Every Tuesday and Thursday, I post excerpts from my best-selling at not-selling super blog, Playing Favorites.
I’m trying to think of my favorite comic book heroes. It seems strange at first glance that I’ve never bothered to specify which of the heroes I read about I consider the best, but when I think about it, I realize that it’s my lack of specific fandom that lets me enjoy the comics I do. Whenever I read “Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe,” I don’t care that Frank Castle takes out Hulk like a chump. I realize it’s a comic about The Punisher and he gets to own in it. The continuity that seems to string these books together (talking generally now, and not about a Punisher one-shot what-if) is just an illusion; Punisher will be smarter than everyone else in his book, Spider-Man will be funnier and faster in his book (but whinier, strangely), and Thing will be stronger, better, and faster in Fantastic Four (I’m not kidding here; he got punked by Shatterstar in ‘X-Factor’). I think that trying to weave these things into a cohesive canon is self-defeating; it’s like trying to criticize The Mona Lisa if it was crafted relay-race style by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafael, and Goya. If you find meaning in that, you are making shit up.
That said, the exercise of seriously analyzing any media has merit; it encourages the reviewer to look beyond the surface of mere enjoyability and to examine the elements which construct that media. Granted, a top ten list is a bit crude, especially given my very small familiarity with comics (Technically speaking, of course. Even granting my second-hand knowledge credibility, I’ve only surveyed a sliver of the portion medium that has been popularly produced around the world on a monthly basis for eighty years. The realm of comics outside of that portion is significantly greater, and I have no more than a common familiarity with it. Relatively speaking, however, I can boast great familiarity with the subject matter.).
Now, this list is solely for heroes, and indeed, it can only extend to certain versions of those heroes. I might like Frank Miller’s Batman in ‘Dark Knight Returns,’ but he’s a very different animal (however accidentally) than Frank Miller’s Batman in ‘All-Star Batman and Robin.’ It also cannot count nuanced characterizations of villains, like Lex Luthor as the subject of ‘Action Comics’’ recent run or Doctor Doom in…anything involving Doctor Doom ever. Simply, these guys can be protagonists, but they are still villains; this list can serve as vehicle for exploring heroism (on a personal level) and how I define it. While Doctor Doom, Victoria Hand, and Chaplin Action, He-Man of the Cloth, might be fun to read about, they can’t really be counted.
The specific reasons for their exclusion are worth mention because it can help define heroism in the negative (Why Norman Osborne isn’t a hero can say a lot about why Booster Gold is).
There are also complex characters who aren’t either hero or villain. Individually, each proves a challenge to classification in relation to this list specifically because their characterization is made up of heroic and non-heroic actions, and even thoughts. This is pretty much everyone from Watchmen.
My off-the cuff list of favorite super-heroes:
The Midnighter(Warren Ellis/Mark Millar)
Jenny Sparks(Warren Eillis/Mark Millar)
Booster Gold (???)
Damian Wayne (Grant Morrison)
Steve Rogers(Ultimates Vol 1 & 2)
Cloud 9 (Dan Slott)
Lois Lane (Wedding Issue)