“Blue Beetle” begins anew with new series writer Christopher Sebela! Can he recapture the magic of the character, or will he fail like most others before him? Read on to find out, and look out for spoilers!
Written by Christopher Sebela
Illustrated by Scott Kolins
Colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr
Lettered by Josh Reed
NEW CREATIVE TEAM! Following recent events in El Paso, Jaime and his friends decide to take a spontaneous road trip through the desert. But the scarab still exerts its influence, and inevitably, it will to lead Jaime into danger, this time in the form of a U.F.O. Will Jaime be forced to reveal his identity as Blue Beetle to his new girlfriend?
Jaime Reyes has had an odd time in the DC Universe since his inception. His initial “Blue Beetle” series did great critically but not in terms of sales (and those first 25 issues are still one of my favorite comic runs). After the initial creative team left, the character’s adventures hopped around between different creative teams, eventually petering out as a back-up in another title. Blue Beetle then got a new series which had lukewarm critical reception, and a few years later this newest series started, with lukewarm-to-negative reception. Despite this spotty history, the character has enjoyed a number of major appearances in DC animated TV shows and films and has thus become one of the better-known DC heroes. So with new writer Christopher Sebela joining returning series artists Scott Kolins and Romulo Fajardo Jr, could they breathe new life into the character’s comics?
Sebela appears to be aware of the character’s status as a popular character with less-than-popular comics, so he starts out by re-establishing who everyone is and giving them a direction for this final series arc. Many pages are filled by showing how Jaime and his friends currently spend their time and the types of things they’re concerned with at the moment. Jaime has been training with Ted Kord, he’s trying to live a normal life with his girlfriend, and most importantly, he wants to enjoy the final days of his youth before the start of his senior year of high school. This all establishes the current state of affairs for those who weren’t reading the series before, and it gives everyone a direction moving forward. This truly feels like the final arc in an ongoing series, where this ending will end up being a new beginning for “Blue Beetle.”
However, while everyone’s roles in the book were made clear, there was a lot that was unclear about the interpersonal relationships and personalities. For instance, we know that Jaime has two close friends in Paco and Brenda. But what was up with the way they were interacting? At points it seemed like they had legitimate unspoken issues with each other, and at other points it seemed like maybe they were just riffing on each other as friends. As a reader who hasn’t checked in since the start of the series, I would have liked some sort of clarification. Likewise, have they and Jaime not been speaking for some reason? This seemed to be a plot point for a few pages, but then suddenly they’re all together leaving on a road trip.
Adding onto that, while “Blue Beetle”‘s overall series direction seems like it’s in a good place by the close of the issue, the issue frequently felt aimless on a page-by-page basis. Characters seemed to be doing things for no reason other than to take up space. When the characters get stuck in traffic, Jaime appears slightly angry on the first panel of the page and happy at the last panel of the page, with nothing to really show us how that change happened other than the fact that some time passed. In fact, a lot of time passes in the book for the sake of time passing, and a lot of plot beats seem skipped over. The pacing was all over the place.
Unfortunately, the art didn’t fare much better. There were good moments, but on the whole, this was not Kolins’s best. Everything retained his trademark angular style, and he did well with filling in environments so his characters felt natural inside them. For the most part, though, his linework had a scratchy quality that ended up looking more messy than stylish. For instance, Brenda’s freckles were too few, too big, and too randomly placed on her skin, giving her the appearance of having a major skin condition. Unless this was a plot point that Sebela forgot to remind the readers of, it’s majorly distracting. Was this sloppiness a result of Kolins penciling and inking this himself? Did he just need an inker? Is this his style now? (I hope not — Kolins is capable of much more than this.) Is he just burned out from having worked exclusively on “Blue Beetle” for over a year?Continued below
Kolins’s action scenes worked much better than his dramatic scenes, in large part because they retained the dynamism that I’ve come to associate with his art. In action, those scratchy lines give the scene a more in-the-moment, expressive quality, and his lively staging keeps things bursting forward from panel to panel. It’s too bad that these action scenes take up only a small fraction of the book.
Art-wise, colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr saved things for me. Where Kolins’ lines were messy and unclear, Fajardo’s solid color blocks kept things together. He uses an appealing palette with focus on blues and greens, naturally for “Blue Beetle,” with some friends joining in from the yellow side of the color wheel for contrast. His approach to coloring characters is more about expressively working with Kolins’s blocky style than it is about realism, meaning parts of characters are usually one solid color with a darker version of that color for shadows and a lighter version for highlights. This comes even more in handy when he starts coloring action scenes, where large white-blue blasts shine a glow on the atmosphere around them, giving them an otherworldly aura.
On the whole, “Blue Beetle” has an idea of how it wants to wrap up this era of the character’s stories, but uneven execution on both the writing and art fronts prevent it from reaching the highs it could. As it stands, a book like this, with such unbalanced pacing and sloppy art, won’t bring the character to the highs he deserves. Hopefully things can turn around in the next issue.
Final Verdict: 6.0 – A mediocre outing with a few too many small problems. One day this character will get the book he deserves. Unfortunately, this probably won’t be it.