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Dr. Karen Beecher, aka Bumblebee: a tech genius who deserves better

Contributed by
Nov 8, 2018

Dr. Karen Beecher, also known as Bumblebee, is a brilliant mind in the DC universe. She's most known for her involvement with the Teen Titans and the super suit she wears as Bumblebee, one of her greatest creations. The younger iterations of her in animated series and movies complement her genius. In the comics, however, her high aptitude for computer science and engineering is often hindered by her relationship with Mal Duncan.

Bumblebee’s first appearance, in Teen Titans #45, is as the girlfriend of Duncan, also known as The Guardian. Imagine having a doctorate, yet being reduced to just a "girlfriend" to a superhero you helped significantly. Not only did you assist in the development of a device he uses, but you go out of your way to prove his worthiness to both himself and his teammates. Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Well, this is Dr. Karen Beecher’s origin story.

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Karen and Duncan fell in love while working on the Gabriel Horn: proof that she's been lending her scientific expertise to her boyfriend since the beginning. She continues to do so after Duncan vents to her one day about how the Teen Titans don’t respect him. Karen decides to do something to prove to both Duncan and the Teen Titans that he is an important member of the team. Helping an insecure boyfriend is how Karen comes to engineering the extraordinary Bumblebee super suit. She goes to the Teen Titans headquarters to attack the Titans and give Duncan a chance to flex his abilities. The plan doesn’t go accordingly.

Despite what Duncan told Karen about the Titans not caring for him, they defend him, because — plot twist — they do care. Karen defeats them anyway and is able to escape. She later returns and reveals that she is the Bumblebee who had attacked them earlier. This feat alone should be enough to get her an invitation to become a member of the Teen Titans, even after attacking them, but it’s not. Instead, it's her relationship with Duncan. Her ability to easily handle the Teen Titans with a suit she created herself was an afterthought. While it was noble of Karen to want to help, how uninspired is it that something so remarkable was a direct result of a whiny boyfriend? Someone as brilliant as Karen could have easily joined the Titans without a failed attempt to make a sorry man look good. Duncan, meanwhile, deserves all of the slander because his selfishness and insecurities continued to pop up whenever Karen was being a superhero without him.

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After Karen marries Duncan, the two retire from superheroics after the original Titans disbanded. She begins working for S.T.A.R. Labs, designing non-lethal weaponry during the same time as the formation of the new Teen Titans and playing a large role in a story arc that involves Victor Stone, also known as Cyborg. Karen and another fellow scientist, Sarah, are entrusted by the Titans to help find out who tampered with his wiring, a nod to how respected she is as a scientist and as a capable superhero.

Karen soon suits up as Bumblebee to assist the Titans in getting to the bottom of what happened to Cyborg and how they can help him. Karen’s engineering expertise is on display as she makes modifications to her suit to help triangulate the location of Cyborg’s computer. With her help, the Titans get closer to figuring out how they can help him.

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As Karen is getting back into the swing of things as Bumblebee, Duncan calls her to whine about milk not being in the fridge. Never mind that she’s doing her best to help the Titans with her connections to S.T.A.R Labs and her abilities as Bumblebee — he doesn’t hesitate to guilt trip her about getting caught up with being a superhero again. Funny how he didn’t have much to say when she was using her scientific prowess and sense of adventure to help him out when he needed assistance. As soon as things are handled with Cyborg, the emotional labor-challenged Duncan gets his precious Karen back. 

Karen’s association with the Doom Patrol was perhaps better spent. She was divorced from Duncan by then, at last free of his negative attitude towards her being Bumblebee. She also spent this era stuck at the height of six inches and on medication to keep her heart working properly. It was a weird time for Karen.

Unfortunately, in the current Rebirth Titans comics she’s back with Duncan, but instead of a scientist at S.T.A.R Labs, she’s now an air accident investigator. There isn’t much sciencing going on, but she has powers of her own and rejoins the Titans as Bumblebee. (Of course, Duncan is not a fan, but when was he ever?)

Karen’s iterations in the animated shows and movies have allowed her to flourish and put her science whiz attributes on display, which makes those appearances so refreshing. She isn’t anchored down by the fragile Duncan, a blessing to both her and scientific expertise. In DC Super Hero Girls, for instance, a young Karen Beecher is an energetic tech genius who always makes sure she and her teammates are always prepared to save the day. No Duncan, no problem. She can be Bumblebee without being tied down by an unsupportive significant other, something her character could benefit more from in the future. Karen is a true STEM queen who deserves all the moments to super science in peace.

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