I’m pretty sure I’ve told you guys how much I love me some Jaime Reyes. If not, feel free to note now– I love me some Jaime Reyes. I loyally followed the character’s run on the Blue Beetle solo title, and was sad when it ended, despite the series going out with a fantastic bang. Actually, I didn’t really resign myself to the disappearance of Jaime until he reappeared– in Teen Titans, which might as well be DC’s very own Roach Motel for how often cool characters checks in but never checks out. Voiced by Will Friedle as one of several side characters in the Batman: Brave and the Bold (notable, like most of the DCAU animated canon, for keeping minority characters both alive and as figureheads for character legacies over the “traditional” always-white always-male variants), I considered the cartoon to be a nod to comics fans, and therefore also sort of a farewell to the idea of ever seeing Jaime be that awesome ever again.
I literally found out on Saturday that in the company-wide reboot, DC was bringing Jaime back. On his own.
One the one hand– ugh. I’d had enough of DC before DiDio’s blow-ups at NYCC, the hugely problematic reboots of several female characters (in particular the Bat-family rewrites to erase all the female Robins and retconning Barbara Gordon from Oracle back into Batgirl), and, to be totally frank, the hideous new costumes and in-story attitudes that screamed of mid-nineties teachers straddling chairs and putting baseball caps on backwards, because they could straight-up relate, yo! “Hip! New! Cool!!” I would mind being pandered to less if the changes made actually were hip, new, or cool, but looking for an excuse to make a crappy industry-wide situation worse is not going to fly with me.
But on the other hand– it’s Jaime Reyes. So, I checked it out.
…I should not have checked it out.
Backpedaling a bit, the things I loved about Jaime Reyes’s Blue Beetle, pre-New-52, and as evidence that DiDio delights in slowly killing everything there was to love about DC include: a Hispanic kid with a hugely supportive family, including both parents (both of whom work), a little sister, and in a later issue, a Spanish-speaking abuela, gets pulled in over his head into a situation with the JLA (namely, Infinite Crisis). That ultimately results in symbiotic space superpowers that also make Green Lanterns hate him for no reason, and, due to the vagaries of warp travel, lead to him having been missing from El Paso for a full Earth year when he finally gets back home. His family AND his best friends, Paco and Brenda, know his secret, and while Brenda’s Tía Amparo has some less-than-legal dealings going on, she, along with Jaime’s mentor The Peacemaker (“he loves peace so much, he’ll kill for it!”), and under the guidance of Oracle, help him in his journey of superheroics in the American South, and sometimes across the border into Mexico.
His family is so cool, they’ve faced super-bad-guys, too– and turned out okay. Milagro, Jaime’s sister, wants to be a Green Lantern after meeting Guy Gardner and figuring she could do it better. Jaime and Brenda never have any sexual subtext whatsoever, and in fact, both are romantically linked to other people. As Blue Beetle, Jaime frequently has to use his own smarts to get he and his spine-fused sentient robo-scarab out of tough squeezes. There is a wide range of strong and well-written male and female characters, white and non-white characters, superpowered/magical/extraterrestrial and non-superpowered, and “hero” and “civilian” characters on both sides of the ethical spectrum of the series. And I really cannot reiterate how badass the final boss fight of the series was, in a series full of badass, heartwarming, and hilarious moments.
I’m dead serious right now. You should read it.
Anyway, then Jaime was relo’ed to Teen Titans, despite those guys being massive jerks in said boss fight (and according to Wikipedia, Jaime later moved to Booster Gold and Justice League: Generation Lost), and I stopped reading, partly because I seriously hate when companies try and make me buy multiple monthly series to keep up with a single storyline or character arc, and partly because the impression I’ve gotten every time I try to read Teen Titans is “HATERADE MALE GAZE HATER HATER HATERADE BRAINWASHED ZOMBIE CLONE.” Which brings us to The New 52.
In the first quarter of the twenty pages of story content, which I will admit I was predisposed to dislike because I was not a fan of the pencils and inkwork (though Adam Hughes could not have saved this story), the Khaji-Da scarab that originally landed in Texas and fused to Jaime has instead landed near a pyramid in some ancient Mesoamerican civilization or other. Let’s call them Mayincatecs, since the comic says Maya, but I am going to pretend DC didn’t just make any potential implications about a canonically bloodthirsty Borg bug controlled by a legion of space conquerors and a real-life civilization with a complicated history even regarding its acknowledged course of history. Anyway. Cutting to the modern day, we-the-audience establish sympathy for our protagonist, Jaime, because he’s a smart-aleck and got hit in the face with a soccer ball while the popular boys who kicked it talk about trying to get laid– by his friend Brenda, whose quince is coming up.
Alas, Jaime is almost definitely going to be the “nice guy” in the story, because who should show up to his defense but Paco, who in this version is a homeless dropout gangster, complete with skull bandana, matching back pocket bandana, and appropriately “thug” jewelry. Paco scares off the bullies, and makes fun of one of them because “who ever heard of a blonde [sic] Puerto Rican?” Uh, I have? GETTING BACK TO THE POINT: Paco is a homeless dropout gangster. In the last Blue Beetle, Brenda teased Paco for being in Jaime’s Spanish class, since Jaime was now a year behind and a year younger because of SPACE PHYSICS, and Paco, despite being bilingual, had failed it– but there’s a difference between failing and retaking an elective (whether or not you should have been able to phone it in), and parking your lowrider (I wish I was kidding) behind a bus to pick up a party invitation at the school you no longer attend, since you no longer have a mailing address to get it any other way.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that, while stereotypical shorthand for Latinness, there is nothing inherently wrong with muscle cars, baggy jeans, and tattoos– though when used in place of characterization, and meant to either be a negative indicator of the character(s) in question or a punchline based on Othered deviations from a “neutral” norm, the various facets at play in your media have become racially problematized. Likewise, when representations of racial/ethnic groups on the micro level stray, deliberately or not, into unintentionally problematic or intentionally racist or racialized stereotypes (gang involvement, dropout, etc.), not only is that a problematic representation in and of itself, as a piece of media functioning within a larger media culture, the historical context of that larger culture also influences how problematic an otherwise innocuous representation would/could be, and whether those representations are or are not problematic. This can get complicated because both micro and macro cultural levels of bigotry feed into each other, so the short version is: new Paco, even without a gang, and still being in school, etc., would still be kind of hinky as a character thus far solely based on visual cues marking a long-held cultural perspective on a group of people, whether or not those cues, and the implications they carry with them, are accurate. Continuing on to make those implicit character aspects explicit, including the demonization of those aspects, and without any critical examination of or empathetic (not sympathetic, which can frequently be expressed as a hierarchical Otherization) perspective on said aspects, the significance behind them, and the consequences and aftermath of those aspects, is overtly racist at worst, and at best, supremely lazy and incredibly ignorant. As has been discussed on Hathor before as well, there are lots of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to releasing American media for consumption, so this is not in any way a judgment call on any one person in particular (though I do still think Dan DiDio’s an ass), just a calling-out of a racist caricature of the Cholo With Wasted Potential.
Paco flirts with Brenda a little bit, which seems to make Jaime uncomfortable, and alarm bells go off in my head, and I massage my temples. Jaime grumbles at why Paco needed to show up to get an invitation at all, since they’ve all known each other since kindergarten and he would be expected to go (…uh, because quinceañeras are a Big Deal?), and Brenda says that since her Tía Amparo is hosting the party, her security staff doesn’t want anyone in her house without an invitation. Fair enough, but Jaime’s all, “Why does your aunt have guards if this is AMERICA” (actual quote: “I mean, I know she’s rich, but it’s not like she lives across the border.”), and when Brenda shrugs, he goes, “Y U NO ASK.” (Paraphrased.)
Brenda doesn’t say, “because it’s rude to ask about people’s money/security concerns and I trust my aunt,” or a sarcastic, “yes, allowing teenagers she doesn’t know free access to her mansion would totally be a wise decision on my aunt’s part,” she instead says she didn’t ever get up in her adult relative’s business because her dad says it’s rude to ask about money, “especially Tía’s money.” This seems, and is meant to seem, oddly specific (unless it’s come up before, in which case, HUGE RED FLAG, GUYS), but compared to the old Brenda as the smartest one in a group of three fairly bright problem-solving teenagers (please, no Harry Potter comparisons), that’s an intellectually lazy and oddly non-assertive response. And iirc, old Brenda didn’t have a great relationship with her father to begin with, either, because he was severely physically abusive, to the point where Brenda was hospitalized?? Blergh. (Spoiler alert: old Tía Amparo… handled it.)
Then Jaime goes home, and his parents won’t let him go to Brenda’s quinceañera, because Doña Cardenas is too dangerous for Jaime to be over at her house. His mother says she knows how Jaime feels about Brenda (!), but she’d rather have him hate her than take a chance on his safety. “Looks like you get your wish,” Jaime sneers (!!) before walking away from his parents and slamming the door to his room, then promptly sneaking out the window (!!!). Contrast this with the other, keep in mind, also teenaged, Jaime Reyes, who, when confronted by a villain who attempted to drive him insane and force him to kill his friends by granting Jaime his “deepest, darkest fantasies of ultimate power,” was turned into… a dentist– because by his logic, he would be able to let his parents retire and put his little sister through school.
Moving along, Doña Tía Amparo “La Dama” Cardenas has apparently been trying to arrange for a superhuman mercenary team she hired to steal the scarab from earlier from some other supes from the Brotherhood of Evil (Tony Bedard wrote it here as “sobrehumanos,” which is grammatically okay, according to the Real Academia Española, but sounds súper-extraño) at the same time as throwing what appears to be the most casual-looking depiction of a quince that I have ever seen. In the coolest art in the issue thus far, we get a splash of La Dama’s agents, Brutale, who is some kind of knife-gargoyle guy from a made-up Latin American country called Hasaragua (Yes, but what were Bolívar’s plans for Hasaragua? /toomuchhistoryclass), Coyote, who is some kind of lycanthrope, and a guy the DC Wiki refers to as “Bone-Crusher” after a very old Batman villain, despite in-text being called Rompe-Huesos, who wears a skeleton suit and a low-key sugar-skull mask. I’ve included links because that is the only pretty in this issue. The only comedy is when one of the Brotherhood characters, Warp, declares “We are leaving, mes amis!” as he opens up an escape portal (hence the name) showing us the Eiffel tower. Because how else would we know he is French?? Since foreigners get paired up to fight foreigners in lazily written media, Rompe-Huesos takes a flying leap and kicks Warp in the back, yelling, “¡Creo que no!” the implied intonation of which tickles and delights me. Was this humor unintentional, however? ¡Creo que sí!
Naturally, Jaime and Paco and the low-rider are on their way past the warehouse this is all going down at on their way to the party. If they are allowed in as they are dressed, this will officially be the Most Casual Quinceañera Ever. I thought it was casual before, what with the background characters in miniskirts, men without ties, women in pants, etc. (quinceañeras are supposed to be fairly formal), but Jaime is in his t-shirt and jeans from school, and Paco continues to be a Latin stereotype, with his bandana now matching a band on a white fedora and an oversized short-sleeved button-down shirt (unbuttoned down to there) over white pants. And sunglasses. At night. …Yeah. So the bad guys are oblivious and don’t notice the car until it’s directly underneath them, and then they just kind of fight around it. Because these bad guys are also incompetent, when Jaime and Paco realize they should leave, the backpack holding the titular beetle lands next to Jaime in the car (WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HOLDING IT?), and the fight follows in that direction.
Rompe-Huesos knocks Paco out, and Jaime grabs the bag and runs to distract RH from killing his buddy, which is the most noble thing that we have seen so far. Brutale, who cannot be the brightest member of their group, throws a dagger after Jaime (knives are always faster than bone-crushers, I guess) through the backpack like a jerk, and of course the scarab fuses into Jaime, ending Metamorphosis, Part One and leading into the second issue (already out), Metamorphosis, Part Two: Meet the Beetle! The DC Wikia promises me the quote, “¡Madre de Dios! I can fly!”
Based on what I’ve already seen so far, I think I’ll pass.