When it comes to the most iconic Marvel and DC super heroes, it’s hard to separate them from the men and women behind the masks. Bruce Wayne is Batman, as the tragedy of seeing his parents gunned down in front of him was the primary factor that led to his double life. Likewise, Captain America would be just one flag-adorned hero among many if it wasn’t for the convictions of Steve Rogers.
And yet, both they and some of the companies’ other big guns have been replaced at one time or another. Sometimes it was to prove a point, the way the Jean-Paul Valley Batman was used as meta-commentary on super hero comics in general. Other times there were business or story-related reasons, but the fact remains that there have been plenty of times our favorites have handed off their code names to someone else.
In honor of James “Bucky” Barnes getting more shine on the big screen in Captain America: The Winter Solider and the way he filled in for his mentor for a time in the comics, we decided to take a look at the best of the temporary replacements. These are people who we knew (or at least strongly suspected) would only be filling the regulars’ boots for a limited time — meaning no Wally West Flash, for instance, as he only took over once Barry Allen was gone — but gave it their all while doing so and left us with some memorable stories in the process.
Before we get to the top five, let’s spend a minute or two with five substitutes who didn’t quite make the cut, in no particular order:
- Ben Reilly as Spider-Man: If Marvel had gone through with its supposed original plan and stuck to the idea that Peter Parker was the clone, he’d go down as the greatest substitute super hero of all time, hands down, case closed. As it is, Reilly was the copy, and while he did an admirable job filling in while Parker tended to his family, he loses points for his oh-so-90s variation on the Spider-man costume.
- Artemis as Wonder Woman: Come to think of it, this temp job may also have been a commentary on comics excess, especially with the way Mike Deodato was drawing female characters at the time. What was really lame about the idea of Artemis as Wonder Woman was the way she needed magic artifacts from the gods to approximate Diana’s powers. Apparently all you need is a good gear score to be a Warrior Princess!
- Danny Rand as Daredevil: Maybe his glowing fists should have given him away? It was nice of Rand to pretend to be Daredevil in order to throw the public off Matt Murdock’s scent, but in the end, it didn’t really work.
- John Walker as Captain America: Despite how seemingly irreplaceable Rogers is, Marvel has had others wield the shield more than once. Walker went from jerk to Captain America to … well, kind of a jerk again, yet a heroic one with his heart in the right place. The late Mark Gruenwald admitted Walker was meant merely as a sales-boosting gimmick, though his long subsequent career as U.S. Agent is proof that some people liked him.
- Jean-Paul Valley as Batman: There’s no doubt he ranks among the most famous replacements, and Knightfall did its job of proving that Bruce Wayne’s way was the “right” way. But as mentioned above, Valley was more plot device than fully formed character, something that only changed once he returned to his Azrael identity.
We also considered the Legion of Substitute Heroes here because, well, substitute is in the group’s name! Ultimately, the list got whittled down to five, and you can check out who made the cut by clicking on the arrows.