Not every comic book character is locked into the never-ending cycle of the status quo...
...only most of them. And in the past, when writers or artists have tried to revamp an iconic character, change up their powers or just flat-out turn them into shiny energy beings in an attempt to boost sales, it hasn’t gone all that well.
Here are 10 comic book superhero reinventions (along with a couple of whole teams) that tried to give us a new and improved version, and failed in spectacular fashion.
10 Superman Red and Blue
In 1963, there was a hypothetical (or "imaginary") story written that split Superman into two beings, Superman Red and Superman Blue. They go on to restore Krypton, end all crime and sadness in the world forever, cure all disease and each marry one half of the warring duo of Lana and Lois.
Someone thought this goofy one-off tale would be a huge hit with comic book readers from the 90s, thus giving us a story that gave Superman inexplicable energy powers and making him the bane of toasters everywhere. He eventually had to wear a containment suit to stop his powers from leaking out, turning the Man of Steel into a more brightly-colored version of Captain Atom. Through more convoluted mad-lib plot twists, he eventually split into Superman Blue AND Red, leading to the two having wacky yin-yang disagreements and creating a creepy love triangle between the two of them and Lois Lane.
Despite the writers promising us that Supes would be like this "forever!", they eventually realized that the most famous superhero in the world was that way for a reason and had the two merge into normal Superman (again, for no good reason). Now he presumably refers to all of this as an awkward phase.
9 Peter Parker is Replaced with a Clone
Spider-Man has given birth to himself via mutant spider transformation, sold his marriage to a demon and foiled villainous plots with nothing but the delicious goodness of Hostess Fruit Pies. Somehow, none of this even comes close to the level of infamy held by the Clone Saga, when the writers decided to replace THE most popular character in comics with an impostor and hope that fans lapped it up. They did not lap it up.
Basically, the story had Peter fighting a clone of himself, with no one really knowing after the fight which one of them died, with it later being confirmed that no one had died, introducing a whole load of other clones, revealing that the Peter we’ve known for years was actually a clone, leaving "Ben" (a clone) to take up the mantle of Spider-Man, but later folding back on itself with the final revelation that Norman Osborn faked everything to screw with the original Peter, who wasn’t a clone.
If you thought that sentence was insufferable, imagine being a faithful comic book reader forced to sit through it for 25 years.
To be fair, the writers were forced to artificially lengthen the whole thing due to increased sales, but it came back to bite them when the Clone Saga became Spider-Man’s most notorious adventure, hardly ever to be spoken of again.
8 The All-New (Powerless) Wonder Woman
Nowadays whenever a comic book universe wants to keep things fresh, we get a massive crossover event that rewrites the multiverse yet keeps the characters as faithful versions of themselves, if slightly altered.
Writers hadn’t quite grasped the idea in 1968, which is why they took Wonder Woman, forced her into a pantsuit and took away her powers so she could learn kung-fu and run a boutique store. This is the woman who spent her entire life training on the island of the Amazons, but wow, sure is great that she can now break boards with her hands! And stand behind a counter! And submit tax returns!
The change was meant for the better, as the previous version had WW still struggling to shake off her image as the Justice League’s secretary and token girl… plus it was the 70s and feminism was a thing. Still, the character proved too iconic to leave powerless and running her own clothing store for the next fifty years, meaning that we soon returned to the Wonder Woman who could actually hold her own in a fight against Doomsday and not just make a flimsy attempt to knock him out with her nakadate ippon kin zuki punch.
Yes, that’s actually a thing she says in the comic.
7 Justice League Detroit
The name alone of this group should raise an eyebrow, since the actual Justice League are better known for hanging around in an orbiting space station and not… Detroit.
The team was formed when the original league disbanded. The writers decided to drop the little-known dead weight off the team (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc.) and replace them with huge names such as Gypsy, Vibe and Steel, the latter of whom doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page through some criminal oversight.
The comic failed to generate the buzz of its original incarnation, possibly to do with the fact that it tried to give us a cast of hip, edgy D-list teenagers and failed, even with the more successful Teen Titans just around the corner. Instead of the team simply being disbanded, their final issue had them utterly destroyed by a combination of members quitting and an onslaught of vicious androids that murdered two members of the league. That’s more or less how comic book writers admit that an idea didn’t pan out.
6 Captain America Becomes the Nomad
Several characters have taken up the mantle of Captain America, but most of these have simply been keeping the seat warm for the inevitable return of Steve Rogers, the rightful owner of the title. However, Cap’s stint as "Nomad" had him tossing away the name along with his devotion to patriotism.
This comes after the President of the United States is revealed to be a supervillain (or simply the Marvel Universe version of the Watergate Scandal), causing Cap to reinvent himself as a man without a country. This apparently meant that he had to dress in a costume that was somehow both impractical and generic while ditching his indestructible shield that he probably could’ve just painted over. The cover featuring his first adventure even has him charging into gunfire completely bare-handed while his old shield flies uselessly in the background.
After fighting a snake lady and tripping over his own gigantic cape, Steve Rogers eventually realizes that one evil dead president shouldn’t be the end of the patriotism itself, and becomes Captain America once more. Still, we’re waiting to see how Chris Evans pulls off the world’s most plunging V-neck.
5 Sue Storm's 90s Costume Switch
It’s no secret that female superhero costumes are typically more revealing; most artists are male, most readers are male and when Wonder Woman wants to fight evil in one-piece metal armor and high heels, it’s just a sad fact of life that we’ve come to accept.
Sue Storm had always been immune to this, being part of Marvel’s first family and supposedly a good role model for all obedient 50s housewives since her debut. This all changed in the 90s (*sigh*) when she ended up wearing little more than a bikini. A "4kini," if you will.
Upon seeing it for the first time, Reed declares in shock that Sue designed herself “a new costume,” though this seems like a funny way of saying that she just strung up the old one on a washing line and butchered it with a chainsaw until it felt edgy enough.
It’s bad enough that this outfit was meant for fighting crime; it goes on to represent more or less everything wrong with how female comic book characters are portrayed, all in one terrible outfit and accompanying personality change. Why does the "4" need to be a blank space? What purpose do the massive gloves serve? Was the midriff window really necessary? It was a transparent (ha hey!) attempt at empowerment that totally ignored the fact that Sue Storm could turn invisible, project forcefields, hold the team together and maintain her status as one of the most famous female superheroes of all time... all without the ability to turn very specific parts of her clothing invisible.
4 The Guardians of the Galaxy Add A-Listers
Everyone now knows the classic Guardians of the Galaxy line-up, thanks to the hit-film and a slew of great 80s tunes. Yet the line-up in the comics has constantly changed, switching to include a bunch of other outer-space misfits that no casual fan would ever have heard of. This ragtag quality is why the team works, similar to DC’s Suicide Squad… which is why the formula stops working when there are big names thrown in.
The GoG have expanded to include A-listers such as Iron Man and Captain Marvel, with their more recent roster including Kitty Pride, The Thing and Venom. When all of these characters have their own iconic teams back on Earth, it ruins the team dynamic and renders them more or less deep space B-list Avengers, fighting threats that you don’t care about because they’re so remote. It gets worse when the A-listers start to pull the attention away from the original Guardians, which they inevitably do for the time they join.
Meanwhile, the Suicide Squad are touted as a bunch of bad guys who can absolutely die, at any time, a unique take on the usual invincible superhero genre. Ignoring for a moment the ridiculously sexed-up version of Amanda Waller we were given in the New 52, they later saw fit to populate the squad with villains such as Harley Quinn (mega popular, but that just means she can’t die), Reverse-Flash (arch-nemesis of…The Flash, obviously) and Black Manta (arch-nemesis of Aquaman), meaning that the threat of any of these people biting the bullet is practically zero. That’s part of the draw of the upcoming movie; sure, Harley Quinn’s probably going to live through it, but what about Killer Croc, Slipknot or El Diablo? They can die…and we won’t be shrugging and waiting for them to be revived in the next movie.
3 Nightcrawler Becomes the Son of a Demon
Chuck Austen is a contentious name among comic book fans, particularly for the sweeping changes he keeps trying to make to X-Men canon. Particularly egregious was a story involving a bunch of cultists trying to make Nightcrawler the Pope and later reveal his mutant nature to the horrified Catholic population. Then they’d make people think the Rapture was happening by disintegrating people with deadly communion wafers. That Catholics don’t believe in the Rapture is somehow the most sensible part of this entire arc.
Even worse was the infamous "Draco" arc, which is far too bizarre and complex to explain without two spare hours and a smack in the face with a snow shovel at the end to help you forget what you just learned. Essentially, Nightcrawler discovers that he’s the son of a demon. Azazel, specifically. You know the one.
Remember how the X-Men are all about fighting for Mutant rights and proving that they’re human beings just like everyone else? And remember how Nightcrawler is the ultimate example, a human who looks like a demon but is actually quiet, polite and religious? Screw all that. He’s totally an actual demon and those bigots were right to lynch him, lest he invite his evil-incarnate father over for dinner and total annihilation of the human race. Fortunately, the more recent X-Men: First Class gave us a far better version of Azazel, with cool teleporting and swordplay skills along with the vague implication that he and Mystique might have hooked up in between movies, creating a definitely-not-Demonic Mutant baby.
Chuck Austen didn’t create Xorn, but he certainly helped to muddy the waters. Originally, Xorn was a teacher at Xavier’s school who eventually unmasked himself as Magneto. Hyped up on a power drug, Magneto laid waste to New York City in his most murderous and destructive rampage to date.
The decision to turn a Holocaust survivor into a genocidal maniac was met with some skepticism, which lead to a slew of writers trying to "fix" the problem, inadvertently making it worse each time. First, it was revealed that it was actually an impostor, with a disapproving Magneto still in Genosha. Chuck Austen turned the impostor into real Xorn, who thought he was Magneto due to a fit of madness (and just so happened to look exactly like him, because reasons). Brian Michael Bendis then wrote a story where it was further revealed that (is anyone else exhausted?) it WAS Magneto, and also Xorn, who came back as an energy being still fixated on stealing Magneto’s body because blah blah Scarlet Witch/magic/comic book plot twists.
The way the story was left was that Magneto wasn’t the original perpetrator, but is totally fine with people thinking that it was, which makes absolutely no sense and brands him as a mega, city-destroying criminal for the sake of street cred. It mostly lays the problem to rest… except we still don’t know who destroyed New York. Xorn? Phoenix? Squirrel Girl? Never mind.
1 Azrael Becomes Ultra-Gritty Batman
The aforementioned 90s were a literal dark time for comic books, with superheroes everywhere switching to black leather, beefed up grit-machines such as Cable dominating the pages and stories taking more violent turns. Fans became restless with how Batman wasn’t quite living up to the era and demanded that he start snapping some necks, pronto.
In a marvelous case of "be careful what you wish for," the writers obliged by having the original Bruce Wayne’s spine reduced to rice krispies by Bane, forcing him into retirement and having ultra-gritty assassin Azrael take over the job. Complete with ultra-bizarre shoulder extensions, golden epaulets and a metric ton of sharp weapons, AzBats took to the streets and started a reign of violent terror as the all-new Batman, and the fans loved it.
Yeah, nah, they didn’t. As was the original intention of the writers, Azrael’s run as Batman was incredibly unpopular, due to how he became a bloated caricature of everything those vocal fans had wanted with added angst and darkness. His tenure lasted until the original Bruce Wayne healed up and realized that he should probably take back his title from the psychopath dropping people off buildings for fun. The original Batman returned as the dark-yet-heroic character we all know and love, and the fans who’d caused this whole mess learned that wholesale violence and slaughter does not make a superhero icon.
Every superhero has received the re-imagining treatment, many more than once. Know any that are worse? Let us know in the comments!