Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Southwest Texas "Got A Magical Alien Bug Embedded In My Flesh" Blues: Blue Beetle #1

Blue Beetle #1
Written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers
Art by Cully Hamner

The last Blue Beetle was a fun guy. Essentially a comic nerd made good, Ted Kord was the dork of the DC Universe. His glory days as the buffoon of the Justice League were among my favorite in comics.

Image hosting by Photobucket

We all know what happened later: a fade from prominence, obsolescence, and finally the Old Yeller treatment.

What about the new guy? Same as the old guy, minus the unfortunate head trauma?

Image hosting by Photobucket

Well, he does look awful different.

The new series, written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers, art by Cully Hamner, is off to a good start. A preview of the first seven pages can be found here, in a Newsarama article.

Our hero is teenager Jaime Reyes of El Paso, Texas. He finds the long-lost scarab of the original Blue Beetle in a construction site while goofing with friends. The issue depicts his return from a jaunt in outer space, whereupon he is attacked by an enraged Green Lantern. Interwoven with the big super-fight is a series of flashbacks showing how Jaime became the Blue Beetle.

Giffen and Rogers work a tremendous amount into a short comic. We begin with a colorful superhero smash-up, then we meet our hero as a civilian and his friends, get a sense of the Reyes family, and run across all sorts of mysterious portents about the scarab. Aside from the Green Lantern, a peeved Guy Gardner, these characters are all new. To mash all of that into a single comic takes a lot of effort.

Rogers’s dialogue is witty and charming. He sketched the outlines of the characters and their relationships to one another in very little space, and they came across as believable people. Rogers has a fine blog where he discusses his regular career as a screenwriter. I'd say he employed that background to good effect in Blue Beetle.

The dialogue does betray a noticable sitcom rhythm in a few panels. Clever rejoinders felt a little fast and a little too clever in a few spots. It wasn't bad; it just felt like a sitcom. Also, there was a moment when a character’s background was hinted at through dialogue that rang strangely in my ear. Sad to say, it combined the subtlety of a falling anvil with an over-clever method of exposition and pulled me right out of the story for just a second.

Maybe it could have worked as written with a different panel layout. Hm.

The art, by Cully Hamner, is well done. He took a cartoonish approach, which is a plus. Rather than “comic book standard” appearance for everyone, the characters are distinct from one another in more than just hair color and clothing. They’re different shapes and sizes. Hamner also captures the flavor of El Paso, lending the book an unusual background.*

Worthy of note is the coloring. The color palette of the comic changes with the setting, like shifting keys in a song. Everday El Paso is almost entirely in shades of brown, creating a calm and muted feeling. The super-hero action scenes between the Beetle and a Green Lantern are in bold bright colors: black, green, blue. The story itself takes pains to contrast the everyday life of Jaime with the super-lunacy of the Blue Beetle. Reinforcing that through coloring was an excellent idea.

Issue number one did not end on a danger-packed cliffhanger. Instead, it left the reader with a handful of mysteries. The Green Lantern claimed the scarab gave off powerfully bad vibes. A mysterious woman made cryptic statements to Jaime and vanished. Weird writing appears in Jaime’s field of vision.

Thus, Blue Beetle’s appeal for issue #2 is twofold: the charm of regular kid Reyes and the riddle of the scarab. I’ll pick it up. I’m not certain that Beetle will be a classic for the ages, but it’s a well-made superhero book with promise. I’ll take it.

*The Lovely and Delightful Mrs. Jerkwater is from El Paso, and my in-laws still live there. As a result, I’ve been down there enough times to appreciate Hamner’s efforts to recreate its appearance. The Reyes house looks just like my in-laws’ house. Then again, about sixty percent of the houses in El Paso look like that.

Read More


Blogger AFKAP of Darkness said...

oh wait.... this is the same John Rogers who wrote CINO?

well, i won't hold it against him since Giffen's vouching for him and Blue Beetle looks pretty promising so far.

4/19/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger I. N. J. Culbard said...

I enjoyed the new look beetle. Which surprised me because my hopes weren't that high to start off with. I mean, it is 'the blue beetle'.

Had a sense of "Invincible" about it too, perhaps because of the age of the character and the target audience, but it gave off that vibe. The art is really nice too.

I got to about page 8 on this one and thought 'I'll definitely pick up the next one' so something must have clicked right from the off.

4/20/2006 02:49:00 AM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

I love this costume, except for the condom ribbing, and the scarab pincers. + reading everything in a latino GTA san andreas accent is fun.

4/20/2006 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Bastarður Víkinga said...

"oh wait.... this is the same John Rogers who wrote CINO?"

He wrote the original treatment, like, thousand rewrites ago.

Back when it was a Ashley Judd movie.

4/20/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I think Blue Beetle's glory days were as a no-nonsense rugged adventurer type that hated hippies, just like his creator Steve Ditko. Scroll down that page I linked to and read about the "Destroyer of Heroes" story, where Beetle's main enemy are dirtbag, good-for-nothing hippies, who are portrayed as unsympathetically and evil as possible. THAT is a great comic. The goofball interpretation, to me, was okay, but kind of forced. To hear Giffen talk about it, he just wanted a goofball on the team and used anyone who was available, so he was given Blue Beetle, who he proceed to throw the personality on. But that guy would have never beaten up hippies, he would have probably smoked pot with them and ate Doritos.

We need a hero that hates hippies again. After the Question, Hawk and Blue Beetle (all created by Ditko), we never got a good hippie-hater again. That'd be an awesome concept, a guy who spends just as much time beating up know-it-all college protestors as he does mob thugs. (Ditko, once he got full plotting control of Spider-Man, even had a scene where Peter Parker almost beats up some college hippies and as a result wins the respect of Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson! Great stuff)

Good old Dikto.

4/20/2006 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous stephen cade said...

Ted was one of my favorites.
I don't think I could take a new Beetle.

His 24 issue run, while often imitative, was still fun.
I enjoyed the BWAH HA HA JLA--and Ted was the best of the bunch.
One of my favorite comics is Charlton's Blue Beetle #3.

4/21/2006 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

T., I always thought it was cool to see the difference between the Great Godfathers of Marvel. Ditko created hippie-stompers. Kirby created hippie heroes, like the Forever People.

I imagine those two fellows didn't see eye-to-eye.

A great portrayal of hippies in comics was in the Joe Simon "Brother Power the Geek" series. Ye gods, was that weird.

4/21/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4/23/2006 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Harvey, Mark Evanier was talking about that once. He was saying how Stan Lee received most of the tension arising from the differing political ideologies because he's the one who had to work with Kirby and Ditko the most (the two artists rarely had to work with each other). Kirby felt Stan wasn't liberal enough, Ditko felt Stan wasn't conservative enough, and both would get on his case. Stan just wanted to sell books.

4/23/2006 10:42:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home