Remember in the ’80s how every other cartoon that wasn’t directly based on toys was based on some other classic characters you loved except they now were babies for some reason? Surely you recall Muppet Babies, The Flintstone Kids, Tom and Jerry Kids, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, and so on? Well, the trend of kidifying older characters goes back well before Muppet Babies in the world of comics, and still continues to this day. Do these versions make the least bit of sense with canon? Most of the time, no… no they do not. Does this mean these baby versions should be dismissed out of hand? Not necessarily.
There are many reasons different comics might offer up kid or baby versions of popular heroes. There’s the obvious cynical answers of merchandising and trying perhaps a bit too hard to pander to young readers, but the better examples of the trope have a good sense of humor about themselves, leaning into the absurdity of their strange concepts. Several of the examples on this list are flat-out satirical, jokes poking fun at the genre. The 15 entries on this list are ranked roughly chronologically, so as to better examine how the heroes-as-kids trope evolved over the years.
The oldest example of a superhero made younger was the most successful in the long run. Jerry Seigel wanted to write a series about Superman’s childhood right after Superman debuted in 1938, but DC rejected the pitch. They reversed their decision in 1944, in response to the popularity of kid heroes like Robin, and accepted various stories about the younger Kal-El. Superboy became only the 6th DC character to headline his own book in 1949, and that book was the first hit superhero series of the post-WWII era. In 1958, he teamed up with the Legion of Super-Heroes from the 31st Century.
Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Superboy stories were deemed non-canonical and about different characters — including Superman’s clone and Superman’s son — taking the “Superboy” moniker. The idea of Superman as a teen still held enough interest to inspire two TV series, Superboy (1988-1992) and Smallville (2001-2011).
14. LITTLE ARCHIE
According to the book The Best of Archie, the genesis of Little Archie came during a poker game between comics publishers in 1956. People were making fun of John Goldwater, the head of Archie Comics, teasing him saying, “Here we publish all types of comic books and you make an empire just out of Archie. All your books are Archie this or Archie that or Big Archie or Little Archie…” The idea for Little Archie suddenly came into existence, and with it the start of a series that would last 180 issues.
Little Archie was just what you’d expect from the title: Archie, but little, in elementary school instead of high school. Also, everyone calls him “Little Archie” for some reason and there’s more forced moralistic plotlines. An attempt to reboot the franchise and make it “cooler” in the ’90s, The New Little Archie, bombed.
13. SUPER JUNIORS
Now we arrive in the ’80s, at the height of Muppet Babies mania and DC wanted in on the action. They’d done stories in the past where Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and The Legion of Super-Heroes were turned into babies, so there’s technically canonical precedent for doing this. The new “Super Juniors” brand seems like it might just sell big.
And it did sell… merchandise (look at those creepy-ass dolls above!). In terms of comics, however, the Super Juniors only appeared in just one single comic book in 1984, Super Jrs. Holiday Special: Best of Blue Ribbon Digest Series #58. In the comic, the Super Juniors are orphans transformed into superheroes by the fairy spirit of Christmas to fight the Weather Wizard and save Santa Claus. Understandable why they didn’t make more.
Why were there so many baby cartoons in the ’80s? Uncreative network executives, mostly. They see one hit show and then greenlight a whole bunch of shows doing the exact same thing. So it’s fitting that the first major super-babies of the Marvel universe were, in-universe, the creations of Mojo, a villainous alien TV mogul. In Uncanny X-Men Annual #10, Mojo de-ages the X-Men (a similar plot happens in Uncanny X-Men #461).
In issue #12, he created the X-Babies team as clones. They rebel against their evil master, who just can’t find it in his heart to kill them because they get such great ratings. Of course, once you have X-Babies existing in the Marvel universe, they’re just not going to go away, and every few years the X-Babies show up to wreak their adorable havoc in both their own books and the other X-Men comics.
11. TEENY TITANS
The 1992 satirical one-off Titans $ell-Out $pecial (alternately known by the name Titans: Sell-Out!), written by Marv Wolfman, finds both the present day Titans and the future Team Titans strapped for cash. To make some money, they decide to sell their likenesses to movie and toy companies, relinquishing creative control over what the studios decide to produce.
The result? “Teeny Titans,” a sickeningly saccharine children’s cartoon with baby versions of the Titans, clearly written and drawn as parody of the kidified TV cartoons of the time. The Titans are disgusted by the results and take their names off the cartoon, since they aren’t total sell-outs. This particular example gains an extra level of irony in retrospect once you see what the #7 entry on this list is.
10. LI’L SHE HULK
John Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk gave Jennifer Walters a fourth wall-breaking self-awareness about her status as a comic book character. In issue #50 in 1993, Byrne concluded his run by having She-Hulk talk with other cartoonists about their plans for continuing her book. The extra-long issue jumps between styles showcasing the different “pitches” for new She-Hulk comics, including parodies of Thor, Popeye, and contemporary grim ‘n gritty “dark age” comics. And then there’s the comic that’s presented as Byrne’s newest work, “Li’l She-Hulk.”
As you can tell by the name and the above screencap, “Li’l She-Hulk” is a comic in the style of Little Archie, complete with the world “Li’l” being said in front of everyone’s names. She-Hulk reads two pages of this tripe before throwing Byrne out the window, murdering her own writer.
9. MINI MARVELS
Chris Giarrusso’s Mini Marvels comics, originating as a series of “Bullpen Bits” in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins before expanding into its own series, differs from previous kid superhero-themed stories in that the premise is less “What if the MCU was Little Archie?” and more “What if the MCU was Peanuts?” This inspiration shows through in both the art style and the respect for its audience.
These comics might be for kids but they’re not talking down to them. With parodies of major Marvel events like Civil War and Planet Hulk, as well as a bunch of cute visual gags (Daredevil’s always facing the wrong way!), there’s also entertainment value here for adults who want something lighter, a break from the darkness of the main Marvel universe.
8. KID STUFF (JLU)
Justice League Unlimited not only included practically every DC superhero, but covered pretty much the whole wide range of tones you could find in the comics. One week it could be dark, serious, violent, or philosophical, and the next week you’d get something like the episode “Kid Stuff.” The plot of the episode involves Mordred, the son of sorceress Morgaine Le Fay, using the Amulet of First Magic to wish for a world without grown-ups. The wish results in the Justice League being aged down, and kid versions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern have to save the day. Comedic hijinks ensue.
The inspiration for this episode lies in two separate comic arcs. Justice League: A World Without Grown-Ups had Mordred’s wish, though it didn’t cause the adults to de-age. A de-aging of the Justice League happened in the Young Justice comic storyline “Sins of Youth.”
7. TINY TITANS
Remember the entry for “Teeny Titans”? Well, a kidified version of the Teen Titans turned from a cartoon within a comic into a real series in 2008. But history repeats first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, and what seemed like a terrible idea in 1992 turned out to be not a bad idea at all in 2008.
Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani’s hilarious superheroes in school series won the Eisner Award for Best Series for Kids twice, in 2009 and 2011! Standards of quality for children’s entertainment have gone up, and kids’ books like Tiny Titans and Mini-Marvels offer up an outlet for wacky humor and charmingly cartoony artwork. For more of Art Baltazar’s adorable interpretations of popular heroes, read on to entry #3 on this list.
6. IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES
This is one example of the superheroes as kids trope that today most people agree that it kind of sucks. Reimagining Tony Stark as a teenager, with an origin story completely divorced from that of the comics and movies and none of the original version’s attitude, this just wasn’t very interesting. Where other kid superhero stories succeed in spite of seeming ridiculous by leaning into that ridiculousness for comedy, Iron Man: Armored Adventures takes itself too seriously. It’s just a generic kids show with Iron Man packaging and some terrible CG animation.
Showrunner Christopher Yost has written lots of much better Marvel adaptations, both in TV animation and on the big screen (he’s one of the three writers of Thor: Ragnorok), but this was an idea that just wasn’t going to work regardless of the talent in charge.
5. A-BABIES VS. X-BABIES
Having baby X-Men just wasn’t enough cuteness for Marvel, so in 2012, baby Avengers were introduced as well. These babies live on Earth-71912, where the Avengers and the X-Men have always been in conflict with each other, trying to prove to each other just who is the most awesome super team around. Baby Captain America loves his toy Bucky Bear, but when Scott Summers steals the toy, it turns into an all-out baby brawl!
More than anything, A-Babies Vs. X-Babies serves as a showcase for the artistic talents of Scottie Young and Gurihiru. Young would return to Earth-71912 in the 2015 limited series Giant-Size Little Marvel: AVX. His covers are super-detailed; many baby characters who couldn’t fit into the main comic make appearances in the cover art.
4. ATTACK ON TITAN: JUNIOR HIGH
Of all the properties you might expect to get a kids’ version of, Attack on Titan would seem pretty low on the list, but for some reason Attack on Titan Junior High exists. Not only did this gag manga last for four years and 11 books, it also got a 12-episode TV anime series in 2015, right in the middle of the long wait for season 2 of the main series. All the characters are in middle school and for some reason the Titans also go to middle school. They fight over cheeseburgers mostly.
Other manga/anime properties similar in spirit are SD Gundam, which turns a war drama franchise into a cutesy comedy, and the seemingly endless number of Evangelion spin-off manga, which ask “What if this angsty psychological robot show were a romcom without robots?”
3. ITTY BITTY HELLBOY
Turning the Teen Titans into the Tiny Titans was one thing; the regular-aged Teen Titans already had a lot of younger fans due to the cartoon series. Hellboy, however, was never a character that was ever going to be successfully marketed in any form to the kindergarten crowd. Art Balthazar giving Hellboy and friends the same style of kidification he gave the Titans makes for one of the absolute strangest (yet strangely one of the cutest) entries on this list.
While Itty Bitty Hellboy got good reviews, it didn’t catch on in the same way Tiny Titans did. Adult fans might be able to appreciate the joke, but it just wasn’t going to sell big with kids. The non-canonical series ran for five issues in 2013.
2. DC SUPER HERO GIRLS
The DC Super Hero Girls franchise is one based mainly around toys in the vein of Monster High, but even outside of toy stores, these high school-aged versions of DC’s most popular female heroes and villains have been developing a wide media presence. As of 2017, there have been three seasons of Youtube shorts, three direct-to-video movies (including a LEGO-based one), a Cartoon Network special, graphic novels and middle grade prose novels.
Obviously this is about merchandising, but it’s been extremely successful, and it’s doing good work selling the appeal of superheroes to young girls. Perhaps most interestingly to some adults, Lauren Faust, who turned My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic into a phenomenon far better than it had any right to be, is in charge of developing a TV series set to premiere in 2018.
1. WATCHMEN BABIES IN V FOR VACATION
Psyche! There has been no official licensed Watchmen Babies in V For Vacation comic outside of The Simpsons‘ universe… though maybe there should be? If DC is really intent to milk the Watchmen characters to the point where everyone’s as sick of hearing about Watchmen as Alan Moore is, what’s the harm in doing something really ridiculous with them? Well, there is the harm that actual kids might pick it up, want to read more comics with the characters, and then get scarred for life… but is that really so bad?
As one of the most memorable post-season 10 Simpsons jokes (from the season 19 episode “Husbands and Knives,” which featured Alan Moore voicing himself!), Watchmen Babies was a concept too awesomely terrible for fan artists not to run with. KC Green, the cartoonist who drew the “This is fine” dog, made five baby Rorschach comics.
Which baby versions of superheroes made you go gaga? Let us know in the comments!
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