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Anti-Hero Substitute

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"I'm the goddamn Batman, and I'll kill you!
In the name of God!"

Robin: The old Batman would never descend to this level!
Azrael-As-Batman: The old Batman was created for older times.

Over the course of a long-running series, something happens to the main character. He loses his powers, makes a Heroic Sacrifice, or gets Older and Wiser and decides to retire. Sometimes they Dropped a Bridge on Him, or Put Him On A Bus. In a word, he's gone. But the story still goes on! His role is taken by a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, but one with a very different characterization. He's how the original hero would be if he were a Jerkass, Anti-Hero or (most commonly) '90s Anti-Hero.

Depending on how he's portrayed, he may be a Replacement Scrappy (especially if the original character were good on his/her own and the fans already like him/her) or a refreshing change (often happens if the fans are tired of having to look at the same hero over and over again). Sometimes the substitute may even be liked more than the original.


When the substitute is bad enough, there'll be often a storyline where the original hero is back and will have to fight the substitute for the position and wins. The substitute is then reduced to a villain (either minor or major) or just a minor hero. Alternatively, said substitute may be Rescued from the Scrappy Heap by giving them a Character Development and/or (when said substitute took the original's name) a name change.

This happened a lot during The Dark Age of Comic Books. Back then, it was common to presumptuously expect readers to like the new character, but writers have gotten savvier since then. Now, the Darker and Edgier version of the hero is commonly portrayed as a villain or a psychopath (or, sometimes, be redeemed), as the '90s Anti-Hero archetype has grown less popular over time. Some heroes were put through this in order to show why a hero shouldn't become Darker and Edgier as a subtle Take That! to the fandom. For example, Super Patriot replaced Captain America temporarily in the 1980's to show that the Cap'n wasn't the jingoistic, nationalistic unthinking supporter of the United States government some fans thought he was or wanted him to be.


Subtrope of Suspiciously Similar Substitute. May overlap with Costume Copycat. Could be an El Cid Ploy gone bad. Contrast with the Redeeming Replacement.


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  • This happens to Batman a lot:
    • During the Knightfall story arc, Batman was temporarily paralyzed by Bane and gave his cowl to Azrael, who quickly became a Knight Templar after his latent brainwashing was accidentally triggered by Scarecrow's fear gas. This forced Batman to undergo Training from Hell under Lady Shiva to fight AzBats and reclaim his old identity. AzBats turned out to be a deliberate Take That! at the fans who wanted Batman to be closer to The Punisher than, well, Batman. ("You wanted Needlessly Violent Batman? There you go!") As it turns out, the only people that were all that thrilled with him were the makers and players of Batman Doom, a high-quality Doom mod. Well, maybe a few others, since after being bounced from the Batman position his solo series lasted over a hundred issues.
    • Cheerful and lovable circus brat Dick Grayson was replaced by cheerful and lovable circus brat Jason Todd in the early 80s. Then, post-Crisis, in a rare case of a character being replaced by an Anti-Hero version of himself, Jason Todd was retcon'd into an eleven-year-old street kid who jacked the wheels off the Batmobile.
    • Following his death and resurrection, he also spent a bit of time as a psychopathic version of Nightwing. Then, during the Battle for the Cowl event, Jason would also take up the mantle of Batman after his apparent death and became a gun-wielding psychopath. He was played as the villain of the story, however.
    • During the aforementioned Battle for the Cowl, Two-Face also attempted to become the next Batman and Hush impersonated Bruce Wayne with the help of Magic Plastic Surgery.
    • During the Batman and Son storyline, fake Batmen began showing up in Gotham City and committing crimes, and Bruce was forced to fight them. The eventual source of these was revealed to be psychological experiments conducted by the Gotham Police Department to create replacement Batmen should anything ever happen to the real one. This didn't turn out so well.
    • Current Robin Damian Wayne is more of an Anti-Hero than his predecessor, but new Batman Dick Grayson has made it his goal to craft him into a true superhero and not an Anti-Hero.
    • Cassandra Cain as Batgirl seems like this at first glance: she's a silent, intimidating woman covered in scars with a Dark and Troubled Past, who wears a costume that wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie. However, it quickly becomes clear that she's an absolute sweetheart who might be even more idealistic than Barbara, literally being willing to jump in front of an assault rifle to protect a Professional Killer from friendly fire. Her silence is due to learning disabilities deliberately induced during her awful childhood, and most of her creepiness is just due to her complete lack of social skills (when she wants to intimidate people it is apparent).
      • Cassandra's Batgirl outfit was previously worn by the Huntress during Batman: No Man's Land, who played it straight.
    • During the "Titans Tomorrow" arc, a potential future version of Tim Drake becomes a gun-wielding Batman.
    • While Terry McGinnis of Batman Beyond has most of the heroic qualities of the original, the series premise of a hot-headed Snark Knight and former juvenile delinquent stepping into Bruce's place after the latter's retirement is very much in line with this trope.
  • Superman:
    • In the "Death of Superman"/"Reign of the Supermen" story arc, Superman was killed and replaced by four guys who were all across the spectrum on this:
      • Man of Steel was a complete inversion of this; if anything, he was even more heroic than the original. Also, unlike the other three, Steel admitted from the start he wasn't really Superman, but that he was trying to represent the spirit of what Superman stood for. He ended up getting his own comic.
      • Superboy came out swinging as a cheerfully-amoral Unscrupulous Hero. While he was a legitimate crimefighter, he was fighting because being a superhero got him fame, fortune and hot chicks. He worked for Lex Luthor, and later sold out to crooked talent scout Rex Leech, in both cases because they threw money and pretty girls at him.
      • Last Son of Krypton, aka the Eradicator, was the real Anti-Hero Substitute. He was initially a brutal, inhuman vigilante, and it took a talk with Steel for him to mature into a more heroic figure. Even then, he remained ruthlessly logical and had few qualms about killing.
      • Cyborg Superman wasn't really even an anti-hero, turning out to be Evil All Along.
    • While neither passed themselves off as Superman, both Magog and Proteus tried to usurp his position as the DCU's foremost superhero by being more ruthless, aggressive and proactive. Both were deliberately set up to fail; Magog went too far and Proteus was evil from the start.
    • Also, in the Justice League mini-arc 'Hereafter', after Superman vanishes from the face of the planet after Toyman manages to pull of a successful attack on him, Lobo, of all people, tries to step in as his replacement.
  • Supergirl:
    • The original Supergirl -a classic Cape- was killed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and replaced with Matrix, a shape-shifter mass of protoplasmic matter who took shape of a blond woman wearing a female version of Superman's costume for unexplained reasons. Matrix was unpredictable, prone to sudden outbursts of violence, and wore a Stripperific, spiky version of her costume for a while. To sum up, DC replaced Kara Zor-El with this.
    • Later on, Matrix merged with a troubled human girl named Linda Danvers. Linda was also replaced with Cir-El, a black-wearing, angry, angsty edgy teenager with a dark and troubled past. Cir-El was very unpopular, and she was soon replaced with a modern version of Kara Zor-El, who was also initially more abrasive and angsty than her pre-Crisis version - this was unpopular with fans and was eventually retconned as due to chronic Kryptonite poisoning, thus restoring her more idealistic and happy personality and finally inverting the trope.
  • In Wonder Woman (1987): The Contest Wonder Woman was forced to give up her name and costume because her mother had a vision of her death. Her place was taken by Artemis, but in the end it was she who was killed, not Diana. The trope was also deconstructed, as Artemis's arrogant, abrasive and often overly violent conduct in the role undid a lot of Diana's hard work in getting Man's World to accept her and the Amazons and rubbed many of Diana's former allies up the wrong way, thus making things much more difficult for her than they had to be.
    • This was essentially an update of an older story from the 70's, wherein Diana was briefly replaced as Wonder Woman by an abrasive redheaded Amazon named Orana. Orana was Killed Off for Real the very next issue, allowing Diana to reclaim her costume and identity.
  • After being severely beaten, Spider-Girl briefly had her place taken by her crazed clone April. April later pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to save the original Spider-Girl.
  • Hulk has both subverted and played this trope straight at the same time. After World War Hulk, with the Hulk imprisoned by the army, his series was taken over by Hercules and a new series was launched with a mysterious Red Hulk as the central character. The Incredible Hercules subverted the trope quickly, proving he's anything but an Anti-Hero, while Red Hulk played it straight, acting like a total dick and making Hulk lose his powers.
    • Earlier on in the 80s this trope popped up, with the normal destructive but rarely malicious green Hulk being replaced by an amoral jerkass grey Hulk named Joe Fixit. Green Hulk is an anti-hero to begin with but the trope still stands as Joe Fixit is several notches down the scale. The twist is Joe Fixit is just another of Bruce Banner's repressed personalities.
    • And while we're on the subject: Dr. Leonard Samson was a nerdy little nebbish scientist who managed to de-Hulkify Hulk, turning him back into Bruce Banner. He then used a portion of the stored gamma energy to turn himself into Doc Samson, who wasn't really an anti-hero so much as he was just kind of an egotistical jerk. When he started wooing Betty, it convinced Bruce (who was initially thrilled to be himself again) to use the rest of the stored gamma energy to turn himself back into the Hulk.
  • In an inverse of this trope, Green Lantern Hal Jordan inexplicably turned evil during the Emerald Twilight arc and the role of "original hero" as described by the intro was played by his replacement Kyle Rayner.
    • Played straight, however, was Guy Gardner replacing Hal Jordan in 1985. To clarify: Guy Gardner is not some crazy killing machine or anything (unless you count the Warrior storylines where he's a living weapon); he just has more of a fly-off-half-cocked, kick-butt-take-names, punch-first-ask-questions-later personality than Hal.) He's the gym teacher everyone despised in high school.
      • While Guy fits, he technically didn't replace Hal. Hal resigned to spend more time with his girlfriend (who subsequently became a more psychotic version of Star Sapphire) and was replaced by John Stewart as Earth's GL. Later, during Crisis on Infinite Earths, a faction of the Guardians healed Guy from a coma and gave him a ring and mission. By the end of that mission, Hal was a Green Lantern again.
  • Captain America:
    • In The '80s, Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, was replaced by John Walker, a '90s Anti-Hero version of himself. To his credit, Walker did eventually make an honest effort to emulate Rogers' ethics until the Red Skull completed his manipulation of him. When Rogers regained the mantle, Walker continued operating as the U.S.Agent. In something of an inversion from the previous examples, the Darker and Edgier Walker wore the classic red, white, and blue Cap outfit, while Steve took up a black costume and shield as The Captain.
    • Like Knightfall this was apparently a deliberate in your face. And the same thing happened with Bucky Barnes as Captain America. That said, Steve went on record in Heroic Age: Superheroes that there's not a man out there more fit to wear those colors than James Buchanan Barnes.
      • It should be noted that during Bucky's tenure as Cap, that while he did use his gun and his costume did invoke a Darker and Edgier anglenote , the main conflict for Bucky was whether or not he could do right by Steve Rogers as Captain America. As such, Bucky would act as best of a hero as he possibly could during that amount of time as Cap.
  • The Mighty Thor:
    • In an inversion, Thor was replaced by Thunderstrike a.k.a Eric Masterson in The '90s, except Thunderstrike was less likely to kill a dangerous opponent and he came across as a dork when he tried to sound like an anti-hero. Thunderstrike did however, look the part. Complicating the whole thing was that Thunderstrike had previously been Thor himself.
    • Also downplayed by Beta Ray Bill, who was somewhat more merciless compared to Thor but otherwise still a noble and courageous soul.
    • Played a bit straighter with Eric Masterson's son, Kevin Masterson. Not long after inheriting his father's Thunderstrike Mace, Kevin becomes the second Thunderstrike. While not even remotely evil or anything, being a young teenager in a slightly aged-up alter-ego body who was struggling with the loss of his father (who he felt was largely abandoned by the Avengers) definitely lends him to be more superficially anti-heroic than his dad was.
    • As of mid-2017, there are three Thors running around. The Odinson himself, Jane Foster (wielding Mjolnir), and the "War Thor" - a traumatised Volstagg wielding Ultimate Thor's hammer. The first two are straightforward heroes, but the third is very much this.
    Narrator: Behold the War Thor, and prepare to bleed.
  • Most of Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers were villains that had their costumes redesigned to look like familiar heroes (Bullseye as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Venom as Spider-Man, Daken as daddy Wolverine). He went a bit overboard on this front during the Dark Reign, creating the Dark (now Shadow) X-Men, making the HAMMER organization to replace S.H.I.E.L.D., and forming The Cabal, essentially a copy of the already morally ambiguous Illuminati, as well as his own Initiative with The Hood and his gang.
    • Comparably, Venom could count as a rare villain-to-villain example of this. Eddie Brock, the original Venom was certainly a homicidal maniac, but he eventually was tailored into a '90s Anti-Hero of sorts. The third Venom, Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) is more evil than Brock and thus since he pretends to be a hero as part of the Dark Avengers, he's both an Anti-Hero Substitute for Spider-Man (who he impersonates) and Venom. The second Venom (Angelo Fortunato) didn't last long enough to be considered a substitute. Once Flash Thompson became Venom, you could argue for it being an odd reverse villain-hero example; Flash being more heroic than Eddie at his very best. And then it went back to anti-hero again as Eddie
  • Happened, of all people, to The Authority once, when they were defeated by G8's agent and replaced with bunch of Nineties Anti Heroes. For many people Authority are a bunch of Jerkassses at best and Villain Protagonists at worst, but comparing to replacements they look like fricking saints.
    • Of course, the second the real Authority comes back, they start their revenge by killing in cold blood the only redeemable character among the new team: Rush, the Canadian replacement for Swift, who didn't kill anybody they wouldn't have and hated all her teammates. They catch hell for this later.
  • In Johnny Saturn, Johnny Saturn I (John Underhall) retires, and he is soon replaced by Johnny Saturn II (Greg Buchanan). Many of the characters in Johnny Saturn are legacy characters.
  • After Horatio Hellpop gave up the mantle of Nexus it was taken by Stan Korivitsky. Sadly, the mission of killing worst murderers was too much for him, and he quickly snapped and turned worse than those he was supposed to kill. That forced Horatio to take back Nexus powers and kill him.
  • Ghost Rider has an odd example. He is already an Anti-Hero but in the nineties, a character named Vengeance showed up who was supposed to be a Darker and Edgier version of a character that was already the epitome of Darker and Edgier. A new Vengeance has since appeared — as a villain. And the de-powered original Vengeance seems to be a pretty nice guy these days.
  • Intentionally done again in the '90s, when the Fantastic Four were presumed dead, and Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, and Ghost Rider took their places, swearing to avenge the heroes' deaths. Only three of the four were really Anti Heroes, but the extremely ill-suited-for-eachother group fought amongst themselves so much and were so bad at emulating the FF's legendary teamwork that Spidey was pretty much ineffectual in getting them to shape up and the whole team made the Fantastic Four's dysfunctional family dynamics look incredibly well-adjusted by comparison.
    • Marvel played homage to that story a few years ago with even more antiheroic versions of those four - the abovementioned Red Hulk and Ghost Rider's Distaff Counterpart Alejandra, X-23 and Flash Thompson's Venom (Redeeming Replacement to previous Venoms, but much more antiheroic than Spider-Man; he's a US Army soldier rather than a Thou Shalt Not Kill type superhero).
  • The Flash:
    • Happened to Wally West with Dark Flash, a mysterious character that turned out to be an alternate universe version of Wally who went by Walter. Unlike Walter, Wally wasn't able to save Linda Park in his equivalent of the Terminal Velocity story, and received some training under his universe's Savitar (a villain Wally defeated) before killing him. After Wally and Linda end up in his world, both were seemingly killed by Abra Kadabra, and Walter swore to avenge them. He started wearing a darker outfit and traveled to the main DC Universe. He was distrusting of other heroes and didn't reveal his identity to all but a select few, and was a bit more brutal in his methods. When Wally and Linda return, Walter is forced to leave, as he and Wally couldn't occupy the same universe for too long.
    • Future Flash was a Barry Allen from a future timeline. He wore a blue outfit and killed his villains, because his failure to save the new Wally West resulted in him snapping and travelling back through time. Notably, he killed his villains on his way back, even though his plan would mean their actions wouldn't happen anyway. He fought the main Barry, who eventually got stuck in the Speed Force, and Future Flash took his place for a while. He eventually died.
  • The Irredeemable Ant-Man, Eric O'Grady, was this to the original Ant-Man, Hank Pymnote . O'Grady got his costume from stealing one of Pym's, and is an often lecherous, cowardly, and amoral man who nonetheless had some positive traits and often wished he was a better person. Not to be confused with Scott Lang, who while also stealing the Ant-Man suit, only did it to save his daughter and was really sorry about it - if anything he was more heroic than Pym.
  • Iron Man did this to himself, in a way. When his suit was damaged, he built the War Machine armor. Not only did it have the appropriate Darker and Edgier name but it was loaded with BFGs and was colored black and gray. Stark wore the armor in a few issues, invoking this trope even though it was the same guy in the armor. After that arc, he gave it to Jim Rhodes, who is actually a bit nicer than Stark. It should also be noted that Rhodes replaced Tony as Iron Man for a couple of years due to Stark's alcoholism so in a way, it was an inversion of this trope.
  • Zig-zagged for Spider-Man in The Clone Saga. The original aim of the series, itself a continuation of a Silver Age storyline, was an attempt to roll back the creeping cynicism of the nineties. Whilst Peter Parker continued to spiral ever downward into depression and anger, Ben Reilly was introduced as a Lighter and Softer Spider-Man with the same set of memories as the original, a powerful statement of just how far Peter had fallen.
    • The entire premise of Superior Spider-Man, which sees Otto Octavius becoming a Darker and Edgier Spider-Man after performing a "Freaky Friday" Flip with Peter Parker and then leaving him to die in Ock's frail body. As Spider-Man, Otto spies on criminals 24/7 with automated "Spider-bots" equipped with cameras, employs a private mercenary army called "Spider-Patrol 7", and even has his own force of eight-legged Humongous Mecha decked out in Spider-Man's classic red and blue. Notably, where Peter was the classic Hero with Bad Publicity who was frequently treated as a criminal nuisance by the cops and the press, Otto frequently gives orders to the police and city hall.
  • Emma Frost. While she never adopted the name or costume, she essentially became this to Jean Grey after the latter's death in New X-Men, replacing her as the team's resident telepath, the Institute's headmistress and Cyclops' bedmate. This was a status that she was aware of and more than one character (including a teenage Jean) has needled her about it.
  • In Promethea, Stacia and Grace take over from Sophie as a Split-Personality Team to be Promethea in the physical world during Sophie's quest into the Immateria. They have a somewhat more violent and hedonistic attitude to things, and end up fighting with Sophie when she gets back.
  • The Ultimates: Inverted. Monica Chang, the second Black Widow, is far more pure and upstanding than her predecessor, who killed children in cold blood and was secretly The Mole to a super-powered terrorist army that takes over the United States in one arc before being killed. After Monica dies in Ultimatum, a third Black Widow (the Peter Parker clone known as Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman) takes over, and is is equally heroic.

    Live Action Television 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When one Slayer dies another girl is called forward to take her place. Well Buffy did die and despite being revived is replaced by Kendra, a Knight Templar whose sole focus is on hunting and killing vampires regardless of who they are. When she died she was replaced by Faith, very much an Anti-Hero before, during and after her Face–Heel Turn. Not a typical example, since Buffy was only dead for a few minutes at most; so she continued being the main character and maintained the role as the main slayer. With Faith as the "active" slayer, if she died, a new slayer would have taken her place, but Buffy's later (temporary) death did not have any effect.
    • Angel also did this with Spike, to comedic effect. Where Angel would pound rapists into the pavement and recieve a smooch as reward (to Spike's vocal disgust), "Blondie Bear" just chides the girls for stupidly walking home at night and alone.
  • Keppler, the Temporary Substitute for CSI's Gil Grissom. He was prone to bending the rules a lot more than Grissom, and nearly got the whole team in trouble with his "reverse forensics" plan to nail a criminal they couldn't otherwise touch.
  • At the beginning of season five of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thomson has replaced his bodyguard Eddie Kessler, who committed suicide when being blackmailed by the FBI. Kessler was affable, decent, but determined and capable in a fight — by no means a hero, but one of the nicest characters in the setting, and fast becoming a Morality Pet for Nucky. The replacement is silent, menacing, and viciously brutal in a fight — even slicing the ear off a dead attacker and keeping it in his suit pocket. The implication is that Nucky hates that he got personally attached to Kessler only to lose him, and has hired a bloodthirsty stoic he won't mistake for a friend.
    Senator: Doesn't say much, does he?
    Nucky: That's what I like about him.
  • It has happened in Doctor Who four times so far.
    • When the mild-mannered Fifth Doctor died and regenerated into the Sixth, who was frequently a Jerkass, controversially violent, and started his life by trying to kill his own companion in a bout of post-regenerative psychosis. (Not that Five didn't get up to some violent acts himself, but he seemed much more conflicted about it.)
    • The Eighth Doctor sat on the sidelines during the Time War, a major interstellar conflict set in-between the classic series and the revamp. Upon learning that an seemingly fatal incident he was involved in actually was fatal, meaning that he was already dead, he chose to drink an elixir that was specifically formulated to give Time Lords more-than-usual conscious control over the nature of their next self, becoming the "War Doctor", played by John Hurt, who was specifically crafted by his former self to be a person who would do anything necessary to end the war. What the War Doctor eventually did led to his subsequent selves refusing to even consider him deserving of being called "the Doctor", to the point that it's strongly implied that he is the one thing in the universe that Eleven is most frightened of.

      This is lampooned in the Inspector Spacetime "series", in which the Inspector was very briefly played by an A-list actor and bummed around as a dirty cop.
    • They did it again when the Eleventh Doctor regenerates into the far more abrasive and openly ruthless Twelve, with his main character arc for his first season revolving around whether he still counts as a "good man", which he himself doubts.
    • And again, revealed gradually with Thirteen, as while Twelve character developmented into a much softer version of himself, he also had a buttload of trauma that unlike the other Doctors he had no time to process, plus wanted to die for real, so Thirteen represses everything, shuts herself off and her simmering rage comes out in a sadistic Grin of Audacity at the villains in season 11, and outright yelling at her companions in season 12.
    • To a lesser extent, there was also the transition from Three (a well-dressed, gentlemanly iteration who was something of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold but was generally heroic) to Four (a manipulative, egotistical, vaguely loopy Manchild with a much more casual attitude towards death, who dressed like a Rummage Sale Reject to conceal a mind like a steel trap, albeit one with something of a wonky spring).
      • Among companions, Intrepid Reporter Sarah Jane Smith was replaced by Leela, a Future Primitive who was very willing to kill (an impulse Four did little to rein in). Later, chirpy health nut Mel was replaced by proud juvenile delinquent and Demolitions Expert Ace.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • Villainous example. Beatrice gave her title to Eva's hidden personality. When Eva-Beatrice was acting like a monster all-time, Beato get a few Pet the Dog moments, and got to make a Heroic Sacrifice, after realizing her mistakes. Then it's revealed it was all a clever Batman Gambit she put in order to make Battler admit she's a witch.
    • EP 5 replaces Battler himself for Furudo Erika. It's played with irony considering the second is more or less an aspect of the Big Bad and Battler is not incapacitated and actively fighting the against change.


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