What a delightful challenge! I can't, in good conscience, simply choose the characters I like the most. I mean, not even I think the Penny Plunderer or Orca are among DC's 50 Best Characters, despite my affection for them. What's that, Todd? You forgive me? Thank you; thank you, Todd.
This may surprise you: Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern -- not on the list. As character concepts, no one's really figured out what Wonder Woman's about in over 60 years, Flash is a simple power held by a number of likeable guys, and Green Lantern might as well be Ibis the Invincible, Starman, Zatara, or any other "magic wand" guy. I like 'em; but that's not enough.
I can't tell you what the final blogosphere wide vote will be, but I can tell you what my votes are and why. Out of a perverse sense of fairness (or perhaps merely balance), I am forcing myself to divide my choices between heroes and villains equally. Some choices, like Batman & Superman, are pretty obvious and universal. Others are less so.
Here are some of the heroes I'm putting on my list, in no particular order (I'll post villains later).
I still have room for a few more; any suggestions?
Batman (Bruce Wayne). The hero who turns his tragedy into a triumph for others. The scary nighttime hero. Symbol of human heroic potential. How to maximum the effect of the power you have.
Superman (Clark Kent). Everyone's power fantasy. The friendly daytime hero. The personification of responsible use of power. A testament to the power of morality. How to minimize the effects of the power you have.
Captain Marvel (Billy Batson). Like Batman, a human orphan; like Superman, a superbeing of immense power. Like Batman, he is wise; like Superman he is invulnerable. Boys dream of giving up their current lives to be Batman or Superman; boys dream of keeping their current lives while being Captain Marvel.
Aquaman (Arthur Curry). Laugh all you want at Aquaman. No intellectual analysis of his limits in the world of fighting crime and villains can dismiss his elemental appeal. We humans live on a planet 3/4 of which is completely inhospitable to us, an environment that would kill us in under 4 minutes. We are all innately afraid of the sea. But Aquaman lives and rules there.
Plastic Man (Eel O'Brien). The crook turned hero. The slapstick absurdist hero. Ridiculous goofball; serious and nearly indestructible threat. If you'll pardon my saying so, the elasticity of the concept of Plas has done him well.
Robin. The kid sidekick. Every kid dreams of tagging along with his hero. Robin actually does.
Krypto. Anyone who doesn't understand why people love Krypto doesn't own a dog. Not only is he goofy fun, he serves as an occasional terrifying reminder of how grateful everyone should be that Superman has human morality.
Alfred Pennyworth. Bringer of dignity to both comic relief and personal pathos. I can't picture anyone boxing Batman's ears and getting away with it. Except Alfred.
Brainiac 5. He's not a smart character; he is the smart character. Which not only explains why he's in the Legion but why he experiences nearly constant frustration with everyone and everything.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane). It's not just that he's the Man of 1000 Talents; I mean, Batman's pretty much like that, too. It's that he was driven to suicide by boredom and found happiness in living only by devoting his talents to help other people instead of himself.
Vibe (Paco Ramone). ?Como no?
Simon Stagg. Mr. Over-the-top. Genius. Zillionaire. Scientist. Businessman. Supportive. Manipulative. Loving. Creepy. Good. Evil. If Dr. Doom moved to DC, he would become Simon Stagg. Simon Stagg is all things to all people.
Danny the Street. I'm quite capable of giving Morrison props when necessary. And his idea of a magically mobile sentient crossdressing street that speaks in old British gay slang, as it was fully realized in the Doom Patrol, is sheer creative genius nearly unparalleled.
Jonah Hex. Double espresso with whiskey is to Sanka as Jonah Hex is to cowboy. If you're not going to love Jonah Hex, what's the point of being an American?
The Question (Vic Sage). The idea that the hard part of life isn't answering questions but figuring out which questions you should ask is a fairly sophisticated one, and one that this character personifies perfectly. Oh, and he looks cool.
Chunk (Chester Runk). As previously discussed.
Impulse (Bart Allen). If you can name a character whose character was more fully defined and realized then Impulse as he appeared in his own title and could make you laugh and cry in almost every issue, then I'll owe you a cup of coffee.
Bouncing Boy (Chuck Taine). Acquired his ridiculous powers through his own stupid carelessness, powers that severly deformed his body. Instead of becoming bitter, he joined the most powerful heroes of his generation. Bouncing Boy isn't great despite the fact that he has stupid powers; Bouncing Boy is great because he has stupid powers.
Power Girl (Karen Starr). I think perhaps Power Girl works for the same reason Wonder Woman doesn't. Wonder Woman was based on her creator's idea that the "masculine" and "feminine" ways of looking at the world were incompatible; Power Girl is based on the idea that they are compatible. That's why everyone struggles with Wonder Woman, but can't help but like Power Girl.