It's a well-known fact of the comic book universe: Superheroes never age. Some of these literally never age, thanks to healing factors or immortality, but more generally speaking, heroes tend to simply stay looking around the same age throughout their history. Some younger heroes grow to adulthood before the writers hit the pause button, and others may age a few years from early twenties to thirties and marriage, true. Occasionally, a storyline will see a specific hero in ‘the future’ or aged in some other way for a specific concept or alternate universe as well. But for the most part, superhero aging seems to follow its own rules, with plenty of heroes looking 30-ish since their inception.
That’s not a bad thing, either. Many of the biggest and best-known heroes in the comic book universe have been around for decades, and fans want to see them continue to fight crime and kick some bad-guy-butt, not age into infirmity. Like death and reboots, aging in comics just has its own rules, and fans are more than happy to abide by them. If these heroes actually did age in real time, though, do you know how old they would be? Only a super-fan will be able to match these superheroes to the year that they first appeared in the pages of comics.
The Man of Steel has certainly been around for a long time, and is often considered to be the very first superhero to ever grace the pages of a comic book. Copies of his first appearance in Action Comics are incredibly rare and valuable, with recent sales fetching more than three million dollars. Over the years, he’s gone through some major changes, but Clark Kent and his red and blue suit remains one of the most iconic images in comic books and nerd culture.
The Dark Knight has come a long way from his origins in Detective Comics, and has become one of the most popular heroes ever… as well as one of the most adapted. He’s been the star of multiple live-action and animated movies and TV series as well as video games, and there’s no sign of his popularity waning. Since he first appeared, he’s gathered an entire Bat-family around himself, with a complex mythology and a huge array of iconic villains.
Iron Man shot to fame in pop culture in 2008, when the film of the same name was released, becoming a massive hit and launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, it’s hard to remember a time that Tony Stark wasn’t a household name (and that Robert Downey Jr wasn’t playing him), but he was around for quite some time before this latest (and arguably greatest) incarnation. A founding member of the Avengers, the Invincible Iron Man remains one of Marvel’s biggest characters.
“Star-Lord, man. Legendary outlaw?” Peter Quill and his rag-tag band of space faring heroes burst onto the big screen in 2014, as one of the brightest, funniest, and wackiest installments in the MCU (yet). Quill may have won the audience’s hearts in the film, but his comic book origins are quite different to what was shown on-screen. One of Marvel’s many galactic superheroes who is rarely found on Earth, this hero may be older than most movie fans would expect.
Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
There have actually been multiple Green Lantern characters based on Earth over the years, and an entire legion of Green Lanterns scattered across the DC galaxy, but Alan Scott was the first to appear in comics with this title. Before Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and long before the absolute flop that was Ryan Reynolds' take on the character, Scott received the Green Power Ring, and became one of Earth’s protectors (and a founding member of the Justice League).
The woman of the hour, thanks to her incredibly successful stand-alone movie, Wonder Woman is another Justice League member who has been around long enough to become truly iconic. This princess of the Amazons has had her fair share of changes and reboots, and shot to pop-culture fame in the ‘70s when Lynda Carter brought her to life for the small screen. Now, this hero of truth, love and justice has finally come to the big screen (played by Gal Gadot), and is living up to her comic book legacy for the DCEU.
This mutant Southern Belle became a huge hit with young Marvel fans when she was one of the main characters in X-Men: The Animated Series, but that isn’t the first time that she showed up in the Marvel Universe. With a devastating power that prevents her from having any human contact, Rogue has wavered between being a hero and a villain over the years, and while she is usually recognized as one of the heroic X-Men, she’s far more complicated than many of her fellow mutant heroes.
Ororo Munroe may be best known as a member of the X-Men in pop culture, but over her comic book history, this weather-controlling mutant has actually been involved with most of the major teams of heroes. An Avenger as well as an X-Men hero, an African princess descended from sorceresses, and one-time Queen of Wakanda, Storm is an incredible hero who has been inspiring young women for years before her appearance on the big screen (played by Halle Berry) in 2000’s X-Men.
T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda, finally joined the MCU last year in Captain America: Civil War, and many fans would say that this appearance was long overdue. T’Challa is getting his own solo flick next year, and it’s one that is also going to bring the African nation of Wakanda to the big screen in all its glory. This rich, genius, ruler of a nation, marital-artists and veteran Avenger is one that certainly hasn’t got the screen time he deserves - but how long has he been around in comics?
Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
While there has been more than one Marvel character known to wear the Spidey-suit over the years, the primary Spider-Man will always be Peter Parker. This dorky teen bitten by a radioactive spider is one of the younger characters in the Marvel universe - and one of the most-adapted. He’s finally joined the MCU (thanks to Civil War and a rights-sharing deal), leaving two other franchises behind him. Parker has certainly grown up a little over his time in comics, going from a fresh-faced teen to the wise-cracking hero that fans know and love.
Inspired by the Norse God of thunder, Thor came to Marvel comics along with multiple other figures from mythology, re-imagined within the universe of superheroes. Over the years, the character has gone through several incarnations, from a Wonder Woman-style secret identity on Earth to the space-faring hero that fans will be getting a look at in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. Along with his hammer, Mjolnir, Thor’s popularity shows no sign of waning, although there were some fans who were less than thrilled when Jane Foster took up the mantle.
Natasha Romanova is another comic book character who actually doesn’t age in the comics, and has been ‘enhanced’ by the Soviet government to give her an unnaturally long life span (among other things). Originally born in the 1920s, she’s remained young and capable ever since, through her time with the KGB, all the way to her time with the Avengers, as an agent of SHIELD and even heading up the short-lived super-team the Champions. Now, she’s one of the only big-screen Avengers who hasn’t (yet) had her own solo movie.
Bruce Banner, one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, is inspired by another fictional character - Dr Jekyll. Like this literary monster, the Hulk has two distinct personalities, the mild-mannered scientist that is Bruce Banner, and the vast green rage-beast that is the Hulk. This transformation is usually triggered by anger, and when the Hulk takes over, he becomes one of the strongest characters in Marvel comics. He also represents one of the more iconic ways to get superpowers - scientific accident. In this case, an overdose of Gamma radiation.
Oliver Queen, playboy turned hero-archer, is one of DC’s superheroes who doesn’t actually have superpowers. Instead, it's his skill with a bow, and especially with his many trick arrows, that makes him worthy of his spot on the Justice League of America. Now the star of a hit TV show that launched an interconnected small-screen universe, this wise-cracking archer is quickly rising in fame and popularity - even with fans who may be surprised at just how old he really is.
The Flash (Barry Allen)
The Flash has a particular distinction in the live-action DC universe right now - not only is he a part of the DCEU with an upcoming appearance in Justice League and his own solo movie on the way, but he’s also the star of his own TV series on the CW. Both versions of the Flash are played by different actors, but despite the existence of more than one Flash in the comics, they are both versions of the most famous Flash of all: Barry Allen.
Another character who actually doesn’t age (with the exception of Old Man Logan, of course), Wolverine’s agelessness is the result of his mutation: a super-powerful healing factor. Essentially unkillable, this gruff Canadian hero is one of Marvel’s most popular X-Men, especially since Hugh Jackman started portraying the character on the big screen. Although Jackman is now done with the X-Men universe, that doesn’t mean that he’s the last to use the Wolverine name, as fans expect X-23 to pick up the mantle (just as she does in the comics).
This superhero may not be well-known now, but with a new Black Lightning series planned for the CW in the 2017/2018 season, it’s likely that this hero is going to see his fame skyrocket next year. An older, previously retired superhero also known as Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning uses his electric-based superpowers to protect the Suicide Slum of Gotham, especially against the 100 gang. In addition, he has two daughters with similar superpowers, Thunder and Lightning. It’s not yet clear exactly how much of the mythology will make it into the show, but at least these three heroes will be making an appearance.
The Inhumans are still waiting for their big-screen break into the MCU, but in the meantime, these super-powered beings have appeared on the small screen, as the focus of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. One of the main characters, Daisy ‘Skye’ Johnson, first appeared as a human hacker, but has since been revealed as the comic book Quake. She may not be very well known, even in the comics, but Quake wasn’t created for the series, and is one of Nick Fury’s most trusted agents in the books.
Not to be confused with the Kree superhero known as Captain Mar-Vell, Captain Marvel is the superhero alter-ego of Carol Danvers, a former fighter pilot and CIA agent. After being exposed to the radiation that granted her her powers, Carol Danvers took up the name Miss Marvel in honor of her friend Mar-Vell, before eventually becoming Captain Marvel herself. She’s dealt with more than her fair share of trauma in her time as a superhero, and is now finally coming to the big screen in 2019.
Doreen Green may seem like an average college student (if a bit of an over-eager one), but she’s actually a superhero! With a tail! Squirrel Girl started out as something of a joke in the comic book world, with the powers of a squirrel (and the ability to talk to her furry friends), but has since become a fan-favorite with a legion of devoted followers. Now she’s even coming to live-action, with a leading role in Marvel’s upcoming New Warriors TV series.
Another founding member of the Justice League, Martian Manhunter (aka J’onn J’onzz) is one of the last Martians in the universe, having survived a cataclysmic event that destroyed his planet. Now, he resides on Earth (most of the time) as a member of the Justice League, and a protector of the planet and defender of justice. He may not have appeared in the DCEU at the moment, but he is currently a major player in CW’s Supergirl, so fans can still get their live-action Martian fix.
Arthur Curry, the son of a human and an Atlantean Queen, is a hero who straddles the two worlds of the surface and Atlantis itself. Aquaman works to protect Earth as a member of the Justice League, but often butts heads with his fellow heroes due to his need to put his kingdom first. As a water-based hero who can talk to fish, Aquaman had become something of a comic book joke to many, but with Jason Momoa now bringing him to life on the big screen, that is likely to change.
The partner-in-crime (or in stopping crime!) of the Green Arrow, Dinah Lance has been fighting in fishnets for years. Unlike her partner, she is actually superpowered, however, with a devastating scream known as the Canary Cry. Both Dinah and her mother (Dinah Drake) have held the Black Canary title - as have multiple characters in the CW’s Arrowverse. Now, Arrow finally has a Black Canary that looks a little like her comic counterpart, however - a woman named Dinah with a natural Canary Cry.
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch
These sibling mutants first appeared together, as members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. A speedster (Quicksilver), and a woman with reality-warping powers (Scarlet Witch), these two mutant children of Magneto are incredibly powerful - but thankfully for the Marvel universe, haven’t stuck with their evil beginnings throughout their time in comics. Now, Scarlet Witch has joined the MCU Avengers, while two live-action versions of Quicksilver exist: a show-stealing mutant in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the short-lived speedster in the MCU.
Ant-Man (Hank Pym)
The Ant-Man of the MCU might be Scott Lang, but he’s not the original superhero from the comics. In the Marvel universe, the original Ant-Man is Hank Pym, inventor of the Pym particles that make it possible for him to shrink to the size of a bug. Hank does, of course, appear in the MCU, but as a retired hero, not as the founding member of the Avengers that fans know from the comic books. The original Wasp is also not going to get much screen-time, as Hank’s daughter Janet will be taking up that mantle in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.
“I am Groot…” For many, it’s hard to imagine this enormous, sentient tree-creature as much of a hero without his trusty sidekick Rocket, but Groot actually appeared more than fifteen years before his furry companion. He first appeared as the ‘Monster From Planet X’, but quickly moved from monster to protector of Earth. He’s also done some adventuring on his own, even battling the Hulk, before eventually becoming one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. His catchphrase (and only phrase) also comes from the comics, although he originally couldn’t speak at all!
Originally a parody of the DC character Deathstroke, Deadpool has been a member of the X-Men, but is far more of an anti-hero than a true superhero. Created by the Weapon X project, and with the same kind of healing factor that makes Wolverine so unkillable, Wade Wilson was driven insane by the experiments done on him, and became a volatile and hilarious mercenary once he got away from the project. He’s also famous for breaking the fourth wall - a trait that was carried over to the wildly successful 2016 film.
Frank Castle is another anti-hero who is known for being brutally violent - although without the manic joy that Deadpool has. He originally appeared as a mercenary hired to kill Spider-Man, but as he realized what the job entailed, he turned on the villain who hired him and was revealed as a vigilante with a code of honor. An ex-marine seeking justice for his murdered family by killing the ‘bad guys’, the Punisher has been adapted to the big screen more than once, and is currently a part of the Marvel/Netflix Defenders universe.
Lawyer by day, vigilante superhero by night, Matt Murdock is famous for being not only a phenomenal fighter, but actually blind. He lost his sight as a child, when he was hit by radioactive waste while trying to save an old man from being hit by a truck. Rather than let this change him for the worse, the young Murdock upped his training, and became a superhero able to fight perfectly in total darkness. Now, he protects Hell’s Kitchen - as both lawyer and the superhero known as the Man Without Fear.
Jessica Jones has been a superhero in the past (known as Jewel), but is actually better known in the Marvel universe as a retired superhero and private investigator, owner of Alias Investigations. Jones is also something of an anti-hero in her early days, as a heavy drinker with a dark past and a lot of trauma left from her short-lived days a superhero. Now, however, she is married to Luke Cage, the two have a young daughter, and she has become a part of the New Avengers.
Luke Cage no longer needs a superhero alias, going simply by his own name. However, when this character first appeared in Marvel comics, it was as Power Man. Wrongfully convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit, Cage volunteered to be experimented on in return for a shortened sentence - and got superpowers as a result. He and Danny Rand joined forces to become Heroes For Hire, before eventually falling in love with Jessica Jones and becoming the leader of his own Avengers team.
Like so many characters, Danny Rand is only one in a long line of heroes to hold the title of the Immortal Iron Fist, but his is the primary Iron Fist in the Marvel universe. The final hero to have his own Marvel/Netflix series in the run up to the upcoming Defenders series, Iron Fist has been something of a controversial hero for the company. Trained in martial arts in the ancient city of K’un Lun, he has been accused of being a white savior, but remains one of Marvel’s greatest martial artists.
This long-time Avenger didn’t start life as a hero, but as a small-time crook. With an abusive past and a close friendship with the (then villainous) Black Widow, Hawkeye became convinced that he must defeat Iron Man - but once he had watched Tony Stark’s heroics for a while, he became inspired to become a hero himself. A fan-favorite, and another power-free hero, this master bowman is (like Black Widow herself) one of the only original Avengers in the MCU who hasn’t had his own solo movie.
One of a race of alien symbiotes, Venom was created by a reader as a villain for Spider-Man, who at first thought that this sentient being was simply a new suit! Since then, the Venom symbiote has been bonded to multiple hosts, including Deadpool, Flash Thompson, Eddie Brock, Ms Marvel… and even a T-Rex, in Old Man Logan! In the live-action universe, Venom has already appeared in Spider-Man 3, but now that the Spider-verse is being rebooted, fans are excited for an upcoming standalone Venom project.
Fans may not be happy with Captain America’s recent storylines in the Marvel universe, and the reveal that he was a villain all along - but when Steve Rogers first appeared, he was a pure hero. A skinny kid who wanted to be a soldier during the second world war, Steve volunteered to be injected with a ‘super-soldier serum’, one that made him incredibly strong, and able to take up his iconic shield to become the poster boy of American patriotism for decades to come.