The origin stories of our favorite comic characters are something we tell and retell like a family history. Everyone knows how Spider-Man and Batman and Superman came to be. So much so that many of us have reached the point of fatigue with cinematic reiterations of those origins. When Spider-Man: Homecoming was announced, a lot of people were a bit disappointed that Peter Parker’s successor, Miles Morales, wasn’t getting a crack at wearing the mask. Simply put, we eventually get tired of hearing about the same person and want someone new to take over the mantle of our favorite superheroes. So naturally, comics, especially DC, have delved into that subject quite heavily.
For this topic, we’re only going to look at characters who became as synonymous with the heroic (or villainous) identity as their predecessor. Otherwise we’d have to count characters who only held an identity for as long as it takes to have a cup of coffee, like the four “Supermans” who took up the mantle after Clark Kent was “killed” by Doomsday. We’re weeding out the publicity stunts and going with those who’ve actually built up a respectable body of work under the super name in their own right.
These are 15 DC Comics Characters Who Inherited Their Identities.
Who else could we really have opened this list with? Of all the DC names that have been passed down, the name of Robin has seen more people behind the mask than almost any other hero. And sure, there were a few that have existed for just one story arc, like Carrie Kelley as a female Robin in The Dark Knight Returns. But there have been even more people to go by the name of Robin who have stuck with the role for quite some time, and given comic readers a tough task to choose who they liked best as Batman’s sidekick.
It’s probably safe to say Jason Todd wasn’t many fan’s favorite Robin since they did vote for him to be killed off and everything, but that poll was also extremely close. Though the role does have a high mortality rate in general, as Bruce’s own son, Damian, could attest to. Fortunately, the role also has a high rate for promotion, as Dick Grayson and Tim Drake proved when they grew out of the role and adopted their own unique superhero personas.
14. DOCTOR FATE
Considering Doctor Fate is one of the DC’s most powerful characters, it’s pretty surprising how often he’s been killed. It shocked the world when people thought someone as powerful as Superman was going to get killed off, but Fate is arguably stronger, and his mantle has fallen to someone new pretty much at least once a decade since his debut in the 1940s. Basically, the people wearing the helmet have a bad habit of dying.
The Egyptian-themed hero was first known as Kent Nelson when not wearing his helmet, and was one of the founders of the world’s first superhero group, the Justice Society of America. That alone would make Kent worth remembering, but he’s given readers even more reason to not forget him. As the helmet changed owners (even belonging to two people simultaneously, who joined together to become Doctor Fate), it eventually found its way to a new Kent Nelson, the grandnephew of the original. And as inevitable reboots happened and the helmet continued to pass to unrelated characters, readers might have thought Kent’s role had settled in the past for good. That is until the original Nelson showed up in DC’s Rebirth event.
13. BLACK CANARY
A lot of super identities wind up being inherited when the writers are looking to inject some new life into a character. But in cases like that of Black Canary, it was more a matter of necessity. While DC was attempting to sort out any continuity snags in their universe, they had to deal with the fact that their current iteration of the Black Canary had been going since the 1940s. So by the time the 1980s rolled around, it started looking odd for a woman who had to be in her 60s to still have the appearance of a young woman. The solution? DC revealed there was actually a second Black Canary, the daughter of the original.
DC covered their tracks for this retcon by having the mother and daughter share the same first name, Dinah, to lend credibility that there could have been two separate characters over the years. Though for fans of Arrow, keeping the family ties straight becomes a little more complicated since the two versions of Canary remain family, but are sisters in this universe.
12. SILK SPECTRE & NITE OWL
The heroes of Watchmen are a two for one deal for this topic since their backgrounds are so similar. Alan Moore wanted to play on a lot of familiar tropes from the superhero genre for his groundbreaking graphic novel, including the classic passing of the mantle. Nite Owl received the title in a slightly more unusual way, by simply being a big fan of the original Nite Owl and eventually proving his worth and devotion to the identity.
The new Silk Spectre, meanwhile, got her name in the traditional method, inheriting it directly from her mother. Of course such a plain background would never suffice for Alan Moore, so he threw a wrench into Spectre’s parentage when she learns her father is actually the sadistic Comedian, a man who once tried to rape her mom. But one bright spot is that the new Silk Spectre inherited her name from her mom’s side of the family, rather than some ironic twist of her becoming the new Comedian only to have that nasty little bombshell drop on her.
There are of course many ways to inherit the mantle of a super-powered character in the world of comics, such as being a sidekick to the predecessor, alternate realities, and of course, just plain stealing the name. But a good way to add some legitimacy to the newcomer is to have them gain the role the same way you inherit things in real life—through family. And that’s exactly what happened with the offspring of the DC hero Wildcat.
The classic Wildcat is Ted Grant, and while he was temporarily taken out of commission, his god-daughter, Yolanda Montez, took up the name. Maybe it was just bad luck not to be a blood relation, becauseYolanda eventually died and it wasn’t until Grant’s son Tom was revealed to have some feline-related powers as well that we got a new Wildcat with some staying power. An oddly unique aspect to this inheritance was that Ted elected to stay active in the role at the same time as his son Tom, making for two Wildcats sharing just the name, but the spotlight as well.
You don’t see villainous characters passing on their legacy as often as the heroes do. It’s no coincidence that this list is comprised mostly of good guys. Villains simply don’t do it as often. Maybe it’s just a sign of how evil they are that they wouldn’t have loyalty to a family member or friend. But there are a few of them out there, especially in the world of Batman, for some unexplainable reason. One of them being the steroid using villain who isn’t Bane, Blockbuster.
The original Blockbuster, Mark Desmond, was just a guy who wanted to be buff and saw his dreams go awry. His brother Roland was more sympathetic in his ‘roid use, since he wasn’t just trying to look good in the mirror, but rather trying to treat a disease he had. And it was nice of Roland to adopt the his brother’s former title of Blockbuster, but he carried on the legacy of the name a bit too closely when, like Mark, he met an early demise.
Though Clayface isn’t a name as widely familiar as the names of the other characters on this list, he’s a longtime Batman villain dating back to the detective’s early years in comic books. And something that may surprise people who aren’t exactly members of the Clayface fan club is that the identity of this villain has been used by at least nine different people over the years. Batman characters sure do have a thing for carrying on a legacy.
The original Clayface, Basil Karlo, didn’t even have the shape-changing powers we all associate with the character today. He was just a jaded actor in a movie monster outfit. It wasn’t until the second Clayface, Matt Hagen, that the literal body-sculpting powers came into play. And apparently the Clayface powers are even hereditary, because when another male Clayface named Preston Payne fell in love with a female Clayface named Sondra Fuller, they had a son who grew up to have their signature abilities.
8. BLUE BEETLE
Even they weren’t all necessarily created by DC Comics, it’s a well-known fact that we have had three drastically different Blue Beetles over the years. The first started at Fox Comics in 1939, going by the name Dan Garrett and establishing the character’s scarab-related origin that has become as synonymous as Peter Parker and radioactive spiders. DC inherited the character themselves with the second iteration, Ted Kord, but let’s face it, DC wanted the superhero name more than the guy behind the name. So it wasn’t long before Kord was killed off to set the stage for DC to introduce their own Blue Beetle.
The current, and pretty much definitive version, of the Blue Beetle is Jaime Reyes. And admittedly, DC has given Blue Beetle a pretty nice overhaul with an updated outfit and by really tapping into the mystical powers of the beetle as opposed to the more mundane scientific aspect built around Ted Kord. Though in DC’s Rebirth event, Kord is now back in the picture, so we might see a case of reverse inheritance if Kord decides he’d like another crack at the mantle.
7. THE FLASH
One of the most popular and powerful characters of the DC lineup needs little introduction. Thanks to the current The Flash TV series as well as the upcoming Justice League movie, most people probably are thinking of Barry Allen when they talk about the Flash nowadays. And even without the extra media attention, he’s still one of the longest running (no pun intended) characters to bear the mantle in the comics. Clearly, Barry has his fans.
But before the red jumpsuit and the iconic winged mask, the original Flash was Jay Garrick. And admittedly, his less flashy (again, not a deliberate pun) costume may play a part in why on-screen adaptions seem to skip over to his successor. Jay was a popular character for many years though, and it’s no mark against him that Barry Allen and his family have become the standard bearers for the Flash mantle. It’s simple fact that Allen and his nephew Wally West have been responsible for some of the most groundbreaking moments in all the DC universe. That’s kind of a big deal.
6. HARLEY QUINN
Harley is kind of an anomaly in this topic because, unlike everyone else on this list, we don’t get a chance to meet Harleen Quinzel’s predecessor. We basically just retroactively learned, around two decades after her introduction, that she’s not the first Harley Quinn. Harley reflects on this detail in a bit of a throwaway sequence in Death of the Family. It doesn’t tell us much about her (aside from her devotion to what she knows is a replaceable role) but rather informs us that the Joker has a fixation on having a woman like Harley at his side. Perhaps it reaffirms his belief that anyone can be brought down to his level.
Regardless, you could already almost believe the Harley Quinn we have now is a different person than the Harley we first saw in Batman: The Animated Series. Going from the classic jester’s outfit to an extremely physically liberated costume (to match her feelings of liberation from the Joker), she barely resembles her debut self of years ago. But perhaps by making such a drastic change, she’s broken the chain of other women stepping in to be the Joker’s sidekick. After all, you see a lot more women in real life emulating Harley’s new attire than what she wore in her days of submission to the Joker.
5. GREEN ARROW
With how many other DC characters have seemingly swapped identities every time you turn around, the stability of Green Arrow is kind of refreshing. Though there are doubtless plenty of excellent archers out there who could have been slotted into this mantle, it has remained pretty much synonymous with Oliver Queen throughout the years. But since he’s mentioned here, you know he had at least one substitute, which brings us to Connor Hawke.
Connor certainly fit all the criteria that would make him an heir for Green Arrow: being Oliver’s son and becoming his father’s sidekick for a time. So when Queen died trying to deactivate a bomb, it seemed natural his son Connor would want to carry on the legacy. But maybe Connor had more fondness for the memory of his father than the reality of him, because, as happens in comics, Oliver Queen didn’t stay dead and resumed his ways as the Green Arrow. Connor, however, didn’t stay happy to see his dad back, eventually remembering how his father could be a jerk, and finally getting sick of both Oliver Queen and the Green Arrow name.
If it had just been the likes of Azrael or Dick Grayson taking the mantle of Batman, we’d have to boot the Dark Knight from this topic since they were just short-lived inheritances. Luckily, Batman has had many people put on his cowl over the years, and has even managed to find a permanent replacement that he approves of. Though comic books so often loathe to depict it, people get old, so in Batman Beyond an elderly Bruce Wayne entrusted young student Terry McGinnis to put on the bat ears.
You might be hesitant to trust a character from an animated TV series as a legitimate follow up, but if there’s one thing Harley Quinn demonstrated in Batman: The Animated Series, it’s that major contributions to a franchise can come from all sources. The TV series only lasted three seasons, but in that time Terry proved a worthy successor to the mantle, and one of the must trustworthy to receive the opportunity. And yeah, we’re definitely giving Azrael the side eye on that note.
3. GREEN LANTERN
Pretty much every long-running comic character has been replaced at some point, but some people behind the costume are just synonymous with the super identity. Clark Kent is who we think of when we hear Superman. Someone like the Green Lantern, however, represents the other side of the spectrum. It’s a superhero identity that has had so many people wear the mask and ring, that different fans often picture totally different people when they hear the name Green Lantern.
Of course the original, Alan Scott, is quick to come to people’s minds. The emotionally volatile Guy Gardner is one that a lot of Green Lantern fans may prefer to look past. And Hal Jordan, with his status as a founding member of the Justice League, has certainly cemented his place in history, though getting possessed by Parallax and going on a killing rampage for years may have hurt his legacy somewhat.
The Green Lantern unfortunately had a bad movie outing years ago, and doesn’t look likely to appear in the Justice League movie, so movie goers might not think much of him at the moment. But comic fans know the strong legacy of this mantle and the power afforded to whoever wears his ring.
V for Vendetta involves one of the least superpowered people in this entire list, but also one of the strongest cases of an identity being inherited. We never really find out who V is beneath his mask, because, as the story repeatedly tries to reinforce, it’s not who wears the mask that matters, but rather what they represent. And to quote V himself, “Ideas are bulletproof.” By not catering to our insatiable curiosity to see beneath the mask, Alan Moore created one of the most enduring symbols from V’s Guy Fawkes mask.
In the graphic novel, we primarily see Evey herself as V’s successor, donning his mask and picking up right where he left off after his death. In the movie, V’s costume becomes much more widespread, getting adopted as a symbol of an entire country rebelling against its government. It’s one of the few costumes on this list that’s even been used by people in real life, like the group Anonymous. Although, whether their cause intersects with what Alan Moore was trying to convey is dubious at best.
1. THE JOKER
Since we retroactively learned that Harley Quinn was an inherited identity, a lot of us probably should have been questioning who else might be revealed to be such a character. We particularly should have wondered whether it might be possible for Harley’s longtime partner to have a similar backstory. And as it turns out, in DC’s Rebirth storyline, that’s exactly what we learned. Except there wasn’t just one Joker prior to the most recent one, but two. Batman had been fighting against three separate people over all these years.
As of right now, we’re still pretty much in the dark about how this went unknown for so long (wouldn’t the different Jokers try to collaborate at some point?), how much is known about these different Jokers, and what Batman’s realization will mean for him going forward. Regardless, it has already kicked off this new era in DC comics with a bang, by revealing the most iconic villain in comic books to be even more complex than anyone thought for all these years.
Who do you think did the best job of taking up the mantle of a hero or villain in DC? Was it someone we didn’t include? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Spider-Man: Homecoming will be in theaters on July 7, 2017, and you’ll be able to catch up with the latest iterations of the DC characters in Justice League coming out November 17, 2017.