Blue Beetle: Antiwar Comic

A couple of years ago I read an essay about the contradictions of antiwar literature. The essay was written by Kenneth Burke in response to a 1930’s publication of an antiwar photography book titled The First World War: A Photographic History. Burke’s essay was titled War, Response, and Contradiction and clarified many of the pitfalls of using shock ? art as antiwar.

The pitfalls of antwar art have many modern examples. Naive artist may in fact be spreading pro-war propaganda disguised as antiwar art.

But John Rodgers, writer of DC Comics’ Blue Beetle manages to invoke the contradictions and pitfalls, while writing in the superhero genre, and come up with a story that sings its antiwar message loud and proud.

The main characters in this issue of Blue Beetle are Jaime Reyes, of course, and his mentor Christopher Smith.

Jaime is a teenager living in El Paso, Texas with his family. A few years ago he discovered a blue scarab in an empty lot near his school. The scarab happened to be a piece of alien technology planted on the Earth thousands of years ago. The aliens who built the scarab are called the Reach, and they intend to take over the planet. But when their scarab fused itself with Jaime’s spine something went wrong. Instead of being turned into an evil tool for the Reach, he became the superhero known as The Blue Beetle.

Christopher Smith is the superhero known as Peace Maker. He’s a middle aged veteran of many wars and military actions. While Superman is famous for the line: Up, up, and way! ?, Peace Maker’s catch phrase was I love peace, enough to kill, kill, KILL! ? He was a sort of Rambo type. But since then he has reformed and is learning to be compassionate as well as powerful.

**SPOILER WARNING**

The story starts with a battle raging over Mount Rushmore between the Green Lantern Corps and the Sinestro Corps.

Jaime is watching this battle on TV with his family. The Sinestro Corps use fear to control and destroy. The Green Lanterns rely on their own willpower and pride themselves on being immune to fear.

Peacemaker narrates the first few pages:

There’s a war going on. Somewhere else.

You can usually fool yourself that war’s somewhere else.
But what I learned, when I was fightin’ for Peace – killin’ for peace.

All wars are the same ?cause all people are the same. We are war.

So watch the war on your TV. Pretend it’s far away.

?Cause that hate, that anger, that fear in their hearts. What makes ?em kill?
It’s in our hearts. All our hearts.
So it’s only a matter of time. Always just a matter of time

before the war comes home.

And we see that one of the Sinestro Corps power rings has found Peacemaker, determined that because of his past he has the ability to instill great fear ? and turned him into a Sinestro Corps soldier.

At the same time the Reach activate another scarab inside Peacemaker because they tell him, you alone have the programming locked within your mind. ?

This is the double whammy and where the contradictions Kenneth Burke wrote about begin to be explored in the story.

As Burke said, feelings of horror and hatred might well provide the firmest basis upon which the ?heroism’ of a new war could be erected. ? And those are the qualities used to turn Peacemaker back into a tool for war.

And by the end of the story he is only free because he conquers the fear (with the help of Jaime and the Blue Beetle scarab) and cuts from himself the alien programming that turned him into a killing machine.

Rogers takes the famous WWII admonition: we have nothing to fear, but fear itself ? and restates it with the further clarity needed in a post-9/11 world: That fear is in our hearts. ?

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