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.