As a rule, comic books don’t change too much. The reason why so many characters have existed for so long is that they’re rarely given any real shake-ups to the status quo or their personalities. It’s been 75 years (and counting) and Bruce Wayne still isn’t over the death of his parents. Batman has always been Batman.
Very occasionally, though, comics will try to do something new. In addition to new characters being added to the mythos, existing characters can be changed in radical ways. Ways that are meant to shake things up or breath new life in their stories.
Some of these reinventions can prove so popular that they’ll be almost immediately embraced. Elements of the change (or all of it) will make their way into the cycle of comic book stories, being incorporated and expanded on for years. Mostly though a reinvention blows up everyone’s face.
The problem with failed comic book reinventions isn’t that they take risks, but that they happen to take too many stupid or big risks. The desire to bring something new to the character goes so far that the very essence of the character becomes lost in the process. Some essential or beloved aspect is ignored or rewritten.
The entries on this list aren't examples of why comics shouldn’t take big risks with their classic characters. They are, however, examples of the types of risks that should be avoided.
So, here are the 15 Worst Reinventions Of Iconic Comic Book Characters.
15 Barbara Gordon's Oracle Reversal
DC Comics’ infamous New 52 reboot wasn’t a universal failure. However, several mistakes were made in reinventing characters that eventually had to be fixed in the DC Rebirth event. One of the biggest mistakes (and one that is still left unaffected) is the case of Barbara Gordon going from Oracle back to Batgirl.
Barbara’s always had a complicated history in the DCU, as becoming paralyzed by The Joker and Oracle was never “the plan.” It The Killing Joke was later retconned into existence. Yet, once Barbara settled into that role of Oracle, she became one of the most important figures in the universe and served as a very important example of handicapped representation.
DC did away with all of that by taking Barbara back to her earliest (and honestly most boring) role. Barbara as Batgirl is good but Barbara as Oracle is amazing.
14 Guy Gardner: Warrior
The 1990s were a strange and messy time for comics. There seems to be an unspoken and incredibly misguided effort to reinvent a ton of classic characters into more intense and “extreme” personas. Few examples illustrate this better than Guy Gardner going from a Green Lantern to The Warrior.
Since his introduction, Guy was always one of the more rough-and-tumble characters in the DCU. Yet the interesting thing about Guy was how that personality fit into the mannered role of a “space cop” like the Green Lantern Corps. Warrior, however, just doubled down on Guy’s most outrageous and overtly masculine elements.
Things got even worse when Guy became part alien and was gifted a number of powers that made into an almost literal monster. Warrior was loud, obnoxious and incredibly over-the-top. Thankfully it was eventually undone with Geoff Johns taking revamping the GL mythos in Green Lantern: Rebirth.
13 The Fatally Unpopular Second Robin
Jason Todd has become many people’s favorite member of the Bat Family. As Red Hood, Jason is loved and endlessly debated. He's a fantastic character. Yet, when Jason was introduced as the second Robin, following Dick Grayson, fans (rightfully) revolted.
Regardless of how Jason has been portrayed lately, in his first couple appearances he was a bitter pill to swallow. Unlike Dick who was almost immediately adored for his upbeat attitude, Jason was intolerable. He was bratty, whiny, and way too rebellious. For the second Robin, DC wanted to try a different type of child sidekick but it backfired as almost no one was drawn to Jason.
It all resulted in fans literally voting (in a still controversial poll) to kill the character off in the Death in the Family story arc. It’s one thing to be unpopular, but it’s a different level of unpopularity to be so hated your death is actively campaigned for by fans.
12 New Name and New Attitude for Captain Marvel
With (one of) their big universe reboots, DC Comics used Crisis on Infinite Earths to tweak and streamline many of their characters. For most part, these changes were for the better. However, with Billy Batson’s alter ego, things weren’t so wonderful.
Post-Crisis did allow DC to change the character’s name from Captain Marvel to Shazam, which is arguably the better choice. This is about the only thing they can be lauded however. The Post-Crisis Shazam was a gritty and grim character, which was the complete wrong way to take a supehero that’s a literal kid in disguise.
Many DC heroes can pull off the whole grim-dark attitude. Shazam is not one of them. Shazam is the power fantasy of every comic book reading kid. No one wants a depressing brood-a-thon to get mixed in with their superhero day dream.
11 Hal Jordan's Parallax Infection
It’s since been retconned as something that happened to Hal, not something Hal did. Originally though Hal Jordan’s transformation from Green Lantern to supervillain Parallax was one of the strangest and most uncomfortable reinventions in comics. Happening right in the middle of the “extreme” era of the 90s, DC decided that their first real Green Lantern was just a little too heroic for their liking.
After seeing the destruction of his hometown, Hal went insane. He became obsessed with power and killed nearly everyone that stood in his way. It was certainly a shocking move, but also one that reasonably angered a lot of people. Hal wasn’t just reinvented into a supervillain-- his character was destroyed to become one.
The only reason that Hal’s time as Parallax doesn’t rank higher is because of the retcon. It was established the yellow lantern entity, Parallax, was possessing Hal. Hal wasn’t in control of his own actions, but the creative team behind this move certainly was in control.
10 Kid Flash is … Barr Torr?
The Kid Flash mantle has fallen to a lot of characters over the years, starting with the original Wally West. In the New 52 reboot, however, the decision was made to ignore Wally entirely and give the mantle to Bart Allen, a young speedster from the future. At least that’s what appeared to be the case for a couple years.
Eventually though it was revealed that Bart Allen was nothing more than a code name. The new Kid Flash was, in fact, a future criminal (albeit an unfairly persecuted one) called Barr Torr. It was a completely misguided move from the start.
Bart Allen wasn’t a universally beloved character, as he was a bit annoying and brash. However, there was ton of growth and depth to his character. Replacing him with Barr Torr just ignored all that investment and history and created someone who had nothing going for him but a fake name.
9 The Multicolored Mess of Superman Red / Blue
This does blur the line a bit between reinvention and a homage. It’s definitely a mistake, no matter the label. Back when Grant Morrison was writing the Justice League of America, Superman (temporarily) lost his powers and gained new ones. This eventually resulted in Superman splitting into two separate personas, Superman Red and Superman Blue.
The origins of this idea can be found in a goofy '60s comic which does the same thing to Supes. However, the point of the JLA twist was to add some new life into one of DC’s oldest heroes. While the twist was certainly different, it was far successful.
The costumes were garish, the situation itself was highly confusing and it did nothing to really explore Superman on a deeper level. It was just weirdness for the sake of weirdness. A reinvention, at best, should add something or force a new perspective, but this did nothing of the sort and was quickly erased.
8 The Shadow’s Cyborg Resurrection
He’s nowhere near as popular but The Shadow is pretty much the original Batman. He was the masked, dark vigilante, swooping through the night, years before Bruce Wayne ever showed up.
Therefore, when DC Comics acquired the right to The Shadow in the late 1980s they decided they needed to do something different with him. They couldn’t have two nearly identical characters, even if The Shadow frequently uses the guns. The moronic decision was made to “kill off” The Shadow and resurrect him, putting his disembodied head on a robot body.
As a result, DC got a new Shadow but it was one that precisely no one was asking for or wanted. The new robotic Shadow wasn’t interesting or even mildly compelling. It was a transparent and lame attempt to seem edgy and relevant. The Shadow's cultural cache is in being an urban cowboy, not an undead cyborg.
7 Dr. Fate Ditches the Helm and Takes No Prisoners
The interpretation of many modern comic book fans about DC’s Dr. Fate is that he's a magical and other-worldly dignified presence. For most of the character’s history that impression has been incredibly accurate. It was not the case in the '90s.
For unknown reasons, besides the '90s were horrible for everyone in comics, DC decided the graceful and ageless Dr. Fate wasn’t hip enough for the kids, with their Pokemon and Furbies. So half of Dr. Fate’s mask was ripped off, Dr. Fate himself became ripped and the character did nothing but punch gangsters in the face. He still talked about the mystical but he was little more than a thug.
It was a gross overestimation of what DC thought readers wanted and butchered everything unique and compelling about the character. It was an effort to seem more current, but the new Dr. Fate was just desperate.
6 Wonder Woman Loses Her Powers (and Everything Interesting)
Wonder Woman has been through a lot of reboots and none of them have been wonderful (pun much intended). The most misguided effort though was in the 1970s; when the decision was made to cut off Wonder Woman completely, from not just her fellow Amazons but her powers.
Rather than being blessed by the gods, Wonder Woman became a powerless spy-like figure trained by an offensive stereotype of man, named I Ching. It's not a terrible idea on paper. Wonder Woman has a female James Bond has potential but the execution never lived up to the plan.
It’s such a risky move and the transformation was handled with no grace. Wonder Woman was completely defined by the men in her life. From the trollish I Ching to the dull as dried paint chips (still) Steve Trevor, they were the driving forces of the story, not Diana. Far from being am empowered de-powered hero, Wonder Woman’s 70’s run was an utter mess.
5 The Punisher's Angelic Turn
The appeal of Frank Castle is that he’s one of Marvel’s most grounded heroes. The Punisher isn’t the most attractive in shape or morally upstanding hero in Marvel’s roster. Frank is a mean mercenary who kills the bad guys. It’s simple but it works.
This is the main reason that the decision to make The Punisher into a literal avenging angel in the late 90’s was a disaster from the start. The Punisher had been without a solo series for a few years in the company’s publication history. So, it was decided to bring him back and more different than ever. Castle wasn't just a regular mercenary anymore, but one with supernatural powers from angels.
A reinvention should change some aspect of the character but keep the core tenants intact. With this Punisher, the core was completely warped. Punisher was no longer gritty or grounded. It didn’t last long but any period of time was too long.
4 The Iron Teenager
Marvel taking their characters and rapidly de-aging them is a trick they have used multiple times. One of the best examples is when they took Loki and made him a teenager (and a quasi-hero). Using the same method on Iron Man, however, wasn't nearly as successful.
The consensus was reached at Marvel that the adult Tony Stark had become too depressing and burdened with baggage. While this was admittedly true, rather than try to write themselves out of the hole they had created in any organic way, Marvel decided to hit the literal reset button. They took Tony and aged him back into a teenager.
The only problem with that is that teenage Tony had none of the older Tony’s character development or growth. In fact the younger Stark was even worse than the older moody one because he was insufferably arrogant and pompous. The teenage Tony emphasized the character’s worst aspects for nothing.
3 The Overly Complicated Ben Reilly
The tragedy of Ben Reilly is that there’s a chance he could’ve been great. However, Reilly will forever be tied to Spider-Man's infamous Clone Saga, which not only ruined his character but nearly wrecked Spider-Man’s continuity for years.
Ben Reilly was meant to replace Peter Parker, as the character had gotten too intense for most Spider-Man fans. The intention was to reveal that Ben Reilly wasn’t a clone but the true Peter Parker who had been missing since the 1970’s. It would’ve been a simple (for comics) and elegant way to get Spider-Man back to his roots.
Unfortunately, the introduction of Ben Reilly and the Clone Saga went on for so long that things became anything but simple. Rather than a harkening back to the glory days, Ben Reilly began to represent everything wrong with Spider-Man during his creation. It and the character were disaster.
Reilly is still around (and he has his fans), but when he appeared he did the exact opposite of what he was supposed to do-- he was a solution that only made things worse.
2 The Murderous Batman
As many jokes that can be made about Batman being an overly serious edgelord, it’s not completely true. Batman is a dark and grim character, but it’s usually done within reason. At least if Bruce Wayne is under the cowl that's the case. When Jean Paul Valley took on the name of the Bat in '90s. everything went awry.
Jean Paul Valley’s Batman was so insanely intense that it would almost seem like a parody. Yet, DC wanted people to take their new and much more murderous Batman (and his ridiculously over-designed costume) seriously.
To the company’s credit, shortly after Jean Paul Valley took over as Batman it was clear he was the wrong man for the job. Valley was unstable and presented as such at every turn. Even if Valley was intentionally bad Batman, he was still a Batman. It wasn’t interesting, it was just over-the-top.
1 Captain America Hails Hydra
There really is no comic reinvention that has been more misguided than turning Steve Rogers into a Hydra agent.
It's true that Hydra Captain America wasn't the "real" Cap. Marvel was at least wise enough to design things where the legacy of Captain America can exist untarnished. This is only with hindsight in mind.
When the idea was first introduced, there was every indication given that Hydra Cap was the same Cap that people had been reading for generations. It was awful. The reinvention to make Captain America a Hydra agent wasn't clever and didn’t have anything to say other than “Nazism is bad.” It was all shock with no substance.
Hydra Cap turned everything readers thought they knew about the character on its head but managed to say nothing significant in the process. If there’s going to be a huge change, it should at least matter. The only way Hydra Cap matter was in angering everyone.
What are some of the worst comic book reinventions that you've ever seen? Sound off in the comments!
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