Blue Beetle #1
Written by Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins
Art by Scott Kolins and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1 was met with middling to positive reviews from critics and fans alike, but the debut of the series proper squashes any potential that was there. Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins are doing their best to balance this tale of two Beetles, but with this first issue, the youthful exuberance of the Rebirth special is lost. Kolins’ artwork takes a step back as well, trading style and strong storytelling for a collection of mid-shots that obscure details and play against many of his strengths.
The reason that the Rebirth special worked so well was that it set up the premise of the title effectively and got on with the superheroing. In getting to the action, we got to see the differences between Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes and explore a little bit of their dynamic.
Blue Beetle #1 plays out similarly to the special, but almost in slow motion. It opens with a recounting of a dream sequence featuring Doctor Fate but the problem is that we can’t tell who’s talking until we finally get out four pages later. Giffen and Kolins let us know that Jaime is a very reluctant hero in the Rebirth special, but they really double down on the idea here.
As the book progresses, it gets harder and harder to believe that these two would actually work together — their rapport is exhausting. It’s easy to understand why Jaime is so frustrated with Kord, as the elder Beetle repeatedly forces Jaime into situations without giving him any information about what’s going on. As a result, Jaime, and by proxy, the reader, are left shrugging their shoulders at the action on the page because there’s no context for the significance of what’s happening.
The connection to Doctor Fate might be the most compelling part of the narrative at this point and Kord dismisses it by saying, “We might want to talk about that.” Furthermore, the big action sequence is against a villain with relatively undefined powers and Jaime just kind of defeats him... somehow? No explanation is given. Jaime doesn’t even have a narration box explaining his internal thinking. It’s like a whole page is missing.
In the Rebirth special, Kolins was able to call back to the great teen heroes that have come before and use some of that visual language to inform his work. He also employed some non-traditional layouts that made the book standout a bit. But there’s very little of that here.
Rather than focus on what made the first issue’s art so enjoyable, Kolins opts for mid-shots that don’t allow him to take advantage of his strong expression work. Fighting a villain that lurks through the shadows is a great idea because it allows for really strong inks, but Kolins isn’t able to take advantage of that. There is no exciting visual signifier to the villain’s powers, so we’re left with a lot of panels of Jaime getting hit with the same right hook. I do like the work that Kolins displays during the Doctor Fate sequence, but Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors are a little too one-note to really make those pages stand out. There’s not enough contrast in the colors and so the panels tends to blend together. More black on those pages or a different blue for the beetle monster would have gone a long way to making those pages stronger.
Blue Beetle looked like it might be the kind of book that helped DC revitalize its lineup of teen heroes and give us a look in on the magical side of the DCU. Unfortunately, the creators at work here walk back on everything they did right in the debut issue. They end up stalling out on the same basic plot as the debut and in doing so, fail to move the narrative forward or enhance it by explaining some back story. Somehow they managed to tread water and we’re technically still at the beginning of an arc. Moving forward, Giffen and Kolins are going to have to try to recapture the energy of the Rebirth special if they really hope to get this bug off the ground.