Who the hell is the Blue Beetle? A pre-movie explainer

Among the various superhero projects shoved onto DC Studios’ film slate over the last few years, few have elicited more “Huh?” reactions, from more people, than Ángel Manuel Soto’s Blue Beetle. Although he’s been, in various guises, a low-key fan-favorite amongst comics readers for decades, the Blue Beetle character has never been what you might call a “name” superhero: His appearances in the Justice League are firmly planted in the team’s more explicitly comedic era, while his longest-running modern comic series ran for just three years in the late 2000s. Even compared to the likes of Shazam! and Black Adam, Blue Beetle is an undeniable underdog pick for a struggling comic book movie brand—especially arriving, as he does, smack in the middle of the uneasy transition between the old DC Extended Universe, and James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new vision for the superhero franchise.

That being said, Soto’s Blue Beetle is also already picking up some warm early buzz, with praise going to the film’s tone and Cobra Kai’s Xolo Maridueña for his star turn as the teenage hero. So, you might be asking yourself: Who the hell is the Blue Beetle? Where does he come from? What can he do? Let’s do a quick dive into the character’s history, then, and get those questions answered.

Who is the Blue Beetle?

First up: When talking about Blue Beetle, we’re actually talking about three distinct characters, with a legacy stretching way, way back to the 1930s. The first, Dan Garret/Garrett, was the house superhero of the long-dead Fox Comics, which went defunct in the mid-’50s. Originally a cop who fought crime with the help of a magical super-vitamin (comics!), the Garret character was retooled (with an extra T thrown on his name) after Charlton Comics got their hands on him in the 1960s, turning him into the far more realistic premise of an archeologist who battle evil-doers with the help of a magical scarab. (Comics!)

The second Blue Beetle, meanwhile, was Ted Kord, a character who the unkind might describe as “What if Batman wasn’t quite as good at being Batman?” but whom fans have a deep and abiding love for. (If you’re familiar with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Ted’s the direct inspiration for the hapless, but technologically adept, Nite Owl.) A rich industrialist who uses technology to fight crime, Ted’s most fondly remembered for his time in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ beloved, sitcom-inspired Justice League International, where he and his time-traveling best friend Booster Gold were as likely to get involved in get-rich-quick schemes as the fight against evil. Ted owned Dan Garrett’s scarab, but could never get it to do anything—and, after his (heroically defiant) death in the lead-up to the 2006 event comic Infinite Crisis, the bug ended up getting blown across the world, eventually landing in El Paso, Texas.

Which is where it was picked up by the modern Blue Beetle—and the star of the new movie—a young man by the name of Jaime Reyes. Going to sleep one night with his new trinket in his room, Jaime awoke to find the thing fused to his spine—and himself in the possession of a clearly alien superweapon with potentially world-ending powers. After getting tossed through the wringer in Infinite Crisis, Jaime eventually returned to Earth—kicking off a 36-issue comics run that helped set the basis for Soto’s film.

What are Blue Beetle’s superpowers?

Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle
Photo: DC Studios

Jaime’s only got one genuine superpower, but it’s a doozy: He is the host/user for the Scarab, retconned in modern comics to be an infiltration weapon designed by a malevolent alien species called the Reach. Granting its user a suit of armor that allows for superspeed, flight, and enhanced perception, the Scarab’s most notable power is its ability to manifest essentially any weapon its user can think of. (In that sense, it’s a bit like the Green Lanterns’ ring, except very focused on big blue guns.) A big part of the push and pull of Blue Beetle, especially in its early issues, is the idea of dropping such incredible, potentially cataclysmic powers in the hands of a good-hearted kid who just wants to help people: Jaime spends much of the early run of the comics like John Connor in Terminator 2, begging the super-powerful AI he’s literally attached to not to blow giant holes in the landscape (and people) around him.

Who are Blue Beetle’s friends and allies?

Elpidia Carillo, George Lopez, Xolo Maridueña, Belissa Escobedo, Damien Alcazar

Elpidia Carillo, George Lopez, Xolo Maridueña, Belissa Escobedo, Damien Alcazar

One of the key things that distinguishes Jaime from a lot of other teen heroes is the presence of his family in his stories: A fundamentally honest kid, Jaime never really tried to keep his new identity a secret from his loved ones. As such, his parents and little sister are all major characters in the Blue Beetle stories, as are Jaime’s similar in-the-know friends, Paco and Brenda, the latter of whom appears to have been merged for the movie into Bruna Marquezine’s Jenny Kord—not least of which because she has a familial link with one of his main villains. (More on that in a second.)

Although it’s unlikely to impact the film, Jaime is also a member of, and friends with, the Teen Titans, and has a mentorship with his predecessors’ bestie, Booster Gold. His closest ally, though, is the scarab itself—voiced by Becky G in the movie, the sentient weapon eventually develops a tight bond with its host, turning the two into genuine partners over the course of Blue Beetle’s career.

Who are Blue Beetles’ bad guys?

Harvey Guillén, Susan Sarandon

Harvey Guillén, Susan Sarandon
Photo: Hopper Stone/SMPSP/™ & © DC Comics

Jaime’s primary enemies are the Reach themselves—the alien conquerors really don’t like having their tech go rogue in the hands of a human kid, and spend most of the comics trying to extract the scarab from Jaime in as lethal a fashion as possible. Closer to home, he also faces crime lord La Dama, the aunt of his bestie Brenda—who looks, in the movie, to have been merged with the Kord family legacy to create Susan Sarandon’s character Victoria Kord.

Soto’s film also has a superpowered heavy in the form of Raoul Max Trujillo’s Indestructible Man, an old enemy of the Ted Kord Beetle who sports a fancy suit of armor all his own. And if the movie doesn’t include, at the least, an after-credits sequence featuring the recurring antagonist the Black Beetle, we’ll be genuinely surprised.

Why should we care about Jaime Reyes?

Out of the various oddnesses that came out of Infinite Crisis lo these many years ago, Jaime Reyes is generally considered to be one of the best: An engaging, charismatic, and above all else fun teen hero with a fantastic, visually cool power set. Readers and creators alike flocked to the character, and there’s a reason, for instance, that the creators of Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave And The Bold practically made Jaime a main character on the team-up-focused animated series.

If you want to get a good sense of who Jaime Reyes is, though, the easiest benchmark might be a scene from issue No. 16 of his original series. In a battle with the mystical villain Eclipso, Jaime has his “deepest, darkest fantasies of ultimate power” unleashed by the demon in a bid to destroy his friends. Everyone looks on in terror at what this kid with a planet-killing superweapon might generate from the depths of his soul … and then watches in bemusement as an adult version of Jaime, dressed as a dentist, emerges from the smoke. “Hey!” he says, while defending his deepest, darkest ambitions, “A dentist makes six figures a year!” (He’ll be able to pay off his parents’ mortgage, he figures, plus pay for his little sister’s college, and maybe have enough left over for a vacation home near his grandma’s house …)

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Image: DC Comics

And that’s Jaime Reyes, in a nutshell: A kid who never really contemplated keeping his identity a secret from his family, because why wouldn’t he want their support? And a hero with the ultimate power fantasy bolted to his spine, whose darkest fantasy is being able to provide for and protect the people he loves. There’s a reason readers fell in love with this guy back in the mid-2000s—and, possibly, why the advance buzz from Blue Beetle has been so positive in the weeks leading up to its release.

If I love Blue Beetle, what should I read or watch next?

Well, firstly, pretty much all of the Blue Beetle comics are available on DC’s DC Universe Infinite service; we’d especially recommend the mid-2000s run, which also features gorgeous art from Cully Hammer, putting the Scarab through its paces. From there, you could dip back into The Brave And The Bold cartoon—or, if you want something a bit less goofy, the Young Justice animated series, which also prominently featured Jaime. The character also got a fairly short-lived comic series in DC’s New 52 for fans of more recent comics to check out. The point is, though, that while Jaime’s publication history is on the spotty side—he’s spent more years without a series of his own for longer than he’s had one, since his creation back in 2005—the character’s legacy has lived on all over the place. People love Jaime Reyes and the Blue Beetle, and so they keep finding places to include him—something unlikely to abate any time soon, as his movie puts his good-natured charm front and center on the biggest platform he’s ever received.

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