I re-read the first two Blue Beetle trade paperbacks in preparation for reading Blue Beetle: Reach for the Stars. Of the three, Reach for the Stars turned out to be my least favorite, though it still keeps overall the high quality we've seen from the Blue Beetle title. Back in the 1990s, Chuck Dixon's Robin defined what it meant to write a teen-centered comic; since then, I don't think teen comics have been as good (Geoff Johns's Teen Titans notwithstanding) until Blue Beetle.
What I didn't like about this trade was writer John Rogers's introduction of the Reach, the aliens responsible for the beetle scarab stuck to Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes's spine. The aliens are predictably evil and poorly defined, with a vague plan to take over Earth while tricking most of the world's governments into believing they come in peace (not unlike, say, the White Martians, or any number of others). Only Jaime and his supporting cast know the Reach's plan; this leads to a number of one-off issues where Jaime fights a generic villain (Ultra-Humanite, Lobo, Typhoon) to stop them from doing a generic bad Reach thing (build a base, blow up a rocket, etc.) with litle overall consequence. While this works to tie the chapters of Reach for the Stars together thematically, it makes those same chapters feel formulaic one right after the next.
As with the previous Blue Beetle collections, however, what saves Reach for the Stars is that Rogers's Jaime Reyes and his supporting cast are just so darn likable. In the fourth chapter, when the sorceress (and new love interest) Traci 13 appears before Jaime, he barely blinks before he follows her to rescue endangered friends; later, when Jaime fails to save townspeople from the villain Typhoon, he breaks down and cries with his father. Jaime's heroism is so earnest and so believable--and so, I'd say, true to the ideals of a teenager blessed with super-powers--that you can't help but root for him. Rogers similarly writes Jaime's friends Paco and Brenda as young and real without the slang or silliness we see when others write teenagers; I also love the sense and charm with which Jaime's parents handle their son's superheroics (see Jaime's mom putting Guy Gardner in his place at a family barbeque. Blue Beetle is good, good quality writing, something with which you can forgive any number of other errors, and it's a model for how new series can be done right.
Rogers begins to introduce a number of other DC Comics characters into Jaime's world with this trade. J. Torres writes a fill-in issue featuring Superman that, with its simplicity, was the worst of the bunch, but Rogers balances this with a number of delightfully subtle cameo appearances by Batman, who also seems to see a bit of young Robin in the new hero. I love the idea of Jaime joining the Teen Titans, and it's great how Rogers uses Jaime's newness as a hero to offer the reader an "everyman" perspective if they're not familiar with the Titans (Jaime's scarab tells him Miss Martian is a white Martian, "Didn't know I was supposed to get all racial about it," is Jaime's hilarious reply). I also enjoyed the Jetsons Meet the Flinstones-feel of Jaime's supporting cast intermixing with the Titans. I wasn't thrilled with Rogers's antiquated portrayal of Guy Gardner (more Justice League International than Green Lantern Corps), but I'm excited for more of Blue Beetle Ted Kord's contemporaries to appear in the next volume.
Much of the art here comes from Rafael Albuquerque; while I still feel Cully Hamner draws the definitive Jaime Reyes, Albuquerque's portrayal grows on me. There's a number of different artists here who draw Jaime with varying degrees of success; note Jaime's goatee, which at times looks fuzzy like Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame, and other times like a full-grown beard. Overall, while the art in Blue Beetle is not cartoony, there's an exaggerated look to it that fits well the young characters and adventurous situations. Is it too much to hope for more of just the same in the future?
[Contains full covers, "What Came Before" page.]
Well, that was a most satisfying comic book read. I'm turning now to the second part of Trials of Shazam; I liked the first part (and the second has the Justice League in it), so I have high hopes. Thanks for reading!