The 2010s saw reinterpretations of classic superhero characters, like jeans-and-a-t-shirt Superman, and old characters assuming new roles, like Jane Foster as Thor. But it was also a golden age for instantly iconic new superheroes.
And in the 2010s, it’s not at all easy to get a new superhero off the ground.
In a never-ending comic book setting, creating a new superhero or villain isn’t like having a kid, it’s like building a sandcastle. If nobody else wants to build on top of what you did, it doesn’t matter how well crafted your parapets were. The whole thing’s gonna gonna go out with the tide.
To be successful, a character has to have the kind of open potential that other creators will want to spin into their stories for the fun and the glory. Some characters created in this decade haven’t had a chance to pass that threshold yet — but, personally, I’m pulling hard for Moon Girl, Naomi, and the entire Justice League of China.
Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli for Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man.
What can I say about Miles Morales that I haven’t already said in our best comics of the decade list? He’s a successful sequel to the entire concept of Spider-Man. He’s very nearly the only character in the entire Ultimate Marvel Universe — which at its height could outsell books in the main universe — to rate a Get Out of Jail Free card when it was shuttered.
Please indulge the many, many words I dedicated to explaining why Miles is great, and was an obvious candidate to lead an Oscar Award-winning movie of his origin story.
The Young X-Men
Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen in All-New X-Men.
Technically, the Young X-Men are not new characters. But they are a new character concept, and for that — and for injecting a lot of fascinating and fandom-electrifying elements into the X-Men this decade — they deserve a spot on this list.
In 2013, the X-Men were in a bad place: Cyclops was a terrorist who murdered Professor X, Jean was dead, etc. And so it fell to Hank McCoy to do something comic book brilliant and real world stupid. He built a machine that pulled the five original X-Men out of their time period and into the present, hoping that they could remind their present day counterparts of the ideals that had made them heroes. Then, he’d wipe their minds and put them back.
But as soon as the younger versions of the X-Men got a whiff of how much their future selves had screwed up their lives — Hank turned blue! Warren got poison wings! Scott’s a terrorist! Jean died multiple times! And after all that mutants are still hated and feared! — they refused to go back and meet their temporal fate. Young Cyclops, Iceman, Jean, Beast, and Angel wound up hanging out in modern X-Men continuity for a solid six years.
They joined teams, they made friends with the modern teen superheroes of the Marvel Universe, and even though they were eventually sent back to their own time, they had the significant effect of drawing Bobby Drake out of the closet.
The New Shazamily
Created by writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank in Justice League.
The Shazam Family is nothing new — Billy Batson has shared his powers with his friends since 1941. But with the dawn of the New 52, Geoff Johns had something new in mind: A Shazam family consisting of six kids, one for each letter in the name. He tested the idea out in an alternate universe with the Flashpoint event, but wound up debuting a more refined version with Gary Frank, in backup stories to the New 52’s Justice League.
Shortly after being chosen to wield the power of Shazam, Billy Batson discovered that his greatest gift was being able to share his powers with his brand new foster family. That means Mary and Freddy of course — who are based on long-time Shazam family standbys — but also Pedro, Eugene, and Darla. You might be familiar with the characters from their use in Warner Bros.’ Shazam!
The Shazam concept has not changed much for 80 years: a special kid who says a magic word and becomes a real live superhero. In the 1990s, he was brought even closer to that wish fulfillment metaphor with a Big-style twist — instead of changing places with an adult superhero, Billy Batson became a kid in the body of an adult superhero.
Adding a found family superpower on top of that? [Chef’s kiss] Johns and Frank’s addition diversifies Shazam stories, and it modernizes the idea of the immensely popular Golden Age Shazam family in a tremendously appealing way.
Created by writer-artist Kōhei Horikoshi.
All Might, also known as Toshinori Yagi, is the beacon of hope for all heroes in My Hero Academia as the world’s Number One Hero. In a setting where a large portion of the population has superpowers, or “quirks,” only few can stand out as heroes, but All Might does this using positivity, fun energy, and also a tremendous quirk: the One For All, a power that grows with each user until it is passed on to the next generation.
All Might is everything a superhero fan could ask for in one person; He’s powerful, self-sacrificing, and he has a real sense of justice that isn’t based on past trauma. He genuinely wants the best for the world — and he can put that will into action.
He’s a little corny, being a loving parody of American superheroes who uses attacks named after states and cities, like “Detroit Smash,” but that doesn’t make him any less likable. He’s a father figure for the main character, Izuku Midoriya, and is just an all around wholesome, good guy. – Julia Lee
Created by writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodriguez in the Spider-Verse event.
It used to be that Gwen Stacy was known for one thing and one thing only: Dying. One of the original fridged girlfriends from an era when any serious character death at all was still a pretty new thing for superhero comics, she was one more drop in the bucket of Peter Parker’s personal baggage with the Green Goblin. And, you know, with life in general.
Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez offered a different Gwen Stacy, literally. A version of the character from an alternate universe where Gwen was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter. And she had one of the most striking and fashionable costumes to grace the pages of comics this decade.
Even though she’d only been invented for the Spider-Verse event, a wave of fan art and cosplay for the character lead to an ongoing series in 2015 and a major role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Her series is still going strong, under her new superhero name, Ghost Spider, with writer Seanan McGuire and artist Takeshi Miyazawa.
Created by Dan Jurgens in Convergence: Superman; continued in Superman: Lois and Clark with artist Lee Weeks; further continued by writer Peter J. Tomasi, artists Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jiménez, Carlo Barberi, and others in Superman and the Super Sons books; and by Brian Michael Bendis and various artists in Superman, Action Comics, and more.
Truly, it takes a village to raise a superchild. And it’s taken a lot of continuity shenanigans to get Superman and Lois Lane’s son, the half-kryptonian Jon Kent, into main continuity — but he’s absolutely here to stay.
In his short tenure, Jon has become best friends with Batman’s own prickly scion, Damian; he’s had a whole laundry basket of cute costumes; and he’s grown from an adorable elementary schooler to a cute teen. And beyond Jon’s appeal as an individual character, there’s the windows of opportunity he opens for Superman stories.
What frightens the most powerful man in the universe? That his son might not have a happy, relaxed childhood because of who he is. How do you keep the Man of Steel human? You show him teaching his kid how to be a good person and a responsible superhero. Jon’s existence encourages comics creators to lean into the Superdad and Superhusband aspects of the world’s oldest superhero, and it makes him all the better.
Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel
Created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie for Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan’s rise was meteoric from the moment she slid into the vacant role left by Carol Danvers, who’d been promoted to Captain Marvel. Ask a comic book fan about Robin, or Ghost Rider, or Superboy, and they’ll ask you “Which one?” But Kamala so quickly and emphatically owned the name Ms. Marvel that there’s no question who you’re talking about.
Kamala was announced as the first Muslim character to headline their own Marvel book, and from moment her series hit it was clear that Wilson and Alphona were not making any kind of shallow play. Kamala’s story was about identity, empathy, and the power of finding both within yourself, and it captivated readers, becoming one of Marvel’s best-selling titles. From there, Kamala joined every team under the sun, from the Avengers to the Champions.
She’s going to be in the Square Enix Avengers game. She’s getting her own Disney Plus series. Kamala’s arrived in the mainstream consciousness more than any other character on this list — except, of course, for her buddy Miles.
The Batman Who Laughs
Created by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo in the Dark Nights Metal event.
Superheroes wouldn’t be half so interesting without villains, so let’s pay tribute to one here. Set aside the Batman Who Laughs’ Cenobite-chic sense of fashion, his over-the-top heavy metal antics, and the fact that he’s honestly starting to get a little over-used.
The Batman Who Laughs is from the Dark Multiverse, a place for DC Universes where things went wrong. Where Batman lost his morality, or where Superman was never resurrected. These fractured cosmoses can’t survive their flaws, and eventually, every one of them dissolves and is consumed by the dragon Barbatos, so that its energy can be crafted into a new, better universe by the cosmic entity known as the World Forger.
Bearing that all in mind, that means that behind his grin, the leather-bound Batman/Joker hybrid is not, actually, a statement about how cool it would be if Batman was evil. The metatext of the Dark Universe is that, in contrast to the rest of the DC Multiverse, it’s made up of stories that have no future. A Batman who kills, a Batman without empathy or ethics, a Batman without hope — well, that’s a character that doesn’t work. Not as a hero, something to be exemplified.
But that same idea works just fantastically as a villain.