Review: Blue Beetle: Black and Blue trade paperback (DC Comics)

Given that DC Comics decided to cancel most of their co-feature backups -- holding their comics' prices at $2.99 and reducing each issue's pages to 20 -- perhaps we might call the newest co-feature endeavor a failed experiment. It's unfortunate, because it gave a second chance to a number of deserving characters, not in the least Manhunter and Blue Beetle. And despite being truncated co-features, the stories in Matt Sturges's Blue Beetle: Black and Blue read rather well, awarding the characters some nice moments.

As has long been the case with the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series, it is the characters far greater than the plot that makes this book so readable. Sturges picked up the characters from previous writers John Rogers and Keith Giffen with no discernable difficulty, and the voices of Brenda, Paco, and the rest remained consistent throughout.

That I found the villainous Black Beetle unsatisfying is beside the point; the emotion Jaime feels when the Black Beetle harms his sister comes through perfectly. That the Unimate robot plot was entirely predictable doesn't matter; Sturges ties it in to a fight between Brenda and Paco that is entirely true to the characters, and their conflict becomes almost more important than that between the hero and the villains.

Indeed, however, I must note that while Black and Blue is big on characterization, the reader shouldn't expect a detailed plot. Perhaps the best is Jaime's fight with misguided cosmic rebels, which has lots of alien action even if Carlo Barberi's art comes off a bit dark at times. Mike Norton does a beautiful job on the back-up features, but Sturges telegraphs the mystery Unimate villain's identity from the beginning, stealing some of the story's suspense; alternatively, the Black Beetle's identity is confusing enough (he's Hector, then he's Joshua, then he's Jaime, and then ... ?) to make that long-awaited story rather disappointing.

Black and Blue contains two finales, one of the main Blue Beetle series and then one ending the co-features. Both are great -- the former, with an unexpected Ted Kord cameo, doubly-so -- emphasizing Jaime's humanity and the support he gets from his friends. Sturges has a little fun breaking down the fourth wall the second time as the characters decry the cancellation of their favorite comic book (as Peter David did once upon a time in Young Justice), and it's a jab well-suited for this book, and with which the reader can agree.

I expected the co-features to feel shorter than a regular story, but Sturges packs a lot into the ten pages (or doesn't try to accomplish too much). With Norton's art consistent throughout, I never felt like I was missing much. It's good that the co-feature approach works, but then it's also unfortunate that they've been largely cancelled -- and even moreso that while Blue Beetle, Ravager, and The Question all get co-feature collections, the Manhunter: Forgotten trade didn't get enough orders, so it was cancelled.

We never saw a collection of the Captain Atom "New Krypton" co-feature, either -- this may suggest that if wait-for-traders are truly passionate about any future co-features, it might be something to actually pick up in issues.

Blue Beetle: Black and Blue is not the most complex of comics, but fans of the series so far will likely enjoy the last part. Jaime's appearing next in Justice League: Generation Lost, I understand, and here's hoping the character finds another home after that. I, for one, would read direct to digital adventures of Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes, if such a thing were in the offing.

[Contains full covers for the single issues, including two fill-in issues by Will Pfeifer]

Coming up this week ... the Collected Editions review of Brightest Day Vol. 1. Don't miss it!


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