Legacy characters and alternate versions

The Twitter exchange you see below is from a while ago, but it is a topic I have been thinking about off an on.  The gist of it is that Comic Pro A (red) is bragging how Marvel has been on top without their most popular character, Wolverine, 3 years.  (I remember this came up when defending the sales of Marvel Comics, but Twitter isn’t the easiest to search.)  This struck me as odd, since the last I seen there were actual multiple Wolverines running around.  And honestly, I had actually forgotten that the original had died, or something.  There were some replies agreeing with their sentiment, and hoping that the original Wolverine would return.  However, there were some replies that had the same sentiment as I did.  It is these replies that I want to focus on, because I think the disagreement is more interesting.  The gray and black boxes are fans, and the blue box is another professional.



There are two things I am picking up here:  they do not consider legacy characters to be the character they are replacing and they do not consider alternate versions of the character to be that character.  I have issues with both of those sentiments, because history shows them both to be wrong. 

First, let’s look at the legacy character issue.  A legacy character is when someone, new or existing character, replaces an established hero.  Some examples include Wally West becoming The Flash, Kyle Rayner becoming Green Lantern, Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson becoming Captain America, Ben Reilly or Miles Morales becoming Spider-man, Kate Bishop becoming Hawkeye.  You get the idea.  Normally, there is some story about how this character is taking on the mantle of the established hero.  When Dick Grayson became Batman, again, it was in the Battle for the Cowl story.

There are a few reasons for doing this.  The simplest being money.  It is a lot easier to get people to continue buy a title than to get them to give a new title a chance.  It is easier to keep people buying Ultimate Spider-man than to get them to start buying a Miles Morales title, in which he is Spider-man. Or, people are more likely to buy a book titled Hawkeye than buy a book with Kate Bishop as the title.

Another reason is that they are just a placeholder during the story.  Using the Dick Grayson example, it was part of the ongoing story that Bruce Wayne would return at some point.  It made sense to keep the on-going titles going.  While Bucky was Captain America, it made since to keep the Captain America title going in his absence.  But regardless of why a different character is filling as a hero, during that time, they are that hero.  To myself, it does not matter if they are that character for a couple years or a couple decades.

If you ask people if The Flash existed in DC Comics between 1987 and 2008, they are going to answer yes.  It does not matter that it was Wally West and not Barry Allen.  The Flash was there.  Same with Green Lantern.  Just because it was not Hal Jordan from 1994 to 2005 does not mean that the Green Lantern was not around.  These new characters came in and became the hero they were replacing.  And you may say, well, these characters lasted for decades.

To that, I say I don’t care.  I do not know what people thought when those characters were introduced, but I can look back with hindsight and see that they were those heroes during that entire expanse of time.  Wally West did not suddenly become The Flash after filling in after 2 or 5 years of being in the title.  He was The Flash the moment he took over.  I use the time frame because I believe it does not matter how long a legacy character is going to take the mantle of the hero for.  Whether it be Wally West for 30 years or Bucky Barnes for 2 years.  Both of them were the heroes that they replaced.

And then we come to the alternate universe argument.  That one is a bit more difficult to come up with examples for, because it is uncommon for an alternate version of a character to replace the mainline continuity character.  Currently in DC, you have the pre-Flashpoint Superman replacing the New 52 Superman.  That’s what Comic Pro 2 (blue) is referencing.  But I think the best question is “was Batman in The Dark Knight Returns?”

That seems like a silly question.  Of course it is Batman in The Dark Knight Returns.  But why?  It is an older version of the character from outside mainline continuity.  Sure, the costume is there, but a costume is not needed.  Background characters where Superman shirts in panels, but that does not make them Superboy.  Besides, going back to our original example, Wolverine has done stuff out of costume.

But I digress.  If we consider it to be Batman that appears in The Dark Knight Returns, it seems safe to assume that he would still be Batman if he were brought into mainline DC continuity.  Just because the universe is different, it would not make that character any less Batman.  Likewise, just because this is an older Logan from a different universe, that does not make him any less Wolverine.

Ultimately, whether it be a legacy or alternate universe situation, these characters are the heroes they are filling in for because the writers say they are.  If fans want to be in denial, that is fine, but that does not make them right.  If the X-Men group of writes say that right now, X-23 is Wolverine, then X-23 is Wolverine.  There is no “real” or “fake” Wolverine, unless that is how it is playing out in the story.  There is only the old Wolverine and the new Wolverine.  If you do not like the new, then fine, do not read it.  Also, do not think whether or not you are buying a book determines its legitimacy.  That just makes you seem like a petulant child.  Or, the Superboy-Prime of the real world.



  1. Respectfully, I disagree with most of this.

    Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Sam Wilson have all been Captain America, but they are all different people and thus very different characters. When Doctor Octopus took over Peter Parker’s body and became Spider-Man he was a different character. Sure, they were both called Spider-Man…in this case they were even physically the same person…but they were totally different characters.

    And even when different characters assume the same mantle, that doesn’t negate that there are definitive versions of a character. Dick Grayson, Jean-Paul Valley, Jim Gordon, and others have all worn the cowl & been called Batman at one one point or another, but Bruce Wayne is still THE Batman. Sure, if DC commits to a new legacy character, takes the older version of that character out of the picture completely, and gives the new character time to establish their own identity & legacy, (like they did with Wally West & Kyle Rayner), then one day they might eclipse the older character and become the definitive version. But putting a new person in a Batman costume & calling them Batman does not immediately make them as legitimate as Bruce Wayne.

    And there is definitely such a thing as “the real Wolverine”. His name is James “Logan” Howlett, and up until now, he was the only Wolverine in all of Marvel’s continuity. He’s a clearly defined character with a multi-decade long history and a multitude of defined relationships with other characters that exist in his universe. At this point in history, he’s the character everybody thinks of when they hear the name “Wolverine”. And he’s been dead since the fall of 2014.

    X-23 putting on a familiar looking costume and calling herself Wolverine does not make her the same character. Old Man Logan, while being a version of Wolverine from an alternate reality/possible future, is not the same character. When they established him in the current continuity, they made it a point to show that the past he remembers is not the world he’s currently living in.

    My point here is that legacy characters and alternate reality replacements are not the same character as the one’s they’re replacing. The mask a character wears and the person behind that mask can be very different.


    • Yes, Steve, Bucky, and Sam are different characters, but they all were at some point Captain America. The point was not to say that they are all the same character, but rather that they are the heroes they are filling in for, not some fake versions that are around until the real version comes back. Bucky was not a fake Captain America, Dick Grayson was not a fake Batman. As a reader, it is completely your choice on whether or not you want to buy into the replacement, just as it’s the writer’s job to write a story that makes you want to buy into it.


      • I think what we’re arguing here is semantics. You’re technically correct. Sam Wilson is legit Captain America right now. Not a fake, not pretending…just Captain America. The writers have decided that he is now Captain America and are presenting him as such. And you’re right, it’s up to the people who were reading Captain America comics when he took over the title role to decide if they buy into it or not. Just because some people don’t accept him as Captain America doesn’t make him any less Captain America.

        But it’s not like with the WWF dressed up Glenn Jacobs & Rick Bognar as Diesel & Razor Ramon; trying to just move forward and pretend nothing had changed. Though the name “Captain America” carries a lot of cache with it, it’s just a title and not a character in and of itself. Sam Wilson’s Cap is different from Steve Rogers’ Cap, which is different from Bucky’s Cap. They don’t have the same personality, they don’t have the same history, they don’t have the same relationships. Just because they all carry the shield and call themselves Captain America doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable.

        X-23 is calling herself Wolverine now. She’s legitimately Wolverine…the only character called that who is currently active in the Marvel universe. And it’s up to fans of both X-23 and the old Wolverine to decide if they buy into her as Wolverine or not. But she’s not interchangeable with the Logan’s Wolverine. The fact that they have the same name & wear similar costumes doesn’t make them the same. She is a character called Wolverine, but she’s not the Wolverine that people have known since 1974. Arguing that Marvel is wrong to say they haven’t used the super-popular-for-decades Wolverine for over two years because they’ve had a totally different character running around calling themselves Wolverine is disingenuous.


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