What makes a hero? Is it their deeds, the way they inspire people or the tirelessness with which they endeavor to keep us safe? Is it their powers and abilities far beyond those of we mere mortals? Perhaps it’s their flamboyant costumes and larger-than-life personas? More than likely it’s a little of all of the above. As much as we love our heroes, we keep on turning the page not just for their heroic exploits in costume but for the human drama going on beneath the capes and cowls. We come for the symbol, the icon, the legend. We stay for the woman or man behind it. Yet, there comes a time in every superhero’s career when the symbol that they wear on their chest transcends the hero themselves. A time when the legend becomes a legacy.
Sometimes the mantle is handed from mother to daughter as with Watchmen‘s Silk Spectre. Other times, a replacement takes up the mantle after the end or disappearance of a hero as it was with Logan’s replacement Wolverine, X-23 or Iron Fist’s tenure as Daredevil. Of course, sometimes dumb luck intervenes as it did with Batman Beyond‘s Terry McGinnis. Whatever the circumstances, sometimes these replacement heroes outshine their predecessors while some forever leave a black mark on the legacy of the character. Some take the heroic persona to new heights of heroism and popularity, while some draw ire from fans both in their respective universes and the real world. Here we bring you 10 of the best and 10 of the worst…
20. BETTER: DICK GRAYSON AS BATMAN
The mantle of the Bat is a heavy burden and while many would bow under the strain of filling Bruce Wayne’s kevlar lined boots, Dick Grayson has done it twice. The original Robin first set aside his Nightwing costume for the cowl in the “Prodigal” storyline which saw Bruce Wayne take a sabbatical after his conflict with Bane in the “Knightfall” saga.
Grayson next bore the mantle following Bruce Wayne’s apparent demise at the apex of Grant Morrison’s “Final Crisis”. Both times, Dick managed to walk the line between the light and the dark better than his mentor ever could. His tenure as Batman made being Gotham’s Dark Knight look (dare we say it) fun.
19. TARNISHED: JASON TODD AS ROBIN
Before we was wearing a red hood and rolling with the Outlaws, Jason Todd was the second young man to bear the Robin mantle and fight crime in a yellow cape at The Dark Knight’s side. But while the young Todd may have looked a lot like his predecessor Dick Grayson… he was no Dick Grayson.
Jason Todd was reckless and impulsive as Robin and frequently eschewed Batman’s characteristic strategy and finesse for down and dirty street brawling. Readers hated the new Robin so much that they voted by way of a phone-in poll to have the character written off. At the time Batman scribe and editor Dennis O’Neill noted how bad it would be to bring him back. Oops.
18. BETTER: CAROL DANVERS AS CAPTAIN MARVEL
Audiences around the world wait with baited breath for the first teaser trailer for Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel after their curiosity was piqued by a recent cover story from Entertainment Weekly. But long time Marvel fans know that Carol Danvers is not the first to bear the mantle of Captain Marvel.
The original Kree hero Mar-Vell had not been seen for decades in the comics when the former Ms. Marvel decided that it was time for a rebrand. With the launch of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel in 2012 came a surge in recognition and popularity for the character. Will she take the box office by storm in the same way? We can’t wait to find out!
17. TARNISHED: STEPHANIE BROWN AS BATGIRL
Spoiler alert! No, seriously. Whenever Spoiler’s around you need to be on your guard. Because when the teen antihero is around, things always seem to go wrong. Spoiler, aka Stephanie Brown is the daughter of a low tier Batman villain called the Cluemaster and despite her good intentions, her attempts at heroism have a habit of going awry.
She’s worked alongside Batman both as Robin and as Batgirl and both ended in disaster. As Robin she unwittingly initiated a citywide gang war. While her tenure as Batgirl was somewhat more successful, the fact that she had a direct line to her predecessor Barbara Gordon at all times certainly didn’t hurt.
16. BETTER: AMADEUS CHO AS THE TOTALLY AWESOME HULK
Imagine if you could harness the enormous power of The Hulk, without the negative side effects that Bruce Banner endures. If you could summon and retract this power at will, instead of feeling like a human time bomb that could go off whenever anger strikes. That’s essentially what teen wunderkind Amadeus Cho did.
In fact, Cho’s incarnation of The Hulk is superior to the original in practically every way. His intellect is right up there with Banner’s, and no less a personage than Reed Richards has declared him to be the 7th most intelligent person in the world. While his strength is comparable to that of the original Jade Giant, he augments his powers with tech to give him an edge.
15. TARNISHED: GUY GARDNER AS GREEN LANTERN
When the alien Green Lantern Abin Sur crash landed on Earth, his ring targeted two successors to replace him. One was Hal Jordan, the other was Guy Gardner. As Jordan was closer the ring went to him, but Gardner remained the ring’s second choice. Thus, Gardner occasionally stood in for Hal early in his career.
Guy Gardner was designed to be a caricature of the stereotypical meat headed Jock; the embodiment of what we might today call ‘toxic masculinity’. His quick temper and ill discipline have seen him join the rage driven Red Lanterns and often came into conflict with the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians Of The Universe.
14. BETTER: TIM DRAKE AS ROBIN
Dick Grayson became Robin when Bruce Wayne took him in after his parents’ passing. Jason Todd became Robin after Batman caught him trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile (no, seriously). Tim Drake, however, actively wanted to be Robin and earned his place at Batman’s side.
After the demise of Jason Todd, young Tim noticed that Batman had gotten increasingly reckless and violent. Reasoning that Batman needed a Robin to keep him on the right side of sanity, he trained until he was ready to assume the mantle. His winsome personality, plucky attitude (and to-date still the coolest iteration of the costume) earned him a place as the definitive Robin in the hearts of many fans.
13. TARNISHED: BUCKY BARNES AS CAPTAIN AMERICA
How do you replace a legend? A man who embodies the very best of an entire country and is a beloved icon to people all over the world. The newly rehabilitated Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes was all too cognizant of the big boots that he had to fill when Steve Rogers passed away in Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America.
The run illustrates that Bucky was trained to be a dirty fighter, to take care of all the illegal stuff that Captain America couldn’t be seen doing. As such he was a slightly darker and more violent Captain America than Steve Rogers and lacked the tactical brilliance and effortless inspirational qualities of his predecessor.
12. BETTER: WALLY WEST AS THE FLASH
His name is Wally West, and for an entire generation he is The Flash. If you grew up reading comics in the ’90s it’s likely that your perception of who The Flash was was likely shaped by Mark Waid’s superlative run on the character. In the wake of the “Crisis On infinite Earths” West’s growing pains story of an insecure hero trying to fill his mentor’s shoes resonated with many.
While Wally’s adventures often took him to dark places (including being trapped in a dimension of mirrors and even outrunning his own death), he bore it all with a smile. Wally’s adventures captured just how fun and exhilarating being the fastest man alive would be.
11. TARNISHED: OTTO OCTAVIUS AS SPIDER-MAN
Imagine if your greatest enemy hijacked your body and started not only living your life but taking up your superhero identity. Imagine him using his twisted intellect to pervert and corrupt your image and develop a violent and tech driven new modus operandi. And all you could do was watch, powerless.
That was life for Peter Parker throughout Dan Slott’s much admired The Superior Spider-Man title. Doc Ock set out to prove himself a better Spidey than Parker, but his violent methods set him at odds with his fellow Avengers and (ironically) won him the respect of one J Jonah Jameson. Still, he also found time to create a multi million dollar business for Peter. So… every cloud has a silver lining?
10. BETTER: JANE FOSTER AS THOR
We all know that only those who are worthy get to wield the mighty Mjolnir. And for a time, Thor Odinson was not worthy to use the celestial weapon. His long term love interest Jane Foster, however, was. Jane Foster’s Thor was an inspiring figure, battling cancer when she wasn’t in the famous Asgardian’s armor.
She was also a superior Thor in a number of ways. She was less prone to manipulation by Loki, she understood Earth and its people in a way that her predecessor never had and she even shared a closer connection with Mjolnir. While we’re unlikely to ever see Natalie Portman don the red cape on film, we heartily recommend Jane Foster’s tenure as Thor in the comics.
9. TARNISHED: THE ERADICATOR AS SUPERMAN
These days comic book superheroes die and are resurrected every other Wednesday. But those who were around for the “Death Of Superman” saga in the early ’90s remember just how momentous and seemingly final Big Blue’s demise was. In his absence, several copycat Superman emerged to protect Metropolis in his stead.
While they all fell short in their own ways, and one wound up being the story line’s big bad, The Eradicator, while looking most like the OG was unworthy to even bear the moniker Last Son Of Krypton. A sentient artifact designed to perpetuate Kryptonian culture at any cost, The Eradicator had no regard for human life despite honestly believing that it was Kal-El himself.
8. BETTER: SCOTT LANG AS ANT-MAN
Sure, Scott lang has a slightly nefarious past. But if you only know the MCU version of Hank Pym, you may not know that his comic book counterpart has a dark past of his own. Neither Marvel nor DC have shied away from tackling important social issues alongside their super heroics and in Avengers #213, readers were shocked to discover that the original Ant-Man had an unexpected dark side.
In the title, we saw Hank Pym (at this point in his Yellowjacket persona) commit an unspeakable act upon his wife Janet Van Dyne just for trying to reason with him. While this turn was explained by contact with a chemical spill, it forever tainted the trust readers had in Pym.
7. TARNISHED: JEAN PAUL VALLEY AS BATMAN
Following the wildly popular end and return of Superman, DC Comics wasted no time in establishing a Batman story that would take Bruce Wayne out of the cowl, possibly (readers thought at the time) for good. After an altercation with new villain Bane left him paralyzed, Bruce Wayne bequeathed the cowl to a young warrior Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael.
While Bruce hoped that the mantle of the Bat would help exorcise Valley’s personal demons, his brainwashing at the hands of The Order Of St. Dumas proved too strong. Soon, Valley had transformed the Batman persona into a ruthless and lethal travesty that fans came to dub “Azbats”.
6. BETTER: FLASH THOMPSON AS VENOM
Next month we’ll get to see Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Eddie Brock in the Venom movie, but those unfamiliar with the comics may be surprised to learn that the Venom symbiote and Brock actually parted ways for quite some time. For a while it was bonded with Mac Gargan, aka The Scorpion, Brock’s ex wife Anne Wayling and even Carol Danvers before alighting on Peter Parker’s former school bully Flash Thompson.
Fortunately, Thomspon had done a lot of growing up over the years. He joined the US army and even lost his legs in service. As Agent Venom he was not able to do more good than Eddie Brock ever could, he even exerted far better control over the symbiote.
5. TARNISHED: VICTOR VON DOOM AS IRON MAN
Tony Stark is by no means the only wearer to don the Iron Man armor. Rhodey has taken time out from his War Machine duties to wear the familiar red and gold and even the likes of Squirrel Girl and Deadpool have taken it for a spin. While Tony’s successor Riri Williams has won the hearts of many, by far the most insidious of all the shell heads is Victor Von Doom.
Dr. Doom became The Infamous Iron Man in the comic of the same name following the events of the “Civil War II” storyline. While Victor wore the mantle in the hope of redemption, he’s never quite been able to shake his old ways and rarely thinks twice before resorting to murder.
4. BETTER: DAN DREIBERG AS NITE OWL
Alan Moore’s seminal Watchmen does a great job of dealing with legacy characters and the emotional and psychological toll that living in the shadow of your idol can take. Fortunately, however, Dan Dreiberg didn’t just happen to become the second Nite Owl, he actively sought it out.
Fortunately, with his martial arts prowess, keen inventive mind and unencumbered love of justice won him not just the acceptance but the pride of his predecessor, mystery man Hollis Mason. Long after superheroes were outlawed by the Keene Act, the Nite Owls would regularly reminisce over a beer. In the graphic novel we even see Mason admit, “You’re a better Nite Owl than I ever was!”.
3. TARNISHED: ARTEMIS AS WONDER WOMAN
Artemis of the Bana-Mighdall has always been something of a loose canon among her Amazon peers. Sure, she’s every but as beautiful, intelligent and skilled in the art of combat as any of her sisters, but she lacks the temperance, patience and compassion of her princess, Diana. Yet, when her mother deemed Diana no longer worthy of her iconic tiara, lasso and bracelets in Wonder Woman #94, Artemis was tasked with replacing her.
Although she was a far more aggressive and merciless Wonder Woman than her predecessor, her intentions were often noble. Indeed, she gave her life to defend Diana in a desperate battle with The White Magician in Wonder Woman #100.
2. BETTER: KAMALA KHAN AS MS. MARVEL
While her powers of “embiggening” may not compare with the cosmic might of her predecessor, Carol Danvers (who would go on to become Captain Marvel) Kamala Khan is the preferred Ms. Marvel to many readers. More than any Marvel superhero since Spider-Man, Kamala’s adventures beautifully capture the tribulations of being a teen hero in contemporary New York.
Her beautifully written supporting cast, witty and optimistic demeanor and street level heroic escapades make Ms. Marvel one of the most delightful and enjoyable titles Marvel has put out in years. No less a personage than Barrack Obama even praised the title for its uplifting portrayal of a young woman who is a great role model for boys and girls, Muslims and Kafirs everywhere.
1. TARNISHED: BATMAN AS SUPERMAN
While The Dark Knight and The Man Of Steel have been portrayed as friends more often than not in the comics, their friendship has always had a slightly adversarial quality. Thus, in the Superman/Batman title when Batman was temporarily gifted Superman’s powers Bruce assumed that with a little training he could be a much better Superman than Clark ever could.
While Batman got off to a flying start (pun intended), he quickly became drunk on his own sense of power until, in a fun inversion of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Superman donned an armored suit designed by Alfred to take him down.
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