and stupid freaking artist!”

    And then there are the guys who hate anything and everything new in comics and will complain about it constantly. We don’t like to talk about those guys, though 🙂

    Blue Beetle and Firestorm have been pretty well disconnected, with few exceptions, and I do enjoy that. But, the next DC event is going to be New Gods-related, which both books are tying into… I’m a sucker for Kirby, so I’m definitely down. It shouldn’t hurt the quality of the books, either, since Dwayne McDuffie is writing Firestorm and John Rogers is still on Beetle.

    (I hope that the New Gods crossover is masterminded by either Grant Morrison, Walt Simonson, or a reined-in Jim Starlin. They’ve turned out to be the few writers who “get” Fourth World, I think.)

  5. OH! Knee jerk response time… Seems like an equivalent to “Annihilation!”

    Sorry about that, but really, the first thing to pop in my head and I had to say it. If it is Fourth World related, I honestly couldn’t really pull any names period. I trust Morrison after reading his Seven Soldiers work, and anyone else with the guts to at least attempt to address the Fourth World is fine by me.

    That was probably the best comic news I’ve read today. I love this blog.

  6. The thing that bugged me most about the uproar concerning Ted’s death is that a lot of the people complaining had (or have? are people still complaining?) never read any Ted-related material except for Countdown.

  7. It’s a Catch-22, isn’t it? If you make a show of support and cry out against a character getting killed off, you fall into the trap you mention. If you don’t care about the character’s death, it shows they were expendable and no one cares.

    I don’t think an outcry is a sign that the companies are doing their job. Because that reduces things to success being a gauge of how much of a rise they get out of fans, rather than how well told the story is. Look at the amount of sadistic, sensationalist gore in DC, that also makes it even worse a problem (that’s probably partly why there’s so much animosity). You can argue they tried to properly close Blue Beetle’s character arc with everything in Countdown before his death. The same can’t be said for most other characters killed off of late.

    It’s also that fans may not want something a part of their favorite character’s history, including their death (why straight resurrection isn’t always a quick fix). They retconned out Leslie Thompkins’ letting Stephanie die, for example.

  8. I see your point, but comics are more commerce than art at this point. Outcry leads to sales, which is why Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and Civil War are sales juggernauts regardless of the quality of the writing inside. Those sales tell the companies “Do more of this,” no matter how ugly the gore and outcry gets. Companies judge things on Plus Dollars, Minus Dollars. Plus Dollars means more of what made Plus Dollars. Minus Dollars means less. That’s why foil covers, crap anatomy, and the like dropped out of comics.

    I don’t mean to suggest that outcry is automatically bad at all. There’s just a difference between outcry and cries for blood. Outcries show your support and love. Cries for blood just show fans to be obsessive and ugly.

    Example: I’m not particularly a fan of Allan Heinberg’s treatment of Eli/Patriot. I presented my points how I saw them without resorting to calling him a “stupid freaking racist” or pulling out the ad hominems against the writer. Criticize the work, not the creator is usually a good rule. The former shows your support for the character or concept. The latter is just ugly.

    It’s a matter of degrees, I think, and this is also colored by my own beliefs/personality/whatever. A lot of what I see online leans more toward vitriol rather than reasoned thought. I’m not much for mean-spirited snark, so that stuff is a huge turn-off for me. It just makes no sense.

  9. I think some of the vitriol comes from the feeling that it’s personal, in a way. Favorite characters are a personal thing, and if that character is treated like crap in-story and out (like Didio’s constant jabs at JLI fans, or, with me, Johns’ jokes about Pantha) then it feels almost like a personal attack rather than honest storytelling. The creators – most fans themselves – would be pissed if their favorites were disposed of so shoddily. So bad writing + fond feelings = DISASTER. And mean-spirited snark is a past time of the Internet, but it only works when things are fairly universally despised – like with Bruce Jones, Greg Land, Rob Liefeld, and Arms-Fall-Off Boy.

    I know the companies will do what rakes in the money, which why gore and other nasty stuff keeps being pushed and pushed… but that doesn’t seem like an excuse. Especially when you hear so much about DC and Marvel only focusing on a shrinking pool of an aging readership, and being beaten out by the more diverse range of manga. Foil covers and name artists and all that with questionable skill made money for a while too, before crapping out and hurting the industry.

  10. I didn’t care for Ted Kord’s execution in Countdown, not because I had any affinity for the character (I didn’t) but because it was so clearly a sacrifice at the altar of editorial expediency, and a badly written one, at that.

    The whole Infinite Crisis shebang turned me off of most DC titles, and, ironically, the new Blue Beetle is one of the few I’m really enjoying these days. Of course, that means it, along with Firestorm, is due to be sucked into crossover hell and then be canceled any day now. (see Batgirl, Gotham Central, Teen Titans…)

  11. Teen Titans isn’t canceled, but it probably would’ve benefitted from a new direction, creative team, and relaunch post-Crisis. It started spiraling wildly down the drain once the Simone/Liefeld arc hit. I haven’t been able to really enjoy it since. I don’t think I even finished the last few arcs pre-Crisis.

    It’d be nice to have a teen action book that isn’t all drama and blood. Marvel effectively canceled New X-Men as far as I’m concerned once DeFillipis and Weir left. The book went straight to Winick-style bodycounts for cheap effect. What’s left?

  12. Teen Titans might as well as have been canceled for me between the the Liefeld fill-in and Infinite Crisis crossovers, which is when I dropped it the first time. (Liefeld? Kid Eternity? No thanks.) Up to then, it was one of my favorites, particularly the LoSH/future Titans arc. I tried to pick it up again OYL but only lasted a few issues before I got bored with it. I understand there’s a “new direction” coming up soon but, unless someone new is writing it (Scott Beatty would be great, I think) I’m done.

    Totally agree with you on New X-Men. DeFillipis and Weir got the shaft when New Mutants got reloaded, and it was never the same. The best teen action book (that just sounds wrong) for a while there was Young Avengers, but who the hell knows when it will return. I’ve got high hopes for Image’s Dynamo 5, though.

    And there’s always the Power Pack all-ages series!

  13. I remember a brilliant post on newsarama that explained why Beetle was not a hero. It was basically something like: Barry Allen sacrificied himself to save all exsitence in Crisis. Blue Beetle did nothing. Maybe he made Shasha betray Max. That’s it. He didn’t even delete those files-Alex Luthor did that. He did not have a heroic sacrifice. Although it was better than what Stephanie Brown got.

    There was a large blog dedidacated to diatribe against Spider-Man’s Sins Past which said that in the 90’s, everyone was all over artists, but nowadays everyone is all over the writers, with EXTREMELY similar results. If history repeats itself, the backlash may just kill off the American superhero comics industry.

  14. I agree with Matthew: What Beetle did by telling Max to rot in hell wasn’t heroic, it was stupid. He was practically handed the chance to infiltrate Checkmate on a silver platter so he could learn more about them and possibly sabotage them from the inside, and instead chose to die a useless death just for the purpose of spitting in Max’ face.

  15. I dunno. I tend to find “Never compromise. Not even in the face of armageddon”-type heroes more compelling than those that do compromise. Plus, if he’d joined, there was no guarantee that he would have been able to do anything counter-intelligence-y at all. At that point, it was all or nothing, and Ted stuck to his guns. That’s why I see him as a hero.

    Just to show you my line of thinking– Rorschach was the only one in Watchmen who behaved anything like a hero. The others were willing to condone mass murder in the face of the greater good, but he realized that they’d be, for lack of a better word, villains because of it.

  16. Sounds like an idea for another 4th Letter is entry. “Death First. Never compromise.” And then a nice split panel, with Rosarch’s death on one side and Punisher gunning down 4th rate villians from CW#6

  17. You know, that is a much better idea than the first “4l is” I did. I haven’t posted it yet, but it is here: 4thletter is for dedication.