Beyond the numerous success stories in the Marvel Universe exists those characters born from good intentions and high expectations, but never fully fulfilled their potential.
These Could Have Beens—many of whom headlined their own ambitious series and spotlights—represent the spirit of adventure and experimentation that’s defined Marvel for 75, and to them we dedicate this loving tribute; may they one day realize the hopes and dreams of their creators.
The heads of Timely Comics—Marvel’s predecessor—thought enough of Red Raven to launch him in his own series in 1940, but, for whatever reason, they clipped his wings after only one issue and the high-flying birdman cooled his jets until 1968 for a second chance. Red Raven reappeared in UNCANNY X-MEN #44, but thereafter relegated to a retroactive World War II team, the Liberty Legion, and a daughter who shared his colorful codename.
This bright heroine first appeared in her own book, SUN GIRL, but it lasted only three issues in 1948. Her sunny disposition won her a spot as the original Human Torch’s sidekick until 1949, after which she only enjoyed a few back-up tales in other titles. Today, new Marvel characters bearing the moniker stand ready to fly to heights their namesake never quite achieved.
THE RINGO KID
At a time when Western heroes blew in and out like tumbleweed, the Ringo Kid stood tall in the saddle in 1954’s RINGO KID WESTERN and managed to hang on for 21 issues. Years later, in 1975’s AVENGERS #142-143, he appeared alongside more well-known cowboy stars like the Two-Gun Kid and the Rawhide Kid, but poor Ringo fell off his horse again after that, despite plans for a solo revival that very same year.
People like airplanes and pilots and super heroes, so why not a World War I masked flying ace? That’s what Marvel thought in 1968, debuting the Phantom Eagle in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #16, then standing back to gauge reader reaction. Not gaining much altitude in his first and only spotlight, the aviator bided his time until a 1971 INCREDIBLE HULK time-travel story and a brief phantom flight in 1973’s GHOST RIDER #12, but since then he’s never truly soared again.
The success of SGT. FURY in 1963 and beyond led to a spinoff that seemed a sure-fire hit: CAPT. SAVAGE AND HIS LEATHERNECK RAIDERS. Alas, despite a solid send-off by Fury, Savage’s war-time adventures lacked the punch of his fellow soldier and two years after the captain’s book launched, it sank away, never to resurface.
Follow this one if you can: a present-day Native American hero leapt onto the scene in 1970's AVENGERS #80-81, but a few years after that, in 1972, an Old West champion with the same name and motif made his debut in RED WOLF #1. Whether or not the time seemed right for such an ambitious character, he lost his book nine issues later and stepped aside to make room for his modern counterpart. That Red Wolf once again made a go of it, in MARVEL CHILLERS in 1976, but found himself simply one of many other heroes in 1981’s INCREDIBLE HULK #265.
IT! THE LIVING COLOSSUS
Buoyed by the success of horror characters in the early 1970’s at Marvel, this stony star returned from a quiet debut in 1961 to carve out his own series in 1973’s ASTONISHING TALES #21. That crumbled only three issues into the run, so It! made like a statue until a wrestling match with a certain green giant in 1980’s INCREDIBLE HULK #244. He’s stood silently since then and kept to himself.
WUNDARR THE AQUARIAN
The only survivor of a doomed planet, Wundarr landed on Earth in 1973’s FEAR #17 and stumbled into the path of the Man-Thing. The alien wunderkind came into some small prominence when found by the Thing in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #2 a year later. Wundarr gained a more cosmic awareness by 1979’s MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #58, enough to be billed as “Marvel’s Latest, Greatest Super-Star” and change his name to The Aquarian, but not even those mile-markers of greatness endowed the wandering hippie-type with enough power to go solo and stand the test of time.
Perhaps inspired by the stone-like It!, the Golem shuffled into the Marvel Universe in 1974’s STRANGE TALES #176, but after two issues his caretakers realized that he didn’t have what it took to be a rock star. His story continued into MARVEL TWO-IN ONE #11 in 1975, then after a long, long sleep he guest-starred in 2002’s THE HOOD #3, still on shaky ground.
GABRIEL, DEVIL HUNTER
Gabriel set up practice as an exorcist in 1974’s HAUNT OF HORROR #2, but lost his license after just four issues. He returned to aid a possessed Franklin Richards in FANTASTIC FOUR #222-223 in 1980, and then lost his mind in HELLSTORM #21, another sad victim of Could Have Been Syndrome…
Keep your eye out for more Could Have Beens later this week! Visit marvel.com/75 for more of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary and share your thoughts on Twitter using the hash tag #Marvel75