10 Types of Superhero Successors Sometimes someone at a publishing company decides that a veteran hero "needs" to be replaced by a successor. By "successor," I mean someone who will use the same superhero alias, and sometimes the same costume, but will be (or claim to be) a different person. The reasoning behind this move can vary in different circumstances. Sometimes the plan is to give the old guy the boot to make room for the new guy in a hurry; other times the old guy has already been dead for years anyway! (Or just hasn't been heard from in any significant way for a long, long time, even if theoretically he's still alive somewhere.) From the perspective of the other characters living in the same universe as the "old guy" and the "new guy," there are many possible reasons why the "old guy's" superhero role might be vacant, awaiting a successor. He could have died. He could have been injured badly enough (physically and/or psychologically) that he’s no longer fit for active duty; not now and maybe not ever. He could have voluntarily retired, either because of advancing age or simply because he discovered there were other things he wanted to do with his life -- such as getting married and raising kids -- without being distracted by every supervillain to hit town. He could have been fired from his superhero identity -- if his costumed role was actually in the nature of a “job” which he performed for an employer. He could have somehow lost whatever special powers or equipment made his heroic career possible (although otherwise he might still be in excellent health by any “normal” standards). He could have simply gotten tired of his old costumed identity and created a new costume and alias that he intended to use from now on (and he might be very frank about this and make it clear to the world that he was still the same hero --with a new paint job). He could have faked his own death in order to have some privacy from now on. Or maybe he just disappeared a long time ago and, as a new story begins, nobody seems to know which of the above possibilities is closest to the truth! Be that as it may, if we grant there is a vacancy to be filled, what sort of successor might we end up with? Here are the possible types that occurred to me! 10 Types of Superhero Successors 01. The Carefully Groomed Protégé 02. The Family Member 03. The Copycat 04. The All-New, All-Different Version 05. The Rookie Created Out of Thin Air 06. The New Employee 07. The Mandated Replacement 08. The After-The-Fact Retconned Replacement 09. The Impostor 10. The False Replacement Note: I'm ignoring "reboots" where nobody even remembers that there was a "previous user" of a certain heroic name. For instance, some fans have made a case that the Post-COIE Superman was effectively a "new guy" invented to "replace" both the Golden Age (Earth-2) and the Silver Age (Earth-1) versions of "Superman," but since nobody around him in the DCU remembered any previous versions of "Superman" they could compare him to, he didn't come across as any sort of "successor" in context. He certainly didn't think of himself that way! Also: It's clear that these types can sometimes overlap, with a particular "successor" or "replacement" character belonging in two or more of those categories at once! 01. The Carefully Groomed Protégé “My mentor always figured this day might come. For years, he worked to teach me everything he knew so that I’d be ready when it was time to fill his shoes!” Wally West made his debut as “Kid Flash” in 1959. At the time, his Aunt Iris was Barry Allen’s girlfriend. After they got married, Wally was entitled to call Barry his “Uncle Barry.” (I’m not clear on how often he did, though.) In 1985, Barry Allen died during the events of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Wally West soon took over the role. He was probably about twenty years old at the time. (Dick Grayson, his contemporary, a fellow founder of the original Teen Titans, was stated to be “twenty” during the events of COIE.) If we buy the version of Wally’s origin story that was later offered by Mark Waid in the "Born to Run" story arc (a four-part flashback sequence in the "Flash" title in the early 90s), then Wally got his speedster powers at the tender age of ten. So from Wally’s perspective, he had been Kid Flash for about ten years before moving up to take over his mentor’s role; and from the perspective of veteran DC readers, he had actually been training for this moment for about 26 years! Diehard fans of the Silver Age Flash naturally were unhappy about Barry’s sacrifice, but as far as I have heard, it was generally accepted that if you granted the assumption that someone was going to “inherit” the mantle of the Flash now that Barry was gone, then that “someone” obviously ought to be Wally. No one (to the best of my knowledge) ever made a convincing argument in the late 80s that some other character would have been a better and more deserving choice! No one denied that Barry would have approved of Wally’s decision to keep the Flash tradition alive, had Barry still been around to actually comment on it. Of course, this approach requires many years of prep time to firmly establish the idea with your fan base that the Protégé is well-qualified to someday “inherit” his mentor’s mantle, whether temporarily or permanently. Dick Grayson, for instance, had occasionally impersonated Batman in the past, but the first time he, as a grown man, really tried to make that stick for much more than ten minutes at a stretch was in the “Prodigal” story arc around late 1994. Since the basic character concept of “Dick Grayson, Robin, Batman’s protégé” debuted in 1940, you can see he had been "building up to this" in a way for about 54 years before he really tried to carry out Batman’s normal duties himself, day after day, on a “regular” basis as part of ongoing continuity (as opposed to such “out-of-continuity” stunts as some stories from the Silver Age that were presented as Alfred’s fictional rendition of what he thought might someday happen after Bruce retired). 02. The Family Member “It’s a proud family tradition, and I aim to keep it alive!” As mentioned, Wally West was the nephew of Barry Allen’s wife. Connor Hawke was the natural son of Ollie Queen and took over as “Green Arrow,” continuing the same monthly title, after Ollie was blown to smithereens. Ted Knight, the original Golden Age Starman, had two sons, David and Jack, and both of them served as “Starman” at different times. Jean Grey has used the aliases "Marvel Girl" and "Phoenix" at various times, and Rachel Grey (daughter of an alternate-timeline version of Jean) has also used both of those aliases at one time or another! This category can obviously overlap with Protégé; and it can also get a lot of approval from the fans, since it makes a certain amount of sense that a aging hero might want one of his own bloodline to take over the “family business” – or if he dies, it makes sense that his child or other relative might feel particularly motivated to pick up where the hero left off (whether or not they had ever agreed to this in advance). Of course, some fans may get snippy if a “long-lost relative” gets retconned into the old hero’s family tree just in time to dress up like his father (or big brother, or whoever). The publisher may hope that this “hip new younger version” will be greeted with open arms. The fans may instead say, “You snot-nosed punk; we never heard of you until they threw you in our faces just now! What makes you so great?” (See #05, below, for more discussion of this problem.) 03. The Copycat “Nope, I never met my predecessor, but I was his biggest fan! I intend to be just like him!” (Or the new guy may have met the old guy at least once, but never had a close friendship with him.) Here, the person trying to “continue a proud tradition” is doing so without any sort of “permission” from the previous user of a proud superhero name. Back in 1993, following Superman’s much-publicized death, four guys popped up with S-shields on their chests in "Reign of the Supermen." One of them was a classic case of the Copycat type and admitted as much in his first television interview, although I don't believe he used that exact word. He was the seemingly-adolescent (but very young, very recently created in a test tube) youngster who called himself "Superman" but later settled for the name "Superboy." When questioned, he freely admitted that he was not the old guy with years of praiseworthy service as a superhero; he was (he honestly believed at the time) Superman's clone; a genetic carbon copy of the original, and thus (he felt) entitled to inherit the proud name of "Superman" and try to carry on in the same tradition. Meanwhile, the Cyborg Superman and the Visored Superman could certainly be called "Impostors" (Type #09, below) but at the time I think I tended to see them more as "Copycats who got carried away." That was when I read their earlier appearances. (We learned more about their backgrounds and agendas later on.) In their defense, at least one of them (the Visored guy) seems to have "sincerely believed" at some point that he was the original Superman, so he wasn't exactly trying to "Impersonate" anyone else. And the other one (the Cyborg) openly claimed to have some serious trouble with his own memory, which (had it been true) would have served as a passable excuse if it later turned out that his claiming the name of Superman was a bit hasty. I think I didn't see them as "serious Impostors" at the time (around early-to-mid 1993) because I never took their pretensions seriously in the first place! (I'm not sure how many people did.) (The odd man out was John Henry Irons, the guy in the metal suit who eventually became known as "the Man of Steel" or just plain “Steel.” He was the only one of the four who was not trying to claim the name of "Superman" for his own use -- but since the other three guys were all trying to call dibs on being “Superman,” and since “Steel” was wearing a copy of Superman’s cape and had a copy of the S-shield engraved on his suit’s chest, everybody initially assumed he was also claiming that name!) 04. The All-New, All-Different Version “Make no mistake. I’m not the old guy. I'm not his child or apprentice. I’m not even interested in wearing his hand-me-downs. I’m just recycling that nifty name while I do my own thing!” Here, the new hero doesn’t even try to maintain the illusion that he might be the old guy, or even a new guy working hard to be a “carbon copy” of the original. Instead, he prefers to emphasize the differences between his predecessor and himself by putting on a very different design of costume and probably doing other things differently as well. For instance, there have been many previous Manhunters in DCU continuity. (Paul Kirk, Dan Richards, Mark Shaw, and Kirk DePaul (a clone of Paul Kirk) are just some of the examples.) The current Manhunter, Kate Spencer, did not start out her career by claiming to be one of them making a comeback, nor a long-lost relative or apprentice of any previous Manhunter. Nor did she wear a copy of any previous Manhunter costume. Nor did she approach her work with the same attitude as any of them. (Some of them were fairly standard heroes and some of them were basically moneygrubbing bounty hunters, and I haven’t even mentioned the killer robots yet!) From what little I’ve seen of her (which is basically the TPB collecting the first five issues of her title), she comes across as being more like Marvel’s Punisher -- if he were female and wore lots of red instead of lots of black. 05. The Rookie Created Out of Thin Air “Hi, guys! You never heard of me before! I have no obvious qualifications for such demanding work! But I’m younger and cuter than my predecessor, so I’m taking over the franchise! Feel free to start cheering now!” This one rubs many fans the wrong way -- particularly if they feel like the "old guy" was kicked out of the way just to make room for someone who would theoretically appeal to a different demographic. A younger one, probably -- and these days, it often seems that some "ethnic minority" is going to be represented as well. This is less of a problem in cases where the "old guy" has already been gone for long, long time. For instance, there was a Golden Age "Mister Terrific" character (Terry Sloane) who was killed off in the late 1970s as the obligatory victim in a JLA/JSA team-up that turned into a murder mystery. A couple of decades later, an African-American gentleman named Michael Holt started his own superhero career and recycled this long-dormant name. I think the general feeling among fans (and among surviving friends of Terry's from "the good old days") is that this was fair play since nobody else had actually used that name in so long! Now let's take a look at a different case, one where a publisher rubbed everybody's noses in the fact that the "new guy" was created out of thin air just in time to take over from the "old guy," like it or not! Before the "Emerald Twilight" storyline, nobody had ever seen or heard of "Kyle Rayner." He was invented in that arc so he could be the first human being Ganthet spotted when he came to Earth looking for possible replacements for Hal Jordan, who had just gone rogue. Hovering in an alley behind a night club, he saw Kyle Rayner wander out through a back door and said sternly, “You shall have to do.” (Great little recruiting speech there, don't you think? Perish the thought that Ganthet would go looking for some very experienced former Green Lantern -- or other type of veteran hero -- on one planet or another, who might actually know exactly what to with a power ring if he accepted the call to active duty. That would come perilously close to being “logical,” and it would also deprive DC of the chance to introduce a Rookie Created Out of Thin Air as the new star of their Green Lantern title!) Many fans of Hal Jordan – and/or of the entire concept of the Green Lantern Corps as an “elite” organization that carefully picked people of the right moral fiber and “without fear” – seem to have felt this “let’s pick someone at random and toss a ring at him and hope for the best” scene was a deliberate slap in the face from DC. I wasn’t too crazy about it myself, at the time -- but I took comfort in the “knowledge” that of course all this was just a Temporary Stunt, such as Superman’s death and the “Reign of the Supermen,” or the way Batman had recently been "replaced" after Bane broke his back in “Knightfall.” Years went by before I finally realized DC’s editors hadn’t planned this as a Temporary Stunt; they had seriously meant Kyle Rayner, selected by the old and unreliable “pull a name out of a hat” method, to become The Official Green Lantern indefinitely! At any rate, Kyle got the ring under those circumstances in Green Lantern #50 (2nd series). Exactly one hundred issues later, a much more experienced Kyle pointedly reminded Ganthet of that not-so-tender moment ("You shall have to do") and Ganthet, showing the talent for unbridled hypocrisy which has made the Guardians of the Universe so popular over the years, went into Total Denial Mode. Claimed he didn't remember saying those words at all! Either Guardians have much worse memories than one would expect of high-powered immortals, or else he was lying through his teeth. My money’s on the latter. Ashamed to admit that he had really been so casual about handing out a power ring to the first guy he stumbled across in a dark alley, perhaps? (If I were in his shoes, I’d be ashamed of myself too! The fact that it actually worked out pretty well in the long run does not change the fact that Ganthet had no way of knowing that when he skipped over any sort of serious screening process at the time.) Over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that for many GL fans, the blow of losing Hal this way would have been easier to take if the power ring had been handed over to some previously established character who had some sort of logical qualifications for it, or a well-known connection to Hal Jordan (or some other Green Lantern character), or something along those lines. Hal’s long-established younger cousin, Harold "Hal" Lawrence Jordan (AKA Air Wave), might have done interesting things with a power ring, for instance. And he even had some degree of experience at the whole superhero schtick! 06. The New Employee "We've found someone else to fill this slot on our payroll. So you can take a hike!" (Or the hero may quit "voluntarily" and then be replaced anyway, perhaps without being consulted as to who should replace him.) If the hero’s costumed role basically “belongs” to an employer – a corporation or government agency, for instance – then he can be “fired” at the drop of a hat even if he is still in great physical and mental shape and perfectly willing to continue on, same as before. Alternately, if he chooses to leave his job because of sharp clashes of opinion with his employer, then the honorable thing to do is to hand back any fancy costume, equipment, etc., with which the employer had previously supplied him. This was what Steve Rogers (Captain America) scrupulously did in a lengthy sequence that began in 1987. A commission of the Federal Government of the USA was proposing a new set of operating rules that would mean -- as Steve saw it -- a ridiculous degree of micromanagement of his costumed activities from that day forward. Rather than cope with those new restraints, he turned in his costume and shield (since they weren’t his personal property) and hit the road, leaving the bureaucrats with the unexpected problem of finding someone else to wear the flagsuit and be a high-profile symbol of patriotic American fighting spirit and all that jazz. (The problem was compounded by their burning desire to keep it secret that the old Captain America had quit. Might look bad, politically. Therefore they needed someone who would agree to pretend to be the same guy as before.) So they hired a man named John Walker who was unquestionably brave and patriotic and super-strong . . . but probably not the best fit for the job in other respects, especially after some mental illness developed when his identity was leaked to the press and bad guys promptly killed his parents. Many issues later -- "Captain America #350" -- the commission that had made this decision decided they had been manipulated by the Red Skull (true) and offered the job back to Steve Rogers. Not surprisingly, he still felt very little faith in them (especially after the mistakes they had evidently made with John Walker as his successor) and told them where they could shove their offer. (Okay, okay! He didn’t quite phrase it that way – he was much more gentlemanly in explaining that he’d discovered he personally could function just fine without the “Captain America” role and all the strings the government wanted to attach to it -- but “take it and shove it” was essentially what he meant.) Then John Walker, in a surprising display of class, personally took Steve aside and persuaded him to give it another shot, despite their previous vehement differences. Steve finally did. He thereby became the officially appointed successor to the officially appointed successor to himself as Captain America! 07. The Mandated Replacement "According to the letter of the law, you just lost the name and I just won it! Doesn't matter if you wanted to keep the role or not! Now move aside, you has-been, and let a real hero show you how to get things done!" Not necessarily the same thing as the "New Employee" category, where an employer can simply snap his fingers on a whim and say you're fired, then point to someone else and say she's hired! There may be a much more elaborate and impartial set of rules, such as a formal competition that will select the "best" person to do a certain job, without one person getting to predetermine the outcome to suit their own bias (not in theory, anyway). In the events collected in the TPB "Wonder Woman: The Contest," Diana had to run through a repeat of the open-to-all-Amazon-competitors contest in which she'd originally won the right to be "Wonder Woman." The rules were ironclad: Winner take all. Artemis of the Bana-Mighdall Amazons won and used the name and outfit of Wonder Woman for several issues. (What neither Diana nor Artemis knew at the time was that Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta, used magical means to fix the outcome of the contest so that Diana would be defeated. After this finally came to light, Diana ended up reclaiming the role when Artemis died in battle.) 08. The After-The-Fact Retconned Replacement “I replaced him in this role years ago, and you guys never knew the difference!” Here, the writer doesn’t try to write some elaborate scenario to build up to a reasonable "excuse" for one character taking over another’s mantle, “right here and now” in the modern continuity. Instead he takes a short cut and claims that this already happened, very quietly, years ago! This happened to Jean Grey in the mid-80s. She had supposedly gone mad, murdered billions of people in another solar system, and then died on the Moon in the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” Several years later, somebody at Marvel apparently wanted to start a new book called “X-Factor” that would include all five of Professor X’s original students from the Silver Age X-Men title. Those five had been: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman. Cyclops could be stolen from the pages of “Uncanny X-Men,” and Angel, Beast, and Iceman could be ripped away from the “Defenders” title. But Marvel Girl (Jean) was a more difficult case; she was both a) disgraced, and b) deceased, as a result of the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” The solution was to declare that all that disgraceful behavior and the subsequent dying had really happened to someone else entirely! Without anyone knowing the difference at the time! (Even Chris Claremont and John Byrne hadn’t known the difference!) Jean had slept through the whole thing and thus had no murders on her conscience! Approximately a decade later, Marvel tried to sell us another “After-The-Fact Retconned Replacement” of a high-profile hero in the notorious events that dragged on for about two years in the Spider-Man titles and collectively became known as the Clone Saga. The initial idea there was that every Spidey appearance for the last 19 years or so had actually featured “Clone Peter,” while “Real Peter” was wandering around the country using the alias “Ben Reilly,” thinking (mistakenly, we were told!) that he was “Clone Peter” and that the decent thing to do was to leave “Real Peter” in New York City with Aunt May and his “normal life” – and meanwhile, the guy who honestly thought he was “Real Peter” as he starred in various titles all this time (but was actually just “Clone Peter”) had firmly believed that “Clone Peter” (actually “Real Peter”) was dead and incinerated and couldn’t possibly come back into his life to cause any further trouble, but now the editorial plan was to let long-lost “Ben Reilly” (as he learned he was “Real Peter” after all) take over as The Central Character of all the Spider-Man titles for ever and ever, thereby neatly replacing “Boring Married Spidey” with “Youthful Bachelor Spidey”! Note: Just looking at that painfully convoluted last paragraph – my sincere best effort to sum up in a single sentence what the original mission statement of the Clone Saga was supposed to be – you can see the Spider-Man Group of comic books was headed fast and furious for a train wreck, can’t you? Imagine Marvel trying to explain all that nonsense to a new customer five or ten years later, if in fact “Ben Reilly, Bachelor Spidey” had permanently replaced “Married Spidey.” Imagine the potential new reader’s eyes glazing over as he decides it just isn’t worth the trouble of catching up with all that in order to understand why, issue after issue, Spidey keeps meeting people who say they met him before (in any story published in the late 70s, the 80s, or the early 90s) -- except that he obviously doesn’t remember a thing about them! (I saw the train wreck coming at the time and abandoned ship after Ben Reilly met Peter. My attitude was: "Wake me up when it's all over!") 09. The Impostor “I’m new at this – but I’m going to tell everybody I’m the same guy!” I’m not talking about Very Temporary Impersonations, such as cases where a villain pulls on a copy of a hero’s distinctive costume for about an hour, just as a stunt. Meaning to ruin the hero’s reputation, for instance. That happens all the time! (Examples: within the first two years of his own title in the 1960s, the Amazing Spider-Man was impersonated by both the Chameleon and Mysterio as they went about their criminal activities in their respective first appearances, but neither villain actually wanted to “replace Spider-Man” as a regular thing. It was just a quick gimmick for camouflage value, to get the cops barking up the wrong tree!) No, in the context of this post about Successors, I’m talking about people who hope to take over the role and successfully carry this off for months or years, if possible! Usually their intentions are good! Earlier I mentioned the time John Walker was recruited to be the next Captain America, which could fall into this category (until his identity was revealed to the public, anyway). Even before that, there was another case happening in the Marvel Universe in the 1980s. When "Rhodey" (James Rhodes, African-American pilot) replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man, he initially went to some trouble to try to make people think he was the guy who had been Iron Man all along. That might have worked out better if he had pursued a strictly solo superhero career, but he didn’t. It could get awkward when veteran Avengers such as Hawkeye initially assumed that good old Iron Man, a founding member of the group, still had all the extensive background knowledge, practical experience, special skills, etc., that their old friend and teammate ought to have! This was an embarrassing problem that Tony and Rhodey both should have seen coming a mile away, and eventually Rhodey broke down and admitted to some of his fellow heroes that he was just “the new guy” in the fancy suit. (I think that happened in the mid-80s “West Coast Avengers” miniseries that preceded the regular series of the same name.) Years later, Jean Paul Valley tried to make people think he was the one and only Batman, with limited success. On a similar note, I don’t think the average citizen of Gotham has ever figured out that “Robin II” (Jason Todd) was eventually replaced by “Robin III” (Tim Drake). Certainly a few people – Commissioner Gordon, etc. – were bound to notice discrepancies, and Joker had good reason to believe that the second Robin had died in an explosion; but Tim bore a general resemblance to Jason in size and coloring, so that the typical civilian, seeing him swinging around town at night or beating up a mugger in a dark alley, probably never saw any reason to suspect anything had “changed” recently. Not that Tim ever expressed any burning desire to “deliberately impersonate” his immediate predecessor to the best of my knowledge, but he never felt the need to give any press conferences to set the record straight, either! So if some people automatically assumed that he had already been “the current Robin” for a year or two longer than he actually had been, he simply didn’t bother to correct them! (I suppose you might call that one an Accidental Impersonation. Tim had no great need to fool other people on this point, but they just saw what they expected to see!) 10. The False Replacement This is the opposite of the Impostor. In that situation, the “new guy” was frantically trying to convince everybody that he was really the “old guy” and nothing had changed at all! In this version, the “old guy” is frantically trying to convince everybody that he’s really the “new guy” and everything has changed all at once! (Even though it hasn’t!) Daredevil and Iron Man (the original, Tony Stark "Iron Man") have both been known to pretend that the “original” hero has died and been replaced by someone else, using the same name and sometimes the exact same costume. In fact, Daredevil has pulled the False Replacement stunt at least twice that I know of! Until fairly recently, when his earliest adventures started being reprinted in Essential TPBs, I had never realized that back in the 1960s Matt Murdock led Foggy Nelson and Karen Page to believe that “Daredevil” was actually Matt’s long-lost, disrespectful, loudly flirtatious brother, Mike Murdock, the black sheep of the family, an identical twin who was fortunate enough to still have normal eyesight. After a while, that ruse got embarrasingly complicated and he made it appear that Brother Mike had tragically died in battle. Then he revived the Daredevil identity by pretending to be someone else, name unknown, who had been Mike’s faithful protégé and designated replacement for just such a worst-case scenario! (As far as I know from what I’ve read of DD comics of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, that corny aspect of DD’s Silver Age continuity quietly disappeared into oblivion in later years and was never mentioned again – which certainly explains why I had never heard of it until I started collecting his “Essential” TPBs.) DD pulled a similar stunt all over again (but without the imaginary “Twin Brother Mike” part) in the mid-1990s. “Sorry, Ben Urich, I don’t know you. Matt Murdock is dead. I’m the new guy, in the new costume, who just happens to be recycling the Daredevil name!” (Or words to that effect. As you can guess, it didn’t last.) Closing Notes: This is the first time I've attacked this subject with a lengthy list of possibilities. As always when I do a "first draft" on a complicated subject, I figure there's a superb chance that I've overlooked something! If you can think of another category of "Successor," with specific examples that don't seem to fit comfortably under the umbrella of any choice listed above, then please say so! If you persuade me you have a good solid point, then I'll add your new category to a future draft of this list at some later date!