Combining sci-fi, fantasy, action, romance, westerns, and just about every other storytelling genre there is, comic books aren’t known for their rules. Physics, order, and continuity are all merely suggestions as writers and artists spin incredible tales about superhuman feats. There are a few unwritten rules, however, on which most publishers tend to agree. The most well-known, and one that’s likely to play out in films given the way Batman v Superman ended, is that no popular (or sometimes even obscure) character can stay dead for long. Shows like Arrow have certainly taken this idea to heart, reviving numerous characters after bidding them tearful farewells.
The CW’s Arrowverse has also fully embraced another time honored tradition from the page, which is that if a hero hangs around long enough, they’re bound to adopt a new costume, persona, and even name. Aside from the colorful outfits and extraordinary power-sets, the chosen nom de guerre of our favorite heroes is what helps make them larger than life. Here are 15 Legendary Superheroes Who Changed Their Names.
To kick things off, we have one of the kings of indecisiveness when it comes to sticking with a persona. Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym burst onto the superhero scene as the first incarnation of the size-changing Ant-Man. It was during this time that he helped found the Avengers with his partner Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp. The Pym Particles that he invented and which allowed him to shrink and grow eventually led him to the idea of getting substantially bigger, instead of smaller.
Once he’d settled into this new shape-changing trend, he naturally refashioned his costume (oddly accentuating the antennae while dropping the other insect connections) and dubbing himself Giant-Man. This soon gave way to Goliath, in a shocking yellow-and-blue number, before some waylaid chemicals drove him somewhat insane.
Claiming Pym was dead, he then took on the villainous Yellowjacket persona, complete with a new costume. He eventually got back to his old self, but still kept the Yellowjacket name for some time. Since then, he’s bounced back and forth between various old and new names, including Dr. Pym the Scientific Adventurer and the Wasp, after his late wife. He’s popped back up as both Yellowjacket and Giant-Man, and occasionally just uses his given name to carry out his superhero duties. The one title he’s left behind is his original, as the name and powers have had a life of their own since he first bequeathed them to Scott Lang.
While Pym may be famous in the Marvel Universe for changing his persona on a whim, Barbara Gordon is equally famous in the DC Universe for being forced to change her superhero identity. After the death of her parents at a young age (perhaps a third unwritten rule of comics), Barbara was taken in by her uncle, Commissioner James Gordon. Already obsessed with Batman, her infatuation only intensified when she discovered that her adoptive father worked closely with the Dark Knight.
She began studying martial arts and even designed her own crime-fighting costume. Eventually, she put them both to the test when she debuted as Batgirl in a battle against Killer Moth. After years fighting alongside Batman, Barbara retired somewhat from the life. It was during this time that the Joker broke into her home, kidnapping the Commissioner and shooting her. The moment is one of the most famous in comics, and eventually led to Barbara being paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. That didn’t stop her desire to do good, however, and she eventually masterminded a complex computer information system and took the name Oracle to assist the Bat Family in their efforts.
It seems that in the Marvel Universe, even the biggest name heroes can’t sit still for long. Everyone knows the broad strokes of Captain America’s origin. Born weak of body but strong of spirit, Steve Rogers longed to serve his country during World War II. After countless rejections, he eventually joined an experimental program that transformed him into a superhuman and he took the name Captain America. Over the years, however, his idealism often clashed with the government he was employed by and the country whose name and symbol he used.
During two such clashes, he adopted the name’s Nomad and The Captain respectively. During these times, he changed his costume and his former title and shield passed to some of the many people who have served as Captain America over the years. Eventually, he (and Marvel) would grow tired of these alternate personas and Steve Rogers would return to his original superhero identity. Following one of his rebirths, he took over what was left of S.H.I.E.L.D. and served simply as Commander Steve Rogers. After reacquiring the Cap mantle, he once again assumed his birth name when he was temporarily robbed of his powers. Now, he’s once again settled into the role of being one of two Captain Americas. Or is it Captains America?
Starting out on the streets of Harlem, Sam Wilson’s life took an unexpected turned when he got mixed up in one of Red Skull’s more unusual plans. Using the infinite power of the Cosmic Cube, Skull’s dastardly plan involved giving Sam the power to communicate with birds and making him fight Captain America. Naturally, Cap easily defeated this rather unimaginative scheme and freed Sam of the spell. Given his new power, Sam soon took the name Falcon and, with a costume to match, joined up as one of Captain America’s longest and most loyal allies.
Sam continued on as Cap’s wingman and Steve’s friend even as his mentor changed identities, died, and came back to life. Following the events of the Iron Nail and the invasion of Dimension Z, Steve found the serum in his body depleted and his actual age finally taking a toll on his body. Steve was unable to continue as the Sentinel of Liberty and passed the title on to Sam. Unwilling to give up his wings, Sam combined his two personas into the All-New Captain America. Sam got a few good years in as the sole Cap, before Steve regained his powers and once again decided he wanted his original persona back. Now, they both serve as Captain America, though Steve’s loyalties have infamously come into question recently.
Unlike Sam Wilson, Wally West was able to spend a good, long time filling the shoes of his mentor before being displaced. Appearing in 1959’s The Flash #110, Wally West was the nephew of Barry Allen’s girlfriend, reporter Iris West. In a moment of lightning striking twice, Wally was granted Speed Force abilities after going through the same freak accident as Barry. With his new powers, he inverted Flash’s costume and took the '50s-appropriate sidekick name of Kid Flash.
After decades fighting alongside his mentor, Barry eventually perished in the climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths, leaving DC without a Flash. Naturally, Wall stepped up and spent over 20 years acting as the Flash of many people’s youths. That all changed when Geoff Johns decided to bring Barry Allen back to life in 2009’s Flash: Rebirth, which saw the original Scarlet Speedster return and eventually led Wally to take back his no-longer appropriate name of Kid Flash.
Long before Barry had Wally, Captain America had his Bucky. Born James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky debuted in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941 as Cap’s protege. After fighting alongside Cap and the Invaders during World War II, Bucky eventually died during a 1945 mission against Baron Zemo. His death saw "Bucky" become a title as groups of people jumped in to fill the hole left by him-- and Steve, after the latter died as well. It appeared that Bucky might, well, buck comic book tradition and remain dead. That is, until Ed Brubaker gave us one of the most well-received character rebirths in history.
After 60 years of death, Brubaker’s 2005 Captain America run laid the blueprint for Captain America: Winter Soldier by introducing the titular Soviet agent. Turns out that Bucky wasn’t killed in 1945, and was instead badly wounded and captured by the Soviets. Given a cybernetic arm and brainwashed to be an assassin, The Winter Soldier was taken in and out of stasis over the years to carry out hits that furthered his masters' secret agenda. As in the film, he’s eventually returned to a ghost of his former self by Cap and decides to keep his new moniker and use his covert skills to fight for good. He even wielded the shield and took the Captain America title for a time after Steve once again died. Following Steve's resurrection, Bucky continued serving as Cap while Steve himself ran covert missions, before they again swapped roles.
Roy Harper’s trajectory mirrors Bucky’s in some ways, albeit without the 60 year death. Also premiering in 1941, Roy was raised by a Navajo chief and trained in the art of the bow and arrow. After his mentor’s death, he was adopted by Green Arrow and became his sidekick Speedy. For 30 years, Speedy dutifully served alongside Oliver Queen until one of the most famous comic arcs saw him radically change. With the late '60s and early '70s ushering in an era of more socially conscious comics, DC paired up Green Arrow with Green Lantern to explore their left vs right political dichotomy. Taking things a step further in 1971, the publisher introduced an arc that saw Roy become addicted to heroin.
He eventually recovered and struck out on his own as Speedy before adopting the more '90s-appropriate name of Arsenal. This persona didn’t last long, though, and he soon returned to his arrow-wielding past and took the fitting Red Arrow title. Known to be a bit more rash and impetuous than his mentor, Red Arrow seems to have stuck with the characters as the title has even survived DC’s recent Rebirth reboot. Roy’s changing personas have become such a part of his character, though, that similar identity crisis arcs have played out on Young Justice and Arrow. While both have changed the order around at times, neither has touched the heroin plot, instead using cloning and Mirakuru, respectively, to offer similar results.
From Red to Green, Bruce Banner will always be best known as the alter-ego of The Incredible Hulk. While the Hulk has taken many nicknames over the years, and changed colors a fair few times, his feral nature and Bruce’s constant battles against "the other guy" haven’t left much room for cool new names and costumes. Nevertheless, his over 50 years of existence and enduring popularity have led to a convoluted series of adventures that have seen him adopt a new personality a handful of times. One of the most notorious was the Grey version of the Hulk, returning from his apparent death only to adopt the name Mr. Fixit and play at being a mobster. While the persona was used to good effect during a recent trip to the Noirverse in Ultimate Spider-Man, most people would rather forget this peculiar turn by Bruce’s angrier half.
More recently, however, he took another slight change in name and hair. After Bruce was shot in the head while working with S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony Stark was forced to use his Extremis virus to save Banner’s life. Now able to retain his intelligence while in Hulk-mode, the anti-hero decided he wanted to be known as Doc Green and that a shaggy goatee and mohawk better suited his new demeanor. Unfortunately, this new Hulk was swept aside when the small matter of the entire multiverse collapsing rebooted much of the Marvel Universe during last year’s Secret Wars.
Serve long enough as the sidekick or partner to a mainstay superhero and you’re likely to eventually take up their mantle. First meeting Tony Stark while a pilot in the Air Force, James “Rhodey” Rhodes would eventually begin working with Stark and his alter-ego Iron Man. As they became close friends over the years, Rhodey spent a good chunk of time serving as Iron Man while Tony battled alcoholism and even apparently died. Rhodey should have read more comics, as it turned out Stark was alive for quite some time. Furious, Rhodey stepped down as CEO of Stark Enterprises and as Iron Man, taking the newly created War Machine armor to do things his way.
Despite a number of life changes and alien invasions, Rhodey has mostly stuck with the War Machine persona over the years and in various media adaptations. Following Norman Osborn’s tenure as head of the Avengers and wearer of the Iron Patriot armor, Rhodey actually took the look and title himself. Following an encounter with some rogue Iron Patriot drones, Rhodey decided to take the name and the star-spangled armor for a time. A similar version of this played out in Iron Man 2, with Justin Hammer replacing Osborn (possibly a nod to Osborn’s unrelated H.A.M.M.E.R. organization), but like in the comics, Rhodey eventually went back to War Machine.
This is an interesting case, and one that could see the slash in the title above removed. Unlike the other heroes on this list, Thor isn’t a codename. Rather, the wielder of Mjolnir’s name is actually Thor Odinson. With such a mythical name, he really had no reason to be known as anything other than Thor for much of his existence. That is, until he became... unworthy.
Well-known to fans of Marvel Comics, the inscription on Thor’s hammer reads: "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." Over the years, the idea of “worthiness” has been used as a device to temper Thor’s powers and teach him humility. In 2014, however, it was taken to its extreme during the Original Sin event.
With the death of the Watcher, previously hidden dark secrets from the Marvel Universe were revealed to the world. One such secret, known only by Nick Fury, was whispered to Thor after the climax of the event. Whatever it was, he was left unable to lift his hammer from its place on the moon and soon spiraled into a state of drunken misery. He eventually rallied and started going by his last name, Odinson, and wielding the mythic axe Jarnbjorn. The bigger shocker came with the revelation that Thor was in fact a mantle that could be passed, as Jane Foster was able to lift the Mjolnir, thus gaining Thor’s powers and serving in his stead.
Beginning his life as a circus performer by day and a criminal by night, Clint Barton was trained as a marksman by villains Swordsman and Trick Shot. Taking his own swashbuckling costume and the name Hawkeye, Clint eventually joined the side of good after an encounter with the Avengers. Becoming one of their core members, he’s mostly stuck with the Hawkeye persona, though thankfully he's updated his costume. He has, however, dallied in a few other indefinites.
For a time, he ditched the bow and arrow schtick and picked up Hank Pym’s discarded Goliath persona, using some of his growth formula to become giant-sized. After picking the bow back up, he was briefly the Golden Archer before settling back into Hawkeye. He saw a more permanent change after Scarlet Witch wreaked havoc on the Marvel Universe with her chaos magic. Following his apparent death after the events of M-Day, Barton briefly acted as the mysterious Ronin. During this time, he turned down Iron Man’s offer to become the new Captain America after Steve’s death. He also saw his former bow and name go to Kate Bishop, the Hawkeye of the Young Avengers. Not long after, he ditched Ronin, took back up the Hawkeye name, and he and Kate have since then both served as Hawkeye, to hilarious effect. For the sake of clarity, it’s best for Clint’s ego (and for our amusement) if you refer to Kate as Hawkeye and Clint as Hawkguy.
While the other characters on this list have all chosen new names of their own free will, Billy Batson never had much say in the matter when it came to his sobriquet. First appearing in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #2 in 1940, Billy Batson is a young orphan who stumbles upon an ancient wizard named Shazam one day. Gifted powers by the dying man, Billy is granted the ability to transform into the all-powerful Captain Marvel when he exclaims the wizard’s name. The character proved so popular in the '40s that he actually outsold Superman comics. His appearance and popularity, however, didn’t sit well with Detective Comics. In 1941, they sued Fawcett, claiming Captain Marvel was a ripoff of Superman. The case spent years in litigation before DC won. The '70s however, saw them acquire the character and slowly start incorporating him and his pantheon into the regular DC universe. The troubles weren’t over, however.
Since 1967, Marvel had owned the copyright to the name Captain Marvel for a character of their own. Because of this, DC often published Billy’s stories under the title Shazam! This confusion led many to believe this was Billy’s alter-ego, and to stop the confusion once and for all, DC made that the new reality when they rebooted their universe for 2011’s New 52. Now known solely as Shazam!, the new title appears to be sticking around as DC has plans for a movie of the same name.
It’s just as well that DC is going full steam ahead with the Shazam! name, as Marvel’s own Captain Marvel has risen to new heights over the past few years. With a self-titled movie on the way, the line has been clearly drawn, but the journey has had a few twists on this side as well.
A year after the debut of Marvel’s confusingly named Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers popped up in his stories as an Air Force officer. Carol was eventually caught in the explosion of a Kree device that granted her powers similar to the alien hero also known as Mar-Vell. Adopting the name Ms. Marvel, Carol spent years fighting alongside the Avengers and other heroes using her impressive power-set. She briefly took up the names Binary and Warbird, and went through a couple of costume changes, but none were destined to last long.
In 2012, however, she ditched her one-piece bathing suit, knee-high boots, and gendered name, and finally took the mantle of the long-dead Captain Marvel. Complete with an amazing new costume and hairdo, Carol’s change was shockingly met with praise from the majority of comic book fans (not usually one’s for deviations). Her brief time as Captain Marvel has proven so popular for Marvel that Earth’s Mightiest Hero will soon be joining the Avengers as they battle Thanos in the upcoming Infinity War before she headlines her own film.
Carol Danvers wasn’t the first woman to use the name Captain Marvel. Monica Rambeau comes in at our number two spot as she seems to have made it her personal mission to adopt as many names and personas as possible. Given that she debuted in 1982, she’s been mighty busy in the few decades she’s been around.
Hailing from New Orleans, the former harbor patrol officer took the name Captain Marvel after her body was bombarded with extra-dimensional energy (we’ve all been there) and she was granted a whole host of abilities. She soon joined the Avengers, becoming their first black female member, and eventually lead the team in a number of major battles. After some time, she bequeathed the Captain Marvel name to the Kree Genis-Vell and became Photon. Genis, in a bit of a jerk move, then started calling himself Photon, forcing Monica to become Photon and proving the patriarchy is a universal construct. Shortly before Secret Wars, she settled on the name and persona of Spectrum, but she’s also been Lady-of-Light, Daystar, and Spectre over the years, just in case you weren’t sure what sort of powers she had. Hopefully, Spectrum will stick for awhile and we’ll see Monica pop up in Phase Four of the MCU.
While there have been many Robins over the years, we decided to focus on the first three (not including the out-of-continuity Carrie Kelly from The Dark Knight Returns). The role of Robin seems to be a stepping stone position, as many of those who hold the title eventually go off on their own. This started with the original Robin, Dick Grayson, who served for 44 years as part of the Dynamic Duo before 1984 saw him retire and take the name Nightwing.
Jason Todd next assumed the role of Robin shortly after Dick’s departure, but was little loved by the fans. DC infamously held a vote to decide whether Todd should live or die, and the results saw the character murdered by the Joker in Batman: A Death in the Family. In an interesting twist, 2005 saw him brought back from the dead as a gun-wielding vigilante known as Red Hood. The character used a name originally held by the Joker as revealed in The Killing Joke as a morbid reference to his “killer” and soon became a fan favorite, redeeming his awkward start 20 years earlier.
A year after Todd’s death, Tim Drake became the third Robin. Fans, clearly having had their blood lust satiated, mostly took to the new Robin. Drake served alongside Batman for 20 years before Bruce’s son Damian Wayne took his place and Tim began using the name Red Robin, just to keep things a little bit confusing. At this rate, it’ll likely only be a few more years before Damian bails, dons a new name, and leaves Bruce scrambling for another small child he can indoctrinate into the violent world of fighting crime on the streets of Gotham.
Are there any heroes who have famously changed their name that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.