Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

18 February 2011

Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip

Collects: Blue Beetle, v. 2 #7-12 (2006-7)

Released: June 2007 (DC)

Format: 192 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9781401213619

What is this?: With the aid of Peacemaker and an ever-expanding cast of helpers, Jaime tries to get to the root of what the scarab is.

The culprits: Writers John Rogers and Keith Giffen and artists Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, and Duncan Rouleau

So: Blue Beetle, v. 1: Shellshocked was a bit of a disappointment. What about Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip?

Well, it certainly corrects what I saw as the most glaring deficiency: relying on continuity without explaining it. In #7, Jaime explains what happened in the time he was missing, from blowing up the Brother Eye satellite (complete with adding Batman’s editorial comments into the story) to crash landing in the Texas desert. It’s a nice little story, with enough jokes and character moments that it won’t annoy people who have read it while still telling the story completely for those unfamiliar with the original.

Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip coverThe next couple of issues involve the backstories of Dan Garrett, the first Blue Beetle, and the current Peacemaker. The former manages to remain interesting, by dint of using the journey to explore the relationship between Jaime and his friend Brenda and between Peacemaker and the Blue Beetle armor. Reusing the mystical baddie with a religious delusion from Shellshocked was a poor choice in that the monster isn’t interesting; on the other hand, it’s the only one of Blue Beetle’s enemies that could be reintroduced to liven up a talking heads issue. Win some, lose some, I suppose. Peacemaker’s story is no great shakes — man of action falls into alien tech, which sounds very Silver Age — but again, the character interactions liven things up, especially when Jaime’s parents have to decide whether he can save lives on a school night.

The best issues in Road Trip are #10-11; Brenda is transported to a world of the New Gods by a mother box. While Brenda has to deal with an alien world with malicious, living teddy bears and a New Gods ripoff of Conan (named “Lonar” — real creative, King Kirby), Jaime has to deal with his secret identity rapidly going down the tubes and figuring out how to rescue his friend. And of course there is the inevitable mistaken identity hero fight; as such things go, this one is above average, with some nice quips by Jaime. It ends with Jaime appreciating the majesty of the big action story — er, I mean outer space — and returning with Brenda before getting answers about his armor from Metron.

The book ends with the scarab’s makers showing up. It isn’t very interesting, but writer John Rogers tries to liven it up with banter. It isn’t wholly convincing, but it could be worse.

For this volume, Rogers writes every issue, but unlike in Shellshocked, he writes some of them alone. Keith Giffen, who co-wrote every issue in Shellshocked, contributes to only three issues: #8-10. His absence or presence doesn’t seem to make a great deal of difference in the quality of the issues, though.

Two of the artists from Shellshocked also contribute to Road Trip. Cully Hamner, who co-created this Blue Beetle, drew issues #7-8, and just as in Shellshocked, he does an adequate job. I think new penciler Rafael Albuquerque outshines him, however; although their styles are quite compatible, Albuquerque’s work on #10-12 is more kinetic, and the design of the little alien teddy bears was cute and menacing while the alien-dissected cow was suitably disgusting. Albuquerque’s art tends toward gritted teeth at all times during fight scenes, and Brenda’s wounds seemed too light, but for the moment, those are small quibbles. Duncan Rouleau is back again, working on #9, and this issue he visually seems the odd one out. Although Albuquerque is more cartoony than Hamner, he’s still much more realistic than Rouleau, who has lips sliding away from people’s faces and pupils disappearing when convenient.

This is a huge step up from Shellshocked. In Road Trip, Jaime is more confident and in control, and although the armor still has a lot of new capabilities, the reader gets the sense it’s because the armor is a technological battle suit. Although I blame DC’s “throw the reader into the middle of things approach,” perhaps it’s another example that superhero movies have taught us: origin stories are boring — we like to see the hero doing things rather than fumbling about and retreading that shared origin story all superheroes seem to have.

It’s a good start for Blue Beetle, although unfortunately, my libraries don’t have any volumes after this. Did I enjoy the story enough to actually pay for the volume 3? I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll have to bug the library’s interlibrary loan department …

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (3.5 of 5)

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