<i>by George Marston, Newsarama Contributor</i> <p>In December, <i>Amazing Spider-Man</i> ends. The following month, <i>Superior Spider-Man</i> begins. <p>It's not just a title change it's been established that Peter Parker will no longer be under the Spidey mask, and whoever is taken over the mantle will bring new powers and abilities to the legacy of the iconic superhero. <p>But this isn't the first time a classic hero has taken on a new identity or freshened up an old one. Earlier this year, Carol Danvers formerly known as Ms. Marvel was re-christened as the latest Captain Marvel. And there are many more examples throughout the past few decades of superhero comic books. <p>Sometimes a new codename or a new power set is just the kind of shot in the arm that can reinvigorate a character, and so here's a look at 10 classic characters who managed to successfully reinvent themselves. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>
James Rhodes started out as an ex-soldier who befriended original Iron Man, Tony Stark, eventually becoming his personal pilot and long-time ally. When physical ailments brought on by alcoholism led Stark to give up his career as Iron Man, it was Rhodes whom he trusted to don the armor. It was an interesting move, because, at the time, even Stark's allies, the Avengers, had no idea who was really piloting the armor, so the change in identity mostly went unnoticed by his peers, with Rhodes even acting as Iron Man at the founding of the West Coast Avengers. However, his stint was short-lived, as the Iron Man armor gave him headaches that caused him to occasionally behave erratically. After Tony Stark donned a new suit of armor to quell his friend's rampage, he returned permanently to his life as Iron Man, and Rhodes returned to life as a civilian. <p>Years later, after the apparent death of Tony Stark, Rhodes became CEO of Stark Enterprises, and once again donned a suit of armor, this time built to his specifications. Rhodes's history with the military was apparent in the design of the suit, as it was adorned with large Gatling guns, rockets, and other heavy-duty weaponry. Fittingly, Rhodes took on the identity of War Machine, remaining in the armor even after Stark's return. He's since enjoyed a long career as a military operative and Avenger, supporting several of his own titles over the years. <p>Rhodes was recently back in the Iron Man armor in <i>Invincible Iron Man</i>, and a member of <i>Secret Avengers</i>, plus a central character, in and out of armor, in Marvel's successful <i>Iron Man</i> films where it looks like Rhodey will be rebranded once again for 2013's <i>Iron Man 3</i>, as Iron Patriot.
Captain America is one of Marvel's most recognizable icons. Having been published nearly continually since the '40s, in one form or another, he's also one of their most enduring and most popular. However, Steve Rogers has chosen to abandon the identity of Captain America several times, usually taking on a new identity to continue his crime fighting career. The first time he made such a shift in identity occurred in the mid-seventies, as part of Steve Englehart's now classic run on the title. Disillusioned with the American government after discovering that the leader of the Secret Empire, a criminal organization who had been plaguing him for years, was secretly a high-ranking government official (strongly implied to be then-president Richard Nixon), Captain America chose to abandon his star-spangled costume and iconic flying shield, and take on the unaffiliated identity of "Nomad," a man without a place in the world. <p>After several comical mishaps, including tripping on his own ill-advised yellow cape, Steve really began adjusting to the identity of Nomad with the help of his partner, the Falcon. Of course, the change was fairly short-lived, lasting only a matter of months, before duty called, and Steve returned to the Captain America identity to defeat his old nemesis, the Red Skull. This was only the first time Steve would give up the mantle of Captain America, however, as different eras have seen him become the black-clad "Captain" when his service was questioned by the government, take on the identity of the so-called "man without a country" when he was thought to be a fugitive, and, most recently, act as simply Steve Rogers, leader of national security. <p>Of course, he's back behind the shield again in the pages of his own title and several Avengers books, but it could be only a matter of time before he makes another change.
Hal Jordan was not the first character to wear the power ring of the Green Lantern, but he was the character who revived the series in the early '60s, helping to usher in the Silver Age of comics and return of superheroes to prominence. For 40 years, Hal was a fan favorite; his bravado, willful attitude, and impeccable sense of heroism made him a high-flying example of the best of Earth's potential. <p>Then the '90s happened. In the early '90s, comics were undergoing a sales boom, bolstered by a quickly growing speculation market full of people expecting big dividends when their comic collections matured. Many companies began examining their product lines, and taking big risks to reinvigorate floundering titles. DC Comics had introduced former sidekick Wally West as the Flash some years earlier, and the "Death and Return of Superman" proved to be one of the most successful superhero stories of all time. So it was only natural that they began considering these kinds of stories for other titles. <p>During the "Death and Return of Superman," the villain Mongul, with some help from Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman, laid waste to Coast City, Hal Jordan's hometown, killing the entire population, and decimating the buildings. In a fit of grief, Hal selfishly used his power ring to rebuild and resurrect the city. When his power ring's energies failed, and Hal was admonished by the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps, Hal went on a rampage, killing dozens of his fellow Green Lanterns, and becoming the villain "Parallax" in the process. He remained Parallax for years, as Kyle Rayner became the one and only remaining Green Lantern, and Hal's legacy of heroism was tarnished by his villainy. Several years later, after giving his life to save the Earth, Hal returned as the newest incarnation of the Spectre, before fully returning to life, and restarting the Green Lantern Corps. It was later revealed that the reason for Hal's turn to villainy was corruption from the embodiment of fear, and Hal has since returned to the mantle of Green Lantern, spawning a string of popular titles, a current animated series and the 2011 live-action movie.
For years, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross was an archenemy of the Incredible Hulk. Like the Hulk, Ross was less a clear-cut villain, and more an occupant of the grey area that exists for characters who are simply trying to do what they believe is right. Ross was in charge of a military unit known as the "Hulkbusters," whose duty was to subdue and capture the Hulk. To further complicate matters, Ross's only daughter, Betty, was deeply in love with Bruce Banner, the Hulk's more mild-mannered human identity. After unsuccessfully pursuing the Hulk for years, losing his daughter in the process, Ross finally decided it was time to take things to the next level. <p>Partnering with the Intelligencia, a group of super-intelligent villains such as MODOK, and the Leader, Ross underwent a procedure that imbued him with a combination of gamma rays and cosmic energy, granting him the ability to become a red-skinned version of the Hulk, with all of his strengths, and his own mind still intact. Ross, as the Red Hulk, embarked on a campaign of misinformation and destruction, attempting to finally defeat the Hulk in exchange for the Intelligencia bringing his daughter, Betty, back to life. <p>He was eventually defeated, but rather than being depowered, he recently served as an Avenger attempting to right his previous wrongs and will head up his own version of the Thunderbolts starting in December.
A very recent reinvention the New 52 version of Shazam was introduced in a <i>Justice League</i> back-up serial given the classic nature of the character involved, it's a major one. <p>Captain Marvel Billy Batson, who transforms into an earnest, powerful superhero after uttering the magical word "Shazam!" has existed since the Golden Age of comic books, but has had some trouble connecting with modern audiences. That's exactly what writer Geoff Johns and artists Gary Frank are hoping to do with the character in his latest incarnation, now simply called "Shazam" avoiding confusion and possible legal stickety-wickets with the Marvel character that inspired this countdown. <p>"There are a lot of reasons for the change," Johns <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/geoff-johns-curse-of-shazam-120126.html>told Newsarama</a>. "One is that everybody thinks he's called Shazam already, outside of comics. It's also, for all sorts of reasons, calling him Shazam just made sense for us. And, you know, every comic book he's in right now has Shazam on the cover... Fans who like the character already hopefully they'll enjoy it. But we'll hopefully also find a lot of new people who have never read a Shazam story or given it a chance or checked it out."
To most of the world, James Buchanan Barnes was Captain America's teen sidekick Bucky, his stalwart companion throughout his adventures in World War II, and a member of the Invaders, an allied fighting force. Behind the scenes, however, Bucky was actually a highly trained secret operative, engaging in the kind of activities that Captain America, as the public face of America's war effort, couldn't. His skills as an infiltrator, and occasional assassin, were invaluable to the secret missions that the Invaders undertook behind enemy lines. However, after his apparent death during the same mission that lead to Captain America being frozen in a block of ice, they became something much more sinister at the hands of the Soviet scientists who captured and revived him. <p>Repairing his body with advanced cybernetics and brainwashing the resurrected Bucky, the Soviet Union utilized his well-honed skills and knowledge of the American military to transform Bucky into the Winter Soldier, a highly feared spy, and assassin. After languishing in stasis for years after the end of the Cold War, the Winter Soldier was reactivated by Captain America's old foe, the Red Skull, and embarked on a mission to kill Captain America and his allies. After being discovered by Captain America, and restored to his previous identity, Bucky once again became an ally of Captain America, even taking up the fallen hero's mantle after his apparent death. Now, once again in the guise of the Winter Soldier, and once again presumed dead by all but his closest allies, Bucky headlines his own title, <i>Winter Soldier</i>, as the Marvel Universe's premier super-powered secret agent and the inspiration behind the title of the 2014 live-action <i>Captain America</i> sequel, <i>The Winter Soldier</i>.
Very few character arcs are as tragic as that of Warren Worthington III, a founding X-Man and winged mutant originally known as "Angel." For years, Angel fought alongside his fellow X-Men, joining them off and on even after the original team disbanded. He also served stints as a member of the Champions and as the chairman of the Defenders, before finally reuniting with the other founding X-Men to form the mutant protection squad known as "X-Factor." It was while he was a member of X-Factor that Angel was severely wounded in a battle with the villainous Marauders, and was forced to have his wings amputated. <p>Despondent over the loss of his wings, Warren attempted to make one last flight, in an airplane, but was caught in an explosion caused by his former friend Cameron Hodge. While most of the world thought that Warren had committed suicide, in actuality he had been captured by the ancient mutant Apocalypse, who offered to give him new, cybernetic wings in exchange for his servitude as "Archangel," Apocalypse's horseman of Death. Though he eventually escaped Apocalypse's control and returned to a life of heroism, Warren has periodically relapsed to the vicious mind of the Archangel, culminating in a highly popular recent arc in <i>Uncanny X-Force</i> titled "The Dark Angel Saga," wherein he reverted fully to his villainous persona, manipulating his team mates and filling the void that his "creator," Apocalypse had once filled. The arc culminated in Warren being mind-wiped, and Archangel being fully purged from his system. Though he now resides at Wolverine's Jean Grey School as a blank slate, only time will tell if either of Warren's personas will return.
Dick Grayson has the distinction of being not only one of comics' most enduring characters, but also the first teen sidekick to an adult hero. It was a trend that resulted in numerous young heroes bearing mantles derived from the identities of their older mentors, many of whom, including Grayson, have gone on to assume their mentors' identities for themselves. As a young boy, Grayson was raised in a circus by a family of skilled acrobats. When an extortionist murdered his parents during a performance in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne, better known as Batman, was in the audience. Seeing parallels between his own life as an orphan and that of young Grayson, Wayne took him under his wing, and eventually trained him to become his sidekick, the high-flying hero "Robin." <p>Over the years, Grayson gained the respect of not only other sidekicks, but of older heroes; including Superman, who Grayson admired deeply. After years leading a young hero team called the Teen Titans, Grayson finally decided that it was time to step out from Batman's shadow, and become his own man. Taking cues from his mentor's dark persona, and a name from Kryptonian mythology, Grayson assumed the mantle of "Nightwing," using the same charisma, acrobatic prowess, and detecting skills that had gained him respect as Robin. Over the years, Nightwing has filled a variety of roles in the DC Universe, as protector of the troubled city of Bludhaven, as a leader and occasional member of the Outsiders, as a mentor to new generations of Teen Titans, as a short-term member of the Justice League, and even a stint under the cowl, as the new Batman after the apparent death of Bruce Wayne. While the most recent DC relaunch has seen the return of Bruce Wayne to the role of Batman, and Dick Grayson back in his own title as Nightwing, we may not have seen the last evolution for one of fandom's most beloved characters.
Hank Pym, as the shrinking hero "Ant-Man," was a brilliant neuroscientist and a founding Avenger. Together with his girlfriend the Wasp, Ant-Man was able to use his shrinking powers to defeat villains that would have made more apparently powerful heroes cower. It wasn't long into the history of the Avengers (just a single issue, to be exact), however, before Pym's inherent feelings of inadequacy began to surface when placed alongside such powerhouses as the mighty Thor, the incredible Hulk, and the invincible Iron Man. It was the departure of the Hulk, coupled with these feelings, that lead Pym to experiment with new ways to use his size-changing "Pym Particles" and adopt the identity of "Giant-Man," who was capable of growing to great heights, accompanied by vast increases in physical strength. <p>While Pym's change to Giant-Man was hardly the last time he switched his secret identity he's also been Goliath, Yellowjacket and the Wasp it was the first of such changes in power set and codename for the troubled hero. It was also one of the first times <i>ever</i> that such an established hero was re-branded, or re-purposed in such a way. While Pym has returned to each of his various identities multiple times through the years, he recently used the Giant-Man persona as the founder and leader of the Avengers Academy, and a member of Steve Rogers's Secret Avengers. It's never long before Pym finds some reason to use one of his various other guises, though, and the event that triggers his switch may also alter his behavior, as has happened in the past which just might happen in his upcoming supporting cast role in <i>Captain America</i>, or in the destruction caused by his "son" in the March-debuting <i>Age of Ultron</i>.
Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, was hardly the first female character based on a successful male hero (technically, Barbara Gordon wasn't even the first Batgirl), but her popularity, and the intent of her origin certainly set her apart. Batgirl was created with the intent of adding a female character to the cast of the wildly popular live-action <i>Batman</i> TV show, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Though she was created for the TV show, she was quickly introduced in <i>Detective Comics</i>, and took off from there. Batgirl survived the cancellation of the TV show, making regular appearances in a variety of Batman titles throughout the '70s, and '80s, until the story <i>The Killing Joke</i>, in which Barbara Gordon was brutally assaulted by the psychotic villain the Joker, an attack which left her paralyzed, and confined to a wheelchair. <p>Cut to a short time later, when writer John Ostrander, and his wife, editor Kim Yale, decided to revive Barbara Gordon not by eliminating her disability, but by capitalizing on the strengths she had left, such as her keen intellect, and her connection to much of the DC Universe. <p>In Ostrander's title <i>Suicide Squad</i>, a mysterious information broker known as "Oracle" began making regular appearances, cultivating an air of secrecy surrounding her true identity. By the time Oracle was revealed as Barbara Gordon, her place in the DC Universe, as its premier source of intelligence, was more than solidified. After partnering with Batman in her hometown of Gotham City, Oracle struck out on her own, hiring a team of female operatives, known as the "Birds of Prey," to fight crime, and travel the globe under her guidance. <p>Though it is unlikely that Barbara Gordon will return to the identity of Oracle any time soon, since the DC reboot left her able to walk, and once again in the mantle of Batgirl, fan outcry for Oracle has yet to die down. And in comics, nothing is impossible in fact, it's usually inevitable.