Superheroes who just couln't be replaced

OK we"ve had three Flashes, two each of Batgirls and Green Arrows, four Robins (five if you count DKR’s Carrie Kelly), and four thousand seven hundred eighty-six Green Lanterns. It seems that there are some heroes who aren’t so much a character anymore as a role that a well-written character who was somehow deemed worthy could step into. Robin in particular seems to have become more an apprenticeship position than an actual handle for Batman’s sidekick.

But there are some who I don’t think anyone but the original character could be. Superman, for one. Nobody but Clark Kent, midwestern, corn-fed, homespun Boy Scout last surviving son of a planet that blowed up real good, could adequately fill those tights.

Then there’s the Batman. We tried it with Az-Bat, and it didn’t work out so good. Nobody but Bruce Wayne could be the Batman. Nobody else could be the driven, obsessed, incredibly self-disciplined, kinda psycho but not too psycho, carefully created alter-ego who is a totally inept flake.

Spider-man. Peter Parker. Even if there were an epidemic of guys getting bit by radioactive spiders and acquiring superpowers, nobody could have that delicate balance of power and chronic angst that Peter Parker has. Nobody, man.

Excluding the X-Men, whose “superhero” personas (if that is the correct terminology) are defined by their mutations and therefore nobody but the original could really fill the role, how many superheroes are there whose roles simply could not be filled by another character, no matter how strong and/or well written?

Superman? Maybe, just maybe…Martian Manhunter or if you were able to get a Marvel Character in the DC universe…Thor, Silver Surfer, or maybe even Hulk (if he could control the rage)

There have been three Batgirls.

Betty Kane, nice of Kathy Kane(Batwoman) was the first Bat-girl who appeared until 1963.

Barbara Gordon is actually Batgirl II.

Cassandra Cain is Batgirl III.

Ditto Doc Manhattan, whose particular obsession with his role (and God’s role) as a watchmaker made him one of the more interesting Watchmen to, uh… watch. At least one other living being was subjected to the same experiment and (as far as we know) never came back naked and blue.

Which reminds me: when an experiment goes “horribly wrong” and gives someone superpowers, such as Captain America, why don’t they ever try to re-create the experiment? I want to see an evildoer build the Doc-Manhattan-izer, test it on the homeless until he gets a success, use his quick wits to vaporize the test subject, and then create an evil superteam of Docs, named for other heavily populated islands.

Doc Taiwan, Doc Honshu, Doc England, Doc Cuba… it’d be so Eeeeeevil!

Captain America’s powers were the result of an experiment doing what it was supposed to - they were trying to make a Super-Soldier serum, and succeeded.

About the only time I can think of that it was an accident, had a good chance of being repeated, and didn’t have bad side effects, but wasn’t repeated (or at least attempted again) is She-Hulk. (I think.)

Fantastic Four - no real chance of repeating.

Swamp Thing, Man Thing, Hulk, Parasite, Blight - bad side effect.

Captain America - not an accident, repeated.

Lizard - not an accident, bad side effect.

Doc Manhattan, Captain Atom - unknown chance of repeating, death results from failure, so not a good idea.

OK, I just thought of another no side effect accident that could probably be repeated but wasn’t, but it has another good reason for that:

Bouncing Boy - WHY?!

Technically Cap has no powers. He is as perfectly developed as a human can be without actually being superhuman.

There was no accident involved in She-Hulk’s origin. She was a DA shot by gangsters and given an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk.

Mister Fantastic lost his powers at one point and regained them by re-exposure to cosmic rays. An industrialist named IIRC Simon Utrecht had himself and three others shot into the cosmic ray belt and came back as the super-human U-Foes, so the FF experiment/accident was repeatable.

Oh, and speaking of Captain America, there have been numerous attempts to re-create the Super Soldier formula. One of which was partially responsible for Man-Thing.

Her powers are still an accident - they were just trying to get similar-type blood into her, so she wouldn’t die. The fact that she turned into the She-Hulk was an unintended - accidental - side effect.

They’ve also tried to replicate the fusion of adamantium and vibranium that created Caps’ shield.

I’ve really got to start a list of all the attempts to duplicate the Captain America “Operation Rebirth” that actually worked, more or less. I think there are a couple of dozen, at least, who’ve appeared in comics between the 70s and…last month, as I remember. And quite a few of them didn’t even suffer completely debilitating side effects.

Some “irreproducible experiment”…I think the Delta IV has a worse success rate than that.

In the DCU, this is explained by the human metagene. In essense, a large minority of humans have a latent superpower (according to one of those crossovers from the 90’s, about 1 in 10). The power and the trigger are different for every human, so that getting doused in electrified chemicals will only grant superspeed if you’re Barry Allen or Wally West. If you’re Joe Blow, it’ll just kill you.

One group of aliens tried exactly what you propose during the Invasion storyline. They took a bunch of ordinary humans and struck them with energy beams. This killed most of them, but a few survived because this was the trigger for their metagene.

In the Elseworlds trade paperback Batman: Holy Terror, the government, upon finding out what happened to Barry Allen, proceeded to test the same “accident” by using political prisoners.

One wound up with her MIND going a zillion miles an hour… but not her body. One began aging at super-speed. One gained Flash powers, but no conscious control over his molecules, and began exploding every time he used his powers. He’d re-form in a week or so… slightly less sane than before…

Then again, Marvel’s U-Foes did successfully recreate the accident that led to the Fantastic Four, almost perfectly… and Emil Blonsky, via a gamma radiation accident, also became big, green, and unpleasant, did he not?

Not to get this too far off-track, but I thought that the trigger determined what powers you got, not that each gene had a unique trigger. So if Barry Allen had instead of being doused by electrified chemicals been, for example, bitten by a radioactive spider, he’d have come away with a completely different set of powers.

The metagene was also a neat explanation for why so many heroes have super-powered relatives and especially why the offspring of soper-beings often had versions of their sire’s powers.

And to hijack the hijack, am I remembering correctly that there was a story in which Barry-Flash was somehow unconsciously responsible for the lightning bolt that turned Wally West into Kid Flash?

IIRC, in No Man’s Land, The Huntress donned the batgirl costume with tacit consent from Bruce (meaning she was semi-official).
Didn’t happen for long but one could argue that this makes the current Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) the fourth incarnation.

Nitpicking the nitpick.

Betty Kane doesn’t count for the succession of roman numerals. Bat-Girl is not the same name as Batgirl. Witness Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Midnight (his female replacement), and then Dr. Mid-Nite II.

Wow. Nice hijack, guys.

Isn’t the try-to-recreate-the-experiment-gone-horribly-wrong thing how Doc Sampson got his powers?

re: Silver Surfer as non-replaceable: He’s just one of various Heralds of Galactus, so, from Galactus’s’s point of view, he was very replaceable.

Speaking of not-so-replaceable: Galactus.

Replaceable: Phoenix.

IIRC, the Red Skull got the original, German version of the super-soldier serum. Nick Fury got a reconstituted version that wasn’t as strong and Nomad II (or whoever Jack Monroe was) got a still-weaker version.

I would argue that Batman is replaceable. Source material is Superman: Red Son. In it, Superman lands in Soviet Russia, not Kansas. As a result, the Soviet Empire becomes a benevolent system of government the world over (save the US), with Supes as the caretaker of humanity. However, there’s a constant uprising inside the Soviet Union (Bruce Waynovich?), led by a masked crusader who looks remarkably like Batman. Supes lobotomizes him, but he keeps coming back in various reincarnations of anti-fascists. At one point, you see about a dozen lobotomized Batmen walking around Supes’ fortress sweeping the floor.

So Batman is more a product of society than anything.

Couldn’t Superman be replaced by Captain Marvel?

In the Graphic Novel Kingdom Come only Marvel had the strength, speed, and relative invulnerability to stand toe-to-toe with Supes and give as good as he got.

Plus, there’s no weakness ala kryptonite to worry about.

I think Captain Marvel should be considered a sort of emergency back-up Superman.
That is, it is so indispensible to reality iself for Superman to exist that if by some unimaginable cosmic accident he didn’t, CM would stand in for “The big brawny hero in tights and a cape who is super-strong, invulnerable and can fly”. DC could actually do a arc on this theme where Supes is temporarily erased from the timeline.

BTW: Batman Beyond and SpiderGirl are examples of Future Replacements for current continuity heroes. What about those?