Superheroes are constantly getting rebooted, to the point where movie trailers should use a computer's "crash and restart" noise instead of a record scratch. Tomorrow, Superman gets a whole new origin in Man of Steel. Sometimes reboots are a flash in the pan, sometimes they actually take. Here are 10 superhero reboots that actually had lasting impact.
This 1956 comic helped usher in the Silver Age, bringing superheroes back after their post-World War II collapse in popularity. DC Comics revamped most of its characters, giving them a more modern, Space Age set of origins. And the first of these relaunches was The Flash. Where Jay Garrick was once the Flash, DC gave readers a new Flash named Barry Allen. Likewise, Green Lantern was reinvented with Hal Jordan instead of Alan Scott. Eventually, Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were revealed to be denizens of Earth-2, but at first they were just erased.
Batman had been on television before, including in some cartoons, but this series reinvented the Caped Crusader as a darker, more adult figure. And along the way, the show revamped a number of classic Batman villains, notably giving the Joker a new sidekick/love interest, Harley Quinn. By the time it ended, this show left its mark on Batman permanently, and created its own whole mythos — and then it gave rise to the DC Animated Universe, including Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond, which created a very different version of the DC Universe that still resonates with a lot of fans today.
All of Marvel's Ultimate comics line has had a huge and lasting influence — when Peter Parker died in Ultimate Spider-Man it was treated as if the "real" Peter Parker was dying and being replaced. But you don't have to look far to see how the lasting influence and power of Mark Millar and Joe Quesada's reinvention of the Avengers — including some key elements of the recent Avengers movie, like Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, and the interplay between Black Widow and Hawkeye.
No, not the new movie — we'll know eventually if that actually stuck. But John Byrne reinvented Superman in 1986 with a miniseries, and then a bunch of other comics, which gave the Man of Tomorrow a whole new origin and backstory. Among other things, Lex Luthor became less of a cartoon character and more of an evil CEO. Clark Kent didn't parade around in a costume when he was an infant. There was no Super-monkey. Some of Byrne's changes were slowly rolled back over the next decade or so, but a lot of them have remained in force. In particular, the emphasis on Lois and Clark as equal partners, which informed the Lois and Clark TV show, is still around. And Lex Luthor still has an evil corporation, instead of lurking in the sewers, most of the time. And Byrne's reboot was part of a larger DC Universe reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths, most of which stuck around for a long, long time.
This won't be the last Batman item on the list — he's been reinvented regularly, and a number of those revamps had a lasting effect on the character. But Christopher Nolan's movie reboot not only launched two more films, it changed the way most mainstream audiences see the character. (And the fact that Batman is much more ready to use Wayne Corp. resources to create his Bat-arsenal, arguably, helped lay the groundwork for the Batman Inc. comics.) However Batman appears next in films, he'll have a lot of elements of Christian Bale's portrayal. And Lucius Fox is probably never going back to being just a friendly CEO who doesn't know anything about Batman's business.
This one is probably going to be a controversial choice. But there's a whole generation of kids who are getting into Spidey through this cartoon that sees Spider-Man as a teenager in high school, working with S.H.I.E.L.D. in his spare time. It's all rapid fire jokes and cut-aways and action, but it's been incredibly successful, with a third season already commissioned. It's also the last Marvel cartoon standing on Marvel XD, with Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes gone and replaced by Avengers Assemble. Plus, for a while, it was the only place where Agent Coulson lived.
Does it count as a reboot when Satan annuls your marriage? In that case, this particular reinvention of Spider-Man has been a pretty big success — the comics that started with "Brand New Day," featuring a swinging single Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, have given Peter Parker a new shot in the arm. This relaunched continuity has stuck around for way longer than anyone expected, and Dan Slott's writing has gained praise as one of the better eras in Spider-history.
Alan Moore took Swamp Thing from a horror comic about a tormented plant guy to a huge supernatural saga in which Swamp Thing was just a plant who thought he was Alec Holland, instead of the transformed Holland. Alan Moore invented a whole world for Swampy, including the Green and the Elementals, which still surrounds the character today. And Moore's reimagined Swamp Thing, along with characters like John Constantine, helped launch the Vertigo universe.
Speaking of which, Neil Gaiman took a classic Golden Age hero, who fought crime in a gasmask, and completely reinvented him as a supernatural figure, spawning a long-running series that remains iconic today.
And finally, one more Batman thing. This list could be half Batman, really. Around the same time John Byrne was giving Superman a whole new world, Frank Miller was doing the same thing for Batman. And Year One has had a huge lasting impact on the character (along with bits and pieces of Miller's Dark Knight Returns.) Miller gave us bad-ass two-fisted Jim Gordon, who's still the reigning version of the character. He also gave Barbara Gordon a brother, who's still around and as lovable as ever. Most of all, he dragged Batman, kicking and screaming, back into the gritty world of crime fiction and noir cities.
Additional reporting by Katharine Trendacosta. Thanks also to Nora Sawyer, Tone Milazzo, Christopher Rowe, John Bowker, Aaron Poehler, Dave Haaz-Baroque, Seekwet Skwirrul, Umar "Danger" Ditta, Cad Wallader, Corey Machowski, Whitson Gordon, Anthony Ha, James Callaghan, Ron Hogan, Jon Gilbert, Zoe Kirk-Robinson, Felix Gilman, Chris Gannon, Richard, Brian Huberd, Aiden Morgan, Franklin Harris and everyone else who helped out!