Blue Beetle #26
Escrito por Jai Nitz
Ilustrado por Mike Norton y Trevor Scott
Rotulo por Rob Leigh
Coloro por Guy Major
One of the benchmarks for good cartooning is that it can tell a story without words. One of the hallmarks of the hallmarks of superhero comics is that they're essentially visual gibberish that can't be understood without words. So I was sort of curious to see how DC would handle Blue Beetle #26, an issue where 85% of the dialogue is in Spanish. Would it be a tour-de-force of cartooning that anyone could follow, or a mess of pin-ups and glamor shots that no one could follow?
Neither, as it turns out.
Now, Blue Beetle #26 has a very simple plot, and one that's pretty clearly communicated by the art. Jamie takes his girlfriend to a family reunion, spends some time talking to his mother and grandmother, flies off to go fight the Parasite, and beats him by hulking out somehow. All very straightforward. But the art is still a failure, unable to communicate overall context and tone to non-Spanish speakers. For discussion purposes, here's an early page where Jaime talks to two of his cousins:
Now ask yourself, what's going on here? Obviously, we've got four people talking to each other, but what are they talking about? More importantly, how are they talking to each other? Is Jamie happy to see them, just being polite, or even condescending to them? Are his cousins angry, sad, jealous? If this were a Mexican film, I'd be able to pick up those emotional undercurrents from body language, line readings, even the mise en scene.
Now, I don't expect to the art to communicate everything - there are some concepts which are just too complex to be expressed exclusively in visual terms. For instance, let's say Jamie was being insulted by his cousins. I might never know whether they insulted his hair or his girlfriend or his political beliefs. But I should at least be able to tell that he was insulted.
In corporate comics, providing these cues is the responsibility of the artist, but it's a responsibility that's been abandoned because corporate comics are being created and developed by people who have little knowledge or respect for the craft of storytelling. Here, the fact that the an unfamiliar language merely exposes these structural weaknesses in the art.
To be fair to Mike Norton, he actually manages to put together a fight scene that has a nice ebb and flow to it. But the real highlight of this issue is Jamie's interaction with his girlfriend and his family, and his inability to inject life into these scenes dooms them from the start.