It’s common knowledge among us lovers of pop culture that young characters can be extremely hit and miss. For every Eleven, Matilda or Damien Wayne, there’s a dozen Wesley Crushers. At their worst, young characters can be whiny, annoying and add little to the story. At best, these characters can add heart and humour, as well as reminding us of the joy and wonder of childhood.
With this in mind, the CBR crew thought it was high time we celebrated the best child characters to grace comic book pages from the last 10 years. These kid wonders have all been chosen for their memorability and depth of character, as well as the significance of the role they play in the stories they are a part of. To avoid confusion all characters chosen for this list are physically 13 years old or younger for at least some or all of the story.
15. KADE KILGORE
Kicking off the countdown is Kade Kilgore, the boy who tore the X-men apart. Making his first appearance in 2011’s “X-men: Schism” #1, Kade set the event in motion by freeing mutant anarchist and general super-powered trouble maker, Kid Omega, from his holding cell in Utopia. What followed was the sad and gradual breaking-up of the hard won Cyclops and Wolverine friendship, which of course resulted in the entire X-men roster becoming divided up between the two would-be leaders.
For his trouble, as well as for murdering his own father (an essential step on the psychopath journey of accession), Kade was crowned the new Black King of the Hellfire club. As well as for his role in Schism, an event whose repercussions are still being felt across the X-Men universe, Kade stands out for his cockiness and sheer bravado. We are, after all, talking about the 12 year old who had the stones to threaten Wolverine!
14. KID VIGILANTE
Back in 2012, Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones’s “Danger Club” brought us a whole cast of engaging kid sidekicks, but none were quite as deep or complex as Kid Vigilante. In a world where all the adult superheroes had mysteriously disappeared, Kid Vigilante took it on himself to pick up the slack left in their absence and lead the remaining child heroes. Kid Vigilante could have simply been another Robin knock-off, of course. Like Robin, he is without powers and has a slew of gadgets; but instead, Walker plays him as serious and troubled. He is a boy forced to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.
As the series progresses, Kid Vigilante continues to remind us that he is up to the challenge of saving the world. Whether it be punching a demi-god with magic knuckle dusters, fighting Cerberus, flying a supersonic jet or navigating the afterlife, this sidekick-turned-hero is up to the task.
13. ANTEUS NEKTON
Antaeus “Ant” Nekton is one-quarter of the Nektons, a family of underwater explorers created by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer. First appearing in “The Deep” volume one: “Here be dragons,” published by Gestalt Comics (and now being re-released by BOOM), Ant may be the youngest of the Nektons, but he is also the bravest.
Ant has grown up as an aquanaut, spending his childhood aboard the titanium-hulled Aronnax submarine. As a result, his passion for the ocean is unmatched. Whether he be training his pet fish Jeffery or exploring the murky depths inside the white knight exo-suit, Ant is most at home when he is surrounded by water. Among a family of adventurers, he stands out in his thirst for adventure and the unknown. He may be a tad naive, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in passion. Plus his enthusiasm and positivity have saved his family’s skin on more than one occasion!
12. ERIN TEING
In 2016, several months before the internet blew up over “Stranger Things,” Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang brought us their own nostalgia-soaked childhood adventure set in the ’80s. Vaughn and Chiang’s “Paper Girls” is chock full of charm and oddly heartwarming moments, most of which are brought to us by the series’ protagonist Erin Teing. Erin has an instant likeability about her; she’s innocent, she’s relatable, but most of all she feels authentic.
In Erin, we are reminded of the wonders of childhood, the bitter-sweetness of growing up and the enigma of being a pre-teen. Like other 12 old kids, she wants to be an adult and longs to be taken seriously while not yet being ready to adopt the other Paper Girls’ more cynical takes on the world. She is the personification of both wanting and not wanting to grow up. She is also more than this. In a series that could otherwise be overcome by time travel shenanigans and sci-fi rhetoric, Erin provides “Paper girls” with an undeniable emotional core.
11. MIKEY RHODES
Like Harry Potter or the Pevensies before him, Mikey Rhodes’ life is changed forever when he was pulled into a world of magic. Before he became the hulking barbarian we meet in 2014’s “Birthright” #1, Mikey was just a normal fun-loving kid. But everything changed for Mikey when he was pulled into a fantastical realm and dragged into a conflict between the forces of good and the evil God King Lore. Rising to the challenge, Mikey soon becomes the quintessential hero: brave, selfless and just a tad cocky, as he treads the hero’s journey. That is, until he makes a pact with the God King.
What differentiates Mikey from those that have come before him is that we know where he ends up, and the terrible pact he has to make in order to get there. This adds an undeniable weight to everything young Mikey does as we anticipate his journey to the dark-side.
10. VIOLET MARLOCKE
When it comes to child protagonists, they don’t get more adorable than Violet Marlocke. The hero of Craig Thompson’s 2015 all-ages graphic novel “Space Dumplins,” Violet is forced to take on the universe when her father mysteriously goes missing. Armed with only her two best friends and an old space trike, this plucky young lady is forced to confront all the weirdness and wonder Thompson’s wacky universe has to offer.
Violet is a great example of what young characters should be. She’s fun, smart and brave, but most importantly, she plays a key role in the events that unfold. Above all else, “Space Dumplins” is very much Violet’s story. Even among the young reader-friendly messages touting the importance of education and family, Violet remains a fully realized character and not just a vehicle for these messages. Hidden underneath her youthful features and purple hair lies a complex person struggling with being forced to grow up.
9. BARBARA THORSEN
One of the older characters in this countdown, Barbara came into the comic book world back in 2008, in Joe Kelly and Jm Ken Niimura’s “I Kill Giants.” For many comic readers, Barbara is instantly relatable. She’s not cool or popular; she’s the weird kid in the corner obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy and monsters. Through this obsession, Barbara’s emotional struggles take on physical form, as a giant titan wading toward her from the ocean.
Through Barbara’s journey, we get a thrilling dissection of the good and bad of fantasy and fiction; an exploration of not only its ability to help us cope, but also to isolate us in our own world. Beyond this love of fantasy, Barbara stands out for her confidence. Unlike a lot of nerdy characters, Barbara is unapologetic about her obsession and although she grows throughout the story, she does it without compromising who she is.
8. SIMON POONI
Simon Pooni is a modern day Billy Batson. Bestowed with incredible powers by a magic space monkey (only in comics!), Simon gains the ability to turn into the superhero Superior at will. Mark Millar’s 2010 series, “Superior,” takes the idea of Shazam and reworks it for a modern audience. It’s everything you love about the DC hero, only with Millar’s patented blend of over-the-top violence and swearing.
As well as being only 12 years old, Simon also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, making him unable to move his legs. This gives his transformation into his superhuman form even more weight and importance, increasing his reluctance to give up his powers when it is revealed that the space monkey is actually a soul-stealing demon! Like all heroes, Simon makes the right call, forfeiting his soul in order to save the world. In Simon, we witness the powerful combination of Superman’s powers coupled with a child’s black-and-white sense of right and wrong.
Accompanied by his trusty “balloon” and pet “pig” (which are neither a balloon nor a pig), Babylon is off on an adventure to discover the world. Well, that’s if he doesn’t end it first. Making his debut in 2013’s “East of West” #5 by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, Babylon is a bright spark in a dark twisted world. The son of Death, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, Babylon is destined to bring on the end times; however, that doesn’t stop him from being charming and adorable.
Even though he is aware that he is the beast of the apocalypse, Babylon manages to remain upbeat and undaunted by the task ahead. In a world filled with characters all too jaded and weary, Babylon’s naivety, ironically, casts him as a sort of beacon of hope throughout the series. He is a welcome reprieve from the heavy-handed scheming and plotting undertaken by the series’ other key characters. Sure, he will probably bring on the end of the world, but until then Babylon is downright charming.
6. LUNELLA LAYFAYETTE
Lunella Lafayette, a.k.a Moon Girl, is more than just a kid; she’s a preteen super-genius. From the first time we met here in 2015’s “Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur” #1, it’s clear she’s not your average fourth grader. First and foremost, Lunella is an inventor and women of science, a person of reason and rationality who can solve any problem with the right gadget. Oh, and she also happens to be best friends with the giant red T-rex known as Devil Dinosaur.
Although she may have genius-level intelligence, Lunella stands out for another reason; she is persistent and determined. When confronted with her Inhuman origins, instead of simply accepting her fate, she fights to remain human using her scientific prowess to try and find a solution. On the bravery note, she once fought the Totally Awesome Hulk with a spring loaded boxing glove. So, you know, if nothing else the kid’s got guts.
5. JONATHAN KENT (SUPERBOY)
Jonathan Kent is the son of Superman, what more can be said? Well a lot more as it turns out. Making is first appearance in his in 2015’s “Convergence: Superman” #2, Jonathan Kent is a Kryptonian-human hybrid; the Son of Clark and Lois. He comes across as a sort of amalgam of Robin and Superman; a superpowered kid with Superman’s sense of right and wrong but lacking experience and maturity. This becomes very obvious in “Superman” #1, when Jonathan tries to free the family cat from the clutches of an eagle with his laser vision, only to kill both animals in the process.
Although he is remorseful and feels guilt for his actions, it is clear he is still coming to grips with how to use his powers safely. Jonathan gives us a glimpse into what a young Superman might have been like had he had a mentor with powers like him. He encapsulates everything we love about Superman without being burdened by all the history and legacy.
4. HOPE SUMMERS
The first mutant born post-M-Day, Hope Summers carries the future of the mutant race on her shoulders. Debuting in back in November of 2007 in “X-Men” #205, Hope Summers would be a key component of the X-Men universe (and the wider Marvel universe) for many years to come. But before she played a key role in “Avenger’s Vs. X-men” or starred in her own series, “Generation Hope,” she was just a kid trudging around the far future with Cable. So, you know, just a regular childhood.
Under the tutelage and protection of Cable, Hope slowly bloomed into a capable survivor. Whether it was in hand-to-hand combat or patching Cable up when he got shot, Hope rose to the challenges of living in the far future. She also may have taken on some Cable’s stubbornness in the process! Sure, she may not be up to much in the current X-Men continuity, but for a while there, the destiny of the entire mutant race hinged on Hope. For that reason alone, she deserves a place in this countdown.
In a book full of noteworthy characters, Sophie (previously Slave Girl) stands out. Watching her grow and develop as a character has been one of the highlights of reading Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ “Saga” each month. When we first meet Sophie is 2012’s “Saga” #4, she is a slave on the seedy planet Sextellion; a child forced into a perverse world. This all changes when she is rescued by a bounty hunter known as The Will and renamed from Slave Girl to Sophie. It was a key stage in her (and his) transformation from victim to active hero.
As the series goes on, Sophie becomes her own person: thoughtful and sensitive, yet capable. She slowly sheds her past as a slave to become a key member of The Will’s ragtag squad and a foil to his jaded cynicism. What is even more heartwarming to watch is her friendship with Lying cat, who becomes the Chewbacca to her Han Solo.
2. NUMBER FIVE
Coming in at number two, it’s everyone’s favourite lil’ time-travelling killing machine, Number Five. Also known as The Boy, Number Five made his first appearance in Gerad Way and Gabriel Ba’s “Umbrella Academy #1” back in September of 2007. Although physically ten years old, Number Five is mentally much older; he is in fact a 60 year old man trapped in the body of a boy. To make matters weirder, he also can’t age, no doubt a side effect of his attempt to travel backwards in time.
But it isn’t all bad for Number five. With his advanced cognitive age comes experience, skill and sass. In short, this 10 year old boy is not too be trifled with. This becomes particularity apparent in “Umbrella Academy Volume 2: Dallas” when he effortlessly mows down countless goons from the Temps Aeternalis, or later in the volume when he successfully confronts and kills an older, deadlier version of himself.
1. HIT GIRL
When it comes to child characters from the last 10 years, they don’t get bigger, or more foul mouthed, than Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s Hit Girl. Bursting onto the pages of “Kick-Ass “#3 back in 2008, Hit Girl made her debut carving limbs off goons in flashes of gore and ultra-violence. Comic books would never be the same again.
Trained from a young age to be a ruthless vigilante by her father, Big Daddy, she straddles a fine line between hero and psychopath. Although she lives by a strict code of honor, she’s no Batman, and has no problem brutally murdering even the lowliest of criminals. Throw in her potty mouth and you have a character that is equal parts confrontational and controversial, but also very, very memorable. Sure, she may not be for everyone but there is no denying Hit girl is an interesting and iconic character who has cemented her way into the comic book zeitgeist.
Who are your favorite child characters of the last decade? Let us know in the comments!
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