Two days ago, Time Magazine broke the news that Tony Stark will soon be Iron Man no more! Teenager Riri Williams is just the latest in a long line of 'Legacy Heroes', characters who take on the mantle of Marvel's legends. Since 2011, Marvel comic book fans have seen old, established heroes step aside in order to allow new superheroes to stand in the spotlight. Marvel has also used the approach to increase comic book diversity, with these new 'Legacy Heroes' often either female or ethnically diverse. So who are these 'Legacy Heroes', and could we ever see them in the movies?
AMADEUS CHO - THE TOTALLY AWESOME HULK!
In the wake of "Secret Wars", Marvel began teasing the appearance of a new 'Totally Awesome' Hulk. But who was the man behind the monster? We soon learned that this new Hulk was Amadeus Cho, a Korean American teenage genius who's long been a friend of Hercules and the Hulk. Irradiated with Gamma energy, Amadeus gained the power to transform into the Hulk - but, unlike Bruce Banner, he retains his mind. Given that Amadeus has been described by Reed Richards as the seventh-smartest person in the world, that means the ever-incredible Hulk is now packing brains as well as brawn!
In the MCU, Amadeus's mother Helen Cho (played by Claudia Kim) was a scientist at U-Gin Genetics who was drawn into the battle against Ultron. Amadeus himself actually made a cameo in The Incredible Hulk, where Martin Starr played a computer nerd who granted Bruce Banner access to the computers at Culver University in return for pizza. The novelization named that student as Amadeus Cho.
Personally, I think it's unlikely that we'll see the Totally Awesome Hulk any time soon. An awkward contract with Universal means that Marvel don't have the distribution rights for Hulk films, and as a result the studio is showing little interest in expanding this corner of the MCU. Even the legendary "Planet Hulk" plot is simply being absorbed into Thor: Ragnarok rather than getting a movie of its own!
CINDY MOON - THE SPECTACULAR SILK!
Bitten by the same radioactive spider that gave Peter Parker his powers, Cindy Moon was spirited away by the reclusive Ezekiel. Years later, Spider-Man learned of her existence and broke her out, unwittingly kicking off the events of "Spider-Verse". Cindy took up superheroics herself, under the identity of 'Silk'.
Silk's story is a deeply personal one, in that, having lived in solitary confinement for years, she's struggling to rebuild her life. Her parents have gone missing, her brother's addicted to the Green Goblin formula, and her boyfriend's now happily married. She's taken the first halting steps, working for J. Jonah Jameson in a TV news crew, and is building her own entertaining corner of Spider-Man's wider world.
As I've discussed before, while Marvel and Sony are planning to build a Spider-Man universe, they're unlikely to go straight to Silk. Her story works best if it's given time to play out; that way the MCU could take the same fascinating journey of self-discovery we're seeing in the comics.
GWEN STACY - THE RADIOACTIVE SPIDER-GWEN!
Yes, there are a lot of spider-centric characters! An alternate-universe version of Gwen Stacy, the character dubbed "Spider-Gwen" has become a fan favorite. In Spider-Gwen's world, it was Gwen who was bitten by the radioactive spider, while Peter Parker - longing for adventure - became the Lizard, and ultimately died. Shocked at Peter's fate, Spider-Gwen learned to take her powers seriously, and to embrace that age-old adage - "With great power comes great responsibility".
Spider-Gwen's success - largely due to a stunning design by artist Robbi Rodriguez - shocked Marvel, and actually came at a very inconvenient time; "Secret Wars" was about to destroy the Marvel Multiverse! She's back in her own ongoing now, and, after a difficult start, the series has really picked up of late.
Although Sony was reportedly fascinated with the idea of Spider-Gwen, we have no evidence that there's going to be a Gwen Stacy character in the MCU. Without Gwen, this alternate-universe version just wouldn't resonate. That said, there is a slim chance that Marvel would bring back Emma Stone, and trust to moviegoers to connect the character to the Gwen Stacy of the Amazing Spider-Man films. I really doubt that it's going to happen, but I'd be delighted if it did!
JANE FOSTER - THE MIGHTY THOR!
In 2014, fans of Thor had a shock. As part of that year's summer event, Marvel had Nick Fury whisper a secret in Thor's ear - and somehow, in a mystery yet to be revealed, that secret made Thor unworthy to wield Mjolnir. It didn't take long for the hammer to be picked up by an unknown woman, who became the Goddess of Thunder.
As time has passed, writer Jason Aaron has gradually revealed the truth. The woman wielding Mjolnir is none other than Jane Foster, Thor's greatest love. She's currently dying of cancer, and, in a shocking twist, every time she turns to Thor it undoes the effect of the chemotherapy. Meanwhile, the Odinson himself has gone missing, imprisoned by unknown enemies; but the Mjolnir of another universe has crashed near him, suggesting that there'll soon be two Thors out there...
Although this is one of the most popular 'Legacy Hero' stories, Jane Foster is unlikely to return to the MCU. Natalie Portman, who plays the character in the MCU, was unhappy with director Patty Jenkins's dismissal from Thor: The Dark World. There are rumors she only stuck out that film due to contractual obligations, and she's unlikely to shed any tears over the fact she isn't returning for Thor: Ragnarok. I doubt we'll ever see the character again in the MCU.
LAURA KINNEY - THE NEW WOLVERINE!
Originally created as part of the X-Men Evolution TV series, the popular X-23 - a female clone of Wolverine - soon made her way into the comics. Brought up as an assassin, X-23, who also goes by the name Laura Kinney, is on a quest to recover her humanity. This initially brought her into claw-to-claw conflict with Wolverine, but the two made their peace, and he seems to have even formally adopted her!
2014 saw the "Death of Wolverine", an event in which Logan - who had lost his healing factor - was entombed in adamantium. In the aftermath of "Secret Wars", we've learned that X-23 has taken up the mantle of Wolverine in Logan's honor, every bit as dangerous as her 'father'.
With Hugh Jackman soon to leave the X-Men universe, Fox is preparing the ground for his replacement. Wolverine: Weapon X will feature a character who seems to be loosely based on X-23, and she's then likely to appear in the X-Force movie.
KAMALA KHAN - THE NEW MS. MARVEL!
Standing front and center in the Marvel Universe is Kamala Khan, a young American Muslim who was exposed to the Terrigen Mist and developed phenomenal powers. She can size-change and stretch, and alternate versions of her have even been able to shapeshift! For all that she's an Inhuman, though, Kamala Khan's real hero is Carol Danvers; in honor of Carol, she took up the identity of Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan's book is gloriously counter-cultural, celebrating the next generation's potential to transform our world's future. Although some of the 'Legacy Heroes' predate her - Miles Morales, for instance - it was Kamala's success that really kick-started this whole movement.
With Captain Marvel due to introduce Carol Danvers to the MCU, you'd expect Ms. Marvel to follow a little while after that. However, the MCU looks set to completely abandon Carol's 'Ms. Marvel' era, meaning that Marvel could well choose to bring Kamala in as an independent superhero.
MILES MORALES - THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN!
Marvel's Ultimate Universe, a rebooted timeline that allowed Marvel to do contemporary versions of their classic characters, never pulled its punches. In 2011, writer Brian Bendis made the shocking decision to have the Peter Parker of the Ultimate Universe die. A new character - Miles Morales - then took up Peter's mantle in honor of him.
Miles is a tremendously popular character, and Ultimate Spider-Man went from strength to strength with the character as the star. In the aftermath of "Secret Wars", he was brought into the main timeline (although his 'new' backstory has yet to be explored - after all, so far as he remembers, Peter Parker never died).
The reality is that comic book fans really want Miles to appear in the MCU. Donald Glover - whose campaign to play Spider-Man in part inspired Bendis to create the character - is actually appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming! I doubt he'll be playing the part of Miles, but it's a nice nod all the same.
NADIA PYM - THE ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT WASP!
The daughter of Hank Pym and his first wife, Nadia Pym has just made her debut in the pages of All-New All-Different Avengers! Given that she hasn't exactly been around for long, it's too soon to really get a measure of the character, let alone to see how comic book fans react to this new Wasp. What is certain, though, is that this new Wasp won't be appearing in the MCU anytime soon. Visually, she's clearly based on Evangeline Lily's Hope Pym, set to don her own Wasp armor in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
RIRI WILLIAMS - THE NEW IRON (WO)MAN!
The newest arrival, Riri Williams is an M.I.T. student who may well be smarter than Tony Stark. To Stark's amazement, she's successfully reverse-engineered the Iron Man armor, and actually improved on Stark's designs. With Stark set to retire in the aftermath of "Civil War II", it's going to be interesting to see how superhero fans take to Riri Williams...
SAM ALEXANDER - THE MAN CALLED NOVA!
The Nova Corps is basically the Marvel equivalent of DC's Green Lantern Corps - intergalactic peacekeepers possessed of tremendous power! Earth's traditional Nova is Richard Ryder, a firm fan-favorite, but in 2011 Marvel introduced us to a new Nova - Sam Alexander! Sam was very much a return to the concepts roots; where Ryder had become a seasoned warrior, Sam is back to being an excited kid who gets to take to the stars!
Sam Alexander is a character who's particularly dear to Marvel's heart, not least because he's named after Jeph Loeb's son, who died of bone cancer at the age of 17.
Unfortunately, it's entirely possible we'll never see the Nova Corps in all their glory. Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to a very different Nova Corps, one without the kind of super-powers comic book fans know and love.
SAM WILSON - THE CONTROVERSIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA!
Marvel fans will know the name Sam Wilson well - it's the real name of the Falcon, Captain America's closest friend, played by Anthony Mackie in the MCU. Over in the comics, Steve Rogers was aged to his correct biological age after the super-soldier serum wore off. He chose to pass the mantle to Falcon, who became the new Captain America!
SamCap (as the Internet has dubbed him) has been a controversially political superhero. Writer Nick Spencer looks to be upping the ante, though, with Steve Rogers now restored to his youth, and sharing the title of 'Captain America'. The two Captains stand for very different visions of America, not least with Steve Rogers currently under the influence of HYDRA...
Sooner or later, Chris Evans will step out of the MCU. It's entirely possible that either Sebastian Stan'd Bucky or Anthony Mackie's Falcon will pick up the shield when he does.
So there you have it - Marvel's Legacy Heroes! As you can see, this is a powerful movement in Marvel Comics, one that's influenced every corner of the comic book universe. Whether you're interested in the X-Men or the Avengers, whether you follow Spider-Man or the Hulk, you're going to encounter a Legacy Hero! But only time will tell whether or not they'll make it into the MCU...