One of the go-to moves for editors in comics that want to bring a lot of attention to an established property is to replace your main character with a new version of that character. For instance, Hal Jordan was replaced as Green Lantern by John Stewart, then Guy Gardner, then Kyle Rayner, and most recently Simon Baz. Barry Allen was replaced as the Flash by Wally West. Steve Rogers was replaced as Captain America by John Walker (aka USAgent) and Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark as Iron Man by James Rhodes, Peter Parker as Spider-Man by Ben Reilly… hell, for when Superman ‘died’ it took 4 (!!) people to replace him.
This really hit a head in the 1990’s, when Green Lantern, Spider-Man, Flash, Superman, Batman, and a host of others were replaced by newer versions. Even Wonder Woman!
For the sake of this column, we’re going to be focusing on Gotham City’s dark knight: Batman.
It goes without saying that Bruce Wayne IS Batman. That said, there have been a surprising amount of times when someone else was wearing the cape and cowl. Hell, Dick Grayson has been Batman twice!
So, who is the best replacement Batman? Is it Dick Grayson, Jean Paul Valley, Tim Drake, Terry McGinnis, Damien Wayne, Thomas Wayne, or someone else?
COMICZOMBIE: For my money, the best replacement Batman is Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael, an assassin for a holy order descended from the Knights Templar.
He replaced Bruce Wayne when he was taken out of commission by Bane during the “Knightfall” trilogy. Jean Paul has a complicated past, to say the least, and his grasp of sanity was tenuous, at best. A man that was just beginning to understand his inner demons, let alone conquer them, he was given this humongous responsibility and tossed into the deep end: a Gotham overrun by half of the inmates of Arkham Asylum, plus Bane and his goons. Yes, the weight of the mantle of the bat caught up to him quicker than he would have liked, and he went crazier than hell, but while he was Batman it was incredibly interesting to see him slowly, and yet all too quickly, crumble under the weight of the conflicting missions of Batman and Azrael. Both dark avenging creature of the night types, but Azrael’s role was as a destroyer, and Batman’s role has always been a protector. The dichotomy made him very intriguing, even if he never felt like the ‘real’ Batman. That said, he existed in Bruce Wayne’s Gotham. He argued and fought with Tim Drake as Robin, he strained the relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon, and he fought guys like Bane and the Joker.
Jean Paul Valley: best replacement Batman.
ERIK SMASH! : Bruce Wayne is and always will be Batman. Even in 95% of the Elseworlds tales Bruce is still Batman. He’s one of those character-archetypes that simply transcends the decades. That said, there are plenty of kick-ass, Batarang-throwing, Bat-replacements.
When looking at a line-up of potential Batmen, Terry McGuiness is the natural choice for Bruce Wayne’s replacement. Why? Well, part of it might be because when Bruce retired and put up the cowl for good, it was Terry who he finally deemed worthy of the mantle, the other reason might be because it was later revealed that Terry McGuinness was in fact Bruce’s illegitimate son/clone via Amanda Waller (long story…)
For those of you that don’t know (hand over your nerd cards, you know who you are), Terry McGuinness was the main character in “Batman Beyond”, the sequel series to Bruce Timm’s 1990’s “Batman: The Animated Series”. “Batman Beyond” picked up decades after Bruce Wayne gave up crime fighting when he was nearly killed by a couple of low-life crooks, and was forced to use a gun to defend himself, something he swore he would never do. “Never again,” he states coldly as he shuts down the Batcave forever (it’s really an amazing and emotional scene).
Then in the somewhat far-off (unspecified) future, where Bruce is an old fogey, Gotham looks more like Neo Tokyo from Akira, and the legend of the Dark Knight has been reduced to urban myth, rebellious teenager Terry McGuinness picks a fight with a pack of ‘Jokerz’ (gangster punks ripping off The Clown Prince himself), and gets cornered at the front gates of Wayne Manor where Bat-hermit Bruce ironically happens to be taking a stroll outside for the first time in apparently ever. Bruce then manages to fight off the wannabee thugs with his cane. After helping Bruce back home, Terry accidentally stumbles upon Wayne’s secret, which leads him to stealing the Bat-suit, and then eventually realizing the error of his ways and convincing Bruce to train him to become Gothams’ new protector. (‘Mask of Zorro’ style)
Now I do realize that Terry is very different from Bruce in several aspects. He’s a much more flawed individual, and his personality more closely resembles a cross between Nightwing and Spider-Man in a bat-suit. However, part of that is because he is still young, and never experienced the kind of psyche-shattering tragedy that Bruce was unfortunately subjected to. Instead, Terry’s inner demons compel him to make up for past mistakes.
You get to see Terry struggling with the duel lifestyle in a way that Bruce never had to face, because let’s face it, for Bruce, Batman was his life, and for Terry, he still has a chance to have a life of his own, and carry on the never-ending war on crime. Regardless of the mistakes he makes, you can tell from the get-go that Terry has it in him, he has the potential to one day live up to Bruce Wayne’s standard, and eventually impart the way of the Bat to his apprentice and so on.
Unlike Jean Paul Valley, Terry possesses the perfect mix of badassery, and a good heart.
CZ: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that Terry is a cross between Nightwing and Spider-Man, which is why he is so far down my list of Batmen. Batman shouldn’t be anything like Spider-Man, he should be a dark, scary badass. And guess what? Jean Paul Valley’s Batman, or AzBats, as some fans have dubbed him, was a dark, scary badass. Yes, he was completely batshit (no pun intended) insane, but so what? Until he started arguing with imaginary ghosts during fights it never really affected his performance as the dark knight.
While Terry has a good heart, and wanted to have a life outside of Batman, Jean Paul was completely, obsessively dedicated to eradicating crime from Gotham. In fact, he was so gung-ho about it that he was crossing lines right and left to the point that Bruce had to come out of retirement and take the mantle back. And, I should point out, even then he couldn’t beat Jean Paul in a fight, he had to use AzBat’s psychosis against him to show him the error of his ways (and then, in one of the most puzzling moves ever, just lets JP walk away like “k thanks”). Granted, Bruce was not exactly on the top of his game yet, but still.
Another reason I would take JP over Terry is the gadgets they used. Yeah, Terry’s are probably infinitely cooler, but part of that is because he lives decades later, and the available tech is just better than what JP had access to, and the other is that all of Terry’s gear was designed by Bruce! AzBats took over the mantle of the Bat and within like 20 minutes had already created these crazy gauntlets with giant metal finger claws that shot Bat-a-rangs out at like bullet speed, then over time ‘upgraded’ the costume to this weird cross between Batman, Azrael, and a knight from medieval times. Rather than focus on speed and stealth like Bruce, or even Terry, he was like a giant robot bull in a china shop, complete with claws, razor shooters, flame throwers, etc.
He terrified everyone from common street trash to the Gotham rogues. This dude was clearly fucking nuts! Even Nightwing, when he saw what JP had done to the costume, was like “…da fuck?” before fighting him, but was immediately in the fight of his life against the tank that was JP’s Batman.
What did Terry do? Steal an experimental suit? You know who else did that? The third Ant-Man! Cool, bro. Good luck with that.
The tech AzBats used was better, and in my opinion the suit was infinitely cooler. Again, he might not have had access to the tech Terry did, but I’d rather fight Terry’s Batman than JP’s, that’s for damn sure.
ES: Jean Paul Valley (whose name sounds like a French male underwear model) might’ve had some cool Punisher-esque upgrades for the bat-suit, but ANYONE can slap on some gauntlet-mounted machine guns, put on their best 90’s angst face, and go Judge Dredd on some jay walkers.
McGinnis on the other hand, as Bruce’s pupil, has access to the most cutting edge crime fighting gear of the latter-half of the 21st Century and the nearly limitless resources of Wayne Enterprises!
His tech is AT LEAST 50 years ahead: He’s got just about everything the original Batman had minus the cape, but with a retractable glider / jet-pack system, plus additional gadgets including but not limited to: a full-body, self-sustaining, nano-weave flexi-armor that enhances his strength/speed (giving him a fighting chance against an increased meta-human population), which also happens to have a cloaking device feature akin to that of a Predator, advanced sonar surveillance, a variety of retractable, magnetic bat-a-rangs that eject from his gauntlets, etc… He doesn’t merely rely on an old school utility belt, like Iron Man, Terry’s entire suit is a weapon. It even has fail safes in case it ends up in the wrong hands!
If Terry and AzBats were locked in a cage match, my money would be on McGinnis. It’d be like a Stone Age Neanderthal swinging a club at a fully armed Israeli Special Forces soldier. Team Terry all the way.
Oh yeah, and he also has a sweet-ass hover-craft / Bat-jet that makes Azrael’s Batmobile look like a Model T.
CZ: Hey now, what’s wrong with the Model T? It’s got it all! Doors…. seats…..
My point is that JP (and yes his name is like a douchey French underwear model’s) created his own tech using the tools available to him at the time. Terry just borrowed daddy’s suit and played dress up. If Bruce had built the stuff Valley was using, I’d agree with you. But he built it himself, slowly ‘upgrading’ the suit until it met his increasingly crazy ass needs. By the end of his time it was probably more Azrael than Batman, but that was by the design of the story…
OK, maybe I’ll concede on the tech/costume, but what about the villains? Valley had to go up against the same freakshow menagerie that Bruce did/does, ie. the Joker, Bane, etc. Yeah, he didn’t have to fight all of them, he never had to go up against the Riddler or the Scarecrow, instead dealing with D-listers like Abbatoir a lot, but that was also because those guys were expendable and the writers could show JP going apeshit and killing or crippling them without long-term damage to the rogue’s gallery.
Terry fights a bunch of tools that wish they were the Joker, and…. and…. I got nothing. The rest were all forgettable.
End of the day, JP Valley ‘beat’ the Joker (he just thwarted his plan and broke his arms, no big), Terry beats up on teenagers dressed like clowns.
ES: I’ll concede that Azrael has to deal with an entire rogues gallery of some of the baddest mo foes in all of comic book history (after all I did just argue that Batman has even better villain’s that Spider-man in our last duel), but Terry also had his fair share of lunatics to face off with: guys like Blight (a corporate tool who moonlights as a walking radioactive meltdown), Spellbinder (a villain who utilizes illusions, holograms and mind control – think Mysterio meets Scarecrow), Inque (a slick, seductive, shape-shifting thief attempting to cure herself of her regressive condition), Shriek (an evil audiophile?), and some Kraven rip-off whose barely worth mentioning.
You see the Gotham of the future is a massive high-tech hell-hole that’s been absent a Batman for decades, which has since fallen under the control of terrorist cells, biker gangs, and evil corporations. Between the Royal Flush Gang, Kobra, the previously mentioned Jokerz, Splicers (genetically modified hit-men), and an underworld swarming with Venom-junkies (ala Bane), an inexperienced Terry has also been forced to throw down with his own set of classic baddies from Mr. Freeze (redux – still spry due to slowed aging, this cold-hearted cyborg bastard has nothing left to lose after Nora’s death), Ra’s Al Ghul (who wants to use his body as a new host), and even The Joker himself …via some convoluted sci-fi conspiracy involving Tim Drake.
Luckily, for Terry, he’s got a terrific cast of supporting characters: Bruce Wayne takes on the role of both Alfred and Oracle – training him both as a martial artist and detective while aiding him in the field. Terry also has the trust of Commissioner (Barbara) Gordon. Even Bruce’s attack dog, Ace, has come in handy in solving a case or two. The closest thing Terry has to a sidekick is Maxine Gibson, a hacker who discovered his true identity. Although McGinnis has had a few flings over the years, he usually ends up back with Dana. He also has the moral support / potential weakness of a family.
Oh yeah, he’s also on call from the JLU after holding his own against a brainwashed Superman… Can’t say the same for Azbats.
You ever read that last issue of Knight’s End? The dude was defeated by sunlight!
(right before the real Batman let his crazy ass walk off into the sunset… for some odd reason)
CZ: Well, if we’re talking allies, this won’t take long. Azbats was so consumed with proving himself superior to Bruce Wayne that he pushed any potential allies away. He banned Robin from the cave, and alienated himself from everyone in the GCPD, especially Jim Gordon, who immediately knew he wasn’t the Batman he was used to dealing with. The only guy that liked him was Harvey Bullock, and really, when Bullock is your support team you might as well not have one.
ES: Tru dat.
CZ: Look, the bottom line is this: if you’re looking for which of the two of these guys was more of the spiritual successor to Bruce (ie. they carried the mantle the way he would want), then the obvious answer is Terry. But if you’re wondering which was the cooler, more INTERESTING replacement Batman, then the answer simply HAS to be Jean Paul. He was crazy as shit, and his increasingly rapid descent into madness was must-read comics.
But if you’re asking who was the BEST replacement Batman, by which I mean the most capable and most effective, then the answer is clearly: Dick Grayson, and we’re both waaaay off…
Up Next: Dr. Doom vs Lex Luthor!
Also, check out our last Great Debate: Who has the better Rogues Gallery: Batman or Spider-man?