Thursday, May 18, 2006

Help Me Pick The Best of DC

Wise Tom at the Great Curve is surveying a bunch of bloggers so he can compile a list of the 50 Best DC Characters. Each blogger gets to pick a list according to his or her own criteria.

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.


Anonymous said...

I think Ditko's original SHADE THE CHANGING MAN was his finest hour. And certainly something by Ditko should make it.

I have incredible fondness for the FOREVER PEOPLE, but I suspect they wouldn't make your list...

Scipio said...

"And certainly something by Ditko should make it."

I believe the answer to that is the Question.

Steven said...

Certainly can't knock anyone on your list ('cept maybe Paco...) Only one I'll add right now is:

Steel: John Henry Irons. His super powers are silver age, his race and family life distinctly modern, but his personality, priorities, and general idea of what a hero is connects him more closely to the first Superman stories than Superman himself. Plus his name ties him to a distinctly American myth.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Scipio, steal all the good ones whydon'tcha. `-`

Anonymous said...

Ah! Got one! Kate Spencer, Manhunter. One of the few comic-book anti-heroes that don't totally suck.

Anonymous said...

How about Swamp Thing (is he still considered to be a DCU character? I hope so) or Saturn Girl (I know you have two Legionnaires already, but Imra is just such a strong character)? I'm sure I could come up with other ideas, but those are the two--additional to your list--that leap to mind first.

Anonymous said...

Lois Lane - the first portrayal of a modern, strong-willed woman in comics.

The Joker - Is any villain scarier?

Lex Luthor balnness and brains, he's got it all

Swamp Thing - the first vegetable comic book hero

Darkseid - The original Doomsday

Creeper - The Id, painted yellow and in fur. Who can resist him? Also, a Ditka creation. As much as I love The Question, I think he should be disqualified because he was originally a Charleston character.

Sgt. Rock - because great war comics aren't easy (let's just pretend the most recent Suicide Squad stories never happened.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

There is a world of difference between "a Ditko creation" and "a Ditka creation." Heh.

Dear Scip:

I am simply befuddled by the notion that you think Flash doesn't belong on the list, but Impulse does. Flash speaks back to Hermes and Mercury as one of the fundamental concepts in storytelling. Impulse is not only largely derivative of Flash, but constantly made poor choices and was often thoughtless and juvenile rather than heroic.

(I guess that's why we each get to build our own lists.)

--Flash, Joker, Two-Face

Anonymous said...

I have to second Impulse, he's what got me into DC comics in the first place. I still remember reading the issue with the "Welcome back Max" party, and wondering who all those people were. I thought Zatanna was talking backwards because she was drunk :)

I would also add the nomination of Black Canary. Besides Wonder Woman she is the highest profile female DCU character, but unlike Wonder Woman she actually has an identity. My first exposure to her was the JLU episode with her, Green Arrow and Wildcat, and I was blown away. She's tough in her own feminine way, she sports some good costumes, and she is easier to relate to than the goddesses like Wonder Woman or Big Barda.

Paul S. said...

I'd throw the Cassandra Caine Batgirl onto the list just because her book was the closest that American Comics ever got to Hong Kong Action movies. *grumbles bitterly over this week's Batman.*

Anonymous said...

I'd say Gates, the grouchy but loveable marxist teleporting pill bug from spaaaaaaaaaaace! he is THE sensational character find of 1995.

Anonymous said...

Of course I'm going to say Martian Manhunter- eternal outsider despite his powers, likable "elder statesman," powerful and deeply moral.

Green Arrow- prototypical archer hero (as far as I know), rebel rousing hippie, street level champion of the people.

Hawkwoman- a woman character who was tough as nails, yet vulnerable (but not in a fanboy wish-fulfillment kinda way; see Storm & Rogue). Her character development was more organic than just about any I've read in a super-hero comic.

Deadshot- could have been a Punisher rip-off in his modern incarnation, but his attitude towards life and the choices he's made give him added layers. Plus, I dig the costume.

John Constantine- mystic con artist. I've always liked the character, even when the Hellblazer comics weren't great.

Mr. Miracle- the best New God (which you may consider damning with faint praise:). An escape artist who burst free from the exotic (Apokalips & the New God wars) to seek the mundane (domestic life with Barda).

Anonymous said...

If you disqualify Q because he started at Charleston, then you also have to lose Captain Marvel (Fawcett) and Plastic Man (Quality). Besides, it's the "50 Greatest DC Characters", not "50 Greatest Characters Created at DC".

Shade was cool, but he doesn't rate "Great". He's too obscure, for one thing, and for another, there wasn't much depth to his character in the original run. He was basically The Fugitive with a funny forcefield/illusion belt...

Joker, Darkseid, and Luthor are all good choices, a., but this is the heroes list. Scip said he'd get to the villains later.

Not sure I buy Aquaman's inclusion. He was created as a blatant rip of the Sub-Mariner, so even though these days Arthur has a way higher Q-factor than Namor, it doesn't seem right to give him props based on his concept.

I think Wonder Woman rates, though. As much as Robin is THE kid sidekick, Diana is THE female superhero. The fact that writers have struggled with her over the years doesn't change her elemental appeal. Personally, I think that's part of the problem. Writers have this idea of Wonder Woman the concept, and they want to go off and do their own take on that, without bothering to read what has already been done with Wonder Woman the character (I'm looking at you, Joss Whedon). So she comes off as schizophrenic.

I nominate Jericho. OK, the 'burns and threads are way out there, baby, but the concept? Silent guy stares into your eyes and takes over your body! Creep out city! And metatextually, a comic book character who gets neither speech baloons or thought bubbles, but can only communicate by facial expression and hands? It's amazing it worked at all, but it did, and it was brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Jack Knight, AKA Starman!

Anonymous said...

I'd add the silver age Bizarro. He's the retarded twin brother of Superman. His intentions are in the right place, but as he puts it so sadly, "Me not know difference between good and evil". Though he had the memories, that duplicator ray somehow messed with the socialization that Kal had received. Consequently, he just couldn't fit in. At this point, I find his story compelling enough but what really gets me is how he responds to the situation. Instead of accepting his position as a freak, he takes a wife and creates a world of his own. He populates it w/ copies of himself and Bizarro-Lois; he creates a world that he can fit into, where he's an everyman instead of a freak. Amazing.
I haven't really paid attention to the postCrisis Bizarro, but from what I have seen it seems his accomplishment aren't so inspiring.

I second Krypto. Part of his greatness is that it's a concept that could only be pulled off in comics (or cartoons).

and Mogo.
Because on my list all the names would end with -o.

-Alex P

Anonymous said...

Impulse rocks. He's more like Hermes than any of the Flashes are, IMHO - Jay, Barry, Wally, none of them fit as a trickster.

Also, it's Charlton, not Charleston. And yes, Bizzaro am terrible choice for this list.

Matthew E said...

I've been trying to do my own list to send in, and I'm surprised at how much my list has in common with what everyone here has been saying. My suggestion: Oracle.

Anonymous said...

Then how'd you forget Metamorpho, Alex?
Much as I enjoy them, I'm not sure the Warlord or the Doom Patrol or various Legionnaires are worthy of entry; but DC should include something to show it's variety, like the Haunted Tank. There's a idea you wouldn't see anywhere but comics.

joncormier said...

B'wana Beast - who else rides an endangered species to safety as the world (and multiverse) crashes around you?

Seriously though this is really a tough call since trying to determine what a DC hero is is hard enough on it's own. Do you account for acquired heroes or DC proper sole-creations? I mean most of them are such basic concepts that we remember more what good writers did with them than what the character actually is/represents.

To me they're blank slates, and that's good - more story potential. But where's Booster Gold, Cpt. Atom, Swamp Thing, and heck Animal Man? C'mon, where else will you find a hero that comes from the future simply to get rich and famous?

Anonymous said...

Matter-Eater Lad: Silver age cheese with a stupid name, right? Wrong. The most powerful Legionnaire. When the Legion had an indestructable machine that could destroy the universe, Mon-El couldn't break it. Brainiac 5 couldn't deduce a solution. They called in M-E Lad to EAT it.

Karate Kid: The only Legionnaire WITH NO POWERS. He's all about hard work and determination. Rolls with DC's heaviest hitters as an equal. His initiation test was to beat up Superboy. Passed. Died fighting Nemesis Kid, the unbeatable villain who mirrors your weaknesses. Killed him BECAUSE HE HAD TO. Died in the arms of his one true love, a Princess.

Flash (Wally West): Dopey kid sidekick called on by events to step into the biggest shoes imaginable. Constantly under presure to live up to unreachable ideals, his uncle's villains grugingly learn over the years to give him respect. Willing to die to save his loved ones without hesitation. Discoverer of the Speed Force. Has one of the longest heroic careers- he's been doing this since he was 11. Oh yeah, he runs fast, too.

Mister Miracle: Remarkably well adjusted considering his life was traded to Darkseid for a peace no one observed. Raised in a concentration camp, yet works for the promotion of peace and love. Happily married to Barda, whom he rescued from evil brainwashing. Always has a plan. Always.

Ferro Lad: The first meaningful in-continuity hero death. Not done for an origin story (Wayne Family) or a retcon (Bucky), he died to save the universe. Period.

The Atom (Ray Palmer): Marvel's shrinky-guy talks to ants. Ray kills Darkseid. Can 'teleport' through phone lines by RIDING ELECTRONS.

Booster Gold: Has all the elements of the VILLAIN origin (stolen goods, time travel, new identity), yet fights for good because of a novel twist- he's a loser and this is his only chance to have a meaningful life. Greedy, but will always walk away from the money to be a real hero. The first post-Crisis hero.

Green Arrow: Openly political, which must make him a joy to write, and even if you don't agree with him, he's fun to watch. Everyone roots for Arrow over the slumlord.

Oracle: The triumph of brains versus evil. A remarkable solution to the problem of 'Alan Moore put my hero in a wheelchair'.

Sgt. Rock: Best war comic character ever. Average Joe. Walking symbol of the Greatest Generation.

Scipio said...

Oracle and Booster Gold are strong candidates for the remaining slots on my list.

Tom Bondurant said...

Thanks for the link, Scipio!

One word about entries, though: please, PLEASE try to narrow down the "costume" to a single person (i.e., Wally West, Jason Todd, Guy Gardner). If I get a lot of entries for "Robin," "Flash," or "Green Lantern," with no qualifiers, I could maybe make the no-qualifier entries separate from the individuals, but otherwise it's hard for me to tell which one you mean. I want the final list to be for individuals, so (for example) all the votes for Dick/Robin count for Dick/Nightwing.

Thanks again, and happy listing!

Tegan O'Neil said...

G'nort. If you don't put G'nort on your list I will never speak to you again.

Matthew E said...

Just e-mailed my list. I had to make some damn tough decisions about the ranking.

Among those I had on my list that I haven't seen mentioned here were (in reverse order of how prominently I ranked them):

Martin Stein
Blue Devil
Amanda Waller

I did have Brainiac 5, Gates, Creeper and others mentioned here on my list, but all the duplications happened *before* I knew this discussion existed.

Matthew E said...

Curses! I checked the rules again, and only just now fully understood the titles-that-became-Vertigo rule. I totally would have included Dream, Death and Delirium on my list. Death might have made my top ten.

Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Good list, Scip, but I would definitely include Mayor Oliver Queen. Green Arrow is an absolutely fascinating character to watch. He began as a Batman knockoff but quickly developed into one of the most cutting edge, socially conscious characters of the DCU.

I also echo the calls for Cliff Steel's inclusion.

Anonymous said...

I gotta speak up for Ralphie D. here. Sure the Elongated Man has a lousy name and a secondhand power put to better use by that plastic guy, but he also had a seriously kickin' lady at his side and together they were the Nick and Nora Charles of the DC Universe. Now that Sue is gone, it looks like (if 52 is any indication) he may be going in a more bad-ass loner direction, but to me he'll always be--like William Powell before him--a charming symbol of sophisticated goofiness.

Steven said...

Okay people, read the intro! Heroes Only for now.

I've got Miss Quinn waiting on my V-List, so cool your jets, you crazy cats!

Anonymous said...

Oooh -- I second Quislet. A great idea, particularly his world that we saw in that one issue...

Anonymous said...

I'll echo Jack Knight and Kate Spencer.

When Robinson wrote Starman, Jack Knight was the character that showed everyone that it was possible to pass on a legacy in such a way that both modernized the concept and not ignore the past. Very few characters in comics actually have a complete story, origin-adventures-ending, that is completely satisfying (another point in your arguement for long runs by the same creators).

Kate Spencer is perhaps one of DC's biggest gambles, and biggest creative (if not sales) payoffs. In many ways, she is the "new Jack Knight", a throughly modern character that overcomes the darkness of her own origin, a flawed person who still has a very strong moral code. It's very seldom that there are new superheroes these days, it's almost unheard of to make them unique, and it's one in a million that can maintain her uniqueness and still follow a legacy.

Anonymous said...

The android Hourman- way more fun than any other version.

Tommy "Hitman" Monaghan- my favorite DC anti-hero.

Anonymous said...

Gotta give my props for the original JSA!

Dr. Mid-Nite: Gifted young physician, career ended by blindness, turned his weakness into a strength.

Sandman: One of the very first, fighting crime in a business suit and gasmask. Eventually gave in to peer pressure and went the tights route, but still.

Atom: Turned his life around and became a super-hero to impress a girl. Come on, how many of us can relate to that?

Starman: Perhaps a sci-fi update of Scipio's "magic wand guys", but dammit he made having a big fin on your head COOL!

Hourman: Predicted America's pharmaceutical fascination by about fifty years. (Can you imagine the TV commercials? "MIRACLO! Discover the miracle within you! Side effects are rare but may include addiction, sense of isolation, separation from family, and irrepresible desire to wear flowing yellow spandex.)

Verification Word: EQAMYX. Mr. Mxyzptlk's second cousin once removed?

MarkAndrew said...

The X-(men)fan message boards did a list of the fourty best DC characters.

They seem like a bright buncha guys, really. But they don't know nothin' about no non-mutant comics and it shows.

It was then and there that I realized that ANY best comic character list must have the following on it or be completely invalid: (X-fan left 'em all off.)

1. Jonah Hex (Who you got.)

2. Sgt. Rock (Who everyone else mentioned.)

3. Sugar

It saddens me that you're not voting Wonder Woman. There have been really good interpretations of her charcter and she's an important and resonant visual icon. (And my fave of the big gun DC characters.)

Anonymous said...

You got Bouncing Boy dead-on.

I'd like to chime in on those pulling for Amanda Waller and Metamorpho.

I'd also like to add SAPPHIRE STAGG to the list. Daddy's Little Rich Girl may come off as a spoiled brat, but when her handsome, macho adventurer got hideously deformed, she stuck by him, and regularly informed him and the audience that his looks didn't matter.

Anonymous said...

Pray suggest your favourite Mr. Terrific stories. (and be specific in title and issue number if you can)

Anonymous said...

I swear this isn't motivated by his recent demise: The Kon-El Superboy. There's just something poignant about being the teenage clone of the greatest hero ever and spending your whole life trying desperately to live up to his standard.

Plus, he was hot.

Anonymous said...

No Snapper Carr?? C'mon, daddy-o, be cool!

Marc Burkhardt said...

See, I always felt Simon Stagg was as amoral as Catwoman - which should either put him in the villain list or Selina in the heroine section.

Actually, I like Metamorpho much better than Simon. He's the swingin' hep-cat Ben Grimm to Simon's pseudo-Reed/Von Doom.

Anonymous said...

Noone mentioned Barda! Really, if I have to explain why she rocks, there's no hope for you.

Guy Gardner-this is a list of the best 'characters'. He certainly qualifies.

There's some other characters bouncing around in my head, but I'm not sure who I'd put in the top 50. I'd have to think about that awhile.

Anonymous said...

I was the one who wrote the above post. There was one other character who I would not leave out:

Huntress (Helena Wayne): the original 'legacy hero'. The daughter of Batman and Catwoman was the biggest loss of the first chrisis.

Gus Casals said...

Such a shame to arrive a year and a half late to such a fascinating post.

I'm writting beacuse I can hardly believe Chunk has another fan in the world. And also, as a formerly big man who still thinks himself in those terms, havinh Chester and Chuck in the list is refreshing from a merely body positive way.

And speaking of bodies, PG is my fave female character hands down.