Review: Blue Beetle: Boundaries trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Writer Matt Sturges brings the regular adventures of a paramount post-Infinite Crisis series to a close in Blue Beetle: Boundaries (not counting the Blue Beetle co-feature and a handful of uncollected issues still to come). Sturges take on Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes must necessarily differ from that of co-creators John Rogers and Keith Giffen, but Sturges manages for the most part to keep the humor and quick dialogue that's made Blue Beetle so great, and also mine some territory that Rogers and Giffen never explored. After Blue Beetle: Endgame, Boundaries is a considerably more earthbound Blue Beetle story, and it works to set a new tone for the book (shortly, unfortunately, before the book would be cancelled).

[Contains spoilers for Blue Beetle: Boundaries]

It is perhaps a credit to the rich characters with which Rogers and Giffen populated this book that one of the most striking things about Sturges' story is not Jaime getting involved with immigration politics or the legacy of the story's secret villain, but rather that Sturges, for the first time, shows us Jaime's friend Paco's home life. Said home life is wildly uncontroversial, but given how deeply Rogers and Giffen explored Jaime and his other friend Brenda's families, it's amazing we never saw Paco's family until after twenty-five issues of this series. In this seemingly small -- but really rather large -- way, Sturges can put his own mark on the title, and indeed Paco's mother and sisters function very organically in the story, shielding a seemingly lost immigrant/super-villain's daughter.

Sturges centers his Blue Beetle story on the immigration debate, sending Jaime after Intergang-sters smuggling drugs over the border on one hand and getting roped into patrolling the border on the other, earning him the ire of his own community. For one of the few diverse superheroes in the DC Universe, it's appropriate that Sturges addresses as social issue, and he does well not to let it overwhelm the story (it turns out that the immigration issue is only a feint for the villain's real plan). Given that Jaime lives in El Paso and comes from Hispanic heritage, I found it surprising that Sturges portrays him rather ignorant about the issue, enough so that he gets roped in to an unpopular stance by a politician, but I appreciate Sturges' use of the superhero trope where Blue Beetle must support something that his secret identity might not. Sturges' opinion on the issue is clear, as he portrays most of the anti-immigration opponents as gun-toting nuts, but likely most of his audience will be sympathetic.

I was struck that Dr. Polaris, the story's mystery villain, appears here as he did fifteen years ago in another of DC's late, lamented teen titles, Damage. Polaris has always straddled the line for me between an A-list and D-list DC Comics villain; he doesn't have any of the personality of Sinestro, for instance, but at the same time there have been some big moments with Polaris over the years -- his fights with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and his inclusion in Underworld Unleashed, to name a few. Rayner and Damage's fights with Polaris were big doings, and despite a somewhat silly origin that Sturges gives this new Polaris iteration, I tried to view Jaime's battle with Polaris as the rite of passage, undergone by teen heroes before, that it somewhat represents.

Let me wax nostalgic a moment at the passing of the Blue Beetle title (short of the co-features), much as we noted the end of fellow post-Infinite Crisis title Checkmate and, though it began much earlier, Manhunter. For me, these titles have represented intelligence and diversity in the DC Universe; Blue Beetle, for sure, has shined when Teen Titans has not. There are still some series outside the pale of the DC Universe -- Booster Gold, Secret Six, REBELS, for instance -- but I'm sorry to see more of the promise of the DC Universe after Infinite Crisis fall away. I'll be eager to pick up the collection of the Blue Beetle co-feature (including, hopefully, issues #27-28 and #35-36 of this series, too) and look forward to seeing Blue Beetle elsewhere in the DC Universe.

[Contains full covers]

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