Skip to main content

The best legacy superheroes in comic books

Legacy superheroes
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The idea of a superhero passing on their mantle to another to continue in their footsteps is a time-honored part of the superhero genre, going back to comic strip hero the Phantom and on to Silver Age examples such as the Flash and Green Lantern.

In some cases it's second-generation characters, picking up after their parents - in others it's metaphorical, like Carol Danvers taking on the Captain Marvel mantle and giving her 'Ms. Marvel' title down to her biggest fan.

That tradition continues, as right now we're in the midst of Batman, Captain America, and Superman Batman passing the torch - or rather, sharing it - as in all three cases new heroes have stepped up to act in their stead like a store franchise. 

So, without further ado, we're taking a historical dive into the idea of legacy heroes, counting down the ten greatest of all time. 

10. Sam Wilson - Captain America

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Sam Wilson is hardly the first person to take up Steve Rogers' shield when Rogers could no longer serve as Captain America, but he might be the best replacement Cap of all time.

Trained by Rogers himself, the former Falcon is also the only substitute Cap to continue wielding the shield after Rogers returned to the role, making him one of two currently active Captains America.

Sam's been a sidekick, an Avenger, and a hero in his own right, and he's done it all without the physical enhancements that many other substitute Caps have had, proving he's got the grit and gumption to do Steve's legacy proud.

Sam is now a Captain America in comics, and the Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

9. Miles Morales - Spider-Man

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Now that Miles Morales is part of the mainstream Marvel Universe, he's one of two Spider-Men currently operating - but before that, in the Ultimate Universe, he was the one and only, having taken the mantle after Peter Parker's death.

Miles is young, but so was Peter when he became Spider-Man. And though his parents are alive, Miles also has some familial relationships that have taught him how to be a hero, such as his villainous uncle, the Prowler.

Miles also has some things Peter never had, such as electric venom blasts, and a kind of invisibility.

But most importantly of all, Miles carries on Peter's tradition of youthful superheroics in the Marvel Universe. 

8. The Four Supermen

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: DC)

Superman is another guy that's taken a powder from time to time. Clearly, the most famous round of replacements came in 1992 after the big guy seemingly took the dirt nap versus Doomsday. Each of the four characters claimed to be Superman, though ultimately, none were.

You had Superboy (the clone), Eradicator (the Kryptonian artifact), Steel (the inspired), and the Cyborg Superman (villain in disguise!).

To the credit of all involved, the four replacements were made into viable characters, with Superboy and Steel getting their own books, and Eradicator and Cyborg living on as villains. 

7. Ben Reilly - Spider-Man

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Yeah. 'The Clone Saga.' Hang on...

This whole thing started due to a confrontation that Spidey had with Professor Miles Warren, AKA the Jackal. Warren was a cloning expert, and he created clones of both Spider-Man and the late love of his life, Gwen Stacy. Warren also loved Stacy, and blames Spider-Man for her death. Spider-Man eventually defeats the clone and the Jackal, and it's implied that the clone was incinerated. Spidey believes that he's the real Spidey because he feels true, deep love for MJ, which a clone of a younger Peter would not. Follow? Okay.

Flash-forward a couple of decades. The clone reappears, using the name Ben Reilly. An enormously complicated storyline ensues, crossing two years of time and literally dozens of issues. Reilly adventures as the Scarlet Spider, but becomes Spider-Man after he and Peter are duped into believing that Peter is the clone and Peter retires, with Ben stepping in as Spider-Man.

Eventually, the true enemy of the piece turns out to be Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin) who had never died. Reilly is killed in the final battle, and turns to dust, confirming the fact that he is the clone.

This is a ridiculously compressed version of events, but we are talking about (by our count) approximately 764 comic books.

Today, the event is widely seen in fan circles as an event gone off the rails (although that's not to say it doesn't have its very devoted fans).

The upshot: Spider-Man was indeed officially replaced for some time, but when the clone dust cleared, Peter Parker was back in the suit.

That dust is now being stirred up, however, with the upcoming 'Beyond' era of Amazing Spider-Man portending that Peter Parker will be on his literal death bed and Ben Reilly once again stepping up to become Spider-Man.

6. Dick Grayson - Batman

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: DC)

A replacement so nice DC did it twice.

The first time went like this: The original Robin, Dick Grayson took on the more mature Nightwing persona in 1984. Long-viewed by most at Batman's eventual successor, Dick got his chance to fill the cowl in the 'Knightfall'/'KnightsEnd' follow-up, 'Prodigal.' In that story, which stretched from fall of 1994 and into 1995, Bruce Wayne passed the mantle to Dick, whom he had raised after the death of Dick's parents, while he did some soul-searching over his role. After a brief period, Bruce returned to the Batman role, and Dick went back to being Nightwing, though he wasn’t the only substitute Batman in this time period. The former Azrael, Jean-Paul Valley, filled the role for a time, albeit less successfully.

As for the second time, Batman seemingly died during Final Crisis after taking out Darkseid. While the real explanation is pretty complicated, let's just say that he didn't. During his absence, Dick again donned the cowl as Batman, and Bruce's son Damien became Robin. Although Bruce eventually returned, both he and Dick kept using the Batman identity. In the 'New 52,' Dick reclaimed his Nightwing mantle, leaving Bruce the sole Batman once again. 

5. Doctor Octopus - Spider-Man

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

When Spider-Man's arch-foe Dr. Octopus was diagnosed with a terminal condition, he set about enacting his ultimate revenge plot against Spider-Man. With little time left to live, he nefariously used his cybernetic tech to swap minds with the hero, taking Peter Parker's place as Spider-Man.

However, Peter didn't go down without a fight, and as Peter's mind in Doc Ock's body breathed its last, he used his connection to Dr. Octopus - now in Peter's body - to make Octavius feel the weight of responsibility of being Spider-Man.

Of course, great responsibility or not, Octavius's hubris was left intact, driving him to become a darker, more brutal, and, if you asked him, more "superior" Spider-Man.

It all crumbled when Octavius's arrogance led him to be tricked by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, forcing Doc Ock to relinquish control of Peter's body back to the sliver of Peter Parker's consciousness that remained in order to save the day.

Now Octavius is back in a souped-up clone body - and while he briefly dusted off his Superior Spider-Man moniker, he's back now under his classic name of Doc Ock.

4. John Stewart - Green Lantern

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: DC)

Hal Jordan's done his fair share of quitting his Green Lantern job. On one occasion in the '80s, the Guardians replaced him with a most logical choice: Hal's back-up GL, John Stewart.

Stewart was well known to readers of the book, and had adventured with the Justice League on more than one occasion. Stewart was an architect by trade (ah-ha!), as well as a veteran Marine. Stewart has served with distinction over the years, including fighting in Crisis on Infinite Earths and joining Jordan when the GLC relocated to Earth. His first wife, Katma Tui, was a GL.

When the Corps was destroyed during Jordan's rampage, Stewart later became a Darkstar. With the Corps restored, Stewart returned, and has been active ever since.

And, lest we forget, he's the animated GL that people know best.

3. James Rhodes - Iron Man

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Another Marine, though not an architect, James Rhodes met Tony Stark shortly after Stark created his Iron Man armor and escaped his captors. Becoming Tony's friend and pilot, Rhodes joined Stark and/or Iron Man on a number of adventures, including the defeat (at one point) of one Justin Hammer.

When Stark lost his company (due to the machinations of Obadiah Stane) and fell off the wagon, he ceded the Iron Man identity to Rhodes. Rhodey operated as Iron Man for quite some time (in fact, he is the Iron Man in the original Secret Wars, not Stark).

Unfortunately, the Iron Man armor, not made for him particularly, began to drive him crazy. Stark, now sober, put on a new suit and saved his friend. Rhodey later received a new suit from Stark and became War Machine.

Rhodey replaced Tony again briefly years later before returning to his War Machine identity. He's also a key character in the Marcel Cinematic Universe. 

2. Carol Danvers - Captain Marvel

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Carol Danvers has been a superhero since the '70s, when a run-in with a Kree device called the Psyche-Magnitron bestowed her with enhanced physicality, and energy manipulating powers.

She spent most of her career as Ms. Marvel, working alongside Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel until his death. Though she occasionally went by other names - including Binary and Warbird - usually when her powers underwent some kind of transformation, it's only within the last few years that Carol decided to truly live up to her potential and officially become the new Captain Marvel.

Of course, this also paved the way for a new Ms. Marvel, with young Kamala Khan taking on that title.

In movies, Carol Danvers is a member of the Avengers and is a key character in the MCU's ongoing plans. 

1. Wally West - The Flash

Legacy superheroes

(Image credit: DC)

The first comic superhero sidekick to fulfill the promise of taking over for his mentor, Wally West became the Flash at the close of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally West originally became Kid Flash when he experienced an accident similar to that of his uncle-by-marriage, Barry Allen.

For many years, Wally adventured alongside his mentor and his own group of friends, the Teen Titans. After experiencing a disease that began to shorten his life each time he used his powers, Wally retired from heroics. During the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally put his costume back on to aid the heroes and search for his missing mentor. Wally discovered that Barry gave his life to save the surviving universes. 

During the final stages of the last confrontation with the Anti-Monitor, a blast of energy sent Wally's disease reeling into remission. In Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, Wally resolved to carry on in Barry's stead as the new Flash. Wally held the spot for many years, joining Justice League Europe, the later JLA, the re-formed Titans, and Grant Morrison’s iconic JLA.

After years of being put through the ringer with deaths, resurrection, the loss of his family, and even a murderous rampage, he's now come full circle and is once again DC's primary Flash.