Superhero names carry a lot of weight, both in their fictional universes and our world. As we’ve seen time and again in comics, sometimes a costumed identity proves more popular than the actual character, leading to the decision to put someone else in the costume, either in an effort to boost reader interest (and, therefore, sales) or to simply take the story in a different direction.
In this week’s Six by 6, we look at six legacy, or “replacement,” heroes who ended up overshadowing their predecessors. Some, such as Green Lantern and The Flash, you may know; however, others may surprise you.
Batwoman: Kate Kane replaced Kathy Kane
A female counterpart to the Dark Knight? On paper it sounds like a great idea, but in practice DC Comics had limited success in its first attempt. Introduced in 1956 as a love interest for Batman, Kathy Kane, appeared regularly for about eight years before she was shelved in an overhaul of the Bat-titles (she was reintroduced in 1979, only to be killed off). In 2005, DC dusted off the Batwoman identity for the similarly named Kate Kane, a lesbian socialite who drew widespread media attention when she was introduced in the pages of 52. The character eventually headlined Detective Comics in 2009, during Bruce Wayne’s “death,” before landing her own solo series in 2011.. The original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, later reappeared under her real name in Batman Inc., but made no attempts to reclaim her mantle.
Blue Beetle: Ted Kord replaced Dan Garret (now known as Big Blue)
Blue Beetle is a legacy hero, but that legacy predates DC Comics. Debuting in 1939’s Mystery Men Comics from Fox Feature Syndicate, the original Blue Beetle was rookie cop who received superpowers thanks to a drug from a friendly neighborhood pharmacist (but that’s another story). Fox’s Blue Beetle was quite popular, supporting an ongoing series, a radio serial and a newspaper strip, but as the the sales of superhero comics sales plummeted in the wake of World War II, Blue Beetle was canned and the rights sold to Charlton. There, Ted Kord was introduced as the man behind the mask, and he quickly became the default Blue Beetle. That continued through DC’s purchase of the Charlton heroes in the early ’80s until the 2006 debut of the next Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes. Interestingly enough, the original Blue Beetle’s alter ego Dan Garrett fell into the public domain and popped up in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers title, but with a new name: Big Blue.
Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch replaced Carter Slade (now known as Phantom Rider)
There have been numerous fiery-headed Ghost Riders, but they’re all derivatives of another character, who didn’t ride a bike or a muscle car, but instead a horse. Now known as Phantom Rider, the original Ghost Rider was created in 1967 for Marvel’s Western comics line — and even he was based on yet another Ghost Rider from the defunct Magazine Enterprises. The 1967 Ghost Rider had a short-lived series of its own, then made the move to thee Western Gunfighters anthology. With the advent of the iconic bike-riding Ghost Rider in 1972, the original Ghost Rider was quickly renamed Night Rider and then finally Phantom Rider. Decades later, the two distinct and unconnected characters were retconned to be part of the Ghost Rider legacy of characters, but the Western Ghost Rider is now overshadowed by his former understudy.
Green Lantern: Hal Jordan replaced Alan Scott
Today, there are thousands of Green Lanterns, but from 1940 to 1959, there was just one: Alan Scott. Created by Martin Nodell, the original Green Lantern was a colorful, magic-infused superhero. Popular at first, Green Lantern withered in the aftermath of World War II, only to be revived, in name only, in 1959 as a science-themed space cop by John Broome and Gil Kane. This new Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, was a instant hit for DC, and the publisher quickly shunted off Alan Scott to an alternate universe. It wasn’t until 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths that the original and the replacement shared the same universe, but Scott has never been able to hold a flame to Jordan’s popularity.
The Human Torch: Johnny Storm replaced Jim Hammond
It’s hard to put out a flame, and it’s perhaps just as difficult to give up on a great name. In 1961, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were dreaming up the Fantastic Four, the writer looked to the company’s past, taking inspiration from previous heroes and monsters, including the original Human Torch. Debuting in 1939’s Marvel Comics #1, the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, is one of the company’s foundational heroes — a Pinnochio-esque android that became a superhero. Lee reused the name for Johnny Storm’s costumed identity, and he quickly became the best-known Human Torch by far. The original Human Torch reappeared intermittently in the years since.
The Flash: Barry Allen replaced Jay Garrick
No, not Flash Gordon. But there was a Flash before Barry Allen, and his name is Jay Garrick. Like his fellow Golden Ager Alan Scott, Garrick was the forerunner of the speedster whose introduction in 1956 ushered in the Silver Age of comics. Barry Allen quickly outpaced Garrick as the primary Flash, with former transitioning to be part of an older generation of heroes as seen in Justice Society of America.