Okay, full disclosure moment, I got mad love for the original incarnation of Jaime Reyes. I was so damned cheesed when not only did BLUE BEETLE get canceled, but then the New 52 mandate came along. I'm still nursing a case of the bitters with DC's sweeping and very mercenary relaunch. I was very concerned about the treatment of Blue Beetle going forward. But I can't stay away from this comic book. BLUE BEETLE Vol. 1: METAMORPHOSIS collects the new series' first six issues. Tony Bedard writes the thing. Ig Guara draws the thing. But how does it fare compared to the awesome series it's opted to reinvent?
There's stuff that's familiar and stuff that's veered off what's familiar. Jaime Reyes pretty much remains true to character. He's a normal teenager but with a strong sense of responsibility toward his family and friends. We're reacquainted with Jaime's best friend Paco, who's still hanging with them bad elements, and Brenda del Vecchio, whose aunt happens to be El Paso's resident crime lord, La Dama. Except I don't remember the original La Dama dabbling in the dark arts.
How he ends up with the sentient and very homicidal alien scarab may be different, but Jaime does end up with it as it once more fuses itself to his spine. And once more Jaime is faced with a constant test of wills to see whether it's he or the ultra-aggressive scarab - whose name is "Khaji-Da" - who'll be giving the marching orders.
Will Jaime Reyes disobey his parents and attend Brenda's Quinceañera, which is being held at her Tia Amparo's suspiciously well-guarded compound? Can the Brotherhood of Evil recover the red backpack which contains the ancient and possibly cursed escarabajo azul? Or will the blue beetle artifact instead lodge itself in an unwitting Hispanic teen's spine? (I'm guessing yes to that last one.) Elsewhere, the Reach - a predatory alien race to which the A.I. scarab belongs - has pinpointed the location of the long-absent Khaji-Da and dispatches one of its soldiers. Tony Bedard doesn't waste time.
Speaking of, I remember Tony Bedard from his terrific stint at CrossGen Comics, and so I trust him as a storyteller, trust that whichever route he chooses to go with Jaime Reyes, no matter if he echoes the original Jaime's story arc or not, that it'll be a road worth exploring. I remember Ig Guara from bupkis, but I appreciate his clean linework and the expressiveness of his figures and that, unlike cover artist Tyler Kirkham, he renders the Beetle in appropriate body proportion. Jaime's Beetle isn't some overmuscled bodybuilder, Tyler Kirkham. He's just a kid and should be drawn that way. I guess it's super-gauche to mention that I miss the hell out of Cully Hamner's artwork.
I've hopes and certain expectations for this series, and, yeah, much of that go back to what I enjoyed in the previous series. I don't know when or if Jaime will reveal his identity to his family and friends, except that when he did that in the other series, his loved ones' awareness of his alter ego immediately layered in a new dynamic to the narrative. I absolutely loved that his little sister knew he was Blue Beetle. In this volume, it's possible that Bedard is seeking a new direction.
Thankfully, the backdrop is still El Paso, Texas. Gratifyingly, Bedard doesn't shy from embracing Jaime's ethnicity and from rooting him deep into his Hispanic culture. His heritage - and I guess that includes the Spanglish - is part and parcel of what makes Jaime Reyes such a fantastic and unique and real character.
Okay, I do have a few bones to pick. I don't subscribe to the notion of a supporting character gaining super powers, but that happens here. And, in issue six, Tony Bedard puts Blue Beetle in such a serious bind that the only way he could resolve his dilemma and outwit his adversary is by pretending that Khaji-Da is in full control. This leads to a pretty messed-up course of action on his part, considering who ends up paying for his deception. I guess what Jaime does makes sense in the context of the narrative and is even a pretty clever trick. Still, Bedard may get a protesting letter or two.
After reading this volume I guess I'm cautiously optimistic about this particular relaunch. Even under new management, Jaime Reyes remains very relatable. Bedard injects enough changes to make it seem fresh while retaining enough of the ingredients that made the previous series such a fun read. If nothing else, it's a better reiteration than the one we saw in the SMALLVILLE episode. So for now I'm on board with this new series, even if I'm still not sold on DC's New 52.