Friday, September 21, 2007

Marvel Comics: My Top Ten

Previously on Comic Art Friday, I presented my ten all-time favorite DC Comics characters, in response to a poll conducted by Brian Cronin at Comics Should Be Good! This week, I'm back with the other half of my ballot, this time featuring characters from the Marvel Comics pantheon.

Of the two lists, my Marvel Top Ten was easier to compile. When I started this project, I quickly jotted down my ten Marvel characters, right off the top of my head. This list, however, proved harder to rank in order of preference. As a young comics reader, I was a much more fervent fan of Marvel than I was of DC, so I've had a closer emotional relationship with most of my Marvel favorites. (Ironically, my current reading list contains almost equal quantities of comics from both major publishers.)

Even though I cogitated over the Marvel list for a couple of weeks, not a single new name worked its way in, although characters moved up and down quite a bit during the placement process. The choice between the first and second slots, in particular, required some serious internal argument. I'm still wrestling with myself over those two.

But here's the ballot I submitted: Uncle Swan's Ten Favorite Marvel Comics Characters.

10. The Prowler. Easily the most obscure selection on either list, but I absolutely love Hobie Brown. The Prowler could be Marvel's Batman, if someone would just give him a chance. And, although he quickly evolved into a heroic figure, the Prowler was the first African-American villain I recall seeing in a comic book. My fondness for the character is borne out by the fact that the only cover recreation in my collection is a redo of the cover to Amazing Spider-Man #78, the issue in which the Prowler first appeared. It's drawn by Jim Mooney, who inked the original cover art over John Romita Sr.'s pencils.

9. Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Wanda would have placed higher, were it not for this lingering nasty taste in my mouth from Marvel's House of M crossover event of two years ago, in which she was portrayed as an insane villain. Wanda's another character with tremendous untapped potential — as House of M demonstrated, she's one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe. Besides which (besides witch?), she was my first Marvel superheroine crush, in those thrilling days of puberty. (Sigh.)

8. Iron Fist. Being the avid martial arts film fanatic I was back in the day, I always thought Danny Rand was a terrific character concept. During his years as half the Power Man/Iron Fist team, he balanced the more stereotypical aspects of Luke Cage, making Cage a richer, more rounded character by association. The Immortal Iron Fist, the current series written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker and drawn by David Aja, is astonishingly good.

7. The Thing. Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew, Benjamin J. Grimm was Marvel's first great personality. He's really the character who made the Fantastic Four a hit, because — to be brutally frank — the other three members of Marvel's "first family" are each annoying in his or her own way. Benjy's ongoing struggle to retain the humanity within his hideous exterior — with great power comes great personal tragedy — may be the most human story comics have ever told.

6. The Valkyrie. What can I say? I dig strong women and sharp objects. Val gets this high on the list in part because she's also representing for my favorite super-team of the '70s, the Defenders (since, according to the rules of the poll, I can't put teams on the list), of which she was a key member. She's also standing in for that other she-devil with a sword, Red Sonja, who's no longer a Marvel property (her current adventures are published by Dynamite Entertainment).

5. Captain America. When I was a kid, Cap was second only to Spider-Man in my admiration. I'm sorry for the publicity stunt his recent "death" engendered. In today's dark, conflicted world, we need Captain America more than ever. I know that Marvel will resurrect him eventually. I just hope Cap returns with his dignity and decency intact.

4. Storm. When she debuted as part of the "all-new, all-different" X-Men in the early '70s, Ororo Munroe converted me from a casual X-fan (I always found the original quintet dull and tediously ordinary) to an avid reader of the new team's early adventures. Although she's had two very good -- and very different -- miniseries in recent years, and made headlines for her marriage to the Black Panther last summer, I don't believe Storm's full potential as a character has yet been mined.

3. Ms. Marvel. Marvel's first stand-alone superheroine. Marvelites didn't have a Wonder Woman until Carol Danvers, previously a non-super supporting character, got powered up. Now, can we please get her original costume back? The black (or is it blue?) swimsuit with the lightning slash (I think that's what it's supposed to be) is lame, lame, lame.

2. The Black Panther. This was a tough call. Over the years, T'Challa has essentially moved into #1A status for me. I treasure this character immensely for everything he represents: the first black superhero; one of comics' first non-stereotypical persons of color; one of the most brilliant (maybe third, after Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom) and talented men in the Marvel Universe. Not to mention the fact that he's just plain wicked awesome.

1. Spider-Man. You've gotta dance with the one who brought you to the party, and it was Spider-Man who made me a fan of comics. He was the first costumed do-gooder I fell in love with — in a platonic, hero-worshiping sort of way. Even now, if I could only read one comic book per month, it would still be The Amazing Spider-Man. (Which is why Marvel's publishing it three times a month now.) I don't always like The Powers That Be at Marvel have dragged Spidey through over the years — the Clone Saga, anyone? — but after 40 years together, he's still The Hero Who Could Be Me.

As for the near misses, Number 11 would have been Thundra. The Falcon, Kitty Pryde, and Luke Cage were the other close calls.

There was a time when Iron Man would have been near the top of this list. I so despise everything that's been done to demonize Tony Stark in the past couple of years, however, that I've lost all good feeling (including nostalgia) toward the character. (That trailer for the upcoming Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey Jr. looks awfully sweet, though.)

The same is true of Daredevil. Frank Miller ruined him for me forever by ripping him from his roots as a more mature Spider-Man and making him nasty, ugly, and mean-spirited. Sort of like what Miller did to Batman in the '80s, and will probably do to The Spirit in the film version he's helming.

Anyway, those are my picks, and I'm sticking to 'em.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

Yeah, Spidey would top my list too, Ben Grimm would be higher, and I'd probably include the Silver Surfer, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Wolverine and Quasar(circa Gruenwald/Capullo). I should tackle this(and the DC one) on my blog one of these days.

I've sort of kept up with plotlines through Newsarama and the occasional tpb. I don't know why they made Tony such a jerk with the whole Civil War thing. Hopefully they do something to redeem him other than having Spidey, Thor, Hulk and others give him a well-earned thrashing. He came back from alcoholism, so maybe he'll come back from this. I agree that the movie looks sweet though.

And I've read nothing but praise for the Cap-less Cap book. I imagine the stories are a lot like the "Funeral for a Friend" Superman issues in which the character's presence through the lives he touched was just as strong as if he were still in the book. I don't know if they'll bring back Steve or have someone else take up the mantle(Bucky?), but it will be interesting to find out how they do it.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Nathan offered these pearls of wisdom...

Love Spidey and Daredevil (my first comic series!), and the Defenders! (always liked Namor and Dr. Strange [halloween costume in 2nd grade!], but still not sure why). But my alltime favorites are Thor, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, and Quasar (used to really like StarBrand too -- who seemed a Quasar offshoot somehow). Don't like the new Tony much, but I'm sure he'll grow and pull out of it. New Thor looks pretty cool -- but miss Odin! What's cooler than a huge, blonde surfer dude, who speaks Shakespearean and pummels bad guys with a huge hammer?? I have full costumes for both Thor and IM, and I'm proud of it!
Nate S.

2:49 PM  

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