No one creates a crappy comic book character on purpose — no, not even Sentry. The vaults of Marvel and DC are littered with good intentions, characters that should have been huge but failed to find an audience for one reason or another. Maybe it was the timing, maybe the execution, maybe they were killed off too early. One way or another, they had a shot — and they screwed it up.
Thankfully, comic creators are a forgiving bunch. And they have a long memory.
Sometimes all a forgotten character needs is the right creative team to dust her off and find the superheroine inside, or to realize a villain the way he always should have been. Sometimes they’re offering a whole new take on an old favorite. Whatever the method, recent years have been kind to old characters, to the misfits shelved way in the back. From Groot to Squirrel Girl to the Red Hood, one-offs and bad jokes have been fleshed out and found fame. The most hated sidekicks have become the most popular heroes.
To quote the estimable bard LL Cool J: Don’t call it a comeback. They’ve been here for years.
Here are 15 Forgotten Comic Book Characters That Returned With A Vengeance.
Yondu Udonta first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #18, in the early days of 1969. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually knew his name until after the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was released in 2014. Skip ahead three more years and Yondu’s become the heart and soul of Guardians Vol. 2.
The comic book version of Yondu, along with the rest of the original Guardians, dinked around as guest stars for over two decades before getting their own title in the early 1990s. But despite scads of time-travel and team-ups with the Thing, Captain America, and Thor, the comic didn’t gain much traction and the team was forgotten again.
Then James Gunn decided to reimagine Yondu as a space pirate with questionable morals, played by the scene-stealing Michael Rooker.
This Yondu proved so popular, the original Yondu (and the rest of his team) were brought back into the Marvel Comics’ fold in Guardians 3000, nearly 20 years after their last appearance. Simultaneously, the movie’s Ravager version of Yondu was added to the current Guardians title — as the original Yondu’s “great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.”
Not bad for a snaggle-toothed Mary Poppins cosplayer.
14. Howard the Duck
Cult icon, presidential candidate, and star of one of the worst ’80s movies ever made, Howard the Duck recently made his triumphant return to Marvel Comics as a snarky P.I. – not to mention his internet-exploding cameos in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Originally appearing in 1973’s Adventure into Fear #19 as a back-up story to Man-Thing, Howard was described by his creator as a walking, quacking existential joke, a testament to the fact that there’s a fine line between the serious and the dumb. Initially a star of horror parodies, Howard quickly went political and was rewarded with his own title — as well as a number of write-in votes during the 1976 presidential election.
Then Marvel and creator Steve Gerber got into a fight over merchandising and ownership. The comic ended and Howard was turned into an annoying joke, only seen in the occasional team-up. Meanwhile, Gerber concocted a plan wherein Howard dyed his feathers and changed his name to Leonard, allowing Gerber to stealthily take his character to Image and Vertigo.
13. Jason Todd/Red Hood
Caught stealing tires from the Batmobile, Jason Todd was brought in by Batman as the second Robin – though we’d certainly question hiring someone stupid enough to try and steal the wheels off the Batmobile. We were obviously not alone in that thought, and Jason, one of the most disliked characters of the time, was killed off after a phone poll of comic readers narrowly voted for him to be violently beaten to death by the Joker in 1988.
Despite permanently scarring Batman and showcasing new levels of evil in the Joker, Jason Todd was all but forgotten until 2002’s incredible “Hush” storyline, when Clayface posed as Jason to mess with Bats. Due to some clever comic-booking, Jason Todd was soon brought back for real, stealing one of the Joker’s first criminal identities, the Red Hood.
After becoming a crime lord and feuding with Batman for a while, Jason and Bruce have since made up. Currently, Red Hood is a member of the anti-hero Outlaws and people seem to hate him a whole lot less now.
Back in 1961, Lar Gand — an amnesiac from the planet Daxam — crashed into Kansas and was found by Superboy, who, naturally, assumed Lar was his brother. Dubbing him Mon-El, Lar and Clark decide to start a-hero-in’. Instead, Superboy accidentally poisons Mon-El and tosses him into the Phantom Zone to keep him safe. Eventually he’s rescued by the Legion of Super-Heroes, joining them as a Superman surrogate. At least until they were erased from existence — twice. He’s bounced around a bit since then, with his origin getting retconned as needed, but he’s failed to make much of an impact.
Until he was added to the cast of Supergirl, that is.
Tweaking the origin a bit, Mon-El is now a Daxamite prince, stranded on Earth and brought in by Supergirl. Everything’s going great, until Mon-El’s parents — Hercules and Lois Lane — come to take him home. There’s a lot of singing and stabbing, but ultimately Mon-El decides to stay, while his mom decides to take over the Earth. And brainwash him. And marry him to Lena Luthor.
But don’t worry! We doubt it’ll stick — rumor is Mon-El’s going to cape up pretty soon.
11. Black Lightning
One of the first black superheroes, the perpetually underutilized Black Lightning is on the verge of finally getting his due.
Jefferson Pierce is a metahuman with the ability to control electricity. He long ago decided against being a superhero, instead becoming a high school principal. As time goes by, though, Jefferson becomes more and more appalled at the crime running rampant in the Suicide Slum section of Metropolis and adopts the name Black Lightning to deal with it.
Created in the 1970s, Black Lightning had his own title, briefly, before being relegated to a life of guest-starring roles. Despite being DC’s first African-American superhero to headline his own comic book series, the character hasn’t gained a lot of traction over the years – something that even Saturday Night Live made fun of in the ‘90s.
First appearing as Patsy Walker in the teenage romantic-comedy series Miss America Magazine all the way back in 1944 –- back when Marvel Comics was still Timely — Patsy and friends remained popular well into the 1960s — when they were shelved in favor of the skyrocketing superhero genre.
Despite the changing times, Patsy still had her fans, and, in 1976, she was reintroduced as Hellcat in The Avengers #144, before joining the Defenders shortly thereafter. Eventually she married Damion Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, who turned evil (shocking, we know) and drove her to suicide. Hellcat was later resurrected –- but immediately shunted into the role of guest star, all but forgotten, again.
Thankfully, Netflix’s Jessica Jones saw the potential in Hellcat and scooped her up. Fan reaction to Trish Walker was so great that she was given her own ongoing, written by Kate Leth, shortly thereafter. Unfortuantely, the title wrapped last month.
But fret not, because Trish will be appearing in Netflix’s The Defenders and the second season of Jessica Jones. Smart money’s on her suiting up as Hellcat in at least one of them.
9. Hugo Strange
Given his prominent roles in the Batman: Arkham video game series and Fox’s Gotham, it’s hard to believe that Hugo Strange was ever a D-list afterthought. But, man, was he ever.
One of Batman’s first villains, Hugo Strange debuted in Detective Comics #36 in 1940, creating a lightning machine to rob banks. Soon after, he managed to tie up and whip Batman, before getting tossed into a proto-Arkham Asylum, escaping, and creating an army of hulking zombies, as well as a fear-inducing powder. All in his first three appearances!
For some reason, Hugo Strange wasn’t seen again until the 1970s, when he discovered Batman’s secret identity –- one of the first to do so — and tried to auction that knowledge off to the Joker and Penguin. Instead, crime boss Rupert Thorne killed him for the intel –- at which point Strange’s ghost came back to drive Thorne insane.
Twenty more years passed before DC finally got its act together and reintroduced Strange in a more regular role. He’s since appeared in multiple other mediums, including a memorable arc on Batman: The Animated Series, as well as the aforementioned starring role in the Batman: Arkham City game.
One of the more confusing X-Men characters — and that’s saying a lot – the perpetually overlooked Legion is finally getting his due with his own critically-acclaimed show on FX.
The illegitimate son of Professor X, David Haller is afflicted with dissociative identity disorder — as well as untold and unparalleled psionic abilities. Each of his dozens of personalities controls a different power, including telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, the ability to absorb the minds of others, and time travel.
Debuting in 1985, the character’s never been a regular presence in the X-books, only trotted out here and there, whenever something super crazy needs to happen. Unlike the rest of the characters on this list, Legion seems to be forgotten on purpose –- he’s reformed the entire Marvel Universe in the past, and keeping him around would surely raise the question of why he doesn’t just erase evil forever.
Rather than shy away from the comics history, the show has embraced it, with showrunner Noah Hawley creating a twisty, surreal universe where the viewer never quite knows what’s real and what’s imagined. Much to our delight, Legion has been picked up for a second season.
A unstoppable marksman and enemy of Batman’s, Deadshot first appeared in Batman #59 in 1950 –- then sat out a good chunk of time on the sidelines. Recently, he seems to have finally found his niche, with starring roles in the Suicide Squad comics and movie, as well as a recurring role in the CW’s Arrowverse.
Originally seen as a competitor of Batman’s, violently cleaning up the streets of Gotham with bullets instead of fists, the top hat-wearing scoundrel was actually trying to take over the criminal underworld. After being outed by Commissioner Gordon, Deadshot went to prison, not returning until 1977 –- when he finally ditched his ridiculous Abraham Lincoln cosplay outfit for the iconic jumpsuit and face plate.
Over time, his back story’s been developed as well: Deadshot has gone from one-note villain to tortured soul and anti-hero, putting the “suicide” back into Suicide Squad. But seeing as how he’s being played by Will Smith now, it’s seeming less and less likely Deadshot’s ever going to get his wish.
6. Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
For a long, long time Bucky Barnes was the exception to the “nobody stays dead in comics” rule –- a tragic, but constant, footnote in Captain America’s history. Then, much like Red Hood before him, he was brought back as a villain, then an anti-hero, before finally hitting the big-time in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The iconic Golden Age sidekick of Captain America, Bucky’s been around since before Marvel was Marvel, already having a storied career of Nazi-punching before his untimely explosion in 1945. (Though his death wasn’t revealed until 1968 – he’d already been forgotten for twenty years by then.) Remarkably Bucky stayed dead, only appearing one time, as an apparition summoned by the Grandmaster to mess with Captain America.
In 2005, though, Ed Brubaker broke the longstanding comics tradition and brought back Bucky as the Winter Soldier. An amnesiac missing an arm, Bucky was given a new bionic upgrade and trained as a Russian assassin, before murdering his way into his own ongoing title — and readers’ hearts.
5. Luke Cage
An ex-convict imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Carl Lucas was experimented on against his will, gaining superhuman strength and bulletproof skin in the process. Originally fighting crime as the ridiculously costumed Power Man, Carl soon teamed up with Iron Fist as the Heroes for Hire, before stepping into his own as Luke Cage.
A mainstay of Marvel Comics in the ’70s and ’80s, Luke dropped off the grid for a while after being framed for the murder of a plant-alien impersonating Danny Rand in Power Man and Iron Fist #125 in 1986. He was all but forgotten for the next five years, then only appeared occasionally and briefly until 2001, when Brian Michael Bendis jump-started his comics career in Alias.
Since then, Luke has led several different iterations of the Avengers, as well as the reformed Heroes for Hire, and raised a child with Jessica Jones. He’s also been brought to life by Netflix in the critically-lauded Luke Cage, and will be seen again this fall in The Defenders.
One person who never forgot about Power Man? Nicolas Cage. He actually stole his stage name from the superhero. So, thanks for that?
4. Iron Fist
Abandoned in the mystical city of K’un-Lun, Danny Rand was trained as a master of the martial arts and defeated the ancient dragon Shou-Lao to become the immortal Iron Fist. Also a billionaire businessman, Danny returns to New York City to fight crime and right wrongs, using his untold fortune for good, before later returning to K’un-Lun to fight even worse evil. BFFs with Luke Cage, the two constantly appear in one another’s titles — assuming they’re not sharing the spotlight outright.
Debuting in 1974, Iron Fist was, along with Cage, a pretty common sight in the Marvel Universe for just over a decade, before everyone just up and forgot about them. After a few guest spots here and there, in 2006, Matt Fraction reinvigorated the character, making him more well-rounded and giving him a more compelling history. Iron Fist has since gone on to be the star of several ongoing comics titles, as well as a major player in The New Avengers. He is the titular star of Netflix’s Iron Fist, and will be returning this fall in The Defenders.
Not bad for a character that used to suck so hard he was replaced with a clone and then killed off for almost a decade before anyone even missed him.
3. Barry Allen
Barry Allen, DC’s Flash since 1956, died tragically during 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” — and was almost immediately replaced by Wally West. And while Wally mourned his loss and only took over for his former mentor out of honor, the end result was that everyone basically forgot Barry ever wore the suit.
Even Jay Garrick didn’t get that screwed over.
Twenty-three years later, Barry Allen finally returned to the DC Universe during “Final Crisis,” before going on to play a big part in “Flashpoint” and “Rebirth” as well. And even though Barry got 22 episodes of the forgettable 1990 Flash series, he was skipped over in favor of Wally West for the much more lauded Justice League cartoon. But it looks like television and film finally figured out how to do right by him: Barry Allen is the speedster in the suit in the CW’s Flash and the DC Extended Universe films. Although he might be better off if Wally had taken over the latter.
2. Squirrel Girl
First appearing as a back-up story in the Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special in 1991, Squirrel Girl only appeared twice in the next ten years — once as a one-panel joke, and once as a trading card.
It wasn’t until 2005, when Dan Slott was writing a four-issue Great Lakes Avengers series that Squirrel Girl reappeared, starting a series of one-shots and guest appearances — as Jessica Jones’ nanny, no less — that would lead to her getting her own title in 2014. Written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, the title has continued monthly for three years with the same creative team -– a near miracle in the current Marvel climate.
They’re obviously doing something right: Squirrel Girl has proved popular enough to spin off into her own graphic novel and regular novel, and will make her small screen debut in the upcoming New Warriors on Freeform.
Of course, Doreen once took down Thanos, so we’d expect no less.
1. Rocket and Groot
Rocket is a raccoon-like alien creature, originally appearing — at least technically, as “Rocky” — in Marvel Preview #7 in 1976. His first appearance as the Rocket we all know and love today was in The Incredible Hulk #127 in 1982, though even that’s a stretch. Over the first 30 years of his existence, Rocket only appeared ten times.
Groot, meanwhile, is even older and even more forgotten. First appearing in Tales to Astonish #13 in 1960, Groot only appeared twice more in the next 45 years. And one of those times was as a figment in Peter Parker’s nightmare.
After teaming up for the first time in 2007’s “Annihilation: Conquest” storyline, they two really stepped into their own, with Rocket becoming the smartass tactician, and Groot, the mute tree with a heart of gold. Together, the two have become unstoppable.
Rocket and Groot have starred in their own comic titles and cartoons, appeared in every conceivable video game out there, shown up on any number of unlicensed t-shirts, nearly broken the internet with the first Dancing Baby Groot toy, and outshone most of their co-stars to become the most popular members of the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Anyone else that should be on the list? Jog our memories in the comments.