1936 – The Phantom
Created by Lee Falk (USA), the first superhero was The Phantom, who debuted in his own newspaper comic strip on 17 Feb 1936. It recounted the adventures of Kit Walker, who donned a mask and purple outfit to become The Phantom – aka “the ghost who walks”. The character’s whited-out eyes, with no visible pupils, became a feature of many later superheroes, including Batman, Green Lantern and Green Arrow.
1938 – Superman
The “Man of Steel” first appeared in Action Comics #1, now the most valuable comic. Superman was the first superhero with superpowers: out-of-this-world abilities that enabled him to run faster than an express train and leap tall buildings in a single bound. In later issues, he demonstrated X-ray vision, super strength and the ability to fly.
1939 – Batman
The creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (both USA), the “Caped Crusader” debuted in Detective Comics #27. Kane’s early drafts for Batman’s costume involved a bright red tunic, wings and a black eye mask; Finger made some key suggestions to transform the outfit into something altogether more threatening.
1939 – Captain Marvel
There are a number of Captain Marvels in the Marvel Universe, but the one seen here debuted in Whiz Comics #2 (cover-dated Feb 1940) and is now owned by DC. He proved so popular in the 1940’s that sales of his comic books outsold those featuring Superman. He’s also known as “Shazam”, after the cry that changes the boy Billy Batson into the mighty Captain Marvel.
1940 – The Comet
January 1940 saw the debut of The Comet in Pep Comics #1. In issue #17, he became the first superhero to die, although the character would go on to be revived several times from the 1960’s on wards.
1940 – The Flash
Created by artist Harry Lampert and writer Gardner Fox, the “Scarlet Speedster” originally appeared in Flash Comics #1 (cover-dated Jan 1940). Initially, his alter ego was Jay Garrick, although the character has been through several incarnations.
1940 – Fantomah/Woman in Red
Two comic-book characters have a claim to being the first female superhero. Fantomah was the first female superhero with superhuman powers to appear in print, in Jungle Comics #2 (Feb 1940). The first masked and costumed superheroine (and of “natural” birth), however, was the Woman in Red, created by Richard Hughes and George Mandel for Thrilling Comics #2 (March 1940).
1940 – Justice Society of America
The first superhero team, the Justice Society of America were initially seen on the cover of All Star Comics #3 (winter issue 1940–41). The founding members, shown left to right above, were: The Atom, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Flash, The Sandman, Hourman (then known as Hour Man) and The Spectre.
1940 – Green Lantern
Initially named Alan Scott in the 1940, then relaunched as Hal Jordan in 1959, Green Lantern is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created in 1940 by writer Martin Nodell, and first appeared in All-American Comics #16 in July 1940.
1941 – Captain America
Created by artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, this star-spangled superhero debuted in Captain America Comics #1, cover-dated Mar 1941. Cap’s signature round shield (inset) replaced the triangular version in issue #2.
1941 – Aquaman
DC’s waterborne wonder was created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger and debuted in More Fun Comics #73 from Nov 1941. He went on to become one of the founders of the Justice League of America.
1941 – Wonder Woman
DC Comics’ Amazonian heroine burst on to the scene in All Star Comics #8 (cover-dated Dec 1941), although she didn’t get her own comic book until summer 1942.
1959 – Supergirl
Superman’s success inspired DC to devise a female counterpart – namely his cousin, Kara Zor-El. Created by Otto Binder (writer) and Al Plastino (art), she first appeared in Action Comics #252 in May 1959.
1960 – The Justice League
Also known as the Justice League of America (JLA), this supergroup of DC stars debuted in Oct–Nov 1960. Batman and Superman, although part of the original line-up, seldom appeared in the group’s adventures, while Martian Manhunter (below, far right) ended his initial stint with the JLA in 1968. The quintet below appeared on the cover of their first issue.
1961 – Fantastic Four
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first co-production, The Fantastic Four #1 hit the shelves in Nov 1961. They were Marvel’s first superteam and contributed to the company’s meteoric rise in the 1960’s.
1962 – Thor
Thor Odinson is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character, which is based on the Norse deity of the same name, is the Asgardian god of thunder who possesses an enchanted hammer. Thor first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 in August 1962 and was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber.
1962 – The Hulk
Gamma radiation turned Doctor Robert Bruce Banner into a rampaging Green Goliath, and one of Marvel’s most enduring characters. The Incredible Hulk debuted in May 1962.
1962 – Spider Man
Marvel’s iconic web-slinger made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug 1962), while The Amazing Spider-Man appeared in Mar 1963. The character was devised by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko.
1963 – Ironman
Tales of Suspense #39 (Mar 1963) saw the appearance of Tony Stark’s super-powered alter ego. The six films to date starring Robert Downey Jr (USA) as the man in the iron suit have made him the most successful superhero actor.
1963 – The X-Men
The X-Men #1 was published on 10 Sep 1963, but the denizens of Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters were originally to be known as “The Mutants”. Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, thought the name might puzzle readers, so Stan Lee changed it.
1966 – Black Panther
Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, first appearing in Fantastic Four #52 July 1966. Black Panther’s real name is T’Challa, king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
1971 – Swamp Thing
Created by Len Wein (writer) and Bernie Wrightson (art), DC’s unsettling character was first seen in House of Secrets #92 (Jul 1971) before getting his own comic the following year.
1974 – Wolverine
First glimpsed in the last panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 (Oct 1974), the clawed Canadian was recruited as another of Professor X’s gifted youngsters in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1.
1984 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In May 1984, “heroes in a half shell” Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael got their own comic, published by Mirage Studios. An animated TV series followed in 1987. The quartet was initially created (by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) as a satire of four hit comics of the time: Ronin, Cerebus, Daredevil and New Mutants.
1991 – Deadpool
On the subject of New Mutants, #98 (Feb 1991) saw the appearance of the “Merc with a mouth”. Initially a villain, Deadpool morphed into an ambiguous antihero, and in 1993 got his own miniseries, The Circle Chase. The 2016 movie Deadpool (USA) is the highest-grossing R-rated movie.
1993 – Hellboy
Mike Mignola’s demonic superhero debuted – in prototype form – on the cover of Italian fanzine Dime Press #4 (Mar 1993) before emerging as a fully formed character in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993).
1993 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
The hit 1993 TV series gave rise to a number of Power Rangers comics published by Hamilton from Nov 1994. Marvel Comics subsequently published two series of their own. March 2016 saw a comic-book reboot by Boom! Studios, which referenced the original series.
2004 – The Incredibles
Produced by Pixar, the Incredibles (USA) movie premiered on 27 Oct 2004 and gave the company what was then its highest opening-weekend gross. Five years later, Boom! Studios began publishing a comic-book miniseries based on the film.