Legacy can be a tricky thing for super heroes, especially the ones that got their start back in the Golden Age. Take, for instance, Blue Beetle. In the comics, the current Beetle, Jaime Reyes, was trained in part by Ted Kord. Ted, you see, was also a Blue Beetle at one point in time, except not at all the sort of Blue Beetle Jaime is right now.
Even weirder still? Ted’s not the first person to hold the Blue Beetle mantle, and the man before him didn’t really look all that similar to either of the Beetles we know today. In fact, stand all three classic Blue Beetles up next to one another, and you’d really have to squint to see any resemblance, despite the fact that they’re all directly connected to one another in more ways than one.
But don’t worry. What the Blue Beetle family tree lacks in sense, it makes up for in overall enthusiasm...mostly. (Jaime might beg to differ on that one, but who could really blame him, with everything going on in Palmera City these days?) Certainly, all of us here at DC.com are enthusiastically awaiting Jaime's big screen debut in this summer's Blue Beetle, which just dropped a new trailer today. But even the most excited of us can recognize that Blue Beetle's history is a little confusing, so let's see if we can clear it up!
Dan Garrett is a name you might not be all that familiar with, and there’s a reason for that. Dan’s heyday was anywhere between fifty and seventy years ago, depending on who you ask. He “officially” originated back in 1940, as a suit wearing, Dick Tracy-flavored crimefighter and spy—two of the most popular archetypes of comics in that day and age.
This version of Dan had the last name “Garret” (with one “T”) and wore a suit, fedora and later a costume that he would call “chain mail,” but looked suspiciously like spandex most of the time. He even eventually got superpowers, thanks to a mysterious vitamin supplement called “Vitamin 2X” that gave him super strength.
Eventually the publication rights to Dan Garret were purchased by Charlton Comics in the mid-1960s, and he was given a pretty thorough re-work (which included, inexplicably, adding the second “T” to his last name.) This is where we start seeing a Blue Beetle we might recognize down the line start to develop. With Charlton, Dan became an archeologist rather than a spy, and his “Vitamin 2X” was deleted entirely in favor of a mysterious Egyptian scarab that he found on an archeological dig. The scarab would transform Dan into the Blue Beetle and give him super powers with the magic word “Kaji dha!”
For a handful of years during the ’60s, Dan would fight all sorts of camp classic monsters and bad guys (you know, like giant mummies) and even find time to take some students under his wing. Students like…
Ted originated under Charlton in 1966 and was made to be a student of Dan’s. He was a genius and skilled inventor who idolized his teacher’s heroics (even though he had no powers of his own). Unfortunately, when Ted teamed up with Dan to investigate a mystery (surrounding an army of androids, naturally), Dan sustained fatal injuries during a fight.
Ted was devastated to be left without his hero and mentor and vowed to take up the Blue Beetle legacy as his own, even though he couldn’t access the powers of Dan’s scarab. He kept it with him, though, as a sort of lucky charm—something that would come to serve him during DC’s massive continuity shifting event Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 1980s. Through the Crisis, Ted was pulled from his alternate Charlton Comics Earth and into the main DC Universe, where he would stay for good.
Continuity jumbling aside, Ted retained his backstory with Dan, though the connection to the scarab mostly faded into the background. Instead, Ted became a sort of brightly colored Bruce Wayne, using his money and his intellect to create all sorts of crimefighting gizmos and gadgets like his iconic insectoid ship, the Bug (above). He’d even eventually come to join the Justice League and form a close friendship with the time traveling Booster Gold.
More recently, Ted’s given up most of his adventuring in favor for a more “hands off” approach to superheroics, after the scarab resurfaced with a decidedly more sinister, extraterrestrial twist and attached itself to a teenager named…
After the cataclysmic events of Infinite Crisis, Dan Garrett’s old scarab found itself newly reenergized and rocketing through space and time, only to land in El Paso, Texas where unsuspecting teenager Jaime Reyes happened upon it. Except, this time, it wasn’t just a magical trinket that allowed a person to turn into the Blue Beetle with the correct magic words—the scarab itself had been totally transformed.
Poor Jaime just so happened to get caught in the middle. The scarab, seeking a “host,” attached itself to Jaime’s spine and became completely impossible to remove. It wasn’t without some advantages, though, even if it was...well, kinda creepy if you think too hard about it. The scarab formed a sort of neural connection with Jaime’s body and would manifest all sorts of interesting technological abilities for him, including forming a full on exo-suit that allows him to fly and access any number of weapons. The scarab also works as a computer, almost the same way a Green Lantern ring does, and can translate and assess Jaime’s surroundings at will.
So, maybe not a totally raw deal, except Jaime didn’t really have a say in whether or not he wanted to be a superhero. No matter what, that scarab on his spine was not going to move.
Luckily, Jaime has the heart of a hero and since he took up the mantle, has been an important part of the DCU, even if he can be a bit of a wild card. The problem is that there are a lot of other people—and aliens, so many aliens—who want the scarab for themselves. And like we said, the scarab is impossible to remove...at least without killing its host. Here's hoping Jaime learns how to master it quickly.
Mason Downey writes about comics, movies and superhero history for DC.com. Look for more of his work on GameSpot, IGN and Polygon and follow him on Twitter at @rustypolished.