Graeme Takes On The New 52. All At Once.

You know, before DC Comics so politely sent me the entire run of the New 52 launch issues, I don't think that I'd ever read an entire month's worth of a superhero universe before. I have to say, it's kind of exhausting. But that doesn't mean that I'm not going to try and run down very quick capsule reviews of all 52 right here, right now, as Fatboy Slim once said many many years ago oh God I am so old. ACTION COMICS #1: In retrospect, maybe my favorite of all 52 books, this one feels like it actually understands how to reboot a concept without overwhelming the reader with information or assuming that they already know everything; Grant Morrison's script has some of his shorthand dialogue, but it's dense and filled with "action" throughout, and this feels like a satisfying chunk of comics that also lays the groundwork for future stories. Very Good.

ALL STAR WESTERN #1: It's heresy amongst the comicsinternet to admit that I'm not a massive fan of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's Jonah Hex, but it's never really done a lot for me. That said, this felt solidly Good, setting up the new status quo for the character - and offering enough introduction to the character for new readers - with some really nice art by Moritat. I'm amused by yet another "Gotham is built upon conspiracy and evil" storyline so soon after last month's finale of Batman: Gates of Gotham, though.

ANIMAL MAN #1: Oh, this was so almost good. Jeff Lemire's writing is... good, I think, although I feel like he stumbles on the more domestic side of things here, and I like the subtle repositioning of this series as a horror book. But the art is just not serving the writing well at all; Travel Foreman can be an interesting stylist, but he ruins scenes here, most importantly - and, I think, damningly - the final page, which is robbed of its full impact by some weird staging that basically wastes the top half of the page. Also not helping, the inks by Dan Green (which veer between too heavy and almost weightlessly light) and some very dull, flat colors by Lovern Kindzierski. Eh, then, because of the art.

AQUAMAN #1: Yes, Geoff, I get it: Aquaman isn't a comedy punchline anymore. I would've preferred it if we'd had a chance to decide that for ourselves instead of suffering through the "blogger interview" midway through the book, but overall, this is a pretty Good first issue, setting out its pitch, introducing its characters and having a decent enough hook for the next few issues. That said, if you were reading Brightest Day, you pretty much know what's in here already; this is very much a continuation of what was happening with the character in that book.

BATGIRL #1: I don't know if this was flop sweat or something else, but this just didn't work as well as I'd been expecting it to. Maybe because it's so joyless, something that writer Gail Simone didn't seem to have a problem expressing with the character in Birds of Prey, but there really is something very... rushed and filled and self-important about this issue that made it feel like you were being hurriedly brought up to speed by someone who wanted you to know how serious everything was. World's dumbest cliffhanger, too. Eh.

BATMAN #1: Greg Capullo's art is surprisingly nice - Yes, a little too MacFarlane for my tastes, still, but what can you do? - and Scott Snyder's story is... I don't know. Nice, but somewhat slight, perhaps? I'll be coming back for a second issue, but I think that's more down to goodwill for the creative team than anything having particularly wowed me with this debut. Okay, I guess.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #1: Now this was much more my speed, perhaps because I enjoyed this version of Batman more - One who seems to be dealing with his trauma after X number of years processing survivor guilt as Batman, instead of just burying it - than the one in Batman or Detective (And, really, I can't believe that a linewide reboot didn't result in a slightly more consistent portrayal of Batman. He feels like a different character everytime he appears, like Superman. That doesn't seem like a good thing to me), or perhaps because there was more of an urgency on display here than in Snyder's title. Either way, Good, and a much better "first issue" than the last time Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason took over the book.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #1: Talking of wildly varying characterizations, this book... uh... exists. I don't know what to say about it. If you want a generic Image-style take on Batman, complete with pouty mouths from David Finch and overdone dialogue by Paul Jenkins, this is for you, I guess. I was completely underwhelmed, and laughed out loud as the kids say at the reveal of "One-Face" at the end of the book, especially because he still has half of his face scarred. Awful, but I'm sure it'll have its audience. Oh, and Jaina Hudson is the new Jezebel Jet.

BATWING #1: The first of the "This was much better than I expected" books of the 52, I found myself drawn into this more than I'd thought I would. Maybe it was Judd Winick's take on the character and his secret identity (A cop working outside of the system, because the system is so corrupt), or perhaps it was Ben Oliver's lovely, weirdly hazily dream-like artwork, but this convinced me to try the second issue, which I really wouldn't have thought would've been the case. A low Good, perhaps, but I have to say: This feels much more like a mini-series than an ongoing, already.

BATWOMAN #1: This, however, was a letdown. Not because it wasn't Good, because it was. But I'd been expecting more, spoiled by Greg Rucka's run on Detective. The writing here - by artist JH Williams and co-writer Hayden Blackman - was fine, and hit all the right notes, but didn't surprise me or have the emotional depth that Rucka's had, and the art, while beautiful, also lacked the impact or purpose of the original run. Even though I'll be back for future issues, and even though I enjoyed this, I found myself disappointed nonetheless. That's what I get for having high expectations.

BIRDS OF PREY #1: I'm not sure why, but this felt like it had too much space in it, if that makes any sense. What's here is fine, it's a perfectly Okay comic book, but it feels too empty for some reason, like something is missing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something isn't quite right, like it's only half of the intended story or something.

BLACKHAWKS #1: I love Mike Costa's Cobra series for IDW, which is why it depressed me so much to realize how much I didn't like this first issue (The art by Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley didn't help; it's overly busy and not quirky enough to make me want to keep paying attention). You can't fault him for throwing the reader in as everything's already happening, but I didn't find any character particularly interesting, mysterious or even distinctive enough to care about, and as a result, the whole thing left me cold. Awful, sadly.

BLUE BEETLE #1: On the podcast, I said this was like the Blue Beetle we had before, but less so. Tony Bedard and Ig Guara make all the right moves, but it lacks the heart or originality to make me want to come back for issue 2. Eh.

CAPTAIN ATOM #1: Hey, everyone who's always wished that there was a Doctor Manhattan solo title spinning out from Watchmen, now you have your dream book. Sadly, it's written by JT Krul - who ruins the goodwill he'd built up from an Okay first issue by ending with a stupid "Is Captain Atom about to die?" cliffhanger (It's his first issue, so I think that question answers itself) - but, on the plus side, the art by Freddie Williams II is very nice indeed. If it gets smarter in future issues, it could end up being worth checking back in with in future, I suspect.

CATWOMAN #1: Oh, man, haven't I said enough about this already? Cheesecakey pandering with a depressingly unsexy tone and annoyingly passive lead character. Awful.

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS: DEADMAN #1: I swear to God, this is like a black hole in my brain. I have read this book multiple times, and it really refuses to stay in there. Pretty much the definition of Eh for me, although I'll say that Bernard Chang never really gets the credit for his work that he deserves. I'd love to see him paired with less garish colorists sometime.

DEATHSTROKE #1: Fun last-minute twist aside, there's little in this book that appeals: I don't care about the character or the machismo on display, and Joe Bennett has always been hit-or-miss (with an emphasis on the latter) for me. Eh.

DEMON KNIGHTS #1: Punny title aside, Paul Cornell pretty much won me over with the sense of humor on display in this one, much like Jon Rogers did the same in IDW's Dungeons and Dragons book (which this is oddly reminiscent of, it has to be said). Weirdly parochial, but all the better for it. Very Good.

DETECTIVE COMICS #1: Tony "Salvador" Daniel - Has he ever used his middle name before? - aims high and doesn't quite make it, but oh man, can you see him try. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, but there's nothing particularly right, either; it all feels familiar, and more workmanlike than previous attempts. Having Daniel be writer/artist on a Batbook when you also have David Finch doing the same elsewhere in the same franchise feels a bit weird to me, for some reason; I feel like Daniel comes off worse, even though he's better at deadlines and arguably better as a writer, too. Eh, and that's only because I wasn't as appalled by the final page as many were.

THE FLASH #1: After the disappointment of the last Flash run, color me shocked to have enjoyed this as much as I did. Francis Manapul's art is just great - that opening double page splash! The page of Barry in his apartment! - and it turns out that his writing (along with Brian Buccellato) is much faster-paced and more fun than Geoff Johns' on this book. I like the new Barry Allen, and love his relationship to Iris in this new continuity. More of this, please. Very Good.

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1: Another frustratingly "almost" effort from Jeff Lemire - I know where he's going! I just wish he'd made it there! - with equally frustrating art from Alberto Ponticelli, which is just a little too scratchy for its own good (and, like Travel Foreman in Animal Man, a little off in the framing when it really counts). There's a lot to like here, so I'm tempted to put this down to first issue nerves and hope that this book ends up sorting itself out down the line. That said, this is Okay, and I think that the just-finished Xombi played in the same sandbox in a much more entertaining and original way...

THE FURY OF FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MEN #1: Of the two Gail Simone books this month, this is the more enjoyable, but it has almost as much crammed into it as Batgirl, leading to a weirdly claustrophobic feeling. That said, I like the new spin on the concept (and the title), and wonder where, exactly, we're going from the end of this issue. Is this going to be DC's second attempt at doing a Hulk book? Yildiray Cinar's art is weirdly reminiscent of Francis Manipul's as far as the inks go, but I'm not sure if it fits here just yet... All in all, an Okay start, but with the potential for either greatness or creative dead-ending within the year.

GREEN ARROW #1: It's as if JT Krul, Dan Jurgens and George Perez set out to create the most generic, boring superhero book imaginable... and succeeded. Crap.

GREEN LANTERN #1: Considering how self-important (and self-conscious) this title had become before the relaunch, it's surprising that Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke manage to essentially play this first issue for laughs and get away with it. Good, although I found myself wishing that the last page had been held back for a few months, if only because I really enjoyed seeing dick Hal Jordan so much.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1: I was always going to be a sucker for this book; John Stewart and Guy Gardner are my favorite Green Lanterns, Peter Tomasi's previous run on the title was something I really enjoyed, and there's no Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner to harsh my buzz. Sure enough, I really dug this; uberviolent opening aside, I appreciated the "this is where our leads are" intros before the mystery was revealed, and the final page felt weighty and dramatic enough to bring me back next issue. Sure, Fernando Pasarin's art feels like a little bit of a letdown after that Doug Mahnke cover, but it's still pretty great in a "Bryan Hitch but more approachable" way. Very Good, for me.

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #1: And then there's this. This is just a bit of mess, whether it's the loss of the "some time ago" caption at the opener explaining that the book opens with a flashback, or the failure to really explain who all the different Lantern characters are, it seems sloppy and at odds with the other Lantern books, and Tyler Kirkham's art doesn't necessarily help, either. Awful.

GRIFTER #1: Finally answering that eternal fanboy question "What do you get if you cross Sawyer from Lost with ROM, Space Knight," this is Okay for those of you who enjoy this kind of thing; Nathan Edmonson's script is a bit light on explaining things, but I suspect that's intentional, and CAFU's art seems too polite for the story being told for my tastes. I don't know; there's nothing wrong with it, but there's also nothing that feels especially compelling about it, either, if that makes sense. I think Fringe probably does this kind of thing better, really.

HAWK & DOVE #1: I wanted to like this book so much, and then Rob Liefeld couldn't stop himself reminding me that he's a terrible, terrible artist. Everything happens at crazy angles! People's mouths change size without explanation! Everyone looks permanently in pain because of all the scratches on their bodies! It's a shame, because you get the feeling that Sterling Gates is really trying to work with Liefeld's energy, but he's overwhelmed by it on this issue. Truly, unhappily Awful.

I, VAMPIRE #1: On the plus side, Andrea Sorrentino could pass as fake Jae Lee if the position ever opens up. On the minus side, this is worryingly murky in terms of story (and storytelling; it's not just Joshua Hale Fialkov's script here, the art really does it no favors), and reads like someone's idea of doomed romance a la Twilight, but even more melodramatic. I'm sure there is a massive audience for this, but I found it pretty Eh at best.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #1: Hey, remember when everyone was talking about this book? Well, not much has changed since then. I like it, for what it is; I like dick Hal Jordan, I think there's a reasonably strong mystery introduced and I don't care that the entire team isn't in there despite the cover. But I'd be lying if I said I thought it was more than just Good; there were other books that the relaunch could have led with that seem better suited for all-new readers and a heavy media blitz.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1: It's not quite Shade Peter Milligan - or, for that matter, Secret Seven Milligan - but there's the potential for getting there with this opener (I really liked the perversity of the Kathy reveal), and Mikel Janin's art is lovely. Slightly underwhelming, I've got a lot of faith that this Good first issue will turn out to be a very good series.

JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #1: Potentially Green Arrow's main competitor in the "most generic superhero comic" race - And Dan Jurgens is involved with this one, as well! Clearly, this is karma for killing Superman twenty years ago - this just feels like a subpar fill-in to a comic from some point in the 1980s, complete with inexplicable Margaret Thatcher cameo appearance. Considering the potential for a JLI series spinning out of the surprisingly strong Generation Lost mini, this is a tiny bit heartbreaking. Awful.

LEGION LOST #1: The good: Pete Woods' art is just amazing here, really, really great stuff. The bad: Unless you're a Legion fan already, this is likely entirely impenetrable stuff. I love the Legion, and this almost made no sense to me whatsoever. It doesn't help that important things happen off-panel (So, Timber Wolf just picked up the bad guy and no-one tried to stop him?), the characters have no real introduction and just way too much happens to let the reader have any time to make sense of it on first, second or even third reading, because there's not enough space in the book for everything. What it ends up as, then, is a good-looking mess. That's what we call Awful round these here parts.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1: I've really, really tried to convince myself that New Levitz Legion is just like Old Levitz Legion, but I think this is the issue when I realized I couldn't keep it up. I'm unsure whether it's Levitz or his circumstance, but everything feels so jumpy and fractured that there's no chance - or, it seems, space - to build up the long running soap operatics that I loved the first time around, with everything ending up sacrificed for whatever big storyline that I find myself uninterested in. Eh as much as I wish it were otherwise.

MEN OF WAR #1: Someone, somewhere, found this to be more than some generic "Are you really a man?" cliches wrapped around a superhero mystery, but it wasn't me. Awful, and the back-up strip was even worse.

MISTER TERRIFIC #1: Another book that I really, really wanted to like - Although that's almost entirely down to the original release info containing the hilariously melodramatic line about him fighting "science gone bad!" - and the actual book... kind of lived up to my expectations, perhaps? There's a lot to like here (The new origin, with a time travel mystery replacing the Spectre's telling him "Hey, that white guy? You should rip him off," for example), but it doesn't come together properly, and ends with a cliffhanger that just makes no sense in a first issue ("Is this character acting weird? How would you know! You've just met him. Tune in next month to find out if he is or not!"). But... Again, maybe it's goodwill, but even though this was just Okay, I'm holding out hope for better soon.

NIGHTWING #1: I came to really like Dick Grayson when he was Batman, so why do I find almost everything in his new title feeling like it's a step backwards? Whether it's Dick visiting the circus again, or telling us how good it is to feel like himself, all of it feels more forced and less genuine than it should. Eh, and most of my fondness for the character disappears entirely as he disappears behind a pile of dialogue and sentiment we've heard before.

OMAC #1: If it wasn't for Superboy, this might have been the best surprise of all 52 books. Somehow, Keith Giffen and Dan Didio manage to channel Kirby's sense of fun, if not his sense of originality - This is a reboot of an existing concept, after all - by smooshing together Office Space, the Hulk and the original OMAC to come up with something that feels like it owes as much to Giffen's own Ambush Bug as it does Kirby, and it... weirdly... works. It's very much not for everyone, but I think that's true of the original OMAC as well. It's an odd feeling to think that Dan Didio came up with one of the most individual and arguably the most fun of all of the New 52 books, but there you go. Very Good, and long may it stick around.

RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #1: I think we can also file under "Things I've said too much about," but short version: Not for me even before we hit the "Starfire is an amnesiac bimbo nymphomanic" thing. Crap.

RED LANTERNS #1: If Ed Benes wasn't drawing this book, I have the strangest feeling I would have actually liked it, because Peter Milligan's script - or, more properly, his narration - is weirdly compelling here, and feels oddly subversive to all the Geoff Johnserisms in the scenes surrounding it. If he ends up carrying that further in future issues, I could see this becoming a sleeper hit for the the cool kids who are perfectly okay with women who can twist their bodies to simultaneously show off their butts and their breasts at the same time. Eh, with chances for better later.

RESURRECTION MAN #1: Clearly, it's books dealing with life after death that I have a problem with. Like the Deadman book, this one also barely registers after multiple re-reads. Eh, then.

THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN #1: For everyone who ever thought "What would make Hawkman awesome would be if his armor and wings came out through his pores like Warren Ellis' Iron Man!" then this is apparently the book for you. For the rest of us, this is a book where Hawkman tries to burn his costume for some unknown reason, then gets attacked by it, and then it turns out it's living inside him or something. It really is as bad as it sounds, although Philip Tan's watercolor art is rather nice in places. Awful, though.

STATIC SHOCK #1: It's modern Spider-Man, with the rest of the Milestone universe seemingly playing the supporting cast. It's surprising just how ready I was for that book, without ever realizing it. Good, although I'm already worried about it, now that we know that John Rozum is off the book by #4.

STORMWATCH #1: Like Batgirl, it's possible that this book fails because the writer was far too aware of what they had to do; there's too much empty exposition in this issue, and it's an issue that needed useful exposition. Paul Cornell doesn't quite catch the tone of Warren Ellis' characters, and the disconnect is obvious in a way that isn't obvious; no-one sounds quite right, and everything feels off-kilter as a result. It's a book that simultaneously feels dense and sparse, and Miguel Sepulveda's art, static and heavy, doesn't help with that feeling. A low Eh, and it should be much better.

SUICIDE SQUAD #1: Forget skinny Amanda Waller; this book has way bigger problems. You know, things like an awkward structure (Not helped by multiple artists working on the same issue), a ridiculous set-up and thoroughly flat characterization throughout. Disappointingly Awful.

SUPERBOY #1: I was genuinely surprised by how much this book feels like science-fiction instead of a superhero book, at least in this first issue, and how there's an interesting lack of moral certainty at show just yet (I'm sure that'll change in time). With RB Silva's clean art and Scott Lobdell's strongest script for the relaunch by far, this is Good stuff.

SUPERGIRL #1: This is also surprisingly Good. A complete reboot for the character, and a chance to start from a personality closer to Sterling Gates' work with the character - Probably the character's most recent high point - instead of the wishy-washiness of the origins of the previous version, this issue isn't showy in the slightest, but gets the job done nonetheless.

SUPERMAN #1: Oh, oh, oh. Oh, Superman. I guess, if nothing else, this issue does provide an alternative to Action Comics, mainly in that Action was really good, and this isn't. Where to start? The confusing opening (Is the new Daily Planet built? It would appear so on page 2, but I'm still not sure if that was meant to be a glimpse into the future or not. If it had been rebuilt, would the previous site still have the remains of the old one?), the hilarious scenes of Lois et al discussing journalism ("Print is dying!"), Clark being bitter and mean to Lois, the genuinely horrible examples of Clark's journalism... There is so much wrong with this issue, but primarily I think the underlying structure is the biggest problem: Too much is, again, forced into too small a space, and this time, it's combined with a super brawl that is neither exciting or even interesting, leaving the impression that Superman's life is dull, full of sniping arguments and a ham-fisted idea of how journalism works. It's a mess, and one not saved by Jesus Merino's sterling attempts on art. Awful, and maybe the biggest disappontment of the bunch.

SWAMP THING #1: Talking of wordy, this is another overly-verbose book that could've easily dialed back the exposition to sensible levels and become infinitely better as a result (The whole Superman scene in particular felt unnecessary). That said, like Animal Man, the horror tone works and there's definite potential here. Okay, but greedily, I wanted more.

TEEN TITANS #1: It's a slow start, true, but I'll admit to being sucked in to Scott Lobdell's plan of essentially running one story between this and Superboy - although that final scene in both books has different dialogue and staging in some parts, which seems a completely avoidable mistake to me - and enjoyed this much more than I was expecting from early previews. A high Okay - I still have my issues with Brett Booth's art, I'm sorry - and I might even keep going on this, at least until the entire team is together.

VOODOO #1: You know, deep within this book, there's an interesting idea about an alien invasion happening in plain sight, with the alien as the central character. But getting there in this case means working through a lot of gender politics that's trying to have its cake and eat it at the same time ("Yeah, this is cheesecake, but look, the strippers are real women with class and babysitter problems and shit! But here's some more T&A anyway!"), and... I'm just not interested, ultimately. Awful.

WONDER WOMAN #1: Holy crap, it's the last book. I was beginning to think this would never end. And it's ending on a high note, too; sure, Brian Azzarello's script is sharp and fast-paced (if a little short on explanations, but there's time for those later), but this is entirely Cliff Chiang's show, and he doesn't even vaguely fail to deliver. This is a wonderful looking book - Matt Wilson's colors help considerably - and all the moreso because there's nothing else like it on the DC stands right now. The mythical quality of the story seems on a different scale to all the other New 52 books as well, and the strong individuality of the book makes it feel more like an event... and that's a nice feeling for a Wonder Woman book to have. Very Good, and one of the best books of the line so far.

Now, as the saying goes: What did you think?

Wait, What? Ep. 58.1: The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

Photobucket [Stellar fixed image courtesy of Ron Salas]

Uh, yes.  I am running sorrowfully late again, so I'll have to kinda dash through all this verbal hubbub and let you know the who's who and the what's what:

Basically? It's Wait, What? Ep. 58.1.  It's a little less than an hour.  In it, Graeme and I not only discuss new DC 52 titles like Blue Beetle, Catwoman, Red Hood & The Outlaws (which I called "Red Hood & The Outsiders" which makes more sense but it a mistake), Batman, and Wonder Woman (and more), but also Chester Brown's Paying for It and initial "sweet jeebis, is it pretty!" pre-review impressions of Craig Thompson's habibi. Oh, and there are lots of shrieks from children outside Graeme's window.  (At least he told me they were outside his window....) We apologize about that.

Anyhoo, the 'cast is in iTunes (probably) and you can listen to it here (definitely):

Wait, What? Ep. 58.1: The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

Part two is around the corner, so there's that.

Oh! And, of course, we hope you enjoy and thank you for listening!

nu52 - wk 3: Three that pleasently surprised me

Remember what I said last week about sometimes the most interesting stuff in the DCU was sitting at the fringes? Yeah, that.

BLUE BEETLE #1: as far as I am concerned, this is the first "proper" first issue of the entire bunch released so far. It's an origin story. It clearly sets up the protagonist and who he is and what he wants, as well as doing so for at least one antagonist (the suit, itself), AND an entire supporting cast! It made me want to see more when I got to the last page. Yeah, yeah, this was EXCELLENT and exactly what every one of these 52 should have been like: a complete "you've never seen this before" reboot that establishes the character completely on their own -- neither of the two prior versions appear to have "ever happened". That's clear, that's understandable, completely straight forward, and pretty fun. My one quibble is the constant switching between spanish and english -- it doesn't really work on the page for me. But, yeah, really a perfect first issue of a superhero comic. A pleasant surprise for Tony Bedard, a write who has not made me enthusiastic in the past.


CAPTAIN ATOM #1: Basically it is more DOCTOR MANHATTAN: THE COMIC BOOK (which is really kind of funny, considering), but yeah I liked this just fine, too. There's no origin here, we're eight months into his career here, if I'm reading that clock thing correctly, and I'm still not entirely sure the who and the what of everything -- there's the Doctor Megala from the Cary Bates run, but there isn't any General Eiling that I noticed, is he "Captain Adam", then? Or is it something else entirely? I couldn't quite get why the clock did what it did (it wasn't always forward counting), and I don't necessarily feel for the protagonist yet, but yeah it was different in tone and mood and style than anything else in the 52 so far. There was also an intermittent effect (that I'm not 100% sure was intentional?) from Freddie Williams II, where CA himself is the only thing at times that looks "solid" while all the normal people have kind of hazy outlines. If it WAS intentional, then good job and nice counterpoint, but maybe make it a little more explicit. I want to rate this stronger than just GOOD, but I can't quite make the leap to add the "very", but either way I thought it worth a sample, at least.


DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #1: Or what it should really be called: DEADMAN #1. This is only on for six or something? Well, I'm there for this run. It's an interesting piece -- it goes straight back to the original story, but leaves nicely ambiguous what might or might not have happened in the meantime. My reading of the story says probably BRIGHTEST DAY didn't occur for this character, and he's certainly not dating Dove. We've talked before about how, in some ways, these books are a series of of cheap R&D "and here's how this can be a TV show", and DEADMAN scores wonderfully on that front, going straight for a "Quantum Leap meets Medium" (Maybe? I've never seen the latter?) high concept that is wonderfully additive to any story that came before, yet while honoring them as possible any way. Excellent excellent job of threading that particular needle, Paul Jenkins! This was a VERY GOOD comic, I thought.


That's me... what did YOU think?


So, Why Do Nerdy Things Work? Abhay Concludes a 5-Part Series on BLUE BEETLE.

Why elves? Why mecha? Why Trekkers? Why Browncoats? Why mystery men? Why rocket men? Why invisible men? Why pulp? Why vampires, why werewolves, why creatures from the Black Lagoon? Why space opera, why slipstream, why sci-fi? Why splatterpunk, why steampunk, why cyberpunk, why mundane SF? Why Max Headroom? Why Mad Max? Why Sam & Max? Why Samwise Gamgee? Why cons? Why cosplay? Why LARP, why TMBG, why TARDIS? Why Felicia Day? Why Freddie, why Jason, why Eli Roth? Why kaiju, why Aeris, why 42? Why IDW, why BOOM!, why Oni? Why Marvel? Why DC?

Uchhhhh, why me...

Why do nerdy things work? I've got questions and no answers; you've apparently got free time. You're reading the Savage Critics blog, and welcome to the 5th and final part of our examination of the now long-cancelled DC Comics comic-book series BLUE BEETLE. Starring your all-star BLUE BEETLE creative team: John Rogers, Keith Giffen, Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, Guy Major, Phil Balsman & co., Rachel Gluckstern, and Joan Hilty!


The final arc of the John Rogers era of BLUE BEETLE will be spoiled! Oh fuck! Ohfuckohfuckohfuck! Run! Hide! SPOILER WARNING!


Over the course of the previous four essays (1234), we discussed the failures of the first 21 issues of the BLUE BEETLE series, a new comic book starring a brand new superhero launching out of a now distant crossover event entitled INFINITE CRISIS. As this series of essays comes finally to a conclusion, we will now discuss the final four issues of what we've been calling the "John Rogers era" of BLUE BEETLE-- the part I actually liked, the part that made me want to write this series of essays to begin with.

The plot: around issue #13, Blue Beetle had learned that an alien invasion of Earth was underway. So, the plot of the finale is that Blue Beetle, family & friends fight off the alien invasion. Good guys win; bad guys lose.

And ... well, that's it, really. That's all there is to it.

Usually, I just care about the art. I read BLUE BEETLE because I wanted to see Rafael Albuquerque’s work. I've read well-written issues of NEW AVENGERS (I thought two issues ago was particularly well balanced) and there have been issues I haven't been into (I didn't understand the end of the new one...?), but: Stuart Immonen, everybody. If Batwoman and her lame dad got shot in the head in the next issue, and vultures made love to the exit wounds, I wouldn't care in the slightest. I'd be a little turned-on, actually. But, until that happens: holy shit, J.H. Williams III. I made it all the way to the end of INCOGNITO-- partially because of Jess Nevins; mostly, Sean Phillips.

But those last four issues of BLUE BEETLE... suddenly, it worked. Whatever that thing is, where you start to care what happens next, where the “funny” parts are funny, where the big “let’s all cheer” moments make you want to cheer? That happened for me. I re-read those issues before writing this essay, and it worked again.



A Digression on “Why Do Nerds Exist" --------------------------- OR "Curtis Armstrong, Your Life's Work is Incomplete":

As part of my extensive research for this essay, I googled "Why do nerds exist?" I felt like that was where I needed to go to explain the fact I enjoyed BLUE BEETLE comics—to an existential meaning-of-life type level.

I thought it was interesting that despite the million blogs about Ewoks and Snorks and … shit, I don’t know what all people are into on the internet, the #1 response at the time of this essay was a thread on a weightlifting message board that's apparently a popular place to discuss how best to use anabolic steroids: "Over 8,294,865 posts of underground intelligence, and 214,998 members, make this the busiest and most controversial community on the Net."

How come they never made Revenge of the Nerds V: Nerds on Steroids? How does that movie not exist? I ask you. ***

There's a recurring thing to DC books-- taking part in The Great Argument with DC fans. Well: "Great Argument" is maybe too kind a term. It's not really an argument so much as a lecture, after all. DC books all tend to lecture that "The Way You Like Comics is Wrong" when no better theme presents itself. You are Wrong to have liked Image Comics.

You are Wrong to want DC Comics to be Like They Were in the Old Days.

You are Wrong to Acknowledge You're a Fan of Our Comics Online. (?okay?)

You are Wrong for Wanting a Comic that Makes Any Fucking Sense, At All.

Taunts always seem to be the mark of a "significant" DC series.

Sure enough, BLUE BEETLE: Blue Beetle's family is saved at the last minute by a superhero "calvary": Guy Gardner, Fire, and Ice. Ice hadn’t appeared in this series previously. The climax of the comic-- the "And The Audience Goes Wild" moment: Blue Beetle is willing to give his life to save planet Earth, but is saved in the final seconds by Booster Gold. Booster Gold also hadn’t appeared in this series before.

So, you will agree that these characters show up not because they are needed to tell a coherent story, but for the Lecture. What do they signify? These third-party superheros were the best friends of the previous incarnation of Blue Beetle. The comic concludes with the following monologue: "As for me? I’m the third Blue Beetle. And I know there will be a fourth. And a fith. On and on. Some better, some worse. But the story, the name, the hero? That’ll go on forever. Past me. Past us all. And I think that’s kind of cool.

The finale of BLUE BEETLE is a persuasive essay for fans, written in invisible ink for the hardcore, whose point is this: "You are wrong about Blue Beetle. Some of you may complain that we got rid of the old Blue Beetle but change is inherent to this character. You are wrong because the characters who should care the most-- the previous incarnation's closest friends-- accept this character as being the true Blue Beetle. And so, you should accept him, too."

I think why I’m okay with BLUE BEETLE's lecture is that at least a message I’m sympathetic towards—a message celebrating new characters, celebrating DC’s legacy heroes (obviously, the best feature of the DC universe)—without feeling like… I don’t know, like I was being yelled at for no reason, by angry hacks. A lecture about accepting change seems contrary to the status quo at DC right now: DC seems to be in a mode of ever appeasing its most vocal fans' whims-- "You want Barry back? You want Hal back? You want jewelry? We'll give you jewelry! Jewelry and wine and roses. You want me to come with you and your mom to go see IT'S COMPLICATED? I'll fix your mom's answering machine, and we'll make a day of it. Yeah, no, I don't like any of my friends either. Just please don't ever leave me."

I like that BLUE BEETLE's lecture, a lecture about transience, is inherently a DC lecture. The DC universe's very foundation has now become its complete lack of foundation. The Marvel universe makes a certain amount of sense: it has a geography that can be mapped, an atlas. The "DC Universe" is chaos, distant successes drowning in decades of confusion. "Superman is an electric blue superhero who works for a TV station on multiple earths-- wait, make that a single New Earth-- wait, make that 52 earths-- wait, wait, just make me into a woman, I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body."

(Why am I workshopping my DC impression in this one??? "Here's my impression of what it'd be like... if Jack Nicholson was an editor at DC." Cue: hilarity).

Also: I think the BLUE BEETLE finale at least delivers its lecture in such a way that the finale can enjoyed even if you don’t pick up on what it’s about. Aliens, explosions, one-liners, action, etc. I don’t think that was as true of any of the DC series I mentioned above—I understood the themes of INFINITE CRISIS and FINAL CRISIS, but god help us all if I was ever asked to explain the plots of either to you. God help me if I was asked to remember the plots of either. Which one had autoerotic asphyxiation in it? That one was my favorite.

Is it "good", comics written in secret code for the No-Outsiders Club? Well: no. It's not. But I'd be lying to say that it's written in a language I don't sometimes understand; I'd be lying if I said that there isn't a weird, dopey pleasure to it when it's well done. If honesty is what's required here, this time around, I kind of dug it. If honesty isn't what's required here, I am competent at lovemaking.


A Digression on "Superhero Decadence" --------------------------- OR "The Broad who Wrote the Article is a Psychotic Coont":

How about shocking twists? How about unexpected violence? How about girls getting murdered so that a hero can rise? BLUE BEETLE lacks all of those things.

The last thing I wrote for this blog was about a comic whose content maybe raised an eyebrow, from a certain perspective; this piece is about an comic whose content falls within a toothless "all-ages" designation a certain type of fan on the internet is given to proclaim should be the whole of the genre. I'm praising the latter more than the former, and it occurs to me this might be mistaken as some kind of "political statement", a prescriptive "this is what we need more of" piece divorced from market realities, sales figures, numerically-measurable audience preferences.

Yeah, no: that's not really what I'm trying to say.

Of course, can I imagine having enjoyed the finale of BLUE BEETLE if it had been stuffed with what Malcolm Tucker would describe as "an awful lot of what we would call violent sexual imagery?" No. Me personally, not really. But I didn't enjoy the vast majority of how this creative team handled "Blue Beetle's adventures through the DC universe". The idea I'm going to enjoy it if DC raised the bar on it and asked the same team to create "Blue Beetle's gritty psychosexual action-drama"... well: of course not. (Which is not to diminish the good taste and discernment of the BLUE BEETLE creative team for not going to that place, as there is evidence to suggest that many retailers, the DC audience and DC editorial would all have been supportive if they had. You know: good for them).

What always strikes me about the term "superhero decadence", and why I ultimately have to reject it, is how kind an explanation it is to the creators, how generous, benevolent. Doesn't it inherently say "it's not you, why this comic sucks-- it's something inherent to the genre?"

So, yeah, no: I don't think it's the genre; I think it's them.


Here's my favorite part of the finale. Blue Beetle is trapped and surrounded by homicidal aliens as the penultimate issue draws to a close. How will he get out of this dilemma? He shouts Magic Words. Rogers doesn't just have him shout magic words at random-- the magic words were carefully planted in earlier issues; the magic words are explained, buttressed. But, still: magic words. I mean that in a good way.

Khaji Da. Shazam. Avengers Assemble. It's Clobbering Time. The Green Lantern oath. Lab accidents. Masks that just cover the eyes. Power rings. A walking stick that turns broken men into gods. A sanctum sanctorum in Greenwich Village. Trophy rooms. Mystery islands. Negative zones. Phantom zones. Microverses. All the savage lands that time forgot. And signal watches-- oh, those are my all-time favorite, the signal watches.

Part of the pleasure of any kind of fantasy is obviously its transformative quality. Blah is turned into blah-blah. The ordinary is invested with meaning. And people like to leave it there: "it's a game of what-if." But: why? Why play that game? To what end? I'm more prepared at this point to survive a zombie apocalypse than to cope with aging, taxes, retirement, etc. Isn't constant war-gaming of the never-going-to-happen inherently at the expense of thinking about the definitely-will happen? But it’s not just magic words, in isolation. BLUE BEETLE reminded me how DC combines the most ridiculous fantasies with these straight-laced nards; how much I liked that. Marvel characters are hippies, dopers; what Mamma Carlson would refer to as dungarees. The DC characters are ludicrous children’s fantasies grafted onto squares, fuddy-duddies, buzz-cuts. Total nards-- it's great. There’s a moment in the last issue where Guy Gardner appears—it was the first time in such a long while that I was really happy reading about DC characters. The entire book wasn’t “Here is why Guy Gardner is important; he’s like Jesus; is your blankey comfy?” ala Grant Morrison's All Star Guy Gardner. It was nice and simple: I like Guy Gardner; Guy Gardner's promising me violence; violence is my favoritest!

They're accountants with magic rings and fairy dust wands; I like that. The DC characters never seemed broke to me, but DC has certainly been very busy trying to fix them anyways.


A Digression on "Why Do Nerdy Things Work?" --------------------------- OR "A Creep In The Deep Or Will Success Spoil Boris Badenov?"

But: let’s step back—who cares why BLUE BEETLE works? Lots of things “work”. Why even write about it at all?

I don’t know—after reading the finale, I had this twinge of "Oh great, you're not a dork about enough nerdy shit-- you needed one more thing?" It was a special moment.

Looking back, the list of nerdy crap that I have been a dorky spazz-wad for is very, very long-- but why does that stuff work on me? What does all that dopey shit have in common? Is there a grand unified field theory of dorkism that can explain why certain ideas, images, idiocies, why they're capable of burrowing under the skins of sloppy nerds such as myself? And can that theory explain why that material consumes not just my attention, but more and more attention globally at a time when attention is such a precious commodity?

Why do nerdy things work? In addition to everything else: Why alien invasions? Why superheroes? Why BLUE BEETLE? I don't like most of the obvious explanations. "Nerdy things let ordinary people fantasize about being the hero." First of all, blech, that's condescending. Secondly, also untrue: zombie movies aren't fun because you fantasize about being a hero; they're fun because you fantasize about what you'd do if your neighbors wanted to eat your brains. Or there's themes: "Nerdy things work because they create an alternate and heightened context in which to examine relevant themes from a fresh perspective." Obvious example: your Buffy's of the world, create a fantasy universe where high school is a battle between good and evil, and let us see its themes of growing into an adult from a different angle.

This isn't a bad theory but I'm pretty dismissive of it anyways because of the horrible results it leads to. Comics about how "the X-Men are a metaphor"? Batman comics about the effect of his parent's death on his psyche, or some shit? That's my least favorite stuff. I underwent five teeth-grinding hours of James Cameron's liberal white guilt so I could watch robots fight dinosaurs for a half-hour. Not the other way around. I don't know that watching robots fight dinosaurs gave me a fresh perspective on anything; I don't think I asked it to.

Also, if my recent experience is any indication, comic fans: by and large, not so psyched about metaphors. People love to say the X-Men are metaphors for nice things, things that flatter them, but if you say that an X-Men comic works as a metaphor for something that doesn't conform to their sensitivities? Fans not going to throw a pep rally for you, it turns out.

BLUE BEETLE doesn't really support any of the foregoing hypotheses. For me, the crucial thing about BLUE BEETLE is that the first 21 issues didn't do anything for me, that I hated them, but that the last last 4 succeeded-- succeeded regardless of my having hated what preceded them, succeeded despite those previous 21 issues.

None of the above can explain that to me.

And as time passes-- more than a year and a half has passed since this series of essays started, longer since most of BLUE BEETLE's ardent fans have read the series. If you read it, what do you remember of it? Comic fans so often get accused of trying to recreate the past, but what do any of us really remember of the comics we grew up on? For me, the bad of BLUE BEETLE dropped away a long time ago; what's left? Just fragments, smoke really, just of the good parts, just of the best parts. Not even memories; just... a half-memory of a feeling. That's what fans are trying to recreate? Does any of the above explain that? Does anything? You could try to fashion an argument out of "escapism", of course. When something "works", I get to take a vacation from my incessant internal monologue of worries, anticipations, whatever. But nerdy things hardly have a monopoly on that. I spent five horrible hours with myself sitting through AVATAR; I took a vacation from myself watching THE HURT LOCKER. I found escape equally in STAR TREK, and in A SERIOUS MAN-- escapism alone isn't enough of an answer.

Maybe this question, maybe the answer is unknowable, inherently unknowable. According to the Wikipedia page on Cool (Aesthetic), which I consult before getting dressed every morning, there is the dilemma of "Cool as Elusive Essence," that what is "cool" is a real but unknowable property, something that exists but can only be sought after, something that can only be observed but ceases to exist upon observation. Bruce Lee: "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot." Carl Weathers: "There's still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you've got a stew going."

Maybe this would be easier if we could all meditate on BLUE BEETLE until our chakras were good and we could get our third eye to open up. Maybe this would all be easier if we were Carl Weathers.


Some of the pleasure of the finale is watching the math being done. "That story set up this, this story set up that, etc." An earlier story about Blue Beetle investigating his origins set-up the magic words. An earlier story about Guy Gardner set-up his appearance in the finale. There's a panel early on where they jam all their math in, so you don't miss it ... The sentiment is dull, the dialogue is nothing special, the Spectre story referenced therein was a skippable inventory issue, but... I just get this little buzz from seeing the math. It's a signal. It signals that this is the story that the BLUE BEETLE team had been working towards the entire run, from the outset.

Which: is not a small thing for me. I don’t like the finale because it's an important story in the arc of Blue Beetle; I could give a fuck; that character is a douche. It's that it's the first arc where I felt like something was at stake for the creators. The early issues have a desparation to them; the finale is the only place where I felt like they had a chip on their shoulders. Something to prove. Some energy to share.

98% of a magic act, the magician makes my skin crawl. That is one creepy fucking profession; magicians? Creepy people. But that bit at the end where they go "Is this your card?" I love that bit because underneath that, there's always that little energy from the magician of "Fuck you, suckers.Love that part.


A Digression on "DC Comics in the 00’s" --------------------------- OR "The Hobgoblin of Small Minds"

DC Executive Editor Dan Didio, February 2006, Promoting Infinite Crisis: Didio explained that one of their more knowledgeable writers had been hired to "build a bible of all the characters for the other writers" to use. "Consistency in characters is what we're shooting for."

Dan Didio, February 2006, Promoting the Launch of 52 and Brave New World: “One of the things that is going to be accomplished in 52 and in the year that the story will be told, is that it reestablishes the tonality and the vision of the DC Universe, and what Brave New World does is it gives a sense of that new direction also, but in smaller bites."

Dan Didio, March 2007, Promoting the Conclusion of 52 and the Launch of Countdown: The next question led to DiDio talking about how while Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Batman was coming out at the same time as Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart's Catwoman, he saw a need for more consistency and cohesion in the DC Universe since those books were so different.

Dan Didio, March 2008, Promoting Final Crisis: "My hope is that [after Final Crisis] what we’ll see is a very exciting direction and tonality for our universe, and more importantly a very clear interpretation of who our characters are and what they represent, so that people who’ve jumped on board with Final Crisis have a real idea of the style and tone of the DCU."

Dan Didio, December 2009, Promoting Blackest Night: "It's one of the things I've wanted to do ever since I got here, and it never seemed right. But now it seems right. One of the things we're looking at, post-'Blackest Night,' is a very locked down sense of the rules and sensibilities and interpretations of our characters, and we don't plan to be reworking them as sporadically as we've done in the past."

"But now it seems right"...

*** I guess what strikes me the most about the finale is how Booster Gold had never appeared in the series until that final, climactic moment. As I alluded to above, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle had been the “buddy team” of the DC Universe for years. But in this series, Booster Gold is only mentioned briefly in the first issue-- he names the title character, but is then missing from his life. Anytime anyone said "Blue Beetle" he was there, his ghost-- just not actually around.

Like some deadbeat dad, only giving his approval at last once Blue Beetle has fully entered the World of Men, DC Universe style. The finale ends with Blue Beetle being made whole, with the absence at the heart of that character being filled.

There is that theory, of course-- that nerdy things work because we are in some way, all broken, with our own... holes that need filling (eeew!).

Damaged people, in need for whatever reason of stories about surrogate families like the X-Men or super-powered dads like Superman.

Arrested adolescents who went to neverland, and never quite made it all the way back.

The finale of BLUE BEETLE ends with an image I'm always a sucker for-- a hero surrounded by his family, the one he was born with, the one he obtained through his adventures. Oh man, I always love that type of imagery. I don't think too much about why that is.

Wedding porn movies probably work for the same reason, whatever it is.

Do racist child molestors exclusively rape kids of their same race, or do they exclusively rape kids of other races? I would guess it'd be one or the other, but: which? Maybe that’s why the only people wondering why nerds exist are steroid cases: there are answers but we wouldn't want to do what it takes to find out what those are. Not unless we were all seriously roid-raging.

On the other hand: aaah, fuck that theory. Maybe there's something wrong with the rest of you. Or probably. Or ... okay, near certainly, there's something wrong with the rest of you, but: not me, buddy, not me. I don't like Doctor Who or The Master because I'm some kind of tragedy case, ‘cause this shit's a Lifetime movie. I like them because the Master is basically the best villain ever. Basically. And sometimes a guy has to take a break from living it to the limit, people. So, yeah, I don't actually think I need Blue Beetle's fucking pity...? Well: I don't think I need Blue Beetle's fucking pity YET. Cue: heroin.



And it's the end of the decade. What one might very reasonably argue has been the greatest decade in comics history.

This year, there were books I liked; books I loved. There was ASTERIOS POLYP; there was GOGO MONSTER. I read Tezuka; I read Tardi; I revisited STRANGE DAYS; I reread Feiffer (again). I read manga and minicomics; I read art comics and webcomics; I bought art books. I liked the first issues of UNDERGROUND, DAYTRIPPER and FORGETLESS. I thought that comic the AVIATRIX was hilarious. I liked a couple superhero stories-- I liked Kelly Link's short story "Secret Identity;" I liked that UMBRELLA ACADEMY sequel some. I related to that new issue of PHONOGRAM, which would be wildly embarrassing if it weren’t so obviously the case. People I know released some well-received comics into the world; I made some comics, even.

I wasn't very happy in 2009 anyways.

Apparently, I’m not completely alone: Messrs. Tim Callahan ("something's missing"), Chad Nevett ("I think people are just tired... I can't really defend things."), David Brothers ("I’m bored to death"), Dr. Geoff Klock("It's diminishing returns... it is time to stop showing up on Wednesdays..."), Alan David Doane ("I have to admit that I have not been reading a lot of comic books lately"), and well... me in my last essay, according to some of you ("I'm pretty sure whoever wrote this comic is the Green River Killer, guys. I've been spending time in the crime lab, and I think I just cracked this mother wide open.").

Steven Grant tried writing about this a year ago: "Dreariness. 2008 was one dreary year for comics." Internet kind of yelled at him; you know: internet. Internet is welcome to yell at me, too. I don’t dispute that I’ve read great books this year. I have a very long list of books I want to write more about; should have written more about. I don’t dispute that this decade has been unbelievable in terms of how much has changed, how much has improved. There are many, many great books I still haven't read yet.

But something bummed me out anyways. 2009 was a colossal fucking bummer, for my comic nerdery at least.

Setting aside art comics and foreign reprint material, where my complaints are comparatively few, where the bulk of my pleasure has been this year... what can we say? It’d be an obvious mistake to read too much into nebulous complaints, but the sentiment that struck me the most was from Dr. Klock: "Marvel needs to find a writer for Chris Bachalo and DC needs one for JH Williams. Someone NEW. Or someone from another medium."

A new wave of comic creators to come and sweep out all that's wrong in mainstream comics? Creators from different mediums? That happened already. That was the story of the aughts in mainstream comics. That is what we just lived through. (BLUE BEETLE is arguably an instantiation of those very trends).

And what do mainstream comics look like in the aftermath?

Mainstream comics in 2009, from the viewpoint of a 1999 mainstream comic fan, is almost unrecognizable. Except for gimmick crossovers. Except for gimmick "events". Except for gimmick covers. Except for late books. Except for “scheduling mishaps”. Except for excuses.

Except for everything that is shoddy and shabby and refuses to die.

But I'm a big fan of the comics your favorite mainstream creators used to make… (Stage directions to assist you in reading this sentence: sighing while shrugging while doing that move with hands that suggests masturbation of the male genitalia, preferably with both hands held slightly above eye level so as to suggest an altogether unwholesome scenario for no real reason other than my own perverse amusement; filling your belly button with dip and then dipping baby carrots into your belly-dip; divulging things you shouldn't on the internet; regretting).

Is it just we've all gotten too old, too jaded? That's the answer others are settling on, but I don't think that's it for me. I'm the target audience for movies about robots; Transformers 2 was partially my fault. I played a video game this year because it had the Ghostbusters in it. Besides MAD MEN and the fucking amazing 3rd season of THE THICK OF IT (holy shit!), my favorite TV show right now is LOST. I am a giant nerd, and my nerdy enthusiasms are still all the way to 11. I don't think it's me; fuck, I wish it were me; why can't it be me??

I have my theories, none very good, and I could go around and around in circles on this, but we've digressed enough already and I can't promise we'd end up anywhere interesting. Why do nerdy things work? Why do they stop working? Maybe only Bruce Lee and Carl Weathers know for sure.

Anyways: who could have guessed what this decade would be like 10 years ago? Who could have guessed what a roller coaster it'd be? I didn’t like 21 issues of BLUE BEETLE; but those last 4 issues were pretty good. So, there's at least reason to hope.

Speaking of Turkeys, Here's Abhay's FOURTH Blue Beetle Essay.

I. Starting in April 2008, the SAVAGE CRITIC website began to bring you a five-part series on the cancellation of BLUE BEETLE. It “technically” hadn’t “happened” yet. “Technically”, BLUE BEETLE was only canceled on November 12th, but...

It wasn't exactly difficult to predict.

And suddenly, last week: our little corner of the internet spasmed. Suddenly: I’m not alone. All sorts of people were asking themselves: “Why didn’t BLUE BEETLE succeed?And their answers involved things being shoved into asses! I’m not alone, universe! I’m not alone!

So... This one’s going to be extra ramble-y. Sorry.


Before the blog post which received some attention last week, the book’s author, John Rogers posted an earlier statement to his (actually, otherwise quite entertaining) blog, a sort of recap of his intent as the writer of BLUE BEETLE:

We wanted to establish a new superhero for younger readers, and add a different viewpoint to the DCU. Something you could give your 12 year old nephew to read without first forcing him to complete a degree in DC Continuity. A lot of people hated us, then some of them liked us, and then some of them loved us ... while a lot of people still hated us. Those people can go pound sand and collect Final Crisis variant covers.

Let’s begin by seeing if we should go pound sand and collect Final Crisis variant covers. Let’s pound out a single issue of the series, issue #16 of the BLUE BEETLE series. Just so we’re all on the same page as to what it was exactly that got cancelled.

Issue #16 is very near the end of the series (if not the technical final issue of publication). The series’ story concludes in issue 25; it just kept getting published past that point.

So: a rock crawled up young Jamie Reyes’s ass and turned him into the Blue Beetle. In issue #13, Blue Beetle learns that the rock was a device from an alien empire named The Reach. At first, the Reach pretend to be “good guys”, but the book abandons this idea within that issue and reveals that they’re evil immediately, rather than create or maintain any sort of suspense. However, the rest of the world is unaware that the Reach is evil, as the Reach has approached the governments of Earth promising aid & assistance.

A reader might expect this to be a source of tension & conflict in future issues. Nope, not at all: that reader should go pound sand and collect Final Crisis variant covers! Aliens invading Earth-- what’s the logical next thing to happen?

Eclipso opens us up. To the wonders of interpretive dance. FAME, I’M GOING TO LIVE FOREVER-- LIGHT UP THE SKY WITH MY NAME-- FAME! So, for the 12 year old nephews: who is Eclipso?

Dear Joss Whedon, Please go back in time and prevent your own existence, perhaps by seducing your own mother at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Very truly yours, Me After Having Read BLUE BEETLE. P.s. Would Willow make out with me even though she turned all gay at the end? I hope so. XOXOXO.

Say: Who’s that talking and explaining all of this? It’s Blue Beetle’s brand-new romantic interest, Traci 13, introduced to BLUE BEETLE readers for the first time in issue #16.

Things I Don’t Know To This Day: (a) who this character is, (b) who created this character, (c) if this character is featured in any other DC comic, (d) what other characters she hangs out with, (e) who the “Croato—Uh, some detectives” are, and (f) what love feels like.

The issue begins with Eclipso fighting Traci 13, who is wielding the “stolen Staff of Arion”, a reference to a supporting character debuting in 1982 in the series WARLORD. This will be exciting for your 12-year old nephew, provided that your 12-year old nephew was born in 1970.

To help in the fight, Traci 13 recruits Blue Beetle. Together, they discover that Eclipso has strung up members of the Posse like the victims of the aliens in Aliens, using some kind of sadness-goo. Blue Beetle uses his powers to free them from the sadness-goo that’s holding them.

Blue Beetle, Traci 13 and Blue Beetle’s friend Paco then confront Eclipso. Paco saves the baby, and Traci 13 defeats Eclipso. The issue ends with Traci 13 and Blue Beetle holding each other, presumably to start making out once the comic fades to black. Despite the fact that Blue Beetle mentioned vomiting earlier in the issue. As soon as this comic is over, Traci 13 is going to shove her tongue into Blue Beetle’s vomit mouth, and taste the flavor of his upchuck. I think this will be a huge turn-on for your 12 year old nephew, in so far as he’s probably into some pretty weird-ass kinky shit that I’m not even hip to. You know: like, stuff involving boners, basically.


What was the story told by issue #16?

You could argue that the story of this issue is “Blue Beetle gets a girlfriend by being heroic.” But the problem with that interpretation: Blue Beetle never acts heroically once in the issue. Not once. The only thing he does the entire issue is defeat some sadness-goo. Which— hell-naw, if wiping away sadness-goo was enough to get you laid, I got a tube sock that’s Wilt Chamberlain. Furthermore, that interpretation ignores page 21. Page 21 needs to be shown in whole…

So, your 12 year old nephew is now supposed to understand that:

1) This is a reference to the DC character, the Elongated Man, a former Justice League member who dates back to 1960.

2) Traci 13 was apparently raised by the Elongated Man and his wife Sue Dibny.

3) Sue Dibny was murdered by Jean Loring, the Silver Age ex-wife of the Atom.

4) Jean Loring became Eclipso in some issue of something sometime, for some reason. I don’t know when or why myself, but that apparently happened.

This issue is all about the character of Traci 13 and her revenge on Jean Loring / Eclipso for the events of 2004’s IDENTITY CRISIS (which your 12 year old nephew would love since it’s wall-to-wall rape and dead pregnant women). HOW DID THIS COMIC EVER GET CANCELED???


Allow me to head off a counter-argument: I didn’t pick a bad issue from the run on purpose, to make my point. I picked an issue involving two ladies having a sexy catfight. I didn’t pick an issue to make BLUE BEETLE look bad-- this was the part of the B-movie montage where Kato Kaelin starts up a bonfire in the background, and Trishelle from Real World: Las Vegas takes off her top, and George Perez and I high-five. It’s all fucking downhill from #16.


Here’s the bigger problem--

Two words are never mentioned in the issue: THE REACH.

The bad guys for the entire series.

They’re never mentioned once. Three issues after their introduction.

In any competent work, The Reach would become the focus of what follows. The stakes would escalate, getting the audience to hate The Reach more and more until the book reached its emotional and thematic climax.


Issue #15 is a fill-in issue involving a team-up between Blue Beetle and Superman.

Issue #17 involves Blue Beetle fighting Typhoon, the “Soul of the Storm”.

Issue #18 involves the Blue Beetle teaming up with the Teen Titans to fight Lobo.

Issue #19 minimally advances the La Dama subplot.

Issue #20 is a SINESTRO WARS cross-over that features The Reach, but only while it crosses over to another multi-title crossover I haven’t read, and have no intention of reading.

Issue #21 involves the Blue Beetle meeting the Spectre.

The book ignores its own bad guy until the finale, at which point we’re supposed to care about them again. The bad guys don’t spend the second act … being bad guys, doing evil things, antagonizing the hero, any of that.

They flat-out don’t even appear in the comic.


III. The conclusion I draw from the foregoing:

BLUE BEETLE tried to be a simple story about a young boy learning to be a man and to find his place in the world by heroically facing insurmountable odds with the help of his friends and family.

But that isn’t the story they told. The story they told was: a new DC character introduces himself to other DC characters, and finds his place in the DCU.

The audience for that isn’t 12 year old nephews; it’s DC fans, for whom that story served no pressing need or desire or want. And also: BLUE BEETLE?

Look, it’s sort-of a rip-off of INVINCIBLE.

INVINCIBLE is a creator owned series created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker that launched in 2003, and is currently published by Image Comics. It’s about an optimistic teenager who gets superpowers and tries to juggle his exciting new life as a superhero, his teenage friends, and family, without losing his upbeat attitude. BLUE BEETLE, on the other hand, is about…

I was at a bookstore the other day; saw this quote by Stephen King in his book ON WRITING (haven’t read the book, but I thought it was a good quote): “People who decide to make a fortune writing like John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light-years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”

This was a series that didn’t offer anything to people that they couldn’t already get elsewhere, from a product with more acclaim, less baggage, easier to jump onto, more fun to jump onto, with more issues in the can, and … shit: how about a *twist*…? BLUE BEETLE doesn’t have anything resembling a twist anywhere in it; my theory is that a twist would be too upsetting, and the fanboy definition of The “Fun” Comic usually equates to nothing more than hyper-bland inoffensiveness, but… that’s a separate debate perhaps.

Even if you’re not willing to join me on the phrase “rip-off” – look, would you at least agree that BLUE BEETLE was second place? You don’t get points for being second place; comics don’t have a silver medal. Remember any vampire series in comics after 30 DAYS OF NIGHT? How many worthwhile crime comics have had to live in the shitty shadow of shitty-ass SIN CITY? How many other series about cat-people in wheelchairs fucking and sucking can you name besides OMAHA THE CAT DANCER?

The fact the 15,000 people who stuck with it liked it enough to say so on the Internet doesn't make a series "critically acclaimed." Bart Beaty isn't exactly working on a monograph, as far as I know. It just means 15,000 people live near a public library.

They didn’t have anything new to offer. That’s the sadness of comics. The cancellation is just gravity.


The cancellation isn’t the mystery here. The mystery is this: DC launches failed title after failed title. Off the top of my head, just in 90’s and 00’s: Young Heroes in Love, Damage, Power Company, Chase, Hawk & Dove, Suicide Squad, Major Bummer, Xero, Breach, Bloodhound, Manhunter, Doom Patrol, Primal Force, Lab Rats, Stars and STRIPE, Vext, Aztek, All-New Atom, Harley Quinn, Hourman, Martian Manhunter, and probably many more I don’t remember. Just for the DCU alone.

None of them ever, ever work.

There’s an Einstein quote President-Elect Obama (yay!) is fond of: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The mystery is this: Why do they keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work, over and over again? The pertinent question isn’t why was Blue Beetle canceled. The pertinent question is: why did they publish it to begin with? What did they think would happen, in spite of the overwhelming weight of history and experience? Did they think they were doing anything differently from what had failed countless times before? Why would this cancellation be surprising to anyone anywhere?

Does it even look like a publishing scheme to you, or some kind of elaborate sleight-of-hand so Time-Warner-Keebler executives don't ask too many questions? When the executives come to check on how things are going, do you think there's someone at DC whose job it is to yell "They're coming! They're coming! Pretend you're working!"? It looks like an embezzling scheme.

With respect to the cancellation, as has been widely reported, author John Rogers angrily pointed the finger at DC’s publishing strategy, DC’s confused self-identity, “creepy” specialty shops, DC’s offices in Manhattan, DC’s gender confusion, the time DC fondled his balls at summer camp, DC’s gut-flopping fetish, etc. (And don’t forget the rest of us, still busy pounding our sand and collecting our Final Crisis variant covers.)

The standard Comic Creator “It’s Us vs. Them” finger-pointing... uhm: usually, it’s from people who work in comics, talking about series they still write…? Petty-Me found the whole thing extraordinarily strange: an author who didn’t actually write a comic anymore, angry that DC couldn’t find a way to continue to exploit the creative energies of young writers and artists in order to keep his abandoned creation alive, angry despite the fact sales straight-up cratered during his tenure on the title. The fact people quoted that without comment or question? A little strange.

How dare DC not continue to suck the creativity of young talent to keep a series I created alive after I didn’t want to do anything with it? P.S. I was completely not in any way at fault for simply having written a comic that shed 35,000+ in sales while I was writing it. It’s time to go rogue on the Internet, maverick-style!

And by young talent, Petty-Me is referring to folks who didn’t get handed their own DC ongoing series on near-zero comic-writing experience, just based on screenwriting credentials, a comic culture obsessed with Hollywood star-fucking, and well-connected friends, and then completely fail to deliver sales. The disinterest in nurturing native talent in favor of fly-by-night screenwriters is not something that’s wrong with comics at all!

But… But that’s all Petty-Me, and Petty-Me's a bit of an idiot sometimes, so... Let's try to find the deeper issues. V. I suppose it’s worth noting here the obvious truth that BLUE BEETLE succeeded by the only criteria that matters. It generated a parcel of IP that DC/Time-Warner-Keebler was able to exploit in a cross-media property. On a balance sheet, the rest—you, me, Grandma Midge-- we’re all minutiae.

Some fans question canceling the series once the character won the IP lottery. But: they have books they can sell curious Blue Beetle fans. They have four volumes of BLUE BEETLE trades that they can sell to all the new BLUE BEETLE fans of the world. All that argument amounts to is “they could have had five or six volumes instead of four.” Oh. Oh, well.

And what lucky new fans! Getting to read SINESTRO WAR or IDENTITY CRISIS tie-ins-- fun! Maybe the error wasn’t canceling the book; maybe the error was not insuring that those four books would be able to stand alone. I’ve heard the argument that you can understand the issues without knowing the specifics of the SINESTRO WAR crossover—but I personally think there’s a distance between comprehension and entertainment that argument doesn’t account for. For me, that SINESTRO issue especially was a huge turn off; you could perhaps understand the What of what happened, but not the Why. Reasonable minds could differ on that point, though.


My eyes glaze over anytime I hear the phrase “mid-list” though. I guess because I always flash on the same image anytime I hear it, the double-page splash from CRISIS OF INFINITE EARTHS #5:

In my head, I always hear “Why are you reading about Batman? Why aren’t you reading about that one speck instead? The little half-doodle George Perez made in the upper left-hand corner is a really great character. You should really read about the red speck next to the blue-green speck on the left hand cluster of specks. You have beautiful hair.

It drives me a little crazy when people say “Fans don’t want new superheroes.” Because usually the people saying that? That’s not what they’re selling—— they’re just selling new specks. It’s less than surprising that there’s a ceiling on that enterprise.

But a mainstream comic market that’s as harsh as this one to new series. It’s … well, Jesus, it’s something, isn’t it?

Though: to an extent, it doesn’t make me entirely sad. You know, because I read good comics, too, and those are doing pretty decent lately…? I’ve got BERLIN 2: CITIZENS ON PATROL on the coffee table, waiting to be read. I finished the BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON recently—— pleasant book. I’ll end the year reading POPEYE, maybe. It’s often hard not to look at comics and think that the good guys are winning. And if Marvel and DC can’t get their acts together, and end up with failure after failure, well: there is a part of me that takes a certain pleasure in that. I might be very slightly bummed that I don’t get to read THE ORDER anymore, but if Marvel never sustains a new series again? Well: isn’t that satisfying to the part of you that believes in karma? Marvel, DC, these aren’t companies that deserve any love. These were never people to root for.


But the water’s edge isn’t BLUE BEETLE. It’s Image series, Vertigo series, alternative monthlies. It’s the serial format, paper-and-staples comic. It’s a whole era of comics which, however misbegotten, is the one I was raised with, have affection for, want to continue with, etc. Plus: people I hope good things for still work in that system. For a certain kind of creator, whose work falls outside the narrow confines of what’s considered “artistic”, for genre creators, that’s still an important industry for any number of reasons.

I don’t suppose I’m interested in offering any great solutions to the problem here; having no real-world expertise, doesn’t that become absurd quickly? It’s just too premature to say how digital delivery systems are going to play out, and beyond that, any fancy prognostication becomes silly quickly. Until… until you’re the weird guy in the comment section yelling “Why don’t they sell Batman in an anthology like SHONEN JUMP?? They can sell them like they sell SHONEN JUMP in Japan, at newsstands next to stops for the bullet train. Because this country is also riddled with newsstands and bullet trains. The Japanese have the right idea—they like art, they’re fond of underage girls and they hate pubic hair. Me, the Japanese and John Ruskin, we’re all on the same page. Join us on Team Ruskin, DC.” Which—you know, I shouldn’t speak ill of Team Ruskin: I have my own silly little predilections (stand-alone maxi-series, one-shots, CBZ files, ass-to-mouth, etc). But…

But let’s ask: when people talk about a book like BLUE BEETLE failing, isn’t that an inherently different conversation, just by virtue of being a DCU title? Is the BLUE BEETLE conversation nothing more than-- “Why won’t the guy who buys BATMAN, SUPERMAN, X-MEN, SPIDERMAN, etc. also buy this other book? Why aren’t the people we squeeze and squeeze and squeeze for money—why can’t we squeeze some out of them, for this other book instead?” Isn’t that a question with its answer built into it?

There’s an implied belief in all of this that the important metric in the comic transaction should be the quality of the product, instead of the purchaser’s affection for the characters. That superhero fans should read the best superhero comic instead of the one featuring the best superhero. Which—— it's probably a belief I subscribe to myself, or want to, but…

But look where that line of thinking leads: after 22 issues, I can’t tell you what Blue Beetle’s powers were. At all. I can’t tell you what he had to do with beetles. Holy shit, dude: I can’t even tell you why he calls himself THE BLUE BEETLE. The part where he gets his name? They didn’t fucking show it in the comic. Holy shit, y’all!


If you think a superhero comic should have great writing, those decisions don’t seem like the end of the world. But if you think a superhero comic should have a great superhero in it, then I don’t think that decision and many, many others can be justified.

Blue Beetle? He’s just some lame dude in a suit of arbitrariness. Sure. I remember being a kid and tying a blanket around my neck, and saying “this blanket can do various arbitrary things as the situation and context demands; I look forward to getting beat up in grade school.” Sure, sure.

After Alan Moore and SWAMP THING, we say to ourselves, “There are no bad characters; all those characters are just waiting for the right team.” But comics aren’t long on Alan Moore’s, so maybe we should revise that to "There are oodles of bad characters, but sometimes one-in-a-million creators write those characters for the short period of time that they manage to get work done without DC pissing them off enough to quit the company forever.

(Tangent: I’m loving the part of WATCHING THE WATCHMEN where Dave Gibbons says “Fortunately, there was a greater pressure on us—that of keeping to the publishing schedule. We had given our own timeline to DC (which incidentally, we met), but they had advanced the publication dates for, no doubt, sound business reasons.” Love that part! Neat book.)


Recent Tradition demands that anyone writing about BLUE BEETLE conclude by demanding that you, the reader, insert things into your own asshole. This is a tradition that I whole-heartedly support.

I recommend inserting the Tristan 2.

The Tristan 2 is waterproof and made of a silicone material, which it’s heat-resistant, nonstick, and easy to clean. According to the Tristan 2 literature, the Tristan 2 was “inspired by fans” who wanted a plug that was bigger, longer and thicker than the paltry Tristan 1. Much like the Wu-Tang, the Tristan 1 is for the babies. You’ll notice that it indeed has a longer neck than the typical teardrop-shaped plug; that means greater staying power.

However, I should note that the Tristan 2 website has the following warning: “This is obviously not a plug for butt beginners.” This is obviously a warning that should be heeded by all of you butt beginners out there. Leave the Tristan 2 to the butt journeymen. There’s no official butt-ocracy that will tell you when you can advance from butt acolyte to butt made-man, but… pretty soon, you too can butt paraphrase Darth “Lord” Vader, and say “Now, the butt student has become the butt master. Very good.

Abhay's Third Post About Blue Beetle; Only Ninety-Three More To Go

The first act of BLUE BEETLE winds to an end between issues #7 and #12. I: CREATIVE CHANGES

BLUE BEETLE loses co-writer Keith Giffen after issue #10, leaving screenwriter John Rogers as the book’s sole “pilot”. Artist Cully Hamner leaves the book the same month, ably replaced by Raphael Albuquerque.

Perhaps the most confusing thing about this comic is the fact DC leaves Albuquerque on BLUE BEETLE, rather than promote him to a “higher profile” assignment. Does Marvel transition their stronger artists significantly more often? It seems that way to me but maybe that’s because I pay more attention to Marvel. Anyways, maybe he stays on BLUE BEETLE by choice. I have no idea.


Two or three boring and inconsequential “adventures” go by, not worth summarizing. A variety of flashbacks answer various minor questions, like “Why does the Peacemaker know Blue Beetle’s scarab came from outer space aliens?” and “What happened to Blue Beetle during the INFINITE CRISIS, eight months earlier?” and “Who would be the wife if Blue Beetle married Captain Atom?”

There are pleasant moments. If you enjoy the wisecracking, you might enjoy a brief appearance by Green Arrow & Whatshername: Two issues involve a completely pointless team-up between Blue Beetle and NEW GODS characters. DC’s grandest, most epic, most… well, most KIRBY characters once again reduced to rote, supporting cameos in a C-List character’s book. If you like the NEW GODS, it's annoying seeing those characters treated in such a slapdash way; if you don't, then it's probably annoying to see them at all. So: ellipsis followed by a question mark, yes ...? Then again, Luke Cage once fought Doctor Doom over a couple hundred bucks, and that's a fact everybody (myself included) is pretty happy with so perhaps I'm overreacting.

That’s all part of the World Tour for BLUE BEETLE.

The World Tour’s my pet name for a set of issues that are mostly an excuse to introduce a new hero to some aspect of the DC Universe, rather than tell a story necessitated by the premise or the characters. For BLUE BEETLE, the World Tour includes (i) the time Blue Beetle meets the New Gods, (ii) the time Blue Beetle hangs out with Green Lantern, (iii) the time Blue Beetle meets the Batman, (iv) the time Blue Beetle meets Superman, (v) the time Blue Beetle meets the Teen Titans, (vi) the time Blue Beetle met the Spectre, and (vii) the time Woody Harrelson taught Blue Beetle to retain his ching.

Outcomes vary: for example, the Green Lantern issue felt reasonably necessary to the story. But I personally dislike World Tour issues. It’s time spent away from the supporting cast or from creating a unique point of view for the book itself. And worse, it encourages short-hand characterization of “I’m not like Superman because I ______” or “That may work for you, Green Lantern, but I prefer to ______” or “I can feel you in my _____, Batman; your _____ feels like its tearing me apart; please don’t ______ in my ______ or I’ll become pregnant with your Bat-________.” (Oh, Hentai-Batman, you’re my favorite).

I have an impatience to me. I want to find out what happens next. And a World Tour issue only very rarely says what happens next; it’s typically a distraction away from whatever mysteries or conflicts power a particular book. They're digressions; anecdotes. Look: I hate to brag, but one time, I saw the actor who played Carlton from the Fresh Prince, standing around at JFK Airport. That happened. That’s something that actually happened, for me. I can dine out on that for years to come. But when I write my memoir, (OH SHIT: I'M OLD; Random House: 2012), that’s not going to be a chapter in there. It’ll just be an endnote, somewhere in Chapter 2: “I’ve seen some awesome things; I don’t deserve this shit.” And then “ENDNOTE: One of the awesome things was that I once saw Carlton from the Fresh Prince near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Poetic license! New York Times bestsellers list ahoy!

There are good things that can be said about a World Tour, but for BLUE BEETLE, during the book’s second act, it ultimately becomes a near-fatal distraction to more pressing elements in the book.

III: AN OUT-OF-NOWHERE DIGRESSION ABOUT STARMAN I also find the World Tour interesting in how it signals creators oblivious—- if not hostile—- to posterity.

I re-read the DC comic book STARMAN the other day. It had been my absolute favorite comic for the first twelve issues. But by issue #36, I had quit the book, angry, just ... ANGRY, cursing its name.

I’d always wondered if I’d made a mistake, if I'd over-reacted, if I was being silly, so I went and read it beginning to end. Turns out? I got lucky. While the first 18 or so issues hold up beautifully, just beautifully, past that, the book goes into a horrifying nosedive. Story arcs drag on indefinitely; the book’s best feature—- its love of DC history—- becomes an anchor around its neck. The book ends and ends and ends—- it has more endings than some bullshit LORD OF THE RINGS film. Each resolution to one of the book’s mysteries is less satisfying than the next. And Tony Harris’s departure blows open a hole that never gets filled despite some admirable efforts by other artists.

The first 18 issues are such terrific work, though, so exactly and totally what I look for from a mainstream comic, that I’d happily recommend the recent STARMAN OMNIBUS. The main character is both universal and specific; the writer doesn’t pretend only superheroics matter, but is eager to share opinions about art and music, culture; the book is enriched by comics history; the setting, the supporting cast-— here is a world that feels lived in and alive; the DC Universe becomes a fictional world worth visiting.

Re-reading it, I realized I’d been unknowingly and unfairly comparing later books like BLUE BEETLE to that early run. Jack Knight had a personality; where’s Blue Beetle’s personality? Starman reflected its author’s passion for old movies; what passion does Blue Beetle reflect? Et cetera. How much can be done with a mainstream comic!

But… but: STARMAN was another book fond of the World Tour, to its detriment. The book’s unquestionable low point is a 5000 issue-long tour of the DCU’s outer space. And it’s another book oblivious to posterity. A significant chunk of the book relies upon Neron.

You know: Neron.

Neron was the lead villain in UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED, a freakishly awful DC crossover from the 90’s. He’s made minor appearances since but the minutae of the Underworld Unleashed crossover play a notable role in STARMAN. Much like BLUE BEETLE, STARMAN’s creators were eager to incorporate DCU storylines into its plot.

Which is fine: if you expect that no one will ever possibly want to read your comic book months or even years later. An excerpt from Starman #35 featuring that one super-lame Electric Blue Superman.

Is a disregard for posterity a bad thing? I’m honestly not sure. Orson Welles once said “It is just as vulgar to work for the sake of posterity as to work for the sake of money.” On the other hand, after saying that, he promptly ate a live cow, drank a tanker trunk of whiskey, tried to sell some green beans, and performed the voice of Unicron in TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE before vomiting all over one of Peter Bogdanovich’s trophy blondes. So, who knows? IV: PREJUDICES

Blue Beetle acquires a “mentor” figure in Peacemaker, a minor DC hero notable for fighting evil with a bucket on his head. They at least updated him. By taking off the bucket. Which was a good start. Bucket.

So: we have a screenwriter writing a story about a Mentor Figure tutoring the Chosen One on his Hero’s Journey.


Look, I’m prejudiced. With a few exceptions, when a comic book writer is a fancy-pants Hollywood screenwriter, I just go in prejudiced. Is it as bad a flare-up for my prejudices as, say, when a wannabe comic tries to look like bad manga? No, not even close—- but I have a good sized chip on my shoulder. I have this irrational thing of...

“You’re not worthy of serious attention. This would be a nice place if it weren’t for you tourists. Fucking tourists!”

How crazy is that?? How many screenwriters do I know that are huge comic fans? How are they “tourists?” It’s completely nuts.


There are these screenwriters who sold a movie version of their Oni comic in April 2008; the comic comes out in an unspecified date in 2009. And I read that story, and I know and remember the name of their comic so I can specifically not buy it when it comes out. I’m THAT prejudiced! Why? Maybe they’re good and decent people who love comics more than any of us.

Why am I the petty and angry guy on the Internet? Is it resentment? Is it pettiness? Maybe it's all those things. Maybe I'm a bad person. I don't know exactly what it is.

I think for some fans, Senor Fancypants makes their delusional fantasies that they’ll somehow magically wind up writing IRON MAN that much more improbable. But I honestly don’t think that’s what it is for me. I really, truly don’t.

Marvel editors have argued in the past, something like “These guys really know story structure more than someone who just read comics.” But that ignores every single successful mainstream creator in comics right now, the majority of whom came from independent comics, smaller venues, clawed their way up. People for whom comics weren’t Plan B.

But: does that matter? Well, no, in the abstract, logically speaking: no.

Or I guess I always have the suspicion of … like when you hear someone go “I’m going to come at science fiction fresh because I’m not a sci-fi nerd. So, my story’s going to be about a spaceship where the computer in charge of the spaceship—get this—it goes insane.” I trust a native to know what’s tiresome and know what’s surprising and entertaining. But: again, that’s based on the faulty assumption that these guys aren’t fans themselves, so...

So: how crazy does this all sound? Hello, crazy. I know this prejudice is crazy; if it weren’t crazy, I wouldn’t call it a “prejudice.” I just know I have it and I should be honest about it. I think it’s important to have some degree of self-knowledge. For example, I know, I am absolutely certain, about myself that if I were ever a puppeteer, if I ever worked with puppets, I’d build my puppet with a puppet penis, but then I’d put pants on my puppet, right? Like, human pants, that would always be on my puppet, so no one watching would guess that my puppet had a penis. That way, if they ever fired me, I’d be able to pull down my puppet’s pants and scream “Eat this, Jim Henson!” I know that about myself, and I think it’s important to have that self-knowledge.

Anyways, it’s not like BLUE BEETLE should be congratulated for its clichés either. Watching some screenwriter fill out a Syd Field crossword puzzle is the opposite of entertainment. 34 across: “hero finds companions” (That’d be issue #9). 14 down: “mentor figure/guide died / gets injured and can’t accompany hero on final mission” (There’s issue #20). 18 across: Thing that erupts from my butt, four letters. Nor is the fact that each of these events is handled in a completely perfunctory way-- that the companions (a hacker duo, ala Mr. Ram Ridley from the Mark Gruenwald CAPTAIN AMERICA run) end up being insignificant to the story; that the mentor is "taken off the board" in some dull crossover with the SINESTRO WAR-- to the book's credit, no.



Abhay Continues to Read Blue Beetle; Episode II

This is part two of an irregular multiple part series of essays looking at the first 25 issues of the BLUE BEETLE comic book series, recently published by DC Comics. Part One-- a statement of intentions and a look at the first issue of the series-- can be found HERE. This installment will look at BLUE BEETLE issues #2-6.


The first full storyline of the comic is about Blue Beetle's confrontation with his first set of antagonists. Blue Beetle's "secret identity" is a Mexican-American teenager. So... the first challenge he has to face? A street gang. Named the Posse.

Race is a motherfucker. It’s a tough issue to deal with in any capacity, and I appreciate that the writers are on a tightrope—put in the street gang and you get the “oh, why must we see the street gang” crowd; leave out the street gang and you get the “why’d you white-wash the Mexican-American hero”; have him get a B in Spanish and you get Cheech & Chong fans excited but everyone else gets confused. That damned-if-you- do bind is a reason I think other creators might want to shy away from writing those characters—but also a reason they shouldn’t.

The Posse, though? The same name as the Jamaican bad guys from the Steven Segal epic, MARKED FOR DEATH?

Unfortunately, unlike MARKED FOR DEATH’s Posse, BLUE BEETLE’s Posse are neither Jamaican nor super wicked awesome-est street gang ever; they kind of suck. Luckily, they aren’t featured in the comic very much beyond this arc.

Per the classic shonen fight-comic formula, as the arc progresses, Blue Beetle ultimately teams up with the Posse (who in these issues suddenly include his best friend) to face off against a greater threat—the lady crime boss, La Dama! (Who he will later team up with to face the greater threat of so-and-so, and so-on, as the formula dictates). So although the Posse are the bad guys of issue #2, by issue #6, they’ve become the good guys.

Which… is kind of weird. Because fun-fact about the Posse:

They’re engaged in narco-trafficking.

About 400 tons of cocaine enter into the United States every year. That’s not counting the tons of heroin, meth, etc. So… you know, statistically speaking, if Blue Beetle’s friend ever looked in the back of a truck, chances are he’d discover a big mountain of ye’ old yayo. But on the bright-side, maybe it’s sex slaves—- 15 year old child-brides for our professional ballplayers, if that’s the sort of thing that makes you feel better. Or guns intended for child-soldiers. Or a dirty bomb.

Statistically, though—come on, read between the lines: he’s engaged in narco-trafficking.

The first issue has the main character not caring if one of his friends being physically if not sexually abused by her father— now in issue #5, we have the main character not caring that his best friend is engaged in narco-trafficking. Thank god the space aliens show up in a few issues and change the trajectory of this comic—otherwise, it was really just a matter of time before Blue Beetle’s dad would’ve had a couple baby skulls mounted on his cock, and Blue Beetle would be holding pom poms and cheering him on, and that’d be the cover. “This issue, Blue Beetle’s polygamous first cousin makes a flesh necklace from the ears of his many Vietnamese war-brides, while Blue Beetle eats a delicious French Apple pie.”

There will be readers who’ll insist that the trucks might be carrying pixie dust or robot apes, since this is the DCU and the DCU is built on top of a frothy cake of whimsy and bullshit. Their argument would go: “because the DCU is built on top of a frothy cake of whimsy and bullshit, we can suspend our disbelief and believe it’s possible that a street gang involved in illegal smuggling operating out of EL PASO, TEXAS, is smuggling something that is illegal but does not offend our sense of right and wrong the way smuggling drugs, guns or people might.”

Fine, fine, eat your cake. But the comic still has a street gang in it. And is specifically stating that they financially support themselves by operating in an extra-legal way. And those characters are the positive characters. The negative characters? La Dama’s big crime in the arc is taking a baby away from… a street gang whose engaged in operating in illegal behavior.

Uh, that exists outside the DCU: it’s called Child Protective Services.


La Dama is taking super-powered children from out of the barrio or away from the street gangs, and is keeping them in a safe, structured environment in which they’re provided with an education. The arc ends on a bizarre note where the characters who had been “kidnapped” are urged by the head of a street gang to return to the barrios. They’re urged to abandon the safety of Child Protective Services and to return to the bosom of the societal institutions provided by extra-legal street gangs.

You don’t need white institutions to protect you because now the Mexican-Americans have their own superhero! Gangs ahoy! At least Blue Beetle looks embarrassed by all this, I guess, but it’s hard to tell if that’s the character reacting to the speech, or the artist reacting to the writing.

I think we can all agree at least that La Dama is in the wrong for having been engaged in kidnapping children from their parents in order to raise an army of magical Latinos in the hopes of someday conquering the world. But the rest? Well, at the risk of repeating myself: race is a motherfucker. Sometimes things sound different ways to different people. The arc was perfectly fine to most people who read it. Perhaps most people read the “safety versus freedom” aspects as a commentary on the civil rights situation in this country following this country’s botched response to 9/11. And not the way I read it which is, you know: “minorities should avoid the social support or interference of white institutions in favor of their own institutions—no matter how criminal or decrepit or involved in the narco-trafficking business-- even if it means their friends get beaten by their dads.

I’m sure fans could angrily argue that the bad guys can’t be a metaphor for white institutions because La Dama is a minority character herself, but—- well, I wouldn’t find that a very convincing argument, and they would, and there’s the impasse. But say a fan argues that “La Dama is the bad guy and she’s a minority, so everything you just said is wrong.” Here’s the thing I don’t get then: Blue Beetle only defeats this threat by exposing La Dama’s wrongdoing to … a higher authority, specifically a cameo from The Phantom Stranger:

So even if you set aside everything else, in the first arc, the minority heroes haven’t really changed anything, but have only created the conditions necessary for a magical White Guy to step in and rescue the minorities from themselves. The arc says a Magical White Guy is the necessary solution to keep the evil minorities and the good minorities in a proper bargaining relationship. If bad minorities act out, the good super-minorities rat them out to the Magical White Man. Uhm, yeah: no.

But look, we all have our different perspectives, and hey, that plus refracted light is what makes us a rainbow.


The 2nd issue continued to have a “future storyline” taking place after the previously published Infinite Crisis miniseries, along with a “past storyline” taking place before or contemporaneously with said miniseries.

At the end of issue 2, the series adds in the "twist" that the "future" storyline (and the rest of the series) takes place exactly one year after the crucial events of the "past" storyline. Why? Because it's DC and that means... EDITORIAL FIAT! Yay!

At or about the publication of the second issue of BLUE BEETLE, DC's latest EDITORIAL FIAT! du jour was "all of our books take place one year later than the last moments of INFINITE CRISIS." So, BLUE BEETLE, like the rest of the DC line (I guess…?), jammed in a “one year later” subplot.

One Year Later? Really? Even if it's a new book, launching a new character, that doesn't need any added confusion? EDITORIAL FIAT! Even if it damages the compact between a reader and a book that a comic is a window into another world with its own people and geography and rules, by reminding us of the bizarre, haphazard creative forces that go into that world's creation? EDITORIAL FIAT! Even if it damages the relationship between a reader and a creative team by reminding the reader that the creative team includes a bunch of fucking editors? EDITORIAL FIAT! Even if Kyle Mclachlan reached into a kangaroo pouch and pulled out a severed ear, and the kangaroo punched him in the skull, and the ear was on fire, and the kangaroo was on fire, and our loins were on fire, and the whole world was on fire? DRUGS!

Earmuffs, Blue Beetle! Earmuffs!


The arc isn’t very meaningful long-term. I don’t know if that matters. The Posse plays hardly any role in the rest of the series— red herring.

Blue Beetle’s goal is to meet one particular member of the Posse so she can explain his powers to him. She never does or explains anything of any value, and is never seen again— red herring.

The arc sets up an archnemesis for Blue Beetle, La Dama, who doesn’t really ever do anything I remember being especially evil for the rest of the series— red herring.

The arc sets up a third nemesis for Blue Beetle, a magician henchman for La Dama who never really ends up mattering very much— red herring.

The entire arc is about magic in the DC Universe, and Blue Beetle learning about magic, and coping with magic. The rest of the comic is a space opera sci-fi adventure— red herring.

The most interesting bit is the series sets up a dilemma: should Blue Beetle save his friend from her evil Aunt and save himself the hassle of having his secret identity exposed, or should he allow her to be raised by a crime-lord for his own convenience?

Guess which option he chooses. Also: who ultimately resolves the moral dilemma? Not Blue Beetle— it’s resolved for him by external events. So, I’d personally categorize that under “herring, red.”


Something this arc got me thinking about is Blue Beetle’s relationship with his power.

The Marvel characters-- the nature of power is split for a Marvel character. You either achieve your powers (e.g. Tony Stark builds his Iron Man suit) or you’re victimized by them (e.g. whoops: Hulk). Power in a Marvel comic is not something to be merely enjoyed ala a DC character like The Flash or Superman— there’s more to it than that.

Captain America? Victim: a man out of time. Iron Fist? Achievement: learned kung-fu. Spider-man? Both: achievement-- built his webshooters, but also victimized by how his powers force him to be responsible. The X-Men? Victims. Daredevil? Uh: handi-capable. The Fantastic Four? Both victims and achievement-based heroes! And so on. The Marvel characters … there’s a certain fission element built into their DNA. Their relationships with power defines a lot about how or why those characters work.

The big DC characters are not as interesting in that respect. Sure, there’s Batman (both victim and achievement), but more of them were just sort-of handed their powers. Green Lantern is literally just handed a power ring—end of story.

How about our boy? How about Mr. Beetle? In the first issue, he learned that he had superpowers, and after that—he just goes off and uses them.

In this arc, he’s never really victimized by his powers— he’s more than happy to use them willy-nilly. No, he’s victimized by the unhappy situation of being a part of the DCU. He’s victimized because he was taken away from his family for a year due to the One Year Later stunt event-— that has nothing to do with his powers. He’s victimized by DC editors, which… get in line.

He certainly didn’t achieve his powers-- a magical rock crawled up his ass. He was sodomized with superpowers— wee. The only achievement was on the part of his sphincter.

Anytime I watch a James Bond movie, I want to know how to play Baccarat (it's an absolutely retarded card game). James Bond is all about achievement. James Bond fans want to dress like Bond dresses; smell like he smells.

Who’d want to smell like the Blue Beetle? Or his sphincter?

Not me, sister.

Not me.


This is the first part of an irregular, multipart series on issues #1 to #25 of the Blue Beetle series published by DC Comics. The John Rogers "era" of BLUE BEETLE ended recently with issue #25. Keith Giffen had left his position as co-writer of the recently launched book more than a year earlier. Artist Rafael Albuquerque is staying with the book, apparently-- he'd replaced Cully Hamner, the artist who'd launched the series before moving on to some bigger, better deal, if I can accidentally quote the 1984 USA Up All Night shit-fest, HARDBODIES.

The overarching origin story that Rogers-Giffen started in issue #1 and drove the first two years of the book also concluded in #25. I hadn't picked up the book until recently. It seems like the book generated a bit of an internet cult for itself-- the DCU's "Best Book You're Not Reading" book. I guess that attracted my attention.

So, I gathered together the first 25 issues the other night, start reading it and blah blah blah: I wasn't that into it. I kept reading for the art; inertia. But then, something changed: issue 22 kicked in-- and the story the creators had plainly wanted to tell the entire time drops.

It's a beaut. The last arc is a goddamn beaut. There's some big-ass, audience-pleasing, fan-service, stomp-Tokyo shit in that arc. It's Return of Barry Allen; it's Rock of Ages; as I believe The Game put it once, "I'm BIG, I'm Cube, I'm Nas, I'm 'Pac, this ain't shit but a warnin' til my album drop." It's not my song, and I'm not a fan of The Game, but the quote seemed apropos.

I'm going to start with some background which I'll mark out, in case anyone who reads this site somehow isn't aware of why the BLUE BEETLE comic exists to begin with. Pretty skippable for most of you, I figure.


The last Blue Beetle character, the second character to bear the name, was a creation of Spiderman co-creator Steve Ditko. He was featured in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMattheis's light-hearted, character comedy JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL alongside other not-fan-favorites like Fire (aka Green Flame), a deranged violent Green Lantern named Guy Gardner, and most notably, Booster Gold-- Gold and the earlier Blue Beetle formed a comedic duo for the DCU. Following that series, Blue Beetle also had a recurring role in the BIRDS OF PREY series.

Then, in this last decade, DC comics were competing poorly with competitor Marvel Comics-- Marvel had better creators and better characters. DC opted to compete by jolting their readership with a series of short-term "shocks" tied into a series of "must-read-to-understand-the-universe", editor-written crossovers. One of those shocks was having Blue Beetle-- remembered by many to be a comedic character-- having his brains splattered against a wall, as a signal that the DC "universe" would no longer be light-hearted or comedic, but would be... brain-splattery, instead. To assuage the fanbase that this was somehow "meaningful", they arranged for a brand-new Blue Beetle character to be a pivotal character to the concluding crossover in a suite of crossovers (which suite of crossovers preceded the subsequent suite of crossovers, or.. something).

DC's strategy worked for a little while until (a) Marvel followed suit with a series of crossovers that were enormously better, (b) DC seemingly over-invested in a strategy involving weekly comics, (c) the appeal of all this wore off with fans to some nebulous extent, and (d) the overall economy went fucking pear-shaped -- gas costs me $4 goddamn dollars a goddamn gallon, are you fucking kidding me, $4 goddamn dollars a goddamn gallon, goddamn. As of recent reports, DC may be back to where they were before they started all this nonsense, lame second fiddle to a creatively and commercially dominant Marvel Comics (at least by the highly limited and weird standards by which these sort of comics are judged).


So, then-- consider the likely goals of the creators at the outset of the series:

(1) Tell a single two-year meta-story that was comprised of smaller story arcs (what TV fans might call the "Buffy" model); (2) launch a new superhero character in a marketplace hostile to new superhero characters; (3) launch an ethnic character to an audience that never supports minority characters; (4) tie into the shitty, oppressive meta-story of the "DC Universe"; (5) remain independent enough of the shitty, oppressive meta-story of the “DC Universe" to convey the book’s own meta-story in a comprehensible way; (6) service a meta-arc while satisfying the demands of monthly fans-- e.g. having a superhero fight every issue; (7) tell a superhero origin story as well as telling a teen coming-of-age story; (8) juggle a superhero cast-- heroes, villains, mentors, etc.-- with a sizable supporting cast for the teen coming-of-age story; (9) place the brand new Blue Beetle character into some kind of larger context visa vi earlier iterations of the Blue Beetle brand name, without angering fans of previous iterations by suggesting those earlier versions were somehow less than the new version, while still allowing said fans to see the new characters as being a worthy inheritor of the brand name;and (10) present an all-ages book that's friendly to new fans looking for a new character to latch onto but also friendly to DCU otaku.


Sales of the new BLUE BEETLE series are in the fucking toilet; BLUE BEETLE chocolate kisses the toilet once a month. Initial orders for issue #22 of BLUE BEETLE were at 15,256 copies (NOTE: the significance of initial orders are a subject of a debate that I completely don't care about). Despite a dedicated internet fan-cult, and two artists producing work superior to most of what the DCU publishes, the series is one of the lowest selling books in the DCU.

The first 25 issues constitute not only a single entire story, but possibly a window into a number of different goals, successes, failures, so... My plan is to re-read the entire series, and see if I can think of anything interesting-ish to say.

Questions to consider: Why have fans rejected this series? What went wrong? Or if nothing went wrong, was there something that had to go "right" that didn't happen? What goes into the crafting and selling of a new superhero character? What goes wrong with new superheros, that so dramatically few catch on with fans? And most of all, why did the ending work? All of these reviews of nerdy shit that gets written week after week-- what do I read for an explanation of why nerdy things work?

Why does the ending work if the beginning so, so didn't? Because it sure doesn't start well...



This inaugural issue juggles two time-lines: a fight between Blue Beetle and the Guy Gardner Green Lantern in the "present", and a lengthy origin sequence set in the "past", setting up how the character received his powers, as well as the character's "secret identity" and supporting cast.

It's a strange place to have to start a new series, where one of the biggest moments in a new superhero comic has been taken away from the creative team. The big "Hello, Blue Beetle; meet the rest of the DCU" moment already happened, and it happened in a different comic. Or if you think about it, the creators were to some extent forced into the dual time-line structure-- an entire issue set prior to the events of the earlier-published crossover comic would have forced them to find a way to play "catchup" with the time-line of the other 900 books DC contemporaneously publishes. The dual time-line's inelegant, and robs the issue of any suspense or momentum, but it's probably preferable to whatever they would have otherwise had to do to keep current with the rest of the publishing line. Especially because DC was about to launch another stunt where such-and-such month was ONE YEAR LATER month, where all the books advanced a year-- something that comes up and causes some pointless havoc in later issues.

But look at that awful scene...

The rest of the scene is a comedy scene, establishing the new Blue Beetle's two best friends, a wisecracking young lady and a wisecracking pudgy friend. Also, Blue Beetle? Wisecracking. Everyone in the Blue Beetle comic sounds like they'd rather be in a Joss Whedon screenplay. For example: wisecracking! But betwixt all the wisecracking, in the midst of the wisecrack, the scene lurches into the following panel...

As the punchline to a comedy scene.

Jesus Crap, look at it. No matter where you are in a room, its eyes... its eyes just follow you. You know, you watch a Joss Whedon thing and you can at least say to yourself, "No one talks like that in real life, but I wish they did. While sitting on my face." But... I don't think you can say that here. I'm personally kind of glad that in real life, people don't make snappy wisecracks about the ritualistic child abuse that they suffer. I like a good snappy wisecrack; I'm pro-wisecrack; I'm just anti-ritualistic-child-abuse. That's what makes me a better person than you.

It's "laying pipe" according to Mr. Rogers's blog-- which is apparently a writer's expression meaning "writing and delivering the onerous dialogue which provids backstory and the plot facts needed to support the weight of the funny (or interesting). Exposition, kids, and it ain't fun." The fact the young lady's dad hits her is very-slightly meaningful to the series later (right this second, I don't even remember the dad ever being seen on-panel).

But: I would rather read a metal pipe. There's good reading on pipes. Hell, I would rather fuck a metal pipe, than... Well, I'd rather a fuck a metal pipe in general. Say goodbye to apologizing for premature ejaculation, and say hello to metal pipes. I have a teddy bear-- that's what it says on its t-shirt. That's why people say "pipe down" when they want you to be quiet-- that expression came from pipe fetishists like me. Because you don't talk dirty when you're fucking a metal pipe. That'd just be weird. "Oh, you're so cylindrical"-- that'd just be creepy. Fuck a pipe in silence. I have a teddy bear-- that's what it says to me when it's not telling me to impress Jodie Foster. Anyways...

Everything about these three panels is wrong.

First, it turns a comedy scene into an afterschool special.

Second, we've known the main character for all of two pages at this point, and the first thing they're telling us about him is that he doesn't care if his friend is getting physically abused by her father. "Oh, your dad savagely beats you? Does he molest you too? That's nice. Well, I'm going to just stand over here and pop my collar and quote The Game lyrics to the sidewalk." Let's read about that guy every month. Look at him-- "my father beats me"-- and he's rolling his eyes!

"You're talking about the physical abuse again? YAWN." Oh, we could explain it to ourselves-- they don't trust child services, say, so they don't report his abuse despite her obvious pleas for help-- but nothing that supports our explanation ever makes it to the page from what I remember.

Third, it doesn't work on a "does this make sense that character X would say Y" level of -- what, does she want him to punch her, too? Why? Can't she just have her dad double-down on the child abuse, if she's aiming to get punched...? If she wants to get punched, couldn't she just hide his whiskey or sass him during Leno's monologue or...? Or how about a scene where she teaches the other kid how not to leave bruises on any areas where school administrators might see them? How about that?

Fourth, while I love Cully Hamner's art and have since Green Lantern: Mosaic, and his work on this comic is as strong as ever, he doesn't really quite land the "dust the debris off" hand-move in that last panel of the sequence-- "Oh your dad beats you. Let me play my imaginary turntables. Air DJ competitions are in a week at the Civic Center, the week after Motocross."

It took no small amount of effort to keep reading this series.

What's interesting about the moment to me, though, is how it immediately positions the character as being morally compromised. Whatever explanation you can come up with in your head as to why he's not doing anything to help his friend is ultimately a compromise. I think maybe comic fans don't enjoy Figures of Compromise. For most of their history, superhero characters are these power fantasies about not having to compromise-- the X-Men fight for a dream; you can't compromise on a dream. Spiderman-- "great responsibility" and compromise, to some extent, seem incompatible to me. Compromise-- most of the recent events which have gotten fans the most upset have been compromises. Iron Man compromises and he's considered a villain to comic fans. Spiderman compromises that one time, and fans freak the fuck out.

Or not just comic fans, but people in general-- consider the Great Heroes of Western Civilization. Not a lot of compromise gets celebrated.

Winston Churchill: "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

Or Mike Tyson: "I'll fuck you till you love me."

The issue then concludes with, inter alia, this bit. The second panel, assuaging the otaku that Blue Beetle connects to some greater whole, is a reference to the character's introduction in the earlier crossover. Just an incomprehensible chunk jammed into the second-to-last panel without any explanation provided to any potential new readers, even a "See Issue ___" editorial caption since those are out-of-fashion. You know: probably not the best choice, that.

What's interesting to me about this scene is... you know, the great superheros, you can kind of boil down the appeal of that character to one word. Spiderman: perseverance, say. Hulk: anger. Captain America: patriotism. Thor: mythology. Iron Man: technology. Tinky-Winky: gayness. That's what those characters are fundamentally about.

What is this new Blue Beetle character about? Fundamentally about?

After the first issue, could a reader answer that question?

It's not about BEETLES. The above panels perhaps suggests its about alienation, but the rest of the comic doesn't support that idea-- the Blue Beetle character has friends and a family that he loves. He's hardly alienated.

I suppose... The 25 issues as a whole are a coming of age story-- like any coming of age story, it's about a young boy becoming a man, and entering the larger, cooler, scarier, world of adulthood. Same as Star Wars or whatever. Hell, the first issue even ends with him on a cliff looking out into that world-- it's not subtle. But that's...

First, I don't really think that's effectively communicated in the first issue. It's jammed into a few panels in the last page of the first issue. Second, it's a limited story-- at the end of 25 issues, that story is done. It's not enough to hang a series on, or at least-- I think it's got a time limit on it. Third, it answers the question for the series, perhaps, but not for the character. When Thor fights Iron Man, that's mythology and technology clashing regardless of which book it's happening in. How much does that matter? It's hard to say. Fourth, well ... I don't know. "Blue Beetle is about liminality." Thanks, college boy. You know? It's not obvious on its face, the way the appeal of other superhero characters often is (e.g., Doctor Strange, you just need to hear his name and the appeal is apparent).

So: not an auspicious beginning no, but it does get better...

Out like a lamb: Hibbs wraps 3/28

Right, let's "wrap up" last week -- PICK OF THE WEEK: I'm going to tie between two books I didn't actually write about (I didn't write about many comics this week, did I?): BLUE BEETLE #13, and USAGI YOJIMBO #101. USAGI is USAGI -- every issue is terrific fun stuff full of intrigue and action and humor and chills. It is very nearly a textbook example of "how to do good continuing comics", and this issue is no exception. (issue #100 was an exception, but that's because it was about the comic rather than being a comic itself). I remember having a conversation with someone or another maybe 15-20 years ago about the "celebrity" of the comics artist, and how much money the "top" artists were making in Japan, and how wouldn't it be nice if some day American creators might do as well as Rumiko Takahashi was doing then? (this was before Image, obviously) Today we have a couple of folks that are beginning to enter those kind of rarefied heights -- Frank Miller, I would assume; possibly Alan Moore, or some of his collaborators. I know at least one artist who never has to hustle any longer because of their SANDMAN royalties.

If there was any justice in the world, Stan Sakai would be in that bracket. Why do we live in a world where USAGI doesn't sell 50k an issue?

BLUE BEETLE is another solidly fun book, in "learning the ropes of the supergame" as its core. Obviously things jostle around month-by-month, but this is almost certainly DC's best monthly solo-character super-hero comic -- it has heart, it's filled with fun action, and it is very focused on building its own ambitious mythology within the larger DCU. Everything you want in a super-hero comic, ultimately.

So hurray for both of them!

PCIK OF THE WEAK: Yeah, got to be WONDER WOMAN #6. Picoult, I'm sure, will "get" the verbal/visual blend before too long, but she ain't got it yet. I intensely dislike the current editorial direction of the book, and I can't believe that we've got Circe as the heavy given the first arc of the book. Foo!

BOOK / TP OF THE WEEK: BATMAN: SNOW is absolutely loverly work from Seth Fisher; GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH was a solid way to get Hal back into the DCU; and boy, it's nice to have GRENDEL: DEVIL BY THE DEED back in print (kinda weird that its the B&W version, wasn't expecting THAT), but the best book of the week is pretty obviously Bryan Talbot's ALICE IN SUNDERLAND. Go buy it.

And, believe it or not, I have a BOOK / TP OF THE WEAK, our first ever: DEAD HIGH YEARBOOK, horror GN aimed at kids (? Really? That's rougher than *I*'d let less-than-15 touch, but the ads for this GN, in this week's DC's [!] seem to suggest they think its for younger than that). I suppose if you've never read a horror comic before this could be fun, but they read about as well as, say, a Gold Key TWILIGHT ZONE story. And the framing sequence was just interminable. It does have GREAT production values -- look at that puffy cover, the bloody smudges on the edges of the page, and so on -- but the content was really dreadfully weak.

Semi-parenthetically to that, I read through CENTURY GUILD CHAMBER OF MYSTERY v1 with a number of pre-Code horror stories. And they are weird and lurid, but they're not really any good at all. What I found the most interesting though was the note in the indicia that said (from memory) "The contents of this book have been significantly modified, so as to constitute a new copyright", which struck me as down right odd and peculiar.

Not owning any of the originals in question, I couldn't tell you want they changed -- the lettering and art certainly looks period. I suppose it could be recolored, even. But could that possibly be enough to assert copyright on something you didn't create in the first place?

Anyway, more tonight.