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.