Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blue Beetle #1 - A Review

Blue Beetle was a quirky little title that managed to survive despite a continual threat of cancellation. The adventures of Jamie Reyes developed a small but loyal following as it also gained critical acclaim. Through three years and three regular writers, the book endured – continuing on as a back-up feature in Booster Gold until relatively recently. Now, the book has returned with everything reportedly back at square one, ready to be discovered by a whole new audience – new readers and those who failed to jump on the bandwagon before.

The issue opens in deep space, long ago, where we are quickly introduced to The Reach – an evil alien empire that conquers worlds through the use of strange scarab-shaped devices that latch onto a person and turn them into an uncontrollable living weapon. Once the world is sufficiently weakened, The Reach move in and claim the spoils. Cut to Earth, now, where El Paso teenager Jamie Reyes is suffering the usual teenage troubles – getting bullied and trying to convince his parents to let him go to parties they don’t want him going to. After sneaking out with his drop-out friend Paco, they run into a super-villain gang and Jamie soon finds himself bonding to the item they were stealing – one of The Reach’s scarabs.

Tony Bedard is a good writer but he seems to be out of his element here. Not surprisingly, given his background writing Green Lantern Corps, REBELS and other space opera series, the best part of the book is the early scenes in which he quickly and simply explains what “the blue beetle” is, who created it and how they use it. It is the later scenes on Earth where the book suffers, with Jamie lacking the spirit he had in his original series. The supporting cast is set up, though we don’t see any of them save Jamie’s friend Paco for more than one page. Worse, much of the characters’ personality seems to have been replaced with random Spanglish dialogue. Perhaps the most distressing thing about the text is the interview in the back, where Bedard reveals a major change to the book – nobody in Jamie’s supporting cast is going to be aware of his dual identity.

To be quite blunt, this is a big mistake. Part of the reason for the original series’ appeal was that it defied the conventions of teen hero comics. Jamie’s parents knew from the beginning about his powers and were supportive of his decision to try and use those powers to help people. This was not only an original development but it also inspired some wonderful scenes, like Jamie asking permission to go out and save people in the same way that an ordinary teenager would ask to borrow the car. I fear that this change will turn Jamie Reyes into yet another Peter Parker wannabe.

Thankfully, whatever reservations I have about the writing, I cannot deny that the artwork is wonderful. Ig Guara & Ruy Jose prove equally adept at conveying the depths of deep space and the weird beauty of alien worlds as they are at portraying the gritty streets of El Paso and the details of high-school life. It is a rare art team that can manage to depict the majestic and the mundane with equal skill but Guara and Jose manage it.

I find myself reluctant to recommend this book or condemn it. It’s a bit hard to gauge as our hero has yet to become a hero. Personally, I am worried about the direction this book seems to be heading and the leisurely pace of the decompressed storytelling which fails to generate much excitement. Still, the artwork is good and Bedard has surprised me before so I will merely suggest we wait and see what happens next time.

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