by Aaron Einhorn
There’s been a lot of flack – undeservedly – at Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel about the fact that the newest Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe is Miles Morales, a half-Black, half-Latino kid. He may be a terrible character. He may be an icon for the ages. The truth is that we don’t know yet. But people are acting like replacing Peter Parker with a non-White kid is a cardinal sin.
But Spidey is hardly the first hero who has been replaced by a successor that wasn’t white. And the truth is that in the early days of comics, nearly every superhero was a protestant white male. Is it wrong that creators have used legacy heroes to add some diversity to the mix?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at ten other white males whose heroic legacy was taken up by someone of another race. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a decent sampling.
10) Wildcat (Yolonda Montez/Hector Ramirez)
The first of several successor to Ted Grant’s legacy was Yolonda Montez, a Hispanic woman with metahuman cat-like abilities, including claws and catlike abilities. Yolonda was actually Ted Grant’s goddaughter, and went on to become a journalist in addition to being Ted’s succcessor when he was injured during Crisis. Yolonda was a hero for many years before being killed by Eclipso. But Yolonda isn’t the only non-Caucasian to take up Ted Grant’s mantle. Hector Ramirez was one of Grant’s proteges, who also became Wildcat to honor Ted – although without Ted’s permission. Ted has a third successor now in the form of his son, Tom Bronson.
9) Green Arrow (Connor Hawke)
Oliver Queen gets around. A lot. So the surprising thing isn’t that he had an unknown child. The surprising thing is that he only had one. That one happens to have been raised by an order of Fighting Monks, and is now one of the top martial artists in the DC Universe (or at least he was before the reboot – who knows now). When Oliver Queen died, the mantle of Green Arrow was taken up by Connor Hawke. Connor is half-white, but his mother was a mixture of African and Korean, and although he’s illustrated inconsistently, Hawke is far from the purebred white boy that his dad is.
8) Giant-Man/Goliath (Bill Foster)
One of the shocking moments of Civil War was the death of Bill Foster at the hands of the Thor-clone. Bill Foster was a scientist and colleague of Henry Pym’s. When Pym was stuck at the height of 10 feet, Foster was brought in by Tony Stark to help Pym find a cure for his condition. Foster stayed on as Pym’s assistant and helped investigate the “death” of Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne. Years later, Foster got access to the Pym Particles on his own, and took up a variety of Giant names (including the unfortunate Black Goliath – because we couldn’t just accept him being Goliath for some reason…)
Foster has the distinction of being the third African-American character in comics to become a superhero, by virtue of having been introduced years before they gave him superpowers. While Foster is currently dead, his legacy remains tangible, and his death in Civil War is remembered by all.
7) The Atom (Ryan Choi)
As long as we’re discussing size-changing heroes, let’s talk about Ryan Choi. Ryan Choi was an assistant to Ray Palmer (who is, himself, not the first Atom) who, with Palmer’s blessing, takes up the size-changing devices. Choi was a member of the Justice League, and played a major part in the Search for Ray Palmer during DC’s 52. His brutal murder at the hands of Deathstroke resonated through comics, and severely upset many fans. Fortunately, it was revealed during Comic-Con that Choi will be a part of the post-Flashpoint Justice League – his death being one of the things undone by the event.
6) Bucky/Battlestar (Lemar Hoskins)
In the late eighties, Captain America quit and was replaced. Cap’s replacement, John Walker, was originally known as the Super-Patriot. He had three assistants who were collectively called the Buckies. Of the three Buckies, one became Left-Winger, the other became Right-Winger, and the third – Lemar Hoskins – became Bucky when John Walker became Captain America. It didn’t take too long for the name “Bucky” to begin to chafe when applied to a full-grown black man, and Hoskins quickly changed his code-name to Battlestar. Although we don’t see a lot of him these days, Battlestar is still around working for Project Pegasus, and played a prominent role in the recent Marvel Zombies Supreme miniseries.
5) Firestorm (Jason Rusch)
The Firestorm Matrix which originally turned Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein into Firestorm has been passed on to several different people – sometimes involving one of the original duo, other times not. But the most noteworthy of the new Firestorms has been Jason Rusch. Jason was introduced in 2004, and since then has earned a spot in several animated incarnations including Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Following the events of Brightest Day, Ronnie and Jason were the current duo of Firestorm – although it is not entirely clear who will be Firestorm when the character is rebooted in the DCnU by Gail Simone.
4) The Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes)
Another legacy hero who is actually a replacement of a replacement. Ted Kord, despite being the second Blue Beetle, is probably better known than the original. When Kord was killed during Infinite Crisis, the mystical scarab which belonged to Dan Garrett was passed on to Jaime Reyes, a hispanic teen. Reyes is, in many ways, DC’s parallel to Spider-Man. He’s a young kid who finds himself possessed of major power. He is earnest, and dedicated to doing the right thing. Since being introduced, Reyes has become a member of the Teen Titans, and featured on Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Smallville. To many fans, Jaime is the Blue Beetle, and both Ted Kord and Dan Garrett are footnotes.
3) Captain America (Isaiah Bradley)
In an interesting bit of retro-continuity, Bradley isn’t actually the replacement for Steve Rogers. He’s his predecessor. In the amazing Truth: Red, White & Black miniseries, Robert Morales and Kyle Baker gave us a Captain America origin that gave a hard look at some of the shameful treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. during the early part of the 20th century. While not directly comparing it to the Tuskegee Experiments, the parallels are obvious, and the idea that the government would test the Super-Soldier Serum on an African-American “volunteer” before using it on their poster boy resonated as something that was all-too-probable. Bradley became the first Captain America, and although he suffered debilitating consequences as a result – which kept him out of the public eye – the character and his history have been embraced as a part of the legacy of Captain America. Steve Rogers visited Bradley, most black superheroes in the Marvel Universe consider him a legend, and Bradley’s grandson Eli is now the leader of the Young Avengers as Patriot.
2) Green Lantern (John Stewart)
There have been numerous times that Hal Jordan has lost the Green Lantern ring and been replaced by another Earthling. The first, and in some ways most notable of these heroes, was John Stewart. Stewart has been reinvented more than almost any DC character other than Hawkman, with his personality ranging from extremely irate and constantly angry, to being a calm, cool source of wisdom. Although people usually remember that Stewart both has military training and is an architect, various incarnations have elaborated on these elements to one degree or another – often to the exclusion of that other element.
What makes Stewart especially notable is that when they included a Green Lantern in the Justice League cartoon, they went with Stewart over Hal, Guy or Kyle. Due to the popularity of the cartoon, many casual fans were unaware that there ever was a different Green Lantern than John. And there were more than a few fans who exclaimed their disgust that they were casting a White guy to play Green Lantern in the Ryan Reynolds-starring film!
1) Steel (John Henry Irons)
When Superman died, not one, not two, but four legacy heroes came to replace him. Of those four, one was a villain (the Cyborg). One was a deranged Kryptonian artifact who now may or may not be a hero (the Eradicator). One was an excuse to get Superboy back into DC continuity (and which was embraced by fans). But the final was John Henry Irons, who built a suit of armor to become Steel. Although technically not a legacy – he never called himself Superman, nor did he claim to be Superman resurrected – Steel honored Superman’s legacy better than any of the other four replacements (at least by most standards), and remains a stalwart hero and a big part of the DC Universe.
Bonus Entry) Iron Man/War Machine (Jim Rhodes)
Why is War Machine a bonus entry? Honestly because I’ve long since stopped thinking of him as a “successor” to Iron Man. But the truth is that Rhodey absolutely belongs on this list. Originally Tony Stark’s pilot, Jim Rhodes was one of Stark’s best friends and confidants. When Stark’s alcoholism took him out of the armor, Rhodey stepped in to become the new Iron Man, and for quite awhile people didn’t even realize that there was someone else in the suit – including the Avengers. Although Rhodey and Stark haven’t always seen eye to eye, there has always been a tremendous amount of respect between the two men, and when Stark revealed the War Machine armor in the late 80′s (during one of the many times that he “died”), it was quickly made apparent that Stark didn’t build the suit for himself, but instead built it for Jim Rhodes.
As War Machine, Jim Rhodes has played a major role in the Marvel landscape, and despite being played by two different actors in the films (Terrence Howard in Iron Man and Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2), fans always knew that we would see Rhodey in the War Machine armor, battling both against and beside Tony – and we got that in Iron Man 2. Although there are no announced plans to see War Machine in Marvel’s The Avengers (although you never know), we all expect to see him again in Iron Man 3.
And perhaps War Machine is the best place to end this list, since Jim Rhodes represents exactly what we should hope for with characters in comics. He isn’t “the Black Iron Man”. He’s his own character, fully realized, fully identified with and loved, by fans of all ethnicities. With any luck, Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man, will eventually get to the same position and he won’t be seen as simply Peter Parker’s replacement, but seen as an important and beloved character.
Who did we miss? What other important replacements have added diversity to the landscape of the comics? Let us know in the comments!