Top 10 Replacement Heroes

A column article, Top Ten by: The Comics Bulletin All-Stars

When a co-worker calls in sick at work, you know someone's gotta pick up the slack. It's no different with superheroes. When Captain America died we had his once wartime partner, Bucky Barnes filling in for the Star-Spangled Avenger. Same thing with Dick Grayson who had no choice, but to don the 'ol cape and cowl when Bruce Wayne was presumed dead.

So with the recent news of Miles Morales taking over as the new Web-Slinger over in Ultimate Spider-Man, we thought we'd take a look back at some of our more memorable superhero stand-ins. With that said I give you our…


10. The Bat of Steel
by Justin Carmona

In "Knight Time", one of the best episodes of Superman the Animated Series ever, Superman learns that Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone missing and decides to head straight to Gotham to investigate the disappearance of his sometimes uneasy ally. What he finds is the deadly city overrun with crime as the Dark Knight's rogues are running rampant in the streets with no one, but Robin to stop them. So when the Man of Steel meets up with the Boy Wonder they both decide to put the element of fear back in Gotham City's thugs by having Supes don the 'ol cape and cowl. But no matter how much you dress up Superman in Batman's fear-striking attire, he is still same old Boy Scout underneath, which is why Robin has to give the Kyptonian superhero a crash course in detective work, fear and intimidation.

We get some classic moments as the "Bat of Steel" and the Boy Wonder meet up with Commissioner Gordon and officer Montoya who points out to Gordon that Batman, "looks bigger". We also get to see the "Super-Bat" go up against The Riddler, The Mad Hatter and Bane! And as the all-new Dynamic Duo continue to uncover the secret of Wayne's disappearance, Superman points out to Robin how all this sneaking around isn't really his style to which Robin replies with a smile, "What do you mean? It's half the fun."

9. Dick Grayson: Batman
by Kyle Garret

Seventy-two years. That's how long Bruce Wayne has been running around as Batman in any number of comic books. Seventy-two years and thousands, if not millions, of stories. Think about that. The fact that creators are still so eager to put together stories about him is, at this point, less a testament to the character and more a testament to the hold that nostalgia has on everyone who grows up to make comics.

Does a guy who's been around for that long and had that many stories told about him need four titles come September?

Dick Grayson, on the other hand, has only been Batman for a few years. Yes, he's been appearing in comics for nearly as long as Bruce Wayne, but the circumstances were drastically different. Dick Grayson as Robin is the not same as Dick Grayson as Nightwing and is not the same as Dick Grayson as Batman. The Dick Grayson Batman has nearly seven decades of stories to catch up with Bruce.

And it's not just a matter of freshness. The brilliance of Dick Grayson as Batman is that it marks a very clear evolution of the character. Let's face facts: Bruce Wayne has been milking the same issue for the better part of a century now. Granted, he can never get over it, because if he ever really did, the story would end. This means that for all the details that change, Bruce Wayne stays basically the same…for seventy-two years.

But that's not the case with Dick Grayson. Sure, there are some writers who feel the need to delve back into the death of the Flying Graysons, but how often is that story really rehashed? Dick's reasons for doing what he does aren't defined by a single event. From being a sidekick, to a member of the Teen Titans, to becoming Nightwing, it's all been a part of the journey that doesn't just inform who he is, but happens because of it.

Dick's relationship with his Robin, Damien Wayne, completes this fresh take on an ancient idea. The dynamic between Dick and Damien has arguably been the best part of Grant Morrison's run on the Batman titles. The two are complete opposites, both in origin and in motivation, and their relationship is unique in comics.

It's disappointing that DC has decided to take a step back with Dick Grayson by returning him to his Nightwing persona, but that's the nature of corporate comics: change is temporary, and the status quo will always return.

8. & 7. Daredevil is replaced by…himself… twice.
by Michael Deeley

This is a little tricky, so stay with me.

Waaaaaay back in Daredevil#25, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page confront Matt Murdock with a letter from Spider-Man revealing Matt's double identity as Daredevil. So the Columbia law school graduate comes up with the only explanation they'll believe: Spider-Man confused him with his twin brother, Mike Murdock. When Foggy asks why Matt never mentioned Mike, Matt says Mike was the black sheep of the family and had secretly been training to be a crime fighter for years. So Matt must pretend to be "Mike" to keep up the deception. This allows Matt to act like the brave and outgoing Daredevil without actually being Daredevil. This bit of soap-opera silliness goes on for nearly 2 years, until Matt realizes Karen is torn between himself and his "brother". So in issue #41, he fakes his death as both Mike Murdock and Daredevil while fighting the Exterminator. He comes back as a "new" Daredevil the very next issue.

This worked so well, Matt does it again. 1994's "Fall From Grace" story ends with Matt using a demonic doppelganger to fake his death to avoid being outted by a New York tabloid. He starts a new life as Jack Batlin, a street hustler with a heart of gold, and a "new" Daredevil, with a new costume and edgier attitude. This insanity also lasted just under two years. The worst part for me was how Matt let his friends think he was dead. Douche.

Makes Azrael-as-Batman look logical by comparison.

6. Bucky/Winter Soldier/Captain America: Men Out of Time
by Steven Wilcox

When Ed Brubaker took over the writing of Captain America, back in 2004, one of the things he wanted to do was bring Cap's former World War II sidekick, Bucky, back from the dead. For years, Bucky was one of a few "untouchable" characters that were NEVER to be brought back. Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man mythos being another one that comes to mind.

A simple question was asked by Ed; "Why not?" The rest, as they say, is history…

Bucky was reintroduced as a Cold War myth, the Winter Sodier. An ageless assassin that had appeared throughout the last 50 years, taking out key individuals for the Soviet Union. Under the control of the powers that be, he was put back "on ice" and only revived from time to time when they needed his particular skills. This eventually brings him to America and in a face off with Captain America, his old partner and best friend. To find out what happens next, you'll just need to read the Winter Soldier saga. You'll be glad you did, if you haven't already read it a dozen times over, like I have.

In 2007, Captain America was killed. You may have read about it the newspapers or saw it on television…By this time, Bucky was no longer being controlled by the bad guys and was a card-carrying member of the righteous. Tony Stark, whom a lot of people blamed for Cap's death, including Bucky, asked Bucky to step in. In a suit, designed by comic book artistic legend Alex Ross, he did just that. For the next several years, James "Bucky" Barnes became one of the coolest men to don the uniform of Captain America, so much so that when Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, came back from the dead – he asked Bucky to keep the uniform and shield, as he had earned it.

5. The Human Torch: Original Marvel Replacement Hero?
by Nick Hanover

As easy as it can be to take comic companies to task over their seemingly arbitrary decisions to replace iconic characters, it's a tactic that goes back pretty far in comic history and has arguably led to huge successes. Look no further than Johnny Storm's tenure as the Human Torch, a replacement so successful most readers aren't even aware Johnny Storm isn't the original.

Back when Marvel was Timely Comics, the Human Torch was an android who went by the name Jim Hammond and led an almost Frankenstein-like existence, desperately seeking a chance at being human. The android Torch fought alongside future Marvel heavy hitters Namor and Captain America but rather than getting resurrected like those characters, Marvel opted instead to wipe the slate clean and create an altogether new and different version of the character.

Enter Johnny Storm and the Fantastic Four, who ushered in the Marvel era. Storm isn't the original but the hotheaded brother of Sue Storm has become the definitive representation of the Human Torch while Jim Hammond has mostly been used by Marvel creators as cannon fodder, albeit cannon fodder with a habit of coming back from destruction fairly frequently. But that's a story for a different top 10.

4. Renee Montoya Answers The Question
by Nick Hanover

Renee Montoya's journey through the DCU has been markedly different from that of her replacement hero peers. Beginning as a Batman: The Animated Series character who was quickly introduced in the comics shortly before her animated debut actually aired, Montoya has been a creator favorite mostly due to her turn as a main character on the sorely missed Gotham Central series. It was in Gotham Central that Montoya truly developed, becoming one of the most realistically complicated characters in Gotham thanks to the excellent writing of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.

But it was DC's surprise post-Infinite Crisis success 52 that launched Montoya into the mainstream thanks to her odd coupling with Vic Sage, otherwise known as The Question. Under the tutelage of Vic Sage, Montoya found the strength to get her life in order and realize her potential as a detective in time to take on the mantle of The Question herself after Sage's death.

So many other replacement heroes began as squires to their dark knights, or awestruck hero worshippers looking to honor their idols. But Montoya's acceptance of her position as The Question's replacement was the final step in reaching her full abilities, of taking the reins of her life and putting an end to her attempts to sabotage her development. And she's been the better hero for it.

3. X-Statix Force X-Force Out of the Spotlight
by Nick Hanover

It's rare that an entire super team gets replaced but that's exactly what happened in the case of X-Force. A decade ago, when Joe Quesada first began as Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, he attempted to reinvigorate the X-books by giving the titles over to Axel Alonso, who then hired folks like Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan to reimagine the series. Milligan was given X-Force, a book that had previously been best known as a showcase for Rob Liefeld's obsession with pouches and attempts to draw a gun so big even Cable couldn't hold it.

Milligan was paired with Mike Allred, the creator of Madman and possessor of a style that has no match in comics, a frenetic blend of Pop Art, Jack Kirby and rock posters. Rather than keep the existing X-Force team, Milligan and Allred replace the entire roster with a group of mutant reality tv stars who were more interested in product placement than saving the world. They also had a tendency of dying in ridiculous ways and had a green blob of a mascot named Doop who spoke his own language, casually murdered others and was powerful enough to hang out with Wolverine and be considered a threat by the Avengers.

X-Statix were quite possibly the most insane replacement heroes of all-time, and as such, the letter pages for the title featured a running joke where angry X-Force fans wrote in to complain about what had happened to their team of pouch enthusiasts. Marvel eventually caved, first by having Milligan change the title of the book to X-Statix (naturally explained in book as the result of a lawsuit by Cable and co.) and then finally with the killing off of the entire team.

2. Wally West: A Flashier Flash
by Nick Hanover

Theoretically, sidekicks are meant to be heirs, squires who will eventually develop into the successors of the heroes they're partnered with. But in comics, time is a funny thing and heroes have a tendency of never vacating their positions. Worse, when those heroes do vacation those positions, they don't do so for very long. Such is the plight of Wally West.

When Barry Allen made the ultimate sacrifice during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was a heart rending, tragic moment that also allowed for some real development. Wally West was inspired by his mentor's death to become the Flash himself, taking on the same costume and guarding Central City. But Wally's career as the Flash hasn't been an easy one.

At first, Wally was a bit of a dick, a hothead with a tendency to not plan ahead and to get himself into all kinds of bizarre situations. What was holding Wally back was his difficulty letting go of Barry. Wally was still so enamored with Barry's legacy that he wouldn't allow himself to reach his full potential and permanently replace Barry as the Fastest Man Alive. Wally's story then became the story of what replacing your hero means and when Wally finally broke through that barrier, both in terms of legacy and actual speed, he became the hero he was always meant to be.

Then Barry came back from the dead and replaced Wally himself. What a dick.

1. Ben Reilly: Least Popular Spider-Man in History?
by Nick Hanover

If it wasn't for the racist commentary that has sprung up around Miles Morales taking on the role of Spider-Man, it'd be easy to assume that fans' displeasure with seeing Peter Parker disappear from the Ultimate line had everything to do with Marvel's track record with replacement Spider-Men.

Why yes, I am referring to the dreaded Clone Saga.

In the days before Marvel reinvented itself as the hipper of the Big Two, the long standing publisher was having massive difficulties recovering from the near total collapse of the comics industry thanks to the speculator boom and bust. Desperate times call for desperate measures but Marvel's approach to the situation went beyond your normal kind of desperation. Marvel's answer, you see, was to essentially offer up the kind of "twist" that soap opera and melodrama fans are all too used to-- the Spider-Man most of us had known and loved for decades was revealed to be a fake.

Through some of most ridiculously convoluted plotting in history, Peter Parker was initially revealed to be an accidental fraud, a clone created by the Jackal who had just been living under the impression that he was the real deal for years. It was Ben Reilly, who had been living as the clone and had forged a new identity as a result, that was the true Spider-Man.

This was an effort by editorial to return Spider-Man to his loner origins, a precursor to the similarly maligned "Brand New Day," that backfired spectacularly. Fans left in droves, and the saga's end saw Ben Reilly impaled on the glider of the resurrected Green Goblin, living just long enough to offer Peter some inspiring words before disintegrating into a pile of goo that proved Parker was in fact the real Spider-Man all along.

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