In the pages of the Batman/Superman ongoing the titular protagonists are up against The Batman Who Laughs, who has infected several heroes. To go along with the current Batman/Superman arc, DC is publishing one-shots to explore what each infected hero is going through. The second of these one-shots is The Infected: Scarab #1. The main questions I have going into this are whether these issues will actually add anything to the Batman/Superman story (either in terms of plot or character) and if these issues will be able to deliver a solid story that can stand on its own (even if it’s open-ended to tie into Batman/Superman). In this review I’ll answer those questions based on my own subjective views. Let’s have a look!
Okay, I’m just saying it right now: this tie-in is so much better than it needs to be! Seriously, this is good comics. I still have a few points of criticism, but I think that this issue is an excellent example of what these Infected tie-ins could be. With the exception of Supergirl #36, in which there is at least some insight into her train of thought that explains why she gives in to the infection, the other Infected tie-ins, so far, have not succeeded at fleshing out the title characters and providing explanations for why they do what they do. I get that they act evil because they are infected, but being infected, as I’ve said a couple times already in different reviews, is not a motivation—it’s a condition. I feel these characters still need a motivation that drives them, besides just being infected. What Scarab gets right is that it turns this whole concept of getting infected upside-down and it explores that concept fully.
This comic is, at its core, very straight-forward and simple. Jaime Reyes wakes from a nightmare about The Batman Who Laughs infecting him, and as the story continues he starts to behave weirder and weirder until he gets completely consumed by the infection. Where characters in other tie-ins have just gone with the motions and turned into almost mindless, annoying brats that just go about insulting people and not much else, Jaime’s transformation is pure horror. The horror not only comes from the fact that an infection is taking over his mind, but throughout the process, all the way till the end, Jaime is fully conscious of what’s happening to him and he’s powerless to stop it. He’s trapped inside his own body, which is itching and hurting and changing, and he cannot escape it. I’m a huge fan of body horror, and this issue makes great use of that concept, and it makes complete sense to apply that concept to a character like Blue Beetle, seeing as his scarab is actually embedded in his spine. So there is potential for body horror from the get-go.
Witnessing Jaime’s descent into madness and his suffering makes me feel bad for him. Through this, the creative team makes me care about the character. They don’t just assume that their readership is already familiar with Jaime and automatically cares—which seems to be the case in some of the other Infected comics—but they build up Jaime’s predicament page by page, panel by panel. First we see Jaime acting strange in front of his friends, Brenda and Paco. Then we see him fighting the villain Ghostfire and getting more and more aggressive over the course of the battle. We even see Jaime throwing up black goo, and we see his behavior gradually becoming more animalistic. BWL, who doesn’t physically appear in this issue, adds fuel to the fire by whispering into Jaime’s mind, similarly to how he whispers into Superman’s mind in Batman/Superman #4. It’s not clear to me how BWL is able to do this—it almost seems like telepathy, although I don’t think the character is capable of that—but I’m willing to overlook this, because it works so well for the story. Jaime doesn’t even know what this entity is that’s talking to him, and it scares him, and by extension BWL kind of scares me too. This is what I want from these tie-ins—an actual progression from the good persons these heroes are supposed to be to the infected monsters that they become.
The art plays a huge role in this. From page one to the last, Freddie E. Williams II is providing visual clues and hints that build suspense. For example, after Jaime wakes up from his dream, he grabs his shoe and discovers that there’s black goo dripping from the sole. This freaks him out as he doesn’t understand what it is, but of course it’s a precursor to Jaime throwing up that same stuff. Williams II also draws a great Blue Beetle with cool looking armor, which is colored well by Jeremy Colwell—the different shades of blue and the bright yellow lenses in the helmet make for some great eye candy. The difference between Blue Beetle’s uninfected look and his infected look is vast, as the artists make Jaime look absolutely monstrous in his infected form, and I think he easily looks the most scary out of all the infected characters. Now he has big jaws and sharp claws and the blackness in his eyes reflects his dark intent. I haven’t seen these artists draw these kinds of horror visuals before, and it’s great to become more aware of their range.
What works less well—and this mostly has to do with the colors and inks—is how the opening pages and the Blue Beetle/Ghostfire fight sequence are colored. The opening pages make me feel disoriented, and while I think that’s the point because it depicts a scary nightmare, it’s also hard to make out what exactly is happening on the page. The colors and inks are very muddy and a lot of texture gets lost in that, which is ironic, because we actually see Jaime crawling through mud. In any case, even if the art shows mud and rain and is meant to be disorienting, this should not make it harder for me to make out what exactly is happening as that, in turn, makes it harder to follow the story. The same can be said for the fight sequence, although here it’s not mud and rain that’s hindering the flow of the story, but the overwhelming flame deluge that fills the pages. The many shades of orange look pretty, but a lot of definition and texture is lost in the fire, which makes it harder to follow the sequential fight.
- You want an Infected comic that actually shows us what it’s like to get infected, as opposed to most of the other tie-ins.
- You like the Blue Beetle villain Ghostfire.
- You are into body horror, because this book has plenty of that stuff.
Overall: This comic is really good and I definitely recommend that you get it, even if you’re not reading the Infected event! This issue offers a full reading experience and, in a way, the open ending makes that experience even more poignant and unsettling. While some texture and definition gets lost in some of the art because of the wash of colors, this story does an excellent job of showing us what actually happens to our hero as he gets infected. Jaime’s despair resonates strongly as he’s painfully aware of what’s happening to him but is unable to escape it. This is what Infected stories should be like. This is a story worth adding to your collection. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.