Blue Beetle #1–19 by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, Duncan Rouleau and others
I don’t know if it’s a DC versus Marvel thing, or if I’m one of those readers who is ruining comic books by not trying new things, but Blue Beetle was a book that I never would have tried in single-issue form. I’m more connected to the Marvel universe, so don’t have any connection to the DC characters; apart from the Giffen & DeMatteis Justice League, and the use of the non-superpowered Blue Beetle Ted Kord, I’ve never read many stories about the character. And I would need to have several reasons to try a completely new book, especially one where there is a co-writer I’ve never heard of before, even if it eventually started to get some good reviews on the internet. Does this make me a bad person?
I bought these three trade paperbacks from an exchange shop in Soho for a steal – £2 each – and it’s one of the best bargains I’ve ever got, because these stories are some of the most fun and well-made comic books available. Jamie Reyes is a great character, the new Blue Beetle power and set-up is extremely intriguing, the supporting cast is one of the most three-dimensional around, and the interaction of a lead character who is in El Paso, Texas, with the rest of the DC universe is a whole lot of fun.
The first trade deals with the introduction of Jamie, who was apparently introduced in Infinite Crisis, and how he found the Scarab and how it welded to his spine and how he didn’t have a clue how it worked and how he returned home after helping the heroes during the Crisis – only it was one year later, and the family thought he was dead, and how his absence affected the lives of his two best friends, Brenda and Paco. It’s good: seeing Jamie learning about his armour – the Scarab talking in an alien language that he understands (because it is extraterrestrial), the lovely banter between Jamie and his two friends (the dialogue is really good in this book: it’s funny and natural and sounds right), the great art from Hamner and his design of the armour (Rouleau does some good work, but the Hamner art seems the definitive Beetle; the Cynthia Martin stuff is pretty weak in comparison), and the bits of the DC universe (Phantom Stranger, Oracle, Guy Gardner) are a lot of fun. The presence of a lot of ‘metas’ in the same area seems highly improbable, but it does keep Jamie in his home town.
The interaction with the DC universe continues in the next trade – I particularly loved the Batman appearance reflecting on what happened to Jamie when he helped during Infinite Crisis and got lost for a year, and there is also learning about Blue Beetle history, an old man who acts like a mentor but was a cape called Peacemaker who has a connection to the alien technology, and a Motherbox leads to a bit of New Gods action. Rogers starts to take over on full-time writing duties during this trade, and he shows that he knows what he’s doing, balancing the action and the characterisation and the really good dialogue (there is some wonderfully quotable banter in here). The other revelation is Albuquerque; he has a wonderfully enjoyable style, with great facial expressions, a funky feel to his characters, and a great storytelling sense. I’d never seen his work before but it’s plain that he’s going to go far.
The third trade paperback sees the arrival of The Reach, the alien race which says it has the answers to Jamie’s questions about the Scarab, only for things to be a little more complicated. There is a strange fill-in from J Torres, which seems odd for its location in the scheme of bigger story, before having more stories interacting with the DC universe, including working with the Teen Titans. But the heart of it all is the interaction of the characters; Jamie, Brenda, Paco, Jamie’s family, all have this delightful interplay that informs the stories and influences the outcome. It’s a joy to watch the people grow and learn, and all kudos to all involved for creating and executing such a fun and entertaining book. Shame that it didn’t last a lot past these three trades (there were two more after this, which I haven’t got yet), although it was a lot of fun to see the character appear on Batman: The Brave And The Bold. I may have missed it the first time around, but I’m glad I got the chance to enjoy it the second time through the trade paperback programme, one of the many reasons why it is good to be a comic book fan in the present day.