Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Legacy Character Study: Blue Beetle, Part 2

As we begin Part 2 of this Character Study, I think it’s appropriate to now pose the question:
What is a “Legacy Character?” Well, a Legacy Character is when the same heroic identity is taken by multiple individuals over a period of time. Ever watch The Princess Bride?

Westley: "He took me to his cabin and he told me his secret. 'I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts,' he said. 'My name is Ryan; I inherited the ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me."

A Legacy Character that most of you would probably be familiar with is Batman’s sidekick Robin. Since the character’s debut, there have been at least 4 individuals acting as “official” Robins. Today, we look at not the first of the Legacy Super Heroes, but possibly the one that popularized the idea.

The second-greatest hero you've never heard of.  (The first is his best friend.)
Character Conception
When Steve Ditko (if that name sounds familiar, he co-created Spider-Man) got ahold of the character after Charlton Comics acquired the rights, he decided to wipe the slate clean, but still honor the character that had come before. Instead of writing what would today be called a reboot, he decided to continue the story.

And now, politics. (This really has nothing to do with how the character was created, but it’s important to note.) Steve Ditko was a proponent of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophies. As such, when he was given free rein on a character, he would inject it with hefty doses of his own beliefs, which would usually be quashed when he had a collaborator.

Example: Back in the days of early Marvel, the writer would hand a rough story outline to the artist and fill dialogue in after the art was done. Stan Lee wrote that Spider-Man would shake his fist at protesters as he swung by. Stan Lee meant it as a supportive gesture, but Ditko drew it as Spider-Man berating the protesters.

Back to the point, characters that Ditko is synonymous with (the Question, Blue Beetle, etc.) are often portrayed by writers with just as strong Objectivist beliefs. Remember that.

Secret Origin

Theodore Stephen “Ted” Kord was a good friend and former student of the original Blue Beetle. Dan Garrett had given his mystical blue scarab to Ted’s uncle, Jarvis Kord, to examine. It turned out that Jarvis was one of those evil scientists, and was trying to use the scarab’s magic to create an army of androids. When Dan Garrett gave his life to stop Jarvis, Ted Kord was inspired by his example to become his successor, but was not given the scarab (Ditko didn’t want to write about a magical hero).

Am I the only one who thinks Ted looks like Peter Parker?
The thing was, even when he got ahold of the scarab, he couldn’t get it to work for him. Refusing to succumb to his scarab envy, he put it aside and Batmanned his way into superheroics. Much like Bruce Wayne has Wayne Industries, WayneTech, and Wayne Enterprises, Ted Kord has Kord Industries, and he uses it the same way Batman does, getting cutting edge technology that he uses to fight crime. Interestingly, though he’s a majority shareholder of his company, he’s often near-broke, due to the fact that his assets are tied up in his company.


For some reason, the Blue Beetle scarab never gave Ted any superpowers, but a popular theory is that the scarab refused to because Ted never needed powers. He’s just that awesome. But he still needs super-gear, so, like Batman, he created his own arsenal, including (but not limited to): Suction pads, sight-enhancing lenses, flight pads, and his two main tools:
* the BB gun, which flashed a strobe light to disorient opponents and shot blasts of compressed air
* the Bug, which was like his aerial Batmobile. It could fly at 600 mph, fire energy bolts, and even reach low Earth orbit. Nice.

One could also mention his 192 IQ (which technically made him smarter than Batman), his espionage skills, his proficiency in aikido and karate, and his near-ambidextrousness.


Once again, we have a perfectly good character with no memorable villains to speak of. It’s a darn shame. Well, one of Jarvis’ androids was a villain for a while; it was called Carapax, and sadly, that’s pretty much all there is to say unless you’re a die-hard Blue Beetle fan.

Character History

Well, continuity for Blue Beetle was a lot tighter than Captain Atom's was, but there’s really no character history to speak of until DC Comics. In fact, there was really no history for the character until he joined the Justice League International. The guy was widely considered a C-List hero.



Actually (and I really like the character, so I promise I’m not trying to be unfair), Ted Kord didn’t have much character history there, either. Let me explain that. JLI may have been considered a C-List team staffed by C-List heroes, it was light on what you might call “plot,” but it’s generally remembered fondly due to its rich characterization and likeable protagonists. In fact, the thing that the series is best remembered for (apart from developing the Martian Manhunter’s love of Oreos) is the EPIC BROMANCE between Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. In fact, there were more than a few rumors that those two were….  Um, more than just Super Friends, if you know what I mean.

Sorry, Ted.

Hey, Google Image Search doesn't lie, right?
Back on task, a fondly-remembered story arc from the series is where Blue Beetle had a weight problem. And he got through it through sheer determination and coaching from his teammate, General Glory. 

Pff, I'd kill for that body.
Then there was the time that Blue and Gold stole Martian Manhunter’s cookies. 

The highlight of the series. I'm only slightly kidding.
Although not much happened in issues of JLI to affect the DC Universe, people fondly remember the characters involved. That’s also not to say that Ted wasn’t involved with DCU events. When Doomsday (the monster that ended up killing Superman) was on its rampage, Ted was on the front lines, defending civilians until Superman could make it to the fight. In fact, Doomsday put Blue Beetle into a coma for a while, leaving him with a six-inch scar on the back of his head.

And now, the part that any DC fan knew was coming: The Death of Ted Kord. ….Actually, Ted’s Death deserves a Character Assassination of its own. I do hate to put this part of his history in a separate section, but it is the most important event in Ted’s life, so I feel that I must give it all the attention that it deserves.

Click here for the Ted Kord installment of Character Assassination. 

At this point, I assume that you’ve clicked the above link, so I’ll proceed from there. Here’s where we get to the part that’s pretty aggravating for Ted Kord fans. For the next few years, we got all these hints, right? A mystery. All these various clues pointed to Ted Kord not being dead, so how would the ending to these events finally be revealed? 

Short answer: They wouldn’t. 
Long answer: Remember the New 52 reboot?  Not only did they get rid of Ted Kord’s death, they got rid of Ted Kord. …Thanks a lot, DC.

Alternate Versions
I’m being a bit unfair to DC with that, they’re still making good use of their Ted Kord. He’s shown up in most major Elseworlds stories and more than a few minor ones. He’s shown up in notable stories like Kingdom Come and Justice Riders, and, like Captain Atom, was wanted for use in Alan Moore (Lord of All Facial Hair)’s Watchmen. His eventual counterpart was the second Nite-Owl, with the first Nite-Owl being the counterpart of the first Blue Beetle.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  "Fall of the Blue Beetle," and "Menace of the Madniks." In both these episodes, Ted’s death is dealt with in a mature, heartwarming, and inspirational way. And who did they get to voice ol’ Ted? Wil. Wheaton. Aw, yeah, the Nerd Emissary. Actually, it’s one of the best performances I’ve heard from our Mr. Wheaton. His Ted Kord seems like a genuinely nice guy, and you can easily see why Booster Gold would change the course of history just to see him again.

Blue and Gold are my generation's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
I don’t watch the CW’s Arrow (an adaptation of the Green Arrow character), but they say Ted’s going to show up, so that’s got me a bit excited.

Final Thoughts

Ted Kord never gives up. Ted Kord believes in right, and he believes in wrong. Ted Kord will never give up, never compromise, and never hesitate to give his life for what he knows is right. In short, I think that while Superman is the human ideal, and Batman is the pinnacle of human potential, Ted Kord is the character that really shows us that anyone can make this world a better place. He didn’t do what he did for the glory, for the fame, for the money, or for the power. He did it simply because it was right. After Ted’s death, the Justice League and the Blue Beetle fans both asked how anyone could live up to Ted’s incredible example. 
In Part 3, we’ll find out.


Okay, you want one more?

Hey, you can't say that DC Comics never gives the fans what they want.

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