It’s an accepted fact that superheroes never age. After all, how could these superior beings retain their god-like status if they succumbed to the affects of time like the rest of us? They just don’t get older — and it’s never talked about, either.
But every now and then, the creative folks behind the biggest superheroes decide to imagine “What if?” What if superheroes aged like the rest of us? Or what would it be like if we could revisit our favorite supers decades after their prime? On other occasions, publishers introduce new superheroes as children so they can explore what it’s like to grow up with powers — and then those kids do exactly that. (It adds to the weirdness that the adults around them never get any older.) However it’s presented, it’s always a deconstructionist look at one of herodom’s most common tropes.
From alternate worlds to teenagers who’ve aged into adulthood, here are 15 Superheroes Who Were Allowed To Age.
15. Batman Beyond’s Bruce Wayne
Created in 1999, the animated series Batman Beyond advanced the action of the Batman mythos to 2039, a time when Bruce had grown too old and was no longer able to wear the cowl of the Dark Knight. The last straw was a heart attack in the middle of battle some twenty years before, which finally convinced Bruce it was time to hang up the cape.
Enter Terry McGinnis, a 16-year-old athletic wunderkind who Bruce takes on as a protege. Using a highly advanced new suit, Terry becomes the new Batman, guarding over “Neo-Gotham” with an arsenal of future-tech devices and his own supporting cast and rogue’s gallery.
But Bruce is always there to support and mentor him, despite his advanced age. Just how old is this Bruce Wayne? With the TV series (and the comic book based on it) set some 40 years in what was then the future, a good guess is that he’s probably somewhere between 70 and 80 years old.
14. Bucky Barnes
Way back in 1941, James Buchanan Barnes was introduced in the pages of Captain America, as a 16-year-old sidekick for Steve Rogers. His role at the time was largely companionship and friendship for Cap, with enough Army training to qualify him to serve alongside his friend Steve, but nothing special. Then, in 1968, he was killed off.
It would be almost 40 years later, in 2005, that Bucky returned to the forefront. In one of the best-executed retcons of all time, Ed Brubaker revealed the secret history of Bucky Barnes — that the whole “sidekick” thing was a cover for Barnes’ true role of handling jobs that Captain America couldn’t, like covert wetwork.
Brubaker also revealed that Barnes had survived his supposed death, been abducted and brainwashed by Hydra, and had secretly shown up throughout recent history at pivotal moments as the Winter Soldier. When he was needed, he was put into the field; when he was not, he was returned to cryogenic sleep. By this method, he was ultimately allowed to slowly age to close to the same age that Steve Rogers currently is.
The child of Scott Summers and Madelyne Prior, Nathan Summers debuted as an infant in the pages of Uncanny X-Men in 1986. Just four years later, a mysterious newcomer named Cable appeared for the first time in New Mutants. Eventually, it was revealed that Cable was Nathan Summers, returned from the distant future where he’d been taken as a child for his protection. (This process would later be repeated for Nathan’s surrogate daughter, Hope Summers. More on her in a bit.)
Now an incredibly powerful mutant in his own right, Cable had been infected with a “techno-organic virus” that was slowly turning his flesh to metal, though he was able to keep it at bay using his profound telekinetic powers. He’d returned to the present to protect the future from his arch-nemesis and other major villains yet to come.
It’s unknown exactly how old Cable is in current continuity, having spent many more years in the future while raising Hope, but his white hair and grizzled features suggest an age advanced well into or beyond his 40s. Not that that slows him down.
Born in 1944 (that’s lore, not a publication date) after being summoned by dark magic, this demonic baby was found and raised by the kindly American Professor Bloom, who named him Hellboy. He was instilled with strong morals and a thirst for justice, despite being repeatedly told that his destiny was to bring about the end of the world.
The comics largely skipped over his adolescence, though it’s been shown that Hellboy ages at a drastically slower rate than humans. This was entirely due to his mystical origins, which allowed him to grow to adulthood rapidly but maintain a youthful, human physiology for many decades. Hellboy’s adventures take place across an in-world timespan of 60 years, but he never grows old.
As an adult, Hellboy had many adventures, working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. His story ended when he was killed by a witch and sent to Hell, where he finally faces his true destiny of destroying Satan and becoming the new ruler of the underworld.
Mayday Parker is the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane in an alternate reality, informally dubbed the “MC2 universe.” Kidnapped as a baby, she was soon reunited with her parents and raised by them, after Peter lost a leg in a climactic battle against the Green Goblin. Peter retired from crimefighting, but when May turned 15, she developed spider-powers and secretly began a vigilante career as Spider-Girl.
May, her parents, and her entire universe, have been allowed to age forward, despite there being no scientific differences between the time frames of MC2 and Earth Prime. Peter and Mary Jane eventually had a second child, a baby boy they named Benjamin, while May finally received the support of her parents for her crime-fighting activities.
The events of Spider-Verse introduced May to her Earth-616 counterparts, along with many other Spider-heroes from hundreds of alternate Earths. Her father lost his life during that event, but at her mother’s behest, a now-adult May changed her hero name to Spider-Woman and joined the inter-dimensional Web Warriors team.
10. Wally West
Recently returned from being lost in the Speed Force for years, speedster Wally West idolized the Flash (Barry Allen) as a child and dreamed of becoming just like him. Thanks to the wonders of comics, his fondest wish came true at the tender age of a mere ten years old, when the chemicals-and-lightning accident that gave Barry his powers was improbably and perfectly recreated to give Wally the same abilities.
As Kid Flash, Wally quickly became Barry’s trusted sidekick, and readers followed his adventures on through high school and college, as well as his longstanding membership in the Teen Titans. Intriguingly, the young age at which he gained his powers caused serious developmental differences between himself and Barry, who was empowered as an adult. Namely, once puberty arrived, Wally suffered excruciating pain when he used his speed.
He eventually overcame this, of course, and went on to have a full life of adult adventures as the new Flash — taking over after Barry sacrificed himself during the very first Crisis. A string of failed relationships eventually led him to future wife Linda, with whom he would have twin children — both of whom inherited their father’s powers.
9. Kitty Pryde
The X-Men are full of fascinating characters with storied histories, but Kitty Pryde may be one of its most special. She was introduced in 1980 as a precocious 13-year-old. At the time, she was the youngest mutant ever to join the Xavier Institute or the X-Men.
Kitty possesses the power to phase through solid objects, but over the years, she’s acquired some fierce fighting skills and learned to use her superpower to her advantage on the battlefield. She’s been known as Sprite, Shadowcat, and more, but is most commonly known by her real name. Kitty also has a tiny dragon pal named Lockheed who’s really an alien, so there’s that.
Kitty’s many adventures have taken her to multiple X-Men squads, Excalibur in England, numerous other planets, and even an extended gig among the Guardians of the Galaxy. An upcoming Marvel title has Kitty Pryde for the first time leading her own team of X-Men.
8. Kingdom Come’s Superheroes
Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ seminal graphic novel Kingdom Come presented a DC universe several decades removed from current continuity. It was mesmerizing to see these familiar heroes as senior citizens, with white hair and wrinkled skin, but no less determination or nobility than before. Dark events involving new heroes with shady morals caused the older generation of supers to be diminished, and it didn’t help that Lex Luthor was up to his old bag of tricks, trying to use it to get ahead.
An elder Superman had retired to farm life after outliving his wife, Lois Lane. Wonder Woman was in exile from her people for failing her mission of peace, and Bruce Wayne largely stayed out of the fight, preferring to work from the shadows to safeguard freedom while commanding his own team of Bat-bots that patrolled Gotham (and later, a group of younger superheroes).
As events escalated, the entire United States midwest fell victim to radiation, ending countless lives. Finally, Superman and the others were compelled to bring the carnage to an end, and as it turns out… Youth isn’t everything.
7. Dick Grayson
DC has never specified just how young Dick Grayson was when he became the first Robin, fighting at Batman’s side. All we know is that he was the youngest of a family of acrobats, yet he was old enough to join and lead the Teen Titans.
In 1984, DC Comics was looking to shake up the status quo by giving Batman a new Robin (Jason Todd), so the publisher made the unusual move of allowing Dick Grayson to graduate to adulthood. Retiring as Robin, he took on the moniker Nightwing and struck out on his own. Though he was still a close ally to Batman, Dick felt it important that he assert his independence as a crime fighter, moving to Gotham’s neighboring city Blüdhaven to serve as its protector.
With the New 52 and the more recent Rebirth, Dick has taken on other roles in the DC Universe, such as an agent of spy agency Spyral, before returning to his roots as Nightwing. These days, it’s assumed that Dick Grayson is in his prime, around his mid-to-late twenties. His younger contemporaries, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, have also aged out of the Robin role, making way for Bruce Wayne’s son Damien. It remains to be seen just how old he’ll be when he makes is debut in the DCEU in the next few years.
6. Hope Summers
You know the story by now: M-Day stole powers from most of the world’s mutants, then the first new mutant was miraculously born (circa 2008). Bishop decided this baby was the deadly villain he’d traveled through time to stop, Cable (himself a time-displaced hero) takes her into the distant future for protection, and over time, she grows into a young woman and returns to the present.
It’s rare that we get to see a superhero’s birth followed by their growth into adulthood, but such was the case with Hope Summers, the so-called “mutant messiah,” who grew up quickly thanks to the wonders of time travel.
From her meager birth in Alaska and having barely escaping death when her entire town was destroyed, to leading an X-Men team of her own, to even mastering the Phoenix Force, Hope Summers has come a very long way in a remarkably short period of time.
5. The Dark Knight Returns
Batman is one of the oldest superheroes still running, weighing in at almost 80 years and counting. Yet Bruce Wayne hasn’t really aged at all, seemingly the same age today that he was in his debut back in 1939. It’s easy to understand why; as one of the most popular superheroes of all time, letting him grow old would be detrimental to his popularity, boxing DC Comics into a creative corner they couldn’t get out of without yet another retcon or two.
That hasn’t stopped alternate universes and Elsewhere tales from seeing what an older Batman would be like. Frank Miller famously introduced a 50-year-old Bruce in The Dark Knight Returns, his seminal tale that kicked off a wave of future-set storylines examining the older lives of superheroes.
This Batman was rusty after ten years out of the business, and subsequently became a more brutal vigilante than he’d ever been before (a hallmark of Miller’s work) in order to compensate for his age. His hardcore showdown with Superman inspired a similar sequence in the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie.
4. Peter Parker
In 1962, Spider-Man bucked the trend of teenage sidekicks by being his own superhero, devoid of a mentor. Instead, he was a nerdy high school student — probably around 15 or 16 years old — who accidentally gained powers and had to grow into the role of superhero with all the maturity (and responsibility!) that’s required of it.
Today, Marvel will tell you that Parker’s high school years are an integral part of his identity (which is probably why they keep returning to that time period in various series). Yet Peter himself has been allowed to age over the 55 years he’s existed. He hasn’t aged at a normal human rate — he’d be in his 70s by now if he had — but he’s nonetheless become an adult.
Surprisingly, there was no jump from teenager to adulthood. Readers were allowed to follow along every step of his journey from high school to college to marriage (later pointlessly retconned; don’t get us started), to successful CEO of his own technology company.
3. Old Man Logan
Time travel shenanigans such as Days of Future Past have allowed us to visit older versions of Wolverine before, but those stories are always resolved in the present, where a still-relatively-young Wolverine exists. Or at least he did until 2014, when Death of Wolverine was published. As the title suggests, Logan’s very long life came to an end in that story, making way for a new Wolverine in the form of X-23 and a newcomer to the prime Marvel universe, Old Man Logan.
This version of Logan comes from an apocalyptic wasteland of an Earth where Marvel’s heroes lost the fight, allowing lawlessness and villainy to take over. Wolverine was tricked into killing most of those heroes himself, and subsequently vowed never to pop his claws again. But of course, the bad guys just had to push him a little too far, and he subsequently went full-on berserker mode again. This storyline was used as inspiration for the third Wolverine film, Logan.
After Secret Wars, Old Man Logan was transferred to the prime universe, where he’s slowly begun integrating into the X-Men and his own solo adventures. This Logan has the appearance of a man in his 50s or 60s, though with his extended lifespan, it’s impossible to know how old this Logan really is.
2. Judge Dredd
Like most Judges in the dystopian Mega-City One, Joseph Dredd was not born, but cloned. His growth was accelerated, as he was created to serve as a Judge, and he soon became one of the most successful and distinguished of all Judges.
One thing that makes Judge Dredd special is that, like other British-born comics characters, he subscribes to the laws of time. A year in Judge Dredd or 2000 A.D. is equivalent to a year in the real world. Dredd’s stories debuted in 1977, making the comic 40 years old now. That translates to an age of over 70 for Dredd, and as he’s grown older, his stories have grown progressively darker.
Supporting characters and Mega-City One itself have grown and changed drastically since the early days, as well. Dredd’s increasing age has called into question his ongoing ability to do his job in multiple storylines, particularly when he faced a cancer diagnosis not long ago. (It was benign.) A 2016 story saw Dredd undergo “rejuve” treatment to restore a more youthful vitality. Even this can’t go on forever, but whether he’s young or old, what’s never changed is Dredd’s laser-like focus on enforcing the law.
1. Superman & Batman: Generations
What if superheroes entered the world in the actual year that they were first published, and aged normally, like the real world? It’s the ultimate experiment in what happens when superheroes are allowed to age, and a love letter to the medium from the words and art of John Byrne.
On this Earth, Batman and Superman begin their careers at roughly the same time, as Robin and Superboy. Quickly becoming best friends, the story follows them through adulthood to marriage, parenthood, and onward as their children inherit their parents’ legacies and abilities. In this reality, Superman and Lois Lane’s daughter Kara becomes Supergirl, while Dick Grayson becomes the second Batman after graduating college. Super-grandchildren eventually come into play as well.
It’s a beautiful story of hope and sacrifice, loss and nobility, and even manages to work in a surprisingly happy ending. Superman & Batman: Generations proves once and for all that maybe letting superheroes get older isn’t the worst idea ever.
What other superheroes were allowed to age on the page? Let us know in the comments.