The new year is usually a time ripe for change and this year promises to bring rather large changes for the character of Batman in his monthly comics. Recent news out of DC Comics is that the upcoming storyline in the Batman titles, “Battle for the Cowl,” will be about the struggle between various heirs to the throne to become the next Batman, as hinted at in the teaser image below.
This comes on the heels of the “Batman: RIP” storyline from Grant Morrison, where Batman supposedly dies, leading to someone new wearing the cape and cowl.
Shortly after seeing this image, I was reading some old Walt Simonson Thor comics with the introduction of Beta Ray Bill, an alien hero who temporarily replaces Thor, and it got me thinking about superhero replacements.
On going through a list of the more prominent heroes from both Marvel and DC, it became clear that almost every major superhero has been replaced at one point or another. In fact it’s more common for that to happen than for it not to happen.
In the early 90s, age of the stunt event, the Superman titles had arguably the most publicized replacement arc, containing not one, but four pretender Supermen. After Superman was “killed” by Doomsday, the “Reign of the Supermen” arc featured four mysterious Supermen who could have been Kal-el, or not (turned out none of them were). In the end, two of the Supermen went bad (Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator), two became heroes in their own right (Steel and Superboy), and the real Superman returned (of course) with a mullet. What is amazing about this storyline is that all four replacements continued on as popular characters in their own right. Steel even went on to have his own movie, and the Cyborg Superman has recently been featured in the Green Lantern comics as a member of the Sinestro Corps.
Captain America has been replaced several times in his history. While not a strict replacement, in the 80s Captain America, disillusioned with the politics of his country, gave up the Captain America identity to become the hero Nomad. This trend was continued later on when the government withdrew its favor from the Captain America we knew and loved, Steve Rogers, in favor of superpowered John Walker. Steve Rogers took up the identity “The Captain” with a black version of the Captain America suit and a laser shield. Later, when Cap inevitably reclaimed his title, John Walker took up the black suit as US Agent.
However, Cap was replaced very recently again after he was assassinated in the comics in the aftermath of Marvel’s Civil War crossover event. The newly returned Bucky (Cap’s former sidekick) took up the mantle as the new Captain America.
Spider-Man never really had a replacement the way that other heroes did. But in the 90s, the age of convoluted soap-opera plots and chromium lenticular covers, a clone Peter Parker was introduced. In fact, when the other Peter Parker showed up, Ben Reilly, it was originally explained that he was the original Peter and that the one we’d been following for decades was in fact the clone. Ben Reilly took up the identity of the Scarlet Spider, but eventually became Spider-Man when Peter Parker wanted to go start a family. Eventually, Ben Reilly was killed by Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) and was revealed to be the real clone.
Like Spider-Man, the Hulk hasn’t really seen replacements too often, most likely because of the unique circumstances that led to his origin (it’s not just a suit). However, the Hulk has recently seen his share of replacements. After the “World War Hulk” storyline, where the Hulk returned from Space (the very interesting and excellent “Planet Hulk” storyline), his comic, The Incredible Hulk, changed to The Incredible Hercules featuring the Marvel hero, Hercules. A new title, simply called Hulk debuted featuring a Red Hulk whose identity is currently a mystery.
Again in the 90s, after Superman and Batman had both been through the ringer in their own titles, Wonder Woman was also replaced. This time, Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta, had a vision of Wonder Woman dying. To protect her daughter, she held a new contest to choose a new Wonder Woman, a contest which Artemis won. She then became Wonder Woman until her death. Because this is the comics world, however, she later returned to life, however never reclaiming the Wonder Woman identity.
Wonder Woman was again replaced after the DC crossover, “Infinite Crisis.” In the aftermath of the event, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all disappeared for a year and Donna Troy, originally Wonder Girl (and later Troia) replaced her as Wonder Woman. She later “gave” the name back to Diana, the original Wonder Woman.
In the late 70s, Tony Stark, the original Iron Man, battled alcoholism and lost. As a result, he was no longer fit to wear the Iron Man armor. His replacement was James Rhodes, “Rhodey,” Stark’s friend and pilot. Because the Iron Man armor completely hid the wearer, no one, not even Stark’s friends, knew that someone else was inside the armor. Rhodey even accompanied the other heroes as Iron Man to the Beyonder’s world during the original Secret Wars. Later, when Tony Stark inevitably reclaimed the Iron Man armor, Stark created a new set of armor for Rhodey to wear and he took the name War Machine.
Unlike the other heroes mentioned, Green Lantern has perhaps seen the most substitutions in its run since Green Lantern is something of a title for an intergalactic police force. While Hal Jordan was the original Silver Age Green Lantern, he was a replacement for the alien Abin Sur. Since Hal we have seen John Stewart (his earliest replacement), Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner, all of whom are still active as Green Lanterns. However, John Stewart was the original backup for Hal and when Hal stepped down in the 80s, John became the full time GL.
Later, after Hal returned as Green Lantern, he was possessed by the evil entity, Parallax, and went on a rampage, destroying the Green Lantern Corps. In the aftermath, only one power ring remained and was given to Kyle Rayner of Earth. For several years, Kyle was the only Green Lantern in existence (aside from the Golden Age version) until the Corps was finally reinstated. Now all of the GLs are currently back, with John and Hal both covering earth.
As with many of these examples, all of the other Earth Green Lanterns have become popular in their own right. John Stewart was used in the animated Justice League cartoon and Kyle and Guy continue to appear in multiple comics.
Flash has seen several replacements since the Silver Age. Barry Allen, the original Flash, was eventually replaced by former Kid Flash, Wally West, after Barry died in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally had a long run as Flash until he was lost in the Speed Force (the source of all speedsters’ powers) and replaced by John Fox, a Flash from the 27th century. Wally, of course, returned from the Speed Force and reclaimed the Flash identity.
Something similar happened again when Wally traveled to the future and didn’t return. He was replaced by a mysterious Dark Flash, who it turned out was the Wally West from a different, darker dimension. When the original Wally returned from the future, alternate Wally went to find a new home dimension.
Finally, in the battle at the climax of Infinite Crisis, Wally once more entered the Speed Force, supposedly for good. He was replaced this time by Bart Allen, former Impulse and Kid Flash. Bart acted as Flash until his death after which Wally returned again to become the Flash once more.
Despite going through a couple of uniform changes, Daredevil has only been replaced once. During the Civil War crossover and while Matt Murdock (the original DD) was in jail, the costume was worn by Danny Rand, Iron Fist. This only lasted a short period of time, however, and Murdock was soon back in the suit and Rand was back as Iron Fist (in a really great series of his own).
While the already mentioned storyline looks to replace Batman in the new year, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Once more in the 90s, right around the time of the “Reign of the Supermen” story and just before Wonder Woman’s replacement, the villain Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back. As a result, he could no longer be Batman and he appointed sometime protégé Jean-Paul Valley (otherwise known as Azrael) to be his successor. Azrael crossed the line, however, making a series of mistakes that culminated in letting a villain die. In the end, Bruce Wayne defeated Valley and took back the identity of Batman.
However, he abandoned it soon afterward, needing some time to himself. Wayne passed the cape and cowl on to Dick Grayson, Nightwing, the original Robin. Grayson acted as Batman for a while, but eventually Wayne returned and they each assumed their usual identities.
Two things become apparent after looking at these examples. The first, obvious to most regular comic readers, is that no one ever really stays replaced for very long. Even deaths are typically reversed if necessary.
The other, however, is that many of the replacement characters have a longevity that other new characters often lack. Many of these are still around in one form or another, and some, like Superboy, Steel, John Stewart and War Machine, have gone on to star in their own titles. Even Azrael, who disappeared after his own series was canceled years ago, is set to appear in a miniseries later this year.
Who were your favorite replacement heroes?