Whenever a major hero is rendered incapable of protecting his or her city, often a trusted partner will rise to the occasion and continue the legacy. Sometimes this is a short-term assignment, while in other cases the original does not return for years — or even decades. And, from time to time, the fill-in hero gets to retain some or even all of the attendant powers and responsibilities of the role even after the icon reclaims the mantle.
For the purposes of this list, alternate reality versions such as Miles Morales are excluded, as are villains who masqueraded as heroes (with one notable exception). We are including some characters whose originals are likely to return, even if they haven’t yet done so, but not those who have truly inherited a role (for example, Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle).
18. Wonder Woman (Artemis)
In the mid-to-late ’90s, a number of prominent DC heroes found themselves taken off the board and replaced by someone new to the role. Of the stand-ins, perhaps no one had a harder go of things than Artemis, who took up the mantle of Wonder Woman when Hippolyta maneuvered to protect her daughter from a prophecy. During this period, Diana donned a stylish leather jacket and pants, managing to keep her place in the Justice League over the new Wonder Woman’s objections.
Despite wearing the costume and bullet-reflecting armbands, it didn’t take the lasso of truth to reveal that Artemis just wasn’t very likeable. She was angry, violent, haughty, and actually ended up hiring a PR rep to improve her image. Sadly, this publicist was actually a supervillain in disguise, who lured her to hell and killed her. This fulfilled the prophecy Hippolyta feared, though, so at least it was safe for Diana to return as Wonder Woman. However, Diana also perished shortly thereafter, so Hippolyta decided to do the job herself for a while. Eventually, both Diana and Artemis were restored to life, but only Diana got to resume her role as Themyscira’s ambassador to Man’s World.
17. Green Arrow (Connor Hawke)
Another ’90s changing of the guard, Connor Hawke took over the mantle of Green Arrow when his father, Oliver Queen, perished in an exploding plane after an undercover op to foil an eco-terrorism plot went wrong. Having only just met Ollie shortly before, Connor understandably had mixed feelings about his new heroic role. He soon found his place in the company of heroes, befriending new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and taking his father’s place in the Justice League, where he enjoyed some truly iconic moments like single-handedly taking down the Key to save the JLA and, in an alternate future, killing Darkseid by shooting an arrow carrying the Atom at the evil god’s eye.
After Oliver was restored to life by Hal Jordan (during his Parallax days), Connor continued on as a co-Green Arrow and remained in that role until “Flashpoint,” after which the only version readers have seen is an Earth 2 soldier.
16. Thor (Beta Ray Bill)
Beta Ray Bill may not be a replacement hero in the same way many of these other characters are, but he did manage to wrest Mjolnir away from Thor for a short time. Plus, he’s too cool not to include, and has one of the best names in all of comics. Believing Thor a threat to his people, Beta Ray Bill attacks first, leaving the God of Thunder to strike back to prevent Bill’s ship from reaching Earth. In the midst of battle, Mjolnir slips free of Thor’s grip, changing him back to Donald Blake; meanwhile, Beta searches out the hammer but finds only a stick, picking it up out of curiosity for examination. Mjolnir deems him worthy, hence Beta Ray Thor.
Odin then recalls “Thor” to Asgard and hijinks ensue. After a battle between the two Thors, Odin decides it’s just easier and for the best to simply give Beta Ray Bill his own hammer, dubbed Stormbreaker.
15. Batman (Jean-Paul Valley)
Jean-Paul Valley is the latest incarnation of Azrael, a line of holy assassins for the Sacred Order of Saint Dumas (who were even referenced in season two of “Gotham”) and, unexpectedly, Bruce Wayne’s choice to succeed him as Batman when the souped-up villain Bane broke the Dark Knight’s back. Valley’s Batman is a more violent crimefighter, initially modifying just the Batsuit’s gloves into talon-heavy, mini-batarang-shooting gauntlets before going whole hog by replacing the rest of the suit with armor and other flashy additions.
Azbats, as he is unofficially referred to by the fans, fails to meet the bat-standards set by Bruce Wayne. Among his failings include the fact that he allows a bad guy to die along with his hostage. He also chucked Tim Drake (the Robin of the time) out of the Batcave, further isolating him from Batman’s traditional team. Bruce goes through some stunning rehab to recover from paralysis, ultimately succeeding in reclaiming the cowl from his unworthy apprentice. Jean-Paul Valley eventually returns to the heroes’ side as Azrael and gets 100 issues of his own comic.
14. Hulk (Amadeus Cho)
The more adjectives Marvel adds to its publishing initiatives, the more big-league heroes start finding themselves supplanted by all-new, all-different faces. Luckily for the Green Goliath, Amadeus Cho’s Hulk is totally awesome. Prior to become a Hulk, Amadeus Cho’s main superpower was being a genius, which is not a bad thing (it’s also where Bruce Banner got his start, after all). It’s his super-smarts that saves Banner from a lethal dose of radiation after “Secret Wars,” drawing the Hulk out of Banner’s body and into his own in the process.
Cho’s Hulk is more about arrogant swagger and a scientifically calculated use of force rather than smashing rampages, creating a radically different take on the hero. While Banner’s Hulk is enough of a cultural icon that he’s almost certain to return at some point, he was taken out of commission thanks to some of the events during “Civil War II.” This should allow Cho to rack up a solid run of his own adventures in both his solo series and in “Champions.”
13. Robin (Stephanie Brown)
There have been at least six Robins over the years, five of whom showed up in the main continuity at some point. Poor Stephanie Brown was the only one to fill the role temporarily, filling in after her boyfriend Tim Drake’s resignation. Though her career as the Spoiler and inside knowledge of the criminal world (thanks to her dad being a minor supervillain known as the Cluemaster) made a compelling resume for a Girl Wonder candidate, she failed to follow Batman’s orders precisely to the letter and is promptly fired. Shortly thereafter, she was tortured and beaten to death by the Black Mask during “War Games” and Tim Drake resumed his career as Robin.
Notably, after her death was revealed to be a ruse, Stephanie also stepped into the role of Batgirl, which lead to her own well-received ongoing series. The next hero to take on this role would be the original, Barbara Gordon, which would arguably qualify Steph for a second appearance on this list. But since she was erased from continuity when Babs returned as part of the New 52, this would be less of a passing of the torch and more of a pressing of the reset button. Stephanie would later be brought back as the Rebirth continuity’s Spoiler.
12. Spider-Man (Ben Reilly)
It’s a hard life when you’re a clone of Spider-Man. First you think you are the real webslinger, but then you find out you’re just a copy instead. Next, you learn you might actually be the real one after all, only to learn that no, you actually, really, truly are are just a clone and die. For a brief glorious moment in the mid-’90s, Ben Reilly was Spider-Man in what may be the only instance of a hero inheriting a role from himself. And since there were five ongoing Spider-Man titles at the time, Reilly enjoyed a substantial run of web-slinging adventures over the course of a year, including a starring role in the major, unlikely to be repeated “DC vs. Marvel” crossover event.
Though he developed his own stylized version of the Spider-Man suit that he would later die in, Ben Reilly is best remembered in his iconic (and totally ’90s) Scarlet Spider garb. And while the “Clone Saga” was controversial at the time and has grown more-so with age, the multi-year story arc and its iconic hero hold a special place in comics fandom.
11. Superman (Reign of the Supermen)
When Superman died at the hands of Doomsday, it took four heroes to fill his shoes. The armor-plated Man of Steel was the only one not to claim he was literally Superman returned from the dead; there was a teenage clone who rejected the name Superboy; and the mercy-lacking Eradicator had the Last Son of Krypton’s looks, but not his heart. Perhaps the most compelling case was the half-man, half-machine Man of Tomorrow, whose organic body parts not only resembled Superman, but also seemed to retain some of his memories. Unfortunately, this final replacement hero was the farthest thing from Superman’s noble example, as he was eventually revealed to be Hank Henshaw and destroyed Coast City (hometown of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern).
Henshaw, able to control machinery with his mind, managed to find the original rocket that brought Superman to Earth. With it, he melded Kryptonian metal with Kryptonian DNA to create his resemblance to the dead hero. The original Superman came back to life (with a classic ’90s mullet, no less) and took down the villain who would then become known as the Cyborg Superman. The other replacements would then rebrand themselves as Superboy, Steel and the Eradicator.
10. Iron Man (James “Rhodey” Rhodes)
James Rhodes first donned the Iron Man armor during a particularly low period in Tony Stark’s life, when the eccentric genius billionaire’s empire was a shambles and Stark himself was struggling with alcoholism. In many ways, Rhodey followed in Stark’s footsteps, founding a tech firm, joining the (West Coast) Avengers, and beating up the bad guys, notably during the first “Secret Wars.” But the armor, attuned to Stark’s body and mind, effectively poisoned Rhodey’s brain, giving him headaches and increased paranoia, and finally sending him into uncontrollable rages. When Tony got his life back together, he did his best to help. This led to Rhodey getting the treatment he needed through a sort of superhero vision-quest to cure his headaches.
After a few ups and downs, James Rhodes created a new superhero identity in War Machine, named for the Stark-design armor Rhodey wore during his second stint as Iron Man. He remained a consistent figure in the Marvel Universe ever since, up until his death during the events of “Civil War II.”
9. Wolverine (X-23/Laura Kinney)
Will Logan ever return? The “Death of Wolverine” series went rather over the top in convincing readers he wouldn’t, stripping away his healing factor, beating him to the point of death, and then covering his body in molten adamantium. Fortunately, the hero previously known as X-23 was there to step into the role. Cloned from the original Wolverine’s DNA in a covert attempt to replicate the Weapon X project, Laura Kinney is a young woman with a dark past to rival her “father’s,” created only to kill and struggling to forge her own identity. As X-23, Laura has fought alongside multiple teams of X-Men, including the black ops X-Force led by her father, though Wolverine does his best to take up the role of parent and steer her away from killing opponents except when necessary.
Laura’s Wolverine bears much of her predecessor’s intensity and, embracing her teenage years, has also been known to cut loose in reckless, carefree abandon, terrifying her first love, Warren Worthington (better known as X-Men’s Angel), and leading to the end of their romance. Discovering the existence of other clones like herself has further complicated her identity even as it refocuses her mission.
8. Captain America (Sam Wilson)
Long working beside Captain America as the Falcon, Sam took over the position when the super soldier serum that had given Rogers his powers was drained from his body, rendering the American icon unfit for battle. Sam truly made the role his own, customizing a sleek new costume for himself that incorporated wings from his Falcon suit (because why give up flying)? From the start, though, Sam and Steve fiercely disagreed about mission parameters, priorities, and just what Captain America should be. In the public eye, Sam’s Cap became an inspiration to some and a betrayal to others, depending largely on what a person means when he or she says “America.”
With Steve Rogers having already returned to the role, Sam Wilson’s Captain America would seem to have a pretty open-ended run. Will he eventually choose to return to the more straightforward, less politically-charged heroism of the Falcon? Or will there always be two Americas?
7. Batman (Dick Grayson)
Look, just because he was the original sidekick, doesn’t mean Dick Grayson wants to grow up to be Batman. In fact, the first time he’s offered the job in “Knightfall,” he says no, leaving the paralyzed Bruce Wayne no choice but to appoint Azrael as his successor instead. Maybe after seeing what a disaster that was, Dick doesn’t say no a second time. First, Grayson takes over when Bruce decides he needs to find himself during the “Prodigal” story arc, and then he dons the cape and cowl again following Bruce’s apparent death in “Final Crisis.” Even here he didn’t expect the job to be permanent: Dick was one of the few people who refused to believe the Dark Knight was truly dead. And unlike his mentor, Grayson readily accepts Bruce’s son Damian as the new Robin, forging a whole new Dynamic Duo, one where Batman is the lighthearted daredevil and the Boy Wonder the broody, calculating hero.
6. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
John Stewart was hired as the new Green Lantern of Sector 2814 after one of the many times Hal Jordan quit the Corps because his pride was hurt. One of DC Comics’ first black heroes, John debuted in the socially-conscious Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams run and has grown into one of the publisher’s premiere African-American characters. John Stewart has served on the Justice League, appeared in a cartoon series, nurtured a “mosaic” world of diverse alien cultures, and even briefly rose to the status of Guardian (a high-ranking position among the Green Lanterns).
He’s also a character defined by tragedy, as his arrogance led to the destruction of planet Xanshi. Different creators have emphasized different aspects of John’s background, notably his training as an architect and his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He recently led his team successfully back from a foreign universe, and called the shots for the surviving Green Lantern Corps.
5. Thor (Jane Foster)
When Thor Odinson was suddenly deemed unworthy of wielding Mjolnir, a new female Thor rose to take his place. Her identity was a mystery at first, but she would eventually be revealed as Jane Foster. Though much of the focus has been on having a woman take on the role of God of Thunder, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman, the creators behind Foster’s Thor, took another aspect of classic lore and gave it more dramatic heft: whereas Odinson was afflicted with an injured leg in his Donald Blake persona, Jane Foster suffers from an advanced stage of cancer, heightening the contrast between her superpowered and human selves. Further, though Jane can escape the disease as Thor, the transformation nullifies her chemotherapy treatments, dimming the hopes of recovery for her mortal form.
This version of the character enjoys incredible popularity. As the male version is well established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems likely that Odinson will regain his hammer at some point. However, it would be hard to keep a character like Foster’s Thor down. Perhaps, as with with the precedents set by Beta Ray Bill, Jane Foster will one day get another hammer of her own and become a different hero.
4. Spider-Man (Dr. Octopus)
While this is not the list for villains who disguised themselves as heroes or villains who secretly mind-controlled heroes, this incarnation of Spider-Man is an extraordinary exception. Otto Octavius, arguably Spider-Man’s greatest foe, escapes from his own ravaged body and into the mind of Peter Parker, wresting control of his body, stealing his memories, and seemingly obliterating Parker’s very self. But the former Dr. Octopus realizes his huge miscalculation: with Peter Parker’s life experiences now mixed with his own, he recognizes that with great power must come great responsibility. So if he’s going to be Spider-Man, he’s going to show the world how it should be done.
Otto would go on to earn Peter a PhD, start up a new tech firm, adds drones and spider-bots to the wall crawler’s arsenal, and more. The big problem is, he’s still kind of an arrogant jerk, and in many ways doesn’t know how to be a true hero. Eventually, Peter’s dormant psyche reasserts itself and he reclaims both his body and the role of Spider-Man, but he doesn’t mind taking advantage of those superior innovations.
3. Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)
After Hal Jordan became Parallax and decimated the Corps, Kyle Rayner was the sole Green Lantern for a full ten years. Written primarily by Ron Marz and Judd Winnick with a host of talented artists along the way, Kyle was a hero with heart, often struggling to live up to the impossible responsibility of his role and failing often. Not long after acquiring his Green Lantern’s Kyle’s girlfriend was murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator (inspiring the writing expression “fridging”). Kyle later tried several times to restart the Corps without success.
As his skill levelled up, though, so too did his power. He eventually even managed to reignite Oa’s Central Battery and assisted in the creation of a new generation of Guardians. Kyle also dragged Hal’s corpse back from the far reaches of space, allowing his rebirth (in the appropriately titled “Green Lantern: Rebirth”) to take place.
Though Kyle has largely left the Earth behind since Hal’s return, his humanity continues to be central to his unique place in the Corps. He became the sole wielder of the White Lantern power, representing mastery of the full spectrum of rings, and recently starred in the acclaimed “Omega Men” series by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda.
2. Captain America (Bucky Barnes)
“Nobody stays dead in comics except for Bucky and Uncle Ben,” the old saying used to go. But then Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting went and brought Bucky back, revived as a brainwashed assassin called the Winter Soldier. The creative team pulled off this unthinkable feat simply by being really, really good at their jobs and turning what would have sounded at the time like a historically terrible idea into one of the most celebrated runs on “Captain America.” When Steve Rogers was assassinated following the events of “Civil War,” these same creators handed Bucky the shield and star-spangled outfit.
He lacked Steve Rogers’ leadership, never having served as a commander himself. But with support from the Falcon and Black Widow, Bucky ably adapted to the role, fighting new and classic villains, repelling Skrulls in “Secret Invasion,” and exploring the best and worst of America’s culture.
After Steve Rogers was restored to life, Bucky retained the Captain America identity and Rogers took up the nom de guerre of Super Soldier. But when Bucky seemingly died during the “Fear Itself” arc, he decided to go back to being Winter Soldier, returning the mantle of Captain America back to Rogers.
1. The Flash (Wally West)
Wally was the first teen sidekick to grow up and take over for his mentor, donning the Flash’s red suit when Barry Allen died saving the universe in “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” His ongoing series saw Wally gradually grow into the role, struggling with the weight of legacy. Through it all, the Flash built a close-knit family, growing closer to Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, speed force guru Max Mercury, mathematical speedster Jesse Quick, and of course Barry’s grandson from the future, Impulse.
For more than two decades, Wally West was the Flash. Even after Barry returned in “Final Crisis,” Wally remained as another Flash, though he was considerably less in the spotlight. After “Flashpoint” reset the DC Universe, there was no place for Wally West until DC decided to “restore what some fans have been missing” through its “Rebirth” event. It was only natural that Wally West should be at the heart of it. Wally shows the benefits of a long, deep continuity, how to build a rich character who is only enhanced by all the stories that have gone before.
Who’s your favorite character to temporarily take on another hero’s mantle? Let us know in the comments!
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