At the end of May, Entertainment Weekly came out with their list of the 100 greatest characters of the past 20 years. The list mostly included characters from film and television, though they threw in a few from novels, plays and video games. Inspired by their list, I decided to come up with one of my own: the 100 greatest comic book characters of the past 20 years. These lists are always more debate-inducing than they are definitive. But they’re also a lot of fun. So here is my list of the 100 greatest comic book characters of the past 20 years, presented alphabetically:
2. Abe Sapien (Dark Horse,
We start off with a couple of supporting characters who eventually became stars in their own right. Aayla Secura started out as the Twi’lek Padawan to Quinlan Vos. She later became a Jedi Knight and was even given a death scene in Revenge of the Sith. Abe Sapien is the sea creature friend of Hellboy. When Hellboy left the bureau, Abe became their most recognizable character. He also had a scene-stealing song in the second Hellboy movie.
3. Anole (Marvel, 2003): It’s the first of our X-Men. Anole started out as a background character, literally. He was drawn into crowd scenes in New Mutants to fill out the student body. He had such a distinctive look that he started showing up more and more often. Eventually, he got a name and then a place on the team in New X-Men.
4. Ash (Event, 1994): Joe Quesada’s creation was one of the great independent heroes of the 1990s. Ash is Ashley Quinn, a firefighter who gains fire powers. That makes him a hero in both his civilian and superhero identities. Ash’s costume was based on the suit of New York City firefighters and was inspired by the firefighters in Quesada’s own family.
5. Bastion (Marvel, 1996): The hyper-evolved sentinel who hates mutants, Bastion was the mastermind behind Operation: Zero Tolerance and is the current big villain in the Second Coming story.
6. Bigby Wolf (DC, 2002): The more familiar fairy tale figures were the hook to get us to read Fables but Bigby Wolf- the re-imagined and reformed Big Bad Wolf- is the real star of the show. He’s a gruff gumshoe detective and a surprising romantic lead. He’s equally adept at running covert spy missions and full military operations. He’s just not so sure he knows how to raise a litter of kids.
7. Bishop (Marvel, 1991)
8. Blink (Marvel, 1994): They’re two members of the X-Men family though they’re both lost in time and space. Bishop is the cop from the future who gets stranded in the present. He’s professional and efficient, though sometimes a little brusque. Blink is the young ingénue who was created as a throwaway character for the Phalanx Covenant crossover. She proved so popular that she came back in the Age of Apocalypse, her own mini-series and the reality-hopping title Exiles.
9. The Bone Cousins (Cartoon Books, 1991): How can you pick just one? Fone, Phoney and Smiley Bone are the perfect trio. Fone is the hero who generally tries to do the right thing. Phoney is the greedy schemer and Smiley the dim-witted simpleton who keep getting Fone into trouble, intentionally or not.
10. Cable (Marvel, 1990): He’s the line from the past to the future to the present. He’s the son of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor, sent into the future to be cured of a virus. He’s the mentor of X-Force, returning from the future to teach mutants how to be warriors. And yes, he’s the guy with the glowing eyes and the big guns.
12. Chamber (Marvel, 1994): Now that’s teenage angst! The X-Men have often portrayed people who felt out of place with society. Chamber is a perfect example, forced to cover his face with a scarf because his powers blew off the lower half of his face when they manifested.
13. Confessor (Image, 1996): Kurt Busiek’s Astro City may pay homage to classic comic book characters but often, as with the Confessor, those homages evolve into classic characters in their own right. The Batman influence is inescapable but this dark knight is both a man of the cloth and a creature of the night- a priest who was turned into a vampire and now fights crime as penance.
14. Courtney Crumrin (Oni, 2002): She’s grumpy. That’s not usually the most inviting characteristic in a heroine but with Courtney Crumrin, it’s actually a little endearing. It also makes her stand out.
15. Cyclone (DC, 2007): She’s a perky red-head. She’s an unusual legacy character- Ma Hunkel’s grand-daughter with powers like the android Red Tornado. She’s one of the more interesting new characters of late. Here’s hoping she lives up to her potential.
Side-Bar: DC has had a good stretch of introducing teenage girl superheroes in the last 15 years. Many of them would qualify as ingénues, although a few have rougher edges as brats or anti-heroes. There’s Impulse’s Arrowette, Wonder Girl II Cassie Sandsmark, Young Justice’s Secret, The Titan’s Argent, the Teen Titan’s Miss Martian and Ravager. A couple of others show up later on the list.
16. Deadpool (Marvel, 1991): The merc with a mouth. ‘Nuff said
17. Delight (DC, 1990): Her siblings debuted too early for this list but Delight sneaks in under the wire. Her joie de vivre is intoxicating. It’s easy to like someone who loves life as much as she does. She’s also a mild cautionary tale as Delight turns into Delirium.
18. Devastation (DC, 1999): She’s not the
most famous character on this list but she’s one of the best villains of
the past 20 years. Eric Luke introduced us to this Wonder Woman foil.
She’s as evil as Wonder Woman is good and all of that evil is housed in
the body of a little girl. Scary.
20. Dr. Soranik Natu (DC, 1995): It’s not easy to introduce a new character who can immediately stand shoulder to shoulder with a long line of Green Lanterns. Geoff Johns managed to do just that in Green Lantern Corps Recharge. Natu is a reluctant ring slinger, often doing more good as a doctor. She also carries the burden of hailing from Sinestro’s home planet.
22. Echo (Marvel, 1999):
They’re two of the most unique characters of the past decade, as Marvel once again demonstrates its faculty for standing up for the slighted. Grant Morrison’s Dust is a Muslim. Sooraya hails from Afghanistan and wears a hijab instead of spandex. David Mack’s Echo is deaf. Maya is also half Hispanic and half Native American. And oh yeah, they’re also both heroes with the New X-Men and the New Avengers.
23. Emma Bishop (CrossGen, 2001): Detective Simon Archard was the nominal lead of Ruse, but Emma Bishop w as the real star. His plucky assistant smoothed his rougher edges, played a strong social game, and was a stand-out sleuth in her own right.
24. Frau Totenkinder (DC, 2002): Comic books are usually a young man’s game so it’s uncommon for an elderly woman to become a major character. Yet that’s just what happened in DC’s Fables. Frau Totenkinder was the plotter and the power behind the throne, leading a circle of witches while dispensing advice to whoever happened to be in charge that day. She’s occasionally snide and always amusing.
25. Freefall (Image, 1994): One of the strengths of Gen 13 was that it introduced teenaged characters who were just like its audience. Grunge (at #32) was a slacker, skateboarder and videogamer. Freefall was the naughty girl, sneaking out to smoke a cigarette, go to a club, pierce her belly button or get a tattoo. But, despite traits that would elicit scowls from most adults, they were good kids with the potential to be great heroes.
26. Gambit (Marvel, 1990): Chris Claremont introduced the classic rogue figure into the X-Men family with Gambit. The former thief initially becomes an X-Man because of his friendship with Storm, but his growing comfort in the role leads him to become a hero.
27. Gates (DC, 1995): The original United Planets looked a lot like suburban America. That changed by the ‘80s and especially in the revamped Legion of the 1990s. Gates wasn’t even human. He was an insect with a strong sentiment for the masses. Yup, he was a communist bug (but don’t let him hear you say that). He was sarcastic, blunt and a refreshing change of pace.
29. Gilad the Eternal Warrior (Valiant, 1992): The independent companies of the 1990s were often accused of copying the heroes of the Big Two. But, on occasion, their versions were superior. Marvel had Gilgamesh, the forgotten eternal one. Valiant had Gilad, a hundred lifetimes of experience in someone who didn’t seem out of place in the modern world.
31. Greg Heffley (Amulet, 2007): The Wimpy Kid is the character everyone can relate to and one of the fastest rising stars in any medium.
33. Halloween Jack (Marvel, 1995): He started out as the Loki of 2099 before becoming his own unique twist on the trickster villain. After causing havoc to Spider-Man 2099 and X-Men 2099, he relocated to the present and pestered X-Force.
34. Harley Quinn (DC, 1994): Okay, she’s actually a cartoon villain. Harley Quinn debuted on Batman: the Animated Series in 1992 but her real home is now in comics. She’s become a staple of Batman’s Rogues Gallery and has even starred in several titles of her own, an eponymous one in 2000 and currently Gotham City Sirens.
Side-Bar: Characters have long crossed over to comics from other media. Some of the longest running or most successful comic book characters of the past 20 years originally hail from TV or video games including Bart Simpson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Sonic the Hedgehog.
36. Hourman III (DC, 1997): Combining two legacies into one. He’s the android learning to be human, a la Vision, Red Tornado and Star Trek’s Data. He’s also the heir of the Hourman mantle, taking over for the Golden Age Rex Tyler and Infinity Inc.’s Rick Tyler.
37. Hulkling (Marvel, 2005): Hulkling represents the Young Avengers on this list. He’s visually interesting as a young Hulk with wings. He’s got a great back-story as a half-Skrull, half-Kree. And he’s got a great relationship with Wiccan.
38. Impulse (DC, 1994): Bart Allen may go by Kid Flash now (and plain ol’ Flash for a little while) but we were first introduced to him as Impulse, the super-speedster with a short attention span. He was completely unlike the speedsters we had met before: a lot of fun and free to the point of abandon.
40. Invincible (Image, 2002): Mark Grayson is comics’ newest and greatest Everyman. Robert Kirkman’s creation has the powers of Superman and the personality of Spider-Man. He also has a sleek yellow and blue costume that stands out on the stands.
41. Isaiah Bradley (Marvel, 2003): One of the most controversial characters on our list, Isaiah Bradley was introduced as the original Captain America. In a nod to the historical Tuskegee experiments, Isaiah was the African-American test subject for the super-soldier serum that was eventually given to Steve Rogers.
42. Jack Hawksmoor (Image, 1996): Warren Ellis tried to introduce his version of the X-Files’ Fox Mulder a couple of times before he got it right in StormWatch (and Authority). Sure, Hawksmoor has the black suits and the dour demeanor. He also has the unique power of being able to talk to cities, making him the urban version of the Swamp Thing.
43. Jack Knight/Starman (DC, 1994): Another great Everyman. James Robinson’s semi-autobiographical character was a fan (and personal) favorite. He was the teenage rebel who was handed the mantle of one of DC’s legacy characters. At first, he preferred taking care of his second-hand store to taking care of super-villains, but he eventually became a great hero, before setting the life aside in order to be a husband and a father.
Side-Bar: Jack Knight is easily the greatest legacy or replacement character of the past 20 years- with his own personality and look. A few others make the list as well. Other updates kept the same set of powers or the same costume as the oringal. Although I find many of them preferable to their antecedents, with more interesting personalities, it was difficult to classify them as all-new characters for the sake of the list. Even so, new characters like Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl, Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel and Jason Rusch/Firestorm deserve a shout out.
44. Jessica Jones (Marvel, 2001): It’s somewhat surprising that a failed heroine could be so interesting. Jessica Jones was a reporter with a secret past- she had been a short-lived superhero named Jewel. But she gave up the costume after an awful encounter against the mind-controlling Purple Man.
45. Johnny Panic (Awesome, 1998): Comics legend Alan Moore had a brief tenure on Rob Liefeld’s Awesome line during which he added “the first post-modern superhero” to Youngblood. Johnny didn’t consider himself a hero. He was cynical about the whole thing. But he used his holographic projections to annoy villains into defeating themselves.
46. Kiden Nixon (Marvel, 2003): The tragic protagonist of NYX, Kiden loses everything because of powers she doesn’t even want.
47. Kyle Rayner (DC, 1994): One of DC’s best attempts at an Everyman. Rayner is a reflection of his intended audience. He’s an aspiring artist. He loves video games. He doesn’t have life figured out yet. And he brought the power of imagination to the Green Lantern ring.
48. Ladytron (Image, 1995): Another Alan Moore creation, this time for Jim Lee’s Wildcats. Ladytron is the foul-mouthed, sex-starved android lady (and I use that last term loosely) who shocked, amused and charmed readers.
50. Layla Miller (Marvel, 2005): She knows stuff. Originally introduced in House of M, Layla Miller found a home in Peter David’s noir detective mutant title, X-Factor. She’s mysterious. She’s bossy. She’s sad. And there’s no one else like her in comics.
Special Side-Bar: They’re not in my list, but they might be in yours. I’ve read a lot of comics in the last 20 years but I haven’t read everything. For my list, I stuck to the characters I was familiar with, opting to leave out those I haven’t read even if they have stellar reputations. Alas, Francine & Katchoo, Jesse Custer, Jimmy Corrigan, Scott Pilgrim and Spider Jerusalem, I knew you not at all.