Bug Week, Part Three: Meet the Blue Beetle!
What kind of idiot scientist would make a giant robot roach anyway? Probably some guy in Germany, who would tell me that somehow the giant diesel monstrosity is good for the environment, that’s who. As it is, I got tired of drawing actual giant bugs, but it is still Bug Week. Hence the robot bug terror, and the presence of Blue Beetle.
Blue Beetle is one of my favorite characters, at least in the way that he was introduced to the DC Universe in the 1980’s. He was a fun, humorous positive character, that had a unique tone to his book, and was an excellent member of the humor based Justice League Ensemble Cast. My friend loves the character because of his Minimate figure, which is one of her favorites:
The Minimate figure puts it out pretty well…he was a very happy, very positive character, free of the kinds of angst and grit that were beginning to become the driving force of comics in the 80’s. The entire 24 issue run of his series, and a little bit more, in fact, can be found in Showcase Presents: Blue Beetle. That link lets you buy it, and it is a good read, True Believers.
So…what’s the story? Theodore Stephen “Ted” Kord is the second Blue Beetle, a superhero who was originally published by Charlton Comics and later picked up by DC Comics. By picked up, we mean that the library of Charlton characters was purchased…trying not to be gauche. This version of the character was created by Steve Ditko (the original artist for Spider-Man) and first appeared as a back-up feature in Captain Atom. Gary Friedrich (the writer and arguable creator of Ghost Rider) wrote the scripts from Ditko’s ideas and plot.
When the character came to DC, Len Wein was the writer. You know, the guy that created Wolverine? Swamp Thing? Yeah…pretty solid comics writer, that is worth a look. His story was pretty straightforward for Ted. Ted was revealed as a former student of Dan Garrett, and when they were investigating Ted’s uncle, Jarvis Kord, they learned Jarvis was working to create an army of androids to take over Earth. Garrett changed into Blue Beetle, but was killed in the battle. As he died, he passed on the responsibility of being Blue Beetle to Ted, but was not able to pass on the mystical scarab, a convenient means for Ditko to explain his preference for a power-free character. This was the basic idea of the DC series as well, revealed in “Secret Origins” No. 2. Ted Kord was sometimes shown as an industrialist, the owner of KORD Industries; more often he was short on money, leading to his entering “get-rich-quick” schemes with Booster Gold. Probably because the series realistically showed him not having much time to manage the company, and that owning and maintaining a flying bug ship costs major cash.
Blue Beetle is probably best known as the wisecracking member of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ lighthearted, five-year run on various Justice League of America titles (notably Justice League International), where he was memorably partnered with fellow third-string hero Booster Gold, and the two quickly became best friends.
The Blue Beetle’s real super power was being smart, but not a know it all. Ted Kord had no superpowers; he possess a genius-level intellect, with an IQ of 192. He was proficient in numerous sciences…chemistry, physics, engineering, aircraft engineering, and solar power technology, as well as an understanding of alien technology he encounters as a superhero. Despero once claimed that Ted’s mind was second only to that of J’onn J’onzz…who is a Martian. Former Justice League teammate Guy Gardner claims that Ted was smarter than Batman, “although nobody ever noticed.”
That kind of thing…the humor, the fun…a whole lot of that is gone from modern comics, and its a big part of why I miss the Blue Beetle as a character. In fact, This version of Blue Beetle has been ranked as the 61st greatest comic book character of all time…and as a comics fan through and through, I can tell you, 61 is impressive. There are over 100 members of the Avengers alone, and don’t get me started on the X-Men. IGN ranked this version of the Blue Beetle as the 61st greatest comic book hero of all time on the basis that his intelligence, his “bwahahha” antics, his endearing partnership with Booster Gold, and his brave sacrifice during the build-up to Infinite Crisis all serve to cement this particular Beetle’s legacy, and make for some damn fine stories.
Which is the point.
Let’s not be shy though…there’s a second layer of metaphor to the art. Oh, yes there is, True Believers. There’s a giant industrial bug chasing down and making life tough for Beetle, the protagonist, and Pony. That can be seen as a metaphor for the corporate changes at DC that make this kind of storytelling fail to happen, the sorts of things that drove the New 52. That’s one way to look at it…and well within the intentions of the art.
It’s also a Bug, from Comics, running some people that like to hang out together off. Making it a hassle to be in the background area, just by being loud, noisy, and generally spiteful. That could be taken as a metaphor for a far more local Comics Retail situation, which I’ve spoken a bit about.
But hey…we have next issue to talk about!
Coming up! Free Speech! Spider-Women! Spider-Men! Comparison Charts! Variants! Vitriol!