This past week saw the release of DC’s Blue Beetle, a hotly anticipated new film that sort of exists within the limbo between the previous DC phase, the “Snyderverse”, and its upcoming new one, “Gods and Monsters”, to be headed by James Gunn and Peter Safran. It’s caught in the in-between because it passively mentions previous existing characters while it’s also claimed to be and expected to exist within the upcoming universe as well… so it’ll be interesting to see where this lesser-known, charming hero ends up within the wider DC map. But the film is arguably highly anticipated for another, more prominent reason. He’s the first explicitly and unabashedly Latino superhero to come to the big screen.
Jaime Reyes, the lead character who ends up becoming a host to the alien blue scarab, was born to a Mexican family in the fictional Palmera City. His family is a proud, seemingly traditional, and extremely close immigrant family. And the movie explores this aspect with center stage care and attention. It’s steeped in references and nods to Latino culture, contains a lot of humor that revolves around it, and addresses some of the stereotypes as well. It lovingly and humorously embraces the importance of family, a central part of Hispanic heritage, and touches on the struggles of immigrant life. It wears its love for the culture proudly on its sleeve, on top of providing a top-notch superhero origin story that’s utterly charming, unique, warm, fun, hilarious, and emotional. It also has some great action sequences and cool, stylish visuals to round out the entertainment. And who can’t praise the awesome and impressively realistic bodysuit of the scarab!
But the film’s release, and its hype, interestingly and glaringly doesn’t fully address the elephant in the room among it all, which is… why did it take this long for a Latino superhero to finally arrive when comic book heroes have already been the dominant force in cinema for decades? Let’s examine a few reasons as to why this was the case.
Diversity in Cinema, Especially in Comic Book Films, Has Only Recently Started to Hit its Stride
The comic book genre has been steadily dominating since the beginning of the 21st century, but the majority of films that led the turning tide had the common issue of not featuring a diverse lead or cast. Understandably, this could be attributed to the obvious factor that the source material of many of those released films predominantly featured white heroes in the comics. Another factor is the times they found themselves in, as American society’s awareness of its lack of diversity in pretty much all industries only really started to open up and be addressed in the 2010s, arguably.
But the comic-book films that came along later on were far more impactful in their portrayal of the diversity within their world and their heroes. Obviously, the biggest game-changer was Black Panther. There was representation on the smaller screen in TV shows like Luke Cage, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel. We finally had a Wonder Woman film materialize, and eventually, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and the Eternals came along. But alas, it was a slow and complex process to get some of these cinematic landmarks, not to mention an unprecedented global pandemic interrupting things a lot. It was only a matter of time before a studio would think to adapt a Latin hero as well.
There Weren’t Many Popular Latino Heroes in Comics to Draw from
The comic book genre on screen has been notable for crutching on its most popular heroes and endlessly regurgitating them. There have been a ton of adaptations of Batman, Superman, and several others. One can’t really blame them, as the most popular heroes bring in the most bank. The problem lies with having the source material, as there are few comic characters from any company, be it DC or Marvel, that are fully Hispanic and show it. But again, studios played it safe for quite a while and only started exhibiting the guts to experiment with lesser-known characters after Marvel’s Iron Man single-handedly charted that course and made the bold leap for others to follow.
Other than Blue Beetle, perhaps, there really weren’t many prominent Latin heroes in comic books that studios would think to take a chance to devote an entire film to. The majority of them were either iterations of existing heroes that eventually took up the mantle, like Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider and Miles Morales as Spider-Man, and others were more or less side characters that didn’t have a big presence. Studios could’ve technically cast Latino actors in those roles, but it would’ve been a cheap representation, since those characters weren’t Latinos from the get-go in the comics. A true example of a Latino hero needed to have the culture as an authentic part of their core, and of their story.
Since the release of milestones like Black Panther were already half a decade ago, and the cinematic push for diverse heroes has been on a rapid trajectory since then, Blue Beetle could’ve come sooner, of course. But lest we forget, the majority of that aforementioned push was paved by Marvel, which doesn’t really have a well-known, authentically Latino comic book hero (one of the most popular ones, America Chavez, made her debut in last summer’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).
It’s to DC’s advantage then that they actually have one… but DC has been all over the place in the last decade, unlike Marvel, and were barely able to make decent adaptations of most of their spotlight heroes, much less their smaller ones.
DC, arguably, has also had more of a lack of willingness to experiment with their lesser-known heroes than Marvel has. Then throw in global catastrophes like the 2020 pandemic, which stopped the industry, and the world, dead in its tracks for a while… and you have a pretty sensible explanation for why it took this long for our dear Jamie Reyes to finally have his due in the cinematic spotlight. But better late than never!
It hasn’t been an easy road, and an unfairly overdue one. But he’s finally here, and he came the right way! With a great film, wonderful representation, and amazing talent behind and in front of the camera. After all, that’s what’s most important, for a film like this to be made right, rather than be rushed to be put together and make a bad impression. Perhaps it was fate then, that it was destined to take this long, just like it was for Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and others. Great things usually take a long time, and are usually worth it. And this film was worth the wait! Will it have a bright future in the larger DC canon? We can only hope.
But either way, this film made a wonderful, much-deserved, and much-needed impression. And now, our first Latino superhero will forever have his seat in the halls of superhero cinema like many others, where he rightfully should.