An Interview with Josh Trujillo

You and artist Adrián Gutiérrez worked on last year’s Blue Beetle: Graduation Day miniseries, expanding on the mythos of the blue alien scarab (Khaji Da) that gives Jaime Reyes his powers and brings the intergalactic threat of the Reach back to Earth. How does the miniseries tie into the Scarab War 

You can start with Blue Beetle #1 without reading Graduation Day. Issue #1 of the ongoing series is our pilot. We introduce an offshoot of the Reach, known as the Horizon. They have their own agenda. We are also introducing Starfire as a mentor to Blue Beetle and Jaime to a whole new city (Palermo City), giving him his own Metropolis as I like to say.  

A whole bunch of fresh new characters and old favorites like Paco and Brenda are along for the ride too. All this is to say, I am putting pieces in place to knock them down in our big Scarab War arc.

Graduation Day also shows the different mentor styles of Ted Kord (the second Blue Beetle) and Starfire who are “guides from the sides” and Batman up against Superman who take a “Sage from Stage” approach with Jaime. Can you talk about how Ted and Starfire trust Jaime when the Justice League wants to ground him when the Reach returns to Earth? 

Even back when Jaime was first introduced in the 2000’s Infinite Crisis, he has always had a relationship with Batman and I think Batman cares for him as much as he does Robin. Batman knows Jaime has unique responsibilities and a unique destiny because of the scarab (Khaji Da) attached to his back. So, there is always a level of suspicion that comes from Batman inherently and I think that is different in how he looks at Jaime. 

Ted Kord is the Blue Beetle before Jaime. He is the second and Jaime is the third. So, Ted looks to Jaime very positively as the next generation, as a way to fulfill all his hope and all the potential Ted sees. Ted is very much like a hopeful Batman, I like to say, versus a more cynical one we see in the comics from time to time. 

Starfire is a window to his greater cosmic destiny. Starfire has been a warrior princess on Tamaran. She is very knowledgeable about alien races and alien history, and she’s someone Jaime can lean onto to help explore that side of him (the Khaji Da). So, they fill different roles, and in our Scarab War arc something happens to Ted that takes him off the board for a minute, and Jaime has to lean on Starfire a little harder than ever. I think it is interesting to see their contrasting mentor styles. 

We see Ted Kord standing with his arm around Jaime Reyes’ shoulder consoling him after a mistake, while Batman stands over someone making sure they don’t make the mistake again. How different are the Beetle and Bat families?

I think the Bat-Family and the Beetle-Family maybe aren’t all too different in some ways. It’s both this large community around a central hero and how they build him up, hold him accountable and give him something to fight for, but Jaime’s family is much more informal. It’s safe to say, they laugh a lot and have that Justice League International (JLI) heritage.  

Ted is a goofball-through and through, but Jaime’s story doesn’t begin with tragedy—it begins with a mystery. Batman comes from that seminal loss and seminal tragedy. So, I think there is more optimism and curiosity about the world around him for Jaime than maybe Bruce (Wayne) experiences. Jaime is our window to the DC Universe. He is very wide and bright eyed, where Batman has teamed up with everyone from Superman to Santa Claus. 

Who have your mentors been in your writing career? Did they have a “guide from the side” or a “sage from the stage” approach and did you find that helpful? 

I have been really lucky with some of the creators who have taken me under their wing over the years. A big one being my editor over at DC, Andrew Marino. He’s the editor on Graduation Day and our ongoing series. Andrew is a huge fan of Jaime Reyes. This (comic) was something Andrew had been advocating for for years and really saw me as the potential guy to write for that character. It took almost six years from when we started our conversation about Jaime to where we are now if you can believe it. So, it is about teaching me that patience. Comics can move very quickly, but they usually move very slowly and it can be a waiting game. Waiting for your opportunities or building your own opportunities in the meantime. So, he has been enormously helpful. 

I look to my peers. Levi Hastings is an illustrator I worked with on a book called Washington’s Gay General, that came out last year. He is a great sounding board for story. Josh Cornillon, my co-collaborator on Pool Boys, listens to my insecurities and woes and helps keep things in perspective. Like Jaime, I have a huge community of people I bother with text messages in the middle of the night. 

Ted Kord is put in a coma when the Blood Scarab attacks at the beginning of the new Blue Beetle series. Jaime is, again, without Ted’s guidance like when he first started as a hero. Ted made his own path without Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle, in his own origin story. Can we talk about how each Blue Beetle honors their predecessors but starts out in their own unique way? 

Dan Garrett is our original Blue Beetle. He found Khaji Da in a pharaoh’s tomb in the 1940s. As I see it, Dan acted as a mentor to Khaji Da, teaching the scarab humanity, heroism, and selflessness. This all comes to a head when Ted becomes the Blue Beetle after Dan’s death. Ted has this enormous responsibility, not just because he idolized Dan Garrett/Blue Beetle, but also Dan Garrett/the Professor/the Scientist because he was a student of Dan’s. There is a real passing of the torch moment born into that “How am I ever going to live up to that…The greatest hero of the time” mentality. 

Jaime has a similar situation because Ted was killed right before Jaime got the scarab. There is a sense of heavy responsibility and legacy that permeates through our book and the Blue Beetle chronology, and I wanted to do right by that. Our book is very new-reader friendly, but we have to acknowledge we’re building on the shoulders of giants. 

Since we are now talking about all three Blue Beetles, let’s talk about how the new adversary, the Blood Scarab, connects the three heroes? 

In Dan Garrett’s origin, he found Khaji Da in a pharaoh’s tomb and that pharaoh was awakened by the energy of a nuclear bomb. Kha-Ef-Re was his name and he was the first Blue Beetle villain. Dan was able to stop him in his origin and seal him away. We haven’t seen or heard from Kha-Ef-Re in continuity since. It has been over sixty years. Kha-Ef-Re has a bit of a grudge against Khaji Da because Dan is already dead. 

The Blood Scarab is a human host controlled by Kha-Ef-Re, who has now taken on a scarab form of his own. I wanted to create a through line from the original Blue Beetle villain to today and that goes straight through Ted. Ted isn’t an heir to the scarab in any way, but Kha-Ef-Re still saw Ted as a threat or potential obstacle in his path to claim Khaji Da. It’s a bit of the past, but a way to recontextualize this silly Golden Age story with nuclear bombs, evil dictators, and the type of fun we had in the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics. 

Beyond the blue alien scarab (Khaji Da) and the azure costumes, there’s another connection to the Blue Beetle legacy through comic book creator Keith Giffen, who we lost last year. How did the Blue Beetle #7 tribute to Keith Giffen come together?  

Losing Keith Giffen was a gut punch for me. I never had the chance to meet him personally, but his work was among my favorites at DC. Specifically, his JLI was a real window to enter the DC Universe and I loved the way he handled Ted and Booster (Gold) in particular, co-writing with J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire on art.  

We wanted to do something special for Keith immediately once we heard the news. For me, that meant going on a bit of a road trip through the DC Universe to see how large Keith’s influence was. That meant going to the JLI days, the far, far future of the DC Universe and everywhere in between and beyond. The issue is star studded as far as guest stars but also guest artists. We have Adrián Gutiérrez, our regular artist, Natacha Bustos, Howard Porter, Cully Hamner, Scott Kolins, and not to mention our incredible colorists Laura Martin and Luis Guerro and lettering Lucas Gattoni.  

It’s a real party to try and live up to Keith’s legacy and show new readers or readers who haven’t given him a second thought in a minute to reevaluate his work. I hope people will go into the back issues and see all the contributions he has made. 

Keith Giffen left an impact on the Blue Beetle characters fans connected to. Older fans connected with Ted Kord his quotable banter as a superhero talking like a real person. Can we discuss that and how your current Blue Beetle comic continues to communicate with fans through its organic dialogue and truthful portrayal of the Reyes family speaking Spanish when together? 

It was important for me to capture that Ted Kord voice from those JLI comics to a degree. He is Batman in some ways but also your loveable uncle or that guy who can’t seem to get it together. I wanted to capture the duality of being the smartest person in the room but maybe a little hapless here and there.

But capturing those voices and the language was essential for me to capture the authenticity of growing up in a bilingual household. DC was really welcoming to the idea of including untranslated Spanish in the English editions, and they, more importantly, released all Spanish editions for the book. This is a real way to attract new readers and to show DC’s commitment to expanding who gets to enjoy superhero comics. And that’s something I take very seriously, finding a way to keep these books accessible. If you don’t know Spanish, don’t worry. You can translate it with your phone camera or ask someone in your life. But you’re not missing any plot information. You are just missing a little bit of flavor and I wanted to stay true to what it would be like to live in that environment. 

We have a lot of characters who speak Spanish, but we also have characters who speak the Reach language or Tamaranean. It’s about showing diversity but not doing it in a way that anyone feels excluded. 

Last year, you and artist Levi Hastings released a historical biography graphic novel. Could you talk a bit about Washington’s Gay General, which is the story of Founding Father Baron von Steuben, and the history we aren’t taught in school? 

Baron von Steuben was a Prussian General, who fought in the Seven Years War. He was a prisoner of the Russians and was trained under Frederick the Great. He came to America to really save our butts in the American Revolution. He was a big confidant and mentor to George Washington, teaching the United States military how to be an army and go against the biggest military superpower in the world at that time, which was Britain.  

Beyond all that, Von Steuben was a little outlandish. He was a larger-than-life character and queer/gay. We try to look at his life through a queer lens for maybe the first time and examine the realities of living during that time. But we examined all the things we do not know.  

History is very much written by the victors and for most of human history to be publicly out was impossible. Many of these people destroyed their own belongings before they died or had family destroy evidence of their relationships. We only know about von Steuben because of his class and his fame. For every von Steuben, there are countless people we will never know about. We don’t have queer stories during the Revolutionary War below his level and I think that’s a real tragedy. It makes people misunderstand the queer identity. We have always been there, but for so long we have had to keep it hidden or didn’t have the language to understand it. 

Looking to the future, how do you see Jaime Reyes’ unique and greater cosmic destiny being played out with the book’s recent cancellation? What is next for Jaime, Khaji Da, and the Reach? 

I think the best is yet to come with Jaime! He’s a beloved and vital character to the DC Universe, and that will go on long after my Blue Beetle brothers and I finish our final issue. I hope to return to the character someday in some form, though, if not, I think we left him in a better place than when we found him. I think we made a satisfying, complete run over the past 11 issues (plus 6 from Graduation Day!) Hopefully this is the kind of book people will pick up and read for a long time to come. Right now, I’m celebrating what we accomplished, and I am eager to see what the future holds for our Blue Beetle.

Where can people find out more about you and your work online? 

You can find me on all social media at @losthiskeysman and I have a website: I am very reachable. Just come at me with your questions or thoughts. I love connecting with fans, especially about Blue Beetle and Baron von Steuben. Those are my heroes right now. 

Josh Trujillo, Interview by Dominic Loise

Josh Trujillo is a writer based in Los Angeles. He has worked with Marvel, DC, IDW, and many other publishers on beloved franchises like Captain America, Blue Beetle, and Adventure Time. In 2023, Trujillo and illustrator Levi Hastings released "Washington's Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben." You can follow him on social media @losthiskeysman.

Dominic Loise lives with his librarian wife Jenna, their rabbits and many books. He met his wife one night over a shared love of reading Ray Bradbury. The rabbits love books too but aren’t readers. As a content creator for F(r)iction, Dominic writes book reviews, does interviews and has a series of personal essays about pop culture and mental health. He is open about and advocates for mental health awareness. Dominic can be found at @dominic_lives on Instagram & Twitter where he shares recently published work.