By Charlie Phillips | June 17, 2017
It’s Wednesday night and you’re done with work. Cruising down the road, you pass the comic store—with a scowl you speed up. You walk into your house / apartment / brownstone / dorm / refrigerator box and glide haughtily past your tablet with its comic book reader app. In short, something is seriously wrong. You’ve been struck by a sickness that’s sweeping the nation. You can go to the doctor but there’s no cure for “They Replaced My Hero Syndrome.”
It’s an affliction that can hit any superhero or any character, even those in the prime of their life and crime fighting career. Unceremoniously killed or weakened, they are then often replaced by somebody else wearing the same costume or symbol and with the same powers.
I can sympathize with this feeling because I’ve been there before. Like many of you, I say that I pick my comics based solely on who’s writing or doing the art—but that’s a lie. All comic readers have characters that they develop a strong emotional attachment to, years of following their turmoil, triumphs and tragedies tend to do that. When they’re gone, it can feel like losing a friend.
And while the loss of a fictional character can never be comparable to the death of a real person, it’s also true that people in real life usually don’t take up the name and look of the deceased to “carry on their legacy.”
In some ways it can seem as if these newcomers are responsible for keeping their predecessors off the table. Each and every comic they sell is like a weight on the casket of the original, burying their significance and leaving them a distant fading memory. If this is the case, then why should we give these new characters a chance at all? Why shouldn’t we just ignore them until they go away?
An answer comes to us from the distant past of the Silver Age of Comics. In the late 1950’s, the Silver Age was a period of marked creative flourishing in comics, especially in the realm of superheroes.
For enduring heroes, like Superman and Batman, this meant new exposure and relevancy. For new heroes, like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, this was a brave new beginning. But for heroes like The Flash and Green Lantern this was a new lease on life, and it was these two in particular who led the way into this bold era or rebirth.
Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were the Flash and Green Lantern of the 1940’s. Millions thrilled to their adventures both as individuals and together as members of The Justice Society, the precursor to The Justice League. But in spite of all the great stories these two had accumulated, the reading public had largely lost interest in superheroes after WWII. Sadly, this meant that both the Flash and Green Lantern would have their titles cancelled and would ultimately make their final Golden Age appearances in 1951.
This was no temporary cancellation with a fresh first issue to follow as we might expect today, this was as close to permanent death as a comic book character can really get. There were no movies, no TV shows, no mentions or cameos in other books, not even breakfast cereals or novelty shampoos. All the fans of these beloved characters had left were whatever old issues they could find and their own cherished memories of yesteryear.
They didn’t have an Internet to discuss things with their fellow fans, no real way to get any information on what was going on. Who knows how many months or years some of them waited to see their favorite heroes again? Always believing that they were just one more month of comics away from exploding back into their lives. Waiting for a joyous day they weren’t sure would ever come . . . Old people aren’t kidding when they say it was a tougher time.
Even the best superheroes need a hand every once in a while and Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were no exceptions. It would take the introduction of the new Flash and Green Lantern to resurrect them from comic book limbo.
In 1956 Barry Allen streaked on to the scene as the new Flash. Initially his adventures were completely disconnected from that of his predecessor (Jay Garrick was a comic book character in this new DC universe) and featured a totally new supporting cast of friends and enemies for the Sultan of Speed. Yet fans loved them all the same, and this laid the groundwork for the return of Green Lantern and in a sense the DC Universe as a whole.
Like Barry Allen, Hal Jordan continued the legacy of his predecessor while also taking things in a new direction. Instead of being powered by magic, as Alan Scott was, the new Green Lantern Corps were a collection of beings from across the universe who used their totally scientific Power Rings to defend the universe from all manner of threats. This gave the Green Lantern mythos a science-fiction theme that has stuck through all the decades since.
These new versions were a bona-fide hit in their own right and it was only natural that they would reignite interest in their forebears. This culminated in what is perhaps the greatest and most consequential superhero team-up of all time, The Flash #123, a.k.a. “The Flash of Two Worlds.”
This story broke the years-long fast Jay Garrick stories and more importantly introduced the concept of a multiverse to DC comics. Now it was established that all the beloved heroes from the Golden Age of the 30’s and 40’s were once again in play and would feature prominently in stories for decades to come.
I think it’s fair to say that this miraculous rebirth wouldn’t have been possible without the saving grace of Barry and Hal taking up the legacy of the Flash and Green Lantern. Hopefully you’re already making the connection to what this means for today’s comics. New legacy characters don’t have to be a destructive force, when done right they uplift everything, including their predecessors.
This is a superhero tradition that both Flash and Green Lantern have embraced with gusto. They have seamlessly incorporated new heroes to help inject fun and renewed creative energy into the DC universe. Wally West, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and Bart Allen have managed to enhance their respective universes and haven’t diminished their predecessors in the slightest.
And crucially DC has succeeded in using legacy characters to add some diversity to their line-up; the current Green Lanterns book, starring Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz as the titular Green Lanterns, is just one of many examples of great diverse comics that readers have embraced. To the extent that there is a “problem,” diversity isn’t it.
If you really can’t abide someone else taking the place of your favorite hero, then you don’t have to read about them. But I would leave you with this: Don’t let your “They Replaced My Hero Syndrome” prevent you from enjoying the next great thing. There’s more than enough room in the monthly comics, and in our hearts, for innumerable heroes.