Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Pinning down Blue Beetle

Reading Blue Beetle #35 is, ultimately, a frustrating experience.

The issue kicks off a new storyline by Matthew Sturges, who officially took over from original writer John Rogers with issue #29, and introduces some of the fallout from Jaime Reyes' epic back-and-forth with would-be alien conquerors the Reach. Reprogrammed Beetle soldiers have come to Earth with a new mission and, they hope, will leave with a new leader. All Jaime and his friends want to do is go to their high school dance.

The storyline is interesting, it's fun and basically hits a lot of the beats that helped Blue Beetle find a loyal audience in the first place. Things move along at a nice clip while still finding the time to put new plot points in place, and the whole thing is peppered with the kind of casually snappy dialogue that has become a hallmark of this title. There are even some small steps toward development for some of the characters who've been orbiting a little further out on the edge of Blue Beetle's already excellent extended cast.

It's pretty clear Sturges has really hit his stride with the issue, bringing his own sensibility to the title and also tapping into the pure, playful fun that makes this comic so appealing. Blue Beetle #35 manages that magical little trick every comic tries to pull off — it leaves you looking forward to the next issue, and the issue after that.

And that's incredibly frustrating since the next issue is also the last issue for this consistenly solid, charming and deceptively complex series.

The character of Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle has built up some popularity, and it's certainly getting a push on the younger readers front with appearances in the new Batman: The Brave and The Bold and Tiny Titans comics, not to mention the B&B cartoon — hopefully this will mean some sort of life for the character after the series ends.

Still, it will be a shame because guest appearances or supporting roles in group books won't make up for the loss of a title that showcased a teen-aged superhero who acted first and foremost like a teenager. It can only be guessed that the end of Blue Beetle also means the end of the fantastic supporting characters, including Jaime's fully fleshed-out best friends, his supportive family, a sweet and sorcerous girlfriend, even his crazy roster of villains.

At least Blue Beetle #35 gives readers a next-to-last look at what made this book a favorite. Even without the work of usual artist Rafael Albuquerque — artists Carlo Barberi and Jacob Eguren alternate between dynamic and flat, particularly where facial features come into play — the issue has a sense of movement and place and, along with the scripting, puts you where you need to be; in the moment.

Unfortunately, Blue Beetle's moment is almost over, but regular readers should be sure to see it through to the end, and new readers should see what they've been missing by picking up the trades.


Scott said...

I am really, really, really going to miss this series. Certainly one of DC's best series, and it's really disappointing that it didn't get more readers.

How was it's popularity in El Paso? Did it get any readers just because of the setting?

Maxo said...

I can't even blame DC - three years is more than a fair chance to find an audience. What I have trouble understanding is why it had so much trouble reaching a tipping point in terms of readership. I'm with you — I'm going to miss picking up Blue Beetle every month.

I'm not sure how it did in El Paso; I only get back into town a couple of times a year lately. I do know it got some coverage from the local paper a couple of times, and folks in El Paso are usually pretty supportive of things that put the city in a good light.

Part of the problem, though, is a lack of really good comic shops in the city. Unfortunately, the ones I'm familiar with fit way too many of the stereotypes associated with the typical Android's Dungeon. I wish it was different, but there aren't many comic book evangelists in El Paso.

Hell, now there's going to be an angry mob next time I'm in town.

Sea_of_Green said...

I think they should change Brave & Bold to Brave & Bold: Featuring Blue Beetle!

Maxo said...

Y'know, that would totally work? Instead of having team-ups with the ultra-experienced Batman, why not have Blue Beetle teaming up with established heroes and learning something from each? It would kind of touch back on the early feel of the series and would be a neat way to watch Jaime develop.

You could even have a Batman/Beetle team-up to help the transition - Batman has already kind of unofficially taken Blue Beetle under his wing anyway!

I like the way you think, Sea!

Dr. K said...

I agree with you completely on this issue. I was a bit disappointed with Sturges's first story, but this issue sets up an interesting story that will unfortunately get truncated by the cancellation.

And it's too bad that there might be kids getting into the character from the cartoon and the great toys, only to find the series is over just when they wanted to get into it.