Inspired by an Entertainment Weekly list, I devised my own list of the 100 greatest comic book characters of the last 20 years. I’ve been detailing the entries in alphabetical order and the first half of the list appeared in last week’s column. Here’s the second half for your reading and viewing pleasure:
51. Liz Noble (Image, 2002): She’s our window into the world of superheroes, the normal girl who marries the super-speedster Race of the famous Noble family. She’s sweet, kind, sympathetic and occasionally overwhelmed. Noble Causes tended to lose its way when she wasn’t there.
52. Lord Pumpkin (Malibu, 1993): The 1990s superhero companies weren’t often known for their great villains but Malibu’s Ultraverse proved to be an exception. Lord Pumpkin made his debut in Steve Gerber’s Sludge but proved to be so popular that he was eventually given his own title- an honor usually reserved for classic villains like Green Goblin and the Joker.
54. Makita (Image, 2001): She’s the strong-willed and adolescent rebel who refuses to give in to the great Soviet empire in Red Star.
55. Marrow (Marvel, 1994): A great anti-hero. Marrow started out as the rage-filled leader of Gene Nation. She was brought into the X-Men, where her abrasive personality caused tension, not unlike disturbers of the peace of the past such as the Avengers’ Hawkeye, the Justice League’s Guy Gardner and the X-Men’s own Wolverine.
56. Maxx (Image, 1993): The Maxx was Sam Kieth’s unique Image creation. Was he a superhero? Was he a figment of Julie’s imagination? Was he a homeless bum? Was he a bunny rabbit? Yes, to all of the above.
57. Mayor Mitchell Hundred (DC, 2004): Every once in a while, a character is more interesting after they stop becoming a superhero. That’s true of DC’s Oracle, Marvel’s Jessica Jones (#44) and Ex Machina’s Mitchell Hundred. After watching the devastation of the World Trade Center on 9-11 (and saving the second tower), Mitchell Hundred decides that he can do more good as a politician than he did as the Great Machine. However, he has a hard time learning that a politician’s battles aren’t always as clear-cut as a superhero’s.
58. Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Marvel, 1992): Thanks to Peter David, the greatest character to come out of Marvel’s 2099 line. He was an adult everyman, stuck in an unsatisfying corporate job who found an escape as a superhero.
59. Molly Hayes (Marvel, 2003): I could have gone with the nerdy Gertrude or the goth Niko, but the biggest star from Runaways is the little girl with the big power. Molly is more interested in Hello Kitty or Pokemon but that doesn’t stop her from being a superhero.
61. Mr. Terrific II (DC, 1997): Occasionally an update is so different that it’s essentially a new character. That’s the case with Mr. Terrific and Morph. Morph is ostensibly a new version of ‘60s X-Man Changeling, but with a new look, a new name and an actual personality, he’s truly his own character. Mr. Terrific borrows a name and a catch-phrase (Fair Play) from a Golden Age character but he adds a new look and a new set of powers that completely surpasses the original.
62. Norman McKay (DC, 1996): Two of the greatest stories of the 1990s, Marvels and Kingdom Come, used human point-of-view characters to bring us into the story. Norman McKay was the preacher lost in despair at the state of the world and the diminishing place for normal people in it. Phil Sheldon (#64) was the photographer eager to make his way in the world and easily inspired by the heroes who were new to the scene. Their viewpoints and journeys carried us though these two modern masterpieces.
63. Patrick the Wolf Boy (Blindwolf, 2000): Originally self-published, Patrick would make a bigger splash when he jumped to Devil’s Due. This werewolf cub is constantly getting into mischief, like a mute and more charming Dennis the Menace.
Side-Bar: And they say comics aren’t for kids anymore. The last 20 years have introduced all kinds of great kids’ comics, including Andy Runyan’s Owly, Mike Kunkel’s Herobear, Jill Thompson’s Magic Trixie and David Peterson’s Mouse Guard. There have also been great kid versions of familiar superheroes with Marvel’s Power Pack and Franklin Richards comics and DC’s Tiny Titans.
65. Pixie (Marvel, 2004): The X-Men have a great tradition of teenage supergirls from Kitty Pryde to Jubilee. Pixie is one of the newest in the line, starring in New X-Men, a Free Comic Book Day special and now her own mini-series. She’s sweet, with just a touch of sass.
66. Po Po (CrossGen, 2002): This cranky mentor to a kung fu novice was a monkey. You can’t go wrong with a smart-aleck monkey. Way of the Rat even used him as the voice of the letter column where he heaped as much amusing abuse on the fans as he did on his student, Boon.
68. Queen of Fables (DC, 2000): Two of the more memorable villains of the last 20 years, they antagonized the JLA at the hands of Grant Morrison and Mark Waid respectively. Prometheus is the anti-Batman who downloads skills directly into his brain and has an unrelenting hatred for heroes. Queen of the Fables is a sorceress who draws superheroes into her myths.
69. Quentin Quire (Marvel, 2002): Another Grant Morrison villain, Quentin Quire is the dark side of the X-Men mythos. He’s the embodiment of teenage rage. His charisma and telepathic powers allowed him to bring other students under his sway, eventually leading to a Riot at Xavier’s.
70. Quinlan Vos (Dark Horse, 2000): John Ostrander and Jan Duursema created a character as compelling as any in the Star Wars universe. Quinlan Vos was a Jedi who spied on the Sith, forced to walk the fine line between the light and the dark, nearly losing himself and finding love along the way.
71. Renee Montoya (DC, 1992): She was created for Batman: The Animated Series, then given a quick debut in comics before showing up in the cartoon. She was a rookie cop on the mean streets of Gotham. She was optimistic enough to be a little naïve, but steely enough to stand up to even the strangest super-villains.
73. Ripclaw (Image, 1992): Dismissed by many as a Wolverine rip-off, Ripclaw proved that the X-Man could be re-imagined as well as Batman or Superman (see #’s 13 and 86). Ripclaw was a Native American and a poet who was both the fiercest fighter and the kindest friend in Cyberforce.
74. Rocket (Milestone, 1993): Nominally Icon’s sidekick, Rocket was the real star of the series. She was the one who had to learn what it meant to be a hero and then, in a powerful story, what it meant to be pregnant.
75. Rune (Malibu, 1993): Barry Windsor-Smith’s eternal and magical vampire was the Ultaverse’s greatest villain. He later gave a hard time to Marvel’s super-heroes when he got a hold of the Infinity gems.
76. Savage Dragon (Image, 1992): Ignore his 1986 appearance as a prototype- the real Savage Dragon was revamped significantly when he showed up as part of Image. Erik Larsen gave us a superhero who was both savage and smart, one who wore a badge instead of a cape.
Side-Bar: The biggest isn’t always the best. Other Image characters have jumped to movies or television shows. But they were villains in heroic garb or good girls. I’ll take the Savage Dragon over Spawn or Witchblade any time. Other big stars who didn’t make this list include the bad girl Lady Death, the DC villain Doomsday and the Marvel hoax-turned-hero Sentry.
77. Scary Godmother (Sirius, 1997): Jill Thompson seemed ill-suited to superhero fare so it was great to see her jump to magical fantasy instead. Her Scary Godmother isn’t scary at all. She’s a delightful treat for everyone who likes magic, costumes and Halloween. And Magic Trixie, an erstwhile junior version, is even better.
78. Sephie (CrossGen, 2000): The best lead character from any of the CrossGen books. Sephie’s father was supposed to receive the power of the sigil but his heart couldn’t hold out so it fell to Sephie instead. She was coerced and then kidnapped by her evil uncle. She escaped and became an unlikely rebel leader. She was a resolute fighter, yet compassionate to her enemies. And she experienced all of the turmoil of a typical teenager including star-crossed love.
79. Sgt. Kemlo Caesar (Wildstorm, 2000): Alan Moore’s Top Ten was chock-full of great characters: Jeff Smax, Toy Box, Jetman and more. But the best of the bunch was Sgt. Kemlo Caesar, the Doberman who walked like a man. He barked out orders, handed out compassionate pats on the head and blurred the line between man and man’s best friend.
80. Shi (Crusade, 1993): The ‘90s brought a host of good girls and bad girls. Shi was better than any of them. She combined east and west, thanks to an American mother and a Japanese grandfather. She combined Sun Tzu and Christianity. She combined martial arts and fine art (she was a museum director). And, yes, she was pretty easy on the eyes.
82. Songbird (Marvel, 1997): Kurt Busiek makes the list with back-to-back heroines for Marvel and DC. Skyrocket was one of the stars of The Power Company, bringing a new element to the patriotic hero. She hailed from St. Louis, is black and was an idealist in a pragmatic operation. Songbird was the uniquely updated version of Screamin’ Mimi. The former villainess took a shot at redemption in Thunderbolts and Avengers: Forever.
84. Star-Spangled Kid (DC, 1999): Geoff Johns modeled this spunky heroine on his younger sister. She started in her own title, guest-starred in Starman and JLA: Sins of Youth and made the big time in JSA.
85. Static (Milestone, 1993): He’s the Spider-Man of the 1990s. Virgil Hawkins is the slightly geeky kid who’s into role-playing games. That’s before the Big Bang gives him electric powers and he becomes one of the most interesting heroes of the ‘90s.
86. Steel (DC, 1993): Tapping into American fable and the Superman mythos, Steel is a great new character. He’s named after John Henry, the hammer-wielding rail worker who went up against a steam engine. And he wears the cape and shield of the greatest superhero of them all.
Side-Bar: Steel started out as a Superman replacement. This has been also been a great era for Superman substitutes. There’s Astro City’s Samaritan, Awesome’s Supreme, Wildstorm’s Majestic, The Authority’s Apollo and even Milestone’s Icon. They’ve each brought their own twist (and their own haircut) to the Superman legend.
87. Steeljack (Image, 1998): He’s the small-time super-crook who tries to go straight, except the heroes don’t believe him and his old neighborhood needs him. Steeljack has an eloquent sadness and an innate stubbornness that overcome both the reader and any obstacles in his way.
88. Stephanie Brown (DC, 1992): She’s worn three superhero costumes and shone in each of them: Spoiler, Robin and now Batgirl. What makes Stephanie Brown so special is that she’s the daughter of a super-villain who has chosen to be a hero.
89. TAO (Image, 1995): The technically-augmented organism was a great hero. He was an even better villain. Alan Moore added the hyper-intelligent character during his run on the Wildcats. But he surprised us all when TAO turned out to have been evil all along.
90. Tom Strong (Wildstorm, 1999): A tip of the cap to the pre-superhero pulp characters, Tom Strong was a scientist, an inventor, an adventurer, a husband and a father. He was the best of Swiss Family Robinson and Superman. In addition to his daughter Tesla Strong, he also inspired a revival of the Golden Age characters from America’s Best Comics.
91. Topaz (Malibu, 1994): Another example of the independent companies taking a Big Two character and doing it better. Like Superman’s Maxima, Topaz is a warrior queen from another planet. Unlike Maxima, she has a great costume, a well-rounded personality, and a visually interesting fighting style.
92. Triathlon/3-D Man (Marvel, 1998): Despite initial fan resistance, Triathlon has become one of the stalwarts of the Avengers family of titles. He emphasized his legacy connection by changing his name to 3-D Man, joined Avengers: The Initiative and is now making his way onto the Agents of Atlas.
93. Venus Dee Milo (Marvel, 2002): I chose Venus Dee Milo from the all-new X-Force/X-Statix because she had the most distinctive look. I remember that she was included in promotional art for the series and I couldn’t wait for her to arrive in the actual comics. She had red skin and her arms were replaced by Kirby dots, yet she was still stunningly beautiful. Of course, a case could have also been made for The Anarchist, Mr. Sensitive, U-Go Girl, Dead Girl and Doop.
94. Vincent Van Goat (Acclaim, 1997): Other animals made the list, but they were sentient beings who could talk and had powers. Vincent is just a goat. A smelly, stupid, will-eat-everything goat. He heightened the comedy of the superhero buddy comic, Quantum & Woody, and even had his own inaction figure.
95. White Violin (Dark Horse, 2007): The Umbrella Academy introduced a handful of unique characters such as Rumor who writes everything down because words are her power. But the greatest is the foster sister turned villainess, White Violin. She has an incredibly distinct look and an incredibly twisted view of the world.
96. X-23 (Marvel, 2003): Like Harley Quinn, X-23 was introduced in a cartoon, yet as a member of the X-Men her real home is in comics. She’s a programmed killer yet you can’t help but feel sorry for her. She never chose this life yet she does it anyway so that others don’t have to.
97. X-O Manowar (Valiant, 1991): Valiant’s best characters were the ones they updated from the Silver Age: Magnus, Solar and Turok. However, one of their newer heroes was able to stand side by side with those others. X-O Manowar was a medieval barbarian abducted by aliens who escaped with a super-suit and showed up in the modern world. Simultaneously ahead of and behind the times, X-O Manowar was the best of the iron heroes.
98. Xorn (Marvel, 2001): Okay, we never really met Xorn. It was Magneto in disguise the whole time. Even so, Grant Morrison’s Chinese mutant with a sun for a brain was one of the most inventive new characters of the past decade.
99. Yorick Brown (DC, 2002): The lead of Y: The Last Man, Yorick was mostly beloved (though occasionally reviled). He wasn’t a hero, and didn’t want to be. He was the last man by accident, suffering from a severe case of survivor’s guilt. He was also an incurable romantic, willing to risk everything to find the girl he loved. Along the way, he grew up, learned that love was more than infatuation and became a hero in spite of himself.
100. Zauriel (DC, 1997): He’s an angel. No really. He’s an actual angel who gave up heaven because he had fallen in love. That didn’t work out so he joined the JLA instead. Grant Morrison did a great job crafting a Christian character, though the faith-based aspects became muddied in the hands of other writers.
Final Side-Bar: Real people make for great characters, too. I didn’t include them because they’re based on real people but historical, auto-biographical and satirical stories are a big part of comics. There’s Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis, and Lily Garcia and Tom Beland in Tom’s True Story, Swear to God. There are the historical biographies of Satchel Paige and Louis Riel. And there’s Stan Lee, re-invented as a carnival barker in Scott Lobdell’s Generation X.
I hope you had as much fun as I did.
Never the end.