So you hear your favorite superhero is appearing in a brand new comic book. It could be Venom, Green Lantern or Wonder Woman. You excitedly purchase the comic book from your local store or perhaps eBook reading app. Then you open the comic book, peer into its paneled contents, and quickly realize it's a completely different person wearing your favorite hero's costume - and they are the main character now. If it sounds strange, don't worry - it's happening now to Venom, and it has happened before with Green Lantern and even Wonder Woman.
You've just seen a legacy hero.
Legacy heroes are comic book characters who take up the mantle of a hero. They usually represent an attempt by comic book companies to bring in new readers or appeal to different demographics. Of course, legacy heroes are a tricky business because if handled improperly, they can annoy or completely drive away readers of the original character.
One of my favorite characters is Richard Rider aka Nova. While this guy might look like Marvel's answer to Green Lantern, he's a lot more in the hands of writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. After years of being a teenage hero, Nova comes into his own with pretty much with the fate of the galaxy on his shoulders at least three times. And through it all, he's just a regular guy from NYC. Until he sacrificed himself during a major storyline and maybe died (the jury's still out on that one).
I downloaded the preview of Marvel's much-hyped "Avengers vs. X-Men" event, and long behold, another Nova shows up. This guy doesn't appear to be Richard Rider - he's got a different costume. He doesn't really do much in this issue save tell the heroes bad stuff is coming (like the Phoenix) and then fall over. The comic does seem to indicate he'll have a bigger role in the crossover through.
I have mixed feelings about a new Nova legacy character. The cool thing about Nova was he dealt with heroes and villains on the fringe of the Marvel Universe - in deep, dark space. His storylines rarely crossed over with the main Marvel titles - which is why I suspect many fans liked the character when they were turned off by crossover titles like "Civil War" and "Siege". Now a completely new Nova crashed into the middle of a big summer event, and the attitude seems to be "Hey, look at this guy!"
Of course, I have to remind myself that some of my favorite characters are legacy characters. I got into Green Lantern because of the legacy hero Kyle Rayner used his power ring with the creative juice of a graphic artist. (Though I can't blame old GL fans for being angry. You can see what happened to the old Green Lantern in Max Landis' hilarious overview of "The Death and Return of Superman around 12:06"). There's also Stephanie Brown, a once-annoying supporting character on Robin who blossomed into a pretty awesome Batgirl in her own right. And though he's absent in the current DCU, the Jack Knight Starman is a junk dealer-turned-superhero who pays homage to a diverse line-up of Starmen from the past fifty years of comic book history.
I also have to remind many comic book fans that plenty of their favorite heroes are in fact legacy characters. During the grim and gritty 90's, many fans of DC Comics of the previous generation complained the Green Lantern and Flash weren't the original heroes they had grown up with in the 60's. The problem is, even the Silver Age Justice League of America - with famous characters like Green Lantern, the Flash, Wonder Woman and the Atom - were in fact rebooted from the Golden Age Justice Society of America in 40's - which contained the first versions of Green Lantern, the Flash, Wonder Woman and the Atom.
When you get right down to it, your favorite comic books have more changes in their line-up than Van Halen. For me, the best comic books are the ones which try to incorporate every generation. Comic books as we know them have been hitting the stands for 74 years. It's only fitting that, through our heroes, we remember where we have been while looking forward to where we are going.
(That's it for this rant. Check out a new installment of the Frightener on Wednesday!)