In comics, superheroes and cloning go together like peanut butter and jelly. After all, what’s cooler than a superhero? Having two of the same superheroes so they can address each other physically and recognize their personal flaws. But occasionally, writers will take this trope in another direction, making an entirely new character based on a pre-existing one. Unfortunately, the nebulous nature of comics dictates that for every good idea that finds its way into print, there’s at least one horrible idea to balance the literary scales. Such is the case of comic clones. For each good new character which takes a hero in a new and different direction, there’s one that does nothing but point out their flaws and shortcomings.
To prove the point, here’s a list of ten superhero clones that improved on the original design and ten that were quantifiably lamer than that of the original character they came from. As a caveat: only new characters or original inversions of existing characters who happen to be clones are considered. No body-swapping or multiplication nonsense, which unfortunately means that the Mauler Twins, Kid Apocalypse, and the many, many different bodies of Charles Xavier and Magneto all are relegated to honorable mention spots.
20 LAMER: BIZZARO
Bizzaro Superman, a pasty, inverted version of the progenitor superhero, has been around since 1958 and has been one of the key members of Superman’s supporting cast ever since. Which is a real issue because, despite being an iconic character, Bizarro doesn’t really bring much to the table and, in fact, is pretty much the meta-albatross that he was only ever supposed to seem like and not actually be. Either a clone of Superman or one from another dimension, depending on the continuity, Bizarro does everything Superman does but backwards. Instead of preventing crimes, he instigates them, out of stupidity and carelessness more often that legitimate vindictiveness.
Instead of shooting lasers from his eyes and freeze breath, he has ice vision and breaths fire. And instead of speaking normally in a way that people can understand and relate to him as a character, Bizarro instead chooses to speak with the worst grammar possible, to the point where it becomes legitimately difficult to understand him. This isn’t Zatanna backwards talk either or Yoda’s rearranged sentences, his iconic phrase is literally “Me am Bizzaro.” His most recent story in the Rebirth line, which involved his son Boyzarro and a bizzaro Robin called Robzzaro, was completely impossible to follow because of the backwards rules of Bizzaroworld.
19 BETTER: X-23
She may have been created for just a one-off appearance on X-Men: Evolution, a show cursed to be nothing more than the second-best X-Men cartoon ever made, but X-23 has followed in the steps of her predecessor Harley Quinn in transcending her original medium and becoming an established presence in comics and the mainstream. Wolverine has always been kind of a dull and overexposed character, perpetually representing unrepentant, unmoving masculinity at its deepest id, making any alteration to his character -- even one so simple as a simple gender switch -- a huge change to who he is. This is visibly reflected in X-23’s constant need to escape Wolverine’s legacy while simultaneously idolizing it.
Over time she’s transformed from a solo player to a legitimate X-Man and is now playing mama bear to Honey Badger in a similar way to how Logan was her mentor for a while. The fact that she even has multi-dimensional character traits to begin with is a victory in and of itself considering her source material, both literally and metaphorically, is one of the most famously one-dimensional characters in all of comic lore. Especially since her own comic line is currently doing a possible future story where she becomes an elected queen and makes it her personal mission to wipe Doctor Doom, the last remaining villain, off the face of the planet.
18 LAMER: BEN REILLY
No mention of comics and cloning is complete without Spider-Man’s befuddling "Clone Saga", one of the most confusing and overly-complicated plots ever put to print, which is saying something considering this is comics we’re talking about. The story was supposed to only last a year, but initial sales were so unexpectedly high that writers were all but ordered to expand the story as long as possible. This led to a drawn out, incomprehensible story that, among other things, tried to convince both readers and Peter Parker that 30 years’ worth of comic book lore and all of Peter’s life were implanted memories. This was revealed through the introduced character Ben Reilly, the supposed ‘real’ Spider-Man that Peter was cloned from.
Obviously, this was a ploy by the Jackal because of course it was, messing with Peter’s life with clones is kinda his whole deal. During his brief tenure as a character, Ben Reilly donned a '90s version of Spider-Man’s uniform, complete with a sleeveless blue hoodie, made his own web shooters and gave himself the moniker of Scarlet Spider. He was killed off at the end of the story, sacrificing himself for the ‘real’ Spider-Man, Peter Parker, before disintegrating into dust. Which apparently proved that he’d been the clone all along, which was never previously established but feels like a safe conclusion. None of that mattered though because readers already knew Peter Parker was the real Spider-Man because the whole time because the story was stupid.
17 BETTER: HONEY BADGER
One of the more recent additions to this list, Honey Badger, aka Gabby, is pretty much Marvel’s current connection to the tween market outside of maybe Molly Hayes. And come to think of it, they’re pretty much the same altruistic, naïve, optimistic, childlike character. Which is just fine because they’re both pretty great and the more the merrier, but Gabby stands out a little more because of her unique position as a clone. Not that cloning is all that unique in comics, but Gabby goes a step beyond. She’s technically not a clone of Wolverine as one might think, her genetic makeup actually comes from X-23, making Honey Badger a clone of a clone -- cloneception if you will.
She’s also the only member of the extended Wolverine clan who grew up with some semblance of a family life, having been raised at least partially by her nine sisters. If a Wolverine with even tangential family ties can turn into someone so awesome that even Deadpool unironically recognizes her radicalness, then imagine what a well-rounded, three-dimensional character the actual Wolverine would be if he got the proper tender loving care that all kids need. Alas, we may never know. Luckily, we got Honey Badger to tide us over until then.
16 LAMER: MADELYNE PRYOR
The X-Men and clones should be the easiest thing imaginable to pull off. Their powers all come from their genetic makeup and usually reflects some element of their personality so replicating those powers and personalities should provide for a number of creative storytelling options and character works. Sometimes it works, such as with X-23 and Honey Badger. But sometimes, just sometimes, you get a character like Madelyne Pryor, a character with so little agency that she is almost completely defined by her origin. She was created by Mr. Sinister as a clone of Jean Grey, a part of his never-ending quest to create the perfect mutant by merging the Summers and Grey bloodline, and was given life after Jean died in the "Dark Phoenix Saga".
She was only alive a few weeks when Cyclops, still tender from loosing the love of his life, saw her at a ski resort, noticed her physical similarities to his dearly departed, and immediately fell in love with her. The two were married inside of a year and had a kid on the way not long after. That kid turned out to be Cable, who’s backstory and time-traveling shenanigans need a whole other list to detail how convoluted his stories became. After Jean came back, Cyclops kicked Madelyne and baby Cable to the curb faster than you can say Rob Liefeld. She made sporadic appearances throughout the years culminating in her becoming the new Black Queen, later renamed the Goblin Queen, before dying unceremoniously.
15 BETTER: KAINE
One of the Jackal’s first attempts at cloning Spider-Man, Kaine was pretty much doomed to be a one-dimensional character. But somehow, he fought through the angst surrounding his origins to become, if not more interesting than Spider-Man, at least tangentially compelling in his own right. Jackal’s initial cloning process was so incomplete that Kaine started to degenerate almost the minute he was born, leaving him with severe mental instability. Still, he actively pushed away his terminal diagnosis, due in no small part to his powers being amplified the more he degenerated. In particular, his Spidey Sense was so in tune with reality that he could use it to see flashes of the future.
This of course only left him more mentally disturbed, but he still managed to try and live a normal life. He stalked his fellow Spiders by night, but by day even managed to snag a girlfriend in spite of his limited lifespan and mental issues. Turned out she was working with criminals and he had to kill her, but it still counts. He played an anti-hero role in the "Clone Saga", often jumping back and forth between good guy and bad guy as he struggled to remember who was a clone and who wasn’t, including himself. He’s made occasional blips on the radar since, often traveling around trying to find ways to fix his fractured psyche and fill the void in his soul -- it’s a lot less emo than it sounds.
14 LAMER: NEW 52 SUPERBOY
Ah, DC’s New 52 reboot... on paper, it must have seemed like such a good idea. DC is the unofficial master of continuity-wide reboots, their current universe was being bogged down by an abundance of overpowered, apocalypse level threats, and they had the rights to IPs so famous that fans would probably be down for just about any new direction the company wanted to go in. Unfortunately, testing the limits of unlikability with Superman, throwing bizarre and toxic new relationships together on the fly, making half the roster look like they stepped out of a bad Tron: Legacy cosplay fair, and turning Beast Boy red didn’t have the desired effect. One of the worst characters to come out of New 52 was the updated Superboy.
He wasn’t even a clone of Superman, his new origin was much more convoluted in true New 52 fashion. Technically speaking, he was cloned from Superman’s evil son from the future. The two eventually switched due to time travel nonsense, with Jon Lane Kent adopting the Superboy persona in the modern era while the real Superboy sacrificed himself in Krypton’s past to save Supergirl. Except he didn’t because he was actually a time-traveling super-agent for Oracle. Or something. By that point, the New 52 had disintegrated into a befuddled, incomprehensible mess.
13 BETTER: SUPERBOY
One of the main problems with making a clone character is that their primary motivation has to come from the hero they were cloned from, either by trying as hard as possible to distance themselves from their original source or by struggling mightily to live up to their genetic predecessor. The non-New 52, non-Rebirth, post-Crisis version of Superboy handled this problem by adding a new one: he wasn’t just Superman’s clone, half his DNA came from Lex Luthor. This left him caught between two moral extremes while simultaneously struggling to be his own autonomous entity. It’s a concept that could really only work with good writing and, fortunately, Superboy had it. He debuted during the "Death of Superman" storyline as part of a series of heroes who emerged to fill the ‘S’ shaped void in comics at the time.
Originally, he was a brash brat convinced of his own immunity to both the rules and regular superhero ethics, but shaped up quickly after Superman returned and gave him perspective. He then got to spend some time away from Superman in his own title, where he unfortunately fell victim to '90s eXtremeness and popularism. This was later heavily downplayed in Young Justice, of which he was a founding member, where he developed many of his defining character traits, such as his constantly evolving sense of justice, his acceptance of his own dichotic existence, and his long-standing relationship with Wonder Girl.
12 LAMER: RAGNAROK
The first of Marvel’s "Civil War" stories had its ups and its downs. Captain America’s secret cabal of underground superheroes was pretty cool. Ragnarok was not. Thor was a little busy with his own stuff during "Civil War", but Tony Stark had made contingency plans to ensure that the God of Thunder would take his side in the conflict. His solution? Teaming with Reed Richards and Hank Pym to make a half-android clone of Thor bred from a single hair of the Odinson that Stark had collected during the very first Avengers meeting years before. The resulting clone, Ragnarok, was meant to be a viable replacement for his progenitor, but then he butchered Goliath on his first mission, immediately painting Iron Man’s pro-registration faction as the bad guys in the conflict.
Richards had to give the clone a lobotomy to prevent the mishap from happening again. He was later killed by Hercules, who murdered him more out of spite for his very existence than out of revenge for Bill Foster. Then the "Secret Invasion" story happened, and it turned out that Ragnarok had actually been created by a Skrull who subsequently helped resurrect him. Believe it or not, that’s where things start to get weird. It all culminates with him getting a bald new look, joining the Dark Avengers, and then kind of just disappearing because nobody ever really cared about him.
11 BETTER: DARK BEAST
Technically speaking, Dark Beast isn’t actually a clone of the original Beast, but where the X-men are concerned, all bets are off when it comes to genetics. Originally from the Age of Apocalypse dimension, Dark Beast was Apocalypse’s chief geneticist and a vicious sadist for whom the words ‘experiment’ and ‘torture’ were synonyms. This already makes him more interesting than the original Beast who was and always has been a generic nerdy scientist with the powers of Tarzan. When the Age of Apocalypse universe formally split from the regular Earth-616 continuity, Dark Beast appeared in Marvel’s mainstream and immediately immersed himself in the mutant underworld, associating himself with the Marauders, Mr. Sinister, and Emma Frost.
After managing to alienate himself from just about everyone, he undertook the ultimate scam and convinced the world that he was the real Hank McCoy, positioning himself as a leading member of the X-Men for quite some time before anyone caught on. After he was exposed, he went underground performing experiments on mutants, humans, and inhumans alike while skipping from one hidden lab to the next. Most recently, his lab in New Tian was exposed by Quake and the Secret Warriors and was taken into custody, but it’s only a matter of time before he escapes and initiates another of his nefarious schemes.
10 LAMER: HERETIC
Although it did eventually give us Silencer, essentially the John Wick of DC, Thalia al-Ghul’s Leviathan cabal was kind of a mess. It all started when Thalia born Batman’s son, the future Robin, Damian Wayne. Out of concern for her son’s wellbeing, she immediately began the process of cloning him in case he should ever need a backup organ or three. After Damian abandoned her, however, Thalia began to see the clone as more of a replacement, speed-growing him into an assassin virtually overnight. For a time, he serve as his mother’s go-to assassin, killing Knight, beating Batman, and eventually even murdering his own source material. Unfortunately for him, he did that last bit without Thalia’s express consent. He may have been cloned from her son, but she only ever saw him as a pale reflection of what should have been her legacy.
After going insane for a bit and declaring himself to be Batman, he’s ultimately butchered by Thalia in a vicious battle atop Wayne Tower. Overall, Heretic is actually a fairly interesting character. He was obsessed with his origins to the point where his only possible character trait would be to overcome it, a good reference point for any clone-based story. So how is he lamer than Damian? Two reasons: he didn’t have a long-enough run to make a formidable impact and Damian Wayne, the character-piece shot in the arm that the Batman franchise needed, is just way to good of a character to be overshadowed by Heretic.
9 BETTER: GALATEA
Power Girl has always had a fascinatingly complex backstory, topped only by Donna Troy in terms of convoluted origins. In the comics, she’s Superman’s cousin from an alternate dimension set in a fictional multiverse inside of the DC fictional multiverse. The lauded DC Animated Universe correctly decided that it was probably best to simplify her origins and build her back up from there. Enter Galatea, an aged-up clone of Supergirl and subtly one of the more fascinating characters in the lore. Created and brainwashed by Cadmus to be a weapon against Kryptonians and a fixer for the company, she was exposed to the Justice League after she tried to manipulate a psychic link she had with Supergirl.
During the investigation to uncover her, more of her character was slowly demystified. She was ruthless, but had a defined moral compass, she was an agent of Cadmus but had no qualms about disobeying orders to get her own way, and she was so confident in herself, her body, and her sexuality that she openly taunted Supergirl for not measuring up. Unfortunately, it was her feud with Supergirl that was her undoing. Galatea was obsessed with proving herself the superior, so much so that she ignored a desperate retreat order from her father figure and creator, Professor Hamilton, when the opportunity arose to fight Supergirl. Galatea was socked into a coma by the Watchtower’s electric generator and was never seen on-screen again.
8 LAMER: INERTIA
Some characters sound like good ideas on paper but fail somewhere in the execution. Some characters sound like the wackiest nonsense ever but manage to work out in practice. Inertia is neither of those. Inertia’s badness as a character starts from the ground up and doesn’t stop until it reaches his shaggy hairline. A clone of Bart Allen from the 30th century, Inertia’s development was purposefully slowed to allow him an extended education and brainwashing. This was supposed to make him a superior strategist, able to outthink and outwit even someone who thinks as fast as a speedster.
Then he was finally sent on the mission he was literally born for: go back in time and kill Bart Allen in the past. However, he got his butt whooped as soon as he arrived in the 21st century. He faced off against Impulse a few more times after that, but he had been beaten so soundly and so quickly in his first appearance that it hardly felt relevant. Even when he finally succeeded, recruiting the Rogues to enact a ludicrously complicated plan that culminated in them killing Bart for him, it ended up backfiring when they immediately turned on him, furious at having been tricked into killing a child.
7 BETTER: ULTIMATE JESSICA DREW
Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was never going to work in any capacity. That tends to be what happens when you take all of your most iconic characters, strip away what people liked about them to begin with, and then proceed to make them as unlikable as possible. Unfortunately, this means that the few legitimately good aspects of Ultimate would be stuck in contextual limbo. Were they really good ideas? Or were they just adequate and stood out because everything around them was so terrible? In this regard, Ultimate Jessica Drew breaks the mold because she was awesome in the Ultimate world and she was equally awesome in the main continuity. Reinvented as a direct clone of Peter Parker, Jessica was instinctively bred with his sense of responsibility and broke herself and her fellow clones out of their labs the second she became self-aware.
After helping Peter fight Doctor Octopus, save Mary Jane, and deal with S.H.I.E.L.D. nonsense, she became an undercover investigator who went up against big corporations to expose their bioweapons projects. She became an active member of the Ultimates and even mentored Miles Morales for a bit before the Spiderverse storyline helped blow the Ultimate timeline out of the water. But that didn’t stop Ultimate Jessica. After helping to restore order on Earth 616, she was offered a place on the multi-dimension Web Warriors and she’s been hopping between universes with them ever since. Like a boss.
6 LAMER: SAM 13
Marvel’s Earth-65 universe has been, thus far, little more than a paltry distraction. Spider-Gwen and her weirdly bent out of shape world are fun and entertaining, but there’s no substance or weight to any of it outside of some semblance of operatic gravitas which is intentionally blown out of proportion. And no character better exemplifies this than the Earth-65 version of the Falcon, Sam 13. The Captain America of the Spider-Gwen world was a black female Super Soldier during World War II who got lost in between dimensions for 70 years before finding her way back home. In that time, like a broken record, scientists were in a desperate attempt to recreate the success of the super soldier serum.
The only semi-successful venture they had was in cloning. Sam 13 is the most recent iteration of such genetic tampering, using Captain America as a primary source. His most defining traits as a character is that he’s young and he has a crush on one of Gwen’s roommates -- that’s literally it. Granted, he hasn’t had much time in the spotlight since debuting, but that shouldn’t be an issue. After all, the Earth-65 Captain America hasn’t had much presence either but has already demonstrated that she’s basically just the regular Captain America just black and female, which in and of itself is commentary on her role in the universe. The same could have been done with Sam, just make him the Falcon but young and take things from there.
5 BETTER: THE STEPFORD CUCKOOS
Strictly speaking, the five Stepford Cuckoo sisters aren’t clones, they’re literally the asexually reproduced daughters of Emma Frost, whose eggs were harvested while she was comatose. Bred to be telepathic weapons in case all mutants on the planet needed to be killed instantaneously, Sophie, Phoebe, Mindee, Celeste, and Esme were allowed to join the Xavier school and immediately became one of the hot commodities on campus. From their love/hate relationship with Quentin Quire, to their equally love/hate relationship with Emma Frost, the five of them did virtually everything together. And then Esme got addicted to the mutant drug Kick and suddenly things started getting interesting.
Sophie died as a result of using Cerebra during a drug overdose and Esme died not long after when Xorn, Magneto in disguise, killed her for being insane. After a mishap with that pesky Phoenix Force, the three remaining Cuckoos became the resident telepaths around the X-mansion, essentially serving as the sarcastic and mischievous intel center of the X-Men. They are restless, often moving from one allegiance or school to another based on who they hate more at the time. Though each pines for individuality, their hivemind ensures that they are forever linked together, whether they like it or not.
4 LAMER: X-MAN
Marvel didn’t do well in the '90s. Every time they struck upon a good idea, they’d over-saturate and overexpose it to the point of being obscure all over again. Case in point being the "Age of Apocalypse" storyline. The story itself, centered around a time loop that made Apocalypse the mutant overlord of North America, was a hotbed for new takes on classic characters, all of which was considered technically cannon. It also was the hyper-convoluted story that brought you a Magneto-Rogue relationship, a one-armed Wolverine, and the notoriously horrible X-Man. Cloned from the DNA of Scott Summers and Jean Grey by Mr. Sinister (oh what a shock), he inherited his mother’s immense telepathic power and his father’s aggressively boring personality. Turns out Sinister made X-Man for the sole purpose of killing Apocalypse, but their time-stream separated from Earth-616 before that could happen and X-Man was trapped in the mainstream continuity.
He putzes around in his own series for a while, often doing crossovers with more famous and beloved IPs, you know, that thing weak characters do to make themselves seem more interesting than they actually are. Despite being arguably one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, X-Man was a bit player who basically was just the goodiest of goody two-shoes everywhere he went. Finally, he did that ultimate sacrifice schtick that was supposed to endear him to fans but by that point nobody cared.
3 BETTER: JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000
One of the legitimate problems with comics as a medium is that it’s really old. Irreplaceable characters like the core founders of the Justice League are so deeply entrenched in the lore that any new or distinctive interpretation of their characters has to be done in an Elseworlds storyline. For example, Frank Miller’s deconstructionist version of Batman grew so insane that DC just gave him an entire universe to play around with so he didn’t mess up the mainstream continuity. Or, for a more positive example, Justice League 3000. In a possible future of the DC Universe, superheroes are stretched to thin to be effective. Counteract this, Cadmus uses genetic samples of Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash to create clones of the original Justice League.
But over time, the genetic samples had eroded and the clones were imperfect, often having incomplete memories of their former lives, missing or having different superpowers, and even having completely different personalities. For example, Green Lantern’s weapon of choice is an emerald cloak that stabilizes his power aura and keeps it from killing him from the inside out. Needless to say, he’s the brooder of the team. The team all got sleek upgrades to their former selves’ outfits and ha a fascinating character dynamic that exploded off the page. The strangest thing about them though? Justice League 3000 was printed under the New 52 label. Go figure.
2 LAMER: DONNA TROY
Poor, poor Donna Troy. She’s got to be the most unfortunate character in comics, and that’s really saying something. Her backstory has been rewritten, erased, retconned, switched on the fly, or even just ignored completely for the majority of her comic run. And at one point, her backstory was that she was a magical clone of Wonder Woman, given life by the sorceress Magala so that Diana could have a familiar companion to play with. No really, that was her origin story for a little while. She existed purely because Diana was lonely one day. In her defense, Donna isn’t necessarily a bad character. In fact, her current Rebirth incarnation and the storyline surrounding her is one of the most interesting things about the Titans series right now.
But she’s been through the ringer so many times that it’s become hard to take her seriously. After all, this is the character that was married to Terry "creepiest comic book character ever created no seriously give this guy an award for being creepy" Long when she was 19 and he was in his early 30s. She’s also given birth to the future anti-christ, lost her powers because the writers actively wanted to take away her agency even further than they already had, and was eventually cursed to live an endless series of lives all designed to be as unfortunate and misery-filled as possible. Comics can be a little over the top sometimes.
1 BETTER: STRYFE
Cable is kind of a boring character. Search your feelings, you know it to be true. He had a cool look that made Judge Dredd look like a girl scout and had a classic repartee with Deadpool, but his origin story, powers, and character persona are repetitive, unoriginal, and uninteresting respectively. Fortunately, Marvel writers gave him a backup if he turned out boring. When baby Cable was first brought into the future for reasons best left unexplored, he was immediately cloned in case his techno-organic infection couldn’t be halted. Apocalypse stole the clone and renamed it Stryfe. The clone grew up in luxury and sadism, quickly developing a lust for power to rival even his adopted father’s.
After Apocalypse failed to integrate into his body and died, Stryfe went on a vendetta against the Summers-Grey clan who he held responsible, in particular his source material, Cable. Styfe’s hatred and drive to ruin Cable is legendary. At various times, he’s slaughtered Cable’s tribe, gone back in time to try and erase the Summers family from the timestream, and even assaulted and killed Cable’s wife, even going so far as to claim that their son Tyler might be Stryfe’s all along. He’s even gone after tangential members of his extended family, including trying to use Hope Summers as a living bomb during the "Vendetta" storyline. Stryfe was last seen escaping back into the timeline to evade X-Force, so there’s still a chance he may turn up again sometime soon.