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Springtime for the DCU: Giffen talks “Blue Beetle” and “52”

by  in Comic News Comment
Springtime for the DCU: Giffen talks “Blue Beetle” and “52”

A “Crisis” can’t last forever, even if it is an “Infinite” one. In just a few months, “Infinite Crisis” will be over and fans will be introduced to the new DC Universe. One writer that’s helped to define the new DC Universe is Keith Giffen. In the March-debuting “Blue Beetle,” Giffen along with co-writer John Rogers and artist Cully Hamner take readers to El Paso, Texas for the monthly ongoing adventures of the new Blue Beetle. In the year long series “52,” which launches in May, Giffen collaborates with writers Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid and a host of artists to take readers on an epic year long journey through the new DC Universe. CBR News spoke with Giffen about both projects.

Beginning with “Blue Beetle,” our new hero, Jaime Reyes, is different than many comic book teenagers. “He’s not being bullied. He’s not the outcast. He’s just the archetypical sixteen year old kid,” Giffen told CBR News. “His dad owns his own business. His mom works. He’s got the little sister that drives him crazy. He’s got his circle of friends. He’s no more special than any other kid. That said, though, once he has the Scarab, we’re going to spend some time thanking God it did choose him because everyone’s got little reservoirs of courage, purpose and responsibility and Jaime’s run deep.”

It was just random chance that lead Jaime finding the Scarab and becoming the new Blue Beetle. “It happened just the way it’s spelled out in ‘Infinite Crisis,'” Giffen said. “He found it in a vacant lot, but we’ll find out there’s quite a bit more to it than just finding it. But it’s not like the scarab sought him out.

“Sometimes the most frightening things in life are random,” Giffen continued. “I’ve always felt the heart of horror is randomness, the fact that sometimes you don’t deserve what you’ve got coming. We will explore the horrific side of super powers in ‘Blue Beetle’ as we go along.”

One of the horrific sides of super powers that Jaime will experience is having to learn what super powers he has on the fly. “I did take a little page out of the old TV show ‘The Greatest American Hero’– the suit arrived without instructions,” Giffen explained. “It’s hard to learn on the fly and it doesn’t help that your teachers are usually people who want to beat the shit out of you or kill you.”

One of those people looking to kill the new Blue Beetle arrives in the first issue and he’s not exactly a villain. “He’s in an awkward place because the first thing he really has to deal with once ‘Infinite Crisis’ is over is the fact that Guy Gardner shows up and wants to kill him,” Giffen stated. “I’m not talking defeat. I’m talking kill!”

The motivation behind Guy’s attack on Jaime will be part of a larger mystery in “Blue Beetle.” “We don’t tell that in the first issue, but it is critical,” Giffen explained. “There are no missed beats in ‘Blue Beetle.’ Everything you’re reading is a part of the puzzle and when there’s a reveal you’ll actually be able to go back and go ‘Oh, wow look at this.’ When we drop our little bombs every so often you will be able to trace it all the way back to the first issue.

“Basically the first issues are getting to know Jaime and his circumstances, understanding what has happened to him, exploring what it means to be Blue Beetle, even if it is reluctantly, and exploring what it means to be a superhero in the DC Universe,” Giffen continued. “Then, just when you feel comfortable, we’ll be kicking your feet out from under you. I think comics should be doing that every so often. Just when you get comfortable, show them that there was a bigger plan.”

As Giffen mentioned, Jaime will find that the circumstances of being Blue Beetle are not always pleasant. “Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning and had all sorts of super powers and somebody attacked you and tried to kill you and then people are trying to drag you into a superhero fraternity that you didn’t even know existed before,” Giffen said. “Also your life is going to hell and your parents think your odd behavior is because you’re on drugs.”

Members of the DCU’s superhero fraternity will be dropping by to visit The Blue Beetle, but the series won’t be filled with gratuitous guest stars. “There are certain things that we have to get through because we can’t pretend the rest of the DCU doesn’t exist,” Giffen explained. “We can’t pretend that the Blue Beetle showing up in El Paso is not going to draw certain attention, but that will be woven into the ongoing story. It’s not going to be ‘This issue it’s Superman! This issue it’s Green Lantern! And next issue, Booster Gold again! It’s not going to be like that. They are going to show up as integral parts of the ongoing storyline.”

One of the reasons guest star appearances will mean something in “Blue Beetle” is due to the book’s El Paso, Texas setting– superheroes and villains looking to meet up with the Beetle will have to do a little traveling. “I didn’t want him in a place where the DC Universe is constantly rubbing shoulders with him,” Giffen said. “I did choose El Paso for one other reason. It’s one of the few cities that has a twin across the river. There’s El Paso and Juarez. That appealed to me, the mirror images, and the fact that you can get a lot of symbolic and emotional scenarios with the idea of these twin cities separated by a river.”

The supporting cast of “Blue Beetle” will be made up of some of the many denizens of El Paso, but Giffen doesn’t want to reveal their identities yet. “The supporting cast will grow but I don’t want to spoil it for the readers because it involves the creation of new characters,” Giffen stated. “In the first three issues of ‘Blue Beetle’ alone we have revamped a character that people thought they knew– I’m not talking Blue Beetle here– and already introduced about six new characters. By the time we get to the half year point, people are going to understand that ‘Blue Beetle’ is the book where instead of going, ‘We should bring in Captain Cold’ we would rather put our heads together and go, ‘What’s a cool new villain we can create and toss into the DC communal pot?’ I think it’s important. If ‘Blue Beetle’ is anything, it’s a place you can come to for new characters, new concepts and new circumstances.”

The tone that Giffen and co-writer John Rogers have given “Blue Beetle” may not be what some readers expect. “It’s not Bwah-ha-ha,” Giffen said. “It’s serious as a heart attack. That said, the book has its light moments, but the light moments come from the characters, not circumstance. People lighten tension with humor, there’s a reason for the tension and that’s serious. This is not a ‘Justice League’ book. This is not me bringing in John Rogers and going, ‘You’re Marc DeMatteis, go!’ This is a whole other animal. So, people who are wandering into this thinking they’re going to get a ‘Justice League’ style vibe from ‘Blue Beetle’ are going to be horribly disappointed.”

“Blue Beetle” #1 is part of DC’s “One Year Later” storyline and opens with Jaime Reyes very angry at the superhero community of the DCU over the way he was used and abandoned in “Infinite Crisis.” “Jamie is looking at the superheroes and going, ‘What is the matter with you? I’m a fucking kid! Get your heads out of your asses and at least tell me what’s going on!'” Giffen said. “He’s not thrilled. At the point where we meet him if he bumped into Superman he would go, ‘Don’t even talk to me. Go away.'”

Readers wondering what happened to Jaime during the missing year will get some answers in “Blue Beetle” #2 and Blue Beetle will play a role in “52,” which examines the missing year in detail. However, Giffen was unable to reveal the extent of Beetle’s involvement in the weekly series.

Beetle may be involved in “52,” but he is not one of the core cast members of the book. “On the first issue cover that’s the core group right there,” Giffen said. “Ralph or Elongated Man, Black Adam, Montoya, the Question, Steel, Booster Gold; those are the basic core characters. Other DC characters will be appearing in ’52,’ but the main characters of ’52’ will be appearing in no other DC titles for the year that the series is running. It’s kind of, we have our toys and we’re keeping them but we want some of your toys to.”

The story structure of “52” is interwoven among its core cast. “One part of Montoya’s story will roll up to this point and then subside for awhile and then come up to its next step. Ralph will come to the forefront and then recede again,” Giffen explained. “Considering there are four writers working on this, it’s extraordinarily well integrated. These guys are playing well with others. Which is always great.”

The stories in “52” won’t just focus on the lives of the DCU’s various heroes. “It focuses on the DCU,” Giffen said. “I think Dan Didio has mentioned that if you look at ‘Infinite Crisis’ as the last story of the old DCU, ’52’ is the first story of the new DCU.

“If you think it’s going to be very cut and dry like a text book and inaccessible because it traffics in so much, the answer is no,” Giffen continued. “The first time you see Booster Gold nobody is assuming that everyone knows who Booster Gold is. These characters are almost introduced as if they were brand new. There is a certain amount of history that they are carrying with them and we can’t avoid that. You see Booster Gold and in a handful of panels you know his shtick. He’s from the future. Now ’52’ is showing you what you didn’t know because the DCU has been rethought.”

Because the stories in “52” focus on the DC Universe, the series will tackle multiple genres. “We have science fiction, superhero action, grim and gritty street drama, and international intrigue. We got a little bit of ‘wink-wink nudge-nudge,” Giffen explained. “When you talk about genres, it’s not suddenly going to turn into a Western. Although, Grant Morrison is involved with this. When his scripts arrive we gotta look at them and go, ‘Okay. Where are we going tomorrow? He can be a little annoying because in one sentence he totally flips ’52’ over and he did it in such a way that it’s such a great idea that it was integrated, but it didn’t change anything that has already been done. He just gave it a whole other feel. I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know how he does it, but I hope he never stops.”

For Giffen the ultimate goal of ’52” is to introduce readers to the new DC Universe. “There was so much death and destruction that lead up to and occurred in ‘Infinite Crisis’ and ’52’ is the beginning of repopulation,” Giffen stated. “In other words, since we had to kill a lot of characters to get here, we’re going to invent and introduce new ones and start repopulating the DCU. If ‘Infinite Crisis’ is the last day of winter, then ’52’ is the first day of spring.”

Because “52” is such a massive undertaking, many are speculating that the series will fail in its goal of coming out weekly for one year. “The question I’m most often asked about ’52’ is, ‘You think you guys can pull this off?'” Giffen said. “That made me realize that ’52’ is the NASCAR comic. Nobody goes to a NASCAR race to watch cars drive in circles. They’re all hoping for the crash. I’m thinking to myself look at the amount of talent we have here. The question isn’t, ‘Can you pull it off?’ The question is, ‘How can we not pull it off?’ That’s the way I look at it. Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka with J.G. Jones on the covers. Guys like Bennett, Batista and Nauck on the artwork. I’m thinking there’s no way we can’t pull this off. How can we not make this happen?”

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