Excelsior! Top 5 Favorite Comic Book Heroes

With two comic book hero movies out already and two more on the way later this summer, I wanted to throw my two cents in. Not all are great, but so far so good this summer. Go out and see Thor and X-Men: First Class

Some people think comic books are for kids or just for nerds. I strongly disagree. I could write a very long paper about the history of art and how it is storytelling and so on. I think this is becoming less common thought. The recent popularity of summer blockbusters that include comic book heroes is opening up a new audience of readers from all walks of life.

This is a list of my top 5 favorite comic book heroes, and after this summer all will have been seen in a love action adaptation. These may not be the best or most popular heroes, but they are the ones I read the most, I watch the most, and if I could be any one of them I would in a heartbeat. These guys also have something that some other more popular characters do not, they are all cool. Really cool.

5. Wolverine

James Howlett was born in Canada in the late 19th century. When his mutant power manifested and he ran away, he was unsure of his future. Over the years James killed, loved, and lost. He worked for the Canadian government and eventually for the Weapon X program. The program grafter his mutant bones claws with a near indestructible metal. His mutant healing power helped him survive this process. The Weapon X program also wiped his memory and he fled the experimentation with no memory and took on the name Logan. He had run ins with the Hulk, Spider-Man, and eventually joined Professor Xavier’s second generation of X-Men. It was under Xavier that he learned to control his rage and that he was ultimately a protector and avenger. He would eventually become a major part of the Marvel Universe.

Wolverine was a childhood favorite of mine. He was an antihero who kicked butt and took names. He wasn’t most powerful mutant, but he was rough and had passion. His constant loss and rage made him seem more real then a lot of comic book and cartoon heroes. The fact that he was manipulated most of his life and is now on a path of revenge is exciting and worthy. He was Jason Bourne before Jason Bourne even existed. His place in the Marvel lore is steadfast and he is loved by many. Hugh Jackman has played him nearly perfectly (I even liked origins). I am excited to see Wolverine grow and become even more interesting.

Suggest readings:

Wolverine (1982)

Wolverine: Weapon X (1994)

Wolverine: Enemy of the State (2005)

Old Man Logan (2008)

4. Batman

Born into wealth and love, Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him. He vowed to rid crime and evil from Gotham City. He has never and probably will never accomplish this mission, yet he still continues to fight. Batman is a symbol to instill fear into the evil and corrupt. He is a detective, hero, friend, and lover. He has a hard time with emotions as seen with his many sidekicks who take the mantle of Robin. His only tie left to his parents is his faithful butler and dear friend Alfred. Batman is the dark knight and caped crusader who will never stop living by the code he holds dearest: Protect the innocent.

Kids either liked Superman or Batman; I was definitely a Batman fan. He had cooler villains, he wasn’t indestructible, and he all kinds of cool gadgets. Batman has gone through many changes throughout the years, but he has always been mysterious and level headed. Of all the comic books and all the movies and cartoons and superheroes out there, Batman seems the most possible. I think that is a major draw with his character, you could realistically grow up to be like Batman. I think it is also important to point out how important his villains are. Mainly the Joker, he defines Batman. The compliment each other perfectly, one is a crazy person who kills on a whim and loves chaos, the other is a crazy person who dresses in all black, solves crimes, and always tries to achieve order.

Suggested reading:

The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)

Batman: The Long Halloween (1996)

Batman: Hush (2002)

3. The Green Lantern

Hal Jordan was a test pilot. He became the greatest hero in the universe. He was the first human chosen by a green power ring to become a Green Lantern, he was chosen because he had the potential to overcome great fear. He joined the Green Lantern Corp and saved the world and universe many times over. Jordan is one of the many heroes who becomes consumed by evil and then comes back from the darkness to be the ultimate hero. When his home city was destroyed by Mongul, he became enraged when the Guardians of Universe (masters of the GLC) and he gave into fear and unleashed the entity Parallax. While consumed by this evil he went on a rampage to remake the universe in his image. Fortunately he was stopped and exiled until he used his power to reignite the sun and ultimately redeem himself.

The Green Lantern is by far my favorite DC character. He has cosmic power, he has a ring that can do anything, he has a dark side, and he was originally drawn to resemble Paul Newman. Of the four GLs that are part of the silver and bronze age of comics, Hal Jordan is the most complex and interesting. He stands up and fights when he doesn’t believe in something and he is willing to put it all on the line for love. His greatest enemy is not Sinestro, even though that guy is brutal, it is himself. He overcomes doubt and has some self-esteem issues. You can relate to him, even though he wields the awesome power of ring.

Suggested reading:

Green Lantern Vol 2 #9: Battle of the Power Rings! (1961)

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994)

Final Night (1996)

Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volumes 1 and 2 (2007)

 2. Magneto

Survived a Nazi concentration camp, became a brother to Charles Xavier, conquered fear, stood up to oppression, devoted his life to help other mutants, brought hope to an entire race. Max Eisenhardt (Erik Magnus Lehnsherr) is a radical individual; he has many deep wounds that will never heal. His closest friend and person who knows him best is Professor Xavier, yet his beliefs and values take precedent over that friendship. Magneto has used his hate, anger, and even passion to be a reluctant figure head for Mutants across the world. He never wanted to lead, he just wanted what was right and natural, and leadership was something that he happened to be born with. His powers over the magnetic field make him an impressive advisory to the X-Men and the governments of the world. He was introduced as a villain in 1963, but as time went on, he became a friend, partner, father, messiah, and icon to a planet filled with hatred of the unknown.

Many would argue that Magneto is a hero, but I believe he is highly misunderstood. Much the way that Karl Marx, Malcolm X, Che Guevara was and are. They have an ideal world in their minds where everyone contributes equally to a greater good and no one person or group of people rules over another. Unfortunately this world will never exist, over the course of the comics, Magneto realizes this. He becomes more mature and even sacrifices himself for the cause of Xavier. If you don’t read the comics, watch the movies closely, Magneto is not an evil man, yes he murders and destroys, but he is doing what he thinks is right. Not for world domination or money, but to create a better world. Even though they are not in continuity exactly, my two favorite stories involving Magneto are Age of Apocalypse and House of M. In A of A, he is the leader of the X-Men after Xavier has died; he leads the resistance against the Mutant oppressor Apocalypse, and ultimately becomes the savior to the world. In House of M he is seen as a tyrant who lives in a perfect mutant world, but he is reluctant and when he discovers that it is all a lie, he only wishes for Xavier to be brought back and the world to be as it was. Magneto is one of the most interesting characters in the history of comics and it is because he has conflict within himself.

Suggested reading:

X-Men Vol. 1, #1 (1963)

Uncanny X-Men vol. 1, #150 (1981)

Magneto Rex: Once We Were Kings (1999)

House of M (2005)

 1. The Silver Surfer

Norrin Radd was a scientist on a distant planet that sacrificed his freedom to save that planet. He did this be offering to help the planter devouring Galactus. He gained cosmic powers beyond imagination, but lost his home and love forever. It was not until the Silver Surfer came to earth and met the Fantastic Four that he remembered his home world and that he was honorable and had a choice, he could save lives. He defied his master and gained his respect. After the Surfer was “freed” he came to call his new home. He contributed to helping save it many times. He eventually grew home sick for Zenn La and left to explore the cosmos and had a great impact for good in the universe.

I love the Silver Surfer; I love him in comics, in cartoons, and even in that one movie. He has unlimited power, he rides on a surf board, and he is completely silver! He makes Superman look lame and he is always looking to make the galaxy a better place. I love the story of the Surfer and how he made the ultimate sacrifice for love and how it wasn’t until he felt love again that he was able to break free from Galactus. He has been portrayed as a harbinger of doom, a messiah, and hero, and outcast, and as a man. He is all of these things, but none of them define him. He is the ultimate character in my eyes, I find every story involving him to be poetic and deep, he is so human without being from earth.

Suggested reading:

FF #55-61(1966)

The Silver Surfer: Parable (1988)

Silver Surfer: Requiem (2008)


Hope, Change, and Batarangs.

Let me just say, first of all, that I am a huge Obama fan and not any kind of teabagger, so this isn’t going to be one of those The Dark Knight comparisons where I paint a huge red mouth on his face and you all get to wet your pants laughing at real-or-perceived socialism.  No.  None of that, please.  Obama was my first presidential vote, and my first election night afterparty.  I got to see my African American Studies professor weep with joy in class on November 5.  I flew through the Chicago airport that Thanksgiving and could practically taste the local pride: I saw every store bedecked with BARACK this, HOPE that.  Obama on shoes, Obama on shirts, Michelle on magazines, Sasha and Malia dolls.  The place seemed to be saying – “We’re Chicago.  For whatever our faults, we turned out a good candidate this year to be the next president, and we couldn’t be more excited.”  I remember being excited, too.  This was the exciting time – before we knew of the bank executives on golden parachutes, before the Stupak Amendment.  Before the Afghanistan surge that would send my dad into the desert.

Backtrack to summer 2008.  I was staying home in Indianapolis between freshman and sophomore year so I wouldn’t have to pay rent and my parents could keep an eye on me.  I was freshly 20, working two of the kinds of jobs where you have to wear hairnets and nametags, and desperately carless.  When my high school friends Becca and Cat invited me to come see them in Chicago for a week, I jumped onto a train from Indianapolis practically the same day.  That week, we saw (twice each) Mamma Mia! and The Dark Knight, two movies that had both come out July 18, the Friday before.  We were young, educated liberal women: exactly the target market.  Judge us if you must.

I was busy, alternately giggling at A-lister ABBA autotuning and being scared shitless by the ten-foot-wide psychopath and mobsters leering down at me.  Cat had a lot of things to say about poor, handsome, dead Heath Ledger, and Becca had a lot of things to say about Chicago. “They closed down the tunnel for a week to film the chase scene.”  “That building is right next to my doctor’s.”  “The police here actually do that.”  For a Gotham City which every comic geek worth their salt knows is supposed to be NYC, Christopher Nolan and the filmmakers sure went a long way to show us the dark side of a specifically-Chicagoan world of gangsters, corrupt politicians, and gritty pessimism.  We all shut up and watched in silence when Maggie Gyllenhaal, the one somewhat-viable (yet, still interchangeable) female character in the franchise, was murdered.  And when, out of that disaster, the Lawful Good politician transformed into someone who couldn’t be trusted.

For me, The Dark Knight isn’t about the Joker.  The Joker has always been an unpredictable force of nature – like a terrorist attack, a hurricane, a flu epidemic.  The Joker is that uncertainty you feel when you see houses foreclosing all around you.  When your uncle’s entire floor of accountants gets laid off.  When you hear that the kids your age will have student loans until they’re fifty.  When your customer in the deli burst into tears because the price of roast beef went up an entire dollar from last week and this is the thing that finally broke their spirit, and it happened that day, right in front of your eyes.  What’s interesting to me isn’t the Joker – it’s how the people in charge respond when the Joker starts appearing in people’s lives.

For me, The Dark Knight is about Harvey Dent.  The Dark Knight is about Batman’s sneaking suspicion that a politician that good (someone who believes in justice, in fairness, in public service, in open and honest dealings, and who people admire and believe in) is too good to be true – that they can try, but their trying to be decent men in an indecent time will break them.  Their plans will be thwarted.  They’ll be forced to compromise, to become someone they didn’t want to be.  It wasn’t something Becca and Cat and I weren’t ready for when it was still summer 2008, fall 2008, winter 2008.  So we talked about Heath Ledger and went back into the Meryl Streep movie.

Certainly Obama hasn’t morphed into a self-hating, coin flipping Decider, and he hasn’t joined forces with The Joker as far as I can tell.  In fact, I would be so optimistic as to say that I’m still glad, after all that’s happened, that he’s our president.  But I can’t say, either, that everything has gone according to plan.  People are more unhappy now.  Look how many apocalypse movies came out in fall 2009 if you’re not sure (but that’s another post).

Okay, screw it.  Have a picture.

We could do worse.