When people refer to the Hollywood scene today, one thing that typically comes up in conversation is franchise fatigue. More specifically: “Ugh, there are too many reboots these days. We just had a movie about so-and-so, do we really need another one so soon?” What many fail to realize is that these sorts of films aren’t made for any cultural reason other than finances. Major studios own the film rights to characters that originated outside their industry and are contractually obligated to make a movie with them or the rights could revert back to a previous owner. In today’s big budget studio climate, this is paramount to handing your mortal enemy a valuable resource for them to take you down with. That’s why Sony had to make the Amazing Spider-Man films even though Sam Raimi had only wrapped up his own Spider-Man films a few years earlier.
Comics, on the other hand, don’t have that excuse. If comics have a reboot, it’s usually because the writers messed up, wrote themselves into a significant corner, and now have to blow up the continuity to retcon a few things and establish a new timeline. This usually goes one of two ways: it either fixes a problem that readers might not even have picked up on, or it needlessly complicates a character’s lore in a way that nobody wanted or asked for. Here are 10 comic characters who received unsolicited reboots and 10 who needed it in ways we hadn’t considered.
20 DIDN'T WANT: THE ULTIMATES
This entry is specifically about the Ultimates, the Avengers analogue in the Ultimate Universe, but it could very easily be about the entire Ultimate Universe itself. Nobody really asked for an entire universe of characters who act antithetical to the versions of them people actually like and pretty much defeats their symbolic purpose for existing.
Of all the characters to suffer this level of misrepresentation, the Ultimates probably get it the worst, with a jingoistic Captain America, suspiciously close Maximoff twins, a cannibalistic Hulk, and a Thor who was downright bro-y. For the most part, these characters were irredeemable and unlike Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, there’s no subversion at work here.
19 NEEDED: GIANT SIZE X-MEN
The original X-Men were famously born from Stan Lee being tired of coming up with new origin stories and concocting a convenient excuse for certain people to have superpowers. But it wasn’t until 1975 that realization dawned on writer Len Wein that Stan Lee had essentially written him a blank check to write up any kind of superpower he wanted with no explanation or power scaling needed.
And thus, with Giant Size X-Men, Wein introduced Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Krakoa the Living Island. He also reworked Wolverine to be a growling, unstoppable machine of masculinity. The rest, as they say, is history.
18 DIDN'T WANT: CAPTAIN AMERICA BECOMES NOMAD
Captain America exists as a character to embody what the American Dream means in whatever the current climate is at the time. He is always righteous, always driven by the moral good, and always know where and when limitations need to be placed, even if they’re uncomfortable and real world things happened.
Suddenly, citizens weren’t sure who they could trust and were worried they were on the brink of social collapse. A significant portion of the populace were curious as to how Captain America would address such an event and how would he restore faith in the American Dream. Turns out, he wouldn’t. Instead, he outright ditched America and became Nomad, to the delight of nobody.
17 NEEDED: NEW 52 BATGIRL
The transformation of Barbara Gordon into Batgirl into Oracle is one of the best plotted long-term character developments in the history of the comic medium. After her tragic crippling threatened to rob her of her autonomy, she instead worked around her handicap and continued to aid the superhero community.
However, her character had never really been able to step out of the shadow of the events of The Killing Joke until her reboot in the New 52. With a cybernetic implant that let her walk again, she could once again take on the mantle of Batgirl and had a chance to redefine her character while still keeping the Oracle moniker.
16 DIDN'T WANT: THUNDERSTRIKE
It’s pretty much null and void in the current continuity, but there was a time that the identity of Thor was something that could be passed between people. This is primarily associated with the period of the character’s history when he had the secret identity of Dr. Donald Blake, but one of the other characters to be rebooted into the role was Eric Masterson and he is pretty much universally considered one of the worst Thor variants of all time.
Not only was he one of the most boring versions of the character but he had the worst outfit, ditching the red cape and helmet for a sleeveless leather jacket and replacing the signature winged-eagle helmet with a pony tail. No thanks.
15 NEEDED: WELCOME BACK, FRANK
The Punisher, despite not being nearly as famous and the glaring differences between them, has always inhabited that same space in the zeitgeist as Batman in that they are both the dark, edgy, alternative version of their universe’s respective hero communities. That’s all fine, but it’s important to occasionally tear back the veil and expose these types of characters for what they are and nobody in comics did that better than Garth Ennis, who wrote The Punisher in 2000, 2001, and 2004.
Not only did he repurpose Punisher as a psycho guilty of literally thousands of unnecessary demises, but Ennis retroactively violated Marvel’s floating timeline to show that Frank Castle has been doing this for upwards of three decades.
14 DIDN'T WANT: ELECTRIC SUPERMAN
Wow, the '90s hated comics. Sure there were some things that ended up making it out of the decade to better the medium when they were inevitably rebooted, but for the most part, it was a period filled with creative decisions motivated primarily by marketing rather than narrative. Case in point: Electric Superman.
In early issues from 1997, when he was still relatively fresh off the events of "Crisis on Infinite Earths", Superman started to exhibit new abilities that he couldn’t control which caused him to interface with computers and wield electricity. He was already OP at the time, but his new abilities let him manipulate his body mass and shoot lighting, which tips the balance and makes him boring.
13 NEEDED: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Frank Miller is widely regarded as the crazy, genius uncle of comics. The man has unquestionable talent but his views and inability to keep them from infecting his art is notorious. However, if any of his works are above reproach, they are The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Not because they’re the best Batman stories ever told, they’re far from it, but both of them present what is arguably the most real Batman that readers have ever been given, a gung-ho, militaristic, psychopath who inexplicably found a semi-successfully way to channel his mental illness onto those deserving of his assault.
12 DIDN'T WANT: NEW 52 LOBO
Lobo, ostensibly DC’s answer to Wolverine, is characterized by one thing and one thing only: unrelenting, unapologetic, and almost comically outsized masculinity. He smokes cigars like they’re going out of style, uses a chain and hook as his primary weapon, wears a leather jacket, rides a skull-covered motorcycle in space, and looks exactly what a little kid growing up in the '80s would think of when they pictured the stereotypical action star.
He was all big body, big hair, and even bigger goatee. Then the New 52 came along and suddenly Lobo was a slim pretty boy who quipped like he was space James Bond and lost his bombastic, outsized personality which was pretty much the singular reason for his existence.
11 NEEDED: MILES MORALES
About a decade or so ago, Marvel realized that their movies could potentially reinvent the blockbuster for the 21st century. Around the same time, they realized that if they wanted to still be printing money 15-20 years down the line, they needed to make sure the Avengers weren’t whiter than the pages they were first printed on. Thus began a progressive campaign to insert, reboot, or otherwise reimagine characters of underrepresented minorities.
And the veritable granddaddy of this phenomenon was the new Ultimate Spider-Man, the biracial and back-to-basics Miles Morales. Literally rebuilding the character from the ground up, Miles became so popular that Marvel transposed him into their mainstream continuity.
10 DIDN'T WANT: POWERLESS WONDER WOMAN
Question: when is a superhero not a superhero? Answer: when it’s Wonder Woman from 1969 to 1971. In this period, writing was handled by Mike Sekowsky who, in a very misguided attempt to continue William Marston’s feminist legacy, stripped Wonder Woman of her powers and repurposed her as an Emma Peel-style secret agent complete with martial arts training, cosmetics-based spy weapons, and mod-style overcoats.
Amazingly, Sekowsky’s attempt to ape a pre-existing feminist icon by removing and all agency from an even more prominent pre-existing feminist icon did not go over as the brilliant move of political subterfuge that he no doubt intended it to be.
9 NEEDED: 'FLASH' THOMPSON AS AGENT ANTI-VENOM
Eugene ‘Flash’ Thompson is as integral to Peter Parker’s roster of secondary characters as the likes of Jim Gordon are for Batman. The dynamic of him hero-worshiping Spider-Man while picking on Peter was as perfect a representation of the dichotomy between them as you can get. But as Spider-Man began to age, it became harder to find reasons for his childhood bully to remain relevant to his narrative.
Then a beautiful, simple solution was found: infect Flash with the symbiote, but give him the power to control it so readers didn’t have to go through the addiction storyline yet again. Not only did this give him a reason to stick around, but it gave him room to grow and evolve as a character.
8 DIDN'T WANT: ONE MORE DAY
The events of Marvel’s original "Civil War" story had long reaching and unforeseen consequences, but one of the most prominent was that Spider-Man’s secret identity had been completely exposed, putting him and his loved ones at risk from his vast rogues gallery.
This was ‘solved’ by the "One More Day" storyline, in which Spider-Man made a deal with the demon Mephisto and traded in his marriage to re-establish his secret identity. Call it a demonic divorce. This essentially reset major aspects of Spider-Man’s development back to baseline zero, undoing years of lore in a single story and forcing Peter and readers to redo huge swaths of his history.
7 NEEDED: GRANT MORRISON'S DOOM PATROL
Grant Morrison is one of the most prolific and seasoned comic writers of all time and is credited with some of the most transformative innovations of the modern era. One of those innovations was his almost total reinvention of the Doom Patrol. Using the "Invasion" crossover event as jumping off point, Morrison’s Doom Patrol was a humorous homage to the original vision of the comic and the team mixed with Morrison’s penchant for infusing his work with secret societies, east Asian philosophies, and existential surrealism.
Ironically, even though he used his complex ideologies as the core of the story, Morrison managed to streamline the narrative by trimming the fat and cutting out slews of unnecessary characters and subplots early on.
6 DIDN'T WANT: TEENAGE TONY STARK
Hey kids! You know how you love Tony Stark, the suave, devil-may-care billionaire who flies around in high-tech armor with laser beams and is motivated by an unshakable belief that the future will be better? Well wouldn’t you like him more if he was a bratty teenage boy?! What’s that? Making him underage prevents him from doing the things that made him cool and appealing in the first place?
Making him a starry-eyed youth makes him immediately more dated and harder to emulate especially when it comes to his futurist ideology which was the whole point of the character to begin with? Well what do kids know anyway, lets go for it!
5 NEEDED: ALAN MOORE'S SWAMP THING
Not only did Alan Moore singlehandedly save Swamp Thing from cancellation, but it more or less put Moore on the map. When Moore, a relatively unknown young writer at the time, was handed the reigns to Swamp Thing, it was selling lower than ever and was basically yet another Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story.
Moore decided that was a problem and fixed it by rewriting Swamp Thing’s origins. Instead of being a human scientist who turned into a plant monster, it was now a plant monster who thought it was a human scientist. Just that change, Moore’s brilliant writing, and a reversion to psychedelic imagery is pretty much the reason we still talk about Swamp Thing today.
4 DIDN'T WANT: NEW 52 TEEN TITANS
Nobody really came out of DC’s New 52 initiative looking good. The company-wide reboot was an ill-advised attempt to appeal to younger audiences and it backfired spectacularly. The worst offenders were undoubtedly the Teen Titans who got completely shafted. The previously altruistic Wonder Girl was reimagined as an unrepentant thief who blatantly abused her powers.
Red Robin, once the capable and quick-thinking strategist, was now proud and unlikable. Superboy actually had decent characterization but looked like he’d stepped out of a Tron movie and poor Beast Boy got it worst of all -- not only did he get turned red, he became boring.
3 NEEDED: CORPORATE LEX LUTHOR
Lex Luthor might not have always been bald in the comics, but he is always a rich businessman who hates Superman for one reason or another. But as much as this is a verified fact of comics, it wasn’t really considered such until 1986 when John Byrne rebuilt his character from the ground up. Byrne wanted Luthor to be an easily identifiable villain, not just in terms of visual aesthetics, but in terms of his sheer existence.
To that end, Byrne boiled down Luthor to one singular, slimy, grubby word: corporate. As not just a businessman but a company man, Luthor became immediately synonymous with personal greed and uber-capitalism, pretty much everything Superman stands opposed to.
2 DIDN'T WANT: HEROES REBORN
Oh "Heroes Reborn", you were truly a horrible idea. Long story short: the Avengers and Fantastic 4 perish but Franklin Richards teleports them to a pocket dimension where they have to relive their previous adventures in order to return to reality. Not a bad premise in theory, but then Marvel handed production, writing, and art all over to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.
The staggering amount of drugs some executive must have inhaled in order to make such a decision is not worth considering. Needless to say, Lee and Liefeld bungled the project hard. Liefeld’s famously oversized drawings were comically out of place and Lee’s passion for the year-long series ended in the first few months.
1 NEEDED: WATCHMEN USES CHARLTON COMICS
Watchmen, despite being widely misunderstood by the mainstream, is one of the most important pieces of deconstructive literature in the comic medium. When DC acquired the rights to characters owned by Charlton Comics in 1983, Alan Moore originally wanted to do a mini-series on those created by legendary writer Steve Ditko. Ditko had previously used them as mouthpieces to propagate his right-leaning politics.
Moore wanted to subvert them to an extreme degree and flip the script on Ditko, but DC wanted to add them to its mainstream continuity. In a compromise, Moore made a handful of characters blatantly based on the Charlton Comics IPs and thus Watchmen was born.