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Top 50 DC Characters #30-26

The countdown?

It continues…

30. Aquaman (Orin) – 269 points (6 first place votes)

aquaman.jpg

Created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, Aquaman is one of the few comic book characters to last from the Golden Age of superheroes, as a backup in the pages of Adventure Comics.

Aquaman was notable in that he had TWO distinct origins at first. The first one, the son of an explorer who, through science, taught his son to breathe underwater. The second one is the one we have all grown to know and (sorta) love, which is Aquaman being the son of a fisherman and a woman from under the sea, who later grew up to be the King of the lost city of Atlantis. That has later been adapted to say that the human, Arthur Curry, discovered Aquaman as a child, and that both of his parents were Atlantean.

Aquaman (known as Arthur Curry then, now also known by his Atlantean name, Orin) was a founding member of the Justice League of America, where he served for many years.

Aquaman married another underwater denizen, Mera, who became his Queen and bore his son, who was sadly killed by the evil Black Manta.

More recently, Orin was tranformed into a weird magical creature known as the Dweller of the Depths, and became a mentor to the NEW Aquaman, ALSO called Arthur Curry, oddly enough. Very recently, Orin APPEARED to have been killed, but who knows with these things?

Here’s why H (of the awesome blog, The Comic Treadmill) had Aquaman #1…

Aquaman was a beneficiary of my attempt to find an affordable title I could collect in full. The other two factors in his favor were:

1) the Filmation cartoon – Aquaman was (ironically given the general lack of them in his own title over the years) the cartoon in that series with the most colorful foes – I wanted to read the original Black Manta, Fisherman and Brain stories (who knew the Brain never appeared in the comics?) – the cartoons had mesmerized me as a youngster. I wanted more of that world in the comics; and

2) Aquaman is the hero made for fans of the underdog. His power set is remarkably impressive when you stop to think about it, but easy to mock if you don’t. His skill set is also hard for a writer to convey the significance of, especially when Aquaman is hanging around on land with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But those in the know, recognize that Aquaman is extraordinarily powerful.

Reading the stories, the other things that sold me on Aquaman was how, even though he was seemingly out-shadowed power-wise by those around him – in the JLA or at home (by Mera), he never resented his lot, felt sorry for himself or snapped at others. He was comfortable with who he was, his powers and his heroism. The consistently stellar Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo art on his title didn’t hurt. I was also sold on the idea that Aquaman was a hero of the wide open world of the seas – a hard realm to protect and predict and one rarely used in super-hero stories.

Obviously that Aquaman is long-gone and the one who has been in comics the past couple of decades wouldn’t earn a spot in my top 100, let alone my top 10. But for the enjoyable stories he gave me way back when, Aquaman gets the spot of honor (by a nose over Flash).

Thanks, H!

29. Flash (Barry Allen) – 281 points (4 first place votes)

barry allen.jpg

Barry Allen was a police scientist when a bolt of lightning hit a bunch of chemicals which splashed upon Barry, making him gain the power of super-speed!

Inspired by his boyhood hero, the Flash (Jay Garrick, who was actually living on a separate Earth!), who Barry read about in comics, Barry became the NEW Flash, with a snazzier outfit than Jay’s. Barry was created by Gardner Fox, Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

For years, the Flash was a steady force for good, as a solo hero and as a founding member of the Justice League of America.

Sadly, tragedy struck the Flash after he married his longtime love, Iris West, when his rival, Professor Zoom, murdered Iris. Some time later, when Barry was prepared to move on an re-marry, Zoom showed up again to kill Barry’s NEW wife! Barry stopped him, but in the process, killed Zoom.

This haunted Barry for quite awhile.

Good news came to him, though, when he discovered that his wife, Iris, was not actually dead, but living in the future! Barry joined her there, and the two WOULD have lived happily ever after, if not for the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Barry had to come out of retirement to stop the evil Anti-Monitor.

Barry was successful in his attempt to stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying Earth, but in the process, Barry died.

His legacy lives on, though, with his nephew and former sidekick, Wally West, who went from being Kid Flash to becoming the new Flash.

27 (tie). Power Girl – 289 points (5 first place votes)

power girl.jpg

Kara Zor-L, created by Gerry Conway, is the cousin of the Earth-2 Superman. She traveled to Earth at the same time of her cousin, but her ship landed much later, as she had already grown to be a young woman.

Entering the hero scene, Kara quickly joined the Justice Society of America, where she stayed for a number of years until the Crisis on Infinite Earths. After the events of Crisis, Kara was misled into believing that she was not of Earth-2, something that she only recently discovered was, in fact, the case.

Kara was a member of the Justice League for a number of years, and more recently became re-involved with the Justice Society of America, where she is currently the team chairwoman.

Here is why Chris Cook had her at the top of his list…

What stands out about PG for me is that she’s at the top of her game – she’s chairwoman of the JSA, and is portrayed as a clever, brave, capable hero and leader. I think she’s as deserving of being considered a top-rank hero as Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman, in terms of her abilities and experience and capabilities – she’s earned the position of respect and command she occupies. There’s very few heroes who rise that high, be they male or female, Marvel or DC or other – that’s why Power Girl stands out from the crowd for me.

As a side note, I also like the way she’s portrayed physically – I don’t mean the generous bust (well, not *just* that), but that she’s muscular, physically powerful, in a way most heroines aren’t. To be very, *very* simplistic, the average male hero is drawn to look physically admirable, suggesting a capable, inspiring person you’d trust; the average female hero is drawn to look physically desirable. I like that Power Girl is both: she’s attractive and feminine, but also inspirational and admirable on a non-sexual level.

Thanks, Chris!

27 (tie). Captain Marvel (Billy Batson) – 289 points (5 first place votes)

captain marvel.jpg

Created by C. C. Beck and Bill Parker, Captain Marvel was originally published by Fawcett Comics, and told the tale of a young boy named Billy Batson who, when he says the word “Shazam,” transforms into the world’s mightiest mortal – Captain Marvel!

He gains the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury.

Soon, Billy was joined by his sister, Mary Marvel, and another boy, Freddie Freeman, Captain Marvel, Jr.

The Marvel Family fought on the side of good for many years.

More recently, DC has attempted to integrate the character into the DC Universe, proper, with mixed results.

Naturally, I asked Joe Rice (who had him #1) why the good Captain is so cool…

Captain Marvel so perfectly represents superhero comics that writing about him almost immediately becomes metatextual comment. Captain Marvel is the escape of a child into a world of fantasy and adventure. He’s delightful, full of wonder and fun, easily recognizable, and almost totally ruined by modern mainstream comics’ pandering to an aging, dwindling fanbase. But to hell with all that. Brian asked me to write up why I voted for the Big Red Cheese as my number one character at DC.

I guess when I was little I first just liked his costume. Vaguely military, but bright and unthreatening. Best of all, he wasn’t Superman, who I knew even then to be WAY OVEREXPOSED. He was powerful and funny and got to do awesome things and he was actually just a little kid like me! And soon I found out he had his own family of superheroes. He went from being an orphan to making his own family.

As an adult, that part is even more endearing to me. As we go on in life, we begin to choose who will really be close to us, who our real “family” is. Some are blood relatives but others are just people that you encounter on the way. We’re all going through life making our own Marvel Families; pantheons of personal loves and heroes.

I’ve shared my love for Cap and company with family and friends. I’ve gotten my students hooked on the magic. Former students still ask me about Cap sometimes, as often as they ask about my wife. He’s that perfectly real to a child: a friend, an self-identifying avatar, a hero, a symbol of what you can really do if you want, of the infinite possibilities.

Captain Marvel is the best.

Thanks, Joe!

26. Darkseid – 293 points (3 first place votes)

darkseid.jpg

Darkseid was the first of Jack Kirby’s notable “Fourth World” characters to show up in comics.

Darkseid is an evil cosmic tyrant who reigns over the dreaded planet, Apokolips.

He is constantly waging war against the other New Gods, who are much nicer than him.

Darkseid is fascinated with Earth, because Earth contains somewhere the key to the Anti-Life Equation, which Darkseid desires.

Darkseid is known for his Omega Beams, which are laser blasts from his eyes that can seek out and destroy a target from countless distance away.

Darkseid has been featured prominently as a DC villain since Kirby’s Fourth World titles folded, most prominently probably during Jim Starlin’s Cosmic Odyssey and in Levitz/Giffen’s Legion of Superheroes (as Darkseid shows up in the future).

Here is why Kevin Feeney had him #1 on his list…

I should probably note at the start though, that I have always had an affinity for villains since I feel they tend to make deeper characters, so a lot of this will simply be why I see him as better than other VILLAINS. But they make him a better character as well, I think. To my mind, Darkseid is a villain who is not like any other. On the surface, some might regard him as “just another megalomaniac alien”, but the reality is much deeper.

Villains are typically associated with chaos, and heroes with order- that’s the way it’s always been. Heroes represent “law and order”, villains want anarchy and chaos. With Darkseid, it’s the exact opposite-Kirby was all about freedom, so Darkseid symbolizes ORDER at it’s very worst- strict, controlling, all defining order, control in every aspect of life. Absolute, infinite control, leading to absolute, infinite order. He’s the exact opposite of what you expect from a villain, but his position really makes much more sense. To me, that makes him a more compelling character than most super villains who are just in it for themselves, or to cause mayhem- Darkseid wishes to restore order, something normally seen as a NOBLE goal.

Another very interesting thing about Darkseid is the sheer scale of his evil. All heroes are flawed heroes, and almost all villains have a shred of humanity in them- even Lex Luthor cares for humanity’s fate. But Darkseid is evil itself personified, without any sort of redeeming feature. There was a time when this is cliché, of course, but so much work has been done on other villains that he’s now virtually unique- most importantly, he is not 2 dimensional. Unlike with other villains, writers have been able to flesh out and expand Darkseid’s character WITHOUT compromising the evil at his very core, without softening him. Darkseid is a guy who will kill you for displeasing him at all- he’s not a Doctor Doom driven by ego, he’s not a Magneto who wants to save his race, he’s Darkseid, and he is nothing less than, in his mind, rightful lord of all. As one blogger once put it, he’s who Hitler *wanted* to be- absolute, all powerful, and unrelenting.

The third big facet of Darkseid that makes him interesting is his objective and scope. An villain with a goal is infinitely more interesting than one who just wants to “kill the hero”. In Darkseid’s case is goal is FAR beyond heroes. This is a villain who looks on SUPERMAN as an annoyance and a distraction to his purpose, which is the Anti-Life Equation… which again ties back to his inherent nature as a controlling figure, as the Anti-Life Equation will give him total control and allow him to restore order. The all consuming search for the equation is so vast and on such a massive scale that all of the world’s greatest heroes together are just pests compared to it. Grant Morrison put it best when he gave Darkseid the perfect slogan: “Darkseid Is”. Just that. He’s so incredibly powerful, so omnipotent, that he doesn’t even have to say what he is, because in a way, he is everything.

I could literally rant for ages about the great things about Darkseid- about his unique relationship with Orion, how he inspired Darth Vader, even how he was so successful Jim Starlin would later create almost a carbon copy simply so Marvel could have a similar cosmic dictator. But I’ve already gone on way too long, sorry.

No apologies necessary, Kevin! Thanks!

That’s it for today! More tomorrow!

26 Comments

Aquaman, Flash, Captain Marvel… scoring pretty low for being DC’s classic icons.

A nice selection today:-
Aquaman is the major DC character I’ve read least of,and its always fascinated me that he inspires so much affection amongst his fans- enough for Dc to keep trying to find the right formula every so often for 60 odd years. Personally, Sub-mariner always appealed more than Orin.

Barry Allen was the character I struggled most with in a tussle with Wally West as my favourite Flash. Seeing him make the cut makes me happy – partially because its an indicator that Wally is going to be much higher in the rankings! I rate his death as one of my favourite superhero deaths of all time.

Captain Marvel – The Big Red Cheese appeals to me more than Superman but isn’t one of my favourites.

Power Girl – considering some of the unfair comments that were thrown around yesterday regarding Ms Marvel, I’m not going to comment on Power Girl except to say that I’m surprised that it’s taken so long for DC to consider giving her a solo series when her personality far outshines Supergirl in her current incarnation. Hopefully, she’ll have a decent creative team.

Darkseid – As a villain, he has been overused too much in recent years deleting some of his appeal for me. But in the original New Gods saga, and especially The Great Darkness Saga by levitz/Giffen, he was treated as he should be – an all-powerful, near unstoppable menace.

Darkseid was almost on my list. No-one else today even came close.

This is about where I figured Barry Allen would show up, which is pretty good for someone who’s been dead for 15-20 years and has had two other people assume his mantle. I’m surprised Aquaman is this high, because to the majority of people you make yourself an object of ridicule if you say you like Aquaman. Wasn’t sure Captain Marvel would make it at all, he’s too pure of a hero for people nowadays. All three very solid choices, though. As for Power Girl’s cleavage at #27, how many 15-year old boys voted on this list?

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

September 19, 2007 at 4:24 am

After a bit of a dry spell on these lists we have my #1 (Aquaman), #2 (Captain Marvel), and #4 (Barry Allen) in one fell swoop.

One small correction / clarification: In Aquaman’s Silver Age origin, his biological father, Tom Curry, was a lighthouse keeper not a fisherman. In the Modern Age, Tom Curry became Arthur Curry. He was still a lighthouse keeper but one who regularly fished the waters around the lighthouse. This is how he first discovered the feral child who would become his “son” – Orin (God, I hate typing that stupid name) was stealing fish from his nets.

Great comments by H. The Filmation cartoon was my first exposure to Aquaman and probably the primary reason why he’s my favorite DC, heck, my favorite ‘anybody’ character – edging out Marvel’s Black Panther by a hair. I remember the first comic I bought that featured Aquaman. I wanted to know where his black boots were!

I guess #30 isn’t a bad showing for comic-dom’s “punching bag” …

To add to what Joe Rice said: The funny thing aboout Captain Marvel for me is that since he came over with all the other Fawcett characters DC acquired it’s like he seems out of place, because his universe/origin seems very much at odds with mainstream DC books. I really like what Joe had to say about him, and I think he really gets at what makes the character unique, fun, and attractive, but those stories are almost all non-DC Universe stories (outside of continuity), like the recent Jeff Smith limited series, which was a fun little romp.

If you want a grim, gritty Captain Marvel, read Miracleman. That’s waaaay better than any other current Shazam book. Too bad those trades are not still in print…

And on that note, howzabout an Independent comics Top 50 (or 100, whatever)?

That might be really interesting (if unwieldy) as well.

Regarding Aquaman, there is a purity to the period H describes that is appealing. When I was a kid, Aquaman stories, because they were uncommon and had exotic locales, grabbed my attention. This is yet another character I’d like to draw someday– he’s noble, heroic, and his stories have fantastic settings and beautiful natural surroundings.
As a side note, I’d also like to see more of the Aquaman/King Arthur of Atlantis/Camelot glimpsed in Kingdom Come, brief as his appearance was.

I’m very happy to see Power Girl on this list. If it wasn’t for her, I never would have started reading DC comics.

A couple years ago someone recommended JSA Classified #1 to me. I read it and immediately fell in love with Kara Zor-L. Her mix of outward bravado combined with such an unbearable loneliness and uncertainty inside really captivated me. From there I went on to read through the whole backlog of JSA and that opened the floodgate. Since then I’ve spent a lot of resources and even more time poring over decades worth of DC back issues and dozens of blogs to the point where I feel as comfortable in my DC knowledge as someone who’s been reading their books for years. And in the process I’ve come to find myself having more fun reading comics than I ever did when I just stuck with Marvel. All thanks to Power Girl.

There is no Orin. Aquaman is Arthur Curry, end of story. Peter David can kiss my ass.

In hindsight, I probably should have put Darkseid on my list. He’s easily the best thing to come out of Kirby’s New Gods saga.

Isn’t it interesting about Darkseid. Kirby was only with DC for a few short years, but what he created affected the entire DC-U. Dardseid is a major villian in DC. He even crossed over into the Superman cartoon series a few years ago. Kirby just couldn’t NOT be a major player. He was just amazing.

Barry Allen and Power Girl were both high on my list, and Darkseid just missed the cut.

I kinda expected Barry to go higher, but on reflection, that’s a bit unrealistic for someone who’s been gone for over 20 years.

Geoff Johns’ work with Power Girl has been the real clincher for me. It’s a great metaphor you could only get in comics – she’s got lots of power and confidence on the one hand, but on the other, like many of us, she’s (literally, in her case) unsure of her place in the world.

This group was not really what I expected. When people were discussing their votes online, the emphasis really seemed to be on more obscure characters. So are we already done with that and everyone from now on will be big names? Or will it go back to the quirkier stuff?

My favourite Aquaman is the grouchy kickass King Arthur version from Morrison’s JLA through whatever. Obsidian Age, I guess. And how that set up his first appearance in JLU.

No one in this group was on my list.

Coincidentally, I was scanning a rare books list today at work and they’d just posted a Miracleman trade for $500.

Yeah, almost everyone voted for a few obscure characters. However, few of them voted for the same obscure characters, so few of them will make the list. That is what makes them obscure. Really, it’s like indy music lovers. If anyone else know the character you are talking about, they are not obscure enough.

There is no Orin. Aquaman is Arthur Curry, end of story. Peter David can kiss my ass.

Peter David came up with Orin?

I thought another writer did, and David just extrapolated upon it.

“Aquaman, Flash, Captain Marvel… scoring pretty low for being DC’s classic icons.” Nope, have to disagree about that. For one thing, as the current DC regime will go to great pains to tell you, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are DC’s “classic icons.” (Whether or not you buy into the idea of the Big Three, I don’t think one can argue that they are the oldest and most recognizeable to multiple generations.) After the “Trinity,” you could convincingly argue for Flash and Green Lantern as the remaining members of DC’s top tier. Even so, the Silver Age Flash appearing here is no dis on the Flash as an icon, as Wally is sure to rank up near the top (nice showing by Barry though).

Aquaman is not a DC icon. He’s just very well-known, particularly because he was on TV, particularly (if inexplicably) on “The Super-Friends.” He’s also become his own pop-culture joke, in case you haven’t been paying attention in the past few years. (Exhibit A: “Entourage.”) Plus, he can’t even sustain his own monthly title.

Captain Marvel/Shazam isn’t a DC icon either, no matter how much Alex Ross wishes otherwise. (Talk about someone fixated on his childhood diet of ’70s superhero TV!) Rather, Captain Marvel is a Fawcett icon that DC now owns and doesn’t know what the hell to do with. They should’ve left him on Earth-S. Now that the multiverse is back, perhaps that’s where he’ll return to, after Final Crisis.

5 great characters. I am happy to see them all on the list, and the fact that they did not rank lower on the list must mean that there are incredible characters to come!

RE: Rather, Captain Marvel is a Fawcett icon that DC now owns and doesn’t know what the hell to do with.

Maybe we can have Superboy punch him.

Or do an “Ultimate” version.

On a different tangent…
Kid who gains superpowers also gets an adult body, but keeps the kid’s mind. Shouldn’t DC sue Marvel over Rage?

Good thing this isn’t posted in “Snark Free Corner”, huh.

Aquaman is not a DC icon. … He’s also become his own pop-culture joke, in case you haven’t been paying attention in the past few years. (Exhibit A: “Entourage.”) Plus, he can’t even sustain his own monthly title.

Unless you count the tv series developed about him that only didn’t go thru because the network died, or that he’s pretty much had a monthly series (under one name or another) since 1991 (The McClauglin series, Time and Tide, the PAD->Jurgins serieas, the current/Sword of series). the only notable gap there was between Time and Tide and the begining of PAD’s series, which was due to them waiting til, IIRC, the Death/Return of Superman stuff to wrap up so they could launch the new book with actual publicity.

As for “Peter David can kiss my ass”…I’ll just note which version was on JL/JLU….you know..the interesting one.

“Kid who gains superpowers also gets an adult body, but keeps the kid’s mind. Shouldn’t DC sue Marvel over Rage?”

If DC did that, Marvel would sue them over Hank Henshaw, and then DC would sue over the Sqaudren Supreme, and we’d eventually have the DC/Fawcett legel war all over again. It’ best not to touch that one.

On a lighter note, I’m glad to see Captain Marvel make a decent showing on the list.

I have to disagree about the DC icons thing. The significant surprising thing about this list is that of the Silver Age Justice League, we already had Hawkman, Aquaman, and the Flash. It seems like in the modern age these characters are not as highly regarded (if they ever really were).

It does make me more curious to see who is at the top of the lists (although only one of my picks on either list have made it so far).

Perhaps the new Justice League should take their roster from the most popular characters from the current age.

Actually, the original idea behind large super hero teams was to promote characters who were not selling as well as others. For example, Superman and Batman, though “honorary” members, almost never put in appearences in the original JSA because both characters were already popular enough on their own.

[…] #3.  Flash: Wally West #29. Flash: Barry Allen #41. Flash: Jay Garrick #42. Kid Flash/Impulse: Bart Allen (tied with Bizarro) […]

[…] 26. Darkseid – 293 points (3 first place votes) […]

“Aquaman is not a DC icon. He’s just very well-known, particularly because he was on TV, particularly (if inexplicably) on “The Super-Friends.” He’s also become his own pop-culture joke, in case you haven’t been paying attention in the past few years. (Exhibit A: “Entourage.”) Plus, he can’t even sustain his own monthly title.”

Says who? You? Although there is no doubt that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the three greatest characters in DC Comics, it is also true that Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern are the other three cornerstones of the DC Universe (as it is mentioned in the “Introduction” to “The Greatest Green Lantern Stories Ever Told”. In fact, Aquaman has many times been considered as the fourth most important character in DC Comics after the “Trinity”. It is enough to remember the “Superfriends” cartoon.

Aquaman is a founding member of the Justice League, and has been almost in all its encarnations. He was even the Chairman for some time.

Aquaman is respected by the most important characters in the DC Universe. Even Batman.

Although Aquaman’s image was not correctly displayed in the “Superfriends” cartoon, it is also true that if your opinion (or the opinion of people who bash him)is based in such cartoon, then you do not know anything.

It is impossible to imagine why he has appeared in popular media since so many decades ago if he wasn’t that important.

Aquaman is a perfectly known character, he is part of popular culture. He is at least as important as Flash and Green Lantern, even more. He is definitely an ICON, whether you like it or not.

If he couldn’t sustain his own montly title, then it would have been cancelled a long time ago, wouldn’t it?

He should definitely score higher. That’s a fact.

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