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DC Showcase (Part 13): Blue Beetle

Hello, my friends.  While the Bronze Age of comics began to bring more sophisticated story-telling into our superhero tales and the modern age has molded it into the ongoing arcs that’ve become the norm, there’re also times to reflect on days gone by and pay homage to the simplistic tales that were told, even on the animated front (and with the flawed quirks that come with it).  On that note, I once again welcome you to another entry of…

Over the years, superhero comics have been adapted onto both the big and small screens.  For this entry, a particular legacy hero will be recapturing some Silver Age TV goofiness while he looks to stop a devious scheme of emotional proportions.  As such, it’s time that we take a gander at…

Debuting on July 27, 2021, this short story was originally released on Blu-Ray with the second part of “Batman: The Long Halloween”.  If you wish to know what I thought about that entire two-part animated adaptation, then click the link for my full review.  For everyone else who’s staying put, let’s see how this Milo Neuman-helmed tale that had Jeremy Adams coming up with the story and Jennifer Keene writing the screenplay swings along with its own superheroics.

Following an opening title sequence done like a 1960s TV show…

…we open within Hub City as a group of four henchmen called the Squid Gang scale the side of a hotel before they break into a room and begin their search.  Ultimately, they manage to find the Colossus Star Diamond within a closet as they look to escape with it.  Suddenly, they’re met upon by Ted Kord a.k.a. Blue Beetle (voiced by Matt Lanter) who arrives to stop them.  After the goons toss the diamond around in a brief moment of keep-away, Ted manages to punch the fiend who’s holding onto the gem.  Just as it’s about to fall into his grasp, another henchman is able to snatch it in time as all four thieves manage to jump out the window and use their suits to glide away.

Just as Blue Beetle wonders why the Squid Gang had gotten this riled up despite never emotionally displaying this before, he’s suddenly met upon by Vic Sage a.k.a. Question (voiced by David Kaye).  Kord then says that as much as he’d like to hear his friend’s theories on “moral truths existing independently of human knowledge”, he has to recover a valuable diamond.  Question then asks him why the Squid Gang would want it in the first place before exclaiming that it might be far more valuable than money itself.  Just then, Vic discovers a bottle cap on the floor and notices that it’s for the highly-caffeinated soda called Zortz Cola.  Blue Beetle mentions that he’s heard of the drink and thought that it was no longer made, to which Question says that Zortz Co. went bankrupt after it was discovered that they falsified the disclosed amount of caffeine “and other nearly-toxic chemicals” that was within their pop.

From there, they hop into Blue Beetle’s airship called the Bug and take off.  Ted wonders why a bottle cap from a defunct soda company was within the hotel room, to which Vic says that only three places in Hub City are still selling the outdated drink.  Kord then figures out Sage’s plan, which is for them to head to those markets and find out the buyers for those sodas, so that they can get the diamond back.  Later, they arrive at a record shop as the owner named Pops (voiced by Jeff Bennett) asks them why they’re here, especially since his customers seem to only show up to his business to purchase some Zortz Cola.  Blue Beetle tells him that because he has a closed-circuit security camera, they would like to look over the footage and see every patron that bought the particular soda from him.  Pops tells him that everyone buys it before he drinks some himself, but the Question says that the product has been put out of production for a certain reason and that they must look over the security footage.  However, Pops is unwilling to assist them since they’re not cops.  Fortunately, Vic grabs the owner and subtly threatens him by asking who will stop him.

From there, they look over the footage and notice that one of the Squid Gang goons purchased a bottle before Pops compliments the perp for leaving a penny behind in his jar.  Question then tells Blue Beetle that they have to take the vessel back to the Bug, which they’re able to do while Pops complains about this.  Despite this, the scene ends with Ted saying that he’ll send a check to cover for this.

Later, Vic manages to find the penny that the Squid Gang member gave.  Blue Beetle asks him how he knows that it’s the right one, to which Sage says that it doesn’t have fingerprints due to the fiend wearing gloves at the time.  As Ted notices that it’s much shinier as well, he suddenly discovers a foreign substance that’s coated on it.  From there, he places the penny into his analysis computer.  After a short while, Blue Beetle gets the results and learns that the penny has a chemical residue called Cerium Oxide, which he recognizes as “a high-grade polishing agent”.  Question says that it’s also “used to polish mirrors for sophisticated telescopic equipment”.  Ted then mentions that Kord Industries used it on a telescopic amplifier that was sold to the military.  However, he accidently slipped up during his description and says “we sold”, thus giving away his secret identity.  Vic says that the same amplifier was stolen a week ago from right under the military’s noses and that Ted shouldn’t blame himself for the armed forces’ carelessness towards properly protecting their recent purchase.  While Blue Beetle tries to sloppily backtrack on his secret identity slip-up, Sage says that if the recent diamond heist is connected to the telescopic amplifier, then they have to find it.  Fortunately, Ted mentions that every Kord Industries product has a homing beacon that he can lock on to.  As such, he sets the Bug’s tracker before they take off towards their destination.

Over at a warehouse, the Squid Gang arrives to give the Colossus Star Diamond to their boss.  Just as the mastermind is making some final preparations on his Aura Oscillator, Blue Beetle and Question arrive to stop the villainous fiend known as Dr. Spectro (voiced by Tom Kenny).  Ted then tells Vic that their main adversary uses emotional manipulation to sway other people, to which Sage realizes that their foe used artificial means of affection and loyalty to convince the Squid Gang into stealing the diamond for him.  From there, Dr. Spectro unveils his Aura Oscillator and mentions that he’ll use it to unleash his emotional command upon the world.  Kord realizes that the fiend will be using the diamond in order to amplify the machine’s ability to emotionally sway the innocent citizens towards his devious cause, to which Sage says that they must stop this potentially planet-conquering machination.

Suddenly, they’re met upon by two other heroes named Eve Eden a.k.a. Nightshade (voiced by Ashly Burch) and Allen Adam a.k.a. Captain Atom (also voiced by Jeff Bennett) who’re ready to oppose them.  After acquiring the diamond, Dr. Spectro tells the Squid Gang to stand down in order for the superheroes to properly clash against each other as he places the gem within his amplifier.  Blue Beetle then wonders how their foe has their fellow comrades under his control, especially since they’re far-more “strong-willed and individualistic”.  Question realizes that the devious fiend imbued his supply of Zortz Cola with a chemical that amplifies Dr. Spectro’s emotional manipulation waves, thus allowing him to control the consumer’s minds.

From there, they’re met upon by their fellow supers as Nightshade is able to beat Ted up while using her dark-based powers to evade his strikes.  Meanwhile, Captain Atom is able to subdue Vic.  Thankfully, Sage is able to convince Allen to fight through his mind-controlled state.  From there, Question tells Adam that Zortz Soda was able to help Dr. Spectro’s emotion-based powers bypass his nuclear shields and thus, he needs to use his energy ray in order to change the drink’s molecular structure and turn it into an antidote.  As such, Captain Atom projects his power onto the soda before he takes a drink.  Thankfully, the plan works as he returns to his normal state of mind.

From there, Vic takes another bottle and sprays Nightshade with the soda as he frees her from Dr. Spectro’s grasp upon her mind.

Afterwards, Blue Beetle sets up a plan where he and Nightshade go after the mastermind while Question and Captain Atom deal with the Squid Gang.  However, Dr. Spectro activates his Aura Oscillator and subdues our heroes within a tearful state.

From there, the emotional waves emit out of the warehouse and into Hub City where all of its civilians get bombarded into a sad stranglehold.  While this is going on, Dr. Spectro calls out to the citizens and tells them to obey his every word.

Back at the warehouse, Vic is able to break free from his sad state to the shock of his fiendish foe.  Sage says that it’s all “objective reality”, as emotions aren’t real and are actually “hormonal imbalances”.  As such, he’s able to “subjugate emotion with reality” and resist the fiend’s emotional influence.  From there, Question delivers the knockout punch as Dr. Spectro gets hit into his Aura Oscillator, causing it to fall over and get destroyed, freeing our heroes, the Squid Gang and the civilians from its emotionally-manipulating grasp.

From there, Captain Atom and Nightshade proceed to escort the Squid Gang towards jail while Blue Beetle praises Vic for his effort towards bringing this scheme to an end.  Just as Ted says that they can turn Dr. Spectro over to the proper authorities, they soon discover that he’s managed to escape into a pocket dimension.  Sage says that this can’t happen and that their foe has to pay for his crime, but Kord tells him that he shouldn’t “get swept away by a hormonal imbalance”.  And so, the film ends with them taking their leave within the Bug as the Question still moans how it’s “objectively wrong” that Dr. Spectro escaped, to which Blue Beetle says that he’ll calm his friend down by taking him out “for a nice soda”.

Now that this Silver Age-inspired adventure has come to a close, let’s briefly get to my character analysis.  First up, we have our featured hero himself: Blue Beetle.  Despite the simplicity of this narrative, Ted is able to display some of his technical capabilities for this adventure.  With his company-made telescope that would ultimately get used in Dr. Spectro’s master plan, there’s also a bit of Kord’s scientific side that’s briefly mentioned here.  However, the simplistic nature of the story-telling format that this short film is paying homage to doesn’t allow our main character to have a theme or an arc to work with.  From what we get out of him here, he’s good-natured, decent in combat (not that it gets shown all that much) and nicely skilled on both the scientific & technological front.  While he’s pretty competent throughout the majority of this story, he sadly doesn’t get to shine for the climactic battle.  After all, he gets bested by the emotionally-swayed Nightshade for a while before getting emotionally subdued by Dr. Spectro’s main machine alongside her and Captain Atom.  Given how this is supposed to be his short film, I would’ve liked for Ted to stand out more and within an adventure that sees him in a competent light while also being the one who smites the main baddie by the end.  Despite his character’s short-comings, Matt Lanter does provide some charm for his role and comes with the notion like he enjoyed the quirky nature that he’s taking part in.  While I wish that he would’ve gotten a better-written story to work with, his performance was still nicely handled throughout this entry.

Finally, let’s talk about another hero who ended up becoming nearly as prominent as our titular character with the Question.  For this venture, he becomes our main detective as he helps Ted unravel this appropriately absurd plot.  Keeping to his creator’s belief in Objectivism, he approaches this situation by looking for helpful facts & knowledge that’re as satisfyingly sound as they can be.  Sure, he does have a few moments that can look a little Gary Sue-esque when he brings up sudden realizations that look like they came out of nowhere and exist to help move the plot forward.  Thankfully, they never felt as detrimental as they might have been due to the Silver Age comic book feel of this world and from David Kaye’s straight-laced, self-serious & hilarious performance.  Because his character mainly leads the charge in this investigation, he does seem to overtake his fellow crime-fighting partner in this story.  Not to mention, he gets to be the one who takes out Dr. Spectro in the end, due to his Objectivism beliefs.  Don’t get me wrong, since Kaye still delivers here and helped make his character stand out in a good way, making me wish that he gets to voice Vic Sage again in another project.  I only wish that the narrative was strong enough to make Blue Beetle take command, since it’s supposed to be his film.  Despite that lingering short-coming, the Question still shined brightly and made the most of his role.

The story delivers a pure Silver Age comic book tone and fits right in line with the familiar Batman TV show of the time, giving the feel like it actually comes from what Adam West called his program “the theater of the absurd”.  It’s colorful, Tom Kenny gives all of the villains plenty of personality, the science is plausible enough for its audience to buy and the action is simple, yet fits with the aesthetic nature of the piece.  It captures the simplistic feel of children’s entertainment from that period, as well as the done-in-one stories that superhero comics were doing during that time.  It also walks a fine tightrope between capturing the spirit of Silver Age entertainment and presenting a story with modern sensibilities.  Given the choice that was made for its animation, it was somewhat tricky to execute, yet it feels like it was expertly pulled off.  However, I feel like the biggest misstep that this short story made was relegating our titular character into something of a supporting character, since Question felt more prominent.  Not to mention, Captain Atom and Nightshade also came about during the climax, thus making me feel like this whole thing should’ve been called “DC Showcase: Charlton All-Stars”.  Yes, Ted Kord still has some sense of prevalence within the narrative.  After all, he’s the first hero we see in this story and he does engage the Squid Gang by himself.  In addition, a telescope from his company is getting used for Dr. Spectro’s ultimate villain plot, so Blue Beetle has a constant reason to remain involved.  However, his driver’s seat does get compromised by the Question a bit too much.  After all, Vic’s detective skills do help push the narrative forward as they slowly discover what a valuable diamond and a defunct soda has to do with the main scheme.  Not to mention, Ted’s professional hero manner takes a hit when he accidentally reveals his secret identity to Sage while mentioning the Kord Industries telescope that was stolen from the military.  Finally and as I mentioned earlier, he greatly faulters during the main climax.  I feel like he could’ve been more of the driving focus and be far-more competent, while still allowing the other three Charlton heroes to also have some time here as well.  After all, this is supposed to be his short film.  Aside from that lingering criticism of mine, he’s still prevalent enough to stand out with his wit, charm and pleasant personality.

Before I close, I must make a special mention to the animation.  Because this is done in the style of a late 1960s cartoon, it pokes fun at the struggles that came with animation companies back then who had to get their entire process done in time and on a regular basis.  While it’s the kind of gaffs that those studios occasionally ran into when making children’s cartoons for television and in a certain amount of time, especially since these kinds of problems carried over in different fashions throughout the 1970s, the 1980s and partially into the 1990s, it’s still charming and hilarious to see & notice these intentional mistakes as a reminder of how far animation has come over the years.  The ones that I have pictured are examples of mistakes that’re notable when the movie is paused, yet there’s other examples that exemplified the minuscule budgets and limited timeframes that partially hampered these projects, like the few times that Blue Beetle and Nightshade each slide into frame in an awkward manner, or when she’s fighting Ted and stays in the same pose while using her darkness powers to evade his punches.  The funniest example of all though is at the end of the hotel scene and Question makes a witty joke, though Blue Beetle’s mouth moves at the same time that he’s talking.   Not to mention, there’s the background plates when Blue Beetle & Question are flying in the Bug, yet the seems for the sky and the buildings are showing their faults.  While these “mistakes” may seem distracting at first, it won’t take long for viewers to realize that they’re intentional and part of the old school charm that this story is preserving, especially within the long & winding history of animation.  In the end, there’s some good laughs to be had with these purposeful flubs.

Overall, this is a scarab-sized story that somewhat suffers from a small setback.  While the characters are a joy to watch, the voice acting is lively, the situation is a wholesome joy of Silver Age delight and the humor from both the witty dialogue & the intentionally flubbed animation is a hoot, the titular character should’ve been what helped propel this narrative.  As such, it felt like a lost opportunity for the second person of this legacy hero to show off what makes him relevant within DC’s vast history.  Despite that grave fault, I still recommend that you watch it in order to have a viewing experience that’s objectively worth while.

Next Time:  To help bring an end to this third wave of animated shorts, we’ll make a surprising return to the DC Animated Movie Universe.  Because the Scarlet Speedster was convinced to reboot his world following the carnage and destruction laid upon the Earth, the familiar Hellblazer who sent him on that path will now face the consequences for his decision as the comforts of home will be anything but comfortable.  On that note, come take a walk on the occult side for a tale called “Constantine: The House Of Mystery”.

Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle (created by Steve Ditko) and all related characters are owned by DC Comics.

By coolcomix0221

Love Comics, Video Games, and Sports. Aim To Become a Sports Writer.

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