Origin Story: Blue Beetle

Blair Marnell
Movies Comics
Movies Comics DC

Today, fans got their first glimpse of Jaime Reyes in action with the trailer for the first-ever Blue Beetle film, which is coming to theaters this summer. Jaime also has the honor of being the first Latino hero to headline a DC flick. That’s quite an accomplishment considering that Jaime has only been around for 17 years. But the Blue Beetle himself? That’s a legacy that spans three comic book heroes, three different comic book companies, one world-famous knockoff, and a legacy that goes back over eight decades to the dawn of superheroes.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re gonna make this simple as we break down the history of the Blue Beetle, starting from the very top.

The Pulp Heroes Era

Blue Beetle’s pre-DC era is so closely associated with Charlton Comics that it’s easy to forget that the first Blue Beetle, Dan Garret, made his debut in 1939 in Mystery Men Comics #1, a series published by a different long-defunct company, Fox Comics. In the wake of Batman’s debut, masked vigilante heroes were becoming all the rage, so Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski envisioned the Blue Beetle as a rookie police officer who drew his superstrength from Vitamin 2X.

If that sounds silly, consider this: Even Batman and Superman weren’t fully formed overnight. And this version of Blue Beetle even became a brief sensation of the era, with a radio serial to call his own. That’s in addition to the first Blue Beetle comic and the only newspaper comic strip that the character has ever had. But by the end of the ‘40s, Dan’s popularity as the Blue Beetle dramatically declined. By the mid-fifties, Fox Comics went under, and the rights to the character passed to Charlton Comics.

Dan Garret got a second chance at stardom in 1964, when Charlton revived the Blue Beetle series and gave Garret a new origin, while slightly changing his last name to Garrett. This is the incarnation of Dan’s Blue Beetle that connects to Jamie, through the Egyptian scarab that Dan believed to be a mystical object of power. It did, after all, grant him his powers in this incarnation, and it seemed less bizarre than deriving his abilities from some unknown vitamin. Unfortunately, Dan Garrett’s comeback didn’t last very long, and his time as the Blue Beetle gave way to his successor.

Beware the Blue Beetle!

Meet Ted Kord, the man who would become a lot more widely known as the Blue Beetle than his predecessor was. Fresh off of his time at Marvel with runs on two iconic characters he co-created, The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, the legendary artist and writer, Steve Ditko, created the Ted Kord Blue Beetle in 1966, almost as a kinder and gentler version of Tony Stark. Like Iron Man, Ted was a genius who could create multiple gadgets, including the airship he called the Bug. Think of it as Blue Beetle’s Batwing.

Unlike Stark and other previous scientific adventurers, Ted also boasted world-class athletic abilities. Perhaps not on par with Ditko’s Spider-Man, but Ted was no slouch. That may come as a surprise to fans who only know Ted for his lighter persona when the character was eventually published by DC Comics.

Universe Hopping

Charlton Comics continued into the ‘80s, but it was clearly in decline. By 1983, DC Comics had picked up the rights to all of Charlton Comics’ superhero characters, including the first two Blue Beetles, Captain Atom, Peacemaker, The Question, Judomaster, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. This wasn’t an unusual move by DC. The company had licenced the rights to Fawcett ComicsShazam! characters in 1972 before buying them outright in 1994.

In 1985, DC’s crossover saga, Crisis on Infinite Earths, established that the Charlton characters had their own world in the multiverse, just like the Shazam! characters had their own distinct world. But by the end of Crisis, all of DC’s superhero characters were joined in a single continuity within the same world.

Two Blue Beetles

DC’s Len Wein and artist Gil Kane reconciled the two different Blue Beetles in 1986 in Secret Origins #2, which firmly established the link between Dan and Ted, while also explaining why Ted’s Blue Beetle didn’t have the super strength of his predecessor. In this re-envisioning, Ted was an ex-student of Dan’s who helped him investigate his corrupt uncle, Jarvis Kord.

Jarvis was apparently a true super villain at heart, who tricked Ted into helping him create an army of killer androids that could have conquered the world. Dan gave his life to stop that threat, and he asked Ted to carry on his legacy as the Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, the destruction of Jarvis’ base kept Dan from being able to pass the Scarab to Ted that gave him his powers. Instead, the Scarab would be left for Jaime decades later. As for Ted, he resolved to keep his promise to Dan by utilizing his scientific knowledge and by pushing himself to his physical limits.

Who Watches the Nite Owl?

Backtracking a bit, back to the Crisis era, Alan Moore wanted to use the Charlton characters in Watchmen, an epic he was creating with artist Dave Gibbons, which would serve as a deconstruction of the superhero genre. However, DC correctly realized that Moore’s specific plans would have left those characters nearly unusable for anyone else. So instead, Moore and Gibbons came up with their own versions of Charlton’s heroes, and Blue Beetle’s analogue was Nite Owl.

In a fun twist, Moore and Gibbons embraced the idea of Nite Owl as a legacy hero. Thus the original Nite Owl, Hollis T. Mason, was active in the late ‘30s and into the ‘50s like his counterpart, Dan Garrett. And Daniel Dreiberg, the modern Nite Owl, complete with his own airship that he called “Archie,” was clearly an analog of Ted Kord who idolized his predecessor. Dan’s friendship with Hollis was another key aspect to his story in Watchmen.

Although Nite Owl was not technically a Blue Beetle, he had almost all of the character’s signature traits. And he beat every other Blue Beetle to the big screen in Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation of Watchmen, where Dan was played by Patrick Wilson and Hollis was portrayed by Stephen McHattie in his retirement years, while Clint Carleton played Hollis as a young man.

Nite Owl did not physically appear in the HBO Watchmen TV series created by Damon Lindelof. Within that sequel series, Dan had been arrested for breaking the Keene Act, a law that banned superheroes. That’s why Dan was only mentioned and never seen on the show. However, his ship, Archie, did appear.

The Years of Laughter

Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and his BFF, Booster Gold

After Watchmen was finished in 1986, Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle was fully integrated into the DC Universe as a member of the Justice League. In the Justice League series that launched in 1987, co-writers Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, and artists including Kevin Maguire and Adam Hughes, turned the team into more of a comedy book. They also introduced Ted to his partner-in-crime, Booster Gold.

Beetle and Booster’s comedic hijinks helped Justice League International become the most unique era of the team. Under their new boss, Maxwell Lord, there was definitely comedy. But the team also suffered losses and had more profound moments when they found themselves mourning the death of their friends who had fallen in battle. Regardless, this was the run that made Beetle and Booster a legendary duo.

But that all came to an end in 2005, during the run up to Infinite Crisis. Ted discovered that Max was behind a conspiracy to wipe out the metahumans of the world. And when Ted refused to go along with his scheme, Max brutally murdered him.

A New Hero Arises

In retrospect, this was clearly paving the way for a new Blue Beetle. During Ted’s investigation of Max’s activities, he finally came into possession of the Scarab that Dan had used as Blue Beetle decades before. Unfortunately for Ted, he was never destined to use the Scarab himself and he lost it at Shazam’s Rock of Eternity before he was murdered.

But when the Rock of Eternity itself was destroyed, the Scarab returned to Earth and bonded with Jaime Reyes, a teenager living in El Paso, Texas. As envisioned by Giffen, John Rogers, and artist Cully Hamner, the Scarab turned out to be alien in origin, and it literally fused itself to Jaime’s back. As the new Blue Beetle, Jaime earned his stripes in Infinite Crisis by helping Batman take down Max Lord’s corrupted incarnation of the A.I. known as Brother Eye.

It was during this era that readers learned that Dan Garrett’s Scarab wasn’t mystical at all. Instead, it was a weapon created by the aliens known as the Reach as a way to spread their influence and conquer worlds under the nose of the Green Lantern Corps. Each Scarab sent to worlds across the cosmos were meant for that planet’s champions as a reward. But in reality, the Scarab gave control of the host to the Reach, who would in turn help the Reach subtly conquer those planets. Jaime escaped that fate because the Scarab had been damaged decades earlier. Instead, Jaime and the Scarab were able to come to terms with each other, and become a force for good.

Unlike Dan, Jaime’s abilities from the Scarab manifest as a suit of armor that grows out of him and completely covers his body. The armor gives Jaime enhanced strength and perception, as well as the ability to fly, and to create numerous weapons as needed. Essentially, he has gadgets like Ted, which gives him access to the best aspects of his predecessors.

Hollywood Comes Calling

Blue Beetle's live-action debut in Smallville

The upcoming Blue Beetle film will not be the first time that Jaime has appeared in live-action. That debut actually happened in an episode of Smallville, which featured Jaren Brandt Bartlett as Jaime, and Eric Martsolf as Booster Gold. Although Jaime struggles to deal with the Scarab at first, Clark Kent helps him through a difficult period and Booster even decides to help mentor Jaime as a hero.

All three Blue Beetles appeared in the animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, with Will Friedle voicing Jaime as he teamed up with his predecessors and Batman. But Jaime’s biggest showcase to date was in the second season of Young Justice, Young Justice: Invasion. Eric Lopez provided Jaime’s voice in this series, and he was at the forefront of an invasion by the Reach. Efforts to free Jaime from the Scarab even briefly made him into an agent of the Reach before he was ultimately freed by his friends. In turn, Jaime helped other Beetles escape from their Scarab’s control before the Reach were defeated.

Big Screen Beetle

This summer, the Blue Beetle feature film will have Cobra Kai standout Xolo Maridueña in the title role as Jaime/Blue Beetle. Notably, this project was originally supposed to be a HBO Max original before the decision made made to put it in theaters instead. HBO Max’s other original DC movie, Batgirl, was not as lucky, given it was shelved permanently.

If the trailer is any indication, Jaime’s origin is getting slightly retooled for the big screen. Instead of stumbling across the Scarab, it’s literally given to him by someone escaping Kord Industries, which is run by Susan Sarandon’s Victoria Kord. Presumably, Victoria is Ted’s wife or otherwise related to Ted, and also the villain in the film. Additionally, Jaime’s family is present when he first bonds with the Scarab and turns into Blue Beetle. That underscores their importance to him, and they appear to be more than just background supporting players in this story. That’s a departure from many other teen heroes.

As seen in the picture above, the Blue Beetle costumes from both Dan and Ted make appearances in the trailer, as does the Bug. This suggests that both of the previous Blue Beetles will be acknowledged in some way, even if only as visual Easter Eggs for the most observant fans.

There is even an Iron Man vibe in the trailer as Jaime experiments with his newfound armor and interacts with the alien A.I. construct within the Scarab. We’ll learn more about it when it hits theaters on August 18, 2023. And if audiences love Blue Beetle, we wouldn’t be shocked if James Gunn and the team at DC Studios keep him around for the new era of the DCU.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!