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There’s a new Rocketeer ready to take off.
Heat Vision exclusively broke the news that Disney is developing a reboot of its 1991 action-adventure movie, which will take place six years after the events of the original and see a young African-American female pilot take over the mantle. The original film starred Bill Campbell as Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who finds a rocket suit.
While Disney’s new Rocketeer will differ from the original Dave Stevens comic book creation in a number of ways — it is, after all, thirty years since Stevens’ WWII-era retro hero was created — the most obvious change between original and newcomer is the fact that the new character will be a different gender and of different ethnicity.
As dramatic a change as this may appear, it’s actually keeping up a long-standing comic book tradition of updating old-school heroes with new secret identities that go beyond the narrow “strong white male with a chiseled jaw” archetype that was the cornerstone of superheroics for too long. In honor of the new Rocketeer, then, here are ten heroes who paved the way for her arrival by expanding the idea of what a superhero could — and should — look like.
Introduced in Green Lantern No. 87 (1971), John Stewart was a “substitute” Green Lantern, selected to serve as the superhero in case regular GL Hal Jordan was unable to take care of his duties. Created as a one-off character by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, he would go on to re-appear sporadically until the mid-80s when he became the primary Green Lantern for a couple of years. Since then, he has remained in circulation in one form or another on a regular basis, and was even used as the GL in the fan-favorite Justice League animated series on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s.
Unlike most “replacement” heroes, Monica’s debut as Captain Marvel in 1982’s The Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 16 had no connection to her predecessor, the alien Mar-Vell. Instead, it was coincidence — and the desire of creators Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. — that meant that her ability to transform into different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum (the result of being exposed to “extra-dimensional energy,” of course) and costume echoed the earlier Captain. She remains in action in Marvel’s current Ultimates comic book, albeit under a different name. These days, she goes by Spectrum.
When Rhodey first appeared in Iron Man No. 118 (1979), he was merely an old friend and trusted confidante of Tony Stark — one of the few people who knew about Stark’s double life as Iron Man. That left him perfectly placed to step in as the armored Avenger in 1983’s Iron Man No. 169 when Stark’s alcoholism got out of control. He remained in place as the main Iron Man for almost three years, and stayed in armor much longer, adopting the name “War Machine” and serving as a superhero until this year, when he was killed fighting Thanos in the ongoing Civil War II storyline.
One of two hero revivals that took full advantage of the ability to update the demographic of a character, Yolanda — introduced as a civilian in Infinity Inc. No. 12 (1985) — would step in to replace the white, male Ted Grant as Wildcat during DC’s massive event series Crisis on Infinite Earths (She took on the identity in the sixth issue, also in 1985), before going on to serve with the Infinity Inc. group for some time. She would later die at the hands of the mystical villain Eclipso in 1993’s Eclipso No. 13. Ted Grant would later return to action as the original Wildcat in her honor.
One of Frank Miller’s better ideas — and certainly one of his most outright-fun creations — Carrie Kelley was a snarky, cynical optimist who found herself adopting the identity of Robin, the formerly-boy wonder in the groundbreaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series in 1986. Unlike most replacement superheroes, Kelley’s star only continued to rise with each new appearance; in the 2001 sequel DK2, Kelley had abandoned the Robin identity to become Catgirl, before adopting the identities of both Batgirl and Batman in the current third installment of the series, DKIII: The Master Race.
Perhaps because the original Mr. Terrific — Terry Sloan, a man with impeccable morals and a sense of fair play — was dead for a number of years before Michael’s introduction in 1997’s The Spectre No. 54, the second Mr. Terrific was welcomed by superhero fandom in a way that most replacement heroes rarely see. His success would go on to see him become a major player in the fan-favorite Justice Society of America series written by Geoff Johns, and also star in a short-lived solo series in 2011.
The history of Calvin Ellis is a strange one — originally created as a one-off alternate-universe Superman based on Barack Obama for the 2009 final issue of DC event comic book series Final Crisis, creator Grant Morrison revived the hero on two different occasions, with great impact. Firstly, he was the central character of 2012’s critically acclaimed Action Comics No. 9, which investigated via metaphor the struggle of Superman’s real-life creators (and the power of Superman as a symbol that could be hi-jacked by anyone, corporate masters or idealists alike), and then he became one of the lead heroes for Morrison’s The Multiversity series, in which Ellis stood with alternate versions of multiple DC heroes against “The Gentry” in another metaphorical plea for the value of the superheroic ideal.
The idea of anyone trying to replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man was big news when it was originally announced in 2011, but that it was a mixed-race kid with the last name “Morales” was guaranteed to enrage the more conservative fans out there. When he debuted in Ultimate Fallout No. 4 that year, however, it was clear that Miles (created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli) was a smart update on the original Peter Parker formula for a more diverse age — a nerdy kid who means well and always tries his hardest despite luck continually being against him. Building a large fanbase, he survived the death of his fictional home world to cross over into the mainstream comic book Marvel Universe following last year’s Secret Wars storyline.
It was a long journey for Carol Danvers to go from supporting character in Marvel’s first Captain Marvel series — she was introduced in 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes No. 13 — to becoming Captain Marvel herself in Captain Marvel No. 1 in 2012. Amongst the many stops on that road were periods as superheroes with names like Ms. Marvel, Binary and Warbird, multiple costumes that seem very dated when viewed from today’s perspective, and at least one ill-considered pregnancy storyline. Ultimately, though, it was as Captain Marvel that the character found her largest following, leading to the announcement of the 2019 Marvel Studios movie featuring Brie Larson.
Of course, Jane Foster had an even-longer path to superhero-dom. Introduced as the love interest of the first comic book Thor by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962’s Journey Into Mystery No. 84, she wouldn’t become the God(dess) of Thunder herself for more than half a century afterwards. She eventually took on the mantle of Thor in Thor No. 1 (2014), although her identity wouldn’t be revealed until the eighth issue of that series. She continues to be Thor to this day, serving in the current Avengers team alongside another high-profile replacement hero, Sam Wilson’s Captain America.
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