Review: Blue Beetle Vol. 1: Metamorphosis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Before DC Comics's New 52 relaunch, Tony Bedard wrote a winning revival of DC's REBELS series, though his stints on Birds of Prey and Green Lantern Corps each met lackluster reviews. But Bedard's New 52 Green Lantern: New Guardians is a surprising bit of "pop" cosmic fun, and indeed there's a lot to like in his retelling of Jaime Reyes's origins in Blue Beetle: Metamorphosis; the New 52 relaunch has served Bedard well.

Beetle, though cancelled after the next volume like nearly all the original "Young Justice" line titles, preserves much of the spirit and even much of the cast and conflicts of the original post-Infinite Crisis series; fans of Jaime shouldn't have much to quibble with here.

[Review contains spoilers]

DC introduced Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes only six years ago, giving the character a relative infancy compared (Red) Robin or the Kon-El Superboy, introduced twenty-three and nineteen years ago each, and certainly as compared to septuagenarians Superman and Batman. But in this short time Reyes gained a following that lead to appearances in Batman: Brave and the Bold, Smallville, and Young Justice, each time with a slightly tweaked origin.

Given how many versions of Superman's origin alone comics have seen in the past years -- from Birthright to Secret Origins to the new Action Comics -- it shouldn't be a surprise that Blue Beetle can withstand a revamp. And yet, Reyes's origins seem so indelibly tied to Infinite Crisis -- Booster Gold returning from the future to save the legacy of his lost friend, Booster and Beetle hanging upside-down in the Batcave -- that it seems sacrilege that this should be removed. Bedard, however, wisely sees to the core of Jaime Reyes -- a generally good kid who believes in his friend Paco despite that Paco has joined a gang -- and this forms the basis of the first issue and Reyes's transformation into Blue Beetle. That Reyes's origins are "insular" now -- they involve his supporting cast members Paco and Brenda, not Booster Gold and the ye olde Crisis on Infinite Earths -- can't necessarily be a bad thing, either.

Gone, then, is the Blue Beetle scarab thrown to Earth by the Wizard Shazam (a confusing bit, anyway) and instead, Reyes accidentally intercepts the scarab as Brenda's aunt tries to steal it. On this point, it's perhaps more surprising what Bedard chose to keep of Blue Beetle's origins and the original series -- that Brenda's aunt is still the mystic crime boss La Dama, and that the scarab is still controlled by the alien Reach. Given a world of possibilities, Bedard's Blue Beetle is rudimentarily the same as John Rogers and Keith Giffen's series before him; this is a boon for Reyes's fans, though it'll be repetitive to see some aspects -- like Brenda's inevitable realization that her aunt is a criminal -- played out a second time.

One key change that Bedard makes is that, at least for this volume, none of Reyes's friends or family know that he's the Blue Beetle. What differentiated the last Blue Beetle series was that Reyes's whole family, and Brenda and Paco, knew that he was Blue Beetle, and so there was a sitcom feel to the book not unlike The Incredibles. In keeping with New 52 tradition, Reyes's identity is hidden -- his suit won't let him reveal it -- giving Reyes less community and more a Peter Parker-esque loneliness. This is a loss, to be sure, though the reemergence of secret identities across the New 52 overall is a positive step.

Also in the realm of similarities and differences is that Bedard includes, on La Dama's side, Brutale, an assassin often used in Chuck Dixon's Nightwing stories, and working against La Dama, classic Teen Titans villains the Brotherhood of Evil. It's odd to see the Brotherhood here, especially, both because one wouldn't expect such once-high-profile villains to debut so early in the New 52 and in Blue Beetle, among other titles, and also because Bedard and artist Ig Guara do not alter them much from their long-dated appearances, especially Warp. The Brotherhood does get a new member, the ultra-armored robotic Silverback, whose appearance would have too great a 1990s excess aesthetic to him if it didn't work generally well enough in the context of the story.

Bedard closes the book with a Beetle-on-Beetle fight of the kind also seen in the previous series and recently in Young Justice. This, too, would be repetitive, except that Bedard casts Paco this time as the "Black Beetle" Thorax, and sets as a subtext to the hero's conflict the quiet hurt feelings between Reyes and Paco. Again, it's somewhat against type to see Reyes so alone, but at the same time, these types of changes breathe new energy into the book.

All of this makes it a shame that Blue Beetle will end in the next trade (Reyes continues into Threshold, a series actually written by Giffen, though how much role he will have remains to be seen). If the dialogue is not as quick as the preceding book, Bedard still writes the voice of Reyes and his supporting cast well, and the trope of young hero learning to control his wild superpowers is always fun. Ig Guera draws the twisting, turning Beetle armor especially well, with only a couple of the "regular" cast's facial expressions growing too distorted by the end.

For Jaime Reyes fans, then, Blue Beetle: Metamorphosis is something to treasure, an epilogue of sorts to the much-missed original series. Hopefully it won't be too long before Reyes sees his own book again.

[Includes original covers, considerable sketchbook section from Ig Guera and Cully Hamner]

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2 comments:

  1. Based on your recommendation, I bought and read this book. It was so much better than I thought it would be. Hell, I even read it in one sitting!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great! What did you like about it?

    ReplyDelete