One of the most notable concepts in comic books is the idea of the legacy character. With long-running histories for these characters, some running for decades or more, there comes a time when a character will change identities in order to shake up the status quo. Not every legacy character is a good move, though. Sometimes these characters will fail in their new identity, and it can happen for any number of reasons. It can be something as complex as feelings of inferiority due to living up the standards of their predecessor, or something as simple as the original hero returning and the legacy character abandoning it out of mutual respect. There are just as many legacy heroes who succeeded, though, making the new identity their own and even managing to surpass their predecessor.
Often, this will include a character taking on a long-running, pre-existing identity, either because another character has abandoned the identity or because they are taking over the identity of a mentor. While these legacy characters are sometimes temporary replacements who only last for a few brief years, others like Wally West or Monica Rambeau can spend decades in the new identity, becoming every bit as associated with it as their predecessor. For this list, we’re taking a look at both sides of the coin: heroes who became better, and heroes who fell from grace, after their run with a legacy name.
20. STALLED: BEN REILLY
“The Clone Saga” earned the ire of many fans when it was implied that the real Peter Parker had been replaced with a clone in the ‘60s. Ben Reilly would take on the mantle of Spider-Man, but it ended in his untimely death.
It was revealed years later The Jackal had saved him, only to kill him hundreds of time to perfect the cloning process. This would eventually drive Ben mad, and he would become the new Jackal. Recently he began working to save his soul in Vegas, returning to his original Scarlet Spider identity in hopes of finding his heroic side again.
19. IMPROVED: MONICA RAMBEAU
Monica Rambeau debuted with Captain Marvel’s code name, but no actual relation to the previous Captain Marvel. With her own unique energy manipulation powers, she burst onto the scene and quickly became a mainstay of The Avengers. However, she would later agree to pass on the Captain Marvel code name to the original’s son, Genis-Vell.
Monica went through a number of code names after that: Photon, Pulsar and most recently, Spectrum. Regardless of which name she operated under, Rambeau’s genius and tenacity pushed her far beyond the Captain Marvel identity, becoming a respected hero on her own.
18. STALLED: BUCKY BARNES
Revealed to have been rescued and brainwashed by Russian operatives following his apparent death, Bucky Barnes returned in grand fashion as the deadly Winter Soldier. Existing on the fringe of the Marvel Universe, Bucky would eventually come to replace the believed-to-be-dead Steve Rogers as a gun-toting, metal-armed Captain America.
Like many others, it always felt like Bucky was just keeping the shield warm for Steve. Even as an Avenger, it seemed inevitable that Steve would return. While Bucky continued as Cap for a time when Steve returned, he eventually returned to his Winter Soldier identity, which felt like a serious downgrade.
17. IMPROVED: BARBARA GORDON
When Barbara Gordon burst onto the scene, Batgirl was a pretty new idea. An unwanted ally to Batman and Robin, she had to prove herself to earn the right to continue wearing the Bat-symbol. With wit and cunning, she enjoyed a brief career but ultimately retired.
Retirement came to an abrupt end when Barbara was shot by The Joker. Rather than give up, she became Oracle, an information broker and support agent for the hero community. Though she defined the Batgirl role that would continue on, Barbara inarguably did her most beloved work as Oracle, and (just as arguably) garnered a fan base that was just as big, or even bigger!
16. STALLED: STEPHANIE BROWN
When Stephanie Brown replaced Tim Drake as Robin, it sure seemed like things were turning around for her. As Spoiler, she had always been on the outskirts of the Bat-family, but she seemed to finally have earned Batman’s respect, albeit begrudgingly.
It went downhill pretty quickly after that, however, and in pretty grand fashion. It soon became evident that she had only been chosen to make Tim jealous, and was ousted from the role. Sometime later, after accidentally igniting a gang war, Stephanie would be believed to have been killed before it was revealed she had fled to Africa to start a new life.
15. IMPROVED: CLINT BARTON
Clint Barton has had his share of different identities, originally debuting as Hawkeye. With his bow having been destroyed and Black Widow in danger, Clint would use Hank Pym’s growth serum and adopt Pym’s abandoned Goliath identity for several years.
Clint would eventually return to his Hawkeye identity again after being humiliated a fair few times in his newer identity. Aside from a brief stint in the Ronin identity, he’s remained as Hawkeye ever since. In the following years, his brief stint as Goliath became little more than a trivia question, while he’s continued to gain notoriety as Hawkeye (or Hawk-Guy, depending on who you talk to).
14. STALLED: JEAN-PAUL VALLEY
Raised by the Order of St. Dumas, Jean-Paul Valley stumbled into the Bat-family and found himself an unlikely (and at first, somewhat unwanted) hero. When Batman’s back was broken by Bane, he found himself in an even more surprising position, thrust into the role of Batman as Bruce recovered in both body and mind.
Jean-Paul’s Batman became increasingly violent, eventually being stopped by a returning Bruce and returning to his Azrael identity. Though he would earn redemption, he never quite belonged. Recently in DC Rebirth, Jean-Paul has proven himself alongside Batman’s team and even earned a spot on Cyborg’s space-faring Justice League team.
13. IMPROVED: AMADEUS CHO
Introduced in the second volume of Amazing Fantasy, Amadeus Cho quickly became a fan favorite character following the events of “World War Hulk.” Years later, to free Banner of the curse of the Hulk, Cho would take on the power and become the Totally Awesome Hulk, to decidedly much less fan acclaim.
Cho’s Hulk was drastically different from Banner’s but was still hindered by the Hulk’s inherently aggressive nature. Eventually, this hubris would cost Cho the powers, leaving him a much slimmer but still green form. Cho is poised to shine among the Champions with this new form, dubbing himself Brawn.
12. STALLED: JULIA CARPENTER
Julia Carpenter debuted during Secret Wars as Spider-Woman, the second to bear the title. Julia was a respected hero for her time, joining Force Works and the West Coast Avengers, and regularly fighting alongside the likes of Iron Man and of course, Spider-Man!
Several years later, though, Jessica Drew would return to the scene and Julia would retire her Spider-Woman identity as a result. Julia would adopt the Arachne identity afterward but was never really seen much after her somewhat auspicious debut. These days she’s lost even the Arachne title, having become the new Madame Web following the original’s death.
11. IMPROVED: RIRI WILLIAMS
Introduced shortly before Tony was thrown into a comatose state following Civil War II, Riri Williams made headlines in a big way. A 15-year-old prodigy, Riri made her own Iron Man armor from scratch and caught the eye of none other than Iron Man himself, Tony Stark.
Riri would quickly get to her own identity, shedding any association with the Iron Man persona to adopt her own moniker: Ironheart! As Ironheart she would arguably surpass Tony in several fronts, improving upon his armor designs and becoming a member of the Champions. Just recently, she enhanced her armor even more after a losing tussle with Thanos, making her more powerful than ever!
10. STALLED: TIMOTHY DRAKE
Following the death of Bruce Wayne in a possible future, Timothy Drake reluctantly took on the Batman identity and became a prolific crime fighter and murderer. He encountered the modern Tim Drake and his Teen Titans, and later would be one of the few to survive Flashpoint thanks to Mr. Oz’s machinations.
Upon learning how different this timeline was, Timothy attempted to kill Batwoman to save his future, but failed. Tim would abandon his Batman role and adopt the identity Savior. As Savior, he again fought the Teen Titans in an attempt to kill Superboy before being lost in the timeline.
9. IMPROVED: JASON TODD
Jason Todd was such an aggravating brat that the fans voted to let him die. “A Death in the Family” was a remarkable story for the time, and the death of a Robin had never been done before. But death only made Jason Todd all the more notorious.
Nearly two decades later, after a year of teases and hints, Jason was revived and took the identity of the Red Hood to taunt both Batman and The Joker. Over the years, Jason would redefine the Red Hood identity, eventually becoming something of an anti-hero and working as a secret agent of Batman.
8. STALLED: HAL JORDAN
Hal Jordan tried to save Coast City and failed. Then, he tried to resurrect it using the power of his ring. Driven mad when the Guardians told him that doing so was against the by-laws of being a Lantern, he went on to kill every Green Lantern and absorb the energy within the Central Power Battery, abandoning his post as Green Lantern and becoming Parallax. Eventually, Parallax would die saving the world, reigniting an extinguished sun.
Hal would begin a path of redemption after that, which was a long and winding road, first becoming the new human host for The Spectre. After some time making amends, Hal would be revived as a Green Lantern once more, but his time as Parallax continues to hang over his head.
7. IMPROVED: TIM DRAKE
For many of today’s comic fans, Tim Drake was their first Robin. Earning the right to the title by deducing Batman’s secret identity on his own, Tim would quickly move into a respectable position among members of the Bat-family. Over the years, Tim became more independent than previous Robins, and his detective skills would impress even Batman.
But following Bruce’s death, Tim would adopt a new identity. Wearing a costume from an alternate Earth, Tim became Red Robin and has remained as such ever since. Tim has continued to grow, redefining himself as Red Robin on his terms and no one else’s.
6. STALLED: OTTO OCTAVIUS
To save his life, Otto Octavius took Peter Parker’s. Possessing Peter’s body, Doctor Octopus would replace him as the Superior Spider-Man. Otto’s tenure as Spider-Man saw him drastically changed, ultimately becoming a hero and giving his life so that Peter could return.
Since then, Otto has also returned, but fallen back to his villainous ways. This included stealing a clone body from The Jackal and siding with Hydra during the Secret Empire. Recently though, Otto may have had a change of heart as indicated by the upcoming Superior Octopus series. Of course, this being Doc Ock, that’s being very optimistic, at best!
5. IMPROVED: JAMES RHODES
Hired on as Tony Stark’s personal pilot, James Rhodes quickly became a confidant to both Stark and Iron Man. When alcohol abuse and emotional strain took its toll on Tony, Rhodes stepped into his armored boots and became the second Iron Man.
Rhodes would have his share of troubles with the Iron Man identity, and after a falling out with Tony, would adopt his own superhero persona in War Machine. Donning the new Variable Threat Response Suit, Rhodes would make a name for himself beyond being Iron Man, proving himself a trusted ally of many of the world’s greatest heroes.
4. STALLED: STEVE ROGERS
The living legend of World War II, Steve Rogers may be one of the first legacy heroes to ever exist, having started the identity that many others after him would adopt in service of their country. Frozen in ice, the identity of Captain America was passed along to several others until Rogers was rescued. Over the years, though, Steve has occasionally lost his Captain America name and gone by others.
Indeed, Steve’s adopted a number of other identities when he gave up Captain America, be it The Captain, Nomad, and even just Commander Rogers. But none seemed to really stick, no matter how hard he tried. Fortunately for Steve (and the world), he keeps winding up back in his Captain America identity.
3. IMPROVED: SAM WILSON
Sam Wilson becoming Captain America was a huge deal. The reveal broke early in mainstream media, with Joe Quesada turning up on The Colbert Report to hype up the change to status quo. Sam’s tenure as Cap was marked with incredible stories and an arc that pushed the boundaries of the title, but unfortunately, it still felt like he was keeping the suit warm.
Following Secret Empire, Sam would return to his Falcon identity as the revived Steve Rogers became Captain America again. It felt like a demotion at first, but since then Sam has quickly restored his own status quo, establishing himself as one of Marvel’s greatest heroes.
2. STALLED: WALLY WEST
Wally West was The Flash. He was the fastest man alive. Despite humble, even troubling beginnings, he surpassed every speedster, and his bond with the Speed Force was unlike any ever seen before. But then one day, Barry Allen came back. And in a heartbeat, Wally lost what made him special.
Wally was no longer The Flash, but now just a Flash — one among mony. Wally’s appearances became few and far between, and following Flashpoint he ceased to exist, revealed to have been trapped in the Speed Force. Wally was many a fan’s favorite Flash, but following Barry’s return, he got knocked down several pegs.
1. IMPROVED: DICK GRAYSON
Dick Grayson was easily the most successful Robin, but a Boy Wonder can only be a Boy for so long. To escape Batman’s shadow, Dick adopted a new identity in Nightwing. The Nightwing persona redefined Dick Grayson, and he quickly became one of the most respected heroes in the DC Universe.
Dick proved he could adapt with a second legacy identity too: Batman. After Bruce’s death, Dick took on the role, with Damian as his Robin. Dick’s Batman was well-received, both by fellow heroes and fans, but he finally returned to Nightwing with The New 52. However, more recently, he has subbed in for Batman when Bruce Wayne was called in for jury duty. So he still dabbles in the Bats, much to the delight of his fans.
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