Of all the characters getting the hard reboot treatment, Blue Beetle seems like the most unnecessary. The Jaime Reyes version of the character debuted only five years ago, and it seems that if Batman: Brave and the Bold can handle him without rewriting his origin, then DC ought to be able to as well. But Jaime’s old origin is tied up in Infinite Crisis and a place in a long legacy, so someone deemed it necessary to retread recently traversed paths. This puts writer Tony Bedard in the rather unenviable position of having to retell a story that was recently (and quite popularly) told.
And frankly, he does an admirable job of it. This feels a little like it should be Ultimate Blue Beetle, taking a longer time to introduce the protagonist to his alien scarab. Bedard uses that time to explore some of the scarab’s history, something that the previous Blue Beetle series left as a mystery for a good long time, slowly revealing different elements. In the span of a six-page prologue, Bedard establishes the Reach as a more laid-back Borg, brutally assimilating worlds into their hives with a sort of bureaucratic attitude. Meanwhile, the scarab that will eventually bond with Jaime Reyes encounters a Green Lantern, hinting at the enmity between the two groups, and crashes near a Mayan pyramid.
The rest of the book follows Jaime Reyes as he navigates the high school social structure, overprotective parents, and eventually a battle between supervillains. Bedard has a lot to work with here, as Jaime’s established supporting characters — his friends Paco and Brenda, his parents, and his little sister Milagro — are among the best in recent comics history. Unfortunately, he has to introduce us to them again, and while he aims for the casual dialogue and humor that made them so endearing the first time around, it sometimes feels like he’s trying too hard. It might not be so bad if this book had a little room to breathe; Jaime’s family appears on just one page, and I didn’t even notice his sister on the first read-through.
Instead, we’re treated to Brenda’s aunt — the crime boss La Dama — who has sent a team of supervillains to steal the scarab. La Dama’s goons clash with the Masters of Evil — who get a fairly nice redesign here — and Jaime and Paco end up in the middle of it, where, of course, Jaime and the scarab ultimately bond. The violence and fast-paced thrills of the scene are a far cry from the previous, more subdued finding-the-scarab-in-a-vacant-lot origin, and they make for an action-packed scene that promises more action in the next issue.
But for all that action, I feel like we don’t really get to know the cast that well. Maybe Bedard is relying on the excellent characterization work that was done in the last volume, but given the nature of this reboot, that seems like it’d be a mistake. The last first issue of Blue Beetle had a decent amount of action, too — mostly centered around a mistaken-identity battle between a Jaime who didn’t know how to work his armor and a Guy Gardner who wasn’t entirely sure why he was fighting.
As long as I’m on the subject, it seems worth mentioning that I went back and re-read the last Blue Beetle #1 for this review, and the comparison makes clear where some of the problems with the reboot lie. In the 2006 issue, Jaime appears — either in or out of costume — on every page. The issue is devoted fully to introducing us to his character and the people and problems in his life.
Bedard’s Blue Beetle #1 features Jaime on exactly half of its twenty pages, devoting the rest to the scarab’s origin, La Dama, and the supervillain battle. Structure-wise, it’s far more concerned with telling the Blue Beetle’s origin story than introducing us to the characters. Some of this is obviously necessary; Jaime and his supporting cast are established characters now, and the scarab’s history no longer has the allure of mystery, which wasn’t the case in 2006. The origin story is what’s changing, and so it takes the focus. This might be worthwhile or useful for those of us who already have an attachment to the character and just want to see an updated status quo so we can jump into more great Blue Beetle adventures. But the New 52 is supposed to be about new readers and new audiences, and I have to imagine that they’d be a lot more interested in following this title if it spent more time on providing compelling characters and less time on references to Monsieur Mallah and the Brain.
Possibly the biggest problem with all of this is that you could hand 2006’s Blue Beetle #1 to a new reader and, aside from references to Ted Kord, Infinite Crisis, and Booster Gold that you can count on one hand, it’s perfectly accessible. In fact, aside from two of those three things, it doesn’t even seem like it’s much changed with the New 52 continuity. With that in mind, this latest Blue Beetle #1 really pales in comparison; the writing isn’t as tight as the Rogers/Giffen script, the art isn’t as pretty as Cully Hamner’s, and it all feels like an unfortunate imitation of what came before.
There are good moments in this issue. I thought the scene with the Reach was excellent, and I think Bedard has a pretty good feel for the characters. Ig Guara’s art has a Todd Nauck flare in a lot of places, which makes for some good action scenes and alien environs, albeit with the occasional disappearing background. The down-to-Earth pages are more problematic; there’s more than one panel where characters’ facial expressions really don’t match the dialogue. I recognize that Bedard and Guara were put in a very unfortunate position here, and I think they made the best of it. I have high hopes that, once the origin is out of the way, this book will recapture all the fun and adventure that made the previous volume so highly acclaimed.
Until then, though, it remains firmly in the shadow of its predecessor in just about every way, and if I wanted to introduce a new reader to Blue Beetle, I’d still be handing them a copy of the 2006 trade.
Pull list verdict: ON PROBATION.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more