A recent piece in the New Yorker pointed out one of the darker bits of Batman's past: once upon a time, in the character's earliest days, the vigilante superhero also known as Bruce Wayne packed heat in his utility belt. For the first few months of his publication history, Batman was known to use guns to solve his problems—not all the time, mind you, but it wasn't out of the question. An editorial request in late 1939, about six months after the character's debut, asked Batman creator Bob Kane to see that costumed heroes didn't fire weapons in his scripts. This change led to one of the defining aspects of the Batman story—the fact that Bruce Wayne vows never to use firearms of any kind because they're the weapons of cowards, like the individual who gunned down his parents in Crime Alley.
This article got us wondering what major changes some other superheroes have gone through since their inception. As weird as it would be to see Batman hanging out with handguns, think about how odd some of these characters would be if they'd stayed the same.
Superman: When Superman debuted in 1939's Action Comics #1, he wasn't quite as "super" as we imagine him today. You may have heard the phrase "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," right? Well, that's not an understatement—in his first appearances Superman couldn't fly, he could just jump really far. In general, he was nowhere near the powerhouse behemoth he is today. His villains were similarly depowered; he found much more traction fighting gangsters and corrupt politicians than space aliens or supervillains. Lex Luthor didn't even appear for a couple years! And while Clark Kent was still a journalist, he worked for the Daily Star, not the Daily Planet. A lot of these oddities were transformed into the stuff we're familiar with by movies, radio plays, and comic books, though just last year author Grant Morrison decided to revisit these ideas for his reboot of the Superman character in DC's New 52.
Green Lantern: You might know that a lot of DC Comics superheroes introduced in the '40s have passed the mantle of their costume onto the next generation; characters like the Flash certainly aren't the same guys they were when they debuted, but they're pretty similar as far as powers go. Green Lantern, though, underwent major changes to basically everything about him. For instance, while the modern character's Lantern ring is a piece of advanced technology given to him by, basically, the universe's police force, the original Lantern ring is powered by ancient magic from Tibet. Also, while you may think it's funny that for a time the modern Green Lantern had a weakness to the color yellow (something writer Geoff Johns explained really well in Green Lantern: Rebirth), the original Green Lantern's weakness was… wood. Yep. Finally, the original GL bright red sweater/purple cape combo just hasn't survived the test of time.
The Human Torch: Most people think of the Human Torch as a member of the Fantastic Four, and rightfully so. However, before hot-headed Johnny Storm became the FF's bratty teenager, there was an earlier version of the character who was 100% robot… or android, to be exact. In fact, this guy was one of the first Marvel comics characters; he was the star, along with the Sub-Mariner, of 1939's Marvel Comics #1, the book that can rightfully be said to have launched the Marvel Universe. Though this character was more or less forgotten by the time the more popular Human Torch made his Fantastic debut in the 1960s, efforts by more recent writers—notably Kurt Busiek in Marvels—have shown how this android character plays a major role in Marvel history, even connecting him to Avengers team member and fellow android the Vision.
Wolverine: Notable moreso for how he was initially used than actual character differences, this breakout X-Men star first appeared in just one panel of 1974's Incredible Hulk #180 and then guest-starred in the following issue, in which the Canadian government tasks Wolverine—their super-powered enforcer—with stopping the destruction caused by a battle between the Hulk and the monstrous Wendigo. Altogether, Wolverine appeared in only three sequential issues of Hulk, and this scrappy bruiser might have been lost to history if a year later writer Len Wein hadn't seen fit to include Wolverine on his team of all-new, all-different, all-international X-Men. Shortly after that, X-Men writer Chris Claremont really ran with the character, making him the ubiquitous star he is today. Can you imagine if everybody's favorite mutant had only ever appeared in a minor Hulk story?
Green Arrow: When Green Arrow first debuted in the 1940s, he was little more than a knockoff of Batman—a rich guy who holed up in a cave and made custom vehicles and weapons based on his crime-fighting gimmick. In the 1960s, though, the celebrated writer/artist team of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams finally found a way to make Green Arrow stand out amongst his peers at DC Comics—they made him a raging liberal. In a wholly unsubtle move, O'Neal and Adams paired Arrow with DC's other Green hero, Lantern, a space cop with a staunch conservative streak. Together, the two formed an unlikely buddy cop pairing and starred in what might be called the first truly socially aware comic book, Green Lantern/Green Arrow. In this groundbreaking two-year run, these political opposites became best buds as they took on threats from interstellar invaders to drug dealers to segregation. Ever since then, most writers have taken great pains to define Arrow by his almost hippie-ish political beliefs. It may be grating to some, but hey, at least he's not a copy of Batman anymore.