It's been a big year for Marvel Comics. In addition to the "All-New, All-Different" changes brought to your favorite superheroes thanks to Secret Wars, the House of Ideas has been busy introducing the next wave of brand new characters that are already winning over the hearts of readers everywhere.
Some of these characters are so new, you probably haven't heard of them yet. Others are replacements for existing heroes. Still others might be older heroes in a whole new form. One major theme you'll see that these characters have in common is diversity. Marvel's diversity initiative is bringing in new readers of all ethnicities, ages, and worldviews.
So who are these new characters, and what makes them tick? Is Gwenpool a mashup of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool? Why is there an old Wolverine running around the Marvel universe? Who is this 15-year-old girl no one's ever heard of who's taking over for Iron Man? And what exactly makes the new Hulk "totally awesome"?
If you've missed any Marvel titles over the last six to nine months, or haven't heard about what's to come in the remainder of 2016, here's a guide to get you all caught up.
Despite the name, and the fact that this character debuted not long after the alternate-universe hero Spider-Gwen, Gwenpool has no relation to Gwen Stacy. Well, she has one small connection, but it's not story-related: she was born out of a variant cover design that mixed Deadpool with Gwen Stacy. But when she was introduced as an actual character in Marvel Comics, she got her own origins and personality.
Gwen Poole, who debuted in the pages of Howard the Duck, comes from another dimension, where all of the Marvel heroes and villains are fictional comic book characters. When she arrived in Marvel's primary 616 universe, she came to the conclusion that everything around her was part of that fiction, and subject only to the rules of storytelling. Gwen decided to adopt a superhero outfit of her own and have some wild, psychotic fun.
Consequently, she routinely takes the lives of bad guys and red-shirt bystanders, has no problem letting superheroes know that she's fully aware of their secret identities, and approaches every conflict with a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care attitude. She's quickly become a fan favorite thanks to her bubbly-yet-oblivious personality (which no doubt helped spark the endless comparisons to DC's Harley Quinn), but when it comes to fighting crime, she usually does more harm than good.
14 Riri Williams
Part of the big push for diversity in Marvel lately has been having young new heroes take up the mantle of the House of Ideas' biggest characters. A Muslim teenager is Ms. Marvel. A half-Latino/half-African American is Spider-Man. Sam Wilson, the former Falcon, has become Captain America. Wolverine is a woman. So is Thor. Hulk is going to star She-Hulk.
And now Marvel's marquee character, Iron Man, is passing his baton off to a new hero. Not much is known about her yet, only that she's a former MIT student, a 15-year-old prodigy who built her own Iron Man armor just to prove to herself that she could. When her alma mater caught wind of what she was up to, Riri Williams climbed into the suit, quit school, and flew away.
It's assumed that the fallout from Civil War II will result in Tony Stark no longer being Iron Man somehow, because as soon as it's over, Riri is going to step up and take over the position. She's been seen in solicits for upcoming comics wearing a variation of Tony Stark's current Iron Man armor, but rather than keep the "Man," Marvel says Riri will adopt the superhero name "Ironheart."
13 Ulysses Cain
As the central figure in Marvel's Civil War II event, Ulysses has gotten plenty of press. Once, he was an ordinary college student, but when his campus came in contact with that pesky Terrigen cloud that's circling Marvel's Earth, Ulysses gained the Inhuman ability to see visions of the future. Or at least, that's how it appeared at first.
After some scientific research, Tony Stark discovered that this kid was subconsciously creating probabilities of things to come. As writer Brian Michael Bendis explains it, Ulysses' profiling of potential future events is a direct allegory for police profiling.
He's been protected and trained by the Inhumans, who see him now as a member of their familial society. But Captain Marvel is actively using his abilities to prevent crimes from occurring, while Iron Man believes that relying on Ulysses' visions is a moral quagmire that heroes can't allow themselves to sink into (which is more than a bit hypocritical).
Whether Ulysses will survive Civil War II is anybody's guess, but the very notion of his continued existence in the Marvel universe creates serious problems for everyone involved. So don't get too attached to him.
12 Danielle Cage, Captain America
Danielle Cage is the Captain America the future needed. She is the super-powered daughter of New York's own Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and takes after both her parents as far as her abilities go: she possesses both her father's bullet-proof skin and her mother's flight and super-strength. Using a shield and costume modeled after the original Cap's, she wages a war against the Golden Skull for the sake of the future.
Now time-displaced to our present, she is set to join the U.S. Avengers in the new series beginning later this year, alongside Squirrel Girl, the Red Hulk, and new Iron Patriot, Toni Ho (more on her in a bit). Among the many threats they'll be facing is the Golden Skull, who has followed her to the present and seeks to use his knowledge of future events to eventually take over the world. Also up for a beatdown is American Kaiju, one of the newest villains to enter the fray.
Marvel has made a lot of noise about this new Inhuman, who it hopes will become the next big thing. Basketball player Morris Sackett had it all: celebrity, status, money, and a body in peak athletic condition. Then he was exposed to the Terrigen cloud, and he lost every bit of that. His Inhuman power gives him the ability to enter and take over the body of anyone he chooses, which comes along with full access to their personality and memories.
The downside is that this unique power has left him without a physical body of his own. It's one part wish fulfillment, one part tragedy. As someone who was never trained or groomed or had any ambitions to become a hero, Morris doesn't exactly start off as a good guy. His first adventure was a joyride in a flying S.H.I.E.L.D. car.
If his journey doesn't take him from selfish to altruistic, then maybe he'll become more of an anti-hero. Time will tell.
10 Nadia Pym
When Marvel announced that a new heroine was stepping into the shoes of the Wasp, fans assumed it would be Hope van Dyne, the character from last year's big screen version of Ant-Man, who was shown doing the same in a mid-credits scene. But nope. The new Wasp isn't Hope.
She's Nadia Pym, the daughter Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) never knew he had. Years before he was married to Janet van Dyne, Hank married a woman named Maria Trovaya, who was abducted during their honeymoon. Unbeknownst to Hank, she was carrying his child at the time, and the girl that was later born was inducted into the Red Room — the famous Russian experiment where young orphaned girls were turned into sleeper agents and assassins. The Red Room is where Black Widow was trained, although she eventually overcame her sleeper programming.
Nadia inherited her father's scientific genius, and after learning who her famous dad was, she immediately set about trying to escape. She finally succeeded as a young adult, but sadly, once on the outside, she found out that Hank was dead. So she went to his lab, used pieces of old Ant-Man armor, and constructed her own Wasp suit. A brief adventure later, she'd managed to win the trust of the Avengers by saving Vision from destruction.
Nadia Pym is expected by many to become a full-on Avenger going forward.
9 Viv Vision
Once upon a time, the "synthezoid" Avenger known as Vision decided that to facilitate his further integration into human society, he would create a family. He made a wife named Virginia based on his own materials and the brainwaves of the Scarlet Witch (who Vision had been married to at one time). Then he combined their brain patterns to create his twin children, Vin and Viv.
Things didn't go great for the Visions. Integrating with a world that was completely different than them was much harder than they expected, as fear, fascination, and cruelty reared their ugly heads. A brutal hate crime came knocking at their door when the Grim Reaper attacked the family, leaving Viv in something akin to a coma. Vision was able to repair her, though she dealt with the psychological repercussions of the attack in her own android-y way.
Viv is part of the cast of Mark Waid's upcoming Champions, a team of teenage superheroes that also includes Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales' Spider-Man, Nova, Amadeus Cho, and the young, time-displaced Cyclops. What leads her to sign on with a team of superheroes is presently unknown, but her experiences as part of Vision's family — particularly the Grim Reaper's attack and the later death of her twin brother — are sure to have lasting affects on her as a character.
Very little is known about the cosmic being named Singularity. She's believed to be a quantum singularity (a black hole) that's become sentient. Her power set includes the ability to teleport herself and others anywhere she chooses, while also containing a pocket dimension inside herself. She can surround and protect others by absorbing them into this dimension, and then deposit them elsewhere.
Singularity first appeared in the A-Force comics, the all-female team of Avengers, that ran during Secret Wars. Her childlike personality and intrinsic goodness endeared her to the heroines, even if they were never able to explain who or what she was. She gave her life to protect them in that story, but inexplicably reappeared after that universe ended and the proper one was restored.
Since then, she's fought what appears to be her own evil counterpart, a male entity named Antimatter. In searching for a way to defeat him, she brought back together the members of A-Force that she still remembered from Battleworld, even though they had no memory of her. It's unknown what Marvel's future plans are for her.
7 Toni Ho
One of the freshest additions to Marvel's ranks is Toni Ho, the daughter of the man who helped Tony Stark create his very first Iron Man suit while in captivity, Ho Yinsen. Toni has earned three Ph.Ds, all before the age of twenty, and for the most part has been hanging around in the background in New Avengers.
In that title, the X-Man Sunspot, aka Roberto da Costa, has bought out A.I.M., ditched the organization's evil scientists, and is using it as the foundation for his own team of science-based Avengers. Toni Ho has been serving in a support capacity for da Costa's work, but a recent adventure saw her reverse-engineer Pepper Potts' "Rescue" armor and enter the fray.
Having risen quickly through A.I.M.'s ranks, she looks to be trading up in a big way soon with a bulky new take on the Iron Patriot armor. She'll soon graduate alongside New Avengers alums Pod and Sunspot and join new recruits Red Hulk, Cannonball, Squirrel Girl, and Danielle Cage (who we mentioned earlier) in Marvel's upcoming title, U.S. Avengers, which is set to hit to shelves sometime this fall.
In another upcoming Marvel title, Danny Rand's Iron Fist is taking on a partner. (It's been speculated this may be a direct answer to the criticisms Marvel Television has received about a white man starring in the upcoming Netflix series, Iron Fist. Never mind that Iron Fist has been a white guy since his inception way back in 1974.) All that's known about his new partner is what we can intuit from Marvel's promotional art.
Marvel's art depicts Danny fighting alongside a pint-sized Asian martial artist who may or may not have a pet dragon. Back in 2014, Kaare Andrews kicked off a 12-issue run on Iron Fist in which a 6-year-old girl named Pei is introduced, another warrior of the mystical K'un-Lun with Iron Fist-like abilities of her own. The girl on the new Iron Fists #1 artwork hasn't yet been confirmed to be Pei, but the resemblance is unmistakeable, right down to the bangs and pigtails in her hair.
No premiere date has been announced for Iron Fists, but it's part of this fall's "Marvel NOW" initiative, so it should be in stores sometime soon.
5 Old Man Logan
Approximately 50 years older than the Wolverine fans are familiar with, this Logan is from an alternate future where a terrible tragedy occurred. On this Logan's Earth, he was tricked by Mysterio into believing that the Xavier school was being invaded by a huge group of villains, and he took them on singlehandedly. In reality, it was the X-Men themselves that Logan was tricked into slaughtering. Logan vowed never to pop his claws ever again, and settled down as a man of peace with a wife and children.
Thanks largely to his actions, Earth's superheroes faltered and the villains took over. A half century later, the world has become a desolate wasteland, run by crime lords and gangs based on bastardizations of the heroes and villains of yesteryear. Eventually, after his family was murdered by the "Hulk Gang" — the inbred descendants of Bruce Banner, we kid you not — he broke his vow and returned to action.
All of this happened in Mark Millar's run on Wolverine back in 2008, but the character proved so popular — and frankly, a bit more compelling than the 616 Wolverine — that Marvel used its multiverse-bending Secret Wars as a means of ushering Old Man Logan into the primary Earth-616 Marvel universe. With the prime Wolverine now well and fully dead, his female clone has taken up his mantle, while Old Man Logan is trying to acclimate to a world in which the heroes never died and he never killed the X-Men. He still bares the psychological scars of his horrific experiences on his own Earth, though, and he's determined to keep anything like that from ever happening in his new timeline.
4 The Infamous Iron Man
During Brian Michael Bendis' tenure on Invincible Iron Man, he reintroduced Victor von Doom into the Marvel universe, where he's supposedly a changed man. After the events of Secret Wars, in which Dr. Doom was the big villain, the Fantastic Four's arch-nemesis found himself healed of the hideous facial scars that moved him to wear that famous metal mask. This suddenly handsome Doom claims that his physical healing has led to an internal one as well, and has — much to Tony Stark's loathing — slowly insinuated himself into Iron Man's life.
When Civil War II comes to a close, it appears that Tony Stark will no longer be Iron Man. How and why that happens, Marvel ain't saying. Does Tony die? Does he retire? Go into hiding? Join a cult? We won't find out for a while. But when the dust settles, young genius Riri Williams will have taken up the Iron Man legacy, probably with Tony's blessing. What Tony isn't likely to agree to is what Doom does in Tony's absence: adopt an Iron Man persona of his own, donning a suit of armor that's a hybrid of his own Dr. Doom outfit and Iron Man's most recent high-tech duds.
How will the Avengers react to this? Pretty much the way you'd expect, probably. More importantly, why is Doom so interested in co-opting Iron Man's identity? Can he walk the straight-and-narrow, or is he up to his old tricks? We won't find out until Bendis' Infamous Iron Man series launches next month.
3 The Unworthy Thor
Thor is starring in a new solo title where he is both the same character you know and love and someone entirely new. It's a little hard to explain.
Several years ago, during one of Marvel's annual summer event series called Original Sin, several superheroes learned game-changing secrets about themselves and their lives through mystical means. One of those heroes was Thor — not the female Thor, aka Jane Foster, but the big, beefy, blonde, Asgardian god of thunder himself, otherwise known as Thor Odinson. As all Thor fans know, only one who is worthy can pick up and wield the hammer Mjolnir, and the secret that Thor learned was something so horrible, he was instantly deemed "unworthy."
Mjolnir fell from his hands like a rock, and Thor lost all of his hammer-based powers, including flight, lightning, and the outer limits of his strength. He's still an Asgardian, so he's far stronger and more resilient than a human, but without the hammer, he was pretty much lost. The secret he learned that made him unworthy has never been revealed, and Odinson himself has been all but absent from his own comic book. That series instead stars his main squeeze Jane Foster, who gained Thor's powers when she picked up Mjolnir.
Odinson has instead been roaming the Marvel universe, trying to find a way to make himself worthy again. Not long after his unworthiness was revealed, he lost an arm in battle against one of his worst enemies. It was subsequently replaced by a metal arm, but we've haven't seen or heard much from Odinson since then. "Marvel NOW" will finally see the return of Thor Odinson in his own title, The Unworthy Thor, as he learns of the existence of a second Mjolnir (the one from the Ultimate universe, which fell into Marvel's main universe after Secret Wars) and sets out to find it.
2 The Totally Awesome Hulk
Teenage genius (man, Marvel has a lot of those) Amadeus Cho has been a supporting player in Hulk comics for years. He's served as Hulk's sidekick, and Bruce Banner's protege. In a word, he's one of Hulk's best friends.
A short while back, Amadeus decided to put his giant brain to use to fix Banner's Hulk transformations once and for all. His solution? Nanobots that can absorb Hulk's gamma-radiated power. Sounds good, right? Well there's always a catch to these things, a price that has to be paid. And in this case, Amadeus was only able to suck the Hulk out of his system by transferring it to someone else — Amadeus himself.
His buddy Bruce was finally free of the Hulk (although Civil War II readers have seen how well that worked out for him), and Amadeus finally had superpowers of his own, something he'd coveted for a long time. So now we have a 19-year-old Hulk with raging hormones, who (so far, at least) retains full control of his mental faculties while in Hulk mode, but has very little experience figuring out how to use those "incredible" powers of his. He's made it his mission to find other monsters around the world and put a stop to their evil ways.
The "Totally Awesome" Hulk is also set to be a player in Mark Waid's young superhero team, Champions.
1 Moon Girl
"Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur." Maybe you've heard of them, maybe you haven't. What matters is that they were a duo on a prehistoric alternate Earth, where they protected the innocent and fought evil. Devil Dinosaur is kind of a T-Rex, but as smart as a human and stronger than your average dino. Moon Boy was this hairy, ape-like dude who really had no actual connection to the moon. (At this point it should come as no surprise that they were created by the legendary Jack Kirby.) They popped up on Earth-616 from time to time, where they mostly hung out in the Savage Lands, freeing captives and stuff like that.
Very recently, Marvel revamped the entire concept of this unusual duo into something more modern and accessible. Moon Boy was killed off back on their home Earth, but Devil Dinosaur was accidentally transported to Earth-616, where he met a precocious 9-year-old named Lunella Lafayette. Lunella, as it turns out, was a latent Inhuman, trying her best to avoid the Terrigen cloud. She also happens to be the smartest person on Earth.
Guys, we have to stop for a second to appreciate that. The Marvel universe is jam-packed full of geniuses. From Peter Parker to Henry McCoy of the X-Men, or villains like Doctor Doom and MODOK. Lunella being the smartest, puts her IQ higher above all of them, not to mention the Einsteinian prowess of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Reed Richards (and his equally brilliant daughter, Valeria).
Anyway, Lunella and Devil hit it off, forming a bond similar to the one DD had with Moon Boy, and Lunella quickly matched her brains to his muscle, constructing a Moon Girl "battle suit" for herself. They've already saved the day more than once, and Marvel has promised that big challenges are coming their way. As for the Inhuman side of her... That pesky Terrigen cloud did indeed find Lunella, but the ability it unlocked in her was only revealed a short while ago — and it's a twist way too good to spoil here.
Which of Marvel's latest additions to its pantheon of heroes is your favorite? Which of them would you like to see make their way into the Cinematic Universe in one form or another? Let us know in the comics.