I was very sad to hear about Stan Lee’s passing yesterday. He has created or co-created so many characters and storylines that have been incredibly influential for me. Spider-man has always been my favorite superhero. The Spider-man series in the 90s was what made me love superheroes in general. I’ve loved the superhero movies based off of characters that Lee created, even the cheesy ones.
I saw a few photos of the different Marvel characters mourning Stan Lee’s death yesterday, which I thought were quite touching. But I also noticed something about these characters. Namely, they were all old characters.
The Fantastic Four were created in 1961. Spider-man was 1962. The X-Men were created in 1963. Even the Avengers were also first debuted in 1963. DC’s two most well known characters are even older. Superman first showed up in 1938 and Batman in 1939.
I think there’s no denying that the characters I just listed are the most influential and important characters in the superhero comics world, or at least among them. And they’re all 55 years or older.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these characters having existed this long, and they’ve obviously existed in different forms throughout the years. But it does make me think, “Where are all of the new influential superheros?” Every time I thought of one, I Googled it, and it turns out they were much older than I thought. For instance, Daredevil, who doesn’t have quite the influence of other heroes, was made in the 60s as well, although his most famous incarnation, the Frank Miller Daredevil, wasn’t until the 80s. I also assumed that Black Panther was a newer character, but nope. He’s from the 60s too.
I can really only think of two major “superheroes” that have been invented in the last two or three decades. There’s one for DC and one for Marvel, and both were in the early 90s. The term “superhero” does apply rather loosely, especially for one of these.
The first is Harley Quinn, who rose to prominence in the Batman: The Animated Series show (the best Batman show in existence, in my opinion) in 1992 and showed up in the comics a year later. The character quickly became a favorite on the show, and now you can barely mention the Joker without including his lady.
The other character is Deadpool who debuted as a villain in 1991, but quickly shifted toward anti-hero. His rise to prominence has been more of a slow burn, but there’s no denying now, with two epically successful movies, that he’s one of the most popular modern superheroes.
One interesting thing about both of these characters is that they both started out as villains, but moved more toward the light side as they grew in popularity. Another interesting fact is that you absolutely cannot go to a con without seeing one or multiple versions of them. I saw more Deadpools and Harley Quinns at the last con I went to than Batmans (Batmen?).
I don’t know why there are so few modern influential superhero creations. Maybe it’s our nostalgic tendency to uproot the past and recreate it with our modern ideas. Maybe it’s just easier to use characters that are already established than to make our own. But maybe it’s that we don’t understand heroes anymore. Maybe there’s something culturally that we’ve lost that makes it hard to come up with new heroes.
Or, maybe people have been creating new heroes, but we’re just so over-saturated in superheroes that those newbies fade to the recesses of the public consciousness.
Like I said, I don’t know the reason. I just wanted to point it out. Let me know in the comment if you can think of any modern influential superheroes that I may have forgotten, or if you’ve got an idea why we haven’t come up with any in the last few decades.