Superheroes have been appropriating each other's schticks since Year Dot. Superman's had Supergirl and the Bizarro Superman. Batman had Batgirl and Catman. Both of them had the Composite Superman. You have a crimefighting gimmick and someone yoinks it. Hey, it happens.
But in the last several years we've seen a rapidly blossoming form of superhero franchising — let's call it the "Green Lanternization" of comic book characters.
First off, I'm not pinpointing Green Lantern as the sole cause or inspiration for this explosion of knock-off heroes, but Green Lantern has epitomized (and I'd say, popularized) this particular form of storytelling.
Here's how Green Lanternization of a superhero works. Let's say there's a superhero named "The Burnt Sienna Desk" (hey, I write what I see). Along with the power to adorn himself in hues that are at the midpoint between mahogany and mauve taupe, The Burnt Sienna Desk can summon ergonomically sound furniture out of a mysterious dimension (that for our purposes here, we will refer to as "Dimension Desk.")
By and large, The B.S.D. is a pretty idiosyncratic hero. Sure, he's got a teen sidekick ("The Ecru Endtable"), a distaff counterpart ("The Burnt Sienna Deskette"), some sort of diametrically defined nemesis ("Sienna, The Desk Burner"), a vintage of overseas equivalent ("The Chamoisee Cheveret"), and perhaps a totally unrelated copyright-skirting Tijuana Bible character ("Boner Desk") or animal sidekick from a mostly nonsensical 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon show ("Gallant, the Desk-shaped Mule").
Now, despite this wealth of characters who share the Burnt Sienna Desk's powers, it never felt like overkill, as these knock-offs were slooowly introduced over the span of several decades (with the exception of Boner Desk, who — in a creative scandal that rocked the Tijuana Bible publishing world — was introduced mere weeks after an earlier rip-off known as Bang Desk).
Now imagine if all these characters were introduced in one month. Pretty fucking ridiculous, no? Well, that's what it feels like the cape industry's been doing over the last couple years, but with every other superhero.
I'm not making the blanket statement that Green Lanternizing superheroes precludes decent storytelling. 2007's Sinestro Corps War storyline — which introduced the evil, yellow-ringed opposite of the Green Lantern Corps — was pretty fun and (more importantly) gave the Green Lanterns A-List villains for the first time ever (no offense, Goldface). Similarly, I like that Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated is placing a Batman in every nation, as I've always wondered who the Batman of the Maldives is.
What I am saying is that a moratorium is due for the Green Lanternization of heroes — in the last five years, the number of knock-off heroes has ballooned absurdly.
For example, there are 6 separate Hulks running around and all but two debuted before 2008: Hulk, (the stalwart and sensational) She-Hulk, Red Hulk, Red She-Hulk, Hulk's son Skaar, and Hulk's alternate universe daughter (also) She-Hulk. Remember when the Hulk's only sidekicks were a pair of torn purple khakis and a sad piano? Nowadays we have the Country Hulk Jamboree.
But that's not all, the Sinestro Corps storyline has since led to the creation of the Red, Orange, Black, White, Indigo, Blue, and Violet Lantern Corps. Factor in the fact that there are four human Green Lanterns in service and there's no novelty in being a cosmic space cop. Heck, Goldface is more of a true original (here's another one of his greatest hits).
Also, there's now a trio of Wolverines traipsing around — Wolverine, his female clone X-23 (debuted in print in 2004), and his bisexual pheromone-emiting son Daken (2007)— thus making Logan one-third-the-best-at-what-he-does. There are three teams of Avengers in the Marvel Universe, and almost everyone in the Marvel Universe's a member (unless you're an X-Man — then you have your own damn problems).
And if characters aren't getting their identities purloined, they're handing out their abilities like candyfloss. Two of Marvel's big summer events — Fear Itself and Spider-Island — are respectively bequeathing Marvel's super-strong characters with Thor-like hammers and everyone in Manhattan Spider-Man's abilities. 2010's Hulked Out Heroes gamma-irradiated every other Marvel hero, and War of the Supermen slapped the Big Blue Boy Scout with 100,000 other superpowered Kryptonians on Earth.
So yeah, let's table this superheroic arithmetic for a few years and put our collective noggins together to devise some original, sexy crimefighters, like a Wolverine-style vigilante who can make Adamantium guns come out of his wrist holes.
And publishers, if you need any suggestions, I have a 200-page pitch for Burnt Sienna Desk meets Boner Desk: ¡ Muebles Erotico! Just saying.
Hulk parody illustration by Caldwell Tanner of College Humor.