Sturges Picks Up the Scarab Running in "Blue Beetle"

When it was announced at the end of 2006 that fan-favorite creator Keith Giffen was leaving DC Comics’ “Blue Beetle” following issue #11, readers feared the critically lauded but commercially shaky ongoing adventures of Jaime Reyes were doomed, but remaining co-writer John Rogers pushed on full steam ahead and told an epic tale featuring the hero’s last stand against The Reach that concluded in March’s “Blue Beetle” #25.

Fans of Blue Beetle were feeling squashed again last month when Rogers himself said he was done with the book. Forums and message boards again filled with posts of death and despair for the acclaimed and beloved title.

Enter DC’s rising star Matthew Sturges (“Jack of Fables,” “House of Mystery”) to save the day -- and more importantly, the scarab. DC announced today with its July solicitations that Sturges was taking over “Blue Beetle” with issue #29, following an all-Spanish issue by Jai Nitz in #26 and a two-part story by Will Pfeifer in #27-28.

Matt Sturges told CBR News, “I couldn’t possibly be more psyched. It’s one of my favorite books coming out right now. I think Rogers and [artist Rafael] Albuquerque have been doing an absolutely amazing job on the book, and the past two or three issues especially have been note perfect. If I’d read that story when I was 12 or 13, I think my head would have exploded.

“The downside for me, of course, is that since Rogers left on such a high note, I now have some pretty big shoes to fill,” Sturges continued. “It was a very weird fanboy moment when I finished reading #25 and I was basking in how awesome it was, and then I had the gut wrenching realization: I have to follow this? It was really disconcerting. But at the end of the day, I can only do what I do and make it as good as I can make it. I’m having a lot of fun writing the thing, and that’s going to show.”

Sturges said it’s easy to see why fans have responded so well to Jaime Reyes -- a teenage boy from El Paso, Texas who stumbled upon the Blue Beetle scarab in “Infinite Crisis” and woke up with it -- and its alien technology -- fused to his spine, granting him control over an array of special abilities.

“[Fans love Jamie] because he’s so real,” said Sturges. “He’s someone that anyone can identify with, but at the same time he has a certain nobility, a heroic quality that speaks to our desire to be better people than we are. I think people respond to that innately. Plus, he has a hot girlfriend who can do magic. Everyone responds well to that.”

Coincidently, Sturges too lives in Texas -- Austin to be exact-- but that’s just one of the reasons he loves Jaime’s incarnation as DC’s latest Blue Beetle. “I love that he’s not jaded or world-weary. It’s a nice change of pace from writing a book like 'Jack of Fables,’ which has an extraordinarily cynical outlook on life,” said Sturges. “Jaime’s a good guy, he’s got a great sense of humor, and he loves his family. He’s not all screwed up, he’s not a serial killer, nobody murdered his parents in front of him. He can say things like, 'Outer space is cool!’ and mean it, and you feel that with him. Because, you know, outer space is cool. If you found yourself with superpowers, on an alien planet with Metron and Lonar, fighting monsters created by Devilance the Pursuer, well, that would in fact be awesome.

“Jaime lets us feel that vicariously, and that’s what I love about him.”

That feeling of oneness with the character is how Sturges writes him, too. “The main thing I think you need to write Jaime Reyes is to be able to connect with the sense of wonder you felt as an adolescent. To step back from the world of superheroes and supervillains and see it as though you’re experiencing it all for the very first time,” the writer explained. “I spend an inordinate amount of time as an adolescent thinking about how I would respond were I to someday develop superpowers -- just on the off chance, you know. You want to be prepared. I was always daydreaming about that kind of thing -- thinking about things like how you control your direction when you’re flying, and what you’d do with your superhero costume when you were changing out for gym class, stuff like that. So thinking along those lines is nothing new to me. Who knew that the very things that got me beaten up in the seventh grade would someday help me earn a living?

“And of course, there’s the small matter that I actually live in Texas -- unlike John Rogers, who is a Canadian. A Canadian! Writing a Texan! Texans have shot men for less.”

Sturges said there is no Blue Beetle “bible” that he’s inherited from Messrs Giffen and Rogers, and he’s really on his own on what next for Jaime Reyes. “They pretty much just handed me the steering wheel and told me to start driving. There were odd little things that came up when I was writing the first issue, like I realized that I had no idea what Brenda and Paco’s last names were -- they’re never mentioned in any of the issues -- or where Paco lived, all sorts of stuff. So I’ve asked questions to try to get a handle on the back-story, but I think that Giffen and Rogers told the story they set out to tell, more or less. I haven’t had a chance yet to get on the phone and hear what else they might have done with the characters -- they’re both pretty busy guys these days. But the series has a lot of momentum; it wasn’t that difficult to pick up the reins and keep going.”

And Sturges is keeping the action coming. His first arc introduces a new villain to the series, someone who’s appeared once already around the DCU, but hasn’t met Blue Beetle yet.

“The story kind of spins out of our national obsession with illegal immigration and what that’s like in a world where the people coming across the border could be supervillains, or martians, or killer apes. But it’s not preachy; it’s not like a Very Special Episode of 'Webster’ or anything like that,” quipped Sturges.

“We’ll also meet Paco’s mom for the first time, and we’ll see the aftereffects of Paco and Brenda’s kiss. We’ll see what happens now that Blue Beetle has gained a little confidence and decides to start calling some of the shots -- even when Peacemaker disagrees with him. And of course we’ll see more of Traci Thirteen, who is the best comic book girlfriend ever. I believe we’ll also see Junior Prom.”

Sturges, who said DC would “have to use dinosaurs armed with lasers and chainsaws” to get him off the book now that he is on board, shared that he had no plans to tie the book into the ongoing story in “Booster Gold” featuring all three previous incarnations of Blue Beetle -- Dan Garrett, Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes -- plus one more from the future.

“Not yet anyways, although I wish it would at some point, because 'Booster Gold’ has been pretty awesome,” said Sturges. “If you know Geoff Johns, maybe you could put in a word. I was actually never much of a Booster Gold fan until I went back and read the Giffen/DeMatteis 'Justice League,’ and then I got him. I think he’d be fun to write. Ted Kord, same thing, though I’ve always been a fan of Ted’s. The first time I talked to a DCU editor, he asked me what character I’d like to write. I was really nervous, and when I get nervous I start saying whatever crazy nonsense comes into my head. 'Blue Beetle,’ I said, without pausing. Then I remembered that Blue Beetle had just been killed, but I just kept on talking. 'I would write a dead Blue Beetle. I would write a book about the corpse of Ted Kord.’ I didn’t know what I was saying, I was so nervous. I rambled on like this for a few more minutes before the editor finally put me out of my misery and walked away.”

No one is walking away now as “Blue Beetle” #29, written by Matt Sturges, hits shelves July 30.

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