Granted, it’s not the original concept: A teenager finds a mysterious object that gives him great powers. He kind of looks like he should be teaming up with the Power Rangers. But as much as the book relies a tried-and-true formula, it executes that formula surprisingly well. Blue Beetle isn’t a groundbreaking, original, or even particularly great comic, but it is a textbook example of how to effectively introduce a new character.
In recent years, it’s become conventional wisdom for writers to explore the origins of a new character slowly and gradually: Introduce the character in their everyday life. Show the event/accident/discovery that leads to gaining superpowers. Show them adapting to those powers. Have them learn a valuable lesson and become a superhero with a costume. It’s an approach that works well in the right hands – such as Miller’s Year One, or Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man – but more often than not it results in at least an issue or two’s worth of boredom before the reader gains any idea of what the book’s really going to be about.
Co-writers Keith Giffen and John Rogers bypass this entirely by splitting the book in a present/flashback structure. In present-day, the Blue Beetle crashes to Earth, fights Guy Gardner, and finds himself stranded in the desert. In the flashbacks, we meet young Jaime and his friends and family, and see him discover a blue scarab figurine that changes his life and attracts all sorts of attention from unwelcome elements.
It’s an effective plot structure that mixes immediate action with gradual character building. We get to see Jaime as a regular teenager with regular friends and family, and we find out how he becomes the new Blue Beetle. Jaime’s a likeable, average kind of guy who doesn’t fit any of the stereotypical nerd/jock/outcast roles. His two best friends bicker for our entertainment, but are still credible characters. His family falls into a lightly more routine role – hardworking father who pushes him to work harder at school, hardworking mother who keeps the family together, cute and slightly-annoying (though not overly so) little sister.
But we’re also rewarded with immediate action and a sense of what the new Beetle can do. Giffen and Rogers also manage to make the source of Jaime’s new powers mysterious without being confusing: While the reader doesn’t really know what’s going on, neither does Jaime, and there are enough hints and clues to keep the story moving. It’s the sort of thing that needs to be explained sooner rather than later, but for now it’s a compelling mystery.
I normally have my reservations about books that are solid yet don’t try to do anything new – what’s the point? – but Blue Beetle is proving an exception to the rule. While it’s not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, it’s well-rounded and expertly constructed to provide the maximum amount of superhero standards required by law: Action, character, mystery, and comedy are all found in abundance. Strong stuff, and one of the best launches for a new superhero to come along in quite a while.