Sci-Fi-Tinged Superhero Series Gets The Axe

The saga of teenaged superhero Jaime Reyes, a.k.a. The Blue Beetle, may not be coming to an end, but his eponymous series is. The character—recently appearing in the new all-ages animated series The Brave and The Bold alongside characters like The Batman and The Green Arrow—will bid a fond farewell to his series in February’s Blue Beetle #36. The announcement was made by DC Comics VP Dan Didio at the comics website Newsarama on November 14th,  a few days before the solicitations for the final issue were made available…and that’s where the trouble began.

If you’re not familiar with the Blue Beetle, here’s a quick primer: The current series focuses on Jaime Reyes, the third character to assume the mantle of The Blue Beetle, making him a part of the sort of epic hero legacy that’s become a hallmark of many DC Comics. The teenaged, Hispanic Reyes took over the “Blue Beetle” name following the death of the second Blue Beetle in the company-wide crossover Infinite Crisis, becoming one of DC’s youngest characters to carry his own title, and their only non-white character to do so. Reyes’ origin story is fairly unique, too: Reyes became an accidental hero when “The mystical Blue Beetle scarab” was revealed to be an ancient alien artifact, gained sentience, crawled up his rear-end, and fused with his spine giving him super-powers… in an attempt for an alien race called “The Reach” to take over the universe. The series gave equal time to Reyes’ ground-level dealings with friends and family and the epic sci-fi and space-opera battles and concerns that drew in popular characters like The Green Lanterns, amongst others.

Despite an incredibly complicated origin story, the new Blue Beetle series was intended “to establish a new superhero for younger readers, and add a different viewpoint to the DCU… Something you could give your 12 year old nephew to read without first forcing him to complete a degree in DC Continuity,” according to series writer John Rogers at his blog. The series was picked as one of “The Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens” in 2007 by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association.

The axiom that every comic is someone’s favourite? That’s true in this case. While Blue Beetle may have had an estimated monthly sales of only 15,000 copies or so (most DC superhero titles average at least 30k monthly sales), that’s still 15,000 people buying a comic every month, many of whom will be sad to see it go, and thanks to the internet no one has to let things go quietly. Following the cancellation announcement, dozens of blog posts and hundreds of comments have been left lamenting the death of the series, many castigating DC Comics for not handling the series “correctly.” One of the most vocal DC Comics critics? Blue Beetle writer John Rogers, at his blog:

Wow. It’s almost as if basing your entire business model around a series of must-buy big event crossovers in a market with limited purchasing resources hurts your midlist.

Leaving aside for a moment that his series was launched from a must-buy big event crossover, Rogers does paint a fairly accurate picture of the current comics industry, and that blog post goes on to discuss current comics trends like digital distribution and delivery, creator-ownership, and the Creative Commons.

But the superhero comics news-cycle moves quickly, and the end of Blue Beetle announced two weeks ago (and not scheduled for another 13 weeks) has been replaced by the Death Of Batman and other victories and tragedies of superhero publishing in the public consciousness. The more considered commentary that shows up later tends not to generate either as much light or heat as the cutting-edge announcements, which is unfortunate considering the real post-mortem to the story—and an epilogue to it by John Rogers—came just this past weekend at The Savage Critics blog:

Starting in April 2008, the SAVAGE CRITIC website began to bring you a five-part series on the cancellation of BLUE BEETLE. It “technically” hadn’t “happened” yet. “Technically”, BLUE BEETLE was only canceled on November 12th, but… It wasn’t exactly difficult to predict. … And suddenly, last week: our little corner of the internet spasmed. Suddenly: I’m not alone. All sorts of people were asking themselves: “Why didn’t BLUE BEETLE succeed?”

Now I caution you, that post by Abhay Khosla is Not Safe For Work. Not even a little bit. But it is an incredibly thorough account of the successes and failures of the Blue Beetle series, as well as DC Comics’ failure to launch new series, or even re-launch “new” series with new characters using existing superhero names. It is the fourth in a series of long, long looks at Blue Beetle and the DCU, and is definitely worth a read. All of this discussion attracted the attention of series writer John Rogers, who popped up in the comments section to flesh out his feelings on the end of the series—and Abhay’s reading of the story.

I’d just have to disagree. That was exactly the point of the series. That is, telling that coming of age story but within the DCU and the editorial mandate at the time. There’s no way a book published with a character in the DCU could be independent of the DCU—so we at least tried to make a virtue of it by doing some sideways approaches to the characters.

While we’ll never know exactly how things might’ve been, we do know that the series just didn’t ignite the imaginations of enough readers to make it viable in the current direct-sales comic market, and that its absence means that DC Comics’ line of superhero titles just got a little older, and a little whiter, at a time when mainstream entertainment (not to mention politics) seems to be embracing diversity. Fans of The Blue Beetle will be glad to know that the Jaime Reyes iteration of the character will continue to appear in the animated kids’ series “The Brave and the Bold,” as a part of DC’s teen-hero superteam The Teen Titans, in four trade paperback collections that bear his name, and in the hearts of 15,000 dedicated fans.

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