ART: Ig Guara and JP Mayer
NOOOO!!!! TED KORD!!!!!! At least, I think that's how I should be reacting to Blue Beetle #0, which delves into the history of the plucky scarab, Khaji-Da with literally no reference to the original Blue Beetle. Of course, the scarab's time on Earth after separating from it's first host is somewhat glossed over, left to the readers' imagination as to where Khaji-Da travelled in the years before meeting Jaime Reyes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Tony Bedard is joined by Keith Giffen for Blue Beetle #0, a (mostly) straightforward origins issue for the Reach scarab currently connected to Jaime's spine. We already know that Khaji-Da is a sentient scarab symbiote that latches onto a host to carry out the will of the Reach, a clandestine alien race that has millions of scarab soldiers at it's control across the universe. We also already know that Ol' Da can't control Jaime like the other scarabs can control their hosts' minds, but we don't know why. Beyond this basic information, not a whole lot has been unveiled concerning the scarab, until now.
"Sky Witness" provides a full character history for Khaji-Da, from the days before his creation, to his first unsuccessful mission, and through his time on Earth up until meeting Jaime. While the textbook-style narrative isn't exactly invigorating or engaging in any particular way, it serves to develop Khaji-Da beyond being the loony voice inside Jaime's head telling him to kill people and destroy the planet. And it does a good job! One of the most important aspects of the scarab - that Bedard makes sure is clear and understandable - is that they are actual sentient beings. It's easy to slip into thinking of these little blue bugs are simply just pieces of a larger technological goal, but they each have a voice, they each have a personality. I was hoping to meet another scarab this month, maybe one that's got an extreme personality to show the diversity of the scarabs.
The first half of the issue explores the origin of the scarab, followed by his very first test mission, wherein he finds a suitable host in the Stygian Expanse. Upon attempting to fuse with his new host - a small, blue/black skinned girl with four eyes - the scarab is rebuffed by a sudden explosion of psionic energy. Turns out that energy is coming from the child, who has tapped into her latent abilities to control antimatter. After being damaged, Khaji-Da recognizes his slim chances of survival, and escapes the girl who controls dark energy. Turns out she goes on to become Lady Styx, a villain on the same level as Darkseid before the 'New 52' relaunch. The scarab's first mission is important because it gives a possible explanation for Khaji-Da's inability to fully control Jaime - due to dark matter interference? - as well as sets up Lady Styx to be featured throughout the DCnU in the future.
The latter half of the book focuses on Sky Witness, a Mayan chieftain who descends into the wreckage of Khaji-Da's crash landing onto Earth's surface. The scarab was shot down by an unnamed Green Lantern, providing a second possible reason for the malfunction concerning total mind control. It's odd to feel sympathy for a robot bug whose sole purpose is to take total control of a host being and cause unspeakable destruction to worlds around the universe. But there it is: Khaji-Da is a good, good character.
Sky Witness uses the scarab to defend his home from the violent Nahua Tribe. The Nahua go on to start the Aztec Empire, according to Bedard, and Sky - in his scarab armor, of course - becomes known as the vengeful god Quetzalcoatl. Sky Witness's story comes to an end when even the scarab's advanced systems can't prolong his life any further. This is how Khaji-Da gets trapped in the ruins of a Mayan temple, only to be found years later by archaeologists unfettered by ancient signs of death and destruction.
I'm not exactly sure where Blue Beetle #0 should fit in chronologically amongst other issues. Even though a majority of the story is dedicated to the years before Jaime bonds with the scarab, the final few pages recap Jaime's journey so far, and we eventually get to the current day with Jaime stuck in Reachworld space after being abruptly transported there by O.M.A.C. in the pages of Justice League International Annual #1. So, one could place it before issue one purely for it's historical content, or it could go right after Blue Beetle #12. It's a conundrum for chronological perfectionists like myself. That one nitpick-y criticism aside, Blue Beetle #0 does a fantastic job giving readers a fleshed out, meaningful history of the scarab Khaji-Da, as well as placing the building blocks for future stories. And really, what more could you ask for from this series?