Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Recently, and by recently I mean the last decade or so, comic book superheroes have become extremely popular.  This can be attributed to the Batman and Marvel film franchises that have grossed several hundred million dollars in revenue.  The superhero movie trend may have become such a huge phenomenon that fans and film critics will start to get turned off by the shear volume of output from the genre.

Along with this new success in film, comes new fans.  Because these films are blockbuster action movies dressed up in superhero costumes, the number of people that are subjected to the characters and stories is vastly larger than the number of people who go to the comic book store on Wednesdays.  To me, and probably to many people who write and work on comics, this is a great thing.  More new fans!

At the moment, only the most popular comic book heroes have seen big screen time, or have appeared in the explosion of new animated series.  This post is about my favorite heroes, some of whom will never be seen in their own films, or series.

A few things about my particular tastes, before I dive right in.   Comic books turned me off early on for one reason.  It seemed that in order to be able to read and understand what was going on in the latest issue of Spiderman, I had to know first what had happened several dozen issues ahead of time.  I couldn't just buy an issue and read an episode about a superhero that had a beginning, middle and end (climax/resolution), like most serial television shows, or short stories.  So it appeared that the comic book culture was pretty exclusive and difficult to join.

Recently, that has changed.  The comic book industry has implemented some things to draw in new readers, without alienating their old school comic book readers/culture.  Both DC and Marvel have done a series of reboots.  DC has invested in Year-one stories that retell origins without changing contemporary storylines.  Marvel started a whole new continuity called the Ultimate Universe.  Using the multiverse theory of cosmology has allowed both publishing companies the ability to allow writers to do anything they want with characters without necessarily changing continuity.

However, at the time, I did my due diligence to understand what was going on, learned who other characters were, where they came from, what sorts of things happened to the characters since their inception, etc.  At a certain point, the continuity becomes so dense, and complicated, that it becomes not worth the time and energy spent to make sense of it all.  Sometimes the characters jump the shark so much that they flirt with comical ridiculousness.  Usually this turn happens once the writers introduced aliens and space/time travel.

Marvel's universe tends to rely more on space/time travel, and the idea of the Power Cosmic.  There are aliens, of course, but the size and scope of cosmic entities in Marvel take this all to another level.

DC's universe relies more on magic/supernatural elements.  DC relies on space and aliens as well, but not like Marvel.  And even though there are magical elements in Marvel, DC has more to say and do with regards to magic, demons, and the supernatural.  Personally, I am way more interested in the occult and fantasy as I am with quantum mechanics.

Also, I lean more toward simplistic characters.  The Superman problem is a well documented issue that fans and creators share when confronted with the Man of Steel.  He is so powerful, and has so many superpowers, it is difficult to make him successfully exciting, and engaging.  He has no weaknesses (aside from kryptonite, but seriously, not that big of a deal).  He can fly, is super strong, has laser vision, is bulletproof, has frozen breath, and is super fast.  He becomes, at a point, no longer interesting, he can't be challenged.

So... my favorite characters tend to have one or no powers, and/or realistic drawbacks (unlike Green Lantern's ridiculous aversion to the color yellow).  Anyway, here are a few I like the most.

Green Arrow
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (1941)

So, at first glance, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, is a poor man's Bruce Wayne/Batman.  He is a super rich socialite vigilante, has a goofy young side-kick, an Arrow-cave, gimmicky gadgets... He doesn't really have a superpower, however, he is a gifted archer.  Also, he looks like Robin Hood.  Seems like a character doomed to fail.

I like Green Arrow for a few reasons.  Unlike Batman, Green Arrow kills.  His signature thing is a weapon that takes great skill to wield properly.  He can kill from a distance, but also has enough hand to hand combat skills to make himself a double threat.

He also is a player, a womanizer, but unlike Batman, he does it because he enjoys being a playboy, not because he has to keep up his alter-ego's social appearance.  This brings us to relationships.  Most famously, he is connected to another superhero, the Black Canary.  This is a dynamic not present in Batman's character.  Both he and Green Arrow have father/son relationships with their younger sidekicks, but Green Arrow also has an amorous relationship to struggle with.  Batman writers did dabble with this when they wrote in Talia Al'Ghul as a love interest.  But that didn't really stick.

Aside from "trick" arrows, and other goofy gimmicks, like a family of similar archer characters, that were popular in 60's comics, Green Arrow never seemed to get out of control in the way that more famous and popular characters have.  There is still much to be explored and exploited with Green Arrow stories.  Based on the popularity of the new television series, Green Arrow could get the attention he deserves.

Kevin Smith worked hard to revitalize this character with his Quiver and Sounds of Violence story-arcs.  This rebuilding and rebranding of the character continued with Judd Winick's run in 2004.  Also, the character makes an important appearance in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

First Appearance: Adventure Comics #48 (1940)

Speaking of heroes that got out of control... Hourman is a pretty simple, one-sided hero.  Nothing too complicated about a chemist who creates a chemical that allows him to be super strong and super fast, but only for a limited time.  Eventually, someone decided that a human Hourman wasn't good enough and created an android from the future to take his place.  This was totally unnecessary, and kind of missed the point of the superhero to start with.

Why is this guy so cool?  Unlike Superman, Hourman is not always Hourman.  His alter ego Rex Tyler is a normal chemist with no powers.  He becomes Hourman after ingesting Miraclo, a drug that gives him his powers.  It only works for an hour at a time, so... he has to use strategy and keep track of time when using it.  This, of course, sets the hero up for dependency issues, and storylines about drug abuse, side-effects, and the ethics of human enhancement.

While maybe not a hero that can carry his own adventure, he is best on a team.  and who doesn't like superhero teams?

The problem with teams is there is often one guy on the team that can out-hero every one else.  On the Justice League, that guy is Superman.  On the X-men, that guy is a girl named Phoenix.  On the Avengers, that guy is Thor.  But for every Thor or Superman, there are a number of more interesting side characters that make up the team that would really get a chance to shine if it weren't for the ridiculously thorough and unnecessarily diverse hero that makes everyone else obsolete.  This makes Hourman pretty useful when he's paired up with a few other characters from the Justice Society, a team without that one guy.

The JSA Elseworlds story The Liberty Files shows how cool Hourman can be.

First Appearance: Daredevil #1 (1964)

This dude is blind.  Blinded by a radioactive chemical that also heightened his other senses, Daredevil has a radar sense, super hearing, and super-sensitive touch.  There are a few other blind superheroes in both Marvel and DC universes, Dr. Midnite and the Shroud share many of the themes seen in Daredevil.  He uses the darkness as an ally, his blindness becomes an asset, not a crutch.

Unlike most Marvel characters, Daredevil is never an Avenger.  Which is a huge anomaly in Marvel's universe.  Daredevil rarely leaves his own neighborhood/city, preferring to actually stick with his original premise, which is to fight crime and protect his city of New York, specifically the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen.  Even Batman outgrew his original premise to protect Gotham, becoming so good at his brand of vigilantism that Gotham no longer is a challenge.  While a lawyer by day, Matt Murdoch is not super rich like Oliver Queen, or Bruce Wayne, and going toe to toe with street hoods, gangsters, and common criminals never seems dull with Daredevil.  Occasionally he teams up with fellow New Yorker, Spiderman.  They share many of the same villains.

Unlike Spiderman, however, there is no space-Daredevil (see black-suited Spiderman), or convoluted story of seemingly endless Daredevil clones (see the Scarlet Spider, Kaine, Spidercide...).  Let's all collectively pretend that Ben Affleck movie never happened.  Frank Miller's Man Without Fear and Born Again runs, and Brian Michael Bendis's run in 2001 are the best storylines.

Etrigan the Demon
First Appearance: The Demon #1 (1974)

This is an interesting magical character from DC comics.  Jason Blood, an Arthurian knight, is bonded with Etrigan, a demon son of Belial, and half brother to the wizard Merlyn.  I always thought characters with historical connections to other legends and myth are interesting.  New takes on old stories can be well done. There are a group of them in the DC universe with ties to ancient history.  Vandal Savage, Manitou Raven, Dr. Fate, and the Spectre are all examples of these characters out of time.

Not only does Etrigan have this out of time, ancient legendary status, and cool demonic powers, but also shares some of the same tropes and themes as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the Incredible Hulk.  The difference between Jason Blood and Dr Jekyll and Bruce Banner, is his control over the Demon.  Jason Blood can summon his alter ego with a rhyme.  Also, the demon speaks exclusively in rhyme, which is awesome.  Etrigan/Batman team-ups are the best.  Also, Etrigan/Jason Blood is an important character in the JLA Obsidian Age storyline.

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