Some of these Rebirth titles earn that name more clearly than others. In the case of Blue Beetle: Rebirth, it’s rather literal. What’s old is new again, it seems, as DC brings in Keith Giffen, co-writer of Justice League International and the original Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series, to right the ship and bring both Blue Beetles back to basics.
Anyone who tells you that Blue Beetle vol 8 wasn’t one of DC’s best series of the last ten years is lying to you or sorely misinformed, but, if it had one major shortcoming, it’s probably that it was built on “Infinite Crisis” and the death of Ted Kord. The murder of the previous Blue Beetle was a huge moment for DC Comics that, to many, symbolized the start of a period that would be known both for its immense creativity and its unhealthy mixture of adolescent shock value and nostalgia that eventually culminated in the New 52. Blue Beetle was all the best of that era, but the loss of laughing Ted Kord would be a sore point for years to come. In trying to put that mindset behind them, DC has done well to combine both flavors of Blue Beetle.
Blue Beetle: Rebirth takes both characters back to basics, immediately and pointedly reintroducing numerous staples of Jaime’s life as well as The Bug. Jaime’s parents, Brenda, Paco, and Milagro all parade through this issue as if to assure you that they’re well. I’d call it ungainly, but I’m just so happy to see them again, and I expect that’s what Giffen and co-writer Scott Kolins were thinking when they made the choice to include them all in his first issue. Brenda and Paco get a lot of specificity, thanks to a cute but undeniably overlong gag, and it seems that they’re still fundamentally true to the characters that won hearts a decade ago. Despite doing a nice job of introducing us to Jaime’s supporting cast, most of this issue is really centered around Jaime’s work relationships.
Things are always rocky in a new partnership, doubly so when your partner is Ted Kord, and Giffen uses this issue to establish not what works about this duo but what is dysfunctional and can improve. It’s a new look for Mr. Kord, one that’s got a little more bite and a little less success in hiding his problems behind humor, but one that makes sense for the character, especially as envisioned here.
The main problem with this is that the issue is trying to do too much. Even as Jaime struggles to find his superhero stride under the untested guidance of Ted Kord he’s also stressing about school and trying desperately to control the ancient scarab grafted to his spine and blunt its bloodlust. It’s no surprise that Blue Beetle: Rebirth isn’t mentioning its 2011 reboot by name, but it does technically have to hold to its continuity and that means that Jaime and his scarab aren’t on the best terms. Throwing a rehash of that relationship into this issue, even limitedly, complicates things and adding Brenda, Paco, and his parents into the mix pulls him in even more directions. There is an emotional throughline to this issue, but it’s crisscrossed by several others and cut short by its need not to step on issue #1’s toes.
Thankfully, Giffen and Kolins don’t try to overlord the issue with villains, opting to define a couple of newcomers and introduce a classic Blue Beetle threat. The perfectly particular pair of Rack and Ruin is definitely this issue’s strongest element, showcasing the classic JLI wit in such a way as to suit DC’s El Paso. Their mix of hyperactivity and pomposity gives a breath of fresh air to the twin henchmen archetype.
Giffen walks the line between comedic villains and frighteningly competent lackeys beautifully, giving this oddball pair enough energy and attention to hold their own as Jaime and Ted banter back and forth. Strange as it may seem, their madcap pretensions serve as a stabilizing force on the issue, using the laws of comedy to provide a guide rail for readers awash in the intensity of the story.
Of course this issue also ties into that vignette from DC Universe Rebirth, introducing Dr. Fate and hints of mysteries yet to come. To be honest, I’m still put off by the idea of retconning Jaime into a magical hero, especially since the big twist of the series this title is reimagining was that the magical scarab was actually an alien artifact. It seems like something that was decided above Giffen and Kolins’ pay grades but it still feels like a somewhat lazy attempt to recapture the magic – no pun intended – of the original. Then again, for those trying something new or checking out Jaime after seeing him on Batman: The Brave and the Bold or Young Justice, the twist is probably quite a shock and, either way, there is a draw to it. Especially with solicitations hinting that Doctor Fate may not be all there, it quickly adds a little extra intrigue to the tale. Consider me highly skeptical but still curious.
The art is delightfully true to itself. Kolins’ work is neither the flashiest nor the most technically proficient, but he knows what he wants to show you and he knows how to show it to you. Though there’s plenty else going on, I’m especially fond of how Kolins depicts everyday life. There’s some great use of exaggeration in Paco, Brenda, and even Amparo and Kolins mixes soft and coarse textures to great effect.
I also really loved the Ben Day dot backgrounds and slick layouts that go with them. There’s a definite attention paid to visual communication and emotion over consistency. Occasionally the lines get a little heavy, but it’s clear what Kolins wants to convey and that he knows what he’s doing.
The look of the Blue Beetle is definitely interesting. Objectively not all that much has changed, but the overall effect is rather different. Losing some highlighting hurts and the changes that have been made seem to aim to remove some of the, in my opinion attractive, fiddliness of the costume. It’s notably less foreign looking than the original, preferring geometric simplicity. Between the slit pupils and strong chin, this design seems to present Jaime with a Spider-Man-esque youth and fierceness. I’m not sure it matches the story being told.
One thing I do love about the new take is the flatness of it, especially through color. There’s something about it that almost looks like painted wood and that’s a cool aesthetic that we haven’t seen that much of. There’s also a similarly texture feeling about Rack and Ruin. I hope we’ll see more of this in Kolins and Romulo Fajardo’s artwork, because it’s a strength that’s rarely used to such great effect in Big 2 offerings.
Jaime and Ted, introduces a new pair of villains, and recreates a scene from DC Universe Rebirth. That’s a lot for any book and Keith Giffen, wisely, doesn’t abandon his trademark banter, leaving little margin for error. The fact that this issue is as fun as it is is a testament to the creators and characters involved, but many of the ideas that get the most attention aren’t the most interesting ones. It also hurts that much of the issue feels recycled from the original Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series, also co-written by Giffen and generally a stronger effort.
The art takes some time to get used to and isn’t the most attractive at first glance, but Scott Kolins earns his title as artist AND co-scripter with thoughtful and inventive art that tells the story well. For Giffen’s part, he manages to keep the ship on course, even through the minefield of story requirements, by providing some solid humor and engaging villains.
There’s a lot to be excited about in the latest Blue Beetle series and Blue Beetle: Rebirth is happy to show you just how much. But, as an individual issue, things feel a little cramped and familiar. Those on a tight budget and a desire to support Jaime or Ted might be better served waiting for issue #1.