Who was the first teenage superhero in comic books?


Today we find out who the first teenage superhero in comic book history was.

In “When We First Met,” we highlight the various characters, phrases, objects, or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like when someone first said “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant dime or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

My buddy Fraser Sherman wrote to me about a question he had when talking about Captain America’s age in a recent blog post. His question sent me on a brief tangent about how Cap’s age and general experience as a superhero never made sense in the Silver Age Avengers comics.

But Fraser’s central question was, “Was Steve Rogers a teenager when he became Captain America?”

As I noted in the previous article, it’s almost impossible to know for sure how old Joe Simon and Jack Kirby wanted Steve Rogers to be in Captain America Comics #1 when he first transforms into the Super Solider known as Captain America…

That said, while the comic doesn’t say exactly how old Steve Rogers is, he sure does look like a teenager, doesn’t he? 18 would be when you could join the military, so I think 19 would be a very reasonable age for him when he got his powers. Fraser pointed out to me that Steve Englehart later specifically established that Steve was 19 years old. So Captain America would technically be a teenage superhero, right?

And that’s really what Fraser wanted to know. If we were to assume that Captain America was, in fact, a teenage superhero, would he be the FIRST teenage superhero who wasn’t a sidekick like Robin the Boy Wonder? Great question, Fraser, so let’s take a look!

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As Fraser, of course, knows, nearly all of the early superheroes were of the same vague late-20s age as most comic book heroes. Everyone was basically in their late twenties, old enough to be a clear adult but young enough not to be old. Basically, the early years of a professional baseball player were the early years of a superhero. That 27-29 time frame seemed to be the case for Superman, Batman, and more.

The first superhero who could realistically be considered a teenager was also not introduced as a superhero. In 1939 Marvel Comics #1, Bill Everett introduced us to Namor the Submarine as an underwater being who just slaughtered a group of human sailors. When Namor asks her mother why their people hate all humans, she says she fell in love with a human in 1920…

She then mentions that it took them 20 years to prepare to face the human race, suggesting that the year is 1940 and not 1939. So how old is Namor? Is he 19 or is it later in 1940 and therefore he is 20?

I think it’s tricky somehow, made even trickier by the fact that obviously, as seen for the first time, Namor was definitely not a superhero. Dude just killed a bunch of innocent divers as part of his war on humanity. Eventually, however, Namor becomes a hero, but it wasn’t really obvious at first (anti-hero at BEST), so maybe he’s not applying for THAT reason?

Later in 1939, Toni Blum and her father, Alex Blum, gave us the superhero known as Samson, who was essentially the biblical Samson…

Samson soon got his own comic and the origin was written by young Blum with artist Louis Cazeneuve and we see that Samson’s adventures begin as soon as he graduates from college…

Presumably, that makes him 21/22, but hey, maybe he graduated earlier!

Jay Garrick made his debut about a month later (the last two months of 1939 and the first few months of 1940 saw a deluge of new superheroes) in Flash comics #1 by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert and Jay Garrick gains his powers through an insane chain of events (essentially by inhaling steam after taking a smoke break amid all of his chemicals!)…

Jay has been working on the project for at least three years, making him a college junior at best, and therefore almost certainly 20 or 21 years old. So he went out.

I have no idea what you’re doing with Billy Batson/Captain Marvel, who debuted together in Whizz Comics #2 (by Bill Parker and CC Beck). Is Billy even a teenager?

And while Billy is clearly the main character in the Captain Marvel stories, he’s not technically Captain Marvel, is he?

So I think Billy doesn’t count as a teenage superhero even though he was, in fact, a teenager (and I’m not sure on that as well).

Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily are vague about Rex Tyler’s age when he became Hourman in adventure comics #48, just that he’s a “young chemist”, but I guess the implication is that he’s over 20…

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So the real answer is a whole ANOTHER Simon and Kirby creation, Marvel Boy, which debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #6 in the spring of 1940. Marvel Boy was a child born with the soul of Hercules and on his 14th birthday…

He learns the truth and learns that he really is Marvel Boy and that he is on Earth to fight crime and the Nazis…

He even has a special costume for the occasion…

So yes, at 14, it’s clear that Marvel Boy was the first non-sidekick teenage superhero. So even though Cap counts as a teenager, he’s been beaten at the gun by almost a full year!

Thanks for the question, Fraser! If anyone else wants to learn about an interesting comic first, message me at [email protected]!

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