With a woman taking on the mantle of Thor and a new, heavily armored Batman in Gotham, the idea of a “replacement hero” — where a new character is introduced to take up a legacy hero’s name — is back in style. But more often than not, these shake-ups don’t workout. Here’s eight of the weirdest and worst replacements.
Ah, H.E.R.B.I.E. Not a traditional replacement hero, but one born out of necessity. When NBC decided to bring the Fantastic Four to TV as an animated series, the Human Torch was off the cards — many rumors suggested TV executives wanted to can Johnny Storm out of a fear children would try to emulate his powers through self-immolation, but the real truth was that Marvel had optioned the hero to Universal for a potential stand-alone movie. Knowing full well they couldn’t have the Fantastic Four being the Terrific Three, NBC and Marvel decided a replacement was needed. Apparently their best idea for replacing the Human Torch was a woefully annoying robot.
Pitched by Stan Lee himself, the goofy comic relief character had detractors from the get-go —Dave Cockrum was originally commissioned to design the robot, but he loathed the character so much he hastily departed the project, to be replaced by Jack Kirby. H.E.R.B.I.E made his debut in the short lived The New Fantastic Four, but woeful animation quality and general audience disapproval of a Fantastic Four that wasn’t really the Fantastic Four lead to its swift cancellation, but H.E.R.B.I.E. lived on in the comics, where he became a less annoying supporting character rather than a replacement.
Ever wondered why Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman didn’t really have anything to do with Spider-powers outside of some webbing on her outfit? Fearful that a rival company could create a female counterpart to Spider-Man, Stan Lee hastily decided to create a one-off Spider-Woman so Marvel could sit on the name. Jessica Drew was really only connected to Spider-Man by her moniker, but a warm reception from fans quickly saw her evolve beyond a name-squatting character into a successful hero in her own right, especially given that she wasn’t just a female Peter Parker (unlike the initial approach to DC’s Batgirl and Supergir) .
So then Marvel decided to ditch Jessica and get a new Spider-Woman who was basically a female Peter Parker. Yay!
Spider-Woman was cancelled and Jessica all but vanished in Marvel canon (and wouldn’t return as Spider-Woman until the mid-2000s). In the original Secret Wars event, Julia was introduced as the new Spider-Woman, with a costume similar to Spider-Man’s then brand-new black symbiote suit, along with a power set similar to Peter. Fans were already outraged as Jessica’s swift departure, and Julia was never fully accepted as Spider-Woman, eventually giving up the mantle and becoming the Spider-hero Arachne.
What happens when Tony Stark turns bad? Apparently, you go back in time to get his younger self to replace him. At least, that’s what happened in the woeful story arc The Crossing. Tony was revealed as a traitor to the Avengers, having been mind controlled by time-traveling supervillain Kang the Conqueror. After murdering a few minor Avengers allies (his most notable kill probably being female Yellowjacket Rita DeMara), the enthralled Tony stands alongside Kang against the Avengers. Fearful that they can’t beat him, they decided to leap back in time, nab Teen Tony, and get him to be the new Iron Man.
Imagine the worst parts of comic book Tony Stark (who, before gaining his snarky rep after the first Iron Man movie, was usually just a douche), wrapped in the body of a mid-’90s annoying teenager. Being confronted with his former self drove the mind-controlled Adult Tony to sacrifice himself to stop Kang, and Kid Tony became the new Iron Man before promptly being killed off. The dead Tonys were merged together two years later during the Heroes Reborn arc, with the proper, grown-up Tony becoming Iron Man once more.
The ‘90s: the era of the anti-hero. When being dark and gritty and extreeeeme was de rigueur, many heroes found themselves compromising once rock-solid ideals after being pushed to the edge. In some cases, they were replaced by characters who embodied the exact opposite of what they stood for. Case in point, Jean-Paul Valley turn as the Dark Knight.
When Batman’s back was broken by Bane in the iconic Knightfall story arc, murderous vigilante Jean-Paul (known as Azrael) donned the Bat-Cowl. With a hilariously ‘90s power armor Batsuit to match his ‘90s extreme attitude, Jean-Paul’s capability for violence as Batman was everything that Bruce Wayne had stood in opposition of. When Bruce fully healed, he was angry at what Jean-Paul did in his name. He confronted Jean-Paul and beat him into submission. Bruce was Batman once more, resigning the short-lived Jean-Paul Batman to being Azrael again.
Many of the entries on this list faced controversy upon their introduction, but none could surpass the storm of fan outrage that arrived with Ben Reilly, and the infamous Clone Saga that came with him.
The Clone Saga, created in response to the financial successes of DC’s Batman and Superman replacement story lines, introduced Ben as the “real” Spider-Man, with Peter Parker being told he was in fact a clone of Ben. The revelation nearly shattered Peter, who promptly quit as Spider-Man and left NYC for Portland, while Ben assumed the Spider-title. After 32 years of Peter Parker, fans were incensed. However, massive backlash did nothing to quell the money being made from the storyline though, and Marvel’s initial plan for a year-long arc was spun out to last as long as it could.
The attempts to extend the story however, destroyed it. Although Ben as the replacement Spider-Man was chief among the list of criticisms (as was the resurrection of Norman Osborn during the arc), the ridiculous complexity and endless cloning shenanigans turned the story into a ful- on fiasco for Marvel. A little short of a year after he became Spider-Man, Ben was revealed as the real clone, and perished — in fact, remarkably for comics, he’s stayed dead ever since.
This was the event that inspired four different entries on this list, making it perhaps the ultimate replacement hero story in comics history.
The now iconic Death and Return of Superman story line in 1993 (which actually came about because DC were forced to delay the marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane so the Warner Bros.-produced Lois & Clark TV series could also culminate in the pair’s marriage at the same time, a welcome piece of marketing synergy) saw Superman perish in battle with then-new villain Doomsday. The story hit national media and saw an explosion in sales for the already well-selling Superman comics. After a three-month hiatus for Superman comics, DC relaunched The Adventures of Superman with Reign of the Supermen!, introducing not one, but four different replacements for Superman.
There was Man of Steel, an Ironworker who donned a special suit of power armor to continue Superman’s legacy. The Man of Tomorrow was meant to be the “real” Superman returned, but was a cyborg. The Last Son of Krypton killed his foes with deadly energy attacks. The Metropolis Kid was an “edgy” teenage clone — what is it with the ‘90s and edgy teens? — who hated the idea of being Superboy instead of Superman (spoilers: he later became Superboy). Readers were invited to guess which of the four would become the new Superman.
The answer, however, was none of them. About a year after his death, Superman was reborn. Man of Steel renamed himself to simply “Steel” and became an important supporting hero in the comics, and the Cyborg Superman, revealed to be the deranged Hank Henshaw, went on to become a major foe for Superman.
Before the glut of replacement heroes in the ‘90s comics, the most notable replacement hero was John Walker’s short stint as Captain America, purportedly as a counter to criticism that Captain America’s moral code and patriotism were outdated.
Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America following a refusal to be part of the U.S. government’s political agenda, as opposed to a symbol for American ideals, and the Government decided a new Captain America would take his place. They chose former marine John Walker (who had previously been the masked hero Super-Patriot, out of a hatred of what Captain America stood for), and Walker very quickly became the opposite of Steve Rogers.
Walker’s Captain America was a tool of the U.S. Government (in more ways than one), and his conservative stance flew in the face of Steve Rogers’ optimistic liberalism. Walker was also extremely violent, accidentally murdering several of his opponents in fits of rage. The gritty new Captain America, broken by the death of his parents after his identity was revealed, went on a rampage and eventually confronted Steve, but the two teamed up to defeat the Red Skull instead of fighting. A year after becoming Captain America, Walker resigned, and convinced Steve to return while he became the US Agent.
Pity poor Artemis. Following the huge financial successes of Death and Return of Superman and Batman: Knightfall, DC decided that Wonder Woman should also get a replacement hero, in an attempt to replicate the monetary success of the male heroes’ stories.
The reasoning for Artemis becoming the new Wonder Woman given in the comics wasn’t as half-hearted as DC’s, but still cruel. Queen Hippolyta began seeing visions of Wonder Woman’s death, and fearful for Diana, decided to instead declare a new Wonder Woman to take her place in destiny. Alleging that Diana was no longer fit for duty, Hippolyta called for a trial of combat to determine a new Wonder Woman, even going so far as to mystically weaken Diana so she would lose. Fellow Amazonian Artemis bested her, and was crowned with Diana’s own tiara as Wonder Woman.
Like her fellow ‘90s replacement heroes, Artemis was an “extreme” take on Wonder Woman. She had a harsh personality and a propensity for violence, Artemis eventually became more like Diana over her brief tenure as Wonder Woman, but it wasn’t to last. Artemis was Wonder Woman for a year before she died fighting the White Magician, fulfilling Hippolyta’s vision. Diana was back as Wonder Woman, and Artemis would later be resurrected and become a supporting character on Themyscira having outlived her original use to both DC and Hippolyta.