Review: Blue Beetle — Shellshocked

Blue Beetle: Shellshocked by Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cully Hamner

Have I mentioned the amazing Jess Plummer? I really should. Plummer is this fantastic blogger who blogs thoughtfully and critically about comics—her blogs include Active Voice, Dimestore Dames, and Jess’s (Somewhat) Grow-Up Type Blog. I’ve been following her since high school, and she’s definitely been an influence on how I interact with comics as a female fan. Plummer’s favorite male superhero is Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle, but her affection for the blue scarab also runs to Jaime Reyes, the current Blue Beetle. And when she profiled two women from Jaime’s supporting cast on Dimestore Dames, I decided it was time to acquaint myself.

Blue Beetle: Shellshocked collects the first six issues of Blue Beetle. It opens with Jaime, unable to control the powers the mystical scarab has given him, fighting against Guy Gardner, the kind of Green Lantern you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. It then flashes between Jaime’s life immediately prior and during his discovery of the scarab and his life after his return from a mysterious missing year, as he negiotiates his place in the metahuman pecking order, attempts to discover the true origins of the scarab, and, of course, manage to actually do some superheroing between studying for his finals.

Blue Beetle, the legacy character, is a tier below the superheroes I usually read—you know, Batman’s friends and family, Wonder Woman, the big guns, the kind of heroes and villains that actually make it to the big screen. (Okay, well, Harley’s never made it to the big screen, but it’s going to be another ten years for another shot at that to roll around.) So I don’t know much about the mythology. And the nice thing about this series is, even though it’s an obscure legacy character to the average Jane, is that it’s accessible (which is a problem for most comics in general!). By starting in media res and letting us know that Jaime has no idea how to control this thing, the reader is given time to catch up and, more importantly, learn with Jaime, allowing us to relate to and identify with him. Origin stories, I feel, are hugely important, and while Jaime’s isn’t exactly spectacular, it’s good to have it.

Jaime himself is a nice kid. He’s good-hearted and, as his friend Paco says, he’s the guy that makes everything better—not funner, better. But he’s also realistic, having managed to dodge gang involvement in El Paso for years. (Things get complicated when he encounters a metahuman gang that’s banded together for protection.) His friends, Brenda and Paco, are also realistic—Paco is an easy-going jock who is quite smart when he applies himself (he’s taught himself how to curse remarkably articulately in foreign languages to better intimidate his video game competition) and Brenda is a very ambitious and tightly wound student dealing with a twisted home life (although it’s introduced a bit clunkily). I particularly like that she’s not a love interest for Jaime; when her aunt asks, Brenda is quick to point out that the qualities she likes in Jaime are friend qualities. His family is well-rounded—his annoying little sister Milagro, his tough and efficient mother, and his kind father—but they’re not particularly dwelt on here so we can focus on the story.

But the plot here is… well, it feels dated. There are great character moments throughout—I cheered when Barbara Gordon, as Oracle, turned up for a moment, trying to recruit Jaime, and loved the initially threatening but kindly redneck who finds Jaime naked in the desert—but the overall story just feels thin. I do know in the next volume (which looks better) we have Jaime playing with the big boys, but I regretted that his own story isn’t interesting enough without bringing in the big guns. The main plot after the origin story is about La Dama, a shadowy figure collecting metahumans, but it’s resolved quickly and feels like an introduction to her more than anything else. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I liked the characters, but not the story, which is common enough in comic books!

The art here is pretty straightforward and colorful—extremely fitting for a title aimed at young adults. Coming to this after Batwoman: Elegy ensured that it would be a disappointment, but it’s efficient and makes good use of Texas as a backdrop. Otherwise, I really didn’t notice it. I glanced through the next volume at the library at the end of February, and it did look pretty good, so I think I’ll be continuing.

Bottom line: Blue Beetle: Shellshocked collects the origin story and further adventures of Jaime Reyes, teenage superhero. The cast of characters is well-rounded and a lot of fun, but the story feels a little thin. If you’d like.

I rented this book from the public library.

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