Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Blue Beetle lifts leaden Booster Gold

So have you ever gotten something you know you don't like just because there's one small part of it that you really, really want? Like a crappy burger that comes with awesome fries, or an action figure multipack that has three Luke Skywalkers and one pimpin' Lando?

Well, that's what buying Booster Gold #21 was like for me.

This week's Booster Gold was the first of a handful of DC titles that will begin featuring a back-up story (and an extra buck added to the cover price), which in this case means the return of the recently canceled Blue Beetle. Like other comics I enjoyed and then watched get the ax, Blue Beetle will get new life piggybacking onto another title with a smaller page count but an ongoing story. In that regard, I can't complain too much since it means I sort of get to keep reading a title I didn't think should have been canceled in the first place.

But here's the problem: I stopped reading Booster Gold somewhere around issue #15. The writing (from Chuck Dixon to Rick Remender to current writer/artist — and original Booster Gold creator — Dan Jurgens) became stiff, shifting in tone from fun and creative to surly and convoluted. Story points (Booster still pines for recognition! Booster chafes under Rip Hunter's rules! Rip Hunter has a secret!) were beaten again and again until it was a soft, tasteless mush.

As far as I can tell, nothing new has happened in the last six issues.

Booster Gold #15 reads like a jumping-on story, full of characters filling the readers in on the highlights and putting little sticky tags on everything so we know what a Time Sphere looks like. And honestly, that's fine. Since it's an issue launching a new back-up feature, it makes sense DC would want to ease potential new readers into a story with built-in complications (time travel, y'know). But that doesn't mean it has to be ... well, dull.

In 20 pages of story, nothing really happens. Rip Hunter scowls a lot (who decided he needed to be a grumpy bad-ass, anyway?). And there's the requisite hero-on-hero fight over a misunderstanding. Then the bad guy shows up, promptly disappears and that's pretty much it. I ended up feeling burned because this is exactly the reason I stopped picking up this book in the first place.

But here's the worst part. That Blue Beetle back-up story? It was freakin' great. I'll admit, I was already excited about it (I even read it first, before reading the Booster Gold story), and it didn't disappoint. With a script by Matthew Sturges and art by Mike Norton, Blue Beetle hummed along with the fun, engaging, character-driven vibe that made it a personal favorite when it was a stand-alone title.

I hesitate to say it, but scenes showing the kids posing as reporters, the strain between newly minted couple Paco and Brenda, and a giant robot called THINKO! was nearly worth the $3.99 price tag alone. Which is the sort of thing I'm sure DC would like to hear, since I'm assuming part of the idea behind the back-up stories is finding an outlet for popular characters (who can't seem to carry their own book) while goosing other titles that could probably use the lift.

And it could work, because I'm one of those readers looking forward to following the ongoing adventures of Blue Beetle and his well-rounded cast on a monthly basis — even though it means I'll be buying a comic I otherwise don't enjoy.

In that sense, I guess the joke's on me: I've got my Lando, but I'm also being stuck with all that Luke.


Scott said...

Well, I didn't think the Booster story was that bad -- certainly a lot better than the last few issues have been.

But yes, thank you, Gods of Awesomeness and Ponies, for bringing back my Blue Beetle, even if just for backups. That little short story just hammered home how much I miss Jaime and his friends and family.

Maxo said...

I guess it wasn't so much that it was bad, it was just boring. It really struck me that, even after not reading the book for months, it seemed to be treading the same water. Mostly, it just frustrated me.

But how great was that Blue Beetle story? It's just such a fun story.

rob! said...

Even with the $1 price hike, I am so glad DC is doing back-ups again--they have soooo many good characters that, for whatever reason, can't support their own book, so here's a chance for them to be seen regularly somewhere.

I vote for an Aquaman back-up in, say, Wonder Woman. I'd start buying WW for that.

Maxo said...

I agree, the dollar price hike is worth the extra page count, especially since it means having stories with characters that would otherwise be left to just kind of float around. I mean, Marvel is raising its prices but it feels like a rip-off because readers aren't getting any extra value for their money.

More Blue Beetle and Manhunter every month? Yes, please!

And that's a really good idea! Aquaman would be an excellent back-up for Wonder Woman.