This Blue Beetle article contains spoilers.
A lot of viewers wondered the same thing when the Warner Bros. movie came to theaters earlier this year and they’ll likely be asking it again now that the movie is streaming on Max. People don’t ask that same question of Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but not because Blue Beetle is at best a C-lister in the DC Comics bullpen. Rather it’s because the man behind the Blue Beetle mask has changed several times since Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski debuted the character in 1939.
The big-screen adaptation introduces Blue Beetle as Jaime Reyes, who is a recent college grad forced to the superhero identity after receiving an alien scarab from Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), the daughter of inventor Ted Kord, a previous incumbent of the superhero identity. For as much as Blue Beetle focuses on Jaime, it also places him within a superhero legacy, one that imagines him as just the latest in a long line of heroes with that moniker.
By pulling off the legacy aspect, Blue Beetle brings to the big screen one of DC Comics’ most important qualities, one that other adaptations have long struggled with.
The Importance of Legacy
Pick up a random issue of The Flash. Who will you see as the titular hero? Maybe Barry Allen, sure, but you may also get a story about Wally West or even Jay Garrick as the Flash. Heck, you might even stumble on an issue where Bart Allen, Jess Chambers, or Avery Ho carries the moniker.
The Flash is hardly the only character in the DC Universe with multiple versions. The Green Lantern title applies to literally thousands of characters, but just limiting it to humans who headlined their own book would mean you still get Hal Jordan, Alan Scott, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Hal Jordan, Jessica Cruz, Simon Baz, and Jo Mullein. Do you prefer Ted Grant, Yolanda Montez, Hector Ramierez, or Tom Bronson as Wildcat? Is Lyle Norg the best Invisible Kid, or did Jacques Foccart’s work in the Five Years Later era of Legion of Superheroes secure the title?
New characters take on existing titles with surprising regularity in the DCU. Even when writers or editors fumble the transition, as when Firestorm fell on Shining Knight’s sword in Identity Crisis or basically everything about the recent Future State event, readers still get compelling characters, such as the Jason Rusch Firestorm and Wonder Girl Yara Flor.
Through legacy changes, DC can explore the feet of clay in its godlike icons. It’s hard to humanize Superman without diminishing him, but Jon Kent feels more heroic as he figures out what it means to be the Superman of the 21st century. Dick Grayson’s Robin began as a quipping cypher for young readers to imagine palling around with Batman, but the Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne versions wrestled with the enormity of putting on such important costumes.
Through legacy characters, DC keeps its heroes relevant, while also exploring new layers of what it means to be the world’s finest heroes.
The Problem of Adaptation
This combination of familiar and fresh seems like the golden ticket for Warner Bros. when they bring their characters to other media. And yet, in nearly every case, DC Comics adaptations have fumbled the legacy aspects.
Most of the time, characters appear as composites of various versions, like the Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern mashups in Superman: The Animated Series, Dick Grayson dressed like the Tim Drake Robin in Teen Titans, or Grant Gustin playing Barry Allen with Wally West’s personality in The Flash. That long-running CW show did eventually expand to include a Flash family, including Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), Impulse (Jordan Fisher), and XS (Jessica Parker Kennedy). However, it remained focused on Barry right up through the series finale, when he expelled his power to transfer it to new heroes, who (presumably) will take up the mantle.
These adaptations tend to bumble the entire appeal of legacy characters, leaving no one happy. Those who see Barry as the real Flash may have appreciated his job as forensic scientist and even the tragic origin writer Geoff Johns gave the character in 2009, but they likely struggle with his breezy, nonchalant personality. Wally fans may feel that Barry stole their character’s identity, and don’t feel appeased by the awkward Wally who eventually makes it into the show.
The Miracle of Blue Beetle
I don’t think anyone would have picked Blue Beetle as the character to finally do legacy characters right, especially not the Jaime Reyes version. Jaime came into existence through clumsy editorial fiat. Beloved because of his role in the 1980s Justice League International series by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire, but little-used since, Ted Kord became DC editorial’s sacrificial lamb to spur interest in the big Infinite Crisis event of 2005. Giffen, along with writer John Rogers and artist Cully Hamner, had permission to create a new Blue Beetle for a spin-off series, and thus Jaime was born.
Despite Giffen’s insistence that editorial had no interest in bringing back Ted, fans initially resisted and boycotted Jaime stories. However, between an excellent run by Rogers and Jaime’s appearances in other books – as well as his friendship with Ted’s best pal Booster Gold – Jaime finally gained popularity.
Of course, only a handful of theatergoers would have those concerns going into Blue Beetle. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and director Ángel Manuel Soto could have easily trimmed out everything about Ted Kord and Dan Garrett and made the movie just about Jaime, a kid who gets powers from an alien artifact. They could have made it about Dan Garett, an adventurer who finds a magic scarab, or brilliant inventor Ted Kord. It didn’t have to be about legacy at all.
But that would be so boring. Viewers have seen that story told one thousand times before. Blue Beetle works so well precisely because it’s the tale of a kid who gets powers through an alien weapon and enters into a larger, more complicated legacy.
The Importance of Being Jaime
When Jaime asks, “Who the hell is Blue Beetle,” he’s being led into Ted Kord’s secret base by Jenny. Director Soto fills the frame with lots of easter eggs for fans of the comics, while Rudy Reyes (George Lopez) explains the Beetle’s exploits for Jaime and the viewers (“Like Superman in Metropolis or the Flash in Central City, just… not as good”).
But the most important part of the scene comes in the form of three mannequins in the center of the base. One wears Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle costume, complete with dark blue bug pattern and yellow goggles. The other wears Dan Garrett’s costume with the red fin on top. The third stands empty, something Jaime notices as he walks past it.
With that shot, Soto justifies the decision to make Jaime the star of his Blue Beetle story, over Dan or Ted. For all of their attributes, Jaime’s predecessors gain their powers from being loners. While Dan Garret’s Golden Age origin made him the son of a murdered police officer, he soon became an adventurous archaeologist who discovered the scarab on a dig. Ted may have been his student who chose to follow in Dan’s footsteps, but the fact that he couldn’t get the scarab to work drove him to build gadgets, to become a hero through virtue of his intellect.
Soto and writer Dunnet-Alcocer make Jaime a guy deeply immersed in his community. Unlike so many heroes, who want only to break free of familial expectations and become his own man, Jaime wants to honor his family. In other words, Jaime understands the importance of legacy even before Jenny Kord gives him the scarab.
Because of this perspective, Jaime takes seriously the weight of expectations put upon him. In the same way that he wants to honor his family, Jaime wants to honor Ted by wresting Kord Industries from the villain Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), who has turned the company into a tool of oppression and global expansion. When he battles Victoria’s henchman Carapax (Raoul Trujillo), Jaime engages with the legacy of American colonialism in Latin America that made his opponent into a tool of war.
In short, Jaime is the perfect main character for a Blue Beetle film about DC legacy because he understands and respects his community and everything that came before, in a way that wouldn’t have worked as well with Dan or Ted.
Blue Beetle: Legacy
Anyone reading this knows the woes of the DCEU, Warner Bros.’s failed attempt to replicate the success of the MCU. New DC Studios heads James Gunn and Peter Safran are now working to right the ship, revamping the DC movie universe, starting with the auspiciously-titled Superman: Legacy. However, Gunn has indicated that Blue Beetle already belongs in this new universe despite debuting two years before the Man of Steel’s next big-screen outing in 2025.
As the inclusion of Blue Beetle suggests, the new DCU won’t be built from scratch, but will take place in a world already filled with heroes. In fact, Gunn has already filled Superman: Legacy with other heroes, such as Isabela Merced as Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders and Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern Guy Gardner, both characters who inherited their titles from others. Likewise, the Andy Muschietti-directed The Brave and the Bold is rumored to team Batman with Damian Wayne, the fifth Robin.
These examples underscore the importance of legacy in the new DCCU. As they debut for general audiences now well-versed in the superhero genre, these characters will themselves feel the weight of expectations. They’ll need to both define themselves and pay respect to others with the same identity.
Jaime may have asked, “Who the hell is Blue Beetle,” but by the end of the movie, he knew that answer well. Ted Kord is Blue Beetle and Jaime Reyes is Blue Beetle, both extensions of the larger community and history that shaped them. If the new DCU is going to thrive, it must follow the model set by Blue Beetle, paying homage to what came before while continuing to push forward.