Blue Beetle stands out as the first DC movie or TV series to effectively portray legacy characters with such success. As Blue Beetle’s second act unfolds, the protagonist Jaime Reyes (played by Xolo Maridueña) poses a significant question: “Who exactly was Blue Beetle?”
Many viewers pondered the same question when the Warner Bros. movie premiered in theaters earlier this year, and it’s likely they’ll be revisiting the inquiry now that the film is available for streaming on Max.
The same question isn’t commonly posed about Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, and it’s not because Blue Beetle is considered a C-lister in the DC Comics roster. Instead, it’s due to the fact that the individual behind the Blue Beetle mask has undergone multiple changes since Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski first introduced the character in 1939.
In the cinematic rendition, Blue Beetle is introduced as Jaime Reyes, a recent college graduate compelled to adopt the superhero persona. This transformation occurs when he acquires an alien scarab from Jenny Kord (played by Bruna Marquezine), the daughter of inventor Ted Kord, a former bearer of the superhero identity.
While Blue Beetle centers on Jaime, it also situates him within a superhero legacy, envisioning him as the most recent link in a chain of heroes who have borne that moniker.
Successfully incorporating the legacy aspect, Blue Beetle brings to the big screen one of DC Comics’ most crucial elements, a quality that has posed challenges for other adaptations in the past.
The Significance of Legacy
Grab a random problem of The Flash, and who might you find as the central hero? It could be Barry Allen, of course, but you might also encounter a tale featuring Wally West or even Jay Garrick as the Flash. In fact, you could stumble upon an issue where Bart Allen, Jess Chambers, or Avery Ho assumes the mantle.
The Flash is far from the sole character in the DC Universe to boast multiple iterations. The Green Lantern designation encompasses literally thousands of characters. Even if we narrow it down to humans who headlined their own book, the list includes Hal Jordan, Alan Scott, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Jessica Cruz, Simon Baz, and Jo Mullein.
Which Wildcat do you favor—Ted Grant, Yolanda Montez, Hector Ramirez, or Tom Bronson? And when it comes to Invisible Kid, is Lyle Norg your top pick, or did Jacques Foccart’s contributions during the Five Years Later era of the Legion of Superheroes solidify his claim to the title?
In the DC Universe, new characters frequently step into existing titles. Even in instances where the transition is less than smooth, like when Firestorm met an unfortunate end in Identity Crisis or the various complexities of the recent Future State event, readers are treated to engaging characters such as Jason Rusch as Firestorm and Wonder Girl Yara Flor.
By embracing legacy shifts, DC has the opportunity to delve into the vulnerabilities of its godlike icons. Humanizing Superman without diminishing his essence is a challenge, yet Jon Kent’s journey in understanding what it means to be the Superman of the 21st century adds a layer of heroism to his character.
Dick Grayson’s Robin initially served as a witty figure for young readers to envision as a companion to Batman. However, the iterations portrayed by Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne grappled with the profound weight that comes with donning such significant costumes.
Via legacy characters, DC ensures the ongoing relevance of its heroes, simultaneously delving into fresh dimensions of what it truly means to embody the roles of the world’s finest heroes.
The Challenge of Adaptation
The amalgamation of the familiar and the novel appears to be the winning formula for Warner Bros. when translating their characters to other media. However, in almost every instance, DC Comics adaptations have struggled to effectively convey the legacy elements.
Frequently, characters materialize as amalgamations of different versions, such as the melding of Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner’s Green Lantern in Superman: The Animated Series, Dick Grayson adopting the attire of Tim Drake’s Robin in Teen Titans, or Grant Gustin portraying Barry Allen with the personality traits of Wally West in The Flash.
The enduring CW series eventually broadened its scope to incorporate a Flash family, featuring Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), Impulse (Jordan Fisher), and XS (Jessica Parker Kennedy).
Nevertheless, the show maintained its primary focus on Barry, culminating in the series finale where he relinquished his powers to usher in new heroes who will presumably carry on the mantle.
These adaptations often mishandle the fundamental appeal of legacy characters, resulting in dissatisfaction across the board. Those who perceive Barry as the definitive Flash may appreciate his role as a forensic scientist and the tragic origin crafted by writer Geoff Johns in 2009, but they may find difficulty reconciling with his carefree and nonchalant personality.
On the other hand, Wally fans might feel that Barry has appropriated their character’s identity, and the inclusion of an awkward Wally in the show may not assuage their concerns.
The Magic of Blue Beetle
Blue Beetle, particularly the Jaime Reyes iteration, was an unexpected choice to successfully handle legacy characters, especially considering Jaime’s origin emerged from a somewhat clumsy editorial decision.
Ted Kord, cherished for his part in the 1980s Justice League International series by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire, had seen minimal usage in subsequent years.
He became a sacrificial character for DC editorial to generate interest in the significant Infinite Crisis event of 2005. With the collaboration of Giffen, writer John Rogers, and artist Cully Hamner, permission was granted to craft a new Blue Beetle for a spin-off series, giving rise to the character of Jaime.
Despite Giffen’s assertions that editorial had no intention of reviving Ted, fans initially resisted and even boycotted Jaime’s stories. However, thanks to an outstanding run by Rogers and Jaime’s appearances in other books, coupled with his friendship with Ted’s best pal Booster Gold, Jaime eventually gained widespread popularity.
Certainly, only a fraction of moviegoers might harbor such concerns when entering Blue Beetle. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and director Ángel Manuel Soto had the option to streamline the narrative, excising all elements related to Ted Kord and Dan Garrett, and focus solely on Jaime, a young individual empowered by an alien artifact.
Alternatively, they could have centered the story around Dan Garrett, an adventurer discovering a magical scarab, or the ingenious inventor Ted Kord. The film wasn’t obligated to delve into the theme of legacy at all.
The Noteworthiness of Being Jaime
As Jaime inquires, “Who the hell is Blue Beetle,” he is guided into Ted Kord’s clandestine base by Jenny. Director Soto artfully populates the frame with numerous Easter eggs for comic enthusiasts, all while Rudy Reyes (George Lopez) narrates the Beetle’s adventures to Jaime and the audience, likening him to iconic figures like Superman in Metropolis or the Flash in Central City, albeit with a humorous twist (“just… not as good”).
The pivotal moment of the scene unfolds with three mannequins at the heart of the base. One dons Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle costume, featuring the distinctive dark blue bug pattern and yellow goggles.
The second sports Dan Garrett’s costume, complete with the red fin on top. The third mannequin stands vacant, a detail Jaime observes as he moves past it.
The Legacy of Blue Beetle
Readers are likely familiar with the challenges faced by the DCEU, Warner Bros.’s unsuccessful endeavor to emulate the success of the MCU.
The newly appointed heads of DC Studios, James Gunn and Peter Safran, are now taking steps to course-correct, initiating a revamp of the DC movie universe with the promisingly titled “Superman: Legacy.” Interestingly, Gunn has signaled that Blue Beetle is already slated to be part of this revitalized universe, despite making its debut two years before the Man of Steel’s anticipated return to the big screen in 2025.
The incorporation of Blue Beetle hints that the upcoming DCU won’t be developed from the ground up but will instead unfold in a world already teeming with established heroes.
In “Superman: Legacy,” Gunn has already introduced other heroes, with Isabela Merced portraying Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders and Nathan Fillion taking on the role of Green Lantern Guy Gardner—both characters inheriting their titles from predecessors.
Similarly, in the rumored Andy Muschietti-directed film “The Brave and the Bold,” Batman is said to join forces with Damian Wayne, the fifth Robin. These instances underscore the significance of legacy within the new DCCU.
As these characters make their debut for audiences already well-acquainted with the superhero genre, they will grapple with the weight of expectations. They must navigate the delicate balance of establishing their own identity while also paying homage to those who have previously borne the same mantle.
While Jaime initially questioned, “Who the hell is Blue Beetle,” by the conclusion of the movie, he had a deep understanding of the answer. Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes both embody Blue Beetle, serving as extensions of the broader community and history that molded them.
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For the new DCU to flourish, it must emulate the model established by Blue Beetle—acknowledging and honoring its past while consistently forging ahead.