Superman/Steel: John Henry IronsBack in 1992, DC Comics "killed" Superman, and it made national headlines. Within four months of course, Superman was back…well, sort of. Four different characters laid claim to the name and legacy of Kal-El, and one of them was African American steel worker John Henry Irons. Irons crafted an Iron Man like suit of armor with a big S Shield on it and declared himself the new Man of Steel.
It was only a few months before the real Superman returned from the grave of course, but John Henry Irons stuck around and changed his name to Steel.
He has since become a mainstay of the DC Universe, and a member of the Justice League in good standing. The character was popular enough that he even got a movie starring Shaquille O’Neal back in 1997, but let’s not hold that travesty against him.
- 2OK, this is a bit of a tricky one, as technically the black Nick Fury didn’t replace the white one, he is simply an alternate universe version of him. However, He DID replace him in popularity and in mainstream recognition, so I'm sticking to my guns on this one. The original Nick Fury appeared in 1963 in the World War II set title "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos." He eventually appeared in the modern Marvel Universe as an agent of the fictional espionage group S.H.I.E.L.D.
in 2001, writer Mark Millar, for his modern day alternate take on the Marvel Universe called The Ultimates, decided to make Fury an African American character and had artist Bryan Hitch model him after actor Samuel L. Jackson. So a few years later, when the time came to cast Fury for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the first Iron Man film, the producers naturally went to Sam Jackson, and we had our "art imitating life imitating art" moment of Zen.
Since then, Jackson has reprised his role as Fury in Iron Man2, Thor and Captain America, and will reprise the role again for next year’s The Avengers. The current Avengers animated series also has an African American Nick Fury. So while the original Fury still exists, it seems his black doppelganger is slowly phasing his ass out.
Green Lantern John StewartQuite possibly the first instance of an African American character replacing a more well known white one in comic book history, so I'd say that Green Lantern John Stewart is pretty significant.
First appearing in 1972 as Hal Jordan’s replacement whenever he was incapacitated, Stewart was the typical early 70’s depiction of the "angry black man" with a giant chip on his shoulder.
Over the years though, he has become less stereotype and more a well rounded character,and even replaced Hal Jordan on a permanent basis for several years during the 1980's. During the 90's he was given his own series, Green Lantern: Mosaic, and was even chosen as the Green Lantern for the Justice League animated series, meaning for a whole generation of kids and teens, John Stewart isn’t some replacement Lantern, he’s THE Green Lantern, period.
Iron Man II James Rhodes/War MachineBack in the early 80’s, after Iron Man Tony Stark's second relapse into alcohol, Tony Stark's best friend James Rhodes stepped in and took over the Iron Man identity. He would fill in for Tony again in the early 90's when everyone thought Tony was dead.
Eventually of course, Tony got his s**t together again and Rhodey was out as Iron Man, but got his own armor (and series) as War Machine.
Truncated versions of these events played out in Iron Man 2, minus Tony becoming such a bad drunk as to become homeless. Which is too bad, because that would have been fun to watch. War Machine remains a constant fixture in the Marvel Universe.
Doctor MidnightThe 80’s DC Comics series Infinity, Inc was all about the children, grandchildren and protégés of the 1940’s Justice Society of America forming their own team and legacy using their predecessors code names. Dr. Beth Chapel was introduced as the protégé of the original blind super hero Dr. Mid-Nite, who was also her mentor in the medical area, Dr. Charles McNider. After being blinded herself, she ended up taking over for him upon his death, although she spelled her name correctly, as Dr. Midnight, not Mid-Nite. Fat lot of good correct spelling was gonna do for her.
Sadly, this character was littered with Southern Baptist clichés; for instance she is the daughter of a pastor, and her mother sings in the church choir and crafts her daughter's hero costume from a choir robe. Chapel has four brothers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Yes, seriously. Apparently, God couldn’t save her though, as she was killed off like a red-shirt on Star Trek in some early 90’s DC Crossover event for shock value.
She was then replaced with a new Dr. Mid-Nite who was another white male with a nearly identical costume to the original, who is still around today. Amazingly, no one cried out racism when this happened, which shows how just about nobody gave a crap about poor Beth Chapel in the first place.
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