Blue Beetle #1
“Metamorphosis, Part One”
Writer: Tony Bedard
Pencils: Ig Guara
Inks: Ruy Jose
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Tyler Kirkham & Sal Regla
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Writer Tony Bedard and DC provide an accessible jumping-on point with this property by starting things over, beginning the series with the title character’s origin and introducing his supporting cast. It’s a smart move given the goal of the New 52 line to reach new readers and to get existing ones excited about DC’s characters. There’s just one problem, at least as far as this particular reader is concerned: DC is telling the same story it told in the previous Blue Beetle series, and it didn’t hook me the first time around either. Sure, it’s dressed up the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle origin with a lot more action from the start, but the plot is essentially the same. And while Ig Guara’s art is effective, fun and clear, this story and these characters were brought to life by artist Cully Hamner, and Guara’s not quite up to that level of comic craft yet. Nevertheless, DC made the right move by including the Blue Beetle in its New 52 lineup, given the character’s prominence in mainstream media culture thanks to the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon. I hope it succeeds and draws in new readers, but this series just isn’t for me.
A blue, alien scarab that crashed to Earth from the heavens centuries ago has been discovered once again, and dark forces are vying to possess it because it’s believed to be a source of immense power. Criminal interests — including an El Paso crime boss known as Dama — have hired superhuman mercenaries to procure the item, leading to a dangerous and bizarre battle in the city’s streets. And doesn’t Jaime Reyes — on their way to a friend’s birthday party — accidentally find himself in the middle of it.
Guara’s work here often reminds me of the fun, light, cartoony style of Todd (The Iron Age) Nauck, as well as the energetic, stylistic approach of Rafael (American Vampire) Albuquerque. The latter influence is fitting, give Albuquerque served as the regular artist on the previous Blue Beetle series for a time. Maybe that influence is there because Guara used previous issues as reference, or maybe I’m just imagining the influence since I recall some of the previous BB I’ve seen. I enjoyed the redesigns of Plasmus, Warp and especially Phobia. The title character’s design appears to be untouched, but that’s not surprising, as DC would no doubt want the look with which the wider cartoon-viewing audience is familiar to be the one they might find in the comics.
One element from the previous Blue Beetle I never cared for was Dama, the Mexican American woman who ruled over her own crime cartel or some such organization. She returns here, apparently unaltered in concept and appearance, and I remain uninterested. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it doesn’t feel right to include an element such as that in a story about a teen hero trying to get a handle on his powers while also navigating the social obstacle course that is high school. Dama and Reyes’ family’s efforts to shield him from that side of the community could speak to a sociological aspect of the Hispanic culture that’s been incorporated into this property — I don’t know. I’m too far removed from it, too unfamiliar with it, perhaps.
While the central origin story remains the same, it’s easy to see why certain changes were made. There’s a much greater emphasis on action here. In Jaime’s previous origin story, the alien scarab attached itself to him as he slept quietly in his bedroom. Here, the connection occurs in the middle of a life-and-death rumble between rival factions of super-villains. In the previous origin, his friend Paco wasn’t quite as hooked up with local gangs as he’s portrayed to be in this new series. It’s clearly an effort to bring more action and edge to the storytelling. It’s not something I needed, but I understand why these subtle changes were made.
What I don’t understand is why more drastic changes weren’t made. While the look and identity of the title character were pretty much pre-determined by his animated counterpart, the rest of the details of his world, as they were largely unexplored in the cartoon, could’ve been reinterpreted and retooled as part of the New 52. In other words, DC and the creators on this title could’ve tried something markedly different, and I’m a bit surprised they didn’t. After all, DC seemed to lose faith in the previous version of this series when it cancelled it (just as the character was gaining popularity in the cartoon). Furthermore, the Jaime Reyes version of the Blue Beetle is only five years old, so there’s not a long history or strong traditions in which a multitude of readers are vested. But then again, maybe DC saw its error in abandoning the previous series at a critical juncture in its pop-culture evolution. In any case, DC and its talent have constructed a solid series with a good chance of connecting with its audience this time around. It’s just not clicking for me personally. 6/10
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