Ted Kord: Academic Origins

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While there are many comic book characters that people are inspired by, I have always identified with the underdog. In my opinion, no one within the comic book genre represents the underdog better than Ted Kord. Created by Charleston comics, and purchased by DC once Charleston folded, Ted Kord went on to become one of the DC’s most influential characters in the late 80’s. Though Ted Kord’s powers follow the mythic model of the vigilante hero, such as Batman, his personality follows the traditional “selfless savior” instinct, generally associated with Superman. I will examine why Ted Kord fits within the status as a super hero, how he influenced comic books, and why I identify myself most with the character.

In Peter Coogan’s “The Secret Origin of a Genre”, Coogan identifies Mission, Powers, and Identity as the three standards to judge prospective heroes by (2006). If a character fails one of these categories, they are in fact not a super hero. Ted Kord handily fits into all three categories, proving that he is classified as a super hero by even the strictest of standards. Ted Kord determines he wants to be a hero from an early age, only because of his fascinations with previous Golden Age heroes. This culminates when his mentor, the first Blue Beetle Dan Garret, dies and passes on the mystical Blue Scarab on to Ted. Despite not being able to tap into the Scarab’s power granting mysticism, Ted Kord adopts the Blue Beetle mantle, and carries on where his mentor left off. Ted fights crime selflessly; he does it because he enjoys helping people. While having no actual powers, Ted earns the right to fight next to powerful heroes like Green Lantern and J’onn J’onzz. Ted selflessly devoted his skills, resources, and himself to helping people asking (and receiving) nothing in turn.

The second standard in Coogan’s model is powers. While Ted Kord possesses not “super human powers” it is arguable that the abilities he possesses exceed that of normal human’s. Ted Kord was created in the image of Batman or Green Arrow, relying on wealth, intelligence, and physical training to become a super hero. Like those he’s modeled after, Ted Kord has “super human means” which is to say, he can do amazing things with his wealth. His wealth alone allowed him to co-fund the Justice League International and he was the sole source of funding for the all-female super team, the Birds of Prey. In addition to his means, Ted Kord was one of the smartest people in the DCU, being able to create and engineer just by imagining it. Finally, Ted used a wide array of non-lethal weapons. Similar to Batman or Green Arrow, Ted’s gadgets were based off of his Blue Beetle persona. However, Ted differed from them by turning lethal weapons such as guns and grenades into non-lethal gadgets at his disposal. And to tie him into this genre type, Ted created and flies a giant blue hover craft he calls “the Bug”.

Finally Coogan stated that identity was a key aspect of every super hero. Ted Kord used his alter ego to do things he couldn’t do as himself. Ted is only ever known as Blue Beetle among his peers, and very few people outside of the Justice League know that Ted Kord and Blue Beetle are the same person. However, unlike heroes like Batman, Ted Kord is a serious person compared to Blue Beetle. Batman uses the fun and care free persona of Bruce Wayne to hide his serious nature, while Ted Kord uses Blue Beetle to escape the real world. Ted is a very serious and conservative business man, but Blue Beetle is fun, caring, and easy to get along with.

While never being an “A List” hero, Ted Kord managed to become a generational favorite, whose popularity has only grown since his high point in the 80’s.  Ted Kord joined the Justice League in the middle of the 80’s just as the team was experiencing turmoil. He decides that heroes need to protect the world and not just the nation and joins a new version of the Justice League, the Justice League International. As a member of this team, Ted feels that he will be able to do more good for more people. While initially selected as leader, J’onn J’onzz and Batman both decide to join the team and become the team’s leader (Justice League International, 1987-1994). Throughout the series Ted is shown being a capable member of the team, but above all being a friend to his other teammates. While Ted would normally take his role as a hero seriously, he decides to play the part of the jester to help lighten the mood. Batman and J’onn prove to be abusive leaders, and Ted often shielded his team mates from the harsh nature of the team’s leaders (Breakdowns #12,. In turn, Ted sacrifices his validity as a super hero to protect his friends, as by the time the JLI disbands everyone believes that Ted is a joke of a character. Ted continues to help where he can, all but abandoned by the super hero community who believes him washed up. During his normal round of investigating, Ted uncovers a plot to kill the super human community (Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, 2005). Upon confronting the Justice League with his findings, they turn him away and order him to give up the mask. Ted continues to determine the nature of the plot and eventually finds the mysterious bad guys secret base. However, upon this discovery, Ted is captured and murdered.

Ted’s death is one of the DC’s most defining moments, causing shockwaves and tremors to ripple throughout the DCU. Jenkins brings up the idea that super heroes are refreshed when comics spin new tales around them, without constraint from continuity (Just Men in Capes, 2007). Ted Kord is consistently refreshed, as he appears in tales of time travel, parallel universes, and even journey’s to the afterlife. Ted evolves from the super hero genre, to becoming more of a science fiction character. Once looked outside of continuity constraints, Ted is turned into the a wise mentor figure, following the mythic mold of characters like Obi Won, Gandalf, or the wizard Shazam. This duality gives Ted his own unique mythic mold, for in order for him to become a cross-genre spanning character, Ted must break the trope that heroes always win. Ted literally has to die in order to maintain status as uniquely mythic hero, that spans genre’s and archetypes.

I personally identify with Ted Kord because he represents what most super heroes do, he represents the underdog. While being blessed with status, Ted is always looked down upon, and often for no reason. I believe that most of society can relate with Ted’s personality and life. He is the genre’s everyman, which is to say most everyone can identify and relate with him. In addition to that, Ted is always second best. While smart, athletic, charismatic, and capable, there are always other people that are more capable, smart, etc. Ted fills the unique role of being a critique of the “powerless hero” archetype by being looked down upon and considered second best. This breaks from the traditional sense that even without powers heroes, such as Batman and Green Arrow, can be respected and capable members of the super hero society. I have always identified with this. I have always been considered to be second best, so to have a comic book character suffer similar experiences, allows me to put fantasize that I am secretly a super hero too. In my secular case, this means that Ted Kord is capable of producing the Secret Skin effect (Secret Skin, 2008). By being relatable, I am can mentally transform myself into a man who can compete with those who are normally considered better than myself. Finally Ted sheds light on the “selfless hero” standard that everyone expects super heroes to be. In Ted’s unique story, negative connotations are put on Ted’s status as a selfless hero. As in order to be selfless, Ted must be happy having nothing. Much like the Apostle’s in Christian faith, Ted must give up his worldly ideas and feelings in pursuit of this altruistic life style. In Ted’s case, he must give up all chance of love, success, and recognition to pursue altruism. While initially hesitant, Ted continues to pursue heroism and gives up on his idea of happiness. This adds a major and unique flaw to the most highly regarded status within the genre. Altruism has never been this challenging for Superman or Captain America, yet arguably Ted Kord’s relevance is spun out of his near biblical pursuit of altruism.

On the surface, Ted Kord is identifiable as the goofy everyman who thrived in an age where the Justice League blended drama and comedy to make a unique feel. While born out of this unique mix, Ted Kord grew not only as a fictional character, but as a mythic hero and ideal. Ted’s status as a super hero is tainted with tragedy, not in a fictional sense, but in a literal sense. Ted Kord in reality is the tragic hero of the genre. One of the few characters that had to work for his status as a hero and mythic icon, but can only retain his status as an icon by dying. Ted Kord is the only character that blends the mythic hero, the epic poem tragic hero, and the archetypal mentor with aspects of humanity, religion, and society. In addition to this, Ted Kord offers others the chance at empowerment by appealing to the basic feelings of incompetence, unimportance, and being the underdog. Though initially created to be the Batman of the Charleston universe, under DC Ted was allowed to evolve into a fan favorite character and societal commodity. Ted Kord is a character that not only resides within Coogan’s model of the ideal hero, but thrives within multiple genres when separated from continuity by Jenkins’ idea of “multiplicity”. While long deceased, Ted Kord must not be locked into the genre’s resurrection trope. Ted Kord’s mythic perspective is much stronger as a standalone character, untainted by lengthy continuities. Ted Kord exists as a unique depiction of multiple myth types, archetypes, and genre type that would be lost if the character was suddenly pulled back into continuity.

Chabon, Michael. 2008. “Secret Skin.” New Yorker, March 10.

Coogan, Peter. 2006. The Secret Origin of a Genre. Texas: Monkeybrain.

Jenkins, Henry. 2007. “Just Men in Capes?” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 15.

http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/just_men_in_capes.html

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