If there is any one fictional character that makes my heart swoon as it feels giddy, it is the Blue Beetle.
Ted Kord to be precise.
He is the rarest of finds. He shines brightly in Patriarchal storytelling, but would shine just as brightly in Matriarchal storytelling.
The difference is in the Patriarchal style, he is, at most, a supporting player, while he would be the heart and soul in the Matriarchal.
Of all the endless male characters in various forms, he always stood out to me. As a teenager, he made me laugh, but as an adult, I grew to truly appreciate his worth.
He began in the 1960’s as a back up feature in the comic book Captain Atom published by Charlton comics. He is a legacy character, meaning he is not the first person to be the Blue Beetle. He was spun into his own series four issues later, but that first series lasted a scant five issues and was in limbo until DC Comics bought the Charlton catalogue in the mid-1980’s and placed him in the Justice League as well as his own short lived series that lasted 24 issues. (And yes, I have that entire run, including the sixth story that was finally collected decades later, but I digress).
But it was his stint in the JLA that defines his legacy.
The DC run of the Blue Beetle solo series was criminally blasé and the worst of it was that Ted is a lovable character who lends himself to exciting stories no matter if he is in costume or out. I always thought he would shine in a comedy series where he was a retired hero happily married and raising a family with all sorts of surreal things happening as other heroes and even villains popped into his house at weird times seeking his advice and he’d patiently give it to them because he would know people were just making up excuses to see him again. It could subtly cross-over to other books where we may think the hero there just knew the answer, but if you read Ted’s series, you’d know exactly who gave the hero that winning piece of advice and what was really going through the hero’s mind before.
Ted was a hero who had no superpowers. He never needed them. You know Batman would be insanely jealous of him because everybody would just love Ted who even sewed his own costume as he built his own solar-powered plane — with no help. He was a true polymath.
He is marked by his silly sense of play and humour, even when things were bleak. He could take on superpowered menaces and *win*. Groups of thugs got owned by he with the coolest yellow goggles in town.
He is smart and a techno-genius.
Yet none of that compares to his subtext.
He became the Blue Beetle by promise. He trusted his uncle who used him to make killer robots and when he clued in, he asked one of his former professors for help. The professor could navigate his way through an island where the evil uncle was hiding himself and his robots — but what Ted didn’t know was that the professor was the hero named the Blue Beetle who used an ancient relic to give him enormous powers.
The Blue Beetle was mortally wounded stopping the evil uncle and as he lay dying in Ted’s arms, made Ted promise to carry on the legacy of the Blue Beetle.
Ted promised and a relieved Daniel Garrett died.
But the relic — a blue scarab was lost.
So, here is Ted Kord — owner of a powerful company that is a force to be reckoned with making a promise to a dying man. No one else heard him make this promise. No one is there to hold him to this huge promise, and he does not have the scarab to give him the strength and he saw up close that even with that enormous advantage, he could get his young and handsome self killed.
He could have walked away. He had every reason to just move on or figure out some clever way to keep the name going without him getting his hands dirty, explaining to himself that Dan Garrett probably was just delusional in his dying moments, anyway, and didn’t really mean it.
But a promise is a promise.
He pays the price: one police officer is convinced he killed Garrett and hounds him, but that is the least of his worries. Even in the second run of the book, we see because he has no one to share the burden, he is taxed, costing him his love life, and his company crashes and burns.
He becomes penniless and the second series ends.
He is still the Blue Beetle.
What happens next is utterly fascinating.
He is now in the Justice League, broke and homeless, living at their headquarters. He is essentially a transient, but he made a promise and he sees it through, but this time, he isn’t just fighting thugs with gangs and guns, he is fighting aliens that can kill *worlds*.
This is Ted Kord. Often, characters dual personas are men and women divided. Bruce Wayne is not Batman. Clark Kent isn’t Superman.
But Ted Kord is Ted Kord in the costume or out of it. The wearing of the costume is the mere manifestation of his promise, nothing more.
If you ask me, a blue beetle should be the universal symbol of a hard promise kept.
Nevertheless, Ted is flawed. He makes mistakes and gross errors in judgement. He screws up, and often. He even packs on pounds.
Yet he puts on that costume and keeps his promise as maddeningly inconvenient as it is, yet he is living his life to the fullest. He is not wallowing in self-pity. He is not questioning himself.
He puts on that costume even when he gets a heart condition. He rebuilds his company, but it is never the same. He never gets that love life because his word is priceless. It is the most valuable thing in the DCU — ever.
It is a shame that DC Comics never saw the full value of that word or that character. I won’t go into his death or portrayal outside these parameters. Most of it missed the mark because there is a certain shame when it comes to Ted Kord. Too many writers don’t get his charm. He isn’t grim, gritty, or growling Alpha Male: he is too strong for that. His laugh is a simple * Bwah-ha-ha*, but say it to any comic book fan, and they know who you are talking about.
The character whose word is priceless.
You can absolutely trust him. The entire fate of existence itself could be put exclusively in his hands and if he promised to look after it, you go on to bed and sleep soundly. We would all be in good hands.
He is truth.
He works well in a Patriarchal style. We know that despite the flaws, he is a good man. He is singular in focus, and he shines in One because he is trustworthy and can be counted on to do the right thing when it counts the most.
But look at him through a Matriarchal lens and he can hold up just as well, if not better: a man who is truth and honour has many nuanced layers and we can explore the implications of his singular nature in Infinity. There is no end to the stories you can tell just by examining his honour alone, yet there are other facets to his personality, such as his brilliance, his ease with making friends with other heroes fromThe Question, Mr. Miracle, and Booster Gold (a jaded human journalist, a man from another *planet*, and a man from the very distant *future*. Think about it — his very essence defies time and space), and his peculiar, but endearing sense of humour.
Matriarchal storytelling is all about layering grains and very few characters are as versatile as Ted Kord. I always thought he was woefully misused and disrespected. He is the noblest character in comics without peer and one of the noblest fictional characters ever created.
And he comes smelling like a rose in two vastly different storytelling structures. I always felt extremely grateful stumbling upon this character because unlike Superman, his creation was not a Big Bang, but a little pop, but he is the one that has infinite stories giggling within him whether you choose to see him through Patriarchal eyes or Matriarchal ones.