Steve Rogers is back. After two years spent as all-new Captain America Sam Wilson’s elderly (yet still way more than capable) support, the World War II legend will once again don a variation of the red, white and blue to fight threats as one of Marvel’s Sentinels of Liberty. The move comes just as Steve Rogers celebrates his 75th anniversary — and what better way to celebrate 75 years of Captain America than by having two Captain Americas?
But reclaiming a mantle isn’t rare when it comes to superheroes. It’s not even rare to Steve Rogers! Nearly every notable superhero has passed the torch on to a new person and later reclaimed it; It’s a time-honored tradition and the Steve Rogers suiting up again is the latest in a long line of grand returns. Here are some other notable heroic returns.
Steve Rogers loves returning to the role of Captain America. He did it once before in 1989, taking the title back from interim Cap John Walker (who would change his name to U.S. Agent). Rogers served as Captain America consistently from that point until his apparent death at the end of the “Civil War” storyline in 2007; following that, his back-from-the-dead sidekick Bucky took over the role of Cap. Even after Steve Rogers came back to life in 2009, Bucky still operated as Captain America until 2011, when Steve once again picked up the shield.
Superman’s death in 1992 was a major deal and marked one of the first times that a comic book story garnered major national news coverage. In the wake of the Man of Steel’s demise, four different heroes tried to pick up where he left off: Superboy, Cyborg Superman, Steel and Eradicator. The real Superman remained “dead” for a year, when actually he was in stasis recuperating from the battle. Superman returned in 1993, putting some of his replacements out of work while Superboy and Steel became fixtures of the DCU.
When Tony Stark’s drinking problem worsened, his best friend James Rhodes stepped into the armor and operated as Iron Man. Rhodey’s stint as Iron Man lasted from 1983 to 1985, when Tony Stark returned in a new silver and red Iron Man suit. But that’s not the only time Tony has returned to the Iron role; in the mid ’90s, a teenage version of Tony Stark took Iron Man’s place after it was revealed that adult Stark was a sleeper agent for Kang. The “Heroes Return” event relaunched “Iron Man” with a new #1 in 1997 and put adult Tony back in the red and gold — and rendered all the Teen Tony stuff an obscure hiccup in the hero’s history.
Batman’s hung up his cape twice in the past quarter century, once due to injury and once due to death (or, well, comic book death). Following his defeat at the hands of Bane, the super strong villain who broke the Bat’s back, Robin outfitted Jean-Paul Valley in a Batsuit and rushed him into the fray. Valley soon earned his own heavily armored (and heavily ’90s) Batsuit, but Bruce Wayne took the role back two years later when Valley’s methods became too extreme. Following Batman’s death in 2008, Dick Grayson fought for the right to wear the cowl. Grayson continued to serve as Batman even after Bruce Wayne’s return from death in 2010, but the line-wide New 52 reboot reinstalled the original Batman.
You can’t have a list about superhero replacements without bringing up Spider-Man’s “Clone Saga.” The Spider-Man lined changed things up in the mid ’90s by revealing that the Spider-Man fans had followed for the past 20 years was in fact a clone of the original. After discovering that fact, possible-clone-Peter Parker gave his Spider-duds to possible-real-deal-Peter Parker (AKA Ben Reilly). Reilly’s web-slinging lasted for just one year — 1996 — before it was revealed that he was actually the clone. Peter Parker had to put up with another imposter, Otto Octavius, when the infamous Spider-villain swapped brains with the hero for a year and a half. But Peter Parker was given control of his body again in 2014 when Ock realized he didn’t cut it as the “superior” Spider-Man.
DC’s New 52 reboot allowed the publisher to reinstate many classic characters in hero roles they’d since moved past, like the aforementioned Batman as well as Batgirl. Barbara Gordon’s time as Batgirl ended abruptly in 1988 after the Joker shot her in “The Killing Joke.” Gordon’s crime-fighting career didn’t end there, though, as the now paralyzed hero became the information broker Oracle and worked with the Birds of Prey. Other Batgirls filled the role (like Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown) and became fan-favorite characters, but the reboot in 2011 gave the cape and cowl back to Barbara Gordon, cementing that the new DCU only ever had one Batgirl.
After killing Loki, a development that did not stick in any way, Thor was banished from Asgard by Heimdall and stripped of his godly role. Eric Masterson, an architect and friend of Thor’s, stepped in to fill the void left by Thor’s ousting and become the new God of Thunder. The new Thor filled the old Thor’s shoes for two years, even serving as a member of the Avengers and fighting in “Operation: Galactic Storm.” Odin eventually restored Thor’s powers in 1993, but he also created a mace dubbed Thunderstrike specifically for Masterson. The ex-Thor then became the hero Thunderstrike, a role he held for two years until his death. Currently, Jane Foster welds Mjolnir and serves as Thor while the original Odinson remains missing.
Hal Jordan might not be the original Green Lantern, but he’s become the most persistent. The second hero to bear the name Green Lantern, Jordan was introduced as a Silver Age comic hero in 1959 and would wear the ring for the next three decades. Jordan often operated alongside two “backup” Lanterns, Guy Gardner and John Stewart, until Stewart took over full time in 1984. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” rebooted the DC continuity in 1985 and placed Jordan as the primary Lantern once more. In 1994, Jordan went mad with power and became the villain Parallax, thus necessitating a new Green Lantern — Kyle Rayner. Unlike every other replacement hero on this list, Rayner’s tenure as GL lasted a whopping 10 years. But Rayner’s longevity couldn’t protect him from superhero tradition, and Hal Jordan was resurrected, reformed and reinstated in 2004’s “Green Lantern: Rebirth.”
What’s your favorite character return? Let us know in the comments!
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