Ah, the joke character. A time honored tradition. Joke characters can be found in TV, movies, video games and certainly comic books, and they exist solely to serve as a punchline. These characters aren’t designed to be taken seriously; no, they are fated to live out their days as the perpetual butt of the joke. But that doesn’t mean that every joke character stays a joke character. In fact, there are plenty of silly, stupid, or just plain ridiculous characters that managed to become legitimate heavy hitters.
Whether it’s an enterprising writer seeing the potential of a character, or a community of fans that see something in a character that the original creator didn’t, plenty of joke characters have managed to make the transition into more serious roles. And some of these ridiculous characters even managed to become fan favorites, with movies, TV shows, and tie-ins aplenty; after all, who would have expected a talking space raccoon with a gun to become a legitimate hit? So, join CBR as we take a look back at the characters that managed to shake off their punchline origins and become more than the butt of the joke. These are 15 superheroes that went from punchline to powerhouse.
15. CAPTAIN CARROT
Captain Carrot answers a simple question that no one ever asked: What if Superman was a cartoon rabbit? As the leader of the Amazing Zoo Crew, Captain Carrot fights to protect the wacky animal inhabitants of Earth-C. A super powered bunny that derives his power from “cosmic carrots,” Captain Carrot wasn’t designed as a serious hero, but leave it to Grant Morrison to turn that concept into a multiverse-protecting warrior.
During the events of The Multiversity, Carrot is one of several heroes plucked from throughout the multiverse to search for the missing Monitor, Nix Uotan. After aiding his fellow heroes in saving the multiverse from the Gentry, Carrot is recruited to join “Operation Justice Incarnate,” where the righteous rabbit is tasked with protecting the Multiverse from any threat that might put existence in peril. From super powered Busy Bunny stand-in to multiverse protecting hero, it’s been a long, strange trip for Captain Carrot.
Foolkiller had the deck stacked against him from his inception; after all, with a name that evokes images of a murderous Mr. T, it was a little tough to take Foolkiller seriously. But this is just what Foolkiller creator Steve Gerber wanted. Foolkiller was designed as a ridiculous pastiche of overzealous comic book vigilantes, created solely to die an issue after debuting.
But Foolkiller would later be revived as a more serious, much more murder-happy hero, becoming the kind of character he was originally created to mock. Foolkiller would rack up a serious body count over the years as various individuals took on the mantle, with certified crazy person/licensed therapist Kurt Gerhardt currently utilizing the name. Foolkiller has come a long way from a walking punchline to a street level vigilante on par with The Punisher… well, almost anyway.
The Main Man. The Ultimate Bastich. The Last Czarian. No matter what you know him as, you know Lobo. Lobo has smoked, fought, and porked his way across the galaxy, alternating between playing hero and villain. But long before he was the bastich we all know and love, Lobo had a significantly goofier introduction to the world.
Making his first appearance in Omega Men #3, Lobo rocked a garish purple and orange bodysuit, topped off with a slicked back hairdo that was less “badass” and more plain old “bad.” Lobo was billed as a major threat to the Omega Men, but his ridiculous appearance made him tough to take seriously. Lobo would later be rebooted, receiving his famous leather vest and cigar, becoming the ultra violent Main Man we all know and love.
In one of Thor’s weirder adventures, the Asgardian was transformed into a frog by his scheming half-brother Loki. Thor becomes the “Frog Of Thunder,” fights evil rats in Central Park, and eventually reverts to his human form. While many expected this to be the last of “Throg,” a new character would eventually inherit the mantle of the Frog Of Thunder, and would even manage to take on Thanos himself without croaking.
Simon Walterson (a reference to the character’s creator, Walter Simonson) would be transformed into a frog, taking up an itty bitty Mjolnir (appropriately named “Frogjolnir”) before going on to lead the Pet Avengers, a team composed of various animals from across the Marvel U. During an adventure concerning the Infinity Gems, the team runs afoul of Thanos, managing to hold the Mad Titan at bay before using the gems to strand Thanos in an alternate universe. Now, Throg leads the Pet Avengers in battle, and is always ready to lend his pint size power in a ribbiting adventure.
Skeets has severed as the loyal right-hand robot of Booster Gold since 1986, helping the hapless hero in his fight for attention. As a floating gold egg, Skeets wasn’t exactly designed to strike fear into the hearts of men. Skeets preferred to let Booster do the heavy lifting, while Skeets would chime in and help the hero save the day. But an unfortunate run-in with a pint-sized villain turned Skeets from sidekick into a reality-threatening terror.
During the events of 52, Skeets is infested by Mister Mind, who amplifies Skeets’ power levels and uses the robot to wage a covert war on the universe. With Mister Mind at the helm, Skeets was able to torture Waverider, jump through time, and absorb the Phantom Zone itself. Skeets/Mister Mind is eventually defeated, but the DC universe came very close to meeting its end thanks to a museum robot.
There’s no other way to put it: the Silver Age of comics were super weird. Though he was envisioned as a dark vigilante, Batman was roped into some downright strange bizarre, and just plain weird stories in the ’60s, which were clearly a hell of a time. While Bats remained a fan favorite character during this period, his adventures skewed more to the comical and silly then the dark and serious stories fans best know the character for these days.
After all, it’s a little tough to take a character seriously when stories involve the crime fighter being turned into a human fish or a straight-up baby. But despite his ridiculous early stories, Batman would transition from a kitschy punchline into the brooding, badass vigilante we all know and love.
9. ROCKET RACOON
Who would have thought a space faring raccoon named after a Beatles song would go on to become one of the most beloved characters in the Marvel Universe, let alone the Marvel Cinematic Universe? When Rocket Raccoon debuted in 1985, he was a poor man’s Bucky O’Hare, fated to fade into obscurity after his four-issue miniseries. But when Rocket remerged in 2007, he was a very different raccoon than he had been in 1985.
Gone were the wacky talking animals adventures; now, Rocket was a tactical genius, renowned for his love of giant guns and giant explosions, tasked with protecting the universe as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Rocket is a certified badass, able to shoot his way out of just about any sticky situation. He’s come a long way from his humble, thoroughly goofy origins.
8. SQUADRON SUPREME
Marvel and DC have been taking potshots at each other for decades through proxy characters. The concept is simple: create a character that is strikingly similar to a character found at the competition, and then use this character to mock the rival company. This is exactly how the Squadron Supreme began. The thinly veiled send-up of the Justice League of America started as a team of dastardly villains, but as time went on, the Squadron Supreme grew into their own very different, very powerful thing.
Despite being written as a one-off gag, the Squadron Supreme went on to conquer Earth-712. Eventually, characters from various universal variations of the team made the jump the main Marvel U, with Superman stand-in Hyperion joining the Avengers and Batman proxy Nighthawk becoming a ruthless vigilante fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised. The Squadron Supreme used a joke origin to become serious fan favorites.
When you’re a mutant, maybe you’ll luck out and get a cool super power, like bone claws or telepathy. Or if you’re an unlucky shlub like Barnell Bohusk, you draw the mutation short straw and get stuck with a hideous bird-like appearance. The mutant known as Beak served as the perpetual punchline in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, regularly being teased for his ridiculous appearance. But as time went on, Beak graduated from bit player to certified hero.
Despite being near useless in a battle, Beak never backed down, helping his fellow X-Students survive attacks and even attacking Magneto with a baseball bat. Beak would be plucked from time to serve as a member of the reality hopping Exiles, only to lose his mutation and don a flight suit, taking the name Blackwing and serving as a member of the New Warriors. Beak fought, tooth and nail (well, beak and claw), to prove his worth, and in the process established himself as a tough, competent hero.
There are ridiculous character creation stories, and then there is Deadpool. Created as an original character by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, the duo noticed that the mercenary was remarkably similar to the one-eyed Teen Titans baddie Deathstroke. As a joke, the pair dubbed the character “Deadpool” (similar to Deathstroke,” ) and gave the character the real name of “Wade Wilson,” a play on Deathstroke’s name “Slade Wilson.”
Despite these tongue-in-cheek origins, Deadpool has gone on to become one of the most prominent characters in the Marvel universe, making a name for himself through his violent tendencies, motor mouthed quips, seriously deranged sense of humor and ability to break the fourth wall. Deadpool might have begun life as a quasi-parody, but the Merc With The Mouth is no joke, becoming a hugely successful film star with a highly-anticipated sequel coming soon!
5. WONDER DOG
Starting life as the wacky animal sidekick on the classic cartoon Super Friends, Wonder Dog was never meant to be anything but a comedic side character. But this didn’t stop writer Sean McKeever from giving Wonder Dog a new terrifying origin in Teen Titans. Initially joining the team under the guise of being the loyal dog of teen geniuses Wendy and Marvin, it soon comes to light that Wonder Dog is more than he appears.
In actuality, the seemingly loyal mutt is a hellhound devoted to Ares’ son Lord Lycus, planted on the team to kill Wonder Girl. Wonder Dog transforms into a slobbering monstrosity and rips Marvin’s throat out, before being killed by the Titans. No word on when we’re getting a grim and gritty Jabberjaw reboot, but after Wonder Dog’s ridiculous transformation, it’s only a matter of time.
4. MISTER MIND
This bug eyed alien inch worm boasts formidable mind control and hypnosis powers, but it’s tough to get too scared of an itty bitty green worm wearing coke bottle glasses. Mister Mind might have formed the Monster Society of Evil and come close numerous times to wiping out the Marvel Family, but he never got the respect he felt he deserved. Turns out, all he had to do to get people to pay attention to him was metamorphose into a terrifying creature capable of consuming universes.
During the events of 52, Mister Mind transforms into a monstrosity that feeds on reality itself. Mind plans on devouring the Multiverse, and comes very close to wiping out all of time, but is ultimately defeated by Booster Gold. Mind has since reverted to his original form, but for a brief moment, a worm in glasses came very close to wiping out all known existence.
3. THE ORB
The Orb’s whole shtick is he has an eyeball for a head. Sometimes he drives a motorcycle, sometimes he wields a gun, but mostly, he just has a giant, unblinking eye for a noodle. The Orb spent years as an “Oh yeah, that character exists” kind of villain, popping up to be trounced by the forces of good. But after the events of Original Sin, The Orb found himself graduating from Z-Grade punchline to all seeing demigod.
After the murder of Uatu The Watcher, The Orb manages to get his hands on one of Uatu’s gouged-out all seeing eyes, eventually absorbing the eye into his body. With Uatu’s eye, The Orb can see all of time, which he uses to influence others into committing crimes in his name. The Orb might still be a weird guy with a giant eyeball for a head, but he’s definitely a guy with a giant eyeball for a head that should be feared.
You would be hard-pressed to find a superhero more universally mocked than Aquaman. With his bright orange costume, his seemingly useless-on-land super powers, and a string of lame cartoon appearances, Aquaman has built up a reputation as a poor excuse for a superhero. But Arthur Curry has managed to claw his way back from C-Grade dork into a brave, ruthless, thoroughly awesome warrior of the seas.
Gone are the days of Aquaman riding seahorses and surfing on dolphins; these days, Aquaman prefers a trident and a solid right hook to solve his problems. Aquaman has the entire kingdom of Atlantis at his beck and call, along with the deadliest creatures in the Seven Seas. He might still have a less than sterling public perception, but with Jason Momoa playing him in Justice League, he is sure to finally get the a tough-as-nails hero cred he deserves!
1. SQUIRREL GIRL
Squirrel Girl, as her name implies, has the uncanny power to command squirrels, as well as the proportionate strength and speed of said squirrels. From her first appearance in 1992, Doreen Green was seen as a one-off joke character, fated to fade into obscurity. But with her ridiculous power set and even sillier costume, she has managed to make fans nuts about this weirdo Marvel character.
Despite her wacky gimmick, Squirrel Girl has managed to defeat the likes of Dr. Doom, M.O.D.O.K., and even Thanos. Thanks to her laundry list of seemingly implausible victories, Squirrel Girl has netted herself spots on the U.S.Avengers. This utterly ridiculous character that no one expected to stick around has not only become a fan favorite, she has managed to cement herself as one of the strongest underdogs in the MCU.
Which other C-list characters can you think of that made the A-Team? Let us know in the comments!
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