As I prepared to write this review, one thing became painfully clear to me. Comic books are very different from when I was growing up. Not that I still don’t enjoy them. And its not that I haven’t been aware of this change for some time now, but every time I read a comic nowadays, I am displeased to one degree or another.
This isn’t a jab at this particular comic, Blue Beetle No. 3 — though it certainly seems deserving, but a jab at the trend I’ve grown so weary of: the “trade arc” story style.
As any modern-day comics reader knows, every comic book series is now written in a format that will allow it to be collected into a trade paperback. Each collected edition contains what would be six to nine issues of the series. As a “trade,” said story makes for a complete tale.
But this style of story is at the expense of the individual issue sales. Readers get stories that have beginnings and no ends. They get ends of stories with no explanation of what the start of the story was. Characters aren’t introduced. Questions, usually simple ones, don’t get answered.
It’s all very frustrating to a “pamphlet reader,” as we could be called.
Some might argue that this is the same dilemma that TV watchers face, but TV watchers don’t have to wait a month (or more!) between installments. They tune in at the same Bat-time and the same Bat-channel.
Not so with the labyrinth world of comics. You have to remember a lot more for a lot longer. You have to know when someone refers to Superboy as “Connor,” that we’re talking about the half-Superman/half-Lex Luthor clone who died recently, not the young Clark Kent in his Superman costume.
That’s the kind of stuff comic-book readers deal with, and when a writer expects us to remember the supporting cast and things that we read two months ago, things get a bit rough.
And that diatribe leads me to Blue Beetle No. 3.
I want to like this book. I like Charlton characters in general. I love the Blue Beetle. I think this costume is kick-butt. I’m all for him.
But what I’m not for is an incomplete story for my $3.
I want a story — a complete story — that answers (at least some of) my questions shortly after I ask them. I want a story that doesn’t involve a “shocking revelation” that pays off three issues from now. If I’m buying a comic book today, I want my shocking revelation today, and then you can let me stew about it for the next few issues. The key is that the writers have to give me something to chew on. Something tangible. Otherwise, you’re betting that you’ve enticed me enough to come back, and that’s a losing bet.
You see, in this issue, Jaime, who has been missing for a year and is the new Blue Beetle, reveals his secret (he’s now a superhero) to his family. Mom gets mad. Kid sister freaks out and dad tries to understand.
As Jaime talks with his father, he notices that dad is now using a cane. He asks why and dad changes the subject. You know what, writers? I want to know. I want to know now. Even if it’s the biggest secret since the development of the seven-herbs-and-spices recipe, it’s asinine that you’re making us wait. Give me some resolution. Just a little, tiny slice of resolution. That’s all I ask.
The issue also features the debut (?) of a new Peacemaker character. The Peacemaker, another Charlton character acquired by DC in the 1980s, shows up at convenience store, beats up some would-be robbers, and announces to the readers he’s got someone to go see, presumably Beetle. Other than that, we have no clue why he’s in the book. Again, if I had waited for the trade, I would get this resolution in another few minutes of reading, but as a pamphlet reader, I’m just stuck wondering what it’s all about. The scene certainly didn’t excite me. It didn’t make me desperate to buy the next issue. It just annoyed me.
Finally, we get to see some more of the new Beetle in action. His multitude of powers are getting revealed bit by bit. His scarab helps him fight. He can fly with some extremely goofy-looking wings. He can create all sorts of mechanical contraptions to help him in a brawl.
All pretty neat powers — if we could figure out how it they work.
The contraptions just keep popping up out of no where. No explanations. Nothing. We have no idea what “rules” govern the Blue Beetle, and rather than being intrigued, I’m annoyed — again.
A bad sign if you ask me.
Blue Beetle No. 3 (July 06)
“The Past is Another Country”
Written by: Keith Giffen & John Rogers
Art by: Cynthia Martin
One Star out of Four