Blue Beetle #4
Things start to come together after Jaime's recent trip to the tomb of Pharaoh Kha-Ef-Re, the place where Dan Garrett originally found Khaji Da! What does the Blood Scarab need Khaji for, and what does this mean for Jaime Reyes?!
For Jaime, it’s a dark night of the soul. For Paco and Xiomara, it’s a date night. Blue Beetle #4 steps aside from plot advancement almost entirely, instead letting us spend some time getting to better know the series’ characters. It’s an unexpected choice. Is it a successful one?
Victoria Kord stares at a giant flower arrangement as Blue Beetle #4. It comes courtesy of Lex Luthor and offers condolences on the difficult time for Victoria’s family. Victoria promptly incinerates it with a flamethrower. Elsewhere, Jaime wrestles with a dilemma–the question of whether killing an enemy is justified. While Jaime struggles with that, both alone and with others, his friend Paco takes Xiomara out for a date night. Everything goes well until the surprise arrival of a villain who recently double crossed Jaime: Fadeaway.
Blue Beetle #4 is an outlier for its genre. It is entirely a character focused issue. There is no action at all. The series’ current villain only appears on one page. Instead, the issue’s main focus is Jaime’s struggle over what he failed to do in the previous issue: kill Blood Scarab. It starts in the beginning with his concern for his aunt after the violence at her restaurant. That sets the stage for two key conversations, first with Oo’li of the Horizon and then with Starfire. Oo’li urges Jaime to always do whatever is necessary to defeat an enemy and admonishes him for the weakness of letting Blood Scarab live. Starfire, on the other hand, warns Jaime that killing someone will change him and talks up empathy as Jaime’s best quality.
This conflict isn’t a new idea. And it especially seems to crop up with younger superheroes. In the case of Blue Beetle #4, though, Trujillo’s choice to devote such a large share of the issue to it and not rush Jaime into a battle with Blood Scarab immediately after a decision is made gives the conflict added importance. The way the issue ends further reinforces that Jaime actually thought about the subject, even as his conversation with Starfire ended abruptly.
Jaime doesn’t get all the attention in the issue. Victoria Kord continues to be very compelling despite the limited nature of appearances. Trujillo walks an interesting line with Victoria–dangerous with a savagely dry wit. That, combined with her relatively intermittent appearances, makes her an outsize character that always commands attention. The date night between Paco and Xiomara is fun–easily the most lighthearted part of the issue. It does get crashed at the end by Fadeaway, but the issue delivers multiple pages of lighthearted fun that makes Xiomara a deeper, more sympathetic character.
Gutiérez gets to lean into a strength in Blue Beetle #4. He is skilled at the action sequences this series regularly delivers. But delivering expressive characters displaying all manner of emotions in different situations is where he excels in this series. This is especially true in the Paco/Xiomara date sequence. Gutiérez makes Paco, perhaps more than anyone else, wear his emotions on his sleeve. The date sequence is easily the most fun in the issue. Paco and Xiomara are charming, and it’s largely thanks to Gutiérez. Trujillo’s dialogue is good for character development, but here the art sets the tone.
The opening scene featuring Victoria and Lex’s flower arrangement sees Gutiérez essentially reuse a horizontal panel featuring a close-up on VIctoria’s eyes behind her slightly lowered glasses. The difference between each panel is her eyes’ direction–straight ahead, to each side, mid eye roll. That’s all Gutiérez needs to convey the character’s level of interest and disinterest in every moment in the scene.
Quintana’s colors are typically a highlight in every Blue Beetle issue. Part of this is because his work is such an integral part of the series’ action. His and Filardi’s work is more low key here. With no action on tap, the colors shine mainly in the background night time skyscapes. Starry nights, twilight blues giving way to black, the bright lights of city buildings, the sea blue moon set as a background against which Starfire and Jaime have their conversation–it’s beautiful in its simplicity (relative to the rest of this series, anyway).
In the same way Quintana’s work is scaled back compared to the series’ previous issues, Gattoni’s lettering is considerably more restrained. There are only two sound effects in the issue. But even in simplicity, Gattoni’s work is high quality. The FWOOOSH on a flamethrower as Victoria immolates Lex Luthor’s flower arrangement builds up in the fire with the three Os pushing backward in the same direction as the flame. The other sound effect is a SNAP when Oo’li makes that very gesture. Gutiérez has drawn her left hand at the start of the snap with thumb against middle finger. Gattoni puts a small S just to the left of the thumb and finger with a much larger NAP behind in the direction the middle finger would travel while making the corresponding sound. These are further examples of the thought Gattoni puts into his work. The sound effects aren’t there simply to convey a noise. They work in conjunction with the art and are almost always additive to what Gutiérez’s art is trying to convey.
Blue Beetle’s creative team has built a compelling world and character set. As a result, this is a charming issue. It’s thoughtful at times and fun at times. It doesn’t necessarily advance the plot but is likely essential to where the plot will go and how it will resolve. But more than anything, it is a superb example of something that should happen in action oriented superhero series. Blue Beetle #4 is a tight, character focused issue that is as good if not better than the action oriented issues that preceded it.
Blue Beetle #4: A Night Out
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9.5/109.5/10
- Color - 8.5/108.5/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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