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15 D-List Superheroes Who Went A-List

by  in Comics, Lists, Comic News Comment
15 D-List Superheroes Who Went A-List

One of the most amazing things about the proliferation of superhero movies and television series is that creators are realizing that DC and Marvel have created so many characters over the years that there are bound to be a number of really cool characters out there that only need to be given a bigger spotlight to shine. Often, it just takes a creative team believing in a character and a good hook to make characters buried on the D-List get to the A-List where they belong.

RELATED: Elders Of The Marvel Universe, Ranked 

Therefore, we decided to put together a list of the most notable examples of formerly D-List characters that are now on the A-List. The characters are judged based on the difference between how obscure they were at their worst and how famous that they are now, so the top characters are not necessarily the most famous, since it depends on how obscure that they were in the first place.

15. Mockingbird

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Mockingbird‘s placement on the list highlights the balancing act that comes when judging how far a character has come. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Bobbi Morse had been around for nearly a decade before she even became Mockingbird, and she has had that name for over 30 years now. However, her character was killed off in 1993 and remained dead for over two decades before making her return in “Secret Invasion.”

She was a prominent member of Brian Michael Bendis‘ “New Avengers” and even briefly had her own ongoing series upon her return (shared with her ex-husband, Hawkeye), so when Bobbi Morse was added to the TV series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” it was not like she was in complete obscurity. But Adrianne Palicki’s performance as Bobbi was so engaging that before Season 3 was even over, Bobbi was written out of the series to set up a new TV series for her. At the same time, Marvel began publishing its first ever solo “Mockingbird” ongoing series. The TV series didn’t get picked up, but Mockingbird’s profile has certainly skyrocketed in recent years.

14. Cat Grant

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Calista Flockhart‘s Cat Grant was a scene-stealer and one of the most popular parts of the first season of the “Supergirl” TV series on CBS (Flockhart has left the series upon its move to the CW for season two) as the high-powered boss of Supergirl’s alter ego, Kara Danvers. Grant, though, is in an interesting spot in regards to this list. She was a relatively popular character already, being a recurring face on the ’90s hit series, “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” It’s not like she went on to become the star of her own show, of course — she was still very much a supporting character on “Supergirl” — but before her departure, she had a very large presence on the series.

However, she has still come a long way from her comic book past, where she was only spotlighted for a few years in the “Superman” books after John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” reboot (including a tragic story where her son was murdered), before being a fairly obscure comic character in the two decades since.

13. Damien Darhk

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Neal McDonough‘s Damien Darhk was the season-long “Big Bad” on the fourth season of “Arrow,” and he has returned to the DC television universe as a recurring villain on the second season of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” Clearly, he has carved out a nice niche for himself on TV, which is a significant achievement for a character whose comic book history was extremely wanting.

Damien Darhk was the main villain of the first year of the 1999 “Titans” comic book relaunch, where Devin Grayson and Mark Buckingham combined all eras of the Titans to put together a team made up of the original members and one character from each other era of the Titans. He was a baby-faced villain and the new leader of H.I.V.E., but all of his plotting didn’t help him, as he was bumped off after just seven appearances. He hasn’t been seen in comics since 2000. After three seasons featuring major bad guys like Merlyn, Deathstroke and Ra’s Al Ghul, Arrow went obscure for Darhk and it has paid off well, even though this is one of those “just the name stayed the same” sort of pulls.

12. Lance Hunter

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While he would have been the co-lead with Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi Morse on “Marvel’s Most Wanted,” had it been picked up to series, Nick Blood’s Lance Carter was still not a particularly famous character. However, he’s also a challenger as to the most obscure character on this entire list, and merits inclusion on the countdown. Lance Carter was introduced in the pages of “Captain Britain” during the 1970s as the head of the British version of S.H.I.E.L.D., S.T.R.I.K.E. He was introduced during a period where Nick Fury was also guest-starring in “Captain Britain” and Hunter remained a part of that “Captain Britain” series until it ended.

It would be thirty years before he was mentioned again. He did show up a few times in “Captain Britain and MI:13”, but “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was truly scraping the bottom of Marvel’s barrel when they added Hunter to the cast, almost certainly because they needed a British S.H.I.E.L.D. character. Since his emergence on (and disappearance from) the show, Lance Carter has shown up again in Mockingbird’s solo comic book.

11. Rip Hunter

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Rip Hunter has one of the best comic book resumes of all of the characters on the list, as he actually had his own ongoing series that lasted four years (29 issues between 1961-1965) after having three successful try-outs in DC Comics’ “Showcase” series. However, he was also a member of a team in the 1980s that were specifically dubbed “The Forgotten Heroes,” so it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion that this guy has long hit the D-List.

Interestingly enough, his membership in the “Forgotten Heroes” is sort of an inspiration for his formation of the team that he is now most known for, TV’s titular “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” On the show, he put together a team of relatively obscure characters (all with bigger comic book profiles than Rip Hunter had, except for one character that was created for television) to fight Vandal Savage, who, incidentally, was the same main villain of the “Forgotten Heroes.” On the TV series, just like in the comics, Rip is a master of time-travel.

10. Drax the Destroyer

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Drax the Destroyer made his debut in Jim Starlin‘s “Iron Man” #55, the same issue where Thanos got his start. Drax’s whole purpose in life was to destroy Thanos, so he played a recurring role in a number of the prune-faced purple Titan’s stories over the years. Drax, like all of the major cast members in Starlin’s “Warlock” series of comics, died by the end of the run. When Starlin returned to Marvel in the early 1990s, he brought Drax back. Even with diminished intelligence and used mostly as comic relief, Drax was a major player in Starlin’s “Warlock and the Infinity Watch” ongoing series. When that book ended, though, Drax fell into obscurity.

Keith Giffen revamped Drax in a “Drax” mini-series that made Drax more of a serious character. That “Drax” mini-series ultimately led to Giffen’s revamped Marvel cosmic universe, which in turn led to “Annihilation” and the creation of the new Guardians of the Galaxy, with Drax as a member. After the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film became one of the all-time biggest movie hits, Drax is now firmly on the A-List, not least because of his current ongoing series by Scott Hepburn, Cullen Bunn and CM Punk.

9. Gamora

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Gamora followed almost the exact same pattern as Drax. She was introduced by Jim Starlin early in his “Warlock” series of stories (as a traveling companion of Adam Warlock) and continued appearing in the stories until Starlin finished up his storyline, at which point she was killed off with all of the other major characters (like Drax). When Starlin returned, she was right alongside Warlock, Drax and Pip the Troll, back from the grave to take on the similarly resurrected Thanos.

She was a major part of “Warlock and the Infinity Watch,” but unlike Drax, she never received her own mini-series (which is why she is higher than Drax, rising from a slightly lower comic book position than he did), but still ended up becoming part of the Guardians of the Galaxy following “Annihilation: Conquest.” She has since become a household name after the smash hit film adaptation, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It has also been reported that Gamora will finally receive her first ongoing comic book series, which has been a long time coming.

8. Felicity Smoak

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Felicity Smoak was such an obscure comic book character that it is debatable whether she even belongs on this list, as there was only one aspect of her characterization that made its way to television. You see, Felicity Smoak was the name of a computer software executive who ran afoul of Firestorm while he was doing his superhero duties. Eventually, she began dating the father of Ronnie Raymond (one half of Firestorm) and ultimately married him. She only made a single appearance in Firestorm’s series before it ended in 1991 and the character was most likely erased during the New 52.

When “Arrow” needed the name for a computer expert at Oliver Queen’s company for likely just a single appearance, the writers just found an obscure character with a connection to computers — Felicity Smoak. As it turned out, though, that likely one-shot TV character quickly became the female lead on “Arrow,” making Felicity one of DC’s most popular TV characters. Since this is another “in name only” adaptation, you could argue that her comic book inspiration doesn’t really belong on the list. But you have to admit, her name certainly has come a long way.

7. Hiro and Baymax

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Created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, Hiro and Baymax were a part of the Japanese superhero team known as Big Hero 6. Baymax was a “synthformer,” an artificial being created by the genius child, Hiro, to act as his bodyguard. Baymax could transform into a sort of “battle dragon” when Hiro was in danger. After a handful of mini-series, Hiro, Baymax and the rest of Big Hero 6 fell into complete obscurity.

That is, they did… until Disney purchased Marvel Comics and transformed Big Hero 6 into the stars of their own animated film, which became one of the biggest hits of 2014! Baymax was now a lovable medical assistance robot built by Hiro’s older brother before he died. Hiro added offensive armor to Baymax’s basic form and the two were the centerpieces of a new superhero team. Baymax, in particular, was the breakout character of the film and has become a popular toy for children.

6. Jane Foster

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Jane Foster was the prototypical 1960s superhero love interest. She was the nurse of Dr. Donald Blake, the frail doctor who was the alter ego for Thor, the mighty god of thunder. Blake yearned for Jane, but was too meek to make a move; she soon had eyes for the more manly Thor. As the Blake/Thor dichotomy became less of an issue in the series, Jane Foster was eased out of the book (she was even merged with Thor’s love, Lady Sif, for a number of years). When Donald Blake was dropped altogether, Jane was written off, too.

She made occasional appearances over the next 20 years, before becoming a more important character when J. Michael Straczynski rebooted Thor in 2007. However, she remained a background character until her profile was raised considerably when Natalie Portman played her as an astrophysicist in the film adaptation of “Thor” in 2011. Her comic book profile also increased even greater when she became the current Thor in 2014.

5. Pepper Potts

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Introduced soon after Iron Man made his debut was Tony Stark’s two most important employees, his driver/bodyguard Happy Hogan and his secretary Pepper Potts. Pepper was originally a mousy woman who yearned for Tony Stark to marry her, but less than a year after she debuted, she got a makeover and was an attractive redhead who… well, still yearned for Tony to marry her, but even that angle was eventually dropped. Pepper and Happy Hogan were paired off and they eventually married. For decades, Pepper and Happy were off doing their thing while Tony went on living his life, although they occasionally made guest appearances; there were even some flirtations with Tony and Pepper having an affair. After Happy’s death in “Civil War,” Pepper was given more of a spotlight as part of the superhero series, “The Order”.

However, her profile exploded in 2008 when Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed her in the smash hit film, “Ion Man.” Pepper was now a major part of Iron Man’s ongoing series, and she even became a superhero herself for a time (using armor made by Tony and calling herself Rescue). Pepper was pretty much the co-lead of the “Iron Man” trilogy of films, putting her up there with some of Marvel’s most popular characters.

4. Rocket Raccoon

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On the one hand, it is simply amazing that a talking raccoon, who was created as a Beatles pun (after their song “Rocky Raccoon”), is now one of the most popular Marvel characters period. Rocket Raccoon certainly deserves a high position on this list. On the other hand, a wise-cracking anthropomorphic raccoon is clearly a pretty awesome idea for a character, so it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine him becoming so popular. In addition, after making his debut in the pages of “Incredible Hulk,” Rocket Raccoon received a well-received mini-seres by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola, so clearly somebody looked at the character at one point and said, “Hey, this guy could be somebody.” That he only made a handful of appearances over the next two decades shouldn’t take too much away from that clear initial promise.

Like most of the Marvel characters on this list, Rocket Raccoon’s big break happened when he became part of the second “Annihilation” crossover, “Annihilation: Conquest”, which led to the formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Rocket as a prominent member of the team. When that series was adapted into a blockbuster film, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) naturally became a star.

3. Star-Lord

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Peter Quill, Star-Lord, did star in a very well-received lead feature in the pages of “Marvel Preview” by the famed creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin (those three guys worked on some other comic together — it might have involved an X? “X-O Manowar,” maybe?). However, that was in the late 1970s. Quill then made less than five appearances over the next 25 years before finally showing up as a cast member in Keith Giffen’s run on “Thanos” in 2004. Three years later, Giffen brought him into “Annhilation: Conquest,” where Quill ended up forming the new Guardians of the Galaxy.

Amazingly enough, that first “Guardians of the Galaxy” ongoing starring Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Drax did not even make it three years. So Quill went into limbo again. This time, though, he was optioned for a new movie adaptation, along with the rest of the Guardians, so he got another chance at a comic book series. Then, of course, “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out and Chris Pratt’s lead role as Star-Lord suddenly made him one of the major characters in the Marvel Universe. He even got engaged to Kitty Pryde! Pervy evil Professor X would be so jealous!

2. Groot

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While not as famous as either Star-Lord or Rocket Raccoon, Groot gets bonus points (and thus the higher ranking) by virtue of having one of the most remarkable rises to fame of any comic book character ever. Originally introduced as one of the many “monsters of the month” in the pages of “Tales to Astonish” — one of Marvel’s sci-fi books of the late 1950s/early 1960s — Groot made only two appearances over the next 45 years; both of which were as part of a collection of Marvel monsters, not as a solo character. Then Keith Giffen used the character in his short-lived “Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos” monster comic book series.

That usage inspired Giffen to bring him into “Annihilation: Conquest” as part of the “Dirty Dozen” team led by Star-Lord during the event. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had Groot join their newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was Abnett and Lanning who came up with the idea of having Groot only say “I am Groot.” They also continued Giffen’s pairing of Rocket Raccoon and Groot together as best friends. Groot was then part of the team for James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and now a character, who was just an obscure monster for over four decades, is a famous movie hero and even had his own ongoing comic book series!

1. Squirrel Girl

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It’s one thing for a TV series or a film to make an obscure character popular, but to make a D-List character into an A-List character without the benefit of either film or television? That’s darn near impossible! And yet, that’s exactly what has happened with Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl; and that’s why she is #1 on this list.

Squirrel Girl was introduced in a one-off story in the pages of “Marvel Super-Heroes,” where she teamed up with Iron Man and actually defeated Doctor Doom! In 1993, Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald discussed the new characters being introduced in that year’s annuals by explaining how they were built to last, unlike Squirrel Girl (to be fair, he did note that he loved her as a character)! Dan Slott, though, wrote a 2005 mini-series starring the obscure comedic superhero team, the Great Lake Avengers (someday they might make this list) and added Squirrel Girl to the team. Slott decided to use the fact that, since she beat Doctor Doom in her first appearance as her comedic hook, she could beat anyone!

Over the next decade, she slowly began to be used more (Brian Michael Bendis made her Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ nanny) until she received her own acclaimed ongoing series. She is now moving into the world of television, as she has been optioned for a future TV series!

Which current D-List character do you think has the best chance of being an A-Lister in the future? Let us know in the comments!

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