Comic books are one of the longest running forms of entertainment in history. Therefore, the world of comic books is always in flux and in order to keep from getting stagnant, things are always changing one way or another. Some of these changes are well received while others were obviously missteps for one reason or another. But relationships, statuses, viewpoints, allegiances, and more are always changing because comic book companies need to maintain the interest of their readers. Some of the biggest and most popular changes have to do with changing the identities of some popular characters.
Whether these characters grow out of their old identities, inherit new ones, or go through a transformation, all of these characters listed have gone through a major change in their identity. Some of these changes worked with the character either becoming more interesting or looking cooler or maturing into a more well-rounded hero. Some of these changes failed with the change either being forced or making no sense or resulting in terrible consequences (costumes included). With that in mind, we’ll go through some of these changes with eight comic book characters that have changed for the best and seven that have changed for the worse.
15 BETTER: ROBIN TO NIGHTWING
This is the most recognizable switch in comic book history that took a fan favorite character and turned him into a legendary icon both in real life and the comic book world. Dick Grayson served as the first iteration of Robin and was created in Detective Comics #38 in 1940 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. He was an orphaned circus acrobat who Batman took in and trained to be his sidekick after he saw the parallels between himself and Dick. He had a long career as Robin, The Boy Wonder. He even became the leader of the original incarnation of the Teen Titans. But, eventually, a falling out with Batman would lead to a long period of estrangement where Dick decided to forge his own path as a hero and made the infamous decision to become Nightwing.
Dick Grayson as Nightwing has grown to be an incredible hero. Earnest and highly skilled, Grayson is very well-liked by the larger superhero community and has shown an ability to rally and inspire these heroes on numerous occasions. He’s a master combatant and has faced off against some truly dangerous people such as Deathstroke, Cassandra Cain, Ra’s al Ghul, and more. Eventually, Grayson became a spy and proved to have an affinity for that as well. Grayson has truly grown from a sidekick to a man capable of not only surpassing his mentor but being a better man than he could ever be.
14 WORSE: HAL JORDAN TO PARALLAX
Marvel and DC comics have a longevity unmatched by virtually any other property on any other medium in existence. Because of that, new teams brought onto an already existing comic book are often desperate to make their mark and change the status quo and this was the case when the beloved and heroic Hal Jordan became the reviled and murderous Parallax. Hal Jordan is the second Green Lantern and debuted in Showcase #22 in 1959. He was created by John Broome and Gil Kane as a reinvention of the original Alan Scott Green Lantern. He possesses a ring that is powered by will and gives him the ability to form powerful hard light constructs. He served as Earth’s Green Lantern for many years until his hometown of Coast City was destroyed by Mongul, which sent Jordan on a path of insanity that would lead to him renaming himself as the villain Parallax.
Sometimes, a conversion from heroic to villainous can go over really well and truly shock readers -- this was not one of those times. In the "Emerald Twilight" storyline, Hal Jordan did truly unspeakable things all in the name of grief. He slaughtered numerous people including Kilowog, Sinestro, the Guardians, and numerous other Green Lanterns whose rings he stole before he left them abandoned in space. This caused such an uproar from fans that DC retroactively retconned this event by creating a fear-based entity named Parallax that possessed Jordan and drove him to do these things.
13 BETTER: MS MARVEL TO CAPTAIN MARVEL
Carol Danvers has been a powerhouse in the Marvel Universe for years, but she hasn't always been given the respect that a hero of her caliber deserves. Carol Danvers premiered in Marvel Super-heroes #13 in 1968. She was a supporting character for the Kree soldier turned Earth superhero Mar-Vell, also known as the original Captain Marvel. However, Danvers was caught in the explosion of a Kree device which rendered her comatose. She re-emerged in the ‘70s as the Kree/human hybrid superhero Ms. Marvel with enhanced physical attributes, the ability to fly, and limited precognition.
Ms Marvel was a strong woman who fought to be treated equally in the Marvel Universe. She showed that she’s capable of fighting alongside the strongest heroes and essentially served as the Marvel Universe’s Wonder Woman. It’s unfortunate, however, that her writers didn’t always show her the same respect. As Ms. Marvel, Danvers had a penchant for revealing costumes despite her background as a Captain in the United States Air Force. And after the death of the original Captain Marvel, Danvers remained as Ms. Marvel. However, all of this changed in July 2012 when she finally took on the mantle of Captain Marvel, and with this mantle change came a much more functional costume, respect from the entire universe, and a leadership position in the Marvel Universe.
12 WORSE: AQUALAD TO TEMPEST
Garth, or Aqualad, was a part of the original Teen Titans trio. He, Kid Flash, and Robin came together to battle Mister Twister and, with the later addition of Wonder Girl, the Teen Titans were born. Aqualad has had a long history. He created in Adventure Comic #269 in 1960 by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon. Garth was born within a society of Atlanteans that had split off from the main city. He was abandoned by his family and Aquaman brought him in, training him to be his partner. Aqualad possesses all of the same abilities that other Atlanteans do, such as superhuman strength, speed, and durability. He can survive the depths of the ocean, swim at incredible speeds, and has enhanced senses. However, Garth eventually discovered his affinity for magic and, after training, he learned how to manipulate water, teleport, travel through time, manipulate elements, and discharge energy from his hands and eyes, and became Tempest.
Tempest isn’t an awful name per se, but our biggest problem with it is that it really came out of nowhere. He renamed himself, so it’s not like he heard somebody else call him that and decided that he liked it -- a tempest is just a violent windstorm. The only connection between the name and Garth that we can make is that he has an ability to make whirlpools. That’s just a very specific usage of his powers. Maybe a water-based storm would’ve been a better name.
11 BETTER: HAWKEYE TO RONIN
Nobody can deny that Hawkeye is an integral part of the Marvel Universe. He’s been on countless versions of the Avengers, he’s led the Secret Avengers, he was offered the role of Captain America after Steve’s death, and he’s shown that he is willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good. Hawkeye is a true hero and his legend in the Marvel Universe continues to grow as he grows as a hero. However, Hawkeye does have somewhat of an image problem.
People's perception of Hawkeye seems to have been split throughout his entire history with one camp perceiving him as entirely useless while the other sees him as an integral Avenger and a dangerous man to come across. The latter camp often points to Clint’s time as Ronin as proof that he’s powerful in his own right. He became Ronin after being resurrected and desiring an identity change. While under the guise of Ronin, Barton managed to sneak into a Norman Osborn-controlled Avengers Tower and defeat the Dark Avengers by himself. This is a team that consisted of Scorpion, Moonstone, Daken, Bullseye (Sentry and Ares were also a part of the team). He even managed to get the drop on Norman Osborn before Ares knocked him out from behind.
10 WORSE: SPOILER TO ROBIN
There have been five Robins in the main DC Comics universe. The least popular and most unknown of that bunch is easily Stephanie Brown. Stephanie was introduced in Detective Comics #647 in 1992 by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle as the daughter of the villainous Cluemaster. Once she found out about his lifestyle, she donned a costume and called herself Spoiler, using her wits to alert Batman to his plans. Every time Cluemaster reared his head after that, Stephanie stepped up to fight against his plans. Robin tracked this new, masked vigilante down and the two of them eventually developed a complicated relationship that drew her into the Bat family.
Stephanie wasn’t a bad character, however she was impulsive, hotheaded, and needed to mature before she could be a good hero. But of course, she instead became Robin. Batman had already deemed her unfit to fight crime during her time as Spoiler. But once Tim is forced by his father to retire, Stephanie snuck into the Batcave and demanded that Batman take her on as his new Robin. He eventually concedes and trains her but then fires her after a few patrols because she wouldn’t listen. This led her to trying to prove herself to him which resulted in her inciting a citywide gang war. It only gets worse from there since Black Mask captures her and tortures her for information on Batman, leading to her supposed death. What a disastrous turn as Robin this was.
9 BETTER: FALCON TO CAPTAIN AMERICA
Fans have been screaming out for diversity in comics for some time now and, finally, comic book companies are starting to comply. While they have introduced new characters of color, they’ve also allowed some existing ones, such as Sam Wilson, to rise to new heights and even adopt new mantles. Wilson was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan and premiered in Captain America #117 in 1969. He initially was a pawn in Red Skull’s plan to take down Captain America. Red Skull lured Wilson to Exile island and used the Cosmic Cube to rewrite his path, give him a mental link to birds, and turn him into a warrior to do battle with Captain America. However, Captain America, like he so often does, is able to talk Sam down and turn him into his closest ally.
When Captain America has the Super Soldier Serum forcibly extracted from his body, he reverted to an old man. With Steve Rogers unable to continue as Captain America, he appointed Sam to be his successor and Sam accepted, becoming the new Captain America with an awesome new costume. It smartly fuses elements of both costumes with a sheen that makes it pop. On top of that, Sam served as a integral hero while he was Captain America, leading the resistance during "Secret Empire" and serving as a symbol of hope. There just isn’t enough that can be said about a black man taking on the mantle of Captain America.
8 WORSE: DOCTOR DOOM TO IRON MAN
One of the most persistent and dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe, Victor von Doom has been able to accomplish almost anything due to his nearly unmatched intelligence and knowledge of mysticism. He’s even managed to become ominpotent and rule a world he pulled together from numerous alternate universes. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962’s The Fantastic Four #5, and from there, he’s grown to be a major player not only for the Fantastic Four, but for the entire Marvel Universe.
Just as it’s surprising when benevolent characters take a villainous turn, it’s also surprising and sometimes more fulfilling when a malevolent character takes a heroic turn. There’s something satisfying about seeing characters like Catwoman, Black Widow, Emma Frost, and Lobo skew towards being good can make for beautiful character arc and a case of the warm fuzzies. But in this case, something just doesn’t sit right. Doctor Doom has already been trying to make the world a better place and his ego backed up by his prodigal intelligence ensured that he has always believed he’s right. Even if Doctor Doom decided to take a less violent approach to bettering the world, he would never do so under the moniker of another person. Victor von Doom is far too prideful to be a follower to anyone.
7 BETTER: ROBIN TO RED HOOD
One of the most controversial figures in the Bat family, Jason Todd was the second Robin who eventually grew into a role that fans love to hate. However, he started out as an orphan boy trying to steal the tires on the Batmobile in Batman #357 in 1983. Batman felt bad for him and took him under his wing which led to Jason eventually becoming a more hard-nosed Robin until the 1988 story “A Death in the Family”. Fans were, at best, divided on how they felt about Jason and his attitude as Robin which led to DC designing a poll to decide whether Jason lived or died in the story. In a narrow vote, fans voted for him to die and we’re lucky they did because otherwise, we might not have gotten another incredible and iconic character.
After Jason’s brutal death at the hands of the Joker, he was resurrected as the antihero Red Hood. Not only does the outfit look extremely cool, but it also provided Jason’s antagonistic attitude with a more fitting identity to flourish in. Never afraid to play dirty, Jason is set in his convictions and is willing to do whatever it takes to do what he sees as right. His drive and brutal take on crimefighting made him an instant fan favorite and he’s been at the center of many great stories like “Under the Red Hood” and “Battle for the Cowl”.
6 WORSE: CAPTAIN AMERICA TO NOMAD
Cap has long been a symbol of American ideals, as evidenced by his patriotic costume and shield. But when he no longer wanted to represent America, he made some ill-advised changes to his costume. Cap, as many people know, began as a miniscule man named Steve Rogers. Because of his bravery, he was selected to undergo a procedure to turn him into a Super Soldier, turning him into the peak human Captain America. He served as a beacon for America and its values for many years until the day that the President of the United States was revealed to be the leader of a terrorist organization. Cap, disillusioned with America and what it’s become, abandoned the identity of Captain America and adopted a different identity -- Nomad, the man without a country.
This selection is mostly due to the horrific nature of the Nomad costume. Even the artists knew that it was a bad, as they had Steve trip over his cape in one of his few appearances as Nomad. The costume itself is a very dark navy with yellow highlights, a blue and navy cape, and a very very deep V-cut in his top. Yes, the idea was to not look like Captain America, but this costume just doesn’t look good. The cape is wholly unnecessary, the color scheme isn’t enjoyable, and the V-cut is never really a good idea for any superhero.
5 BETTER: ANGEL TO ARCHANGEL
Warren Worthington III is a wealthy businessman and a mutant whose mutation is a pair of powerful wings that allow him to fly unassisted. Out of all of the cool powers that the X-Men display, Angel’s might be the lamest -- he can fly. In many other cases, flying seems to be a prerequisite to being a superhero. Regardless, he was a founding member of the X-Men and premiered in X-Men #1 in 1963. From there, he’s been a core member of the X-Men and has seemingly dabbled in every corner of the Marvel Universe. He founded the Champions, joined the Defenders, and organized X-Factor. He’s traveled through time and space and has even had supernatural encounters when he’s died. But his most influential encounter had to be his experience with Apocalypse.
When Apocalypse took him as his Horseman, Death, he modified Angel’s wings and renamed him Archangel. With this, he instantly became one of the most dangerous characters in the X-Men universe. His wings were changed into a techno-organic metal that was sharp enough to cut through steel. He could also project them from his wings in a rain of metal feathers and their tips were coated with a chemical that can induce paralysis. This change gave Angel a serious power boost and made him look far cooler in the process.
4 WORSE: ANT-MAN TO YELLOWJACKET
Hank Pym is a man of many titles. He’s been Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, the Wasp, Hank Pym (yes he fought crime as himself), and Yellowjacket. He first premiered in Tales to Astonish #27 in 1962 and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Pym has had an odd relationship with the concept of heroism. He was a deeply troubled soul who had much more going on than he let on and, as a result, made his fair share of mistakes. Such as reassuming a radically different schizophrenia-induced identity.
A lab accident caused Pym to inhale chemicals that induced said schizophrenia. This leads him to appearing at Avengers Mansion under the identity of Yellowjacket and claiming that he “disposed of Pym.” He eventually recovered from this and reassumes the mantle of Ant-Man. But soon, he willingly reverted back to the Yellowjacket persona. It comes as no shock that this coincided with the darkest time in this character’s history, as he was court martialed, suspended from the Avengers attacked a defeated opponent from behind, secretly built a robot to attack the Avengers, and began to act more and more hostile towards his wife Janet van Dyne. This eventually culminated in him striking Janet in a controversial panel and this led to him being removed outright from the Avengers and eventually going to prison. Moral of the story: Don’t model yourself after an alternate personality that claimed to have “disposed of you”.
3 BETTER: THOR TO THE ODINSON
Based on Norse mythology, Thor was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962. Stan Lee wanted to push the envelope of what a superhero was capable of and decided to create a superhero that was also a god. He knew that people were familiar with Greek and Roman gods, so he decided to get into Norse legends and the rest is history. Thor premiered in 1962 and became a huge powerhouse within the Marvel Universe.
As shown in Thor: Ragnarok, stripping Thor of Mjolnir always yields interesting results. But in the comics, instead of Mjolnir being destroyed, Thor just loses the ability to wield it. In the 2014 storyline "Original Sin", Nick Fury tells Thor something that the readers couldn’t see at the time and these few words caused Thor to become unworthy, forcing Thor to go by his last name: Odinson. Instead of Mjolnir, the Odinson wielded his battle axe Jarnbjorn and soon had to replace his left arm with one made of Uru. Not only did he look way cooler, but seeing him battle without his iconic hammer made for some really engaging and unique fights with the Odinson -- this change of identity was great for shaking things up.
2 WORSE: HAWKEYE TO GOLIATH
Audiences and readers may believe that Hawkeye is useless. However, sometimes Hawkeye feels that Hawkeye is useless. And one time, he decided to do something about it. Clint Barton premiered in Tales of Suspense #57 in 1964. He was actually introduced as an Iron Man villain who was only into villainy because he was in love with Black Widow. However, Clint soon broke out of this spell, became a hero, and joined the Avengers the next year.
Barton served as a core Avenger for many years. But after a string of bad luck, he began to feel like his archery skills weren’t enough next to his superpowered teammates. Therefore, Hank Pym allowed him to make use of his Pym Particles to take on the mantle of Goliath and possess superpowers. Barton’s Hawkeye outfit may be a bit over the top, but it’s far better than his Goliath costume which consisted of red pants, blue boots and underwear (which was worn on the outside), a miniscule top that could barely cover his shoulders, and a sort of harness whose sole purpose was seemingly to cover his pecs. Plus, turning him into Goliath took away the things that made him interesting. Barton isn’t enhanced, he’s not even a soldier or secret agent. He’s a carny who became a respected superhero through grit and an indomitable will -- he doesn’t need superpowers.
1 BETTER: KID FLASH TO THE FLASH
The end of one of the most popular events in DC history, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" saw the death of Barry Allen who sacrificed his life to save the universe. Luckily, there was already a logical successor to the mantle of The Flash. Wally West was created in 1959 by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. West was Barry’s energetic nephew who gained similar powers to The Flash when he recreated the accident that Barry went through. He served as an iconic sidekick and an integral member of the Flash family for many years until he was suddenly thrust into more.
This may be the most successful case of “passing the mantle” in comic book history. This went so well that, for a whole generation of comic book readers, Wally West was The Flash. He was even The Flash in the Justice League animated series. The best part is that Wally had to work to become a good superhero, he didn’t suddenly become the world’s fastest man overnight. After Barry’s death, Wally and the rest of the Flash family were heartbroken and suffered from long term repercussions. One of the biggest was to Wally. It was eventually revealed that he had subconsciously been limiting his progression as a speedster so that he wouldn’t surpass Barry who he still saw as the one and only true Flash. Once he broke through these mental barriers, however, Wally reached speeds and heights of power that Barry hadn’t even dreamed of.