Marvel Comics’ most notable heroes are held up as industry standards and are beloved across the world. But upon returning to their first appearances, it’s obvious that the time at which they were created might have affected their portrayal. Indeed, many of those debuts could be considered a little cringy.
Cringiness is in the eye of the reader and what one fan might deem to be a little too much, others might feel is perfect. From the Fantastic Four to prominent Avengers members, many of these introductions play into the fun and whimsical tone that Marvel was heading towards, and perhaps they now only feel cringy when compared to today’s grittiness.
10 Captain America
Today Captain America is a complex political figure, who represents hope and justice. His mantle has been passed on to so many others and the character is now entrenched in thriller narratives, balanced alongside his Avengers leadership. But the nuances of Steve Rogers didn’t exist when he debuted.
Introduced in Captain America Comics #1 from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the 1941 comic was a propaganda piece designed to boost sales during the wartime era. It was so cringy in how it positioned this two-dimensional Steve Rogers. Of course, it’s exactly what the time period called for, but even the MCU made fun of this “poster boy” appearance and boy scout mascot presentation.
Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel’s most powerful teenage heroes. The character has become such a significant personality for Marvel, with Peter Parker really representing the everyman. He is relatable, kind, and truly heroic. But his debut really played to his age.
Spider-Man debuted in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Due to the time period that it was published, the teenage Peter was naive and perhaps a little annoying. The “oh jeez” style of dialogue made famous by characters like Robin, was very much present, although Spider-Man’s origin story is compelling enough to get over the dated character archetype.
8 Black Widow
Black Widow is a skilled assassin, notable Avenger, and gritty leading lady. The character has always operated in the shadows and her incredible talents have never been overshadowed by any other aspects of her personality. Her debut painted quite a different picture of the character though.
Black Widow was introduced in Tales of Suspense #52 in 1964, by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck. The comic focused on the character’s glamor rather than her skill, and her costume was a far-cry from the tactical kit she uses today. Her portrayal was so cringy and a reflection on how femme fatales were depicted during the era.
7 Luke Cage
It’s easy to see how Luke Cage has had one of the most successful character redesigns when compared to his origins. Currently, he has enjoyed time as Avengers and Thunderbolts leader, a Hero for Hire, and even as Mayor of New York. His relationships with the likes of Danny Rand and Jessica Jones have elevated him further, with his serious demeanor sometimes making way for his soft center.
Luke Cage was introduced in 1972’s Luke Cage: Hero For Hire #1 from Archie Goodwin and George Tuska. The character was given a garish suit and was nothing but one-liners. Playing on stereotypes and essentially missing the point of the character, Cage’s portrayal was incredibly cringy but has been redeemed in the years since. Modern comics often poke fun at those terrible early days.
Some of the best Marvel Comics can be found in the Timely era of the company, where the comic book industry was still finding its feet. That’s not the case for Patsy Walker’s debut though. For now, the character is a major hero as Hellcat, whose journey has taken her from fashion icon to selfless vigilante.
But Patsy’s debut showcased a very different individual. Appearing first in Miss America Magazine #2 in 1944 from Bill Finger and Pauline Loth, Patsy was depicted as a girl obsessed with clothes and falling in love. She was written with many misogynistic tropes, but her reinvention as Hellcat truly captivated audiences. Looking back, the comic series was cringy, but massively popular at the time.
5 Black Knight
The Black Knight mantle has been passed from ancestor to ancestor. The moniker represents a rich lineage linked to King Arthur and Camelot and today Dane Whitman and his daughter are the subject of fascinating narratives involving the corruption of the Ebony Blade.
That high-stakes emotional storytelling wasn’t present in the Black Knight’s debut in 1955’s Black Knight #1 from Stan Lee and Joe Maneely. The comic played to all the tropes of the Arthurian legends and was a cringy attempt at a fantasy tale that stuck to the status quo of other comics. Black Knight was an uninteresting mystery man, without any range or depth.
4 The Wasp
Ant-Man’s debut was pretty cringy in its own right, but the Wasp followed suit! Janet Van Dynne now leads an integral career in the Marvel Universe, as a founding member of the Avengers and a legacy hero who has passed on the moniker to other deserving women.
But Tales to Astonish #44 in 1963, from Stan Lee and H.E. Huntley and Jack Kirby, made sure to depict Janet as someone who stumbled into Ant-Man’s life, almost like a meet-cute. The character was mainly a love interest, chosen because of her similarities with Hank’s deceased ex-wife. If that wasn’t strange enough, the way she was portrayed as obsessed with everything Ant-Man was achieving was a cringy disservice to the character and not a helpful route to becoming Wasp.
The God of Thunder, Thor, is a mighty hero who has achieved a lot since his debut. The character is now written like a Shakespearean tragedy, with his loss and responsibilities contributing to one of comics’ most well-rounded deities. Some of the best Marvel event finales have featured Thor at the helm, making the sacrifice as only he can.
That serious and tragic tone was replaced with something whimsical and cringy in his introduction in 1963’s Journey into Mystery #83 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Ignoring some of the rich Norse mythology to hand, the comic instead focused on a human Donald Blake who would transform into Thor in a He-Man-esque manner.
Hawkeye is probably more misunderstood than many other Marvel vigilantes. He has been used as comic relief and as the underdog, but it’s when that balance is perfectly found that Clint Barton really excels. The long-term Avenger is never depicted as any weaker because of his lack of powers. His impressive skills more than make up for them.
However, Hawkeye was introduced as a circus-performing criminal, who boasted gimmick after gimmick without any true character development. Debuting in Tales of Suspense #57 in 1964 from Stan Lee and Don Heck, the character was awkwardly portrayed as essentially a henchman for Black Widow. Although he pushed Iron Man to his limit, Hawkeye’s garish costume and silly trick arrows were a sign of the times.
1 The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four were Marvel’s first family and have cemented a legacy unlike any other team in the universe. With a consistent roster of members and a penchant for discovery and exploration, the tone of an FF book is so different and special. They have stood the test of time in spite of their silly debut.
Introduced in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the team was immediately pitted against the laughable Mole Man. With dated attires, a stereotypical portrayal of Sue Storm, and a really cringy focus on the family dynamic, the comic certainly played better to younger audiences of the era than it would today.
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