Wednesday, February 11, 2015

YALSA top ten 2008: Blue Beetle


Blue Beetle (Volumes 1-2)
Written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers. Illustrated by Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, and others.
Published by DC Comics (2006-2007)

So ages and ages ago I was originally going to read and review these graphic novels in something more like chronological order, and I read (or attempted) to read books from the first few years of these awards. (This plan didn't last long.) In the case of Blue Beetle my local library system didn't have the first two volumes of Blue Beetle, so I read every other Blue Beetle thing they had at the time. Since lots of copies of books had gone missing, this amounted to two books, a later volume of this series (Vol. 4: End Game), and the Blue Beetle Companion, which tracked the history of the character from the 1930s up to around 2008 and educated me about the Blue Beetle radio show from 1940 (it is terrible).

There's really no reason to mention this, because now I've actually read the first two volumes, but I figured I needed to link to those radio shows _somehow_. Anyway, reading the first volume of Blue Beetle nine years after it came out is somewhat confusing. Now, this is because Blue Beetle is a shared universe superhero title, and like many of them it refers to other superhero comics that were coming out at the time. I didn't realize/remember this (despite the fact that I think I've read this volume before), and really it's not that big of a deal, but there's some amount of story that's happening in the Infinite Crisis event crossover that isn't really explained that well/at all until the second volume.

Okay! So what is Blue Beetle about? It's about a kid who finds a magic (or alien?) scarab beetle thing  that gives him crazy cool armour and he (of course) becomes a superhero. Of course, there are some fun bits that do make it different from Spider-Man or other teenage heroes. First, it's set in El Paso, which actually has way more superpowered people than you would expect, but also doesn't exactly have Superman hanging out. Second, Jaime's parents know he's the Blue Beetle, this leads to some pretty fun interactions between them when they're asking if he has his homework done before he can head out to save the world.

The design for this Blue Beetle is still pretty cool looking, and I think it's kind of impressive how this version of Blue Beetle has actually become the one that is shown in other media. The Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle appeared in Smallville, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, a number of video games, and even a live action test trailer for a TV show.. That probably makes him one of the more successful non-white superhero characters ever, let alone one that was created less than a decade ago.

While these two volumes do feature six pencillers over twelve issues, the art manages to stay fairly consistent. There's also some pretty nice colouring in there that I wasn't expecting. (There's also some fairly terrible colouring that makes it seem as though Jaime has horrible growths on his face instead of facial hair, but you can't win them all.)

So the art's generally well done, the supporting cast (and their relationships with each other) is pretty good, the mystery about the scarab is decent, Jaime is a likeable character, and the book overall is fun. (This is what people have been saying for about a decade now...) If you gave me more issues I'd read them. Mostly though, I think I'm just glad that Jaime has proven popular enough to still be around, and not be killed off in some crossover or other like so many other characters.

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