Regardless of what you think of superhero comics in general, there’s no denying that over the years some of the greatest fictional characters ever created were birthed within the DC and Marvel Universes. Recently, a list of the Top 50 Marvel and DC characters were put forth by Andrew Wheeler and The Great Curve, respectively, so I thought I’d weigh in with my own less ambitious, but arguably more difficult, Top 5 list from each company.
My choices are totally subjective, of course, and in some cases reflect the potential of a character as opposed to its actual history. (In some cases, despite its actual history!) Join in the fun, either in the comments, or your own blog.
TOP 5 MARVEL CHARACTERS
5) Kraven the Hunter: My 1st and 5th choices are perhaps a bit ironic as I’ve never really considered myself a big Spider-Man fan, but “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is one of only a handful of specific story arcs I still remember fondly from my early days of reading comics. It’s the rare “villain’s perspective” story that really works, making Kraven one of the most fascinatingly complex villains in either stable.
4) Jamie Madrox: With the extremely well-written Madrox mini-series from a little while back, Peter David catapulted Madrox onto my Top 5 list by delving into the psychological aspects of his powers in a rather fascinating manner. A rare instance of a character’s specific power being a viable foundation to build from.
3) Moon Knight/et al: People who consider him Marvel’s Batman clone simply don’t know what they’re talking about. A fertile backstory, multiple personalities and one of the coolest costumes ever. ‘Nuff said.
2) Tony Stark/Iron Man: Like the best Marvel characters, Tony Stark’s strength lies more in his civilian identity than his armored alter ego. Flawed, human and immensely relatable, he is perhaps even more potentially relevant in today’s era of technological dependency and corporate greed than he has been at any other time.
1) Peter Parker/Spider-Man: It took the first Spider-Man movie to finally put all of the pieces together and make Peter Parker really click for me. I’ve always been a bigger fan of the concept — everyman gets amazing powers, still has to deal with everyday life — than the comics themselves, though Paul Jenkins’ aborted run on the most recent Spectacular Spider-Man had me hooked until the Disassembled story arc derailed it.
TOP 5 DC CHARACTERS
5) Cassandra Cain/Batgirl: Trained to be a killer practically from birth, her determined struggle to do good (and to learn how to read and talk) had the potential for greatness during Andersen Gabrych’s short, Infinite Crisis-derailed tenure. Take the same concept and work it outside of the limiting constraints of the Bat-family and you’ve got a winner in the right hands.
4) Superman: He’s as much a cipher as any minority character ever introduced into the Marvel or DC universes, but denying him a spot in the Top 5 would be indefensible. At his best, he is defined more by his supporting cast than his own actions, but if nothing else, Smallville has shown that there is a viable angle to the character, simultaneously the parallel and opposite of Peter Parker: what do you do when you’re effectively able to conquer the world?
3) Lex Luthor: The first four issues of Brian Azzarello’s recent Lex Luthor: Man of Steel mini-series offered the most compelling take I’ve ever seen of the character, an undeniable genius driven mad by pride, the deadliest of the seven sins and the only thing that really separates him from Tony Stark.
2) The Joker: Though I’ve never been plagued by the seemingly universal fear of clowns, the Joker’s freakish appearance makes him the perfect foil for a hero who seeks to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Underneath that surface appearance, though, is an unpredictable sociopath with no particular agenda other than to cause mayhem. I am also one of the few who apparently enjoyed A.J. Lieberman’s take on his origin in Gotham Knights #54, revisionist as it may have been, as I thought it fleshed out the character nicely and managed to make him a bit sympathetic.
(All cover shots courtesy of Grand Comic Book Database.)