<p>Between <b>Man of Steel</b> and his own comic books, plus villainous turns in <b>Injustice</b> and <b>Earth 2</b>, it's hard to find the super heroic Superman these days. It seems that rather than being for truth and justice, he's for dark and broodiness, proving that what works for one may not work for another. <p>He's hardly the only hero to go a little darker than normal (and really, it's not the only time he has). Spider-Man has, of course, been possessed by Otto "Doc Ock" Octavius for the last year, Superboy is a horrible super villain from the future, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. <p>The history of superhero comics certainly is full of characters that have taken a turn for the grim and gritty, though, and here's a look back at some of the most notable. <p><i>Albert Ching & Lucas Siegel contributed to updated versions of this article</i>.
As Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn raced towards the end of their <em>Flash</em> run, Wally West disappeared for some time and was replaced by another, more mysterious Fastest Man Alive who didn't suffer fools gladly. <p>It turns out, the grimmer, grittier Flash was actually <a href="http://www.hyperborea.org/flash/walter.html">Wally West himself (well, "Walter West") from an alternate Earth</a> remember <a href=http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Hypertime>Hypertime</a>? where Linda Park was dead, and the "regular" Wally soon returned to make everything right again. Consider this a glimpse at an unfortunate future that didn't happen.
In the mid-'80s, Steve Rogers was forced out of his position as Captain America and replaced by John Walker a super patriot (<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super-Patriot_%28Marvel_Comics%29">literally</a>) who, unfortunately, really wasn't up for the psychological pressures of the job (spoiler: The Red Skull may have had something to do with both Rogers' removal and the selection of Walker). <p>After supervillains killed his parents, Walker snapped and America was left with a somewhat insane, definitely dangerous Super Soldier until Rogers returned to make everything right again. Consider this proof that it takes a particular type of hero to shoulder the responsibility of being a national icon (though Walker has had a successful subsequent career as U.S. Agent).
When Peter David took over the reins of <em>Aquaman</em> in the early 1990s, the character's reputation was... wen worse than it was before Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis' run started last year. <p>Looking for a way to make fans take the character seriously again, David went for the obvious solution: Have his left hand eaten by piranhas (<a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Myth>Joseph Campbell would be proud</a>). If Arthur hadn't been grim enough before losing an appendage, he certainly was by the time he'd replaced it with a hook and a particularly bleak sense of humor. Consider this proof that, sometimes, going darker really does work.
Another somewhat forgotten reboot of a character undone by <em>Heroes Reborn</em> and <em>Heroes Return</em>, and mostly ignored ever since Warren Ellis took the God of Thunder and stripped him of his faux-Shakespearean dialogue, made him mortal and hooked him up with the Enchantress, resulting in a character who was far more down to Earth (in many senses) than before and, yes, more than a little closer to what you'd expect from a Warren Ellis comic. <p>Shame, then, that Ellis left the title after his first storyline was finished, leaving the character and comic floundering until he was pulled away to the Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld pocket universe for a year. Consider this a sign that not all reboots are destined for posterity.
Oh, Jean-Paul Valley. We had such high hopes for you when you stepped into the Batman-shaped void left in Gotham when Bane broke Bruce Wayne's back during the "Knightfall" storyline, but before too long, your brand of justice devolved into the kind of hyper-violence that was specifically designed by the creators behind the storyline to demonstrate that not everyone can keep Gothamites safe in the manner to which they'd become accustomed (which is to say, "actually safe and not as afraid of their protectors as they are the bad guys"). <p>Of course, Wayne returned to make everything right again. Consider this an argument against superheroes whose moral codes match their nemeses or against superheroes with overly-elaborate armor. Either one works.
Hal Jordan's grief-stricken transformation from Green Lantern into Parallax really is the gift that keeps giving in terms of 1990s themes that it fits into. As an attempt to make the <em>Green Lantern</em> title edgier and grab attention, there's little that's more definitive than driving your title character insane, having him kill his friends and bosses and then try to reboot reality, in the process wiping out everyone and everything he's ever known. <p>Thankfully, Geoff Johns soon showed up to make everything right again by revealing that Hal was possessed and didn't really mean it in the first place, in the process revealing that heroes with greying temples should never be trusted. Watch out for that Reed Richards, I'm telling you.
The last time that we saw Superman in an all-black outfit was, of course, when he also had a mullet and was returning from the dead to make everything right again after we'd seen not one, but <em>two</em> different "dark" variations on Superman: The characters that we've since come to know as the Eradicator (Superman stripped of his morality) and the Cyborg (Superman stripped of his humanity). <p>Although the entire <em>Reign of the Supermen</em> story only lasted six months, from the announcement of the storyline to the return of the real Kal-El, there was a period where either of these two characters may have been the "new" incarnation of the real deal something that was just a little bit too much of a change for comfort. Consider this a lucky escape (and a bit of a sneaky dodge, considering the answer to "Which is the Real Man of Steel?" turned out to be "None of The Above").
Coming further up to date, the storyline that saw Roy Harper's life fall apart drew <a href=http://wolkin.com/2010/05/697/internal-monologue-reviews-the-rise-of-arsenal-3/>a considerable amount of criticism</a> when it appeared in 2010, considering that it involved erectile dysfunction and dead cats that our hero hallucinated into his dead child. <p>Clearly intended to push the character into a new place so that he could join the cast of the retooled <em>Titans</em> series, it nonetheless seemed a steep fall from his role as Red Arrow in <em>Justice League of America</em>, and perhaps a fall too far too quickly for fans' credibility to remain intact. Consider this a lesson about the limits of how far you can push things.
And <em>talking</em> of a darkening too far, there is always the revelation that Wonder Dog the DC Universe version of the <em>Super Friends</em> mascot was actually an Apokoliptian hellhound that killed Marvin and crippled Wendy, something that surprised everyone and shocked many. Consider this something that still seems on the line of gratuitous years later.
Finally, there's poor Robbie Baldwin, the hero who was too bright, too silly and too fun to make it out of <em>Civil War</em> unscathed. <p>Not just new levels of angst and self-loathing for the former Speedball, he took on a new name and a new career as professional self-harmer as Penance, member of the Thunderbolts and poster boy for the all-new all-serious Marvel Universe.