On the pages of Marvel Comics, there is no shortage of memorable characters that have been introduced to fans and that have continued to endure because they have been built and developed beyond their first appearances. What’s interesting is that many of the characters we continue to love today, good or bad, debuted on the pages of a story that belonged to another memorable character.
This practice is not uncommon in the comic book industry, and is in fact quite a clever way of weaving specific characters and concepts together to form a cohesive shared universe that unfolds across multiple stories (something Marvel has also perfected in film and television). This list looks at several of the Marvel heavyweights who debuted in other heroes’ comics before finding their own popularity.
10 Ego the living planet
Although he technically had a cameo in the previous issue, Ego the Living Planet was fully introduced to fans on the pages of The Mighty Thor # 133 in October 1966. The God of Thunder was recruited by the Rigel Settlers to stop Ego, as that the being had begun to consume planets to sustain itself and the Rigelians feared that their planet would be next. Thor was able to stop Ego by creating a large lightning storm, which caused Ego to surrender and not leave the Black Galaxy (this would not be permanent, of course).
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9 Adam Warlock
Adam Warlock first appeared under the name « He » in Fantastic Four # 66 and 67 (published in September and October 1967 respectively). A group of evil scientists known as the Enclave had created the being known as « He », but the blinding light it gave off prevented the scientists from physically approaching it. So they recruited the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, not only to approach him (as her lack of vision prevented her from being affected by the blinding light), but also to sculpt the perfect face for him.
Using one of Reed’s devices to look back and discover that Alice was abducted, the Fantastic Four were able to teleport to the Enclave base just as the main scientist and Alice were approaching the being. Alice was able to get close to Him but saw that He was in a cocoon, since He had not yet finished maturing. In the midst of a fight between the Enclave and the Fantastic Four, the cocoon opened to reveal Him as a mature, golden human being, who flew into space after destroying its creators and its base.
While most of the characters on this list have remained the same from their initial appearances to the present day, Sabretooth started out somewhat differently. Rather than being a mutant, Victor Creed started out as a powerless serial killer and a recurring Danny Rand / Iron Fist enemy, first appearing as such in Iron Fist # 14 in August 1977. Chris Claremont reintroduced him as a member of Mister Sinister’s group of mutant assassins, the Marauders, in the 1986 Mutant Massacre event. Once he separated from the Marauders on his own, his popularity grew to become the insatiably violent antagonist and antithesis of Wolverine that we know today.
Notable for being the first African-American superhero to appear in mainstream comics, Sam Wilson / Falcon debuted in Captain America # 117 in September 1969 as an initially unnamed Harlem native who had adopted and trained a wild falcon he had named Redwing. Upon finding an advertisement for a group of Maroon men on an island in need of a hunting hawk, Wilson and Redwing went to answer it, though they later discovered that these men (called the « Exiles ») were actually allies of Red Skull.
While escaping from the men, Wilson was able to urge the island’s natives (who had been forced into servitude) to rise up against the Exiles. Soon after, Steve Rogers met Wilson and revealed his identity as Captain America. Rogers convinced Wilson to become the superhero Falcon and has remained an ally of Steve Rogers ever since. The true identity of Falcon, Sam Wilson, was not revealed until the next issue.
The Mad Titan Thanos first appeared in February 1973 in The Invincible Iron Man # 55 written by Jim Starlin and Mike Friedrich. In the story, Tony Stark receives a telepathic message from a wounded and detained Drax the Destroyer on Titan to « watch out for the Blood Brothers. » This message reaches Iron Man too late, as the Blood Brothers (a pair of muscular alien minions) assault the Armored Avenger before knocking him unconscious and taking him to Titan in a hovercraft.
Tony eventually regains consciousness, defeats the Blood Brothers, and finds Drax, though in his attempt to free Drax he is knocked down by one of his own bolts. Lying on the ground, he is greeted by Thanos, who crushes the hero’s right hand with his boot before introducing himself as « Thanos, the first emperor of Titan and soon of Earth! » What an entrance.
Mystique began as an antagonist of Ms. Marvel, making a cameo appearance in Ms. Marvel issue 16 (May 1978) as an unnamed shape-shifter who spied on Carol Danvers. She then appeared in full in Issues 17 (June 1978) and 18 (July 1978), infiltrating SHIELD HQ to steal top-secret information about the Avengers, during which time she disguised herself as both a female spy and a director. Nick Fury. Although her plans were thwarted, Ms. Marvel screenwriter Chris Claremont was quick to incorporate her into his X-Men series, in which she has been a pivotal character ever since.
Fantastic Four # 48-50 (published between March and May 1966), better known as « The Galactus Trilogy », marked the debut of its title character, the imposing being that devours planets as a means of survival. His first appearance on the page occurs at the end of issue 48, when his huge ship appears over the Manhattan skyline. Upon exiting the ship, Galactus makes it clear to witnesses that he plans to consume his world, cementing his still iconic status as one of Marvel’s greatest creations.
3 Silver Surfer
Galactus wasn’t the only iconic character to debut in Fantastic Four # 48, as his reluctant herald Silver Surfer also appeared. The story begins with his introduction, as he is shown moving on his surfboard through the Andromeda Galaxy, which is witnessed by a group of panicked Skrulls who know that Galactus is coming soon. Towards the end of the issue, the Surfer manages to break through the debris world the Watcher had placed around Earth to prevent Galactus from seeing him. The Surfer then lands on top of the Baxter Building and sends a signal for his master before being knocked off the building by The Thing.
2 The Punisher
The Amazing Spider-Man # 129 (released February 1974) saw The Punisher’s debut, acting as Spider-Man’s antagonist. Teaming up with the Jackal, the Punisher sets out to kill the net thrower, who is wanted for the alleged murder of Norman Osborn. It is in this issue where the attributes of the character are revealed, who is presented as an excellent shooter, strategist and fighter who assassinates criminals without hesitation. It didn’t take long for The Punisher to accumulate a large fan base since his debut and would become a staple character in Marvel Comics in the future.
The most famous member of the X-Men found his way into our hearts and our collective imagination at the end of The Incredible Hulk # 180 (in October 1974) before making his full appearance in the next issue, # 181 (November 1974). Revealed as a mutant sent by the Canadian government to defeat the Hulk, he interrupts a battle between the Jade Giant and the Wendigo, and it is here that we see his adamantium claws and fierce abilities in action against the Wendigo.
The Hulk initially thinks that Wolverine is his ally, a misconception that Wolverine uses to his advantage; After the Hulk takes down the Wendigo, Wolverine turns his claws against the Green Goliath, leaving the two even in combat, knocking each other out. As the Hulk subsequently leaves, Wolverine remains lying on the ground. The newly popular mutant would reappear in Giant-Size X-Men # 1 as a new member of the X-Men, and the rest is history.