Comic book characters rarely have to deal with the ravages of time. It makes sense that heroes with healing factors like Deadpool and Wolverine and those enhanced with super soldier serums like Captain America age slower than the average human, but it's hard to justify why Peter Parker still looks as young in today's Marvel comics as he did when he first appeared in 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15.
Everyone knows the real reason Marvel refuses to let their most iconic protagonists truly age—good heroes are difficult to create, and no one wants to say goodbye to their favorites because they grew too old to fight crime and save the world. That doesn't mean it's impossible to look into popular heroes' futures, though. Comic books are filled with alternate reality and flash-forward storylines that allow readers to see just what their beloved heroes might be like when they do finally start to age.
Some future iterations of famous heroes are even stronger than the modern day versions we're used to, because saving the city, world, universe, and multiverse on countless occasions helped them figure out the full extent of their powers and allowed them to reach their full potential. Other heroes, however, grow weaker and more tragic with time and no longer have what it takes to don their old costumes and take on villains they could have easily defeated in their heydays.
Here are 10 Marvel Heroes Who Became Weaker With Age (And 10 Who Got Stronger).
20 WEAKER: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Steve Rogers' beard and long, messy hair made him look much older in Avengers: Infinity War than he did in The First Avenger, but that didn't stop him from temporarily holding off a punch from Thanos when the Mad Titan had all but one Infinity Stone in his Gauntlet. Captain America only seems to get stronger with time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that's not necessarily the case in the comics.
Marvel readers recently got to see what happens once the effects of Steve's super soldier serum start to wear off. His body began to age rapidly, so Steve was forced to take on the far less physically daunting role of Chief of Civilian Oversight for S.H.I.E.L.D. and relinquish the mantle of Captain America to his friend Sam Wilson. Luckily, a sentient Cosmic Cube named Kobik eventually restored Steve to his physical prime, so readers shouldn't have to worry about seeing the geriatric version of the beloved hero again any time soon.
19 STRONGER: HAWKEYE
In Old Man Logan, Marvel's most powerful villains all teamed up to eliminate most of Earth's heroes and take over the entire planet. The few heroes that survived the assault went into hiding and gave up on their quest to fight evil, but Clint Barton was always ready for a new adventure and the chance to fight some bad guys.
In this alternate future, Hawkeye actually lost his eyesight, but that didn't make him any less formidable. In fact, it actually made him more of a superhero, because the once-powerless protagonist became a sort of combination of his former self and Daredevil. He was blind, but he still had impossible perfect aim and could hold his own in combat with nearly anyone. Old Man Hawkeye was so well-received and awesome in Old Man Logan, Marvel eventually gave him his own comic line.
18 WEAKER: SPIDER-MAN
Peter Parker might not really age in the comics, but Marvel's Spider-Man: Reign limited series gave readers a chance to see what the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler's life might look like if he was thirty years older.
In this alternate future, repeated exposure to Peter's radioactive bodily fluids caused Mary Jane Watson to pass away from cancer. He buried his Spider-Man costume inside of her coffin, and traded his career as a superhero for one as a florist. When he did finally don a mask once again, his depression and frequent hallucinations of fallen loved ones made him far less competent. Electro, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman, Scorpion, and Hydro-Man joined together and managed to defeat the hero who had bested them countless times during his heyday.
17 STRONGER: PUNISHER
Frank Castle is far more powerful in today's Marvel comics than he was when the Punisher was first introduced in 1974's The Amazing Spider-Man #129. In the 2018 Thanos run, readers discovered that the Mad Titan will finally succeed in defeating the heroes of Earth at some point in the distant future. Most heroes will fall honorably while fighting Thanos and his Black Order, but the Punisher will simply perish under some fallen debris.
To get revenge on Thanos, future Frank Castle sold his soul to Mephisto and returned to Earth as the new host of the Spirit of Vengeance. He was the last man alive on the entire planet, so when Galactus came to Earth looking for help in his own fight against Thanos, Castle accepted the powers of a Herald of Galactus and became the Cosmic Ghost Rider.
16 WEAKER: DEADPOOL
Deadpool's healing factor is impossibly powerful. He's been sliced up and blown up on countless occasions in Marvel comics, but since he always comes right back, it seems like nothing can stop Wade Wilson. In Spider-Man/Deadpool #26, however, fans found out he is capable of growing old and being forced to retire, just like everyone else.
In this flash-forward issue, the Merc with a Mouth lived in the same nursing home as his hero Spider-Man. He was still eager to fight crime alongside the man he considered to be his best friend (the feeling wasn't mutual), but Peter Parker spent most of his days in a wheelchair and understandably needed a lot more convincing. Old Wade still had his signature sense of humor, but age took away his muscles and slowed down his reflexes. He wasn't nearly as formidable as his younger self.
15 STRONGER: SILVER SURFER
In the 2018 Thanos run, the future Mad Titan succeeds in eliminating every human, god, and cosmic entity that opposes him. He even manages to best the seemingly all-powerful Galactus and make a servant out of the man who replaced Norrin Radd as the Herald of Galactus, the Cosmic Ghost Rider. Yet, even that old version of Thanos is afraid of the Silver Surfer.
In this distant future, the Silver Surfer turns a far darker shade and goes by the title of "The Fallen One." While the rest of the galaxy's heroes were being taken out by Thanos, the Surfer was busy becoming "worthy" of wielding Thor's mighty hammer Mjolnir. Thanos was so intimidated by the new God of Thunder, he called upon his past self to help him in the battle against his final opponent.
14 WEAKER: VISION
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe's take on the Age of Ultron storyline, Vision is proven to be more powerful than his creator Ultron and manages to eliminate the robotic supervillain. In the comics, that's not quite what happens.
The comic version of the Age of Ultron saw the villain's reign last significantly longer and lead to the elimination of most of Earth's heroes. When a few of the remaining good guys got together to mount a resistance in this alternate future, they found Vision cut in half and plugged into Ultron's servers at the center of his operation. This future version of Vision was forced to obey every command of the creator he once rebelled against.
13 STRONGER: FRANKLIN RICHARDS
Even though mutants don't typically develop their powers until after puberty, Franklin Richards showed off his omega-level powers immediately after birth. He proved capable of rearranging matter and the fabric of reality itself, and showed off a variety of psionic abilities like telekinesis and telepathy. His gifts were undeniably god-like, but they only got stronger with age.
Galactus typically recruits powerful heralds to serve his every whim, but in one alternate Marvel future, Galactus actually serves as the Herald of Franklin. Marvel's Celestials are several thousand feet tall and were responsible for most intelligent lifeforms throughout the universe, but even they grow to see Franklin as an equal with time.
12 WEAKER: GROOT
In the Guardians of the Galaxy films, audiences have seen a baby, teenage, and adult versions of the fan-favorite superhero Groot. He's proven himself incredibly powerful and capable of saving the day in every stage of his development thus far, but he's apparently fated to become a far less useful character.
In one future that the Avengers visit in the comics, set thousands of years beyond theirs, Groot is one of the few recognizable characters left and has transformed into a motionless, mighty oak. The former Guardian can still utter "I am Groot," but that's sadly pretty much all Groot is capable of in his advanced final form. Hopefully, fans never have to see him like that in the MCU.
11 STRONGER: GENESIS
Comic book readers who wonder about the effects of nature versus nurture on a child need only look at Evan Sabahnur, one of the mutant students of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. Evan, code-named Genesis, was created from DNA of the supervillain Apocalypse. His peers constantly pointed out how much he looked like his "father," but Genesis refused to grow up to become anything like his genetic template and dreamed of being a hero and fighting alongside the X-Men.
Unfortunately, when Scarlet Witch and Doctor Doom cast an inversion spell in AXIS which altered the moral compass of all nearby characters, Evan grew up to maturity and became Apocalypse after all. He and his evil X-Men seized Manhattans their new mutant nation and actually managed to defeat the Avengers.
10 WEAKER: HANK PYM
Ever since he was first introduced in 1962's Tales to Astonish #27, scientist Hank Pym has taken on a number of heroic identities in Marvel comics. He's most known for being the original Ant-Man and one of the founding members of the Avengers, but Pym has also taken on the mantles of Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, the Wasp and Goliath.
In the MCU, time hasn't been quite as kind to Hank Pym. After seemingly losing his wife in a mission to disarm a missile, Hank fell into a depression and gave up his life as a superhero. He distanced himself from his daughter out of guilt and handed the Ant-Man costume and title over to Scott Lang.
9 STRONGER: THOR
Thor is already one of the most powerful heroes in the entire MCU, but he's not nearly as formidable as King Thor is in the comics. In a far-flung Marvel future, this version of Thor possesses all of the power of his younger self and then some as he replaces Odin as the All-Father and ruler of Asgard.
As King Thor, the God of Thunder is empowered with the Odinforce and Rune Magic, making him nearly immortal and giving him extra powers like mind control, telepathy and the ability to warp reality and manipulate energy, dimensions, and even space-time. He's proven capable of defeating threats like Galactus and Gorr the God-Butcher, adversaries he couldn't hope to conquer back in his heydays with the Avengers.
8 WEAKER: STEPHEN STRANGE
In the World War Hulk crossover event, the Hulk returned to Earth after being sent away by Marvel's Illuminati and attempted to get his revenge on the heroes that betrayed him. After seeing him effortlessly wipe out the Avengers, the X-Men, and countless other protagonists, Stephen Strange finally stepped up to try his hand against the Hulk.
Doctor Strange started out attempting to befriend the Hulk and appeal to Bruce Banner, but when that failed, he resorted to some seriously desperate measures. Strange conjured up the demon Zom, letting it inside of himself so he could take down the Hulk. Unfortunately, Strange grew reliant on the demon, and he realized he could no longer be trusted with the Sorcerer Supreme title. Since then, several other characters have replaced Strange as the world's most powerful master of the mystic arts.
7 STRONGER: TONY STARK
In one alternate Marvel Comics future, an unexpected Avenger who has always preferred science over magic steps forward to replace Stephen Strange as Sorcerer Supreme—Tony Stark. Ever since Carol Danvers nearly ended his life in Civil War II, Tony Stark has been secretly altering his own DNA so he can simply “reboot” if he ever perishes. That's why he's still somehow alive in the 2099 future seen in New X-Men Annual #1. In that timeline, Tony manages to convince the governments of the world to stop spending money on military and helps humanity finally reach world peace.
For some reason, even that isn't quite enough to make Tony satisfied, so he works to become the Sorcerer Supreme of the entire universe. He develops powers that match those of his former Avengers teammate, Stephen Strange, but his ability to combine his mastery of science with his new mastery of magic makes him even more formidable.
6 WEAKER: BRUCE BANNER
Bruce Banner is one of Marvel's most intelligent heroes, but in Old Man Logan, readers find out that his exposure to gamma radiation will eventually cause the scientist's sanity to deteriorate over time.
When the villains joined together to wipe out the heroes and take over the planet, the strongest antagonists were each given territories to rule over. Hulk's rival Abomination was given an area, but Hulk eliminated his foe so he could rule over his territory and populate it with inbred children he created with his cousin, She-Hulk. The Hulk Gang terrorized the residents of California for decades. When Wolverine tried reasoning with his fellow former hero Bruce, it became clear that Banner had lost his mind and given in to the Hulk's worst personality traits.
5 STRONGER: NATHANIEL RICHARDS
When the villainous Kang the Conqueror traveled back in time to his own childhood to stop himself from being hospitalized from a bully's attack and inspire his teenage self, his plan backfired. Sixteen-year-old Nathaniel Richards was horrified by the life of evil his future self showed him, and used Kang's time travel technology to transport himself to the past.
Nate then started his own superhero team, the Young Avengers, with the sole purpose of defeating his future self and reshaping his future. He modeled his armor after Iron Man, and dubbed himself Iron Lad. His futuristic tech made him a fairly impressive hero, but he was still nowhere near as powerful as Kang, the villain he was destined to become as an adult.
4 WEAKER: BLACK PANTHER
Audiences were shocked when T'Challa was among the casualties of Thanos' iconic finger snap in Avengers: Infinity War, but since Marvel is moving forward with plans for the sequel to the massively successful Black Panther, it's safe to assume the King of Wakanda will be brought back to life in Avengers 4. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the T'Challa's future is guaranteed to be particularly bright.
In the comics, the Panther gains possession of mystical time-shifting artifacts known as King Solomon's Frogs which introduce T'Challa to a version of himself from 10 years in the future. The young king is surprised to find out this future self has a terminal brain aneurysm, and not long after, T'Challa discovers he shares that brain aneurysm and succumbs to instability and hallucinations.
3 STRONGER: JAMES RHODES
War Machine was able to wipe out countless Outriders in the Wakandan war against Thanos' alien army in Infinity War, but that definitely wasn't the peak of James Rhodes' potential as a superhero. In the alternate Earth-982 future seen in the Spider-Girl comics, Rhodey gets a very substantial power increase and can wipe out enemies without any help from his armor.
In this timeline, Tony Stark gains access to powerful nanites that he planned on testing on himself before his best friend stepped up to be his guinea pig. These nanites gave Rhodes the ability to fire energy beams and made him invulnerable to nearly every injury. Unfortunately, they also negatively affected his brain and turned him into more of a humanoid robot than a human, so his newfound powers came at a very high price.
2 WEAKER: WOLVERINE
Wolverine has one of the strongest healing factors in all of Marvel comics, so he's never really had to worry about losing a step with age because his body basically refused to let him get any older. Fans used to think Logan was immortal until Marvel released Old Man Logan, an epic storyline set in a distant future where Wolverine's powers finally started to subside and his ability to recover from any injury became far less instant.
Wolverine suddenly had to worry about getting genuinely hurt in battle, and could no longer claim that he was "the best there is" at what he does. Logan touched on this concept, and followed the iconic X-Men character's final days. He was able to take on the Phoenix at his peak, but without his healing factor, Wolverine didn't have what it took to contend with new threats.
1 STRONGER: HULK
Bruce Banner may be one of the smartest individuals on the entire planet, but the same can't be said about the giant green rage monster hidden inside of him. The Hulk is known for being "the strongest there is," but he's definitely been held back by his inability to utilize Bruce's brilliant mind.
In Marvel's Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect storyline, that all changed. It was set in an alternate future, where a nuclear war eliminated most of Earth's superhumans. The resulting radiation united Bruce's intelligence with the Hulk's brute strength and malevolent personality to create a powerful new character, Maestro. Maestro was far stronger than the Hulk, and his ability to think like Bruce made him significantly more powerful and threatening than his younger counterpart. When time travel allowed Maestro and Hulk to fight against each other, Maestro broke Hulk's neck and easily defeated him.
What other Marvel heroes get better or worse with age? Let us know in the comments!