Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top Ten Comic Characters 2009 Edition

I'm not sure I've seen ten new films this year, I've barely read more than a couple of new books, and I don't know enough about music to write about it without embarrassing myself, so I'm just going to pinch an idea from Rol and just do my ten favourite comic characters. So, in no particular order (except alphabetical):

1. The Avengers: Immediately I cheat by chucking in a team. Oh well. I suspect that my first superhero comic was an Avengers title, as I've been hooked since I was a youngster. It's not even a particular lineup or era I like, but the team itself. Even though they live in a mansion and have a butler, there's something a bit more down to earth and approachable about the Avengers than their godlike DC counterparts (who don't have a butler, but look down on us all from their space station). Perhaps it's their open door policy, which allows Spider-Man villain the Sandman to fight alongside Captain America and Thor (I have a great idea for a Sandman Avengers story which will never see the light of day, alas). Or the fluctuating power levels, so you can have Thor and Iron Man in the team one month, then Firestar and Triathlon the other. One of my great regrets was dropping the title, after the franchise bloated, got mired in crossover hell, and came under the creative control of a writer who doesn't have the first idea on how to write the team.

2. Death's Head: It's difficult to explain the appeal of this character to anyone who didn't read Marvel UK's Transformers. I think it's because you've got a property which, like many of those cartoon/toy tie-ins of the 80's, split the characters into sharp delineations of good and evil. Then you've got this character coming in who cares not a jot for any of that, and just wants to get paid. Certainly this was unique in a kids' comic, and I can't think of many characters in "grown up" comics with a similar outlook. It helped that he was written well, with a humourous edge not often seen in the parent title, and he had a great character design. I was shocked and surprised to see him return recently, in the pages of S.W.O.R.D. of all places.

3. Doctor Doom: I like the theatrical chaos of the Joker, but for me, Doom is the greatest comic villain. Partly it's due to the great design (I once heard a rumour that the reason George Lucas gave Marvel the Star Wars comics rights was because they pointed out to him the visual similarities between Darth Vader and Doom), and it's partly to do with the pompous dialogue. The main thing I like about Doom is that he doesn't really see himself as a villain. He's a victim of circumstance, the most brilliant genius of his time, but the Accursed Richards always gets in the way. The best thing is that Doom may actually be right; Reed is no saint, and if their positions were reversed, things wouldn't be so different, I suspect.

4. Edward Hyde: As seen in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this is the best version of the Hulk ever written.

5. Invincible: What if Superman's alter-ego was Peter Parker? That's essentially what we've got with this character. So we're not dealing with a hugely original concept, but it's all about the writing, which captures that clash of real life and superheroing which made the after-high-school-but-before-Clones era of Spider-Man so compelling.

6. Nextwave:. Another cheat, but it's Christmas, so tough. This team's title got cancelled because no one was buying it, since apparently most comics fans lack both a sense of humour, and the understanding that Lee and Kirby did stuff like this all the time, and if it's good enough for them, it's damned well good enough for modern Marvel. You've got an ex-Avenger with an superiority complex, an ultra-violent English monster hunter, a drunken Machine Man, a jailbait X-Man and a superhero with a name so profane Captain America beat him up because of it. All of them are on the run after stealing what is essentially a TARDIS from a suicidal Nick Fury. Great stuff, crushed by the disapproval of abhuman cretins who couldn't deal with it being in the same "continuity" as a multi-part crossover about Iron Man and Captain America punching each other. Idiots.

7. Rocket Raccoon: The star of a bizarre minor Marvel miniseries of the early 1980's, a strange blend of horror and Saturday morning cartoon loosely based on a Beatles song and drawn by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola. I normally don't have much time for the anthropomorphic animal thing (I can't get into Usagi Yojimbo, for example, even though I know it's good), but there's something compelling about a 50's Buck Rogers style space hero with rocket boots and ray guns who just happens to be a raccoon. He's recently returned as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and I'm dreading his demise in some inane cosmic crossover.

8. Scott Pilgrim: He's a brilliant hand-to-hand fighter, and the ladies love him, but he's also a bit of a loser, living in a bedsit with only borrowed possessions, and he seems to have an odd kind of social autism where he fails to comprehend basic concepts. So another example of the Peter Parker archetype then. It would have been so easy to make Scott unfailingly cool and brilliant, and I love that he's just a bit rubbish sometimes.

9. Spider-Man: I don't have quite the attachment Rol does to Spidey, but it's close. I grew up reading his adventures, mainly from Marvel UK reprints, and Marvel got it dead right with this character. The balance of real-life and superheroics is spot on, and Spidey actually grew up and developed in a way superhero characters rarely do, which makes it all the more annoying that Marvel scuppered all that and turned the clock back for no reason at all. I still love Spidey, but Marvel make it so bloody hard.

10. Thor: I love the one-upmanship of the concept, of topping DC's strongest man alive by wheeling out a god. I like the silly Olde English dialogue, that he's a hero who can pull off a beard, and that he gets drunk at the end of a successful adventure purely for fun and celebration, and not because of socially relevant storytelling. He also works really well as an Avenger (see above), in particular during the Kurt Busiek era, when the writer would save Thor for the big climax, invariably giving him the hero shot. All this is set against the grand backdrop of Norse myth, complete with doom-laden prophecy and familial back-stabbing.

10a. Beta Ray Bill: As 10, but a yellow alien horse.