What follows is my list of favorite comic book superheroes.
In no particular order:
Batman (DC) —
The Batman that I love isn’t necessarily the original Bob Kane (with Bill Finger) Batman or the 1966 Batman with his campiness and go-go vibe. Nor is it the Frank Miller “old man Batman.” It’s definitely something in-between. Not the kid-friendly 1970s smiling SuperFriends Batman either. My Batman is dark and brooding, a solitary Dark Knight who still manages to surround himself with heroes who support his eternal mission. My Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective, who surrounds himself with darkness and violence, but who never kills. In my mind, his voice is always Kevin Conroy’s. His appearance is flexible, but he has to be able to pull off the incompetent billionaire Bruce Wayne persona. Ben Affleck does an admirable job, but I’m afraid that Donald Trump just might be my Batman.
He’s certainly my Lex Luthor.
As far as the comic books go, my Batman has never ceased being the Jim Aparo Batman with the tall ears that could be demon horns. I like Jim Lee’s Batman, but I have to go with my heart on this one.
Wolverine (Marvel) —
Right? Right? I know I’m not alone on this one. Wolverine has become an international superstar. My Wolverine will always be the Chris Claremont/John Byrne (via Dave Cockrum) Wolverine. He’s short, he’s violent, he has adamantium claws, and he’s prone to Berserker rages. I love Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine (although he’s too tall), but my lasting impression of the rabid Canuck doesn’t come from the silver screen.
It occurs to me now that the first two heroes I’ve listed have a Frank Miller connection. Hmm. . .
Iron Man (Marvel) —
For me, Iron Man truly coalesced as a character during the John Romita Jr./Bob Layton run, with Roxxon and Hammer representing the huge corporate Evil and Tony Stark struggling with alcoholism. Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect casting choice for Tony Stark, both for his brash, fast-talking side and his demon-in-a-bottle side.
I always liked the original conceit that Tony built the Iron Man suit to save his own life, and became a hero kind of by accident.
Doctor Strange (Marvel) —
Dr. Stephen Strange didn’t become one of my favorite characters until after I read reprints of all the early Lee/Ditko stories from the early 1960s. I purchased the Pocket Books paperback in the late ’70s, the one that collected the first 18 stories, beginning with Strange Tales #110, in a compact, digest-sized format. I lost my original in a house fire, but replaced it a few years ago. I always felt that Doctor Strange, as a character, was Marvel’s foray into psychedelia; he was Marvel’s Sgt. Pepper’s. The Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel traveled some of the same ground (or space), but Strange was my favorite.
The Thing (Marvel) —
I was tempted to list the entire Fantastic Four, but I’m trying to stay away from superhero teams for this post. The ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing was my favorite member of the FF. And, my favorite version of the character was the Jack Kirby version who hated being a monster (his words, not mine) and largely blamed Reed Richards, who—let’s face it—was responsible. As with the Hulk, there was a trend already in effect before I stopped actively collecting comic books to make the Thing more lovable and cuddly, so that he could help shill fruit pies and show his smiling, rocky face on Saturday morning cartoons. Bah! Give me a slouch hat and oversized trenchcoat any day over a smiling Thing running around in nothing but his blue Underoos.
I watched a comic book documentary once where George R. R. Martin was interviewed. He mentioned that the Thing was something new in superhero comics. The first time the monster was the hero. He said it was one of the things that set Marvel apart from the Distinguished Competition.
The Spectre (DC) —
When I was a young man, I often confused this character with Deadman, because of the similarities in the characters and their abilities (at least in those days before Spectre was some sort of major cosmic force), and because I liked both best when drawn by Jim Aparo. The Spectre even had a human alter-ego as detective Jim Corrigan. Of course, I’m speaking of the Bronze Age Spectre. The character had been around in some form since 1940, created by Jerry Siegel, one of Superman’s dads. That was slightly before my time.
Daredevil (Marvel) —
I became a huge Matt Murdock fan during Frank Miller’s excellent early-’80s run on the title as writer/artist. In fact, Miller’s Daredevil and the Claremont/Byrne X-Men were about the only books I collected before I went on a prolonged hiatus while life grew more complicated. One of my best friends once said, admiringly, that he preferred Marvel heroes because “they all had something wrong with them.” I understood what he meant. Daredevil was a blind man who fought crime.
Hellboy (Dark Horse) —
I was aware of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy prior to the Guillermo del Toro movies, but I never read any of the source material until after Ron Perlman brought the character to life for me. I’ve always found the character visually arresting, loved the supernatural Nazi origin and the concept of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).
Rorschach (DC) —
I know this character from Watchmen was an analogue to Steve Ditko’s Charlton Comics character The Question, but I never read those comics. Of all the “heroes” in the 1986 Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons series, I found Rorschach to be the most sympathetic and relatable. A ruthless vigilante with a rigid perception of good and evil, Rorschach is a seriously damaged individual who is the primary mover of plot in Moore’s story. I may have also once been a moral absolutist, but that was a long time ago.
Jesse Custer (Vertigo/DC) —
Jesse Custer was a former bad boy turned preacher who is suddenly struck by a supernatural force called Genesis, which grafts itself to his soul and gives Jesse the power of the “Word of God.” Within the pages of the graphic novel Preacher, by Garth Ennis and the late Steve Dillon, Jesse teams up with the indomitable Tulip O’Hare and the charismatic vampire Cassidy. Jesse, while pursued by both the Saint of Killers, released from Hell for this special task, and the secret organization known as The Grail, sets out on a quest to find God, who is missing, and make him pay for what he’s done. A great road trip with lots of flashbacks and an apocalyptic ending.
That’s my 10-List today. Since I know myself fairly well, I suspect this list will continue to evolve over time. I was tempted to add someone from The Boys to the list, but that felt wrong since I’ve not read past the first trade volume of the series. A 10-List of superheroes from other media would have been slightly different. Hmmm . . . food for thought.
Before anyone else points out the obvious pattern to my choices here, I’ll own up to it. There is a definite undercurrent of darkness flowing through all of these characters. Iron Man may be the least-dark member of the list, but even with him my favorite version was when he was an out-of-control drunk. This says something about me, I’m sure. But, I’m not exactly qualified to say what that something may be.
You could probably infer that, like the characters on this roster, I am somewhat psychologically damaged or have had a dysfunctional upbringing.
I can neither confirm nor deny this.