It’s in my comiXology collection. Virtual counts. It’s time for another special edition of Scanning My Collection, complete with special logo!
DC Comics has said farewell to Dan DiDio, and we now wait to see if Jim Lee will fix the bad direction he kept trying to take the DC Universe. DiDio and the people he brought in never seemed to realize that the DC Universe was one of hope and optimism, the aspirational, the best of humanity versus great and sometimes minor but overreaching evil. It wasn’t about huge world-shattering epics but just really good stories with uplifting heroes. However, that doesn’t mean the stories under his tenure were necessarily bad. Some were quite good…as stories. As I’ve stated numerous times in recent years there is a difference between quality of work and quality of adaptation or continuation. It can be a great story but one that ruins characters beloved for years or simply ruins future possibilities for great characters or even minor characters that could benefit a story by showing up in recurring roles. Instead we got characters dying either to darken our heroes or characters showing they were never the heroes we looked up to. That last one is something we get enough of with real world heroes.
One of the best examples of “good story/bad adaptation” is Countdown To Infinite Crisis, part of the series of miniseries events that started leading the DC Universe down a darker path by continuing to ruin or eliminate the more fun characters in the DC Universe. In this case it’s Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle. Originally created for Fox Comics, Dan Garrett was a police officer who thanks to a special vitamin that saved his life gained enhanced strength. Using chainmail armor and a few gadgets Garrett became the Blue Beetle, whose adventures continued into radio dramas (I’ve been listening through them when the weather allows me to take a nighttime walk thanks to the Internet Archive) and a second publisher, Charlton Comics, who turned him into an archeologist who found a mystic scarab that gave him superpowers.
It was during the Charlton series that Garrett was replaced by Ted Kord, an admirer of the first Blue Beetle who had no powers at all since the scarab wouldn’t work for him. He was a good inventor and built a bunch of his own gadgets, including his own mobile headquarters, the Bug, and took over the mantle after Garrett died exposing Ted’s uncle’s plot to take over the world. His tales were later taken over by Americomics and after that by DC Comics, where he inspired the Watchmen character Owlman. (Long story and this intro is getting long as it is.) Kord built his own high-tech company and during this period often became a joke character under certain writers, losing and regaining his company many times and usually being talked into get rich quick schemes by his best friend Booster Gold. Countdown To Infinite Crisis is where Ted Kord met his end since DC wanted to replace him with teen Jaime Reyes because replacing a character and reusing a name takes less work than promoting a new character with a new name. Jaime (pronounced “hi-may” using the Spanish pronunciation) became the third and current Blue Beetle. That only matters with this comic due to foreshadowing.
The thing is Ted isn’t necessarily a joke of a hero. He’s more lighthearted than a lot of DC’s roster but done right he isn’t some comedic fool. The only Blue Beetle to deserve that moniker was a comedic character from the original The Electric Company. He doesn’t deserve what he gets in this story. The writers tried to make his death more tragic but while it’s a good story it doesn’t do Ted any favors until his final moment, making him look pathetic to everyone he works with and having only one friend when it’s all over. It’s a good story…but a poor showing for the second Blue Beetle. As I wrote this article I realized I was going to have to split it up into multiple parts, which I wish I knew before I started. I think what I’m going to do is two chapters (issues) a day for the next three days and give this the attention I think it deserves. So here’s part one of my breakdown of the good and bad of this miniseries.
Countdown To Infinite Crisis
DC Comics (March, 2005)
ComiXology has the trade collection, free for some reason, on their site so if you have a comiXology or Amazon account you can read along. This is the version I’ll be using.
WRITERS: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winick
PENCILERS: Ed Benes, Phil Jimenez, Rags Morales, Ivan Reis, and Jesus Siaz
INKERS: Michael Bair, Ed Benes, Marc Campos, Andy Lanning, and Jimmy Palmioti
COVER ART: Jim Lee and Alex Ross
Unfortunately this version lacks credits and comiXology rarely credits colorists and letterers. That’s disappointing as I consider them part of the art team and the art in this miniseries is quite good.
The story opens with Blue Beetle breaking into some facility. The comic goes back and forth, each issue starting in present day before flashing back to why he’s here, building the mystery. I think it works. What doesn’t work is how the narration keeps trying to make him look like a loser. He talks about how his fellow superheroes and even his parents thought of him as a “bug” as someone who means well but isn’t very bright. I do not like that interpretation of him but that’s what we get more often than not. As the story goes on he’ll find a computer with information on all the heroes, including powers, weaknesses, and secret identities. Interestingly the computer desktop screen has symbols for STAR Labs, Task Force X (aka the “Suicide Squad”, something I don’t recognize with an M and wings, what I think is a foreshadowing (my cousin’s popular in this book) for Brother Eye, as this takes place before Batman does the dumbest thing ever, and I swear the SHIELD logo, which is the wrong universe but sometimes writers and artist in both companies used to like slipping things in from their rivals. For now I’ll skip this and just go through the main part of the story, the flashback.
It starts on a plane that is a secretly flying headquarters for the Birds Of Prey if I’m following this correctly. Blue Beetle is there because what’s being investigated is that someone stole a ton of money from Ted’s current company, Kord Omniversal, through Waynetech and then to a dummy corporation. During the exposition we learn that Ted kind of likes Barbara but is in the “friend zone”, and that she thinks he isn’t taking this seriously just because he’s taking time to flirt with the current Oracle. Cracking jokes is often a coping mechanism to keep focuses, like how some people doodle or break out things to fidget with. It helps them concentrate. I’m one of those doodlers or sometimes I’ll break out computer Solitaire. One of the names they found was something called OMAC. If you know your recent DC lore you can guess why Batman isn’t involved in this but it will be clearer later.
They also find out someone is using a company credit card right now, and Beetle tracks it down. It’s Booster Gold. Booster is another character that under the wrong writer becomes a joke character instead of a lighthearted character. Originally traveling through time to become famous as a superhero, Booster is as dedicated a superhero as the ones that inspired him. He just decides to capitalize on being a hero rather than maintain a secret identity and having a normal life. At this point Beetle goes over their history as part of the Justice League and how they thought as rookies they didn’t have much to offer so they downplayed their abilities to lower expectations, even their own. This story wants to make the “Blue And The Gold” duo look as pathetic as possible, especially Ted. Then there’s this panel about how Booster would hide his disappointment in how things didn’t go as planned with a smile or a joke:
This was just after the death of Sue Dibney in Identity Crisis, step one in the darkening of the DC Universe. Booster stopped being a hero, which affected his celebrity status, but that whole storyline ruined so much. The DC “heroes” brainwashing people, characters going crazy, and crippling reactions to loved ones dying. I haven’t read it so for all I know it might be a good story but I’ve seen Linkara’s list of things wrong with the event and frankly I have no interest in reading it. Plus what I already know hurts me in ways only matched by Thundercats: The Return. Booster has a potential gig lined up anyway, and had to discretely borrow a bit from Ted, which is how he learns about the laundering. The two go to see Maxwell Lord, who at one point managed to take over the League during their time on it. However, he says he’ll look into it and pretty much blows them off. Since Waynetech in involved Ted wants to go see Bruce as well but Booster is worried about missing his appointment. The theme of “people don’t really think Ted is investigating anything important and gives him the brush off” is a common one, though with Max and Bruce it’s a bit different. Barbara even stops helping at some point. The writers are really pushing the narrative that nobody thinks anything about Blue Beetle beyond being a pest and for fans of Kord’s Beetle that has to be damn annoying.
So Beetle goes to see Batman on his own. Batman also gives him the “I’ll look into it” brush off but then Beetle mentions rumors about Doctor Light, the villain brainwashed in Identity Crisis for no good narrative reason. It’s not even a good red herring best as I can figure it. It’s just there to take some of the “heroic” out of the Justice League. I guess what happened still isn’t common knowledge because Ted seems unaware of it, or that they wiped Batman’s memory of it because Bruce gets angry and kicks him out. Alfred tells him he should forgive and forget, but Batman “knows what they did to me”…but not all of the Justice League was responsible. Blue Beetle wasn’t there and I’m getting the impression that Batman knew about or maybe even was part of Waynetech being used to launder money from Kord Omniversal. That’s just another shot against poor Ted if that’s the case, when Batman thinks so little of him that he’s willing to steal from the guy not out of revenge but because who cares about Ted? Again, the theme of this comic.
Interesting note about the modern day clip is that the Superman file says he’s in “Metropolis, N.Y.”, meaning according to this story Metropolis isn’t just one of two cities based on the real New York City (Gotham being the dark side of NYC since the first story) but is actually in New York state. That’s a long distance from Smallville, Kansas and the real life Metropolis, Illinois. Also Ted finds OMAC listed in Batman’s profile, thus making him wonder if Bruce is in on the theft from his company. Remember, this is why he’s investigating but since nobody cares about his investigation it’s the only reason it wasn’t a horrible idea outside of Batman opting to be as big a jerk as the RELATIVELY FEW JUSTICE LEAGUERS WHO WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS MIND WIPE AND WASN’T TED KORD OR THE MAJORITY OF THE LEAGUE. I don’t think most of them even knew about it, again, like Blue Beetle. This really ruins Batman and they aren’t done ruining him or the rest of the DC heroes.
Cut to three days ago. Kord Omniversal’s only remaining warehouse is broken into and practically destroyed. Ted uses up the last of his good will with Oracle to get some help on this. Numerous heroes show up but the only ones Ted mentions in his narration are Hawkman and Green Arrow, who steer clear of each other “marking out their territory”, Nightwing, and Starfire, whom Ted notes looks like she was made of gold. Also there is the Flash, Power Girl, Cyborg, Hawkgirl, Doctor Fate, Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark at the time), Black Canary, the girl who replaced Roy Harper as Speedy, and Batman. Given what we can guess about Batman I’m guessing he’s only there covering his tracks, and I don’t like thinking of Batman as a villain. That’s how this era of DC rolled, making villains of heroes and then focusing on the villains doing something heroic for their own reasons.
Their investigations bring up nothing and I have to wonder about the Justice League’s ability to detect anything given they had the same problem at the crime scene of Sue’s murder. What really gets me about this is they seem upset at Ted over this. Why? Someone is clearly out to destroy his company between the laundering and the attack on the warehouse. Black Canary even apologizes to Doctor Fate for wasting his time. These people really hate Ted, don’t they? If you’re trying to make me hate what used to be some of my favorite heroes, mission accomplished Johns, Rucka and Winick. Then Hal shows up, mentioning that Guy was busy. Ted used to work with Guy in the Justice League and he notes Guy’s a bit of a jerk, which he is. Hal claims Guy’s just misunderstood and that everyone here “has opinions and they aren’t always right”. I wish this was extended to Ted but given how this comic is going I kind of doubt it.
Hal actually finds something, as his ring detects low-level radiation. Then Superman shows up saying that the theft set off a priority alert at the Watchtower, which at this point was still a base on the moon. I could ask why it took Superman of all people a half hour to respond to a priority alert but there’s enough aggravation without the narrative nitpicks. Among the stolen items was a hundred pounds of Kryptonite that followed Kara when she crashed on Earth. This is when DC decided to reintroduce the original Supergirl concept into the post-Crisis pre-Crises DC Universe and having her wear a little clothing as they could getaway with having a teenage girl wear. Superman says he’ll warn Supergirl and Superboy, with some question as to whether or not Power Girl is affected, which Ted was going to do but didn’t get the chance…probably because his company was under attack. Superman says he’ll warn them and then he and Hal just bugger off. Really, nobody cares about Ted’s business being under attack, do they? I guess they were never friends.
For an hour according the narration Ted stands there thinking about how his family used to dump on him too until he’s attacked by the Madmen. We looked at a version of them over in the review of Justice League Unlimited, one of the DC Animated Universe titles. They’re villains for hire who are just all insane. They attack Ted after everyone leaves because why the hell not at this point? Good thing Ted has one friend left as Booster Gold decides his friend is more important than the commercial and even suits back up to save him. Welcome to the only good thing that will happen to Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord in this story.
But lest we think the heroes are the only ones who get to dump on Blue Beetle we cut to a cabal (that’s Calculator’s terms, but Lex Luthor would rather use the word “society”) of DC’s greatest villains discussing the theft of the Kryptonite, which wasn’t them, and Ted’s continued look into what’s happening potentially exposing them. Lex isn’t concerned and the villains don’t seem to care much about him either, and from this conversation I wonder if they know Ted is the Blue Beetle. At any rate Doctor Light comes in swearing that he wants revenge and Lex is happy to have him. Yes, Doctor Light raped a hero’s wife for no good reason and became “Rapey McRapepants” but he wants revenge for Zatanna and a few others messing with his mind. I don’t care how much I don’t like the heroes involved at this point, I am not on Light’s side. This is another character written off as “goofy” and they wanted to make him darker, hence the rape addiction but he wasn’t all that goofy either, and used to be a darn good threat. Really the only goofy moments I ever saw was in the Teen Titans cartoon and that’s not in continuity with the comics.
So, two chapters in what has the comic done right. The mystery of who is trying to ruin Kord Omniversal is interesting, though you can see Batman has some hand in it as part of his OMAC project, a benefit of hindsight. The art is spectacular, and it’s good to see Booster Gold back in action and standing with his friend. That’s because Booster Gold is the ONLY friend Blue Beetle has. Oracle seemed to pity him and that’s gone. Batman is potentially stealing from him despite Ted not being part of the attack on him or Doctor Light. Everybody else is willing to blame Ted for the company collapsing despite Oracle having proof someone is stealing from his company. They should have just named this comic “Everybody Hated Ted Kord”, and I’m betting would have if not for DiDio’s obsession with “Crisis” titles at this point. The story is good, but at the expense of one of the few remaining untainted heroes, and we’ll see more continuity damage next time with chapters two and three of Countdown To Infinite Crisis. It gets worse, folks.