It's become something of a long standing comic book tradition - famous super hero gets injured, crippled or even killed off, and is then replaced by a new hero wearing their famous name and costume, with the original hero eventually returning to the role after a series of struggles, not to mention fan demand for their return to their rightful place. One could say the whole concept of passing the superhero mantle to a newer,younger hero goes back to the fifties, when original Green Lantern Alan Scott and original Flash Jay Garrick let those new whipper-snappers Hal Jordan and Barry Allen take over their roles as Green Lantern and the Flash, respectively. Of course, there was a separation there of several years between Flashes and Green Lanterns, but still, you get the idea; new characters taking older heroic identities ain't nothin' new in comics.
But the trope really became popular (and overused) over the past twenty-five years or so, and is now something of a tired cliche. But as much as replacing iconic heroes is a cheap gimmick, let's not forget superhero comics are nothing if not soap operas, and ongoing soap operas are full of gimmick storytelling. Doesn't mean those some of those stories weren't entertaining, or some of those gimmick characters didn't grow into something more over time. As with all things...some gimmicks (and characters) are just cheaper than others. And some cheap gimmicks can last for years before they are undone. Case in point, our entry at #11...
11. Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter Replaces Spider-Woman Jessica Drew
The original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, was created out of corporate need more than any other reason; at some point in the seventies, Stan Lee realized if they didn't make a Spider-Woman spin-off character to their flagship hero Spider-Man, sooner or later another comic book company would take the name. So as a way of securing the copyright, Spider-Woman debuted in an issue of Marvel Spotlight in 1977. She was just meant to be a one-off character, created soley for that reason, but quickly Marvel saw potential in her, and within a year she not only had her own comic book series, but her own cartoon show on Saturday morning television.
Despite being created to be a female version of Spider-Man, much like Supergirl and Batgirl were female analogues of their popular DC Comics male counterparts, Spider-Woman ended up being an analogue in name only. Her origins, powers, and costume were totally different from Peter Parker's, and aside from also living in the same Marvel Universe as Peter, had no other real connection to him. This was a much smarter and more interesting way to approach the character, as opposed to just making her a cheap knock-off of a popular male character (and before anyone flames me for that comment, no, I don't think Supergirl and Batgirl are just cheap copies...but they did kind of start out that way). In the late seventies and early eighties, Spider-Woman was found on most products and merchandise featuring the Marvel icons, right alongside the Hulk and Captain America. She was clearly being positioned as Marvel's top female hero.
Then, in 1983, after fifty issues of her own series and an earned place in the Marvel Pantheon, her series was abruptly cancelled and her powers and costumed identity removed. Rumor has it that Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter thought a female version of Spidey (even though she really wasn't at all) emasculated Spider-Man himself. This sounds ridiculous, of course, but the fact that Jessica Drew was all but erased from Marvel gives some validity to this rumor.
Nevertheless, Marvel needed to have a character named Spider-Woman floating around occasionally, otherwise they'd lose the copyright. So in the epic crossover miniseries Secret Wars, the same event that introduced Spider-Man's new black costume, Marvel introduced Julia Carpenter, the new Spider-Woman. Although not a terrible character by any means - and with enough personality traits to not just make her a female counterpart to Peter Parker - the fact that her costume was identical to his, and her powers were far more similar to his as well, just made the the whole thing smell rotten, and well...a tad sexist. This version of Spider-Woman never carried her own ongoing series and was never fully embraced, leading to other characters taking up the name and mantle eventually.
The Better Replacement For Jessica Drew: Jessica Drew (Again)
So there were other replacement Spider-Women after Julia Carpenter, but none of them stuck around for too long either, because the truth was Marvel got the formula right the first time. In 2004, nearly twenty years after she was sent into comic book exile, Brian Bendis revived the original Jessica Drew Spider-Woman, original powers and costume intact. OK, OK, that version was really a Skrull agent in disguise, but we got the real Jess back in due time. And she is now once again a mainstay of the Marvel Universe and a high profile member of the Avengers.
10. Supergirl/Matrix Replaces Supergirl Kara Zor-El (1989-2002)
In 1985, DC ushered in their massive universe changing mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which changed the mythology of most of their iconic heroes, including Superman himself. One of the new editorial mandates for Superman was that he was to be the only survivor of the planet Krypton from here on out. So no super dog, no super monkey, and no super cousin Kara either. Supergirl, a major DC heroine since her introduction in 1959, died heroically in Crisis #7. After the mini-series was over, and the new universe established, she was said to have never even existed in the first place. It probably didn't help that her movie debut flopped badly the year before; if it had made a hundred million dollars it is highly doubtful DC would have killed her off.
But, much like Marvel's Spider-Woman, DC had a copyright to protect. So in 1988, DC introduced an all new Supergirl...in the most confusing way humanly possible. This Supergirl was the Lana Lang from an alternate universe, with an Earth totally destroyed by an alternate General Zod. (A General Zod who was KILLED by Superman, by the way. Take that, all you " but Superman never kills in the comics!" Superman II haters out there.) But it turned out that she wasn't really Lana; she was the golem-like protoplasmic creation of a heroic Lex Luthor named Matrix, who could mimic Superman's powers as well as shape shift. She came to our Superman's universe, where she protoplasmically joined with a dying human girl named Linda Danvers, and eventually became an angel. Got all that? Although writer Peter David did his best with a Supergirl series featuring this version of the character, eventually DC realized she just was too confusing a character to make work long-term, and her series was cancelled after a respectable eighty issues.
Better Replacement Supergirl - Kara Zor-El (again)
In 2004, DC decided the time was right to bring back the original Supergirl, cousin of Superman, in an all new incarnation. In a story arc in the Superman/Batman series, written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by the late Michael Turner, Supergirl was re-introduced to great fanfare and great sales. Although her origin was slightly tweaked, you could once again sum her up in one sentence: "Superman's cousin from Krytpon." Sometimes, simpler is better.
9. John Walker Replaces Steve Rogers as Captain America (1986-88)
Before Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, one of the most well known replacement hero storylines happened to Captain America. Back in 1986, under writer Mark Gruenwald, Steve Rogers resigned as Captain America, due to not wanting to represent the United States government itself anymore, but instead simply represent the country's ideals. Noble enough, right? So Rogers started to refer to himself simply as "the Captain," and wore a new red, white and black version of his costume. Of course, the United States government found their own person to fill Cap's boots and do their bidding for them. The replacement Cap they found was John Walker, a former Marine from Custer's Grove, Georgia, who had once gone by the name of Super Patriot. Receiving his powers not from the United States military but from a shady guy called the Power Broker, Walker nevertheless got the Captain America gig when Steve Rogers left the role.
Series writer Mark Gruenwald made this new Cap a liberal's nightmare version of extreme conservatism: jingoistic, xenophobic, and far more prone to violence than reason, this was a Captain America more than willing to kill his enemies. In many ways, this Cap was way more Punisher than boy scout, a kind of answer to those who said Cap's ways reflected an outdated morality from a bygone era. Of course, Steve Rogers would eventually reclaim his good name from this interloper after a little more than a year, but that wouldn't be the end of John Walker; he would soon start wearing the red white and black costume worn by Steve Rogers when he was going by "the Captain," and changed his name to the U.S. Agent. And in some form or another, U.S. Agent has been a part of the Marvel Universe ever since.
Better Replacement Captain America - Bucky Barnes (2007-2009)
In comic book heaven, there aren't so much pearly gates at the entrance as there are revolving doors. Still, even with that fact in mind, for many years there were certain deaths in comics that were considered to be sacred: Jason Todd, the second Robin (we'll get to him); Barry Allen, the second Flash; the original Supergirl; and Captain America's kid partner from World War II, Bucky Barnes. Bucky died in the 1940s, and was constantly referred to by the modern-era Captain America as the greatest tragedy of his younger days.
But then in 2005, after some sixty years of being dead, writer Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back to the land of the living as The Winter Soldier in a very well received storyline, considered to be one of the greatest Captain America stories of all time (it's the basis for the next movie for a reason). The Winter Soldier was so popular, in fact, that when Steve Rogers "died" (remember what I said about comic book heaven) after the end of Marvel's Civil War crossover, Winter Soldier ended up taking up the mantle of Cap for a period of almost two years, and fans, for the most part, loved it. After all, who better than Bucky to take up the shield of Cap? His costume was more "Captain Puerto Rico" than Captain America, though. Someone should have thought that one through a bit more.
8. Artemis Replaces Princess Diana as Wonder Woman (1994-95)
After the success, financially anyway, of the replacement hero stories with Superman and Batman in the previous two years, it was only a matter of time before DC tried to do the exact same thing with Wonder Woman. In 1994, around the time the Zero Hour crossover mini-series was going on, writer William Messner Loebs and then-hot new artist Mike Deodato did a year long story where Wonder Woman's mother, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, decreed that her daughter Diana had failed in her mission as Wonder Woman, and that a new contest would be held among the Amazons to find a new ambassador to man's world, and therefore a new Wonder Woman. The winner of the contest was Artemis, an Amazon from a savage tribe of Amazons called the Bana-Mighdall.
This Wonder Woman was way more savage and "extreme" - this was the nineties after all, and everything was more extreme, including her ridiculously long ponytai l- and had a far worse attitude than our nice and usually cheerful Diana. Aside from having more attitude, she was also far more sexualized, as Diana's famous star spangled granny panties now became the wonder-thong. Artemis eventually softened her rough edges over her year long stint as Wonder Woman, and then of course Diana returned to the role and Artemis died tragically. This being comics, the whole death thing lasted less than a year. Later, better stories from creators such as Phil Jimenez and Greg Rucka made Artemis a more interesting and well rounded part of the Wonder family, but during her actual stint as Wonder Woman, she was kind of just a walking '90s cliche.
Better Replacement Wonder Woman - Queen Hippolyta (1997-1998) and Donna Troy (2006)
Wonder Woman wasn't only out of commission that one time - in the late '90s, Diana was elevated to Goddess of Truth on Mount Olympus, and her mother became the new Wonder Woman in her place. Not only did she become the new Wonder Woman, but she traveled back in time to the 1940's to become the Wonder Woman of the Golden Age, restoring all those classic stories to continuity once again. Diana's sister Donna Troy also briefly replaced her in 2006, at a time when Diana was taking time off to "find herself." Her time wasn't all that memorable, but there wasn't an outcry when she took over the role; after years as Wonder Girl, to fans, she felt like she had earned it.
7. Eric Masterson Replaces Thor as "New Thor." (1991-93)
How do you successfully replace a superhero who isn't just a superhero, but a friggin' God? The answer: You don't, not successfully. Back in the early '90s, the Avengers brand wasn't quite the powerhouse it was today, as all of Marvel's attention was on X-Men and Spider-Man titles, and all their various spin-offs. In an effort to spice things up in the pages of Thor, the writers had the title character replaced by Eric Masterson, an architect and, conveniently, also a Nordic, tall, blonde dude. At first, Masterson merged with Thor in a similar way that Dr. Donald Blake merged with him in his original '60s incarnation, but eventually he was proven worthy as being the new Thor when the real one was punished for killing Loki. Spoiler Alert: Loki got better.
Masterson actually lasted as Thor for a while, nearly two years, before Marvel caved in to fanboy demands and brought back the original God of Thunder to the book. Masterson was given his own hammer created by Odin called "Thunderstrike," which he would name himself after, while more or less operating as "Thor Jr." for a few years. He even had his own title, back when every major Marvel property tried to go the franchise route. Eventually Thunderstrike would just prove to not be anything but redundant with the real Thor around, and he was killed off and his book canceled.
Better Replacement Thor: None. (Okay, maybe Beta Ray Bill)
Thor isn't just a super hero name or title, it's how the character is. He can't be replaced, at least not in a way that doesn't come off as lame. But I will concede that it was kinda cool when he was "replaced" once, in a sense, by an alien horse like creature named Beta Ray Bill, the first being in Thor's then-two decade publishing history with the worthiness to pick up and use Mjolnir, Thor's hammer. Beta Ray Bill was so bad ass, Odin forged him his own hammer, called Stormbreaker. A weird looking alien guy is always going to be a cooler "second Thor" than some guy who looks just like the original, but is an architect and not an Asgardian God.
6. Ben Reilly Replaces Peter Parker as Spider-Man (1994-96)
Spider-Man is easily one of the most recognizable super hero icons on Earth, right up there with Batman and Superman. So everyone knew replacing him with anyone else was going to be controversial, because Spidey is just so beloved. Also, everyone knew with an icon that huge, it would only be a matter of time before the original version of Spidey returned, so how could Marvel actually convince fans that this replacement was maybe more than just temporary? By replacing him with another version of himself, that's how.
Ben Reilly, otherwise known as "The Scarlet Spider" or worse, "The Spider-Clone," was first briefly introduced in the mid '70s in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, as a clone created by Dr. Miles Warren, a.k.a. The Jackal. He only appeared in two issues, where at the end he was thought to have been killed off. But then, nearly twenty years later, in one of the biggest retcons in comics history, it was revealed that the clone Peter had survived, and spent the last several years, as Jules from Pulp Fiction would say, "walkin' the Earth." He used the assumed name of Ben Reilly (after his Uncle Ben of course) and stayed away from superheroics, keeping his existence a secret.
Eventually though, after five years (in fact, twenty years real time) in hiding, Ben returned to being a super hero as The Scarlet Spider, which begins the two year long ordeal known as "The Clone Saga." Once Scarlet Spider returned, it wasn't long before (dun Dun DUN!) it was revealed that the Peter Parker we'd known and loved since 1975 was in fact the clone, and Ben was the "real" Peter. This gave Marvel what they'd been craving for years at that point, an unmarried Spider-Man. Peter and Mary Jane went off to start a family, and Ben Reilly was now officially Spider-Man, in an all new costume to boot.
To say that fans hated the idea that the version that they had grown up loving and reading about faithfully for years was a fake is an understatement. Despite initial strong sales, by the end of this two year long ordeal, the Clone Saga became synonymous with bad storytelling and stunts, and sales plummeted. By the end of 1996, it was revealed that Ben Reilly was the clone like we had all thought he was in the first place, and Peter Parker returned to the role once more. Ben Reilly died, and unlike most comic book deaths, this one stuck, probably due to the fact that everyone disliked him so, or more to the point, disliked the whole story that he represented.
Better Replacement Spider-Man - Doc Ock (2013-Present)
History is repeating itself as we speak, because right now the current Spider-Man isn't Peter Parker at all, it's Doc Ock, in the pages of The Superior Spider-Man. Well, it's Peter's body, but it's Doctor Octopus' soul occupying it, while Peter's has gone on to the great beyond with Uncle Ben. Instead of being pure evil, however, the weight of Peter's memories and heroism has weighed heavily on the good doctor, who has turned over a new leaf and become a hero himself, although he's still a surly asshole. This is a much more interesting replacement than just a clone, and while it is only a matter of time before the real Peter returns, fans are enjoying the ride this time.