“Endgame” (part 4)
Do you know why the Giffen -- DeMatteis run on Justice League, and the related titles, was the best damn incarnation of that title up until that point and since?
Well, there are a lot of factors that contributed to that, but only two that are necessarily relevant to this review: They respected the past, but did not feel bound to it.
Think of the team’s first line-up: We had, among others, the Blue Beetle, although he wasn’t quite the character Steve Ditko had created, and that character wasn’t the original Beetle. Then there was Guy Gardner, depicted in a more malignant manner than he had ever managed before; oh, he had always been a jerk, but here he was deliciously deviant. Obviously Captain Marvel was not the same character whose adventures C.C. Beck had depicted – if you can call those delightfully fun, cheesy old Cap stories “adventures” (the big red cheese, indeed). This was not Dan Garrett, Alan Scott, or even the earlier versions of their successors – these were new characters handled in a new way while reverence for the past was maintained. Giffen et al. didn’t completely re-envision Mister Miracle and Oberon, for example, they simply logically extrapolated new ways to handle the characters, new directions for them to go in.
That was one of the major flaws of Identity Crisis and so much of the DCU’s stories over the last few years: These stories have, to a large degree, hinged on people behaving in ways contrary to what was established in the past. They weren’t respecting the past while taking it somewhere new, they were trashing the past in the hopes of creating the illusion of telling surprising stories. Maxwell Lord as an evil supervillain, indeed.
Well that is one way in which this book, Blue Beetle, yes, this is a review of Blue Beetle, has been so marvelous: It’s a new Beetle, a very new book, and yet it is respectful of what has gone before. Rogers et al. have mined new directions for old stories based on those old stories, not based on trashing those old stories. Using both old and new stories, they have created a new origin for the scarab, for the entire Beetle mythos, that makes sense – is consistent with past stories – while still being something new. That new origin is finally revealed completely here in #25, and the new backstory is as good as the last two years’ worth of this excellent title.
In many ways, Rogers’ temporary bow-out issue of Blue Beetle – the writer is going on hiatus from the title now that he has finished establishing a new backstory and foundation for the character – functions as a microcosm of the title to this point. We get to see the entire supporting cast being tough and funny and loving – in short, people we can care about. We also get some of the aforementioned respect for the past, with the core characters of the Giffen League, minus one or two, showing up to lend Jamie and friends a hand. They didn’t have to be in this story – Rogers could have saved the supporting cast in any number of ways – but it was the perfect note on which to end the first, epic installment in the adventures of Jamie Reyes. This book is moving forward, while never disrespecting the past. Finally, we get to see another installment in Jamie’s evolution from sweet, normal kid to an honest-to-goodness hero, someone worthy of the Beetle lineage.
Oh, right, I said there were a couple of reasons why the Giffen-DeMatteis League was so good, or at least a couple that were relevant to this review. Reverence for the past, while still moving forward, is reason number one. Reason number two, as cheesy as it sounds, is heart. Once the bwa-ha-ha-s subsided, there was real heart to those characters. When J’onn absorbed Despero’s consciousness into his own, his explanation – he opted to share his mind with a psychotic killer because he loved his friends too much to risk them dying at his hands – was an emotionally satisfying, even tear jerking, ending to a story about a bunch of people in capes beating on each other. Hey, there is no shortage of stories about superheroes and villains pounding each other into the ground using skyscrapers as weapons. Why should anyone care? But just try reading this issue of Blue Beetle without smiling when Jamie unflinchingly opts to lay down his life to save the world. Then try not to smile when a delightful deus ex machina comes along to make that sacrifice unnecessary. They try to keep from choking up a little when Jamie is reunited with his family.
Lost of humor and action, characters you can give a damn about, true heroism in a magic-and-sci-fi coating – this book has everything but a massive audience. Rogers’ successors have big shoes to fill, and if you like good comics and haven’t been following this one, you’ve got lots of reading to do.
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