In the crazy world of comic books, things are always changing. Characters can die and be resurrected, or lose and regain their powers, in just a few issues. As a result, comic book fans never truly trust anything as being “final.” Often, these radical changes are just ways to shake up the status quo and get people talking about a title again and then the it’s back to status quo after a few issues (in Superman’s case) or a few years (like Wolverine).
This trend of replacements isn’t going to die any time soon: Marvel currently has a “new” Iron Man and Thor. Meanwhile, DC has been switching it up for decades, with countless heroes taking up the mantles of Batman and the Green Lantern. However, much to the surprise of everyone involved, sometimes switching out the character under the mask really works.
Maybe the original character wasn’t that popular, or maybe the fresh take on the hero livens up the title after years of stagnation. In some cases the replacement characters become so popular that they get to stick around even after their predecessor returns! We’re going to point out some of the best replacements in comic book history. Here are 17 Comic Book Replacements That Actually Worked.
17. Barbara Gordon as Batgirl
Believe it or not, Barbara Gordon is not the original Batgirl. The character first appeared in 1961, with the character Betty Kane under the mask. Kane was the niece of Kathy Kane (Batwoman) who discovered her aunt’s secret identity and joined the Bat-Family on their daring adventures. Betty’s costume was completely different than the one most associated with the character; she wore a Huntress-like mask, a green cape, and fought crime in a red dress. She and her aunt were scrapped along with the rest of the Bat-Family in the mid-’60s, when the new Batman writers decided that things were getting ridiculous.
In 1967 the showrunners of the ever-popular Batman TV show wanted to shake things up for the third season by adding a new ally for the Dynamic Duo. Their answer was to reimagine the character of Batgirl as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City’s police commissioner. From there, history was made; Batgirl rejuvenated the Adam West-led show until its cancellation and became a major player in the comic books.
Barbara Gordon has gotten multiple series of her own, and been front and center in several of Batman’s greatest stories. Meanwhile, Betty Kane returned (now going by Bette Kane) and became the superheroine known as Flamebird. Yeah, Gordon definitely got the better end of that deal.
16. Jeremiah Arkham as Black Mask
Whenever a new Batman film is in the works, fans always clamor for Black Mask’s involvement. Roman Sionis was born to one of the wealthiest families in Gotham City. Unlike Bruce Wayne, however, Roman’s parents were terrible. They only cared about their social status, even forcing their son to break off his engagement to the “lower class” woman he loved. In retaliation, Sionis murdered his family and took over their business. However, his cut-throat tactics were too much for his fiancee; after he rushed a product to market that disfigured several customers, she left him. Enraged, Roman went to his parents’ crypt, destroyed his father’s coffin, and carved a black skull mask out of it. Now, he lives as Black Mask, one of the most feared crime bosses in Gotham City.
In the late 2000s, Sionis’ death left a void in the crime world that many tried to fill. There was never a decent replacement until 2009’s Battle for the Cowl storyline, when Jeremiah Arkham (the current director of Arkham Asylum) took up the identity. He destroys his own asylum with the intention of rebuilding, but not before allowing its inmates to riot and destroy any of the now-deceased Batman’s allies. Later, he returns to the rundown prison and has a mental breakdown, splitting his mind into separate “Jeremiah” and “Black Mask” personas. Sadly, Arkham went back to being a regular guy when the New 52 reboot occurred, but elements of Jeremiah’s Black Mask were incorporated into the new Sionis adaptation.
15. Carol Davers as Captain Marvel
Carol Danvers as the new Captain Marvel was probably the best decision Marvel has made in years. The original Captain Marvel was always seen as a D-list character; die-hard fans of the comics (particularly the cosmic side of things) knew who he was, but the average Joe would have had no idea who you were talking about. Mar-Vell was a Kree race who came to Earth to observe the human race. However, he eventually developed a soft spot for humanity and swore to protect it under the identity of Captain Marvel. In 1982, the character contracted cancer from a deadly nerve gas and passed away; Marvel tried to replace Mar-Vell through the years but were unsuccessful until 2012.
As Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers had been a Marvel mainstay since her debut in the 1960s. Before his death in ’82, Danver’s story was tied pretty closely to Mar-Vell; she hung around with Walter Lawson (Mar-Vell’s human identity) before being struck with a blast of energy from a piece of Kree technology. Captain Marvel was able to save her, but Carol developed similar powers to the Captain.
However, despite her original ties with Mar-Vell, Carol Danvers went off to become her own character, eventually culminating in taking on the role of her old friend in July of 2012. Now, Captain Marvel is one of the more popular heroes in the Marvel Universe. Danvers has been the leader of the Avengers for a while now and is set to get her own solo film in 2019.
14. Kaldur’ahm as Aqualad
Despite being one of the more unique characters in the DC Universe, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke for years now. We blame it on the popular Super Friends television show back in the day, where his character would use his power in ridiculous ways, like calling upon flying fish and surfing on dolphins. Even the character’s sidekick was ridiculed for his ridiculous name… Who could possibly take Aqualad seriously?
The writers of Young Justice, that’s who. In the insanely popular TV show, Garth (the original Aqualad) was replaced by Kaldur’ahm, a completely original character. The new Aqualad quickly made his mark on fans when he was unanimously selected by his peers to lead their team (rather than Robin, who normally acts as the leader of teenage superhero teams). It is later discovered that Kaldur’ahm is the true son of Aquaman baddie Black Manta and has been kept in hiding all these years.
Although he shares a similar backstory with his television counterpart, Kaldur’ahm got introduced to the world of comics through the story Brightest Day. In the comics he is known under the alias of Jackson Hyde, and has been living in secret with human parents for the majority of his life. Although he didn’t show up at all in the New 52, he is set to join the Teen Titans in an upcoming story set in the DC Rebirth universe.
13. The Falcon as Captain America
Let’s get real here, nobody can ever really replace Captain America. Steve Rogers has been Cap since the 1940s. He’s a founding member of the Avengers and has the best-reviewed MCU series. But Marvel has definitely tried before.
The first big switch came when Cap, disenchanted with the US after Watergate, gave up the shield and became the superhero Nomad. The second time occurred when Cap was killed at the end of Civil War. Longtime sidekick Bucky Barnes reluctantly took up the mantle but relinquished it after the Fear Itself storyline. Most recently, Steve Rogers was reverted back to his “natural” age. Unable to perform his duties as Captain America, he handed the shield to Sam Wilson.
Our reasoning behind picking Sam over Bucky: Bucky has always worked better as the Winter Soldier. Meanwhile, Sam Wilson was a D-list character before he was brought back in the legendary Brubaker run of Captain America in the 2000s. Even then, few knew or cared about who he was. That all changed with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014.
Now Falcon is a fan-favorite of the Marvel Universe and sales of his Captain America title are doing quite well. Also, it never quite felt right for Bucky in his current state to be Cap. The Winter Solider committed some major atrocities through the years and would never be as “pure” as Steve was. Falcon, on the other hand, embodies the ideals and spirit behind the symbol Captain America.
12. Kyle Rayner/John Stewart as Green Lantern
Green Lantern has a loophole so its leads can be changed on a whim. The Green Lantern Corps are an intergalactic police force that uses magical rings of green light to defeat any evil’s might. There’s a whole planet of Green Lanterns; whenever DC wants to change their lead, that the ring simply “chooses another” to report for duty as a protector of Earth. The best known Green Lantern is Hal Jordan; the main character of the series in the Silver Age as well as today.
The first replacement of Jordan occurred in the 1970s. The Guardians wanted there to be a backup Lantern for Earth in case Jordan ever fell in battle. Despite Hal’s protests they chose John Stewart. He acted as a backup to Jordan for several years, filling in as the Green Lantern whenever Hal was off on other planets or out of commission. Most famously, Stewart acted as the primary Lantern in the Justice League cartoons of the DC Animated Universe.
In the ’90s, Hal Jordan went insane. Possessed by the evil entity Parallax, Jordan turned evil, killed a bunch of his fellow Green Lanterns, and destroyed the Power Battery on Oa (rendering the Green Rings useless). However, a lone Lantern named Ganthet passed the last working Power Ring to Kyle Rayner, a struggling graphic designer from LA. Rayner was reluctant to become a superhero but quickly came around; he acted as the main Green Lantern until Jordan’s return to the light in 2004.
11. X-23 as Wolverine
Wolverine has held a special place in the hearts of readers since his introduction in Giant Size X-Men. This was not Logan’s first appearance, as he had taken on the Incredible Hulk just a year prior to his introduction as a superhero. Since then, he has become the biggest player in the X-Men franchise; he is the only character other than Xavier to appear in all nine movies. Wolverine is also one of the few X-Men to become a member of the Avengers.
Much like Cap, Wolverine has been around for so long that it’s hard to believe that anyone could be a viable replacement. Alas, we’ve gotten one in recent years in the form of X-23. When Logan died in 2014, we were worried that Marvel was going to replace him with some new character that would fall by the wayside after a year or two and never be heard from again. Thankfully, they chose X-23 to take on the role.
This character started off with a minor, recurring role in the X-Men: Evolution comic series before being adapted into the comics. Over the years she has steadily increased in popularity; gaining a spot on the X-Force and X-Men before being springboarded into the spotlight as the “new” Wolverine. Currently you can find X-23 as one of the main characters of the hit film Logan, where she completely steals the spotlight in an already impeccably-acted film.
10. Flash Thompson as Agent Venom
If you haven’t followed the Spider-Man comics in awhile, you’re going to be completely baffled by what’s happened to Venom. Everybody knows the story of the symbiote; Spidey got the suit during Secret Wars and brought it back to our world. However, he soon discovered that the costume was really an alien lifeform that was slowly making Peter more and more evil. Spider-Man tears it off and the symbiote finds a new host in Eddie Brock, Peter Parker’s rival at The Daily Bugle. The two go on to torment Spider-Man under the mantle of Venom, a villain who has the same powers as the Wall-Crawler but with an immunity to the hero’s spidey sense.
However, most people don’t realize that Eddie Brock hasn’t been Venom since 2008, when he was seemingly dying from cancer and the symbiote left in search of a new host. The symbiote once bonded with Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) for a short period of time, but quickly moved on when Venom 2.0 was defeated by Spider-Man. Then, in 2010, the alien being was detained by the U.S. Government and was given to Peter Parker’s longtime frenemy Flash Thompson. “Agent Venom” (as he was called) went on several black ops missions for the Government. It was freaking amazing. If you ever wanted to read a mix of The Punisher, Spider-Man, and Suicide Squad, this series would have been right up your alley.
9. Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin
The Green Goblin debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #14 and has tormented Peter Parker for decades since. For the first few years the villain’s identity was kept in a shroud of darkness before he was revealed as Norman Osborn in the series’ fortieth issue. After an amnesia-induced absence, Osborn returned in the ’80s and famously killed Gwen Stacy before ending up on the wrong side of his own glider. Unlike most comic book deaths, the original Green Goblin’s looked to be permanent. Norman stayed dead for over ten years before the publisher copped out and brought the character back in the ’90s.
In Norman’s absence, several characters tried to step up and fill the void. The most famous of these was the Hobgoblin, who presented a similar conundrum: a large part of the character was his secret identity and Spidey’s quest to discover it. In the end, however, it was Norman’s own son who finally made the grade and inherited the role of Peter Parker’s greatest enemy.
Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin gave us one of the best hero-villain relationships in comic book history; Peter and Harry had been friends for decades. Now Osborn has the revelation that not only is his best friend Spider-Man, but he’s also the one responsible for his father’s death. Likewise, Peter was torn on how to go about stopping the new Green Goblin, as he realized that sending Harry to jail would completely ruin his life forever.
8. Wally West as the Flash
Barry Allen is the Scarlet Speedster known to most, but there are some who argue that Wally West is the best of the Flash bunch. Allen starred as the lightning-fast character from his inception in 1956 to his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. During that time he was joined by his sidekick and future nephew, Kid Flash (Wally West). After Barry was seemingly killed by the Anti-Monitor’s weapon in the iconic storyline, his loyal sidekick took up the mantle of the Fastest Man Alive.
The reason that Wally West is so beloved as the Flash is mostly because he held the title for almost as long as his predecessor; Wally was the Scarlet Speedster for twenty-two years without any contention. When the showrunners of the DC Animated Universe needed a Flash for their Justice League cartoon, they turned to the former sidekick, to the celebration of most fans. In many cases Wally ranks ahead of his former mentor whenever people do a “Greatest Superheroes” list.
Most recently the character has appeared on the CW’s The Flash in a secondary role to Barry Allen.
7. Miles Morales as Spider-Man
You know a character is popular when a comic publisher goes out of the way to bring the character into the main continuity. Peter Parker has and always will be the Amazing Spider-Man. Try as they may to replace him with dozens of other similar characters, the original Spidey always reclaims his rightful place as the Wall-Crawling Avenger of New York City. In the Ultimate Universe, however, writers aren’t tied down by the continuity that they are in the 616 Universe, meaning they can take bigger risks with the publisher’s flagship characters. One of their biggest gambles came when they decided to kill off Peter Parker and replace him with a brand new character, Miles Morales.
Thankfully, Miles was just as great as Ultimate Peter! Morales was the nephew of the Ultimate version of Spidey baddie The Prowler. The villain stole the Oscorp’s dangerous “Oz” formula from their laboratories, accidentally taking one of the genetically mutated spiders with him. While Miles is visiting his Uncle, the spider bites him, giving him the same powers Peter Parker had all those years ago. After Peter’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin, Miles creates a new Spider-Man costume and vows to continue the legacy of Peter Parker.
6. All of the Robins
Batman seems to have a revolving door of sidekicks. Though the character is famous for being a loner, he’s always had the Boy Wonder at his side. Robin helps prevent Bruce Wayne from getting lost in Batman’s darkness while also reminding him about what he’s fighting for. In short, Robin is the yin to Batman’s yang. Through the years there have been several Robins, and they all somehow seem to work in their own way.
The original Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, started off at Batman’s side back in the 1940s. The Dynamic Duo went on countless adventures together before the character decided to go off on his own as Nightwing. Batman was alone for a short period of time before finding Jason Todd, the second Robin. Sadly, Todd was killed by the Joker less than ten years into his tenure; he’d later return as the Red Hood, a violent vigilante who kills criminals in cold blood. After Todd’s death, Batman swore to never take another sidekick, but Tim Drake used his own detective skills to discover Batman’s true identity and begged to take over the role of the Boy Wonder. Batman eventually came around and Tim served as Robin for years.
Each of these characters has affected the Dark Knight in a different way; Dick taught Bruce Wayne how to be a father, Jason reminded him the life he’d chosen had its repercussions, and Tim rekindled Batman’s faith in the world after his period of deep despair.
5. The New Guardians of the Galaxy
The original Guardians of the Galaxy team from 1969 consisted of a bunch of characters that even most die-hard Marvel fans couldn’t name. We may be familiar with Yondu today thanks to his bit role in the film, but the names of Major Astro, Charlie-27, and Martinex would be met with a shrug from anyone who wasn’t reading the title. The team’s origins are different than you’d think: aliens with different abilities band together to defend the Kree Empire from the invading army of Phalanx. After the conquest has been halted, the team decides to become the Guardians of the Galaxy, defending the known universe from any evils that may reside within. This series was never super successful, and it eventually withered out somewhere in the mid-’90s.
In 2008, the team was rebooted as we know them today; Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Groot, and Drax – along with Adam Warlock and Quasar. Even though it was still somewhat of a middle-of-the-road comic as far as sales went, the title found new life with witty characters, zany cosmic adventures, and out-of-this-world writing.
Then, in 2014, the movie hit theaters; overnight these D-list characters became household names! Now you have children begging their parents for toys of Baby Groot and the name Star-Lord doesn’t get you looked at like you’re speaking gibberish. Who would’ve thought?
4. Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, and Nightcrawler as the X-Men
It seems crazy to think that these guys weren’t around from the beginning. Heck, Wolverine has become far and away the most popular character of the franchise, with several of his own spin-offs and movies. Even Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm have become fan favorites since their first appearance in ’75. When the X-Men series first started, however, it consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Angel, and Beast. There really wasn’t anything intrinsically bad about this version of the team… But the comic went on a five-year hiatus in 1970 after slumping sales and Marvel figured they needed to shake things up.
In the now legendary Giant-Size X-Men #1, the original team of mutants is captured on a distant island. Cyclops is able to make it back to Professor Xavier, who uses his telepathic powers to bring together the most powerful mutants from across the world to form the new X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Banshee, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Sunfire, and Thunderbird make up the band of heroes. Giant-Size was a hit, and Marvel went forward using these characters (plus Cyclops) in place of the original team.
3. Doc Ock as Spider-Man
If you went back in time and told us that a story in which Doc Ock’s mind takes over Peter Parker’s body would not only be successful, but also universally praised by fans and would run for two years, we’d laugh in your face. Like we said before, Peter is Spider-Man, no questions asked. Miles Morales, Ben Reilly, Kaine, and Spider-Gwen are great and all, but the main series always reverts back to Parker in the end. Marvel would never permanently replace their Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man!
When fans read the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700, they were livid. The story was meant to end the incredible fifty-year run of the title by killing off Peter Parker “once and for all” (right…) Writers did so by having Doctor Octopus, whose body was wasting away into nothing, switch minds with Spidey right before he died. This left Parker’s consciousness to wither away with Ock’s physical body while the villain got to live on. However, Octavius is granted a look into Spider-Man’s memories and realizes that after what he must continue the legacy of the Web Slinger as a hero.
The Superior Spider-Man launched the next month and fans were treated to Spider-Ock for the very first time. And it was great! The stories took the character in new directions and involved some hilarious interactions with Spidey’s rogues and allies. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a try.
2. Dick Grayson as Batman
In 2008, DC made the bold move to kill off Bruce Wayne in the pages of Final Crisis. Batman had been put out of commission before, but this was the first time in the character’s almost 70-year history that he was “dead” for an extended period of time. Even though we all knew that he would be back eventually, fans initially groaned at the prospect of putting up with another Jean-Paul Valley for a year or two. The death of the Dark Knight led directly into the Battle for the Cowl story arc, where all of Batman’s allies vied for the mantle of the Bat with varying degrees of success.
In the end, it was the original Robin who came out on top. Dick Grayson became the new Batman while Bruce Wayne’s son Damian continued on as Robin; this was easily the best outcome fans could have hoped for. The two characters had chemistry reminiscent of the best Batman and Robin stories. It was great seeing Grayson have fun as the Dark Knight; even Two-Face once thought there was something wrong with this new Batman because he was laughing as he beat up his henchmen.
Sadly, Dick went back to being Nightwing when Bruce returned from “the dead” and Damian was eventually killed off, meaning that we’ll never get to see this awesome duo again anytime in the near future.
1. Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel
This character is proof that you can still create original characters in the comic book industry with great success. When Carol Danvers left her tenure as Ms. Marvel to become Captain Marvel, her flagship titled was assumed to be canceled. But thankfully, Marvel went in a completely different direction in order to keep one of their main titles going.
Kamala Khan was introduced in the pages of the rebooted Captain Marvel series in 2013. She appears first as a civilian saved by Carol Danvers during one of her many battles with a villain; this was intentionally done by the writers to show a connection between Kahn and the Captain. Later, during the Inhumanity story, Terrigen Mists are released around the world awakening the Inhuman genes inside of everyday humans. Kamala Khan is exposed to the mist and gains the ability to stretch her body into any shape imaginable (much like Mr. Fantastic). This character is noted for being the first Muslim-American character to ever have her own comic book series, and the character is often praised as being similar to the classic “Peter Parker” type (a heroic teenager with attitude).
The new Ms. Marvel was anything but a disappointment; her title was the #1 best-selling graphic novel of 2016 and she is set to join the New Avengers in the coming months.
So, what do you think of our list? Did we miss any other amazing comic book replacements? Let us know in the comments!