The '90s were a weird period for comic books, and for Marvel Comics in particular. The industry started the decade with the biggest boom period it had ever experienced, with the collector's mentality fostered by the publishers fuelling a speculator market in which readers bought multiple copies of books they thought would be worth serious money one day. 1991's X-Men #1 sold a mind-boggling 8.1 million copies and yet, by 1996, the bubble had burst and Marvel filed for Chapter 11. They were saved by a merger with ToyBiz, and the end of the decade saw some stability restored to the company.
The quality of Marvel's comics in this decade was therefore, understandably, a mixed bag. Some of the comics published in the early '90s are awkward to look back upon today, filled with terrible grim n' gritty excesses and disproportional body parts. The mid-'90s comics were generally a creative low point, but by the time Joe Quesada took over as editor of the Marvel Knights line in 1998, the stories improved exponentially. He eventually became Editor-In-Chief in 2000 thanks to his hard work in helping Marvel churn out good comics again. The characters created for the Marvel Universe in the '90s also run the gamut of quality, from the worst of the worst to some genuinely brilliant ones that have stood the test of time. This article will look at 20 characters who debuted in this decade: 10 of whom we think deserve a second chance at stardom, and 10 that most certainly do not.
20 DESERVES: ONSLAUGHT
We'll start with what could be a controversial pick here. Onslaught is generally held up as a pinpoint example of ridiculous '90s comic book excess and to some fans the mere mention of the name will prompt derision and frustration. But, to us, there's no denying that the concept behind the character is pretty great and even though his initial run got lost in the weeds of a giant, unwieldy crossover, we reckon Onslaught could be retooled into something quite special.
Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld brought the character back in 2006's Onslaught: Reborn, but it very much paid homage to the '90s style and didn't forge ahead in a more modern context. Onslaught Unleashed and the Red Onslaught element of 2014's AXIS event also brought him back, but again to middling effect.
19 DOESN'T: NFL SUPERPRO
NFL SuperPro was born out of a licensing deal between Marvel and the National Football League. It was a 12-issue series published between 1991 and 1992 that has been called 'perhaps the worst comic book ever created' by the Chicago Sports Review! Created by writer Fabian Nicieza (X-Force), the series followed Phil Grayfield, a once-aspiring football player who suffered a knee injury when saving a young girl's life.
He is given an indestructible football uniform by an eccentric scientist and then becomes a superhero when he is doused with experimental chemicals while trapped in a fire that is burning rare NFL souvenirs (yes, really). This ridiculous concept, which Nicieza admitted he mostly came up with to score free NFL tickets, should never see the light of day again!
18 DESERVES: NIGHTWATCH
At first glance, it's obvious to see Nightwatch's design is extremely '90s. He looks like a Spawn rip-off, right? But, despite these questionable aesthetic choices, his backstory is actually great and we reckon a modern update should be in order. Dr Kevin Barry Trench witnessed a costumed hero pass away battling criminals armed with invisibility-generating cloaking devices.
He unmasked the corpse to discover the hero was an older version of himself! After initially trying to hide, he eventually decided to investigate and wound up in an adventure featuring a suspicious pharmaceutical company, a space station, nanotechnology and a time portal. A retconned version of Nightwatch appeared in a 2014 She-Hulk run, but we'd rather a top creative team reimagined the origin story for 2019.
17 DOESN'T: ADAM X
Adam X 'The X-Treme' was one of the worst characters the 1990's spawned. Introduced in X-Force Annual Vol 1 #2 in 1993, in a story entitled 'Extreme Measures', it couldn't be more obvious how much Marvel were pushing his extremeness. Look at his rippling muscles and long rockstar hair! Look at all the knives and daggers adorning his costume (which must have made it hugely difficult for Adam to get on and off without cutting himself).
For a while, Marvel toyed with the idea that Adam was the third Summers brother, something that was bandied around a lot in the '90s. Writer Fabian Nicieza eventually revealed he did intend for him to be Cyclops and Havoc's half-brother, but Marvel nixed the plan. He hasn't been seen in comics since 2011. And we're glad!
16 DESERVES: NIGHT THRASHER
When talking about Night Thrasher, it's hard to get around the fact that he is very derivative of a certain Dark Knight, the premier vigilante character from Marvel's Distinguished Competition! Yes, Dwayne Michael Taylor was a rich young man who saw his parents gunned down before his very eyes. Yes, this drove him to train his mind and body to the peak of mental and physical perfection, and yes, he used this training to don a costume and beat up criminals in the night.
And yes, during the day he ran his families company, the Taylor Foundation. And yes, he also formed the New Warriors, a teen superteam very reminiscent of the Teen Titans (which Batman's protege Robin formed). But we've always had a soft spot for Dwayne and would love a comeback.
15 DOESN'T: DEMOGOBLIN
First off, there are far too many Goblin variations that have menaced Spider-Man throughout Marvel history. There should probably be a thinning of their ranks, not new ones being created or old ones being brought back! To that end, we're going to suggest Demogoblin stays gone and buried. Jason Philip Macendale Jr was the fourth person to use the Hobgoblin identity and first appeared in 1989, before selling his soul to the demon N'Astirh in 1992.
He then became a host body for the demon, before it literally ripped away from its human host and became a physical entity all of its own: the Demogoblin. The demon was a religious fanatic who wanted to purify New York and he wound up dying while battling Macendale in a church, crushed underneath a heavy pillar.
14 DESERVES: FABIAN CORTEZ
Any fan of the '90s X-Men animated series or Jim Lee and Chris Claremont's megaselling early '90s X-Men comics run will be familiar with Fabian Cortez. He, along with a group of other desperate mutants (soon to be known as Acolytes) were on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. when they were given refuge by Magneto on Asteroid M, his space station.
They pledged themselves to his cause, but Cortez secretly manipulated events and goaded Magneto at every opportunity, with the goal of pushing him into conflict with humanity and the X-Men. Asteroid M was soon destroyed and Magneto believed gone, which allowed Cortez to position himself as their leader. He subsequently appeared sporadically, but hasn't been seen since late 2009. Let's bring him back, Marvel!
13 DOESN'T: B.A.D. GIRLS, INC.
First of all, we're pretty sure a female group named 'B.A.D. Girls, Inc.' could only have been created in the '90s! That moniker definitely wouldn't fly in 2019. Making their first appearance in Captain America #385 in 1991, their membership comprised of former Serpent Society supervillains Black Mamba, The Asp and Diamondback (who had begun secretly dating Cap).
The Serpent Society found out and were not happy that she was fraternizing with their mortal enemy, so they sentenced her to execution! They formed the group (taking the first initials from each of their codenames to make B.A.D.) in order to protect themselves against their former comrades. They appeared sporadically in the 2000s, before their dissolution was confirmed in 2015.
12 DESERVES: ECHO
Sneaking in at the tail end of the '90s, Maya Lopez aka Echo debuted in July 1999's Daredevil #9. Maya was born deaf and was sent to a special school, but when she was able to perfectly replicate a song at a piano recital, she was sent to another school for young prodigies. She proved to be capable of perfectly 'echoing' anything she saw (such as fighting styles/moves) and began working for Kingpin, who had been in business with her father, mob enforcer Willie 'Crazy Horse' Lincoln.
Kingpin told her Daredevil took out her father and then sent her after Matt, who she wound up falling in love with, leading to her severing ties with Fisk (by shooting him in the face, blinding him). Echo then passed away in 2012's Moon Knight #9, but was resurrected in 2016's Daredevil Annual #1.
11 DOESN'T: DEATH METAL
Death Metal first appeared in 1993. His series was published by Marvel UK, an imprint that gave us original works by Alan Moore, Steve Dillon, Grant Morrison and Dave Gibbons. Dan Abnett (who would go on to be closely associated with the cosmic Marvel Universe in the 2000s) created Death Metal, a superstrong shapeshifting robot with the ability to absorb the memories and personalities of others.
The character interacted with some core Marvel characters like Ghost Rider, Doctor Doom, Kingpin and Doctor Octopus but his series ceased publication when Marvel UK closed its doors in 1995. Maybe it was for the best, as this particular cyborg was as painfully '90s as they come and clearly a vain attempt to cash-in on the popularity of The Terminator franchise.
10 DESERVES: JOSEPH
The Marvel Universe has featured countless clones of its biggest characters over the years, but for our money, maybe the best one was Joseph. He was a clone of Magneto created by Astra, one of his original recruits for the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants. She wanted Joseph to end the real Magneto but he wound up lost and amnesiac and was taken in by the X-Men.
He became romantically involved with Rogue and selflessly sacrificed himself in battle during the 'Magneto War' storyline. He was then cleverly brought back in the 2011 miniseries Magneto: Not A Hero, in which the roles were reversed: the real Magneto was now a hero and a new villainous Joseph clone led a Brotherhood made up of mutated clones of the original members like Blob, Toad and Scarlet Witch.
9 DOESN'T: KLEINSTOCK BROTHERS
The Kleinstock Brothers (Eric, Sven and Harlan) were a set of triplets that served Magneto as his Acolytes. They first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #298 in 1993 and were created by Scott Lobdell and Brandon Peterson. They had the ability to project explosive plasma blasts and could fly, but they could also merge into one body, whereupon they grew to superhuman size and possessed superstrength, speed and stamina.
Eric was ended during their first appearance, but both Sven and Harlan stuck around with Magneto right up until the fall of Avalon (his second space station, which he pilfered from Cable after Asteroid M was destroyed). The Kleinstock's haven't appeared since Magneto: Dark Seduction #2 in 2000 and there's really no reason for that to change.
8 DESERVES: AMERICOP
In 1994, writer Mark Gruenwald wrapped up an epic 100+ issue run on Captain America with his final storyline, entitled 'Fighting Chance'. He took the opportunity to create a new villain in this final arc, the preposterous (and yet kind of awesome) Americop! Originally a Texas police officer named Bart Gallows, Americop became a brutal vigilante when he found himself disillusioned at the law's inability to protect society from crime.
Cap was disgusted by his methods, which included executing criminals and stealing money from traffickers to fund his operation. We'll be honest, his costume design is the reason we'd like to see a comeback: covered head to toe in body armor and a kevlar facemask and outfitted with guns and knives, he's just a fun visual.
7 DOESN'T: FOREARM
Michael McCain, aka Forearm, debuted in 1990's New Mutants #86 as one of the founding members of the organization called the Mutant Liberation Front. He is a super strong mutant, with increased stamina and resistance to injury. And, yes, he has four arms instead of two. Get it?! We have no idea why creators Louise Simonson and Rob Liefeld didn't just commit fully and name him 'Fourarm', because 'Forearm' sounds no less ridiculous.
He was taken out in a 2001 issue of Wolverine, yet somehow appeared alive and well as a member of the MLF again in 2005's X-Force #4. He then lost his powers in the M-Day event, which was confirmed in 2006's New Avengers #18. He hasn't made a single appearance since and its probably for the best. 'Forearm'. Oh dear.
6 DESERVES: THE WINTER GUARD
The Winter Guard recently made their first appearance for almost eight years when they fought Namor, who had attacked a submarine in the Black Sea, in Avengers #10. It was a welcome return for a superhero team we've always liked and we hope it leads to more appearances or their own miniseries. Created by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen in 1998's Iron Man #9, the team is Russia's version of the Avengers.
They are government sponsored and their rotating membership has included Steel Guardian, Darkstar, Vanguard, Fantasia and Powersurge. They seemingly died in 2011's The Amazing Spider-Man #676 when the Intelligencia used the Zero Cannon on them, but Jason Aaron brought them back in November 2018 and we couldn't have been happier!
5 DOESN'T: SILVERCLAW
Despite their status as the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, there have actually been a ton of lame heroes who been Avengers members over the years. Maria de Guadalupe Santiago, aka Silverclaw, is one of the worst superheroes to ever be in their orbit and she hasn't been seen in the Marvel Universe since Civil War in 2007. We don't expect her to make a comeback anytime soon and she certainly won't be joining the Avengers in the MCU!
Created by industry legends Kurt Busiek and George Perez (who must've been having a bad day at the office) she was the daughter of a volcano Goddess who was sponsored through ChildCare by Jarvis, the Avengers' butler (yes, really). Her main claim to fame was helping the team save her village from the ancient sorcerer Kulan Gath.
4 DESERVES: NIGHTSTALKERS
The Nightstalkers burned brightly for two years between 1992 and 1994 and the reason why they haven't been resurrected in comics since is one of the most baffling mysteries of the modern era. A trio of occult experts who banded together to battle supernatural threats, they formed a detective agency named BorderLine Investigative Services, but to the ghouls and monsters they were known as the Nightstalkers.
Their membership comprised of Blade, the Daywalker; Frank Drake, a distant ancestor of Dracula; and Hannibal King, a private detective and 'neo-vampire' with a craving for human blood but a vow never to drink it. Yes, an interpretation of the team was included in 2004's Blade: Trinity movie, but there is surely still a lot of mileage in the comic book incarnation.
3 DOESN'T: CLANDESTINE
The Marvel Universe has no shortage of immortal superpowered races, with the Inhumans, Celestials and Eternals being the first three that spring to mind. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the Destines, created by Alan Davis in 1994's Marvel Comics Presents #158, failed to catch on with readers.
Their series ClanDestine lasted for 12 issues before being cancelled and even though Davis has revisited the concept a few times (including a five-issue miniseries in 2008 and a trio of Marvel annuals in 2012) they've always failed to make much of an impact. They've already had several chances to cement their place in the Marvel pantheon, and while we're glad Davis was able to create his own characters and tell a story he cared deeply about, we reckon their luck has run out.
2 DESERVES: MACE
Mace, a cyborg mercenary on the run from the shadowy organization that created him, was the star of the three-issue 1994 miniseries Venom: The Mace (which was drawn by current The Green Lantern artist Liam Sharp). At this point, Venom was appearing in a succession of miniseries' in which Marvel was positioning him as the antihero protector of San Francisco.
In this series, he became entangled in a battle with Mace, before they realized they had a common enemy in the Sunrise Society, which had come to claim their rogue cyborg. It was exceedingly '90s (cyborgs were all the rage back then), but we always thought Mace was a cool character with a lot of potential. We could definitely envisage him being reimagined for a modern day Venom or Wolverine story.
1 DOESN'T: JUDAS TRAVELLER
"The Clone Saga introduced" a lot of crazy things to the world of Spider-Man, but perhaps none more crazy or ill-advised than Judas Traveller. He first appeared in 1994's Web Of Spider-Man #117 as a sinister psychiatrist obsessed with studying the nature of true evil. Despite the story taking place in the modern day, Traveller dressed like an aristocrat from Victorian London and was accompanied by The Scrier, a spooky guy who looked like the Grim Reaper.
This quasi-mystical being with barely defined powers threw readers for a loop, as he seemed out of place in the grounded(ish) Spidey stories. It turned out even the writers had no idea what his real deal was and so Traveller was later retconned to be a criminal psychologist having a mental breakdown!