New Character Smell1 of 12
Some of the most well known characters in all of popular culture have come from comic books. Who can deny the impact that characters like Superman, Spider-Man, or Archie Andrews have had in our lives? But the youngest of those characters debuted in 1962 – well over 50 years ago.
And that’s a status that’s shared by almost all of our most iconic comic book heroes. The biggest success stories of superhero comic books all originated 40, 50, or even 70 years ago – even if some of them, like the Avengers, are only reaching their apex now.
But there are characters – icons even – that are younger than most of the characters that come to mind in comic book lore. One of those characters, the Sentry, is getting his own series as part of Marvel's "Fresh Start." And so far, at only 18 years old, Sentry is also one of the "freshest" of Marvel's "Fresh Start" characters. With that in mind, we decided to take a look at the most popular American comic book characters of the last 25 years.
When we set out to make this list, we knew we had to define some very specific criteria. With that in mind, these are all characters that debuted in American comic books, who made their debut in 1993 or after, and who, based on a number of metrics, rank as the most popular, most beloved, and most successful characters to appear in that timeframe. Not based just on comic book sales or cosplayers at conventions, but a more "big picture" look with several factors in mind.
This excludes some popular characters, such as Tim Drake or Gambit (who just missed the mark), and leaves out a lot of well-loved characters such as Kyle Rayner, Jesse Custer, Savage Dragon, X-23, and Scott Pilgrim who, while popular, don’t reach the heights of the ten on this list... like the Sentry.
So, without further ado, here are the 11 most popular American comic book characters who debuted in the last 25 years.
Invincible2 of 12
Invincible #144 just marked the end of Mark Grayson's story (for now - it's comic books), making Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley's teen hero one of the most successful independent superheroes of the 21st century.
Introduced in 2002, Invincible blended the soap opera stories of the X-Men with the cosmic power of Superman and the teen angst of Spider-Man, making for a powerful superheroic brew. Though his adventures have come to an end, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are hard at work creating a film version of the modern superhero classic.
Kevin Keller3 of 12
Archie and his Riverdale friends have been around for decades, since 1941. That’s almost as long as even the oldest superheroes. So it’s surprising that the only real new breakout star the Riverdale gang has had in decades is Kevin Keller, who waited until 2010 to hit the scene.
The openly gay character – Archie’s first – has anchored his own title, as well as several mini-series, and was one of the characters involved in the ill-fated Kickstarter launch for Archie’s new line. While the Kickstarter plans have fallen through due to fan backlash, Kevin Keller showed up in the DC/IDW Love Is Love and came through with his own digital title, Life with Kevin.
Maria Hill & Daisy Johnson4 of 12
Consider this one a “two-fer.” Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson are two of the most high profile S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in Marvel lore, with both having served as directors of the agency – a role that Maria Hill still holds.
Both characters came to prominence as a result of Civil War, a story that saw Marvel’s heroes divided into two camps over a law that would require them to register their identities with the government. Hill became director of S.H.I.E.L.D. during this time, an event which lead to former longtime director Nick Fury going underground, and recruiting Daisy Johnson as his protégé.
Now, Maria Hill is the veteran of multiple Marvel films, including both Avengers movies, and possibly the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, while Daisy Johnson plays a prominent role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where her origins cast her as an Inhuman.
Rick Grimes5 of 12
Chalk this up to the popularity of the franchise – not necessarily the character on his own. That’s not to say The Walking Dead’s POV character doesn’t command some sway of his own, but he’s not a household name because of his winning personality.
Rather, this is an example of a character becoming a figurehead for something larger than himself. As the main character of The Walking Dead both on TV and in comic books, Grimes is at the center of a cultural phenomenon that most characters would kill for.
Bane6 of 12
As hard as it can be for a brand new hero to make a mark on comic books, it can be even tougher for a villain to break through - but as we all know, "breaking" is no problem for Bane.
Bane made waves when he debuted in 1993 by breaking the Bat - in other words, snapping Batman's spine over his knee (ouch). Since then, he's become one of Batman's primary nemeses in almost every media incarnation Batman's had - and his popularity as a villain hasn't seemed to waver much at all.
Kamala Khan7 of 12
When Carol Danvers graduated to the role of Captain Marvel, her Ms. Marvel codename went to an entirely new character - Kamala Khan. A teenager with Inhuman size and shape-changing powers, Kamala is the figurehead of a new generation of Marvel characters.
Kamala is so popular, she's made her debut in several Marvel animated series and video games, anchored multiple volumes of her own title, joined the Avengers, co-founded the Champions, and her catchphrase (even though she didn't invent it) "Embiggen!" was just added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary - who celebrated the addition with a Ms. Marvel gif.
While there have been other new characters taking the mantle of older heroes in the past 25 years, Khan isn't cut from the same cloth as her predecessor and redefined what "Ms. Marvel" is to people.
Hellboy8 of 12
Hellboy – “Red” to his friends – is a paranormal investigator and super-agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, an agency dedicated to hunting down supernatural threats to national security.
In the years since his debut in 1993, Mike Mignola’s most beloved creation has seen multiple animated films, a pair of live-action adaptations, and an entire comic book universe built around his adventures.
Damian Wayne (Robin)9 of 12
The cloned son of Batman and Talia al Ghul may seem like an unlikely character to make a splash, but when Damian Wayne took over as Robin when his father Bruce was presumed dead, he became an instant hit.
Playing off the good-natured, significantly less stoic substitute Batman Dick Grayson, Damian was hardnosed, hardcore, and hardly the typical 11-year-old. He’s since been through a lot – death, rebirth, superpowers – and while he remains polarizing to many fans, his popularity as Robin, son of Batman, is undeniable.
Miles Morales (Spider-Man)10 of 12
When the Peter Parker of Marvel’s Ultimate universe died in combat, it didn’t take long for a new hero to take up his mantle as Spider-Man. That hero came in the form of Miles Morales, a character who quickly overcame the controversy surrounding his ethnicity (he’s half black, half Puerto Rican) to swing his way into the hearts of Marvel fans.
Miles may owe some of his popularity to his origins – he’s reportedly visually based on president Barack Obama and comedian Donald Glover – but the real core of his success comes from creator Brian Bendis’s familiar, winning portrayal of a young hero finding his feet.
Following Secret Wars, Miles joined the mainstream Marvel Universe as Spider-Man; a role he now shares shares with the original Peter Parker.
Jessica Jones11 of 12
Debuting in 2001's Alias #1, Jessica Jones, the irascible super-powered private eye marks writer Brian Michael Bendis' first major character contribution to the Marvel Universe.
With a penchant for drinking, a stomach for violence, and a bad attitude, Jessica Jones was a fresh take on a female superhero (if you're crazy enough to call her that to her face).
Jessica's popularity has skyrocketed in recent years with her own show on Netflix (the second season of which debuts March 8), and a role in the streaming service's Defenders Marvel crossover series.
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