Justice League: Generation Lost #19

Generation Lost 19

A

Dear Marvel Comics: this is how you do a death.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW)

With no extra fanfare or promotion, Justice League: Generation Lost #19 landed in comic shops today. It continues the excellent pacing and gripping story this bi-weekly series has established in the first 18 installments, but its last page packs an extra punch: the apparent death of Jaime Reyes, the current Blue Beetle.

In this issue, the League mounts a rescue mission to save Jaime, who for the last few installments has been a science experiment for master schemer Maxwell Lord, who’s attempting to figure out the technology that powers Beetle. Jaime makes a heroic stand against Max’s machinations, but it’s all for naught: before the League can do anything about it, Max nullifies Jaime’s powers and unceremoniously shoots him in the head.

Now, I grant you, one can’t say for sure whether or not Jaime’s really dead. A good rule of thumb in comics is to never say never, especially when it comes to characters surviving under unlikely odds, but this seems pretty serious. For one, as this very issue alludes to, murders at the hands of Max Lord seem to be fatal for those bearing the Beetle crest. Additionally, the art makes the shot look pretty final.

But, upon reflection, I’m glad I don’t know if he’s really dead. That means that a major plot development in a series I love hasn’t been ruined for me a company starving for readers, nor by a sickly journalism industry who might grab one or two people more with a sensationalistic headline. I’m also glad I didn’t have to fight all the ridiculous speculators buying this issue because it might double in price OMG over the next week.

Of course, Jaime Reyes isn’t as prominent a character as the Human Torch. That may be what saved this story from an onslaught of spoilers. But shouldn’t the death of a much more popular character (like Johnny Storm) mean more to a reader? I wonder if anyone could really feel the emotional impact of Torch’s demise after the circus surrounding it.

There are people who argue that knowing what happens in a story before experiencing it yourself shouldn’t matter; that it’s the journey, not the destination, that affects an audience. There’s some truth to that, but it’s too much of an overcorrection against people who only care about plot and not about really digging in to a story. The plainly self-evident truth is that the best stories engage us emotionally and intellectually to such a degree that we get caught up in them. As those people I’m talking about above would tell you, good fiction is an experience. But sometimes, for stories to really hit us in the gut, we can’t know what’s coming. That’s cheating. We have to experience it with the characters, so we can feel an approximation of what they do. That makes the experience of storytelling all the more vivid, and to deny that is to deny the magic of fiction.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that Jaime Reyes is my favorite character. I caught his introduction in Infinite Crisis but didn’t stick around for his ongoing series. However, Generation Lost has really made me like him. He brings a terrific note of youthful levity to this team, which fulfills a necessary dynamic. Even with a team consisting of jokers like Booster Gold and culturally-inept characters such as Gavril the Red Rocket, Jaime feels more relatable somehow. Possibly it’s because Booster and Gavril live completely in the world of superheroes, but Jaime doesn’t. He has a family and friends who have nothing to do with Crises or time travel, as Generation Lost #19 reminds us. That grounding means a lot to a book like this. It gives readers a handy point-of-view character that happens to be a lot of fun to hang out with. If he is dead, I’m going to miss him.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little more about the details of this particular issue. As I noted above, writer Judd Winick has done an excellent job establishing characters and building team dynamics on this series. I haven’t bought a new book called Justice League for years, but the mix of compelling characters and solid plot momentum makes Generation Lost truly DC’s best “event book” right now.

On the art front, I don’t know much about Fernando Dagnino, but I really like him. For Generation Lost he channels a bit of a Kevin Maguire feel, which works perfectly for this assembly of heroes. In particular, he gives a lot of attention to characters’ facial expressions, a Maguire trademark. That style is very, very welcome in this book. Although I wouldn’t say any of Generation Lost‘s artist stable is bad, Dagnino is definitely my favorite of the bunch.

Even though I spent most of this post talking about Blue Beetle’s death, the truth is that this issue holds up as a solid piece of comic storytelling whether or not he’s met his ultimate end. I feel that other comic book creators and companies need to use that as their ultimate judge of whether a character death really works, but I’m glad at least one series doesn’t stoop to shlocky advertizing and cheap shocks.

tags: fernando dagnino, judd winick, justice league

  • Kyle Gnepper

    I didn’t get his series, but I’ve been a fan of Jamie’s. I can’t deny this was a good issue, it was. I just hope this isn’t the end of Blue Beetle #3.

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