Before I can get into the spirit of Desert Island Month I have to address something of great artistic and historical importance: this is my fiftieth list for Five-O-Rama! Any way you look at it, fifty is a number of great significance - scoring fifty goals, hitting fifty home runs, um...eating fifty hotdogs? Sleeping with fifty people? I don't remember where I was going with this. HOWEVER, writing fifty lists for Five- O-Rama - this perfect storm of fiveness - must be considered one of the greatest things a human can achieve. And here I am. So what am I going to do to mark the occasion? Why, break our only real rule, of course!
Prepare yourselves for a list of FIFTY! That's right, I've gone mad with power! So here are my fifty favourite comic book characters. This list only counts characters whose original incarnation was in comics and disregards comic strip characters like Calvin, Garfield and Linus. Also, if multiple versions of one character exist (and I mean character not title), only one can be included here. Naturally, it's dominated by Marvel characters but I think I've still included some others that may surprise you. It's all in order - my lists always are, I never take the easy way out! In a few years, with more reading, this list could change drastically. For the most part, I promise to keep entries mercifully short. Here we go.
50. Gwen Stacy - Marvel Comics
The greatest blonde bombshell in all comicdom, I'll always see her as Peter Parker's true love. She has it all over Mary Jane, who even though has had the advantage of being written in much more recent times, still comes across as a bimbo to me.
Now, do I wish Gwen would come back from the dead? Absolutely not. Her death was an incredible turning point in Peter Parker's life and Spider-Man's career and I would hate to see it undone for any reason. But yeah, I do miss her.
49. The Shade - DC Comics
He was created way back in the forties, first appearing in National Comics (an earlier incarnation of DC), mostly as an adversary for the Flash throughout the Golden Age. He would also play antagonist for the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen).
An elegantly dressed man with the ability to manipulate and project darkness, The Shade has always been one of DC's most mysterious characters. His rebirth in Starman is what led me to him. There he is much less of a straightforward villain and more of a shadowy (pun intended) mentor, guiding Jack Knight along and sometimes aiding him in more direct fashions. It's revealed he's nearly immortal and has been around since the Victorian Age and used to run with guys like Oscar Wilde. The Shade is a rare suave and sophisticated individual with complicated motivations in a sea of over the top villain and hero types.
48. Fone Bone - Independent (later Scholastic Books)
His major traits are good manners, a cheerful nature and romantic sensibilities. He's often played against his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, for laughs and it's also fun to watch him trip all over himself whenever he's around the beautiful and spirited Thorne.
Fone Bone's not an overly complex character but he's an easy guy to root for and entertaining to follow.
47. Tintin - Methuen Publishing (English releases)
Ok, so this guy practically is a blank slate, I'll admit it. But he's Tintin! A character of indeterminate age, he is often called "the boy reporter". But he's shown that he can drive a car, fire a gun and punch pretty hard for a little guy (at most, he's 5'7).
Actually, the whole reporter thing is pretty sketchy considering he's never shown doing ANY writing or reporting but I guess Herge needed to give him some profession that would have him traveling all over the place.
He has no parents or family. At least, none are ever referenced. Tintin does have a sort of family of supporting characters around him - all male. In fact, females are almost nonexistent in Tintin's world which I think is another expression of his origins - the perspective of a preadolescent boy who is still too frightened of girls to begin dealing with them.
Sure by today's standards, a lot of Tintin's adventures are full of things like blatant colonialism, animal cruelty and racism. But still we forgive him because through it all, he projects an unwavering countenance of youthful innocence. Tintin, we salute you.
46. Otcho - Shogakukan/ViZ Media
I think Otcho is my favourite 20th Century Boys character because he's such a survivor. While all the major characters are forced into dangerous and harsh situations, I would say none moreso than him. He's also lost a great deal. But he always rises to the challenge. I still don't know how the story is going to end, but I'll be pulling for Otcho all the way.
45. Magik (Illyana Rasputin) - Marvel Comics
Illyana just has a certain amount of angst in her character that I feel is very well balanced and subtly portrayed and that's always resonated with me. Writer Louise Simonson deserves most of the credit for this. I also believe that her close friendship with Kitty Pryde is one of the better relationships in Marvel comics, coming across as very believable and relateable in its ups and downs. She's my favourite New Mutant, Russian and demonic princess.
44. Mister Sinister - Marvel Comics
Sinister's one true passion is genetics, and in a world full of mutants and other superbeings, he has a lot of toys to play with. Because that's really how he views lives - as disposable commodities for him to use and discard at his leisure in the pursuit of genetic perfection. He takes the whole immoral scientist trope to a whole new stratosphere, at one point having an entire community of mutants wiped out (the Morloks) just to satisfy his ego.
It's his obsession with Scott Summers and Jean Grey and any "progeny" they may produce that really drives Sinister and has caused him to clash with the X-Men time and again, having observed and manipulated Scott and his brothers since their early childhood. It's too complicated to go into but without Sinister, there would have been no Madelyne Pryor, Cable, X-Man and many other characters. His actions ripple throughout most of the Marvel U.
43. Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) - DC Comics
Ted's Blue Beetle can be viewed as a sort of Batman Lite. He's a rich genius type who develops all sorts of cool tech but he doesn't sport a cape or lurk in the shadows. But he was also known to do some decent detective work (in fact that's what led to him getting killed).
I like him because even though he's obviously an extraordinary person, he's really very normal and accessible. He doesn't carry around a lot of baggage or dark burdens and just isn't the brooding type. I also like how he embraced his role as one of the Justice League's lesser lights, never getting particularly bitter over the fact that he's often overlooked within the superhero community. His friendship with time traveling maverick Booster Gold was another facet of this and the two had lots of great adventures together but rarely earned any credit for their efforts.
I actually do wish Ted would have been restored to life in DC's latest big reboot. If he had, you can bet I would be following the new Blue Beetle series. But since it's not him I just can't get excited about it.
42. The Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane) - DC Comics
The concept of fear has been explored a ton in comics and plenty of characters have used it as their motivation and modus operandi. But none have done it for as long or as well as Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow.
A Batman foe with true staying power, even though his obsession with fear is basically all there is to his character, I haven't tired of seeing him. Credit must be given to writers for finding different and interesting ways of using him in their stories. Batman has of course defeated him countless times, but he remains a very real and dangerous threat. Something many comic book villains, particularly the older ones, face is that after decades of performing their schtick, they are in danger of becoming parodies of themselves. I don't believe this has happened to Crane.
41. Atom - Kodansha, Dark Horse Comics
Again we have a case of a character who, despite his longevity, doesn't have a ton of depth. But he's just such an icon of manga (and anime too) that I have to include him. Tezuka revealed that he purposely kept Atom's character fairly one dimensional because he was supposed to be a symbol of good. But if you do enough reading, you can find cases of him dealing with deeper issues, sometimes causing strong inner conflict.
The one recurring issue is his struggle as a robot in a world ruled by humans. He strives to protect the innocent and uphold justice and this often leads him into conflicts with other robots, who he never feels comfortable fighting. Even though Tezuka aimed to keep Atom a straightforward symbol of good, in the stories he told, he showed that "good" can be very difficult to define at times. But however complicated things became, Atom acted bravely and heroically even if he was left with serious questions afterwards. Guess he had more depth than we thought.
40. Deadshot - DC Comics
His backstory involves an abusive and tragic childhood which undoubtedly led to his choice of profession. But it would be a mistake to label him a psychopath even though he kills without emotion. Whatever he is, he doesn't display any particular enjoyment whenever he makes a kill, so he's not like Marvel's Bullseye at his core although the two do share many similarities.
I just like him because he's one of those villains who never really has any grand schemes (except perhaps during his first appearance when he attempted to replace Batman as Gotham's vigilante by killing all its criminals) but just goes about his job with professionalism and some style. Even when he's thwarted he usually manages to get away because he's pretty good at coming up with and executing contingency plans. This is another trait that allows him to often successfully take on some of DC's big guns. You've gotta respect that.
39. Ultimate Hawkeye - Marvel Comics (Ultimate line)
For one thing, you'll never see him running around in a skirt. And this Clint Barton prefers guns to bows and arrows, no matter how many fancy trick arrows there are. Guns are just more practical. Like most characters in the Ultimate Universe, this Hawkeye is a lot edgier than his 616 counterpart. Regular Hawkeye certainly never killed anyone. Usually, I don't really care but in the case of Barton, it really works.
I must not be the only person who feels this way since he just landed his own ongoing series.
38. Luke Cage - Marvel Comics
Cage is unapologetically black and I think that's nice to see. When he was created back in the seventies he was one of the very first black superheroes. That he was born and raised on the streets of Harlem is actually kind of refreshing when you look at some other black characters from that era. Even though Cage grew up in rough neighbourhoods and even spent some of his youth in gangs, he became a good man and today is one of Marvel's heroes with the most integrity.
He was imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit but when he was finally released (now with powers) he wasn't bitter. Unlike so many in his position, he didn't seek revenge on the society that had wronged him. He only worked to make the world, particularly his small part of it, a better place. I believe his pairing with Iron Fist for their Heroes For Hire agency made for one of the great tandems in comics.
I didn't mean to focus so much on race when speaking of Cage. Really, there are plenty of things about him that are more important. But Cage himself is proud of who he is and where he came from. He doesn't go around playing the race card or accusing everyone of racism. He just is who he is and if that means shouting stuff like "Damn!" and "Sweet Christmas!" then more power to him.
37. Psylocke - Marvel Comics
36. Quicksilver (Age of Apocalypse version) - Marvel Comics
When Magneto splits the team into two smaller squads, Pietro leads one while Rogue the other. I'm fairly certain that in 616, there is no point that he leads any team. But here he thrives, his greatest moment coming when he risks his life to save a human child from the clutches of insane Horseman Abyss. He doesn't defeat the powerful mutant by himself - a heroic sacrifice by Banshee seals the deal - but he nonetheless shows great bravery, skill and poise.
In the regular timeline Pietro (along with sister Wanda) had to struggle with the fact that growing up and even into adulthood, they were under their father's thumb and did whatever he commanded, which led them to be terrorists. Even after he becomes an Avenger (the most prestigious team gig someone can land in the Marvel U) he is plagued by self doubt and guilt. But in the AoA, his father is on the side of good before he (Pietro) is even born. I think that this, plus the tragic loss of his sister, shaped him into a more confident and effective hero.
35. Ben Urich - Marvel Comics
Urich really came into his own during Frank Miller's run on Daredevil in the early eighties. He showed a lot of nerve in trying to expose Wilson Fisk as the Kingpin and barely survived the experience. But ever since then he's been a really gutsy guy with lots of integrity. He clashes with volatile Daily Bugle editor in chief and owner J. Jonah Jameson almost constantly over reporting issues, using involving various superheroes. Jameson, while not a man to suffer being stood up to, has respected Urich's talents enough to never fire him.
Ben's an important supporting character to have around in Marvel because he reminds us that "normal" people can still accomplish a lot in a world of super beings, ghosts, aliens and monsters.
34. L - Shueisha/ Madman Entertainment
What makes the matchup here so effective is that Light and L have a lot of things in common - they're both young and brilliant, they both believe in justice (although their definitions are very different) and they're both obsessive in their missions. But Light is highly arrogant and shows that he has little to no respect for the viewpoints of others and is completely at ease using people, even those who he sees as "innocent", for his own ends. He shows very early on that if he isn't a psychopath, he's at the very least a sociopath. L on the other hand, while slow to trust others, will work with them and dedicates his life to protecting them.
But if I was just compiling a list of heroic, boy scout types, this list would be quite different. L is here because I find him interesting in addition to his moral fibre and high intelligence. I enjoy his odd little habits and mannerisms and, when it comes down to it, I believe that he truly is smarter than Light. He starts off with an extreme disadvantage but very quickly makes up ground in the fight against Kira. His backstory is revealed very slowly which helps in making him all the more interesting.
33. Northstar - Marvel Comics
In the Marvel U, it's hard growing up as a mutant. And there, as here in the real world, it's hard growing up as a homosexual. Northstar grew up as both but as long as he was able to keep it a secret, he had things pretty good. He was a downhill skiing champion and an all around well-liked guy. But long ago he was outed as both mutant and gay and naturally had a lot of adversity to deal with.
He's also a rare Francophone character in popular comics and adds a little diversity. I think what I liked about him initially was just his powers, which are very cool. But as I got to know more about him, particularly when he was one of the teachers at Xavier's school, working with young mutants, he became one of my favourite characters related to the X-Men and eventually, one of my favourite comic book characters of all.
32. Echo - Marvel Comics
Using this ability, she's become a superb hand to hand fighter and gymnast, mostly from watching her mentor Daredevil, himself a "disabled" superhero. But she can also do things like pilot jets, do ballet and paint, all extremely efficiently (although I think the painting is just a natural talent unrelated to her other abilities). Also, unlike deaf people, she is able to speak with normal inflection.
It took a little while for Maya to come out from under Dardevil's shadow but she's since proven to be a vital player for the Avengers, infiltrating the Japanese underworld as the mysterious Ronin and later helping out during the Secret Invasion of the Skrulls.
Currently she's out on the West Coast operating solo to take down local crime syndicates. In this way she's crossed paths with my boy Moon Knight and reluctantly agreed to work with him (after phoning the Avengers to ask how crazy he is). I'm really hoping the two hit it off and become an item. Moony deserves a nice girl.
31. Kaneda - Kodansha/ Epic Comics/ Dark Horse Comics
In Katsuhiro Otomo's epic cyberpunk saga Akira, the main character definitely isn't your typical hero type. In fact, he's a cocky little teenage street punk. He's not that smart, a skirt-chaser and a delinquent. But Kaneda is still loveable. He does have some morals and his best asset is definitely his nerve. You can say a lot about him, but you can't say he doesn't have guts. Over and over he hurls himself into ridiculously dangerous situations, rarely showing any fear or apprehension. He always manages to come out of things alive, sometimes getting by on pure dumb luck. But he doesn't quit.
As I said, he does sort of have his own code of honour. Once Tetsuo's powers start to manifest and the army is chasing him, Kaneda doggedly throws himself between them, declaring that if anyone was going to kill Tetsuo, then it should be his friends. The truth is, on some level, he does feel responsible for Tetsuo's aggression. But not that responsible. He still believes that even though things were often tough on Tetsuo, it doesn't give him the right to lash out that way he does. And he's right.
Even though through most of the story, Kaneda is caught up in events that he doesn't really understand, he still tries his best to do what he believes to be the right thing. Whether that's taking care of Tetsuo or helping Kei (who really doesn't want his help for the most part), his heart is in the right place.
By the time everything's over, Kaneda is definitely changed, as well as all of Neo-Tokyo. But what I like is that he hasn't changed that much. He's still pretty cocky and he's definitely not any smarter. But I'll always love him for his courage and tenacity. Even in the dynamic realm of graphic fiction, it's hard to find a character with more sheer pluck.
30. Deadpool - Marvel Comics
Emerging from the Dark Age of Comics in the pages of Rob Liefeld's New Mutants, Deadpool has since become a mainstay in the Marvel U, popping up in every title and starring in a multitude of his own series. He's got great fighting skills (more improvisational than learned technique) and a healing factor like Wolverine's. His face and body are such a mess that he wears a costume that covers his entire frame ala Spider-Man. But what sets him apart is his deranged personality.
The best things about any Deadpool appearance are his wacky sense of humour and almost suicidal tactics. He'll take on anyone and anything, all the while making quips. But unlike Spider-Man, whose jokes are usually at least somewhat witty, Deadpool's are...just off the wall. And the best thing about any title starring Deadpool is that he always narrates it, breaking the fourth wall. He's completely aware that he's a comic book character - or is he? After, all within the context of Marvel comics, that is the "real" world. But either way you look at it, it's funny. Deadpool's caption boxes and speech balloons are always bright yellow; an expression of his different point of view.
So yeah, he is overused but at least he's a lot fun.
29. Huntress - DC Comics
Don't confuse Huntress with Batgirl (although she very briefly adopted the mantle during No Man's Land) - it isn't a thirst for justice that drives her, it's pure rage. Because of this, she's often very violent in her methods, seeking to punish physically the criminals she engages. While Batman and those who work under him usually fight in a style that seeks to disable opponents quickly using the minimum amount of force, Huntress is all about making them hurt. Kind of like Moon Knight.
Batman eventually supported her membership in the Justice League because he hoped that being around the other heroes would have a good influence on her. Maybe mellow her out a little and show her the "proper" way to fight crime. For awhile it worked, but she wound up resigning after Batman intervened to stop her from killing an enemy. She would go on to join the Birds of Prey where she proved to be a pretty good team player but I think it's inevitable that she'll end up on her own again.
Huntress is a loner, violent, heroic and hot as hell. Just my type.
28. Bullseye - Marvel Comics
The eternal nemesis of the Man Without Fear, I'm pretty sure Bullseye is still dead in current continuity having finally been killed by the aforementioned hero. But I can't see him staying that way. He's simply too good of a character to keep on the sidelines.
During all the Dark Reign nonsense, he was a member of Norman Osborne's Dark Avengers, taking on the title of Hawkeye to mock the original team. That was ok, I guess but I think we can all agree it's best to have him operating alone as an assassin for hire. I do realize pitting him against Daredevil over and over again all these years can get old and it's good that different things have been tried with him. But I don't like seeing him out of his element.
Bullseye may be the most straightforward example of a killer the Marvel U has and it's always enjoyable to see him in action. He's proven that he can even take on superpowered heroes in some situations and hold his own. You have to respect that.
27. Sandman - DC Comics
Although he would go on to be one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the Sandman really works best on his own. In 1941 he was given a more superhero-like costume and even a young sidekick. Throughout the next few decades he would make sporadic appearances in various DC titles. But it was in 1993 that he was returned to his noirish roots in the pages of Sandman Mystery Theatre on the Vertigo imprint. These stories chronicled his solo adventures in the thirties. Here he was clearly defined as the rich, seemingly low key Wesley Dodds who moved in the highest circles of New York society by day while operating as the shadowy and mysterious Sandman by night.
What I like about Dodds is that he is far from your typical superhero. His civilian identity is far more mild mannered than Superman's could ever hope to be. A very ordinary and bookish looking fellow in glasses, Dodds still has proven that he can be physical. In fact, he's downright tough, often suffering serious injuries including gunshot wounds in the line of duty. Also, he seems to almost take on a different personality when he dons his gas mask, speaking in a much different manner.
While possessing no apparent superhuman abilities, Dodds has been shown to have prophetic dreams - this is due to the connection between him and Neil Gaiman's own Sandman, Dream. Actually it was mainly because of the popularity of that series that the Golden Age character had his revival. In the one-shot Sandman Midnight Theatre (written by Gaiman), the two even share a brief interaction. I'm just glad for that coincidental sharing of the Sandman name, otherwise I most likely would never have heard of him.
26. Nightcrawler - Marvel Comics
Kurt is also one of the more openly religious characters in Marvel, finding comfort in the Catholic faith. But he is still one of the least judgmental. I'm sure his own experiences have a lot to do with that. But at the same time, his experiences haven't caused his faith to waver either.
While so many of the X-Men are tortured and brooding types, Nightcrawler is a fun-loving swashbuckler and one of the only characters who is consistently able to make Wolverine laugh and smile. That alone could get him a place here.
Before the Demon's Head came along, Batman had never faced a foe of such cunning or of such resources that actually outmatched his own. He deduced Batman's secret identity fairly easily and is one of the few characters who can successfully match wits with him. Of course, having experience helps - Ra's has been around for going on six centuries thanks to the healing and revitalizing magic of his Lazorous Pits.
His relationship with Batman (whom he always calls "Detective") goes well beyond the usual hero/villain dynamic as the two have often found themselves on the same side in certain situations. And that was even before Bruce discovered his son Damian, who he had with Ra's daughter, Talia. So now the two are, for better or for worse, family.
Ra's's goals are also far from conventional, as he strives to return planet earth to what he believes to be a "natural balance." So I guess you could call him a glorified eco terrorist but really, that would only be scratching the surface.
24. Kei - Kodansha/ Epic Comics/ Dark Horse Comics
While Kaneda and his gang were cruising the streets, hassling citizens and clashing with the Clowns, Kei, also a teenager, was trying to bring about real social change in the quasi-fascist society of Neo-Tokyo. Part of an underground terrorist organization, Kei shows guts and maturity well beyond her years. Initially she views Kaneda as an idiot and she's not far wrong. I love the dynamic the two create when they're racing from one dangerous situation to the next.
Actually, in some panels, it can be kinda hard to tell the two apart - Kei sports a short, boyish haircut and certainly doesn't dress very girly. Another quirk that I'll admit to being into.
Even though Kaneda is probably the main character in Akira, Kei is every bit as important and the relationship that develops between the two is very interesting and satisfying. Like most of the females on this list, Kei is tough and independent and yeah, sometimes I wish she was my girlfriend.
23. Kingpin - Marvel Comics
And while he doesn't have any special powers he is an extremely imposing physical specimen, able to single-handedly defeat highly trained opponents. But his real asset is his mind. He's a master planner and expert in the fields of manipulation, extortion, blackmail and coercion. He's so well-protected and possesses such foresight that he often is able to keep various superpowered and/or technologically advanced agents under his thumb. This is a man who is calm in a room with the likes of Bullseye and Hobgoblin.
Over the years, the complexity of the man who is the Kingpin has been revealed. His love for his wife Vanessa, his problems with his son, Richard. His constant battle with vigilante Daredevil. Through it all, he has shown that he is a survivor. He's lost his criminal empire more than once, only to regain it all over again, starting with nothing. There will always be a Kingpin of Crime.
22. Scarlet Spider - Marvel Comics
Yup, he's a clone. Yes, he looks just like and has the exact same powers as Spider-Man. But there's just something about Ben Reilly that I've always responded to. Giving you his convoluted history leading up to the Clone Saga would be enough to bore us both into comas so let's skip it.
Considering that he was the same talents and abilities as Spidey and obviously a very similar personality, it may seem redundant of me to include him on this list. But there are some key differences between the two. For one thing, Ben spent five years wandering around America on his own with almost no direction. This naturally led him to be a lot less personable than Peter. He never had any lasting friendships and rarely stayed in one place for very long. Also as self-hating as Parker can get, and that's quite a bit, Ben is even moreso because he knows he's a clone. So he always views himself as second-rate. Sometimes he even believes that he's completely undeserving of happiness.
I know what you're thinking: So he's even more whiney and self-hating? That's what you like about him? Well, actually...yeah. I also really dig the Scarlet Spider costume - a simple red suit with a sleeveless blue hoodie worn over it. His webshooters are on the outside of the costume so they're visible. Unlike Parker, he employed two different kinds of webbing: impact webbing that exploded on contact and encased its target, and stingers, small diamond-shaped darts that temporarily paralyzed opponents.
Of course for awhile, he did take over as Spider-Man, when all parties involved were led to believe that he was the real deal and Parker was actually the clone (sigh). And he did a good job of it. He even joined the New Warriors for awhile and gave that group of misfits some credibility. Of course, he still compared himself to Peter and was plagued by the same self-doubt he had while believing he was a clone.
Ben died heroically, saving Peter from eternal nemesis the Green Goblin. In the years since, any continuity involving him has been mostly swept under the rug, to protect us all from the shameful mess that was the Clone Saga. Which was really unfair to Ben. But in the past few months, there have been rumblings that he may be making a return. I really hope he does.
21. Sabretooth - Marvel Comics
But of course the main difference between the two is that Sabretooth is all too happy to give in to his animalistic side and delights in killing. Wolverine's definitely had moments like this but for the most part, he's done his damnedest to keep his rage in check. While Wolverine has been a soldier, secret agent and mutant freedom fighter, Creed has walked a different path (although he was also a secret agent), taking on any number of jobs and roles to satisfy his bloodlust.
So I really shouldn't have to sell you on why he's cool. Even when he's not being used as a foil for Logan, Sabretooth stands on his own as a strong character who's fun to read. Let's move on.
20. Rachel Grey - Marvel Comics
For a long time she went by Rachel Summers but after Scott started knocking boots with uber bitch Emma Frost, she changed to Grey in tribute to her mother. I think she made the right call.
Born in an alternate future timeline (Days of Future Past) where sentinels rule and mutants are rounded up in concentration camps, through all sorts of Marvel craziness she eventually winds up in the 616 timeline and joins the X-Men. Like her mother before her, she became inbued with the power of the Phoenix Force (although only a fraction of it) and took Phoenix as her codename.
In even more Marvel time traveling craziness (getting lost in the timestream during an adventure with Excalibur), it's actually her that transports her parents into the far future to care for Cyclop's son Nathan (who would grow up to be Cable) for twelve years.
Sometime after M Day and the changing of her name to Grey, Rachel decided to spend some time with her mother's family. She was really enjoying it until a strike force from the Shi'ar Empire was sent to kill every one of them. Only Rachel survived and she swore an oath of vengeance against the Shi'ar. As a result of that event, she now sports a huge marking on her back that looks like a pretty badass tattoo.
Like her mother, Rachel possesses vast telepathic and telekinetic powers and her past link with the Phoenix Force gave her even greater psionic abilities allowing her to manipulate time, space, matter and energy in almost unlimited ways.
For someone so young, she's seen and done a lot, even by Marvel's standards. And her new tougher persona since the Shi'ar business makes her appeal to me even more.
19. Hellboy - Dark Horse Comics
Born in an age of anti heroes, the Dark Age of comic books, Hellboy had all the ingredients to be one more. His origins and supposed destiny are certainly dark and troubling. But from the outset, Hellboy has worked on the side of good, and rather than allowing his roots to bother him, he mostly does his best to not think about them.
Hellboy's appeal lies in the great contrast he makes against the situations he always finds himself in. Although he may or may not be some agent of Hell and is definitely not human, he carries himself very much like your average joe. He approaches his dark and dangerous work in a very blue collar style and it's immediately clear that's he's a blue collar guy. Sure he's always dealing with monsters, vampires, witches and even more horrible things but he still somehow manages to stay grounded in the "ordinary" world. He has simple pleasures. He's a smoker (I'm pretty sure tobacco and nicotine don't harm his health), enjoys a good stiff drink and is more than happy to spend an evening quietly, perhaps playing cards or reading.
Through the years as his saga has unfolded and he's found out more and more about himself, he hasn't let any of that change him. Sometimes he definitely has his doubts about what he does - this led him to resigning from the BPRD in 2001 - but he's never allowed it to get to him to such a point that he's wallowed in self-pity or lashed out at others.
Probably what I like best about Hellboy is that he's a funny guy. He just has this quiet, understated sense of humour that always mixes great with the fantastic adventures he embarks on. Sometimes he only has to say a word or two to actually make me laugh out loud.
I don't know if Mignola has an actual endgame in mind for Hellboy but if he does, I hope that's still some years away.
18. Beast - Marvel Comics
For one thing, Beast is funny. When he's not quoting famous authors he's making sarcastic comments that show he's got plenty of wit to go with all those book smarts. He's had some pretty good back and forths with Spider-Man too. The two actually have a lot of things in common personality-wise.
While his principle field is biology and genetics, he's shown to have plenty of technical know-how, always tinkering with various inventions and devices. This has saved the X-Men's collective bacon more than once, I can tell you.
Beast also is one of those mutants whose appearance is so obviously different from a normal human that he's had his share of social problems and insecurities. But for the most part he keeps that stuff below the surface and comports himself as one of the more easy going and friendlier of the X-Men. Usually this quickly wins over anyone first meeting him, to the point that they'll completely overlook his blue fur and claws.
Beast is just one of those all around good guys who is always working to make the world a better place as well as doing his best to make those around him feel at ease. He's a stellar teammate and even better friend.
17. Starman (Jack Knight) - DC Comics
No, it was Ted's other son, David, who became the new Starman initially. But his tenure didn't last long and shortly afterward the reluctant Jack was forced by a series of circumstances to take up the cosmic rod. Once he accepted that Opal City needed a Starman, he acquiesced. But he was going to do things his way. Firstly, this meant no costume. Jack's Starman simply wears a leather jacket with a star emblem on the back and an old pair of World War One flight goggles to protect his eyes from the light of the rod and during flight.
Sort of an author avatar for creator James Robinson, Jack is a hipster GenXer whose true passion is junk dealing. He initially has sort of a selfish attitude and as he tells one villain "none of [his] father's noble sense of heroism." Of course this changes somewhat over time but he still remains himself.
He's fun to read what with his cynical attitude and anti-hero like heroism. Plus, with his dad as well as the Shade both playing mentor for him and psychadelic dream-visits from the deceased David, we really get to see his personality from a lot of different angles. Realizing I'd overlooked non Batman-related characters in the DC U for too long, I was excited to make the discovery of the Starman of the nineties and only look forward to reading more.
16. Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) - DC Comics
Barbara Gordon is probably the Batgirl of choice for most people, but as it's been well-established on this list and others, I dig screwed up chicks. And it's hard to find a chick more screwed up than Cassandra Cain.
Daughter of infamous assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva, she was raised to be the perfect fighting machine. To achieve this, Cain tried a rather unique approach with his young daughter, depriving her of human contact besides his own and not exposing her to any language besides that of the body. So while she grew up mute, unable to understand spoken language and illiterate, she was able to read people's body movements so effectively that she could anticipate what they were going to do. She was taught all sorts of forms of martial arts and mastered them all.
During the confusion and chaos of No Man's Land in Gotham Cassandra became the new Batgirl, the position having been vacant for years. With support and guidance from her predecessor Barbara, despite the obvious communication barrier, she proved herself to Batman saving Commissioner Gordon's life.
I love the costume Cassandra wore as Batgirl - a completely black number (besides the yellow outline of the bat symbol on the chest and yellow utility belt) that covers her entire face. Symbolic stitches surround the mouth. Actually, it was Huntress who first wore this getup (sans stitches). Although her belt contains the usual Bat gear such as smoke pellets, tracking devices and mini explosives, she rarely used stuff besides regular batarangs and grappling hooks.
It's been established that she is the best technical hand-to-hand fighter in the entire DC U, surpassing even Batman himself, she has a pain threshold through the roof (she's been shown to be able to take a bullet at close range without flinching). She's proven to be as "peak human" as Marvel's Captain America but even faster.
I didn't get into her personality which I guess is kind of weird but what I liked best about her for awhile was that she exemplified a trope I coined as "blank girl" - she hardly ever speaks (in her case, at first, never), rarely shows emotion and is damn good at what she does. The fact that I find such a character appealing may say some disturbing things about me but I'm at peace with that.
15. Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) - Marvel Comics
The father of Peter Parker's best friend, Harry, Norman was a ruthless industrialist, CEO of his own technology-based company, Oscorp. Even before he was exposed to the experimental serum that would grant him super strength and healing abilities and drive him insane, he was at the very least a sociopath. Power and success were the only things that mattered to him and Harry grew up neglected by his father, his mother having died when he was very young.
After the serum turned green and exploded in Osborn's face he adopted the strange identity of the Green Goblin using Oscorp tech and weaponry in his quest to take over New York City's organized crime. This led to lots of clashes with Spider-Man and eventually, the Goblin became the first villain to learn his true identity. In a subsequent encounter he revealed his own identity to Parker but after being defeated in battle, he temporarily loses his memories of his time as the Green Goblin, along with Spider-Man's secret.
Of course he would eventually regain his memory and resume his activity as the Goblin, culminating in the climatic battle on the George Washington Bridge where he drops Gwen Stacy to her death. Nearly driven mad by the loss, Spider-Man starts to viscously beat Osborn before coming to his senses. The Goblin then accidentally impales himself with his glider and apparently dies.
We all know he didn't die and spent the next few years in Europe operating in secret. In turns out he was the mastermind behind the whole Clone Saga and when the dust FINALLY clears after that, he kills Ben Reilly.
After many more bouts with Spider-Man (and lots of other characters including Flash Thompson and the Hobgoblin), his identity is exposed by the Daily Bugle and he is arrested and given treatment. During Civil War, he is deemed cured and given control of the Thunderbolts. After he kills the Skrull Queen at the end of Secret Invasion and Tony Stark is left in disgrace, Osborn replaces him as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. which he in turn replaces with H.A.M.M.E.R. Soon he is the Iron Patriot and head of his own Avengers team (Dark Reign).
Osborn is one of the greats. A master planner, egomaniac, resourceful and batshit crazy. I hope he makes a return to his Green Goblin guise sometime soon.
14. James Gordon - DC Comics
Gotham cop Jim Gordon goes back a long ways. He even predates the likes of Robin and the Joker appearance-wise. He may just be the most enduring supporting character in all of comics. It's not like Lois Lane holds a candle to him.
As a cop and later head cop of Gotham City, Gordon has seen it all. And a good chunk of it has had some personal connection to him. Technically speaking, he's lost more at the hands of the Joker than Bruce Wayne has. His daughter was crippled by the clown right in front of him and years later, his second wife, fellow cop Sarah Essen was murdered by the laughing lunatic.
Throughout it all, he's remained true to his ideals. Even right after those two tragedies he insisted to Batman that he wanted the Joker brought in - not killed. "We have to show him that our way works" he insisted, even when he was still reeling from the hell he'd been put through by the madman. He's even had to talk Batman out of doing the deed more than once, convincing him that if he crossed that line, he'd regret it for the rest of his life.
And even though he doesn't possess the out of this world skills of Batman, he has every bit as much courage, strength and integrity. Even when things have looked their darkest, Gordon has never turned his back on his duty to the city he could so easily hate. He believes in justice and that most people are good. He's a hero a thousand times over and he did it all not wearing a mask.
13. Scott Pilgrim - Oni Press
12. Dick Grayson - DC Comics
I know I recently revealed that I don't believe Batman's original sidekick to be the best Robin but I still like the guy. He was a great Robin and I like him even more as Nightwing.
Dick of course is great because he makes such a fun contrast for Batman. He's fun-loving, lighthearted and never shuts up. Like Spider-Man, he enjoys giving us a running commentary of quips while he flips around fighting bad guys. But he still does the job like a pro. Having a background as a gifted acrobat even before receiving training from the Dark Knight himself certainly helps.
The most striking thing about Dick Grayson is his very gradual evolution from Boy Wonder to a hero who stands on his own. Even though he still works with Batman quite often, he is no longer the sidekick. He even got to spend a year or two operating solo in his own city, the seedy Bludhaven (before it, uh, blew up). Over time Nightwing has built up his own rogue's gallery and allies before stepping in to take over as Batman in Gotham. His time in the cape and cowl with Damian playing Robin didn't last that long but he was certainly successful.
But now that Bruce Wayne has returned Dick can go back to being Nightwing and no one is happier about that than him.
11. Venom (Eddie Brock) - Marvel Comics
Disgruntled reporter Eddie Brock used to be a pretty pathetic guy. He wasn't particularly smart or talented but he had a pathological need for approval from others. To attain this, he was willing to lie, cheat and steal. This was always on a small scale though - he wasn't a criminal. Just a small, weak-willed man who yearned to be a "somebody".
When a mysterious killer calling himself the Sin Eater appeared in New York, Brock, working as a newspaper reporter, found his chance. Someone claiming to be the Sin Eater contacted him and agreed to give him the exclusive story. He refuses to give the authorities any information on the man, selfishly believing his story to be more important than public safety. As it turned out, the man who'd been speaking to him was a fraud and the real Sin Eater was captured by a black-suited Spider-Man.
Brock is disgraced and fired and unable to find work at any reputable papers. He's forced to work for tabloids. His own bizarre views of right and wrong cause him to blame Spider-Man for his situation and he vows revenge. Mired in depression, he compulsively works out and obsesses over Spider-Man. A devout (in a way) Catholic, Brock, contemplating suicide goes to a church to pray for forgiveness. It turns out to be the same church where Spider-Man has finally succeeded in removing the alien symbiote from himself. The creature senses Brock and bonds with him. Thus Venom was born.
At first Venom's goals are to destroy Peter Parker's life. The symbiote shared its knowledge of Spider-Man's identity with him and he also can evade Parker's spider-sense. Venom terrorizes Mary Jane but is defeated by Spider-Man and imprisoned.
After the initial business with Carnage, Venom decides to leave Spider-Man be. He relocates to San Francisco and becomes a sort of vigilante, protecting an underground community of outcasts. But one who kills. He returns to New York once more when Carnage escapes custody and begins Maximum Carnage. Venom once again teamed with Spider-Man to stop his "child".
In the years since, lots of shitty things happened to Brock, culminating in his getting cancer and losing the symbiote. Later on through some nonsense with Mister Negative, he becomes Anti-Venom. But who cares? Venom in his original incarnation is one of the best Spider-Man villains ever and personally my second-favourite.
10. Rorschach - DC Comics
If Rorschach existed in the real world, I'd think he was a fascist sociopath. But as he doesn't, I think he's awesome. Unlike most of these other characters I've listed, he didn't have decades worth of stories in which to make an impression. In the single graphic novel in which he appears, he isn't even really the main character. Watchmen doesn't actually have a main character which is one of its strengths, I think. But anyway, the story does begin and end with his journal as it is his own stubborn investigation that reveals most of the story to us.
In a world where only one character has superpowers, Rorschach is one tough customer despite being only about 5'6. He doesn't mess around either. He'll break bones and, later in his career, even kill to get the job done. He's driven by a stark belief in right and wrong as black and white in a world where there are no greys. While I of course disagree with such a philosophy, considering the crapsack world he inhabits, it's actually kind of hard to blame him for having it.
Even though he's quite antisocial he did once have a pretty good partnership with Nite Owl and even considered him a friend. By 1985 with all the other heroes forced into retirement, he's the only one still operating, risking arrest. But Daniel takes pity on his old friend when Rorschach tells him he suspects there is a plot to eliminate former members from the 1960's Crime Busters team. The adventures the two shared as partners are only hinted at and I've always sort of wished I could read them.
Anyway Rorschach lands here for being a unique character in a unique world and for his uncompromising nature. His mask is pretty awesome too.
9. Tim Drake - DC Comics
Yawn. Just see my list Ranking The Robins for this one.
8. Hobgoblin (Roderick Kingsley) - Marvel Comics
You may be surprised to see him on this list, especially so high, but I love this guy. He's actually one of the most effective criminals the Marvel U has ever seen and was always a handful for Spider-Man. Just like the Green Goblin, multiple characters have used the guise of the Hobgoblin but also like the Green Goblin, the first one to do it was the best.
Actually, with the exception of former Jack O'Lantern Jason Mascendale, Kingsley was responsible for the other Hobgoblins. He used patsies to help preserve his identity. And it worked. For years no one knew who the real Hobgoblin was. Not the cops, not Spider-Man, not even powerful criminals the Kingpin and the Foreigner. He fooled them all. When Mascendale hired the Foreigner to have Ned Leeds killed so he could take over the guise of the Hobgoblin, the world (including ours) was led to believe the Daily Bugle reporter (and husband to Betty Brant) was the real deal.
Kingsley, a man who'd become rich as a fashion designer or all things, was smart and cautious. He took steps to ensure that exposure to the Goblin compound wouldn't drive him mad as it had Osborn. But he was still a malignant narcissist and that was his fatal flaw. He felt that Mascendale had been such an embarrassment to the Hobgoblin mantle that he had to return to deal with him. He visited him in prison, mocked him and murdered him right in front of security cameras, letting slip that Leeds was not the "true" Hobgoblin. Of course this time when he tangled with Spider-Man, his identity was finally revealed and he was jailed. He cleverly arranged for the then currently exonerated Norman Osborn to have him broken out of prison. Even after Osborn bought all of Kingsley's companies out from underneath him, he still managed to retire to the south seas using money he had hidden away.
7. Wolverine - Marvel Comics
There's really not much I can say about the Canadian berserker that hasn't already been said. Let's face it - he's enjoyed immense popularity for a reason. He's arguably the toughest character in the Marvel U, he has an incredibly distinct personality and he's complicated.
When the second team of X-Men was introduced in the classic Giant-Sized X-Men back in the mid seventies, a lot of great characters made their debuts. Technically this wasn't Wolverine's first appearance as he'd shown up in The Incredible Hulk but here was the book where he would make his mark. For years of real time, his name wasn't even given. All his fellow team members really knew about him was that he had a messy and mysterious past that even he couldn't remember most of and that Professor Xavier trusted him and believed in him.
Over the years as some of his history was revealed, he really only became more appealing. His time in Japan especially illustrated his struggle to be seen as not just a man and not and animal but an honourable man as well. His history with Alpha Flight and the Canadian government and of course the Weapon X Program were all great additions to his backstory. His (mostly) unrequited love for Jean Grey added another layer of complexity to his character as well.
Like most people, I was pretty upset when Magneto ripped the adamantium from his skeleton and he reverted to a shaggy, feral state. But still I stuck with him and mostly enjoyed him. Wolvie, like Spider-Man, has touched nearly every corner of the Marvel Universe and has interacted with a multitude of characters, whether as an enemy, teammate, rival, lover or friend. He fought in World War Two, worked for both the CIA and Canadian government as an operative, lived quietly for awhile in Japan and even served a stretch as one of Apocalypse's Horsemen.
There's a reason why Wolverine has done so much - because we all love seeing him do it. After all he is "the best there is at what he does".
6. Iron Fist - Marvel Comics
Spinning out of the kung fu craze of the seventies along with fellow Marvelite Shang-Chi, Daniel Rand would prove himself to be much more than a gimmick character. Although not right away. His original series didn't last very long (fifteen issues, I think) and they didn't accomplish much besides giving us the first appearance of Sabretooth. But they did at least give us Iron Fist's origin and of all comic book heroes, I think his is my very favourite.
Yeah, I know his origin smacks of the whole Dances With Smurfs thing, where a white man lives among a different society only to become their champion. And believe me, he himself is quite aware of it too. But it wasn't like it was his choice - it was his father, Wendell, who had lived in the mystical city of K'un-Lun and trained to become their immortal Weapon, the Iron Fist. But when the final test came, he knew he wasn't up to it. He returned to the real world and a normal life, forging a multi-billion dollar empire in the process.
But years later, when young Daniel was nine, Wendell felt the pull of K'un-Lun and set out with his son, wife and business partner Harold Meachum to find the city once again. This led them deep into the Himalayas where Meachum betrayed Rand, allowing him to fall to his death. Daniel and his mother managed to get away from Meachum but were pursued by wolves. Daniel watched in horror as his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He is then raised in K'un-Lun by Lei Kung the Thunderer and trained in kung fu.
At the age of nineteen, as the most gifted of Lei Kung's students, Daniel underwent the trial his father decades before had turned away from - the trial of the Iron Fist. Killing the ancient dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, plunging his hands into the creature's molten heart and gaining the power of the Iron Fist. Making his fists "like a thing unto iron". Soon after he returned to the regular world and his home city of New York, ignorant of the ways of twentieth century America.
So yeah, I guess I wasted a lot of space going into his origin but as I said, I like it a lot. Although his own title was cancelled, at the end of the seventies, a chance pairing with Luke Cage led to a really cool series: Power Man and Iron Fist as the two started Heroes For Hire. I can't tell you why this pairing of characters who were originally just seventies fads worked but it did. Their adventures together make for fun reading and their chemistry is great.
It was Iron Fist's 2006 title The Immortal Iron Fist that got me into the character. His origins were expanded upon, such as the explanation that the Iron Fist was a title that many different people had held over the centuries and Daniel was just the latest one. He meets the last one before him, fellow American and similarly-named Orson Randall, who held the post in the early twentieth century. That's just the first arc of a really great series that gives you a wonderful feel for what sort of character Daniel Rand is and I just fell in love with him. Despite his unusual and strict adolescence, he actually is a laid back guy who isn't really comfortable heading a huge corporation and leaves the details to others. He's not an outright joker like, say, Spider-Man, but he is a talker during combat and always amusing. His friendship with Cage is one of the more enjoyable relationships in the Marvel U and never feels forced or unnatural.
He doesn't have powers so much as he has abilities although he obviously can do quite a few things "normal" people can't. He's quite possibly the best technical fighter in the entire Marvel U (yeah, I think he could take Elektra). And it never gets more satisfying than watching him power up his fist to smash into something or someone.
5. The Joker - DC Comics
As I said with Wolverine, we're getting into characters that are just so iconic that I really am at a loss for what to say about them. The Joker is definitely the greatest comic book villain of all time and he's also my favourite.
Sure, he's had his lowlights in the fifties like everyone else at that time but aside from that, decade in, decade out, he's been portrayed the right way: as a completely unpredictable and scary madman. Even his very first appearance way back in 1939 effectively conveys this. He makes grim announcements over the radio predicting the deaths of various prominent Gotham City residents. "At the stroke of midnight, whathisname will die!" and then he did! The police couldn't do shit about it. The Batman eventually puts a stop to this but not until after several deaths and in the end, the Joker manages to escape, leaving the people of Gotham to wonder when he would strike again.
Of course it wouldn't be long. No criminal has carved a bloodier swath through Batman's city than the Joker. No matter how many times he's locked up, he gets out. No matter how many times he appears to die, he returns. Long ago Batman expressed his belief that he and the Joker were caught up in an endless cycle of death and tragedy that they seemingly couldn't escape. He's also lamented that for someone he's dealt with so many times over so many years, he still doesn't really know him at all. "How can two people hate so much without ever really knowing each other?" he asked. There is no satisfying answer.
The Joker, whose real name has never been revealed (and never should be if you ask me), has changed up his methods over the years but the results are always the same: terror and death. To him, it's all a joke. Besides all the unspeakable things he's done on a grand scale he's also crippled Barbara Gordon, killed Jason Todd and murdered Sarah Essen.
The Joker is the ultimate villain because he makes such a perfect opposite for Batman - he is chaos where there is order, he is absolute freedom where there is responsibility. He laughs at the idea of justice. He laughs at pain and suffering. He laughs at death. Try as Batman might, he'll never stop the Joker from laughing. Even if he should ever die, his laughter will echo from beyond the grave.
4. Daredevil - Marvel Comics
As this top four will show, I like the street-level heroes best of all. The guys that run on rooftops, hide in the shadows and drop down on criminals in dark alleys. First up: the Man Without Fear himself, Daredevil.
Matt Murdock operating on the streets only makes sense. He grew up on the streets. The streets of Hell's Kitchen, specifically. The son of an Irish Catholic boxer, Matt struggled socially because he was a good student. He would lose both his sight and his father within a relatively short time. But he would get something back. The chemical that blinded him also somehow enhanced his remaining senses to superhuman levels. At first, this was sheer agony for him as he was bombarded by the sounds and smells of the city. But over time he would learn to control his gift to the point that he could shut things out when he needed to. He can pick out a single heartbeat in a crowd, read printed words with his fingers and balance on a clothes line like he's walking on a sidewalk.
He was trained by the mysterious Stick not only learning how to master his senses but also becoming an accomplished martial artist and acrobat. Soon after graduating law school he became Daredevil, the blind guardian of Hell's Kitchen. His strong belief in the law drives him to not only seek justice in the courtroom but also on the streets.
Initially, Daredevil had one of the lamest rogues galleries in the business, counting Stilt Man and Leap-Frog among his recurring foes. Thankfully, Frank Miller would remedy this, first bringing in Spider-Man antagonist Kingpin and really expanding his character. He would also introduce the Hand - an ancient Japanese group of ninjas, Matt's college lover Elektra and the deadly assassin Bullseye. By the mid eighties Daredevil was one of Marvel's deepest and most compelling characters. Pretty impressive considering his rather campy roots.
What always strikes me about this is the fact that while Miller did have to do some retconning to shape Murdock's history - adding in Stick and Elektra - he didn't have to do anything with Matt's actual origin story. I guess what I mean is that the whole Hell's Kitchen son of a boxer losing his sight and his father thing was already there. And yet despite this cool, gritty setup, it led to rather campy and lighthearted stuff. Daredevil was first written as an almost carefree, swashbuckling hero, bouncing around fighting colourful and silly enemies and making jokes. It wasn't until the very end of the seventies that he started to become the brooding, guilt-ridden vigilante who stalked the rooftops and took on the underworld.
Thankfully, Daredevil did undergo this evolution and he's been a blast ever since. Sure, the nineties were mostly a write-off for him but another acclaimed run, this time by Brian Bendis, got him back on his feet again.
Matt has a cool origin, interesting powers and a great supporting cast. It's true that at times his stories can get a little too depressing but he always manages to bounce back. I'm sure being one of the more, ahem, sexually active Marvel heroes helps him accomplish this - if a hot chick shows up in his book you can pretty much bank on him eventually sleeping with her. Now there's a super power.
3. Batman - DC Comics
Batman is most likely the greatest comic book character of all time. I can't see how anyone could top him. The fact that he comes in third on this list is simply due to my own personal preference. But I know the facts as well as you do - it doesn't get any better than the Dark Knight.
Once again, in talking about what makes Batman such a great comic book character I'm faced with the fact that pretty much anything I say would be redundant. But I'll try to personalize it as much as possible to alleviate that.
First of all, after all these decades, in the dynamic worlds of both super heroes and comics in general, few characters if any, look as good on the page as Batman does. He's been drawn by scores of different artists. Some better than others. But even when he's depicted by my least favourite pencillers, he's still Batman and he still looks damned impressive. The costume is just timeless. Sure it's had its various tweaks and modifications over the years but the core elements remain the same. The colour scheme, the cape, the cowl, the utility belt. It's all recognizable enough that even if someone like myself, who possesses absolutely no visual artistic merit were to draw him, you would still know it was Batman.
The character of Bruce Wayne is of course incredibly complex but it's all based on a relatively simple idea. As a young boy, he saw his parents killed and ever since has done whatever he could to fill that hole in his life. Saying Batman's motives are about vengeance or even justice would be missing the point. You have to take a step back from that and try to view it on its simplest terms. Why fight crime on your own instead of becoming a cop? Why not use guns and lethal force? Why dress up as a bat? The answer lies somewhere in the details. It's about pain and loss, conviction and ideals, fear and superstition. If you realize that, then in looking at Batman, you can understand why he does what he does. Not even just in the context of comics either. I honestly believe that you can come to see his choice as not only rational but feasible.
The key element here of course is that Bruce Wayne is an incredible individual. Only he can do what he does. He's a master detective, martial artist, chemist, engineer, strategist, escape artist, driver, pilot, actor and so much more. Whatever skill he's needed in his crusade against crime, he has acquired and practices at the highest level. His dedication to his cause borders on the fanatical.
For all his heroics, Batman of course remains a tragic figure. Some might say that in training younger people to fight crime as he does, he's attempted to build a sort of surrogate family around himself to make up for the one that he lost. His relationships with characters like Dick, Alfred, Tim and Leslie Thompkins are complex and believable. More than once he's been in danger of losing himself completely to the Batman identity he created but he's always been pulled back by his friends. As much as Batman can be a loner he proves that no man is an island.
Of all his foes, of course the Joker is his greatest and I could write an entire essay on what makes their relationship so interesting. But instead I'll just leave off by saying that for all his layers and complexities, he's still tremendously fun to see hitting people.
2. Spider-Man - Marvel Comics
When Peter Parker first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 he really was different than any superhero that came before him. He wasn't a billionaire. He wasn't a scientist (although he did have an aptitude for science). He wasn't a soldier or cop. He wasn't from another planet. He was just an ordinary teenager who had something extraordinary happen to him.
Even after he became the Amazing Spider-Man, his life as Peter Parker didn't actually change all that much except that now he had this huge responsibility that he had to somehow juggle with his day to day life and keep secret. Besides all the craziness that came from being a costumed vigilante, he had to deal with all the problems and challenges that any normal teen does. School, money, girls - these were all completely relatable issues. It seems like such a simple concept now, and really, it was. But it was still incredibly significant. Here was a hero that for all his powers and experiences, was still very much grounded in the real world.
Consumed by feelings of guilt and the desire to do the right thing, his actions as Spider-Man served to only complicate his life as Peter Parker. Sure, he'd save the day against Doc Ock but that would only make him miss his date with Betty Brant. He'd break up a bank robbery but then he'd be late for work. And for all the good he accomplished, his own employer would make it his mission to slam him in the press.
Just as all these things struck a chord with readers back in the sixties, they would strike a chord with me as well, decades later. The Spider-Man I got to know wasn't a teenager anymore. He even got married. But he was still relatable. He was still guilt-ridden. He was still funny. And hopefully his character will never lose these elements.
If you'll forgive the pun, to me, Spider-Man is the ultimate swing superhero. That is, he fits into almost any setting. While, predictably, I like him best as a street-level vigilante, saving the day in an urban setting, he also doesn't look out of place dealing with more global threats like terrorist organizations, killer robots or even aliens. He's fought alongside the Avengers (before finally becoming one) the Fantastic Four (uh, ditto), the X-Men, Doctor Strange, Kazar and even freaking Man-Thing. He just seems to fit into any situation.
Really, it's the core things about Spidey that I like the most: his powers, his costume, his personality, his rogues gallery. An absolute TON of different kinds of storylines have been tried with him and while some of them have been quite disasterous, I always come back to him. For simple comic book appeal, it's almost impossible to beat your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
1. Moon Knight - Marvel Comics
So we've finally reached the top of the list and its occupant is hardly a comic book icon. Really, only people who are really into Marvel are actually familiar with him and usually, how people describe him at best is as a poor man's Batman. I'm not on some sort of quest to convince people of why that isn't fair or accurate. Or to explain why Moon Knight is the world's greatest comic book character. I know he's not. But, yes, he is my favourite so I'll just go into why that is.
It's always been my preference to root for the underdog and in the world of Marvel superheroes, Marc Spector is one of the best examples of one. From the standpoint of his civilian identity, he's always been a successful guy. Just before embarking on his caped career, he became highly wealthy and has been pretty much ever since. But even though he's always had enough bank to sufficiently fund his war on crime, things have never been easy for him.
Whether or not he's ever had powers is debatable but even if you believe he did at some point possess some they were never much to write home about. He sometimes employs some pretty impressive tech but that's never been his strongest asset either. What has been his best weapon is simply his will. The guy doesn't give up. And as far as taking physical punishment goes, there may not be a tougher guy in the game. He doesn't have super strength, cybernetic limbs or a fancy healing factor. But he certainly has one high pain threshold and some sort of innate ability to get up off the mat when almost anyone else would be down for the count.
I'm also a big believer in second chances and redemption. Moon Knight basically exists because of these things. Marc Spector died in the desert as a man who had mostly wasted his potential, using his skills for his own benefit rather than the greater good. After being trained to kill first by the Marines and later the CIA, he had a colourful career as a mercenary, hiring himself out to whoever could pay. This sometimes led him to fight for the wrong things. The wrong people. The wrong causes. He'd be the first person to tell you he has regrets. But then, yeah, he died. And that would have been the end of it. Another mercenary falls victim to his violent life. But the Egyptian moon god Khonshu had other plans for him and here we are.
So while other heroes get more press and recognition, Moon Knight just goes about his business the only way he knows how. Perhaps the trauma of dying and coming back to life has taken a toll on his psyche; his original plan to use multiple aliases in his fight against crime actually spun somewhat out of control with him literally inventing new personalities for himself. Pretty much all the other heroes who have ever worked with him or come across him sum him up the same way: "Moon Knight? He's nuts." But that's ok. You know that slogan that they put on mugs for people to have at their offices? "You don't have to be crazy to work here but it helps"? That definitely applies to Moon Knight. Because when you're in the business of jumping off rooftops and mixing it up with armed hoods, are you really all that sane?
None of that particularly bothers him anyway. This is a guy who has burned his Avengers membership card, basically ignored the Civil War and practically told Captain America himself to go fuck himself. Moony is a rebel who has always done things his own way. Maybe sometimes he's kind of crazy but he gets results.
Finally, I like the moon. I like the word, the symbol and I like the heavenly body itself. His costume is sweet and unlike a lot of heroes that seem to dress less than functionally, he actually has a reason for it: Khonshu told him that's what he has to wear. That's fine with Marc; "I dress in white because I want them to see me coming" he says. I'll buy that. Perhaps it's because he is crazy but the guy never shows fear. Even when the odds are stacked against him (which is pretty much always) he charges in.
So yeah, he's not the best comic book character. He's not high profile or particularly respected by his peers. His rogues gallery could definitely use some punching up. But he's just a perfect blend of elements I love and will always be my favourite.