This past week, Robert Kirkman’s long-running Image title Invincible gave us a brand new title character, as (spoiler), supporting character Bulletproof took on the mantle of Invincible while the usual guy is laid up in a hospital bed probably dying or something. Though it’s far too soon to tell whether Bulletproof will be an even better Invincible than, er, Invincible, we thought we’d take a look back at ten characters and teams that replaced the title character(s), and made that comic EVEN BETTER. Only ground rule? They need to have done it mid-run, so no Wally West becoming Flash with a new number one, or even (sob) our beloved new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales. Okay, on to the list:
10. Action Comics
Okay, fine, we’re starting with a cheat right off, as technically Superman is the title character in Action Comics, but he’s not actually in the title. But starting with issue #980, writer Paul Cornell kicked off a fantastic arc called “The Black Ring,” which cast Lex Luthor as the main character, trying to collect evil energy for his own purposes. What makes this work for the list is that Cornell gave Luthor his own Lois Lane (really a robot double), his own Jimmy Olsen, and pit him against the greatest villains in the DC Universe, before making him fight his ultimate enemy: Superman.
9. The Fantastic Four
Some fans might argue this wasn’t an upgrade, but due to the machinations of a villainous alien Skrull, in issue #347 Marvel’s First Family was replaced by The Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider. That’s just fun, you guys. The team didn’t last more than three issues, but due to the relative popularity of the pairing, they’ve popped up a few more times since - including a riff on the team in the currently running Venom series.
8. Savage Dragon
Again, arguable (don’t worry, we’ll get to some stuff that it’s impossible for comic book fans to argue in a bit, because that’s a thing that can happen), but after the death of the title character, writer/artist Erik Larsen replaced Savage Dragon with his son Malcolm... And we’ve been loving the title ever since. Younger, more conflicted, and with more room for growth, the title feels more relevant now than when it was first introduced. And all just cause they went for a younger, hipper Savage Dragon who rides a skateboard, and says cool things like, “Wiggity-wack, Dragon is back!” NOTE: That last part is not true.
When Superman died forever in 1992 and was never brought back to life again, many fans wondered what could replace the Man of Steel. And sure, his four replacements haven’t all been quite as enduring as the original superhero, but the Reign of the Supermen storyline that ran through all four of Supes books for the next few months was fun - something that had been missing from Clark Kent’s titles before the event.
One of the biggest watchwords of Marvel’s villain redemption series Thunderbolts has been reinvention, as new teams and characters have taken over the title. Two reinventions in particular stand out as excellent: the first was in issue #110, as Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato created a new, vile team led by a ‘reformed’ Green Goblin as they slowly went insane; the second is the current incarnation, written by Jeff Parker, which finds a new team functioning like a supervillain work release program. Both improved and updated the original concept, which remains one of the most enduring titles in the Marvel stable.
5. Green Lantern
There’s been a number of dudes who power their fancy green rings through the strength of their will in the DC Universe, but by far our favorite is crab-mask wearing Kyle Rayner. He took over in Green Lantern #51 after previous bearer Hal Jordan went nuts and killed everyone else who was a Green Lantern. This sense of isolation gave the title a new, hero learning the ropes feel that added fun, excitement, and a sense of overall “newness” to an otherwise stale franchise. Decades later, Rayner is still around, and still getting crap for his crab-mask.
4. The Incredible Hulk
Another slight cheat, but when a title is this good who cares? In issue #112 of The Incredible Hulk, the Greek God Hercules took over as the title character, eventually retaining the numbering, and retitling the book The Incredible Hercules. The comic that spun out was a perfect mix of superheroics, humor, and actual emotion, masterfully written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. And sure, we still liked the Hulk, but Hercules holds a special place in our hearts, too. Hey: we can like more than one muscle-bound comic book idiot, right?
3. Captain America
We like Marvel’s First Avenger Steve Rogers and all... But we like it when his sidekick Bucky Barnes was Captain America even better. Bucky was reintroduced into modern continuity after “dying,” in Captain America #1, but it wasn’t until issue #34 that he took over the mantle of Cap. It was that slow burn, and excellent reintroduction of the character led by writer Ed Brubaker that made us love Bucky as Cap all the more - and his conflicted approach to the Sentinel of Liberty played far more interestingly than the straight arrow Steve Rogers.
Interestingly, X-Force started as a reinvention of a comic itself, as issue #100 of New Mutants found the team of teen heroes turning into X-Force, before launching as a new #1. A decade later, the title morphed again, relaunching in issue #116 under the direction of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred. The groundbreaking title skewered reality television and popular culture with an all new group of weirdo mutants and characters. They even came into conflict with the old team once, who accused them of stealing their name. A year later, the title would change its name to X-Statix, and continue to break new ground in mainstream superhero comics.
1. The X-Men
Is there any title - and franchise - that’s benefited more from a reinvention than The X-Men? They went from a misunderstood, and relatively unappreciated series about teenager with mutant powers, to an unstoppable cultural juggernaut, and all it took was one issue: Giant-Size X=Men #1. With a new team of mutants, including a little Canadian guy named Wolverine, X-Men continued with issue #94, and became one of the biggest hits in comic book history. Then, later on, they introduced Maggott, and the comic book landscape was once again changed forever. Kidding!