What Are You Reading? | ‘Way of X,’ ‘Blue Beetle,’ ‘Usagi Yojimbo’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately.

Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

This week I read all nineteen issues of the “Rebirthed” Blue Beetle, which teamed up Jaime Reyes with Ted Kord and ran from October 2016 through April 2018. Scott Kolins drew the whole thing and co-plotted through issue #7, with Keith Giffen co-plotting and scripting through issue #7. Giffen then plotted issues #8-13, with old pal J.M. DeMatteis scripting; and Christopher Sebela then became sole writer for issues #14-18. It was a bit disjointed at times, with a decent-sized supporting cast that included a few superheroes wandering in from other series. The character dynamics sometimes felt a bit familiar, which was understandable considering that this was Jaime’s third series since his 2006 introduction.

Fortunately, the series’ main relationship was its most successful. Again, this volume of Blue Beetle co-starred Jaime’s predecessor Ted Kord, now mentoring a reluctant Jaime. Despite Giffen (and DeMatteis) handling Ted once again, he’s not bwah-ha-ha-ing all over the place. Instead, he’s a slightly manic inventor, eager to pass on life lessons from his brief and not-entirely-successful superhero career. Popping in occasionally is Doctor Fate, who recognizes the Blue Beetle scarab from its days in ancient Egypt and wants to make sure it doesn’t become some sort of doomsday device. Ted’s assistant Teri also has some hidden depths which come into the open with Giffen and DeMatteis’ final arc. Oh, and Jaime’s schoolmate Kevin is yet another New 52-era character Giffen worked on, who (like Teri) gets an encore in this series.

Thus, the first 14 issues (counting the “Rebirth” special) weave an array of plots and subplots which eventually culminate in Jaime, Ted and company squaring off against an ancient sorceror. The combination of Giffen, DeMatteis and Kolins is itself very familiar, because they’ve worked together on various titles including Justice League 3001, Larfleeze and OMAC. It’s occasionally compelling, but mostly just slightly above average. In this case the lack of JLI-style patter is a plus, because otherwise it might invite some unfair comparisons. Probably the most effective moments are around issues #12-13, when Jaime has lost the scarab and has to put on Ted’s old Beetle costume to go into action. It’s a good way to show his character without engaging with the scarab’s consciousness, and it contrasts him with Ted while indirectly showing more of what Ted’s super-career was probably like. (We already have some idea, because Ted still flies the Bug everywhere.) Overall, though, Jaime’s powers tend to just erupt into whatever gizmo he thinks will fix the situation. That’s not a bad metaphor for the teenage years, but it doesn’t make the storytelling any more coherent. The Sebela-written arc which closes out the series deals only with Jaime and his friends, but it also could probably have been an issue shorter.

All that said, Blue Beetle wasn’t a bad read. I enjoyed the relationship between Ted and Jaime, and the series did reintroduce a few characters who got lost in the weeds of the New 52. However, in hindsight it doesn’t seem like a particularly essential series. Ted and Booster Gold are set to star in their own Blue and Gold miniseries this summer, and it will apparently revive their old JLI dynamic. After reading the Rebirthed Blue Beetle, though, I do hope that Blue and Gold doesn’t forget about Jaime.

Carla Hoffman

I don’t know who said it on Twitter first; whether it was Si Spurrier himself or editor Jordan D. White or maybe just the Marvel Comics account in general, but it is an absolute truth that Way of X #1 is the Krakoa book for people who don’t like Krakoa. And I’m not talking about the island! I’m talking about the greatest change-up in the history of the X-Men line and that includes the Age of Apocalypse; HoX/PoX, the Hickman era, the Krakoa era, whatever you call it, the latest saga of Marvel’s Merry Mutants has been wide-sweeping and transformative. Mostly, this is great because the X-books have been injected with new life, another rebirth of stories and drama, but it also can be kind of alienating. It always feels like you’re missing something, a reason why everyone’s so cool with hanging out on this island with Mister Sinister and Apocalypse and reanimated dead mutants from downloadable copies of their brains in space? Why don’t we talk about this?

Well, that’s what Way of X is here to do: writer Si Spurrer and artist Bob Quinn are looking to explore or, at least in the first issue, point out the absurdity of life for mutant in this new age. What do you do when death is meaningless? Who do you welcome into your society when you can regain your powers through death by combat? It’s not a book I’d recommend to readers who are walking up to the stands for the first time in a few years, but I would to those curious about what all this means for the philosophy of mutant kind and what kind of metaphor are we getting at these days. Full of analysis, humor and a relatable perspective from everyone’s favorite fuzzy blue elf and renown Catholic, Kurt Wagner, try Way of X #1 for the start of hopefully a long series of reflection on the X-Men, mutants, and society.

JK Parkin

I bought Batman/Fortnite more out of curiosity than anything — well, that and I like Christos Gage and Reilly Brown, who are always solid. I have no real knowledge of Fortnite besides it being a game one of my co-workers won’t let her kids play (she’s mentioned that multiple times) but that didn’t really matter here. The story of superheroes getting sucked into a weird dimension where everyone loses their memories and spends their time fighting works just as well as a Batman story, where he has a mystery to solve. Apparently this comic is proving really popular for retailers, which is always good to hear, and hopefully will lead to new customers who become just as obsessed with comics as they do the special code for in-game items.

Usagi Yojimbo #19, which came out on Wednesday, is one of those great, done-in-one Usagi issues that Stan Sakai excels at. It follows a multi-issue arc that veered over into the supernatural, something that hasn’t happened a lot over the course of the character’s history, but it’s always fun when it does happen. This issue follows suit, as Usagi runs into someone from his past (which also ties into the recent overarching story of Usagi’s return to his home province) who bares a grudge. There’s one panel in particular that really ups the creep factor, but it’s also a pretty big spoiler, so I’ll refrain from sharing and just say it’s fun to see Sakai weave all these themes together to make a great comic.

Finally, Avengers #45, which also came out this week, follows both King in Black and the recent Phoenix storyline, and also seems to be serving as a prelude to the next big event, May’s Heroes Reborn. It’s a “day in the life” issue that has some well-done Black Panther scenes, interactions between Ghost Rider and the new Phoenix, plus the repercussions that come from Balde’s actions during the final issue of King in Black. After the last few issues of the title felt like watching a video game — or, actually, like watching someone trying to decide what character to pick on the home screen of Street Fighter — this was a nice, welcome respite between the big, world-ending/world-changing events that have defined this era of the title.

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