Comic books have been around for almost one hundred years, introducing character after iconic character throughout the golden, silver, and bronze ages. However, for every Thanos there is a Paste Pot Pete. For every Wonder Woman there is a Color Kid. These characters are called “D-listers;” characters who appear as a joke or as an extremely minor character in a few select issues (usually the title of a more popular hero).
But in the ever-changing world of comics there is still hope for these misfits. In fact, some of these D-listers have risen through the ranks to become household names. Others have fluctuated, going from B-list to D-list to A-list without rhyme or reason. In order to count for this list, the character must be somebody that would have left a casual comic fan scratching his head and asking, “who?” Some of these characters are going to be well known by the general public, while others are still niche but are quickly making ground within the community of comic book readers. Here are Comic Book D-Listers Who Suddenly Became Huge!
15 Hiro and Baymax
If we really want to talk about zero to hero D-listers, this one just about takes the cake. There’s not a single soul on this planet who knew what the heck a “Baymax” was nor could name a single character from the Big Hero 6 comic. Seriously, nobody even realized that the 2014 film was actually an adaptation of a Marvel series! It doesn’t help that the designs were completely changed; the original Baymax was a large, green, reptilian behemoth, a huge departure from the adorable marshmallow we all know today.
Now everyone wants their own Baymax. The Big Hero 6 movie skyrocketed these unknown characters to mass popularity with its heartwarming take on themes like love and loss and its charming characters and humor. The reimagining of the pair helps a lot—Baymax is now a friendly inflatable robot and Hiro is a misguided child with a tragic backstory. In the comics, Hiro is a child prodigy and the creator of Baymax, whereas in the movie he is just a normal kid thrust into a robust adventure with his deceased brother’s robot. And then there was whatever comics-Baymax was supposed to be…. yikes. The total redesign of the characters definitely played a large role in their rise to popularity.
14 14. Kaine Parker (Scarlett Spider)
Who would have thought that there would be so much love for a failed clone that was the byproduct of one of the worst Spider-Man stories of all time? Kaine Parker first appeared back in Web of Spider-Man #119, when lesser villain The Jackal was repeatedly trying to clone ‘ol Web-head as part of a convoluted revenge plot. It initially appeared that Kaine was a perfect replica of Parker, but he slowly began to show signs of mental instability and odd variations on Spider-Man’s powers, such as a heightened spider-sense that allowed him to see into the future. After Jackal’s defeat Kaine goes on to become an antihero, killing some of Spider-Man’s rogues before he is stopped by Ben Riley.
Kaine acted as a minor foil to Peter Parker for years until the end of the (also crazy) Spider Island story arc, where he decided to give up his ways and go into hiding. A rebooted version of the character, without the degenerative mind and toned-down powers, returned to star in the ongoing Scarlet Spider series. Although it never rose to Avengers or Iron Man levels of popularity, readers enjoyed Kaine’s series so much that he has gotten large roles in recent Spider-Man crossovers alongside the likes of Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales.
13 Jean Paul Valley (Azrael/Batman)
We never said they had to be “huge” in a good way! Jean Paul Valley’s infamous rise to fame is something Batman fans are still groaning about to this day. The character started off as the morally grey vigilante Azrael, an assassin who was brainwashed and conditioned by the ancient Order of St. Dumas. He was seemingly cured of his conditioning and was taken in by Bruce Wayne to assist in the never ending battle against crime.
Nobody though much of Valley; even back in the ‘90s everyone knew he would eventually end up on the large list of failed Batman sidekicks. What they never could have predicted was that he was going to actually become the star of all the Caped Crusader’s titles for a short amount of time!
In the legendary Knightfall arc Bruce Wayne is sidelined when he has his back broken by the supervillain Bane. For some reason or another, Dick Grayson refuses to take the mantle, which leaves Jean Paul Valley as next in line. He starts off doing a great job as the new Dark Knight but eventually falls back into his brutal and borderline murderous ways, which prompts Bruce to come back and take him down. His fifteen minutes of fame may have been short, but Azrael was definitely touted as the next big thing for period of time!
12 Renee Montoya/The Question
Speaking of fifteen minute of fame, The Question appeared to be on the rise for a brief but brilliant period of time. DC’s 52 story arc provided a blank slate for the publisher to experiment with the popularity of some of its lesser characters without tarnishing their golden goose titles. Naturally, the Charlton Comics-originating Question seemed like the perfect candidate to include in the experiment.
For those not familiar with the character, Vic Sage is an investigative journalist who solves crimes, equipped with a faceless skin-texture mask that hides his identity and was the inspiration for Rorschach in Watchmen. He had his own series for a while but he never made that jump from the D-list like DC had envisioned. That is, until 52. Vic tracks down Batman supporting character Renee Montoya and reveals that he is dying of cancer; he wants the young GCPD officer to become his replacement. Near the end of the series, Sage’s illness gets the better of him and Montoya is left as the new Question. This new version of the character would go on to have major roles in Batwoman, Final Crisis, and Blackest Night before she was returned to her original status quo in the New 52 relaunch.
Throughout the comics’ decades-long run, Batman has had a “Bat” everything. There has been Batwing, Batgirl, Bat Hound, Bat Mite, and even Bat Cow at some point in the series! During the ‘50s, Batman writers introduced Batwoman, a recurring love interest for the Caped Crusader, in order to fend off allegations that the Dynamic Duo themselves had romantic feelings for each other. She played a minuscule role and was eliminated in 1964, when the entire Bat-family (minus Robin and Batgirl) were erased from the pages of history.
But fans had not heard the last of Katherine Kane. After 2005’s Infinite Crisis, DC thought it would be fun to tell a year-long story about a world without their biggest superheroes. Simply entitled 52, it actually was pretty awesome; D and C list characters like Steel, Animal Man, The Elongated Man, and Booster Gold were thrust into starring roles in the absence of their A-list counterparts. It was in this series that Batwoman made her triumphant return. As a former military trainee who was inspired by Batman’s mission, Kane took up the mantle of Batwoman to defend a Gotham without its Dark Knight. Fans enjoyed the character so much that she received her own series in the New 52 reboot of the DC universe and has another in the pipeline for 2017.
10 Cat Grant
She may be one of the standout characters in the Arrow-verse now, but Cat Grant most definitely started from the bottom of the barrel. The character was introduced in 1987’s Adventures of Superman #424 as the Daily Planet’s newest gossip columnist who was also a single mother and recovering alcoholic. Clark Kent took a strong liking to Grant; the two became a couple for a time before Kal-El realized his feelings were mostly about helping Cat get her life together, rather than romantic attraction. She eventually went to work for President Lex Luthor before returning to her hometown of Los Angeles. Grant returns to Metropolis shortly after her son is killed by Toyman and starts slandering Supergirl in her column on the regular.
Cat Grant was always a D-lister, but Calista Flockhart breathed new life into the character via the Supergirl TV show. Grant is now the head of her own media conglomerate, CatCO (the firm in which Kara Zor-El is employed). This version benefits from being one of the main characters of the show, appearing in almost every season 1 episode and interacting with both Kara and Supergirl on the regular. She’s also way more entertaining than her comic counterpart due to her spunky, independent, “mean girl” attitude and brilliant portrayal by Flockhart.
9 Rip Hunter
The time-hopping Rip Hunter started off in 1961’s Rip Hunter…Time Masters as a regular guy with an incredible invention that allowed him to travel through time. He appeared in a supporting role in dozens of DC titles across the years and was present during almost all of the major crossovers. One of his defining features, for example, is the fact that he retained all of his pre-Crisis on Infinite Earth memories while everyone else did not. Hunter was credited as being the sole inventor of time travel in the post-Crisis world. He appeared in Booster Gold as well as 52 before returning to his status as a D-lister.
Or did he? The recent CW series DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has made Rip Hunter a household name. The show takes place in the Arrow-verse and follows a team of heroes as they travel through time and take on villains such as Vandal Savage. Hunter played the mentor role in season one; he brought the team together and acted as their leader before becoming lost in the timeline. Those who watch Legends absolutely love the character and legitimately felt sad to see him go (or did he?). That’s a pretty big deal for a hero that even DC fans wouldn’t have batted an eye at losing five years ago.
8 Squirrel Girl
While most of the characters who made this list claimed their popularity through a gritty reboot or complete overhaul, Squirrel Girl’s popularity comes solely from her ridiculous nature. Created for a single issue of Iron Man in 1991, the character made scattered appearances across an array of titles for years as the butt of many jokes. And why wouldn’t she be? Her superpowers are literally talking to squirrels and having a prehensile tail! She runs around with her sidekick, Monkey Joe (also a squirrel), fighting crime. Okay…
In the mid-2000s,Marvel writers decided that it was best to simply embrace the character’s insanity. Squirrel Girl was added to the roster of the Great Lakes Avengers, a superhero team that was made up of the worst of the worst. Their monthly book was comedic, often satirizing comic book tropes such as constant character deaths and ridiculous superpowers. Fans loved the hilarious exploits so much that in 2014 she was given her own title, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. This series shows her comically defeating Marvel giants like Dr. Doom, Thanos, and Juggernaut with ease. She is currently set to be featured in Marvel’s New Warriors TV show.
7 The Red Hood
Now let’s make ourselves clear: we know that Jason Todd was never a D-list character. But the Red Hood wasn’t always Jason Todd. In fact, in the character’s original appearance he wasn’t a character at all. Rather, the Red Hood was a title used by many members of a gang of criminals to make it appear that one supervillain was doing it all. It so happens that the Joker himself was a member of this “Red Hood Gang,” and we all know how his famous encounter with the Caped Crusader went down. This gang was referenced in several Joker-centric stories, but the Red Hood himself always played second fiddle to the Clown Prince of Crime.
The resurrection of Jason Todd changed all of that. In Under the Red Hood, Batman is confronted with his greatest failure—the death of the second Robin. This comes in the form of Jason Todd taking on the mantle of Red Hood and going about his own brand of vigilante justice in Gotham City. Although he is now somewhat of an anti-hero, the Red Hood moniker has stuck with Todd and become a mainstay of the DC comics universe. Red Hood makes this list because he went from a half-hearted idea that was part of the Joker’s backstory to one of the more popular characters in the DC continuity.
6 6. Luke Cage
Can a character go from A-list to D-list and then back to A-list? If Luke Cage is any indication, we say the answer is an astounding “yes!” Our hero with the indestructible skin was created in the ‘70s, during the whole “Blaxploitation” phase in American pop culture. Despite the character’s less than stellar origins, he was the first African-American superhero to star in his own title and was immensely popular with readers at the time. However, this popularity has fluctuated in the passing decades.
In the 1980s, Cage was paired with Iron Fist in an effort to save the slumping sales of both titles. Sadly it didn’t work, and Luke Cage was reduced to a mostly supporting role for the next twenty years. When Brian Michael Bendis launched his New Avengers series in 2005, he decided to add Luke to the roster. The writer had always been a fan of the character, even including him in his acclaimed Alias series. Once again, the character’s popularity soared. Almost ten years after this revival, Marvel Studios greenlit a Luke Cage TV series as part of their Marvel Cinematic Universe. Upon release, Luke Cage has been praised as one of the greatest things Marvel Studios has ever created. With season two on the way and the character set to appear in The Defenders, Cage has become a household name once again.
Now wait a minute… Spider-Woman? A D-list character? Believe it or not yes, Jessica Drew (better known as Spider-Woman) used to be one of the lowest heroes on the totem pole. Don’t believe us? Stan Lee himself said that the only reason the character exists in the first place was so that DC or one of Marvel’s other competitors couldn’t use the name (they themselves had been sued by DC for creating the character of Wonder Man). Despite her name, Spider-Woman really has nothing to do with Marvel’s original webslinger; Drew gained her powers via being injected with irradiated spider blood while she still in the womb. Spider-Woman can shoot “venom beams” out of her hands and fly through the air with her web wings.
After her initial solo series in the 1980s, Spider-Woman all but disappeared from the Marvel universe. She would make cameos here or there, but was never a part of any team or major story arc. All this changed in 2005, when writer Brian Michael Bendis shook up the Avengers; he completely decimated the old team and started over with a new roster that included Captain America, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Spider-Woman. This also coincided with the release of a new Spider-Woman miniseries (also penned by Bendis). The character has been a hit ever since; she was significant to the Secret Invasion story and still has a popular ongoing series to this day.
If you’ve ever wanted to see how drastically a character evolves in the ever-changing world of comics, look no further than Deadshot. In his first few appearances, Floyd Lawton was a literal mustache-twirling villain who wore a stovepipe hat and burglar mask. In later appearances, he had a high-tech costume with a single-eyed mask and armor before recently morphing into Will Smith in red spandex. Lawton has always been a minor Batman character who showed up as a hired gun or as part of a villain team to take down the Caped Crusader. Even as an early member of the Suicide Squad, he was never the focus of his own story.
In recent years, however, the character has seen a resurgence. His role in the Suicide Squad comics began to grow as the writers expanded his backstory and made him a more well-rounded character. Lawton made appearances in shows like Smallville and Arrow as well as video games like Batman: Arkham Origins. What really broke the dam was his inclusion in this year’s Suicide Squad movie. Although there are some who argue that it was just Will Smith playing a version of himself, the character (along with Harley Quinn) acted as the protagonist of the story and stole the show. Now there’s even speculation that Deadshot will make cameos in other DCEU films or even get his own spinoff. For a lesser-known Batman villain, that’s pretty damn good.
3 Captain Marvel
Not to be confused with DC’s character of the same name, Captain Marvel (or Mar-Vell, as he was originally called) has become one of Marvel’s flagship characters in the past five years. This wouldn’t be so surprising if it weren’t for the fact that Captain Marvel was a relative unknown to anyone besides hardcore comic book readers for most of his/her run. Created by the power duo of Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1967, Captain Marvel was an officer in the Kree military who sided with the people of Earth. This version of the character died of cancer in the appropriately titled The Death of Captain Marvel almost twenty years later.
After Mar-Vell passed away, the mantle of Captain Marvel passed from person to person for the next thirty years, never really sticking or gaining ground with readers. That is, until 2012, when Carol Davers (Ms. Marvel) took on the role. Danvers as Captain Marvel blew up overnight, resulting in her inclusion as a member of the Avengers and in the major crossovers of the last four years. She has become such a fan favorite that she’s getting her own movie and will be in Infinity War. Captain Marvel inspired a group of heroes to go toe to toe with Iron Man, for crying out loud! If that’s not “huge” then we don’t know what is.
Most comic book fans aren’t too thrilled when their beloved heroes are replaced by lesser characters. Captain America, Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man…you name them, and they’ve been killed off and replaced at some point in history. Marvel recently pulled the same stunt with Wolverine; in 2014 a sans-healing factor Logan heroically sacrificed himself to save a group of innocent people. In the wake of his death, X-23 took up the mantle of Wolverine. And who, you may ask, is X-23?
Much like Kaine Parker, she is a clone of her respective superhero that was created for evil purposes. For years, X-23 worked as an assassin, a career that took a severe mental toll on the teenage girl. Eventually she came around to the side of good and Professor Xavier allowed her to enroll in his school. The character has risen up the ranks in recent years-- she literally was created for a one-off episode of X-Men: Evolution before being implemented into the X-Men canon in 2004. Since then, she has gone on to be a member of the X-Force, take over for Wolverine, and is set to appear in this summer’s Logan. Rumor has also been swirling that X-23 may take over the title in the film franchise after Hugh Jackman’s swan song. X-23 isn’t going away any time soon.
1 The Guardians of the Galaxy
What a bunch of A-holes. Before the film’s release, fans were terrified that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the MCU’s first real flop. Who had heard of any of these characters? Even die-hard Marvel readers balked at the idea that the likes of Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon could lead a big budget picture. Luckily for fans everywhere, they were dead wrong.
Not only was Guardians of the Galaxy good, it is widely considered to be one of the best movies Marvel has ever put out. The film’s tone set it apart from the crowd; while Cap was brooding over his best friend’s turn to evil and Thor was fighting evil elves in London, Star Lord was dancing around the galaxy looking for artifacts to steal and intergalactic women to fornicate with. But let’s back up for a minute here.
Who would've thought a team consisting of Star Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot would have been such a hit? Even those familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy comics scoffed at the notion, as most of them were recent additions to a team that had been around since 1969.
And yet, Baby Groot is one of the most talked about characters of 2014 and Star Lord Halloween costumes were so popular that most stores were completely sold out. A sequel (coming this May!) was greenlit almost immediately. Although there were countless factors in the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, we are still left scratching our heads over how this team of unknown misfits have completely enamored the world.
And there you have it! What do you think of our list? Did we miss any big ones? Do you think we categorized some of these characters wrong? Let us know in the comments!