Blue Beetle is a character and a motif which dates all the way back to 1939, across ten volumes, five publishers and three different bearers of the mantle. Today, that mantle comes with much different baggage than it once did in the Golden Age, as new creative teams have put their own spin on the name and its significance. To some, the Blue Beetle name was a motif, akin to his predecessor Batman. Sometimes it’s been an ancient mystic artifact from the Egyptian pharaohs, bestowing great power to its wielder. In recent years, however, it’s been a highly dangerous world-conquering siege engine from the stars, capable of practically anything.
As sensibilities in comic book storytelling have changed, so too has the significance, purpose, origin and functionality of the Blue Beetle which gives each bearer their name. So, what’s the deal? Is it alien? Is it magic? Let’s explore each permutation of the scarab, and set the record straight on where it stands today—other than grafted to the current Blue Beetle’s back.
A Long Time Ago, in a Land Pharaoh Way
Blue Beetle may have debuted in 1934, but the scarab itself wouldn’t figure into his origins until a continuity refresh when the character changed publisher’s hands from Fox Feature Syndicate to Charlton Comics in 1964. Originally, Dan Garret (with one “T”) was a police officer who moonlit as a costumed crimefighter, using an experimental formula to give himself enhanced strength, speed and stamina augmented by a blue chainmail ensemble.
Charlton would reintroduce Dan Garrett (with two “T”s) as an archaeologist who discovers a mystic scarab while on a dig in Egypt. You know, as archaeologists turned superheroes tended to do at the time, given your Hawkmen and Metamorphos. As Garrett would learn, the Scarab was bestowed as an artifact of power by the Egyptian pantheon to the pharaohs to grant them the might to rule their kingdom. By calling out the incantation “Khaji Da,” the wielder of the scarab was clad in blue and could access great strength, speed, invulnerability, super senses and even shoot lightning from their hands and eyes.
Upon obtaining the scarab, Dan Garrett awoke the giant mummy of Prince Kha-Ef-Re, a figure that the last Great Pharaoh who wielded the scarab imprisoned using the scarab’s power. Kha-Ef-Re was Dan’s first foe, and he kept the scarab for himself not to rule Egypt, but to fight crime.
In 1967, Charlton introduced a new Blue Beetle—Ted Kord. Ted inherited the Blue Beetle mantle from Garrett, but could never get the scarab which empowered his former mentor to work for him. So, he compensated by inventing his own technological gadgets to continue his predecessor’s work.
By the 1980s, the Blue Beetle character had once again changed hands—this time to its final home, DC. Recreated for a brand-new continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths, the origins of the scarab remained mostly the same for the time being as Ted Kord occasionally reckoned with his predecessor’s past. The Great Pharaoh who banished Kha-Ef-Re and Kha-Ef-Re himself were now consolidated into a single figure, but its history was more or less the same. In 1986’s History of the DC Universe, the scarab is said to have been “forged from sorcery and science.” That note is important, as although everything else we assume to know about it until this point may be wrong, this fact remains the essential truth behind the scarab to this day.
2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis kicked off the event of the year with a shocking murder—Ted Kord was killed his duplicitous friend Maxwell Lord. An attack on all locuses of magic by an ensorcelled Spectre in Day of Vengeance brought the scarab plummeting to Earth, where it was discovered by an El Paso teenager named Jaime Reyes (bet you were wondering when we’d get to him) and upon making contact with him, reacted like it never had before. The scarab grafted itself onto Jaime’s spine, giving him a retractable power suit with a seemingly endless array of functions far greater than even Dan Garrett had ever managed to access.
Through encounters with various extraterrestrial entities, including the Green Lantern Corps, Jaime gradually discovered that his scarab was a sentient being in its own right. “Khaji Da” was no mere incantation, but the scarab’s name. One of many scarabs across the universe, each of these sentient creatures of biotechnology were engineered and exploited by a conquering race known as the Reach. Their modus operandi was to send a scarab to a populated world, wait for it to graft itself to a suitable host, and use that host to conquer the planet for them.
Unfortunately for the Reach and quite fortunately for Earth, Khaji Da was disconnected from the Reach’s database upon its arrival on Earth and failed to function properly until it was discovered by Jaime—and, even then, failed to overwrite his personality with its own as designed. Instead, Jaime’s heart and empathy led Khaji Da to view his host as a partner, and they worked together to expel the Reach from an invasion of Earth. The scarab may have worked in a limited capacity in the past with Dan Garrett and the Pharaohs of ancient times before him, but all of it could be chalked up to Clarke’s Third Law: that any sufficiently advanced technology is in practice indistinguishable from magic.
Breaking Clarke’s Law
Jaime Reyes co-creator Keith Giffen returned to Blue Beetle in 2016 with an update: turns out we were all wrong again, the scarab really is magic. Doctor Fate warns a now living Ted Kord (long story how that happened, maybe some other time) about the scarab’s ties to ancient Atlantis, the great magical city-state of an age long before that of Ancient Egypt, where it was used by Arion, Lord of Atlantis before unleashing its power in a battle with Nabu the Wise, the Lord of Order who would embody the Helm of Fate. The scarab changed hands and was sealed away until Dan Garrett discovered it on that dig in Egypt. Doctor Fate even insinuates that the entire Reach origin may have been an abstraction.
But sometimes, even Doctor Fate is wrong. As it happens, both stories are true—the scarab is a malfunctioning sentient biotechnological weapon from space with unique magical properties, which it gained either by design or somewhere along its way to Earth. But perhaps it’s best not to worry too much about what precisely it is and instead focus on what it’s been able to do—power one of the most dynamic up-and-coming young heroes in the DC Universe. And that’s a good thing. After all, the Reach are very much real and definitely still out there. Should they ever return, we can consider ourselves lucky to have one of their scarabs on our side. KHAJI DA!
Blue Beetle, directed by Angel Manuel Soto and starring Xolo Maridueña as Jaime Reyes, lands in theaters this Friday, August 18th. Visit our official Blue Beetle hub for more news, features and videos about our newest big-screen hero and share your thoughts on the film right now in the DC Community!