The oldest Marvel character in publishing is Namor the Sub-Mariner, but the oldest in the universe is The One Above All.
When it comes to the age of Marvel characters, it can be looked at in two different ways. The first is the actual age of each individual character as they were drawn up in the universe, which Marvel character has lived the longest according to their origin.
Secondly, we can look at “age” as being what year they premiered in a Marvel comic book. Each has its own importance, so we are going to take a look at both – who are the oldest Marvel characters by age and when they were first drawn up.
The Oldest Marvel Character Is Namor The Sub-Mariner
To truly know Marvel comics, or the oldest Marvel character, is to know their origins. The name “Marvel” wasn’t used until 1961 when Stan Lee introduced to the world the Fantastic Four. Prior to that, though, the Marvel comic evolved from Timely Comics, which began publication in 1939 with, ironically, a comic titled Marvel Comics.
Timely Comics ran for eight years when it was then renamed/rebranded Magazine Management and Atlas Comics. Atlas became reactionary instead of revolutionary as it would see what other comics were popular and create some in that vein.
It wasn’t until the early ‘60s when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko stepped forward with their history-altering creations that eventually helped form the Marvel Comics as we know it today.
Now, if we are talking about which is the oldest Marvel character, then we are going to go way back to when Marvel was known as Timely Comics. The very first superhero for “Marvel” was none other than Bill Everett’s Namor McKenzie, whom you all know as the Sub-Mariner. Namor debuted in the 1939 comic Motion Picture Funnies Weekly and has been an on-again, off-again character ever since.
The Human Torch Came Next For Marvel
When it comes to the oldest Marvel character, it may surprise you which “Marvel” character came next. Jim Hammond would be the dude, though you know him much better as the Human Torch. Yes, that’s right. Although the Human Torch would become big in the ‘60s with the advent of the Fantastic Four, the comic book character of the Human Torch would arrive 22 years earlier, in 1939, with a different human name.
The same comic book that gave fans the Human Torch (Marvel Comics #1), also introduced a couple of more superheroes – Thomas Halloway as Angel and Jim Gardley as the Masked Raider. Those four – Namor, Human Torch, Angel, and Masked Raider – were the first four superheroes Marvel saw.
The following year was a bigger one when it came to the oldest Marvel character. Timely/Atlas/Marvel introduced eight more superheroes, two of which would eventually become very popular for Marvel. Joining the superhero ranks in 1940 was, first, Richard Jones who went by the superhero moniker of Phantom Reporter. Up next is a very familiar superhero name, Black Widow, whose alter ego was Claire Voyant.
After Black Widow’s introduction, three more came in one shot as Jack Kirby began to make his presence known in the comic book world. These three were Mercury, Jupiter, and Minerva. Following Kirby’s creation there was Bruce Dickson as Thin Man, Tommy Raymond as Toro, and Aarkus as the familiar Vision. All of these creations came in 1940.
Captain America Came in 1941
1941 was also a big year, especially for Jack Kirby. The war was rolling on and America needed a hero to read about so Kirby, along with Joe Simon, brought to the country the patriotic Captain America by way of Steve Rogers. Also in that same comic, fans were introduced to his buddy, Bucky Barnes, and Betty/Betsy Ross, who was an early love interest for Steve Rogers. 1941 also saw the creations of Black Marvel, Blazing Skull, Patriot, Thunderer, Whizzer, and Destroyer, which was one of Stan Lee’s very first creations.
The real draw, though, began in the early ‘60s when Stan Lee became a force in the comic book world. Groot (yes, from Guardians of the Galaxy) was one of the first to be introduced under the new Marvel banner, making him among the oldest Marvel characters.
After that, it was a who’s who of famous comic book characters – the Fantastic Four, Hank Pym, Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Peter Parker and Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, The Howling Commandos which featured Nick Fury, Wasp, Doctor Strange, and yes, even the X-Men. The ‘60s were a golden age of comics and many of those created then are still living large today.
The Oldest Marvel Character Is The One Above All
Over the years since Marvel truly became Marvel, they have expanded almost infinitely. Not only has their roster of superheroes jumped, but there are also a growing number of Marvel characters who, how shall we put this kindly, are more “mature” than some of the others. When Marvel chose to go bigger and bigger with their creations, they also decided to go older and older holding on to the adage, age is just a number. In this way, the oldest Marvel character goes back eons.
The mythology behind some of the Marvel creations goes back at least a billion years. Cosmic beings, supernatural beings, they all can stake their claim as the oldest of Marvel characters. Let’s take a look at some of the oldest that Marvel has to offer.
Mephisto was first introduced back in the early Silver Surfer days and is a character based on the Faust legend of Mephistopheles, who was born in Hell. This makes Mephisto as old as the beginning of humanity. Think of him as Loki, only darker in nature. If it has to do with the supernatural, then Mephisto is probably not far behind.
6. The Eternals
Forget what you saw on the big screen in Marvel’s The Eternals. The real Eternals were a Jack Kirby creation and made their official Marvel comic book debut in 1976.
They have been around for nearly 5 million years and, according to their lore, are where humans got the idea of gods, while their sworn enemies, the Deviants, are what humans consider to be demons. The Eternals were created by experimentation of early humans by the Celestials (whom we’ll talk about shortly).
5. The Watchers
The Eternals are probably the oldest group that Marvel can give a number to in terms of age, so now with the Watchers, lifespans reach levels that are quite incomprehensible. The Watchers came from the creative minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during the early days of the Fantastic Four. They do not have an exact age but are considered to be one of the oldest in existence. Their primary function is to watch, observe, collect knowledge, and not interfere.
4. The Living Tribunal
The Living Tribunal is another Stan Lee creation (along with Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe) who is there much like a Watcher. This individual deity has been present since the Multiverse was created, meaning he is at least billions of years old and making him among the oldest Marvel characters. He is an overseer of all realities within the Marvel universe and his all-knowing power includes a detached, three-sided head.
The world eater. Some say he is the most powerful of all the Marvel creatures and that may be true. He is also one of the oldest on their roster. While there are many who call Galactus evil, there are others who say it is simply a creature of habit and that what he does (eating worlds) is what nature designed him to do.
It doesn’t make him bad because he necessarily wants to eat worlds, but he has to in order to survive. There has never been a number attributed to his actual age, but since he existed before the universe of ancient characters was created, he is truly an old one.
2. The Celestials
Although the Celestials visited Earth millions of years ago, toying and experimenting with humanity, turning some into the Eternals, the Celestials are truly much older. These old warriors were the result of the First Firmament, something that came about at the beginning of creation.
This makes the Celestials one of the oldest groups of Marvel characters ever created. The Celestials are considered to be as old as the Living Tribunal, but since much of their history has since been lost, an exact number is difficult to ascertain.
1. The One-Above All
The role of the One-Above-All in the Marvel Universe is unique, to say the least. He is considered to be THE ONE who created it in the first place. This would put him, age-wise, before anything that ever existed in Marvel. Introduced by Mark Waid during the initial Fantastic Four run, this will tell you how old and powerful The One-Above-All is – The Living Tribunal, the one who judges the Omniverse – reports to him.
Of course, there are many others who are up there in years that we have not mentioned. Some are fan favorites such as Odin and his son, Thor. Apocalypse is another as is Moira MacTaggart and the Asgardians. One thing Marvel has shown over the years is that yes, age is just a number, even when there is no number to attribute to.