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Marvel Comics

  • Ant-Man (Hank Pym) was introduced in a one-off story in issue #27 of anthology series Tales to Astonish. Later that year, he would return to the series as costumed superhero Ant-Man, and would subsequently go on to found The Avengers.
  • Blade from Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula. He debuted in issue #10 as a recurring ally to Quincy Harker's vampire hunting team. Harker's team, which included regulars Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing, were the constants of Tomb and can be considered the actual protagonists of the series. Blade did have at least one short story arc dedicated to his hunt for Deacon Frost. But he disappeared after his mission was completed and the focus turned back to Harker's team. Today, Blade is (other than Dracula himself), considered the most longeval character from that comic. He would go on to appear in numerous '90s comics such as Nightstalkers and his own title before actually becoming the star of a series of movies and a TV series starting in 1998.
  • Bucky Barnes from Captain America. He was just another teen sidekick when introduced, and then killed off in flashback by Stan Lee when he reintroduced Cap into the Silver Age. For decades Bucky became a running joke as "one of the only characters to stay dead" in comics. Fast forward to 2005 and at the very beginning of his run Ed Brubaker proceeds to bring Bucky back as the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin used by the Russians during the Cold War who is eventually freed from control and goes on to become a well-characterized anti-hero. And then when original Captain America Steve Rogers was killed, Bucky wound up taking over the mantle to honor his partner. And he wound up becoming such a hit that when Steve was inevitably brought back to life, the fans actually didn't want him resuming his old identity and replacing Bucky. And for a little while, they got their wish: Bucky remained Captain America and Steve operated without a code name as the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. While Steve eventually became Captain America again, Bucky continued to be a major part of the Marvel Universe, getting his own series, then leading The Thunderbolts - the major role he's played in the MCU has catapulted him into Marvel's A-List.
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    • Even an edition of Guinness World Records acknowledged Bucky to be the superhero that set the record for the comic book character that took the longest to come back to life. Really think about how impressive that is.
  • Cosmic Ghost Rider from Thanos. While Donny Cates' Thanos run is very well regarded, what really stood out to many was the Cosmic Ghost Rider, an insane version of Frank Castle who became the Ghost Rider and Herald of Galactus. So he's a Punisher with a flaming skull who rides through space on a flaming motorcycle. It didn't take long for Marvel to give him his own series set in the main Marvel Universe, and he's due to join the Guardians of the Galaxy once that ends.
  • Deadpool was originally designed to be a one-shot villain of the New Mutants and a parody of DC Comics' Deathstroke. He was later teamed up with Cable and briefly joined the X-Men and X-Force. His sociopathic comedy and constant fourth wall breaking have pushed him to the elite of Marvel Characters with his popularity rivalling that of Wolverine and Spider-Man. Ironically, Deathstroke also fits this. Another one-shot villain that went over big with fans.
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  • Elektra's popularity, which stretched beyond the traditional male population and drew a large female readership, would eventually ensure her own miniseries and in 1986 she would star in Elektra: Assassin. She was supposed to stay dead after her death in Daredevil, but she was resurrected because of her popularity and frequently used since, despite Marvel's initial promise to Frank Miller that the character would not be used in any other publication.
  • The Avengers has Hawkeye. Originally a villain and one of then-villain Black Widow's many short-lived boyfriends that she manipulates into fighting Iron Man. Then, Hawkeye joins the Avengers, where he becomes The Lancer to Captain America. He would then go on to get several largely successful miniseries until finally becoming the leader of his own Avengers team in the form of the West Coast Avengers, which lasted quite a while. Then he fell back into the C-list, but in recent times has returned as one of the core Avengers, being a member or supporting member of most Avengers teams, and to tie in with the 2012 film even got his own ongoing that, currently, is the most critically acclaimed book (or tying for it) Marvel is publishing, while also being a core cast member of the Avengers Marvel Now book, the Avengers Assemble comic book, and the Secret Avengers.
    • The other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, similarly has broken out from her Young Avengers team-mates. With the Young Avengers splitting up, Kate Bishop was able to take over the lion's share of top billing from fellow Hawkeye, Clint Barton after the acclaimed Matt Fraction Hawkeye series. She now leads the West Coast Avengers with Clint and will appear in the MCU as the replacement to Clint Barton, while many of the Young Avengers are in comic book limbo.
  • Howard the Duck is one of the biggest examples as he was never intended as more than a joke for one or two panels and ended up as one of the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe and Comics in general. This led to a widely-panned feature film and a much better received cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy.
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    • He was even the first Marvel character to get his own theatrically released movie. Pity the film turned out so badly.
  • Jessica Jones is this to the Marvel MAX line. Intended to be Marvel's R-rated imprint for their entire universe, the thing most know about it was that it was what introduced Alias and the starring character. Since starring in her own Netflix adaptation in 2015, she's become known to the public after years of being a fan-favorite.
  • The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, proved to be a surprise success, even outselling her parent book. She's gotten a lot of positive mainstream attention and has been stated to have cross-cultural appeal, bringing in readers who wouldn't traditionally be interested in American superhero comics. She's also the most popular among the new Inhumans, and generally immune to the Inhuman/X-Men backdraft.
  • Nico Minoru is the only one of the Runaways to get her own page on TV Tropes, and while Avengers Arena also had another of the team, Chase Stein, she would by herself eventually join A-Force. Nico is also frequently the team's representative in Marvel video games.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spidey himself qualifies. Spider-Man started out as a one-shot story for a failing anthology comic and received his own comic book series only a few months later due to sheer fan-demand for more Spider-Man stories.
    • Amazing Spider-Man #42: Peter Parker has a blind date with the neighbor's niece, Mary Jane Watson, whom the writer and artist intend as a minor character to play second banana to the real love interest, Gwen Stacy. But when in the final panel Mary Jane's face is finally seen and she says the much-quoted words "Face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot!", the letters calling for her to become Peter's girlfriend start coming. Stan Lee and John Romita eventually discover that no matter what they do, MJ is more popular with the readers than designated love interest Gwen. To cut a long and complex story short, 250 issues later Mary Jane finally consents to become Spider-Man's wife.
    • Two alternate universe characters, Spider-Girl and Ultimate Spider-Man, were supposed to be a one-shot and a mini series respectively. Sales and fan response were so positive that Marvel decided to create an entire alternate universe and a line of comics for both characters, the Marvel Comics 2 and Ultimate Marvel.
    • Flash Thompson became popular once Peter left high school as an example of a well-developed supporting character who grew beyond his Jerk Jock caricature. He matured and became a nice guy and war hero. Eventually, he proved popular enough that Dan Slott made him the fourth Venom, and the first straight-up heroic one. This incarnation was popular enough that Flash would get multiple Venom ongoings out of it and he's still the only Venom aside from Eddie Brock that has gained the widespread acceptance of fans.
    • "Spider-Gwen", a Gwen Stacy from an Alternate Universe who was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter, was first mentioned in interviews leading up to Spider-Verse. With a lack of Gwen Stacy in the comics, seeing her in action and as a hero struck a chord with readers. To the point where people were cosplaying as her months before her first story in Edge of Spider-Verse #2. Before the Spider-Verse story proper started, Marvel had already announced a series for her. When the first part of Spider-Verse was released, her appearance gave her the tagline "Your new favorite". As the ultimate testament to this, Ghost-Spider (2019) saw Gwen immigrate from her own universe and into the main Marvel Universe, thus putting her in the same world as the Marvel stable.
    • Miles Morales, the second Ultimate Spider-Man. He received widespread mainstream attention when first announced, and has proven popular enough to appear in several video games and the Ultimate Spider-Man TV series. He's also one of the few characters from the Ultimate Marvel universe to survive the end of the line and transition into the mainstream Marvel Universe after Secret Wars. He's even been referred to as the "crown jewel" of the line.
    • Scream was initially only one of five symbiotes spawned by Venom and wasn't even given a name — alongside the rest of the spawn — in her first appearance. However, out of the five, she would go on to become the most popular due to her unique aesthetic and fleshed out characterisation (at least for symbiote characters). She even appeared in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man as a member of the Sinister Six. After the original host of Scream, Donna Diego, was killed, Marvel would bring the symbiote back in the Absolute Carnage event, with an entire miniseries dedicated to it, while the rest of the Venomspawn were made to share a one-shot. Furthemore, the character is receiving an ongoing after the event's conclusion.
  • The Punisher started out as a one-shot character in Amazing Spider-Man #129, manipulated by the villainous Jackal into trying to gun down Spider-Man. He proved popular enough to get a few more appearances as an anti-heroic foil to Spider-Man, Captain America, and Daredevil before getting a miniseries (and later several ongoing series) of his own.
  • X-Men:
    • Back in the early to mid 1980s, the X-Men comics were known for their ensemble cast. Everyone was allowed their moments to shine. However, Wolverine eventually became popular, and over the next decade or so, he not only had his own solo comic, but also seemed required to be in every X-Men comic (and plenty of other ones) as well. It got to the point where one writer even lampshaded this by including one scene where Wolverine complained to his leader that he couldn't be assigned to every X-Men subgroup. In adaptations, the franchise has made a complete shift from "X-Men" to "Wolverine (and some other guys in the background)." Can you say Wolverine Publicity? Wolverine wasn't even an X-Men character originally to begin with. He was originally meant to be a one-shot nemesis for the Incredible Hulk. It also took Wolverine some time to become the breakout character; initially he was at risk of being killed off in his second issue as an X-Man. He and another new member, Thunderbird, were the candidates for the chopping block because their very similar personalities were seen as redundant, and Wolverine was kept around because his powers and appearance were considered more interesting than Thunderbird's generic super-strength and stereotypical Native American costume.
    • Like Father, Like Daughter. Wolverine's Opposite-Sex Clone, X23, did this as well: Ensemble Dark Horse and Breakout Character on X-Men: Evolution, she became a Canon Immigrant and has started to become the same in the books, even taking over the identity of Wolverine after Logan was killed off.
    • Emma Frost is the most prominent and popular 21st century addition to the X-Men. From a supervillain and foe of the X-Men, to a superhero and one of the X-Men's most central members and leaders.
    • Old Man Logan appeared in a self-contained story arc in Wolverine as an alternate future Wolverine. That storyline's enduring popularity resulted in him, years later, being transported to the mainstream Marvel Universe. His film adaption's success only upped his popularity. The Old Man dystopian future format has been so successful it's led to spin-offs Old Man Hawkeye and Old Man Quill as well as parody Old Lady Harley.
    • Rogue was introduced in The Avengers Annual #10 in 1981 pretty much as a 1-shot villain, mainly intended to be a way for Chris Claremont to handwave away the remnants of the trauma that Carol Danvers had infamously undergone a year earlier in issue #200. After a two-part appearance as a villain in Dazzler #22 and #23, she approached the X-Men seeking their help in Uncanny X-Men #171... and went on to become a smash hit amongst fans, rising to one of the X-Men's leading ladies and developing a far larger and more consistent fandom than Carol Danvers ever enjoyed.

DC Comics

  • Aquaman: Mera, Arthur's significant other, had been as on-again/off-again a presence for years, serving as a Damsel in Distress, and later, point of angst for Aquaman, despite being his peer. That is, until Geoff Johns gave her a central role in both Blackest Night and Brightest Day, where she got some serious backstory expansion: she came from Xebel, a colony located in a Prison Dimension, and was sent to kill Arthur, but fell in love with him.note  She's been represented as an equal if not superior in combat ever since, saving Arthur just as often as the other way around, become the queen of Atlantis, assumed occasional double-duty alongside the Justice League, and also received a 6-issue mini series.
  • Batman. Originally he was just one of many characters being published in the anthology series Detective Comics. He then became the most prominent character in the book as well as the most popular, and now, he's probably the second most well known superhero, right after Superman.
    • This also applies to his Evil Counterpart, the Batman Who Laughs, a Jokerized version of Batman who murdered his entire universe and is the secondary antagonist of the comic storyline Dark Nights: Metal. His characterization as a truly nightmarish, efficient supervillain and horrifying, but awesome appearance have made him incredibly popular with fans and readers in general; as such, he was the only Nightmare Batman to survive the event, and he subsequently made appearances in other series, including one where he is the primary antagonist.
  • Gen. Wade Eiling was always intended to be one of the main villains of Captain Atom, but he has since broken out to other characters' stories and other media. He was one of the main antagonists for the entire Justice League in Justice League Unlimited, and also appeared in the fifth episode of The Flash (2014), and appears to be set to be a major recurring antagonist on that show. In addition, Eiling ended up becoming Amanda Waller's Arch-Enemy in Suicide Squad, acting as the Greater-Scope Villain for the last third or so of the comic's original run, and returning as the Big Bad of the 2007 revival miniseries.
  • Likewise, Doom Patrol is relatively obscure, but Garfield Logan (Beast Boy, Changeling, or Menagerie depending on the era) certainly got a boost in prominence after the first Patrol was destroyed.
  • Magog, an anti-hero from the DC Elseworld graphic novel Kingdom Come, was so well-liked among fans (and the writers themselves) that he eventually got his own series and was incorporated into the main DCU. Things soon soured, however.
  • Nightwing (Dick Grayson), the first Robin, and formerly Batman. He started off as a kid sidekick in the 1940's, finally officially becoming his own hero in the 1980's in the Teen Titans comics. From there, he got his own series which ran for over one hundred issues, but it was cancelled... because he was getting multiple ongoings once he became Batman. Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio went on to later describe him as "The Heart and Soul" of the entire DC Universe. There were plans to kill him off (permanently), but the idea was scrapped because of the above reason and because he was just too popular. Most fans don't consider Azrael to be a true successor to Batman, and in fact, hated the very idea of him being Batman. The same fans didn't complain when Dick became Batman, and plenty of fans were disappointed when it was announced that he would return to his Nightwing persona in the New 52. Once he took up the identity of Agent 37 of Spyral after faking his death, his popularity increased further, with Dick being the main character in the weekly Batman and Robin Eternal series, not the actual Batman at the time, Jim Gordon.
  • Chances are, if you wear the shield of Superman, you're gonna be popular with the fans. Just look at Supergirl, Superboy, Steel and the Cyborg Superman.
    • Superman himself is an example. Like Batman, he originally made his debut in an anthology. In time, however, he got his own book, and even became the Trope Codifier for the superhero.
  • Similar to Eiling, Suicide Squad gave a lot of characters bumps in popularity and helped define/redefine many, but one character who came out of it stands above them: Amanda Waller, one of the most prolific Magnificent Bastards in comics, who then went on to be featured in a number of adaptations and comics, regardless of if the Squad appeared.
  • Among the characters who've gone by The Flash, Wally West probably stands out as this. Wally's time as the Flash greatly fleshed out the powers, mythos, and characterizations of the titular speedster and his enemies, saw one of the most organic character arcs in comics, and essentially redefined the titular hero in such a way that, that whenever an adaptation uses a different Flash, they tend to draw from Wally's personality and history rather than their own. Nowadays, whenever a superhero group features a character with Super Speed, chances are likely that they'll bear some resemblance to Wally West.
  • The Red Lanterns got their own book in the New 52, and have a major presence in Green Lantern: The Animated Series. After Wrath of the First Lantern, the corps' numbers were drastically reduced and the series has been focusing more on Guy Gardner, Bleez, Rankorr, Skallox, Ratchet, and Zilius Zox as they are the few Red Lanterns left that aren't with Atrocitus
  • Black Adam, the archenemy of Captain Marvel. Despite being a one-shot character in the Golden Age (who died in his one and only appearance), he was brought back in the 1970s for good, and proved to be a massively popular character in the 90s, eventually starring in his own miniseries, joining the JSA, and being a big player in the DCU. In fact, it got to the point where Black Adam has more presence in the DCU than the Big Red Cheese himself.

Other

  • 2000 AD:
    • It's easy to forget that Judge Dredd didn't debut in 2000 AD until Prog 2. He's appeared in every issue since then and even got his own monthly magazine.
    • Judge Dredd has its own example in the psychic Judge Anderson, who was introduced in the same comic that introduced recurring villain Judge Death as one of the monster judge's unfortunate victims when she sacrifices herself to trap him inside a Boing-encased Anderson-shaped can. Her looks (based on Debbie Harry initially) and free-spirited jest in contrast with Dredd's signature gruffness made her so popular that she was brought back and even got her own spinoff, Anderson: Psi-Division.
  • The Adventures of Tintin:
  • Archie Comics:
    • Initially, Veronica was clearly a secondary character who functioned most often as nothing more than a plot device — an object of desire for Archie and an object of envy for Betty, who was depicted as an energetic schemer at the time. In the decades since her first appearance, almost all of this initial background has disappeared. Veronica Lodge has been retconned to have grown up in Riverdale, and she has become a full blown character in her own right and one of the main group.
    • Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Originally introduced as a one-off character in the 1960s, Sabrina became one of Archie's major secondary characters over the years, often having her own comic book, several Animated Series and, most famously, her own Sitcom in the late 90s/early 2000s.
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Princess Sally Acorn, from "Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Sonic Sat AM". Had more of a supporting role in early Archie. Arguably as prominent a character as Sonic himself later on. This is even more evident counting her earlier background as a minor captive in the games.
    • Mina the Mongoose received her first full appearance in issue #76 of "Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog", although she was originally a background character in issue #52. She was first discovered by Sonic the Hedgehog after Dr. Eggman captured her mother and roboticized her, leaving Mina mourning and vulnerable to capture by Shadowbots. She fell in love with Sonic after spending more time with him, and tried to win over his heart. When she realized that Sonic loved Sally Acorn, she gave up on pursuing him, and she instead began a singing career, eventually becoming the lead singer for Knothole Knuts and later the Forget Me Knots. Though she left the Knothole Freedom Fighters, she remains an ally and friend to them, as well as an active-if somewhat misdirected at times-citizen of New Mobotropolis. Mina's character design has become very popular among Sonic fans, such that some of her supporters wish for her to appear in the next future Sonic the Hedgehog video games. Still no word from the Sega Corporation, though.
    • Dr. Robotnik became this in Archie's Sonic X comic. It got to the point where Robotnik was practically the main character and the series was more about the many misadventures he and his robot mooks get into than about Sonic himself. Quite impressive considering that he was a side character at best when the series started.
  • The Controversial and short lived comic Body Bags is only remembered for the busty and psycho Panda Delgado . Across the Internet, more pinups exist of her then there are people who’ve heard of the comic.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • Scrooge McDuck was first created by Carl Barks as a rich Long-Lost Uncle Aesop character who invited his nephews to his cottage for Christmas. He was brought back because his greedy, misanthropic nature and personal wealth could drive stories by playing him as an antagonistic supporting character, but he slowly evolved more and more into a protagonist as he gained more character depth beyond "rich and greedy", eventually becoming the former Trope Namer for Mr. Vice Guy. Among many fans, he's more popular than Donald Duck, spawning Scrooge-centric works such as The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and DuckTales (1987).
    • Goldie only appeared in one Carl Barks story but was eventually accepted as Scrooge's de facto love interest (a la Irene Adler) in American comics and animation.
    • In the Brazilian Disney comics, Fethry Duck soon became on of the most popular members of the Donald Duck character cast and he starred in various comics with him as the titular character (and give him also a superhero identity, the Red Bat).
      • Similarly, Dickie Duck. While a minor character in many countries and virtually unknown in the USA, she is extremely popular in Brazil, where she stars in her own comics together with her own group of friends.
      • José Carioca. Much like Fethry or Dickie, he's starred in a lot of Brazil-produced comics and stories, where he got his own supporting cast and his own adventures.
  • The Dutch character Douwe Dabbert was never planned to have his own series: he was originally a supporting character in the one-shot comic The Spoiled Princess. However, he became so popular that he quickly got his own series that ran for 26 years, while the eponymous princess Pauline vanished from view and only returned for a single story years later.
  • Lady Death started out as a supporting villainess in Evil Ernie, essentially the Lady Macbeth to its undead Serial Killer protagonist, before getting her own title that also retconned much of her motives and background. Nowadays she's probably far more well-known than Evil Ernie himself.
  • Vincent Van Goat from Quantum and Woody. Originally intended as a one-issue gag, he became so popular that fans brought goat-themed toys, drawings, and memorabilia during promotional tours.
  • Marv from Sin City proved popular enough in the very first story that the series switched to being told in Anachronic Order so that he could reappear after getting killed off.
  • Static of the Milestone Comics line. Originally created as one series among many during the companies run in the 90's, Static started off as a fan favorite. Later on, he was even star of the, at the time, company's swan song; Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool. Due in part to his cartoon series, Static has gone on to become the most well known and famous of the Milestone characters, and has since become the poster child of the line.
  • Admiral Gar Stazi of Star Wars: Legacy. Introduced basically to explain what happened to a pre-existing galactic faction, his appearance featured some memorable examples of badassery, prompting the author to write more and then some more stories about him. By the end of the series, he basically has his own secondary plotline, spanning one third of the issues.
  • The Smurfs made their debut as one-shot supporting characters in Johan and Peewit, a Belgian comic book about a heroic king's page and his jester sidekick. The pair went on adventures that often featured magical creatures of the author's invention. The Smurfs were one such group of creatures, and were only intended to appear in one story. They became so popular, however, that the author kept bringing them back, and within a year they had received their own spin-off series, which completely eclipsed Johann and Peewit in popularity. What goes around comes around: Johan and Peewit (now named "Peewee") became minor characters in The Smurfs cartoon, eventually getting entire episodes to themselves (with the Smurfs showing up as cameos at the most).
  • Supernatural Thrillers started out as an Anthology Comic where each isssue was an adaptation of horror/suspense literature (i.e. Theodore Sturgeon's It,The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Invisible Man), but the original creation The Living Mummy from the fifth issue proved to be so popular that the series was retooled to be about him from the seventh issue onward.
  • Swerve, a formerly minor background character, has become this in IDW's recent Transformers comic largely because he's totally hilarious, spending all of his time making snarky comments and lampshading the many tropes and cliches that everyone else stumbles into. He also gives the greatest idea for a prank ever, moving around the furniture in someone's room while they're sleeping then pretending that nothing changed the next day (he also says that he's planning on taking it up a level by wheeling the victim into another room while they're sleeping).
  • Kriss of Valnor in Thorgal was so popular with both the readers and the author after her debut in "The Archers" where she proves herself to be as strong as the title character but way more ruthless that she ended up being one of the main characters in the series then got her own spinoff series.
  • Italian comic book character Valentina is a pretty big example of this. She originally was just a minor character in the Neutron series, the titular character's girlfriend. But then she became the sole protagonist after a few issues, completely overshadowing Neutron... not an easy fact when he's an art critic and amateur detective with a paralyzing stare who was also descended from a mysterious civilization! Then again, author Guido Crepax removed the fantasy and mystery elements from the story, turning Valentina into a strange but fascinating hybrid of erotism and dreamlike stories.

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