Superheroics are a young man’s game. That’s thanks to the elasticity of comic book time: Batman and Superman, for example, are pushing 78 and 79 (respectively) for us, based on their first published appearances. In the reality of the comics, however, they’re nary aged a day. If anything, they’ve aged backwards, thanks to reboots and relaunches and the like. There are countless other spandex-clad heroes who have been fighting crime for decades without gaining any extra wrinkles in the process, too.
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In the old days, DC even had a policy of “retiring” heroes as they aged out, replacing them with younger characters who adopted their mantels. Younger Flashes and Green Lanterns were among the so-called “legacy” characters, later adopted by Marvel with the likes of Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales. Which means there are a handful of golden oldies out there, if you know where to look. Some have even remained in-costume, dedicated to battling evil alongside fading eyesight and liver spots. Here are 15 of the best octogenarian heroes.
15. NICK FURY
One of the other few exceptions to Marvel’s rule of not aging their characters (besides, say, allowing Spider-Man to graduate from high school and the original “X-Men” team to be aged out and replaced by the “New Mutants”) has always been Nick Fury. Originally headlining the World War II escapades of “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos,” the army veteran continued serving his country following his discharge from active duty, first as a C.I.A. agent and then as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the pages of “Strange Tales.”
Readers followed Fury as he rose through the ranks from Agent to Director of the clandestine intelligence agency. Besides artificially extending his life through the use of Life Model Decoys, robot doppelgangers who were often sent in Fury’s stead into life-or-death situations, the years clearly began taking their toll on Fury, who was old enough not only to be the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. but also to have an adult son of the same name to eventually take his position. Plus, there’s always the tell-tale streaks of white at the temples to signify his advanced age.
14. THE FLASH (JAY GARRICK)
The original Flash was at first written off, following his replacement by Barry Allen in the scarlet speedster role in the Silver Age, as a resident of an alternate reality. Much like the youngster who usurped him, Jay Garrick received his powers of super-speed and agility following a freak lab accident. From there, he adopted the secret identity of The Flash, fighting crime using his new abilities while clad in a sweater with a lightning bolt emblazoned on it and a winged, tin helmet modeled on that of the Roman god Mercury.
Jay was later folded into the mainstream DC Universe, where he had long since retired from crime fighting, ceding the floor first to Barry and then Wally West as they took on the name of The Flash. Beneath the silver helmet was an equally mercurial head of hair. He and wife Joan remained in the superhero game in a less hands-on way when they took on guardianship of young new speedster Bart Allen, a task which no doubt shaved a couple of years off of their remaining lifespans. He’s popped up, looking a little more mature than Grant Gustin, in “The Flash” CW show as well!
13. BLUE MARVEL
The one tell-tale sign Marvel will usually allow for their slightly more aged characters is that bit of white hair, just above the top of the ears, which has marked Reed Richards as an “older” superhero since the introduction of the “Fantastic Four” at the beginning of the so-called Marvel Age. Another super scientist who boasts the unusual hair coloring, a clue to his decades of in-universe service protecting the planet, is Adam Brashear. Touchingly, a childhood creation of actor and comic book writer Kevin Grevioux he eventually brought to print, the Blue Marvel certainly looks his age.
Introduced in the pages of “Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel” and later brought into Al Ewing’s (and collaborators) “Mighty Avengers” and “Ultimates” line-ups, Brashear is a veteran of the Korean War and former college all-star quarterback who was subjected to huge doses of radiation following an experiment that poked into the Negative Zone. His big brain only got bigger as a result of his tinkering, with added strength, flight, invulnerability and molecular manipulation powers. He’s super-powerful, incredibly smart and wise even beyond his many years.
12. GREEN LANTERN (ALAN SCOTT)
The story of the original Green Lantern is not a million miles away from that of the original Flash. Alan Scott’s magic ring, inspired by Wagner’s operatic cycle, was of more mystical than alien provenance. Made from a meteor which fell to Earth centuries ago, the titular Lantern eventually found its way into the hands of young railway engineer Alan, the green flame within instructing him on how to fashion a ring which would be powered by the lamp with which he would do battle with the bad guys.
As with the later space-cop Green Lanterns, Alan Scott could make “solid light projections” using the ring, could fly, and had a peculiar weakness (wood, rather than the color yellow.) Like Jay, he was eventually integrated from the parallel Earth-One into regular continuity, where he settled into having an older man’s paunch and adopted the name Sentinel, serving in the JSA along with his fellow elder superheroes. His body may have aged, but his mind — and memory of the Green Lantern oath — remained strong.
11. DOCTOR FATE (KENT NELSON)
Superheroes may cease active duty, handing down their costumes and alter egos to young whippersnappers with appropriate power sets, but they always end up getting roped back into saving the world. A whole team formed around the former occupants of Earth-2, the elderly heroes who nonetheless still have the power to fight evil. Joining Garrick and Scott in the Justice Society of America was the similarly wizened original Doctor Fate, Kent Nelson. That’s a guy who had already been around the block a few times before he even got mystical powers.
The son of an archaeologist who happened upon some mystical doodads during the investigation of an ancient tomb in the ‘20s, Kent was a founding member of the JSA and the original Justice League International, became a paratrooper in World War II, and quit to become an archaeologist himself for a while before getting convinced to return to the superhero fold. He had the upper hand on some of his other golden oldies, since his helmet covered his face and his magic powers helped him stay young. Until they deserted him, anyway, and he eventually died of natural causes.
10. CHARLES XAVIER
Whilst DC are almost constantly performing in-universe retcons to ensure the majority of their tentpole talent look younger than their years, Marvel play a little more loose with it. With their patented scaling timeline, Frank Castle has been alternately a Vietnam and now Gulf War veteran before mining that experience as The Punisher. Other characters, however, have retained their wrinkles, as is the case with the two figureheads of the mutant conflict in the pages of “X-Men.”
Magneto’s origin story will always remain in the concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Europe, although he has been de-aged a couple of times in the interim to explain why he doesn’t look like an 80-year-old. Professor X, meanwhile? Well, we suppose he has died and been brought back a couple of times. Those missing years probably don’t count. Still canonical in Xavier’s backstory is his engagement to Moira MacTaggert being broken off thanks to his being drafted into the Korean War. Chuck’s gotta at least be an octogenarian himself.
9. WILDCAT (TED GRANT)
The final, senior member of the modern JSA team was Ted Grant, better known by his costumed identity of Wildcat. Already a force to be reckoned with before he got any superpowers, being a champion boxer with criminal connections, Grant went on the straight and narrow around the same time that he was magically (and to this day, somewhat inexplicably) endowed with nine lives. You know, like a cat has. That’s partially explained his longevity, and characteristic comic book propensity to return from the dead.
Like the rest of the more mature members of the JSA’s roster, he acted as something of a mentor to younger, impressionable superheroes. Unlike the original Flash, Green Lantern and Doctor Fate, Wildcat retained some old-fashioned attitudes and behaviors he really shouldn’t be passing on to the next generation. Basically, he was your well-meaning but brusque uncle who says a lot of inappropriate things about minorities and is creepy around women. Not everybody gets more wise with experience!
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA
Some people wear their life experiences on their faces. Bodies pockmarked by age, wrinkles around the mouth delineating a lifetime of smiles, the ones etched into the forehead a lifetime of frowns. Then there are those who become frozen in a block of ice while fighting a Nazi supervillain and are thawed out in the present day, retaining the rugged good looks and all-American military physique which only a unique Super Soldier Serum can provide. Those are the lucky ones.
Steve Rogers continued his World War II career as Captain America up until recently, when his life-extending serum was removed from his veins and he finally, at last, looked his age. The wrinkled, elderly Rogers was still an expert fighter, using his military prowess and sharp mind as he took control of S.H.I.E.L.D. while sidekick Sam Wilson took up the mantle. He’s back to looking young and trim again now, but don’t let that fool you. Cap’s an octogenarian superhero par excellence. And par vieux.
7. GENERAL GLORY
Then there’s the slightly less sympathetic portrayal of a World War II veteran who has become transposed into the present day. Steve Rogers sometimes struggled to a world completely different from his own, but never played for laughs quite as much as with General Glory. An obvious parody of Captain America by Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, Joseph Aloysius Jones debuted during J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen’s classic, comedic run on “Justice League International.”
A childhood favorite of JLI member Guy Gardner, Glory appears as a grumpy old man whom the errant Green Lantern beats in an auction for a classic ‘40s “General Glory” comic book. It’s all very meta. Reading some words from the comic, the elderly gent is transformed into the masked hero, a gross parody of American wartime patriotism which is a little harder to swallow in peacetime. Jones eventually passed the name onto Donovan Wallace, his hospital roommate, following a heart attack caused by the strain of transforming into his alter ego.
Placing an exact age on Nathan Summers is difficult. For one thing, while he is most often depicted as existing in the same time period as the rest of the X-Men (or else he wouldn’t have chance to lead “X-Force,” and whatever else he’s been up to since the mid-’90s,) he’s actually a transplant from a dystopian future. Is there any other kind, in X-Men comics? In multiple instances he’s leaped back into the present day with some dire warning about a horrible time which awaits Marvel’s mutants, unless they make sure to change one very minor thing. Or kill one very minor character, more often than not.
Cable himself, in his own subjective time of being alive, is at this point the veteran of several major future conflicts, a survivor of a techno-organic virus which would’ve killed a lesser man and also survived despite being the son of the disaster-prone Scott Summers and Jean Grey (or rather, her clone) who was sent to grow up in the future for some reason. The guy looks plenty grizzled, has had some limbs replaced by cybernetic ones and has a shock of white hair. Either he’s super old, or just extremely traumatized, both of which are equally likely. Let’s go with old.
5. X-O MANOWAR
Why should the Big Two have all the later years fun, though? X-O Manowar, the creation of former Marvel head honcho Jim Shooter in collaboration with artist Bob Layton, is one of the headline names for Valiant Comics. He wields untold power and nigh-invulnerability thanks to being fused with an ancient suit of alien armor. He’s also several centuries old, having been born during the height of the Roman Empire.
Aric of Dacia, the man behind the mask, is therefore more of a centeoctogenarian, to coin a term. He really has seen it all, having been abducted by a UFO in 402 A.D. and returning to an unrecognizable 21st century Earth thanks to the effects of time dilation following interspace travel. X-O Manowar is therefore the elder statesman of this list of elderly superheroes, without crossing over and being one of these ancient eternal types. He looks good for his age, too, having never lost that Visigoth physique in the intervening decades.
4. SUPERMAN (KINGDOM COME)
“What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” Good question. Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo’s classic “Action Comics” story looked at what would happen if do-gooder Superman was forced to face a new generation of trigger-happy superheroes. It was a direct reference to Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s “Kingdom Come,” the miniseries which depicted a dystopian future where such a confrontation didn’t reaffirm the Man of Steel’s way of doing things. In fact, it ruined him.
In “Kingdom Come,” Superman has been hardened, his hair grayed. He has retired following the murder of Lois Lane by The Joker, and then the supervillain’s unlawful killing by new vigilante “hero” Magog. He’s later coaxed back into action, beating down the bloodthirsty younger generation into submission, locking up many in his “gulag” and trying to convert others to his way of thinking. It’s the Baby Boomer Supes, who thankfully snaps out of his hardline nostalgia by the story’s end, but keeps the elderly waistline and actual, non-secret identity-related need for eyeglasses.
3. OLD MAN LOGAN
Wolverine, as readers have known him since his introduction in 1974’s “The Incredible Hulk” #180, has long since been replaced. Following his death and then the reality-shaking “Secret Wars” crossover, it’s Logan’s clone-daughter Laura that’s worn the iconic yellow uniform. Meanwhile, the original Wolverine has resurfaced in the form of Old Man Logan, an alternate-reality X-Man who is finally showing his age. Even more so than recent Hugh Jackman big screen version.
Thanks to Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert’s “Origin” miniseries, we know definitively that Logan — or James Howlett, to use his given name — has been around much longer than his rugged good looks suggested. Thanks to his heightened healing factor, he was pushing a century before “Death of Wolverine.” Old Man Logan, as the name suggests, is even older, with the classic muttonchops gone silver with age. He might be a little rusty, but his claws sure aren’t, as the violence of both the “Logan” film and Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original “Old Man Logan” miniseries will attest.
2. RED TORNADO (MA HUNKEL)
The modern-day Red Tornado would definitely be about ready to start cashing pension checks, were it not for the fact that he was a semi-humanoid from the planet Rann. It’s not clear if alien fusions of man and android qualify for social security. No, we’re talking about Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado and one of the earliest examples of American superheroes. Clad in long johns and a cooking pot on her head, she first appeared during comics’ Golden Age, as a comedic character in the gag strip “The Cyclone Kids,” printed in “All-American Comics.”
She may also have been the very first woman superhero, although when in disguise, she pretended to be a man. The first transvestite superhero, too, then! A plump housewife whose crimefighting was inspired by her son’s love of comic books, she was reintroduced into the modern-day DC Universe as a no-nonsense grandma and inspiration to the Justice Society of America. Also, she once beat up a man whilst dressed as Santa Claus, so she’s not to be messed with, even given her mature years.
1. AUNT MAY
“Assistant Editor’s Month” was a Marvel publicity gimmick from 1984, where the “regular” editorial team took the month off, leaving their seconds-in-command to drop the ball and allow for some very silly comic books. There was an issue of “Avengers” where the superhero team met David Letterman, a snow-bound “Alpha Flight” story by John Byrne which consisted of almost entirely blank white panels. And then there was “Marvel Team-Up” #137, which saw Aunt May become a cosmically-powerful herald of Galactus.
Yes, that Aunt May. Together with Franklin (son of Sue and Reed) Richards, the doddering old adoptive parent of Peter Parker took up the pages of a book which usually saw Spider-Man teaming up with another costumed hero of the Marvel Universe. A weakened Galactus called upon Franklin to become his new herald, only for babysitter May to step in. Using her new cosmic powers, she finds a Twinkie-shaped planet for her giant purple boss to eat. “Not a Hoax! Not a What If! Not an Imaginary Story!” This was, and presumably still is, canon! Aunt May, under the name Golden Oldie, was for a brief moment one of the most powerful octogenarians in comic books.
Who’s your favorite super senior citizen? Let us know in the comments!