By now everyone who cares knows that Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, is being re-introduced to DC comics continuity in the final issue of Forever Evil. Even though we’ve been told to expect some changes I’m still looking forward to seeing Kord make his comeback. I am really hopeful that when that happens he is able to cement an ongoing role in the New 52, and an elevation in his stature within the DCU generally. The news of Ted Kord’s revival had me go back to my long boxes and pull out my copies of Infinite Crisis to take another look at the demise of Ted Kord, and what it meant for DC Comic fans that were watching the end of an era, and the birth of another.
I think that for fans of DC Comics like me, who are also in their early 30′s, the death of Ted Kord and the tragic circumstances of the way he died shocked a lot of us. It was a dramatic and cruel end for a character that brought a lot of joy to readers.
I say this knowing full well that there are a lot of cynics among comic book fans, but in that final panel I chose to believe that in 2005 DC was actually going to reboot the DC Universe. That year marked the 20th Anniversary of the original DC reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths, and fans were flocking to Internet forums to rant and rave about rumors and gossip. By the time Countdown to Infinite Crisis was released there was consensus among the nerd kings that DC was in fact planning to reboot an old idea: the re-introduction of the Multiverse.
By 2005 I had already seen Zero Hour retcon significant chunks of DC’s future that had become inconsistent with the changes made to the present day in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Most were betting that DC wouldn’t dare face the fan backlash that would inevitably ensue, and that as a result Infinite Crisis would be another much-hyped flop. DC Comics has been at this a long time, and knows that we comic book fans always jump to Defcon 1 whenever we sense change is coming. Calling our bluff brilliantly DC Comics would go on to make Infinite Crisis one of the most dramatic, and exciting event story-lines the company has ever told (what happened after that series proved everyone correct, but Infinite Crisis was solid).
The core seven issue self-titled series was beautifully drawn, and would bring back the only survivors of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC universe: Earth-2′s Superman and Lois, Earth-Prime’s Superboy, and Earth-3′s Alexander Luthor in a story line that was very much a thoughtful retrospective on the comic book industry throughout the 1990′s and early 2000′s.
DC had raised the expectations of myself and millions of other fans, and for my money they executed a perfect opening act in Countdown. As far as I’m concerned their character choices for whom the opening act revolves around were masterful. Long time fans of DC Comics would know this, but new fans will want to know that the Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Maxwell Lord were members of one of the most popular Justice League teams in DC history. It was written and drawn by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis from 1987 until 1992. Giffen and DeMatteis were able create humor with Blue Beetle and the publicity seeking hero from the 25th century Booster Gold, but then turn on a dime and cast deep suspicion over the motives of characters like Maxwell Lord. Fans have quite rightly singled out the Giffen/DeMatteis run as a definitive era in the Justice League mythos, but Infinite Crisis played a major role in defining it as a seminal era.
By the early 1990′s comic book fans were calling for grittier, more realistic interpretations of superheroes. The slapstick humor that fans had adored in Giffen and DeMatteiss’ style finally gave way to dark interpretations of characters inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. By 1992 the campy humor of Justice League International looked out of place next to books featuring the Death of Superman, and Bane breaking Batman’s back. Of course, even those titles were tame by comparison to the extreme violence and gore in many of the books from Image such as Savage Dragon, Stormwatch, and W.I.L.D. Cats.
Until Countdown to Infinite Crisis the Giffen/DeMatteis JLI hadn’t been touched by the industry’s shift towards more violent and darker stories and characters. Throughout Infinite Crisis that shift is referred to as a great “darkness” that consumed the DC Universe. However, in Infinite Crisis the darkness finally came for the Giffen/DeMatteis era killing the last remnants of innocence within the DCU. As the darkness bore down on Blue Beetle in Countdown he redeemed himself by proving to everyone that within the heart of Ted Kord was a true hero. Of course, it also confirmed what we always feared about Maxwell Lord: that within him existed a truly horrible monster.
In 80 pages, Countdown to Infinite Crisis stirred up a lot of nostalgia and touched all the feels within long time fans of DC Comics. Once I reached the final panels of the book I believed that the only era of DC Comics I had ever known was coming to an end. A new era would be written, but everything that defined DC Comics from the time I began collecting comics in 1992 until March 2005 was being wiped away for something new.
Now, trust me when I say that I keep these things in proper perspective when it comes to my daily responsibilities as a functional and contributing adult, but in respect to this one aspect of my life, the death of Blue Beetle was emotional stuff. Part of the reason I love DC Comics is because of the role of the “Crisis”. A Crisis event within DC Comics has become an act of passing the torch from one generation of comic book fans to the next. In the process a new universe of heroes and villains is born, one that gets to enthrall the next generation of comic book fans.
Every generation of comic book readers deserves to have the comic books belong to them, not their older siblings or parents.
Marv Wolfman - Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths, 2005
Infinite Crisis provided that story, however its legacy is forever tarnished in my mind by what it gave birth to: a poorly thought-out multiverse that didn’t completely break with continuity, and as a consequence quickly imploded. Despite several attempts to make a go of it DC Comics finally hit the big red reboot button in 2010 with Flashpoint.
Despite a popular appearance as a Black Lantern zombie in 2009′s Blackest Night Ted Kord was one of the few characters that were not resurrected in Brightest Day, leaving me deeply depressed about the situation at the time. Since Flashpoint and the birth of the New 52 I have been working on the assumption that Ted Kord’s return was inevitable. This time the DC universe has truly been rebooted, and many characters have been given new origin stories meaning there are no promises that the heroic Ted Kord I miss so much from my childhood and teenage years will be the Ted Kord that appears in the New 52.
Ultimately I have no control over it, and like all other fans I’m going to have to wait and see what the creators at DC Comics have crafted. I do hope that the Ted Kord that comes back is the hero that infiltrated Checkmate’s headquarters and discovered Maxwell Lord’s plot to control the world’s superheroes. I truly hope that DC will make this Ted Kord every bit the hero of his predecessor, and drop the comic relief.
What can I say? I’m a product of the ’90′s, I like my superheroes with some darkness and grit.