By allhailme 25 Comments
Its been 73 years since Superman first appeared, and between then and now there have been a lot of comics, It is only natural that in that time legacy characters have appeared. I'm going to take a quick look at some of the types of legacy characters,some positives and negatives of each, and some notable examples.
Some types of legacy characters are:
1: The Family
2: The Sidekick
5: The Unexpected
Perhaps the easiest way to make a legacy character is to have them be a family member. Readers seem to naturally accept that family can be a natural replacement for a previously used character. This tends to be most common among Parents/Child. Take Captain Boomerang, upon his death his son became the new Captain Boomerang. The reason he did this was for the same reason that many family replacements (especially villains) do, revenge. Family is naturally inclined to feel more emotional about the death of someone. A family member tends to feel some responsibility to do something, whether its try to get the perpetrator imprisoned or more violent actions. With a super villain,they take their super villain identity's seriously, and if they die,its usually in battle with another super person. They take the name in order to pull a Inigo Montoya, they want the person to know that they killed their father/mother, who that father/mother is, and that they should prepare to die. By taking a loved one's identity, they hope to keep that person close, and in doing so their victory will become the loved ones victory.
But dieing isn't the only reason a person may have a family member take over, sometimes they just retire. Though the need for revenge isnt there, the basic reasoning remains the same. They love their family member and want to honour them. The positives to a family legacy are obvious, its easier to buy the fact that they can replace the original, they knew them well, they could be assumed to be genetically similar, which would explain similar talents. It requires less build up than other types because even if we do not know who this random just announced family member is, we accept that the previous character did. The negatives to it is it can seem a little forced. Sometimes it can be used as a cheap cop out for if they want to bring back a character, but they dont want to ressurect them or put any effort into a character. He/She is so-and so's brother/sister, have fun.
The sidekick is the easiest legacy for readers to accept. The sidekick is close enough with the hero to be family,the sidekick has a reason to take the identity, the reader is already familiar with them, and they have already been pretty much doing the heroes job for years. This all makes the sidekick the perfect replacement. When Batman died Dick Grayson was really the only suitable replacement due to his years of history with him. The same can be said for Bucky and Captain America. So what problems is their with the sidekick choice? The same reason I said it was the easiest to accept and the reason i said family was the easiest way to have a legacy character.The sidekicks have years of storytelling backing them, so it takes a lot of work and investment to make it work. Imagine if 3 issues after Robin first appears Batman dies and Robin replaces him. Doesn't have the same effect. The only other problem comes from the time the sidekick has been around,they may already have their own legacy. Dick made a name for himself as Nightwing, the character was well liked. If when replacing Batman the change was not doing well, it puts the legacy of both characters at risk.
The tribute is when a already previously established hero/villain takes on the identity of another hero villain. This may be done to honour the previous generation, such as when Hank Pym took the identity of the wasp after the originals death. Despite the troubles they had, he still cared for Jann,and like the family example wanted to preserve that. They may also do that because they are having an identity crisis. Hawkeye takes the goliath mantle from pym after he felt like being an archer wasn't good enough, returned to being hawkeye, briefly dressed as captain america after his death as a tribute to him, and then assumed echo's old ronin alias. Sometimes a character may take a costume to gain the notoriety the previous character had, such as when Norman Osborn created the Dark Avengers. He hoped to cash in on the goodwill the characters have. The positives are again a connection to the original,and the skills to back up the transition. The negative is the fact it rarely lasts long. As previously stated the replacement was already established, and the fans usually want that character to return to the identity they made popular in the first place,so the new one doesnt stick.
The replacement is simply someone purposely trained by the original for the purpose of being a replacement.A good example is when the question was dying form cancer, he took the time out to train a replacement in Renee Montoya. This is probably the most efficient way to do it. No Bitterness for replacing the original, because the original wanted it. The new character gains the skills needed to replace them. They gain a familiarity and respect for the original,and the reader gets time to adjust to the fact the original is getting replaced, and to the replacement themselves. The only real negative is again it takes some time and effort, and in a world where most deaths happen suddenly in events,it just doesnt happen often.
The character that has no business with the original and comes out of nowhere. This is usually gained through one of four ways. The first is happenstance, for example when Hal Jordan stopped being a lantern, kyle rayner was the new green lantern because he was chosen by the ring, and not out of any relation to to the previous one. The second is again a respect for the legacy of the previous character, such as when Miles Morales took over in Ultimate spiderman. Thirdly, like in the tribute, they are trying to cash in on the fame of the original. Lastly through an act of heroism or bravery, the original just gives them the name. An example is when Scott Lang uses the antman equipment to save a doctors life. Pym just gives him the title. This is the riskiest method, because we have no prior knowledge or attachment to the character, and a lot of effort has to be used to establish them,they could not be accepted. It also has the potential to bring the character to new heights by taking the character in new directions,and establishing a new loved character.
Thought i would mention two trends that dont quite count in the list but are worth noting
Alternate universe version- Sometimes a character is replaced by a alternate universe version of themselves. It doesnt quite count because they are replacing themselves, but many of the same issues can occur depending on how different the two version are.
Alternate Gender Version- The replacement is a different gender, doesnt count because they would still fit in one of the other categories, but it is still a common trend. Usually guy to girl, in fact the only male taking up a females mantel i can think of on the spot is the male cheetah. How well it turns out depends on how good the writing is, because bad writing can make it look like oh its ____ but a girl. They should be their own characters.
What makes a good replacement?
A good replacement has a couple of factors:
1: Be likable: Or else the fans will have you beaten with a crowbar and blown up.
2: Have a similar theme/vibe to the original,but bring something new: They have to connect either in theme or in tone to the original,but not be a carbon copy. There has to be a reason to warrant the taking of a previous identity over just making a new character. So it has to connect in someway to the original. At the same time the character has to warrant replacing the original instead of just bringing the original back. Take the green lantern's switch from Alan Scott to Hal Jordan. The story still focused on a person who has to charge a ring with a lantern in order to create things with energy charged by willpower and has a sense of justice. The difference in tone between the two, from mystical origin to sci-fi space cops makes it its own beast.
3: Give some time: well this isnt a law, it does help to give the replacement some time. It wears down the impact if there tenure is short,because they have less time to make their mark. A character around for two years is more memorable than one around for two months.
This works for a number of reasons. Wally West was related to Barry Allen,giving him the automatic family bump. He was his sidekick for years,so he was experienced. When Barry went out it was in a flash of glory. Wally had a more humorous,fun loving personality,setting the tones apart. And most helpful of all is the fact that for over twenty years Barry stayed dead, giving Wally time to make his own legacy. People could then identify "their flash",instead of bad flash and good flash.
It follows my three major rules. Jaime Reyes is likable, the series had a lighthearted tone as Ted Kord's did. At the same time the larger focus on family, and the fact Jaime has superpowers while Ted didnt set it apart. Finally, Jaime was given a few years as Blue Beetle to build his fanbase.
It's amazing how much the transition from Johnny Blaze to Dan Ketch worked.He too fit the rules. He had the similar horror vibe, he was still a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle,yet he had differences. His bike was different, his personality was different, he had new abilities. He had years as the ghost rider, and you felt for his situation.He brought new enemies. He also fit a ton of legacy types. He was the unexpected, since he was a new creation, he ended up being family to Johnny Blaze (unknown at first). And he was the replacement, as Johnny Blaze taught him how to use his abilities as the new ghost rider. This transition has gained fans for both Ghost Riders and that is a success.
Well thats all,what are your favorite legacy characters? What do you think makes one successful? What ones totally failed in your eyes?