In comics, surprise appearances and abrupt introductions to new heroes are as common as trees. The concept of a deus ex machina is so entrenched in the medium’s tropes that it’s hard for writers to find a way to surprise readers. You can’t shock someone who’s gotten so used to being shocked that it’s practically expected. One tactic that writers have fallen back on since the origin of the theme is to make the surprise a new and exciting youth character that readers can watch grow as a person and hero.
The younger the hero, the longer their shelf life and the more mileage that can be squeezed out of one character. Comic writers have introduced a lot of these super kids over the years, so to narrow them down to 15, some rules have to be set. First off: no teams. Every member from the Runaways, Young Avengers and most of the Teen Titans fill the criteria needed to be on this list, so they’re all too obvious. Characters that were created for and added to these teams later are fair game because they debuted on their own. Secondly, kids means kids and nobody who can legally have a sip of beer.
15. MILES MORALES
At this point Miles Morales has so solidified his place in Marvel cannon that it’s almost hard to remember what a shock it was when, in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, Peter Parker was killed off and a brand-new Spider-Man was introduced. His first appearance was in Ultimate Fallout #4 when he fought the villainous Kangaroo in a Spider-Man costume, immediately accruing accusations of plagiarism and poor-taste from the citizens of New York.
His backstory as a fan inspired by Peter’s death and given powers by a stolen, irradiated spider didn’t come until Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #4 where readers were finally given a name to the face they’d seen only briefly in a comic released months before. Considering his place as the progenitor of Marvel’s push for more diverse characters, his sudden and surprising entrance can easily be forgiven.
14. BART ALLEN
Ah, time travel. What would comics be without you. Bart Allen, aka Impulse, made his first comic book appearance in Flash Vol.2 #91 and was on the cover of the subsequent issue. He was born in the 30th century as a grandchild of Barry Allen and a time-displaced Iris West. His superspeed had the unforeseen side effect of causing him to age rapidly so to fix this problem, Iris sent him back in time to train with his grandfather in the modern day.
Once Flash had fixed the problem, Impulse became another speedster hero, due in part to a convoluted childhood involving a virtual reality which left him reckless and in adverse to danger, causing him to often act on, you guessed it, impulse. In his several years as the youth speedster of the day, he was a major part of the Young Justice and Teen Titans comic lines.
13. KAMALA KHAN
One of the products of the Terrigen Mists, the new Ms. Marvel was born in All-New Marvel NOW! Point One Vol.1 #1. Though an unnamed young female fan had appeared in Captain Marvel Vol.7 #14, her name and character weren’t established until she went against her parents’ wishes and snuck out at night, where she was exposed to the mutating gas and became an inhuman superhero modeled after her idol, the newly-renamed Captain Marvel.
Her millennial-minded personality made her of immediate interest to fans and artists have been able to have fun drawing her polymorphic powers. Since her emergence, she’s joined the Avengers, played a key role in “Civil War II”, and she’s created and led the Champions, All after debuting in the back quarter of a multi-story issue.
12. DAMIAN WAYNE
One of the biggest surprise entrances in recent memory, Damian Wayne emerged in Batman #655, with Grant Morrison reimagining a brief panel of the infant child of Thalia al Ghul and Batman that appeared in the non-canonical Batman: Son of the Demon storyline from 1987. This version of their child was born out of an artificial womb and raised from birth to be a warrior and leader of the League of Assassins.
Batman first met him when he was captured by Thalia and was suspended over Damian’s sword while the estranged son introduced himself. Less than three issues later, he had co-opted one of Jason Todd’s old Robin uniforms and declared himself the newest ward to the Batman. The rest, as they say, is history.
11. QUENTIN QUIRE
In New X-Men #134, a young mutant with one of Marvel’s trademarked alliterative names showed up at the gates of Xavier’s institute and by the end of the issue, he’d become Xavier’s personal protégé. Thus was born the ballad of Quentin Quire, an omega-level mutant who’s mental powers rivaled that of the most powerful telepaths in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that Quentin’s ethics lay in a moral gray area and he “died” after initiated a drug-fueled riot at the school.
This being the X-Men, he returned to life when the Phoenix Force shocked him back into existence. He’s since gone on to be a major player in several X-Men comic lines, including Wolverine and the X-Men and A+X. That’s what happens when you make a good first impression on one of the leading characters of your universe in your very first appearance.
The cloned daughter of Wolverine first appeared in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon in 2003. Her prowess, character arc, and the sheer concept of her existence made her an instant fan favorite and she made her comic debut in the pages of NYX less than a year later. However, the character fans had been waiting to see in comics was not the same girl that Dafne Keen would bring to the big screen 13 years later.
NYX portrayed X-23 as a silent prostitute working primarily with masochistic clients and with a history of self-harm. Though she still shows off her powers and fighting ability by cutting up a gang of thugs in defense of her new friends, readers who hadn’t seen the show were still suddenly introduced to a prostitute with Wolverine’s powers. And those thugs? Sent by her pimp when she ran off on him.
Debuting in Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 in 2014, Pei was conceptualized as a potential sidekick for the long-time hero who had primarily worked either solo or with his contemporaries. She was born and raised in the heavenly realm of K’un-Lun and, in her first few appearances, became the youngest person ever to wield the mystic power of the Iron Fist, almost singlehandedly defeated Davos the Steel Serpent, revived all previous incarnations of the dragon Shou-Lao, and made his most recent avatar her pet dragon, renaming him “Gork” in the process.
After proving her power so early in her life, Danny Rand believed Pei was destined for greatness and took her under to New York to train her. She currently plays a major role in Marvel’s Immortal Iron Fist line.
Supergirl as a character dates back to 1958. Since her initial debut, she’s gone through more revamps, retcons and reimaginings than most other comic characters, at different times being an angel, an extra-dimensional being, or a time-displaced alien. Perhaps her most memorable incarnation was unveiled in Superman/Batman #8. Heralded by a kryptonite meteor shower, a mysterious girl who spoke in a strange tongue wandered through the streets of Gotham before learning she had amazing powers.
This brought her into conflict with Batman who subdued her and took her back to his cave for study. It was there that she met Superman who translated her speech and revealed that this was his cousin, another survivor from Krypton, named Kara Zor-El. Though most fans could have predicted who she was, her debut came without any context and led to a now-iconic storyline.
7. LUNELLA LAFAYETTE
She’s the smartest person in the Marvel Universe. She has one of the most creatively awesome powers of any superhero ever. She played a pivotal role in the new Secret Warriors comic, but Moon Girl debuted out of absolutely nowhere in her own title in 2015. With almost no context or build up, Marvel declared that this new fourth grade girl was more intelligent than Tony Stark, Amadeus Cho and Bruce Banner.
To prove it, she built an interdimensional portal in her first issue and inadvertently got herself a pet tyrannosaurus rex, who it was later revealed she could literally switch minds with. Marvel pushed her to the moon (pun intended) after unceremoniously slapping her IP on the table with the same grace and abruptness of a flash mob.
6. STEPHANIE BROWN
Stephanie Brown has enjoyed a strange and varied career in comics. Though she’s primarily known as the costumed vigilante Spoiler, she also had a notable run as Batgirl and is the only non-Carrie Kelley girl to claim the mantle of Robin, albeit briefly. She got her start, however, in Detective Comics #647 as a minor character who helped Batman and Robin catch her criminal father, the Cluemaster.
But fans got so behind the empathetic and spunky girl that she was given her own hero identity and began to regularly co-star with Tim Drake’s Robin across various titles, often as his partner and love interests. She even was the subject of a teen-pregnancy storyline which was praised for its realistic depiction of the difficulties young women faced in such a fragile situation. All out of a small cameo in a three-issue arc.
5. CASSANDRA SANDSMARK
The second Wonder Girl has a strange origin in comics. Not her in-universe origin, she’s just another demigod child of Zeus augmented with mystic artifacts, but her metaphysical conception. Her first appearance came in Wonder Woman Vol.2 #105 where she acquired her powers and became one of Wonder Woman’s supporting characters. Her momentum didn’t start to pick up steam until her involvement in the Young Justice comic.
When she made her debut in the series, she quickly established herself in a co-leadership role and became one of the team’s powerhouses, regularly acting as a Hail Mary for desperate situations. She took on a more solid leadership position when she joined the Teen Titans and her relationship with Superboy is widely regarded as one of the most fitting unions in the lore. It just goes to show how powerful a little reinvention can be.
4. MINDY MACREADY
Though most will probably remember Chloe Grace Moretz’s rendition of Hit-Girl in 2010’s Kick-Ass, her comic book debut in the series of the same name was equally as memorable. Like in the film, she comes to Kick-Ass’ aid when he fails to intimidate an apartment of gangsters and they begin beating down on him. With her swords, a small smile and a few choice swear words, she easily cleaves through the thugs like a hot knife through butter, giving the already graphic and gory series it’s bloodiest scene at the time.
Though her identity and backstory wouldn’t be revealed until later, her abrupt and powerful introduction instantly made her an abrupt and powerful character, one that quickly became a fan favorite both for her sardonic attitude and physical proficiency.
3. HOPE SUMMERS
Even before she was one of the key members of the X-Men and one of the most powerful mutants in their modern lineup, Hope Summers was still a vital MacGuffin in an important X-Men storyline. First appearing in X-Men #205, Hope was the first mutant child born after the genocidal events of the “House of M” storyline.
Though all the X-Men take note of her importance, two iconic heroes recognize her potential. Cable understands her to be a messianic figure from the future while Bishop remembers her as a demonic warmonger who catapults the world into the apocalypse. To protect the child, Cable uses his damaged time machine to hide her far in the future. She would return as a teenager, but her importance and power were already established from her sheer birth.
2. KLARA PRAST
In Runaways Vol.2, the titular team underwent a mission for a mysterious benefactor that accidentally sent them back to the turn of the 20th century. While trying to figure out how to get back to their own time, they stop a factory fire from killing underage workers. One worker didn’t need their help and used her power to control plants to evacuate several of her coworkers to safety.
This was the first comic appearance of Klara Prast, a mutant from time past who involved herself with the Runaways and traveled with them into the future, becoming their saving grace more times than certain members would care to admit. Despite her abrupt introduction, she was created by Joss Whedon and his writing propelled her to become one of the most beloved characters of the series.
1. JONATHAN KENT
The child of Superman and Lois Lane had long been conceptualized by fans and writers alike, but he only made his comic book entrance in 2015 in Convergence: Superman #2. Born outside of time during Brainiac’s convergence, Jon is brought into the main DC continuity by his parents who raise him in secret from the rest of the superhero community. He only emerges as the new Superboy in Superman Vol.4 #2 and has since made a name for himself outside the shadow of his near-mythic father.
Though young and possibly the most inexperienced hero in the DC Universe, he’s competently rivaled with Robin, impressed the Teen Titans, and even beat Manchester Black, a villain even Superman has had trouble beating in the past. All while being a tween. His build up as a hero was expected, but he’s the son of Superman, his mere existence is a pleasant surprise.
Which of these super kids surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!
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