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Five Forgotten Comic Heroes of the 90's

While not every character to ever headline their own comic book is going to get the live action treatment at our local theaters, movies like Ant-Man give us hope that cinematic adventures of She-Hulk or The Elongated Man can't be far off. After all, there is a seemingly endless supply of spandex wearing heroes to choose from, many of whom were "drawn to life" in the comics boom of the 1990's.

From 1991 to 1996, interest in comic books seemed to explode out of nowhere in the popular culture, with people buying "collector's Item" #1 and milestone issues of comics with the belief that they were a "good investment". DC and Marvel were certainly the established purveyors of illustrated battles between good and evil, but new companies like Image, Dark Horse, Valiant, Malibu and more sprung up seemingly overnight to meet the demand. I guess what I'm saying is, thousands of trees gave their lives in vain, so that people could buy 2 issues of Youngblood #1 that are now lining bird cages across the world.

I witnessed this avalanche of comic books first hand, visiting our local comic book shop weekly to get my fix and becoming painfully aware that not all super heroes are created equal. Today I'd like to introduce you to a few masked vigilantes, mutants and misfits from the 90's that most people never knew existed and the few that did, seem to have forgotten. Some never got their chance to shine, while others flamed out in the glut of product and many were just a bad idea to begin with. 


With an great costume design and an origin shrouded in mystery, in 1991 Darkhawk seemed to have all the right elements to be the next Marvel Comics phenomenon, but somehow never left his mark. The basic premise revolved around a hot-headed teenager named Chris Powell finding a mystical amulet that transformed him into an armored hero. He spent the first few entries of his 50 issue run trying to solve the mystery of his police officer father's disappearance and supposed turn to the dark side, all the while trying to figure out the source of his armored powers.

Darkhawk could shoot a laser beam from the amulet on his chest, had a 3-pronged Wolverine like claw and metal wings to help him soar into battle, but unlike Peter Parker, his alter ego just never quite clicked as relatable or cool. The most interesting element of the character to me was the ongoing mystery about what he looked like under his helmet, with anyone who saw his face shrieking in terror at the sight of him. As the series went on, Chris eventually found out the armor was of alien origin, leading him into a world of sci-fi adventures before fading into obscurity. 

My neighbor, Andy was the one who introduced me to Darkhawk, which was weird because he was mostly into comics like Dragonball Z. Looking back I think it was the fact that Andy organized his comic books in a 3 ring binder with clear plastic sleeves that made Darkhawk seem much more impressive than he ultimately was. At the time I thought, "Darkhawk looks pretty cool, but, he's no "New Robin" (which was my favorite hero of the moment). Darkhawk is not completely forgotten, he has popped up during the last few years in various Marvel comics, but to little fanfare. He's not so much obscure, as he is easily forgotten by the masses. If "the hawk" ever does get a movie or TV show, the general public would likely respond with a loud, "Dark-WHO?"

The Ray 

No, I'm not talking about the former spokesman for Diet Pepsi, this is a 90's also-ran whose star never burned quite as bright as his super powers, but I always thought had a pretty cool origin story. In The Ray #1 from 1992 we learn that Ray Terrill was hidden away from the sunlight his entire life due to a mysterious disease that earned him the name "Night Boy". Upon turning 18, Ray ventured outside to find out that he was not ill, but instead had light activated super powers which were genetically endowed by the father he never knew, a super hero from decades earlier called The Ray (who looked like Big Bird in tights).

Ray eventually donned a golden helmet with a fin as part of his costume, which in retrospect was very reminiscent of The Rocketeer, as was was his stylized jacket (I never made that connection until now). His basic powers were the ability to absorb and expel light to fly and shoot energy blasts, unfortunately his adventures were never really that interesting, consisting of your standard villain of the month (Dr. Polaris? Come on...) fights through city streets. Although DC Comics didn't have much planned for the character storywise, they did do a pretty unique thing in marketing The Ray, which caught my attention early on.

Yep, they hired a male model to represent the character in promotional photos that looked more like an ad for Calvin Klein jeans than a comic book. These kind of stunts usually worked better for the largely teenaged male audience with scantily clad "Bad Girl" characters like Vampirella or Avengelyne, but I appreciated the effort to bring this character to life in the "real world".  The Ray is another case of a 90's upstart having been featured in other comics, cartoons and even toys over the years, but failing to gain the name recognition or respect that even Howard the Duck has to the world at large.

Readers generally familiar with comics might say the 2 entries above are too well known to qualify for this list, but I guarantee 99% of comic fans have no idea who this next guy is...


I know the name sounds like the epic story of a super-powered security guard, but this derivative Marvel footnote from 1993 was far less interesting. Nightwatch was first featured in back-up stories found in the pages of Spider-Man comics that I used to buy before getting his own short lived solo book. Although I had never heard of him, the character always seemed so familiar. What was it about this caped figure in black that gave me deja vu? Oh yeah, he was a total rip-off of 90's mega-icon, SPAWN!

Sure the stories had nothing in common: Spawn was a murdered government assassin turned homeless zombie warrior from hell, while Nightwatch was a doctor who found a "living" costume that came from the future and know, I'm gonna stop right there. Do you pop open every imitation store brand Cola to see if it's as good or better than the real thing or do you just recognize it as a Coke rip-off and move on? That's how I felt about Nightwatch. If Marvel wasn't going to take the time to offer us an original character design, why was I going to give this "new" hero a chance?

Let's just see how the 2 measure up: Self repairing black body suit with white accents? They must have had the same tailor. Ridiculously large, mind-activated red cape that takes on various shapes for attack? We're 2 for 2. Enormous fan following resulting in TV shows, movies and action figures? Well, only one of these heroes can claim that distinction and his name rhymes with "Lawn". If we're going to get nit-picky (and I am), Nightwatch's costume actually steals from the armor worn by the psychotic Batman fill-in, Azrael as well. All these factors add up to character that was never even acknowledged, let alone forgotten.


Sometimes you can put all the money in the world behind a concept and it still ends up being lost in the clutter of dated entertainment, such is the case with Prime in 1993. As the flagship character of the Ultraverse line of comics from Malibu, Prime was front and center in the onslaught of comics, toys and even an animated TV show (Ultraforce anyone?) that gave the illusion of success in this comic book explosion. But the true test of success is staying power and the fact that asking the question, "Hey, remember Prime?" is guaranteed to get the response, "You mean Optimus? Like Transformers?" makes the following paragraph all the more necessary.

Borrowing a concept from Captain Marvel (Shazam!), Prime told the story of a 13 year old named Kevin who generates a muscular adult body over his own and fights evil as a generic super hero named Prime. There was an added level of gross-out appeal as the body eventually disintegrates into a mess of fleshy goo, returning Prime to his alter-ego. The main point of interest was seeing how an immature kid dealt with adult situations in an adult body and the exaggerated musculature portrayed in the artwork. It seemed like kids in the 90's thought, "the more muscles the better", even if many of the illustrated muscle groups weren't part of the human anatomy.

Eventually Malibu's Ultraverse was bought by Marvel and brought into the world of Spider-Man, Hulk and the rest for some crossovers which seemed to legitimize those characters. However the fact that Prime and his second rate super buddies have never been brought back for cameos in current comics stories of the Marvel Universe or re-booted for a new generation, reveals how much nostalgia value these characters have for even the most obsessive comic book geeks of the world, answer ZERO.

X-O Manowar

I know I've been coming down on some of these super-duds for their inherent lameness, but for the final entry on this list, I wanted to share with you a hero I still can't believe isn't a household name after 20+ years of being published by various comic book companies. X-O Manowar, created by Valiant editor-in-chief Jim Shooter with Bob Layton, contained awesome action and solid storytelling that begs to be turned into a movie or cable TV series.

Get this, it's the story of a Visigoth warrior named Aric of Dacia, who is abducted by spider-aliens in his own time, only to escape his captors centuries later by stealing a sentient suit of armor. Arriving in our modern world, he thwarts an alien invasion of Earth and takes over their fake corporation to become king of modern business, while continuing to save the world from various threats and adapting to life in the 20th century. Isn't that a killer concept that should have been scooped up by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 90's or Chris Hemsworth today after his Thor contract runs out? 

My favorite thing about the series was watching Aric go from an illiterate barbarian with alien tech-weapons, to a suave and heroic CEO/super hero through the help of a guy named Ken, who literally brought him out of the jungle where he landed, to the big city. Their friendship and business partnership developed over multiple issues which made for a great read. Plus his armor Shanhara aka "Good Skin" was like a silent, loyal friend who he mourned when it was destroyed and then forged a new kinship with it's offspring (Yeah, the armor could reproduce. Weird, huh?).

X-O Manowar ran for 68 issues with Valiant, then was re-booted when Acclaim (yep, the video game company) began publishing their own comics and partnered him with Iron Man in a video game called Heavy Metal. The concept was re-booted again a few years ago, but still most people don't know who the guy is, which is a real shame. If you were going to check out one character from this list, I would seek out the X-O Manowar: Retribution trade paperback for an entertaining look at a truly original concept, from a decade overrun by pointless super beings glossed over with fancy artwork.

So I'm curious to know, do you have any recollection of these characters? Especially you non-comics readers; did you ever come across these guys in your general consumption of 90's pop culture?
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mickyarber Posted on Jul 05, 2015 at 01:06 PM

I remember all of this. THe early 90's was my wheel house when it came to comics. I shamelessly admit that I was part of the speculator boom, lol.

I loved all the Ultraverse titles and was a big fan of being on board with a new universe that I thought was going to last. :(

The Ray was a good title with Quesada on board in the early issues.

I had that first issue of Nightwatch, but never read it. I bought it specifically for the speculator aspect.

Good read.

Fulton4V Posted on Jun 24, 2015 at 07:41 PM

Turok was a favorite for me. I liked the comic and the games alot.

echidna64 Posted on Jun 22, 2015 at 07:00 PM

Great picks! Web of Spider-Man #100 is the first comic book that I ever owned and I love the inclusion of Nightwatch. I would also add the dimensional duo of Cloak and Dagger

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 20, 2015 at 08:53 AM

@jkatz I feel like the whole line of Valiant books belongs on this list, since they never really had a breakout star in the mainstream. Unless you count Turok getting a game on the N64. Their artwork was pretty drab (aside from Quesada on Ninjak and later Bart Sears on X-O), but I liked the stories themselves.

jkatz Posted on Jun 19, 2015 at 06:24 PM

Awesome article, Hoju! It could've used more Valiant characters, though.
And omitting Supreme (THE best comic of the 90s) is a crime punishable by death!

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 19, 2015 at 02:14 AM

@Vaporman87 Good to be back! Oh poor Prototype, aka "Imitation Iron Man", at least he wasn't as mixed up as "Mantra"...oh my. I totally had the Marvel Super Heroes Deathlok action figure with the lifting metal brain cover, even though I never picked up an issue of his book. I always got Union and Supreme mixed up for some reason.

@comic_book_fan Sleepwalker definitely needed to be on this list. I feel like whenever I see piles of old comics at a thrift store there is bound to be 2 or 3 Sleepwalker #1's in there.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 19, 2015 at 01:21 AM

Anybody remember Union? I was a big Texiera fan after his work on the reboot of Ghost Rider, and picked up the first several issues of his foray into the Image Comics world.

comic_book_fan Posted on Jun 19, 2015 at 12:51 AM

i am surprised that neither wildstar or sleepwalker didn't make the list i hate to admit it but i had never heard of nightwatch before but he does look familiar cough cough the prowler

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 18, 2015 at 03:54 PM

Sweet! Great article to come back with Hoju (hope all is well with the new little one).

I actually DO remember some of these characters, and even still own first issues of their comics (Bloodshot, CyberForce, DarkHawk, XO Man-O-War). I had a few Ultraverse comics too... my favorite being Prototype. My friend had a few issues of a guy named Megaton, who was a lot like Prime. I agree that these were all mostly forgettable characters, with some exceptions.

Deathlok, though not created in the 90's, got his first series in the 90's. I thought Deathlok was very cool, but not many people seem to know about him or remember much about him. He did make appearances in the new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series and there has been attempts to make a feature film about him.

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