Recently, Marvel Comics decided to make a major announcement on national television when it let the world know that Thor, a pillar of the Marvel universe and a founding Avenger, would be replaced with a new character of the same name. There was a twist, though: the new Thor will be a woman, worthy of holding the fabled Asgardian hammer when its original wielder has, somehow, become unworthy.
Of course, the Internet was set ablaze with a multitude of different reactions from comic book fans and mainstream observers alike, with some calling it a new “gimmick” by Marvel, others a welcome and progressive step forward for lead female characters in mainstream comics. My opinion falls with the latter, for a couple of reasons. Not only is this new series and character a continuation of the stellar Thor run by writer Jason Aaron, it’s also unique in the history of the Marvel universe by showing the original Thor as unworthy, as well as giving one of the Marvel U’s most prominent roles to a woman for the first time. Thor has never been a woman before, and while the Asgardian side of the Marvel universe has some great female characters, a woman now has the chance to lead that portion of the shared universe. That sounds really cool to me.
And that should be cool! There are very few things about comics that are permanent, so I’m of the mind we should enjoy the ride. Besides, it’s not as if a major comic book hero/heroine has ever been replaced by another character in the ongoing DC and Marvel universes, right…?
By the way, here are five characters that have seen some pretty big substitutes take their place at one point or another.
5) Captain America
After he was apparently killed during the Civil War event, the Marvel universe stood without its brightest superheroic beacon: Captain America. Steve Rogers was honored by many of the heroes and even villains, but some of the higher-ups, particularly the then-S.H.I.E.L.D. director Tony Stark, knew that the country, and the world, needed Captain America. Although Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye was thought to be the one that would don the mask and wield the shield at one point, ultimately it fell on Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, to continue the legacy of his mentor.
This is just the most recent time that Cap has been someone else underneath the mask, though. In Marvel history, several people during Cap’s time frozen through the decades on up through moments where Steve Rogers has been incapacitated have also taken up the mantle, including names like William Nasland, Jeffrey Mace, William Burnside and John Walker. And who could forget Isaiah Bradley from Truth: Red, White, & Black, which saw an African-American supersoldier take form? His status as an American icon in the Marvel U often raises the mantle of Captain America over the person actually embodying it, and like Thor, it wouldn’t surprise me if a woman picked up the shield one of these years and throws it full blast at the Red Skull’s… um, skull.
4) Wonder Woman
After the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, the DC universe started to look like a very interesting place. The weekly series 52 chronicled the full year after the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, which saw a DCU without its major mainstays: Superman was powerless and living his life as Clark Kent, Batman let Gotham in capable hands and retraced his steps he took in his youth with Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, and Wonder Woman felt she needed to find out who she really was. Not long afterward, her immediate protégé, Donna Troy, took up the mantle of Wonder Woman in her stead until Diana was ready to continue.
Other characters shown to have ascended to the role include Cassie Sandsmark, the modern Wonder Girl, who had taken up the role in a twisted alternate future, and even Diana’s mother Hippolyta, who had become Wonder Woman in multiple universes. Although Diana has been Wonder Woman for most of the identity’s existence, other brave daughters of Themyscira have also taken up the role, and likely will again at some point.
Although most characters in the Marvel universe weren’t aware of it, from early 2013 to mid-2014 an impostor had been operating in their midst. After using technology to migrate his consciousness from his dying body and mind into those of his greatest enemy, Otto Octavius had taken over Peter Parker’s body. The transference had an interesting effect, though: it actually caused elements of Peter’s own mind, particularly his sense of great power coming with great responsibility, to also survive inside Doc Ock. So, instead of abandoning heroics altogether, Otto Octavius instead aspired not to bury his enemy’s legacy, but to outmatch it. Peter Parker was the Amazing Spider-Man, but Otto Octavius would become a Superior Spider-Man.
Again, though, this is just one example of another character operating as Marvel’s wall-crawling web-head. During the infamous “Clone Saga,” Spidey clone Ben Reilly took over the role of Spider-Man while Peter moved with Mary Jane to another city. When Norman Osborn created a dark mirror of the Avengers during the “Dark Reign” event, Mac Gargan, the then-incumbent Venom, became the Dark Avengers’ Spider-Man analogue. In the Ultimate imprint of Marvel comics, young Miles Morales took up the mantle of Spider-Man when Peter Parker was killed by the Green Goblin.
Along with a few others, even a timeless character like Spider-Man isn’t immune from having someone take the place of Peter Parker, at least temporarily.
When DC Comics shocked the world by killing Superman in the early 1990s, it attracted the mainstream to comics in a way rarely seen, even by today’s standards. The actual death issue sold upwards of three million copies, and many new readers were created by such a monumental occurrence. When DC’s various Superman creative teams came up with four different scenarios to bring the Man of Steel back, Line Editor Mike Carlin threw up his hands and said, “lets do them all!” And so, we were treated to four very different characters all laying claim to the proverbial throne of the Man of Steel. There was Cyborg Superman, conceivably reborn using Kryptonian technology, the Eradicator, who looked like the man and had the power, but with an unrelenting brutality to him, Superboy, who claimed to be a clone of the original Superman, and Steel, a good-natured former weapons designer who was saved by Superman, and wants to pay that back by helping people.
While none of these characters ended up being the true Superman, and at least one of them ended up being one of the DCU’s newest and most formidable villains, not even Superman is left out of another character (or characters) taking his place. Other subsets of the DCU have also seen this: in the current Earth 2 title, the “real” Superman has become a brutal agent of Darkseid, and another Kryptonian will rise to become that world’s heroic new Superman. A possible future has shown the above Superboy take Kal-El’s place.
Either way, though, the characters that have lasted with the “S” on their chest are the ones that uphold the ideals of truth and justice. That’s the dividing line between the Supermen that rise, and the ones that fall.
After the DC crossover Final Crisis, it looked as though Darkseid had murdered Batman in the climax of the series. While Bruce Wayne had actually survived his encounter and would have to fight his way back to the world he knew, the DCU was reeling because it looked as though the Dark Knight had fallen. So, in his place, a new Batman had to rise to watch over Gotham City. After a brief battle for the cowl, it was Dick Grayson, the original Robin, that had risen above the pack, and began operating as Batman with Bruce’s son Damian serving as the new Robin. This status quo persisted for over a year before Bruce Wayne ultimately returned, but this was not the first time that someone else had taken up the “mantle of the Bat.
Around the same time that Superman was killed, the “Knightfall” story saw Bruce Wayne’s back broken by Bane, necessitating newcomer Jean-Paul Valley to become Gotham’s Dark Knight for a time. When Valley had to be forcibly removed from the role by a recovered Bruce, Dick took his first turn as Batman in the “Prodigal” story, giving Bruce time to heal as well as a new Batman he could trust. Alternate futures have also depicted both Tim Drake and Damian Wayne rise to become Batman in the wake of Bruce’s death, and 50 years in the future, we’ve also seen young Terry McGinnis become Bruce’s student and successor in both comic book and TV depictions of Batman Beyond. Not to mention alternate-universe stories like Flashpoint and Earth 2, which have seen Bruce’s father Thomas don the cape and cowl to become Batman.
The point of all of this is just to show that having a new character come in to take up the identity of a well-known character isn’t anything new, but Thor is a unique case: unlike many other major heroes, the word “man” isn’t a part of his name or code name. Why shouldn’t creators seize upon that and give fans something very different from time to time? The storytelling possibilities are very potent, and there’s also a chance that if that story connects with people strongly enough, it may become the basis for a future comic book film.
Some of these “fill-ins” have given us very positively memorable stories, and some have not. Either way, let’s enjoy what the storytellers have to offer for the time being. It’s certainly a lot better than complaining, and you never know just how good the unfolding events may prove to be. I hope that other superhero fans join me in telling the publishers: “bring it on.”
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: