Sunday, June 04, 2006

Comics: Top 10 DC Characters

So, The Great Curve challenged folks to name the Top 50 DC characters, and many bloggers offered up Top 10s, Top 50s, etc. I may be late to the meme-wagon, but it's a fun little experiment. These are my favorites, not meant to reflect popularity or influence or anything quantifiable like that- just the ones what I like.

1. Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle. Around the late 80s and early 90s my brother was into comics, and I picked up on the habit by osmosis. When he left for college I inherited the surviving collection, which included a huge number of issues of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE run. Ted Kord's Beetle- a geeky gadgeteer with a love of practical jokes and an occasional weight problem- was the heart and soul of the team, reflecting the series' lighthearted, sitcom-ish vibe. He is, perhaps, the most down-to-Earth and identifiable superhero that ever there was, at least to me. I could see myself in him. His recent death in COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS was a disappointment to me- I figured he was the one superhero who deserved to retire peacefully, maybe find a girl, pass on the mantle and live happily ever after. Then again, it's not like he's not going to come back.

2. Maxwell Lord. If Ted was the heart of the JL team, Maxwell Lord was the lynchpin. A sleazy deal-maker with just enough charisma to mask his lack of scruples, Lord not only became important to the basic concept of that book- providing the League with UN backing and trying to boost their public status- he was also a surprisingly complex and ambiguous figure. He was scummy, a bastard, willing to overlook ethics when he felt he needed to- but he wasn't all bad. As the series progressed he went in for a lot of self-examination, developing a conscience in fits and starts and willing to make sacrifices for the team. A lot of this was undone in the aforementioned COUNTDOWN, where he became a wholly evil black ops leader who had apparently been manipulating the League from the start to try and curb superhuman activity, and who was willing to execute good ol' Ted when he got in his way. For his troubles his neck was snapped by Wonder Woman. This is what retcons are for.

3. Amanda Waller. Max Lord's counterpart- a loud, tough, decidedly uncultured leader who is, in her way, highly principled and self-sacrificing, devoted entirely to the team. That team was at first the SUICIDE SQUAD as written by John Ostrander, a "Dirty Dozen"-style outfit consisting mostly of supervillains hoping for reduced sentences by doing the US government's dirty work. Waller is a unique figure in many ways- off-hand, one of the few overweight, not-terribly-attractive* black women I can think of in superhero comics (though one could argue it's a bit of a classic stereotype in itself)- and remains one of the best supporting characters in comics.

4. Oracle (Barbara Gordon.) She's a beautiful, brainy computer geek with glasses, red hair, and (presumably) an MLS degree. The leader of the BIRDS OF PREY, the former Batgirl, now wheelchair-bound, gathers information on superheroes, supervillains, the underworld and just about anything else and sends her operatives to dispense justice. The ultimate comic geek fantasy girl- and not a bad role model to boot.

5. Darkseid. Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" books were years ahead of their time, emphasizing the mythology of the superhero genre instead of crimefighting, and giving the DC Universe one of its best villains. With a stony visage and the solemn tones of a god (which he sort of is), Darkseid is one of those people who can plot the domination of the entire universe and mean it. He's convincing (and deadpan) enough in his villainy that no matter how many times Superman beats him up, he doesn't lose any of his menace.

6. Ralph Dibny (the Elongated Man) and Sue Dibny. The Nick and Nora Charles of the superhero set- super-snoops with a coy sense of humor, fitting nicely into JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE and countless obscure back-up stories. Ralph was, in his own words, "the stretchy guy who[m] nobody takes seriously", while Sue- lacking powers of her own, but with keen investigative skills- never acted like anything less than an equal to the superheroes she spent time with. Killed in 2004's IDENTITY CRISIS, Sue is already due for a resurrection (52 hints at the possibility of one, but I won't believe it until it happens)- the story ended up having little to do with her or anything she did, and it was a bit like seeing Daphne Moon or Diane Chambers fall prey to an axe murderer.

7. Superman. Say what you will- that he's a bit dull, a Boy Scout, a flag-waver- he's still the first, and the brightest, boldest, most iconic superhero ever. He's what we wish we could be, the powerful man who looks out for the little guy, a god with a sense of humility and humanity, a guy who's just out to do good, period. Every kid in the world knows him. And though there are challenges to writing good stories about a superpowerful alien in human form, it's always worth it when it works.

8. Bizarro. Him am worst villain ever! Him am unfunny, uninteresting looking and him way of speaking am absolutely not infectious! He backwards logic totally easy to understand and easy to write. Him am not also idea behind Bizarro World, least interesting place in the universe! Him only this high on the list because Bizarro-speak cannot ever get annoying!

9. Harley Quinn. Though created for the BATMAN animated series, the Joker's squeaky-voiced moll quickly found her way into the comics universe proper. And why not? The cutest and funniest of femme fatales, Harley's childlike goofiness masks her skill with violence and dirty tricks- still, she's best off paired with a more level-headed evildoer, as in Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's hilarious three-issue HARLEY & IVY miniseries (which I think has yet to be collected.)

10. Big Barda. Another Kirby Fourth World creation, the lover and soon-enough wife of escape artist Mister Miracle, and former leader of Apokolips' Female Furies. In some ways, Barda is the strongest of the DC Universe's female characters, both physically and psychologically; despite once being on the "bad" side, her morality has never been in question, nor has her willingness to kick whatever asses need kicking in the name of good. Kirby modeled the character on his own wife Roz, making the character a pillar of strength and the relationship between her and Miracle a portrait of absolute love.

*Your tastes may vary, of course.

So many just barely missed the cut. My apologies to Fire, Ice, Guy Gardner, Salaak, Black Canary, Zinda, Mary Marvel, Orion, the Forever People, the Goddamned Batman, and yes, Space Cabby.

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