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Comic Theme Time Month – Who is the Single Best Superhero Supporting Cast Member?

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is a complicated one.

What I want you to do is to come up with the single best supporting character for various superheroes, like who is the best supporting character for Batman – Gordon or Alfred? Or Catwoman (crimefighting partners don’t count)? Who is the best Spider-Man supporting character? Mary Jane, Aunt May or JJJ? Once you’ve determined who THE best supporting characters are for each of those heroes, then rank your top five supporting characters.

Essentially, this is a way that someone like Foggy Nelson can compete. He is likely never going to be in the top five of a supporting cast list, not with characters like Lois Lane, Alfred, JJJ, Aunt May, Gordon, Jimmy Olsen and Mary Jane to compete with – but if he’s only competing with the top supporting character for each of those other heroes, maybe he IS in the top five!

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Okay, first time posting! But here’s my take on ten top supporting characters (not necessarily the “top ten”):

1. Superman = Lois Lane (a gimme, she defines humanity in Clark’s eyes)
2. Batman = Alfred Pennyworth (another gimme, Bruce’s surrogate everything)
3. Spider-Man = Mary Jane Watson (she was great *before* they were a couple even)
4. Hulk = Rick Jones (who should’ve *never* become a super-hero)
5. Iron Man = Bethany Cabe (love interest she may be, but she’s also competent in a way the other redhead ain’t)
6. Thor = Jane Foster (she’s gone from “pining romantic waif” to a medical professional, a friend, and a sounding board for humanity, a role originally filled by Donald Blake)
7. Captain America = Arnie Roth (a friend from the old neighborhood, Jewish, openly gay, and unlike every other Cap cast member, neither a super-hero, secret agent, or love interest – or still alive, unfortunately)
8. Deadpool = Blind Al (old and blind yes, but also did not take crap and could still handle herself)
9. Thing (well, Fantastic Four really) = Alica Masters (went from being Ben’s pity date to a member of the family in everything but name)
10. Green Lantern = Tom Kalmaku (all the “pieface” comments aside, here was Hal’s best buddy who was in on his secret and actually helped him out – what a concept!)

Really, from here, things get kind of sketchy as far as the greats. I mean, Daredevil has got Foggy Nelson (yea!) and Moon Knight had a good ensemble cast (once) but really, who else has the right “traction” to be a classic? Who, for example, has Wonder Woman got? Steve Trevor hasn’t been part of her cast for decades, and no one has taken his place. All of Aquaman’s cast are super-heroes or kind of…”eh, another Atlantean.” Same goes for Namor. And what about the X-Men? When was the last time any of them interacted with non-mutants? Stevie Hunter? How’s about making 2012 “Year of the Supporting Cast?” :)

Surprisingly tough question. Why? Because few characters have supporting characters who are essential to their mythos. Most of the ones who have lasted are generic love interests–e.g., Steve Trevor, Iris West, Pepper Potts, Betty Ross. And they simply aren’t necessary to make the characters work.

So I’m guessing the pool of answers will be limited. My choices:

Batman: Alfred
Spider-Man: JJJ
Superman: Lois Lane
Daredevil: Foggy Nelson
Avengers: Jarvis

5. Radu from Green Lantern Vol. 3
4. Jimmy Olsen from Silver Age Superman
3. Tulip O’Hare from Preacher
2. Aunt May from Brand New Day
1. Dick Grayson from Batman ’66

Cool idea, Brian, but the whole ‘crimefighting partners don’t count’ thing is kind of tricky and arbitrary. Three examples: Jimmy Olsen (practically Superman’s sidekick during the Silver Age), the Black Cat (love interest, supporting character, foil and/or crimefighting partner at various moments) and Jim Gordon (a professional crimefighter who constantly cooperates with Batman). Wouldn’t non-costumed/non-powered be a better way to narrow the selection of supporting characters? On the other hand, Casey Jones is clearly a supporting character of the TMNT, but he also sometimes wears a mask, plus do Renee Montoya and Pepper Potts still count as supporting characters since they now have their own masked identities and…I’m confused.

Anyway, my picks:

1) J. Jonah Jameson [Spider-Man]
2) Natt the Hat [Hitman]
3) Doop [X-Men]
4) Cecil Stedman [Invincible]
5) Epiphany Graves [Hellblazer]

1. Booster Gold – Skeets
2. Batman – Alfred
3. Superman – Lois Lane
4. Green Lantern (Kyle Raynor) – Ganthet
5. The Flash (Barry Alen) – Iris West

Interesting question, here’s my top 5:

1) Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad (she’s more than your basic supporting character, I guess, but SS doesn’t really have a “main character” as such)
2) Allen the Alien in Invincible
3) Dorothy Spinner in Doom Patrol
4) Rick Jones in Hulk
5) Heather Hudson in Alpha Flight (before she became a superhero herself)

1. Batman – Alfred
2. Avengers – Jarvis (apparently I like butlers)
3. Thor – Volstagg
4. Judge Dredd – Walter the Wobot
5. Spider-Man – JJJ

Y’know, Foggy is actually the only Daredevil supporting character to have lasted from the premiere issue well into Mark Waid’s current run. He deserves to be on this list.

I’m going with these guys:

5. Foggy Nelson from “Daredevil”

He’s truly been by Matt’s side since the very beginning. Characters like Elektra and Ben Urich have played far more significant roles in the series, but Foggy has always been there in throughout every major era.

4. Thunderbolt Ross from “The Incredible Hulk”

Ross has gone from the Hulk’s most determined pursuer, to crazed super-villain, reluctant ally, anti-hero, and eventually a member of the Hulk family itself, all the while looking like a cranky old guy. An impressive feat indeed!

3. Mary Jane Watson from “Spider-Man”

Unlike the Superman/Lois Lane dynamic, Peter Parker has had more loves than the average Joe he’s always been made out to be. Betty Brant and Liz Allan married other guys, Gwen Stacy was killed, Felicia Hardy was both his lover and opponent. But Mary Jane Watson has been an enduring presence. They’re exact opposites, yet MJ was the one who figured out his secret identity and the one who finally married him. Aunt May and Jameson have been around longer and serve great purposes in Peter’s life, mostly due to being de-aged every few years. But at the end of the day, we all know Pete is going back to Mary Jane Watson. She has proven to be the one true love of his life, regardless of editorial interventions.

2. James Gordon from “Batman”

I love Alfred Pennyworth, but he serves the same role as Aunt May: The one, lone relative who is always there for the titular hero and can never die or stay dead as such. Commissioner Gordon has had a far shakier relationship with Batman, disliking his alter ego and at times misunderstanding Batman himself. Gordon’s own past going back to his early days as a beat cop have helped flesh him out from the very first panel he appeared in over seven decades ago. The Christopher Nolan movies have built upon this to a far greater degree and cemented his status. Regardless of who is the teen sidekick, Jim Gordon is essential to the Batman mythos.

1. Lex Luthor from “Superman”

Yes, Luthor. He has evolved beyond a mere arch-villain or antagonist. The Byrne/Wolfman years turned him into a supporting cast member right and proper, an equally devious version of Jameson or the Kingpin over at Marvel, but far more intelligent. The various reboots revisiting Clark Kent’s early years established Luthor as the Yang to Superman’s Yin. The TV series “Smallville” based the majority of its run on the concept of how the Kent and Luthor families were forever intertwined. Lex is a complicated human being who believes himself to be superior, not necessarily right, and always on focus. That makes him the more important supporting character in the most well-known superhero’s world, and thus, numero uno in my list.

.

Robin and Dick Grayson don’t qualify according to the rules.

I imagine Brian meant costumed crimefighting partners, since almost every supporting character has helped the main character fight crime at some point. In particular, I imagine Commissioner Gordon and Jimmy Olsen qualify since Brian gave them as examples. Like Catwoman, the Black Cat was mostly NOT a crimefighting partner, so I imagine she qualifies.

Let’s see if I can bring a few smiles…

5. Hukka from Atari Force
4. The non-costumed incarnations of Tenzil Kim from LSH
3. Goat (need I say more?)
2. Skeets from Booster Gold
1. Oberon from JLI & Mr. Miracle (though, I almost said Sue Dibny)

1. Superman – Lois Lane
2. Elongated Man – Sue Dibney
3. Wonder Woman – Etta Candy
4. Green Lantern – Pieface
5. Booster Gold – Skeets

JJJ

Moira MacTaggart

Jarvis

1 – Lois Lane (Superman)
2 – Alfred Pennyworth (Batman)
3 – Commissioner Gordon (Batman)
4 – The Reyes Family (Blue Beetle)
5 – J Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man)

1. Batman – Alfred
2. The Question (Dennis O’Neill’s run) – Aristotle “Tot” Rodor
3. Spider-Man – J. Jonah Jameson
4. She-Hulk (Dan Slott’s run) – Awesome Andy
5. New Avengers – Squirrel Girl (she’s the nanny, not on the team, so counts)

Blue Beetle’s BFF Paco (it’s incredibly hard to narrow down one member of Jaime’s supporting cast, by the way)
Booster Gold’s little robobuddy Skeets
Flash’s wife Linda Park-West
The JLI’s manager Max Lord (the real one that disappeared sometime before Infinite Crisis)
Elongated Man’s wife Sue Dibney

I thought about including Jade from Green Lantern, but I think she’s too much of an independent hero to count. I also considered Amanda Waller, but honestly she’s really the star of the Suicide Squad, not a supporting character.

1. Alfred – Batman
2. Lois – Superman
3. MJ – Spider-man
4. Franklin Richards – Fantastic Four
5. Foggy Nelson – Daredevil

Commissioner Gordon

This is a big assignment, so I’ll start with DC, then Marvel and finally rank.

The Superman Cast (Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lana Lang, Steve Lombard, Cat Grant, et al): This is a much deeper cast than you would think. They do not get a lot of love as a group because they were so static (and not even remotely diverse) during their Silver Age heyday. Strong field, but Lois Lane is the clear winner.

The Batman cast (Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox, Dr. Leslie Tompkins, Renee Montoya et al): This was not a deep group prior to the Bronze Age, so it had room to add a little diversity with some late additions. The weakness of the Bat-cast is the lack of inter-connectedness. Other than the GCPD, there is no reason for any of these characters to talk to each other. That makes Jim Gordon the key Batman cast member.

The Wonder Woman cast (Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, Hipployta, et al): Wonder Woman always has three casts going at any given time. First, she has the classic military cast from the Golden Age. Then, she has her Amazonian sisters and other characters from Greek mythology. Finally, she has who ever the latest writer has introduced. Hippolyta has been the most constant presence, so I will give her the nod.

The Green Lantern cast (Carol Ferris, Tom Kalatu, Kilawog, et al): This is a tough group to analyze. Every member of this cast has gotten a magic wishing ring of one kind or another at some point. Who counts as “crime fighting partners” and who doesn’t? The ring proliferation is an attempt to bridge the gap between the two worlds GL inhabits. On the one hand, he is an Oan space ranger. On the other hand, he works for Ferris aircraft. Those are clearly the two poles, so obviously both are interesting. Both are more intesting as settings than Hal is a protagonist. I am giving the nod to Kilawog for degree of difficulty. Tough to be a sympathetic bugg-eyed monster.

The Flash cast (Iris West … Linda Park-West …. Ummm …. Someone who wasn’t a love interest, or a member of the Rogue’s Gallery). For friendly guys, the Flashes sure do not make a lot of friends. None of their co-workers really stand out either. Barry Allen is currently the Flash, so Iris West takes it.

The Aquaman cast (Mera, Topo, Dolphin, various Atlaneans). Mera in a landslide.

The JLA cast (Snapper Carr, Dale Gunn, Maxwell Lord, Oberon, Sue Dibny et al). This was a better cast than I would have thought prior to listing them. Unlike the Avengers, the JLA does not have S.H.I.E.L.D. To provide an organizing framework for its cast. Therefore, the supporting characters tend to come and go with little to no reason. I am giving Sue Dibny the nod for bridging multiple versions.

The Teen Titans cast (Terry Long … Other characters who do not suck …. Maybe Lilith?). The clear winner is someone other than Terry Long. I am not sure if Mal counts as a supporting cast guy, but he had a basement for them to have their meetings. He also had a club for Great Frog to play in. That strikes me as a useful guy to have around.

The Legion of Super-Heroes cast (Legion of Substitute Heroes, Legion of Super-Pets, the Science Police). Because the Legion is notoriously short of characters, they have whole supporting groups. I am going with Proty for his sheer originality.

A-list supporting cast members with B-list heroes, include the Metamorpho cast, Jean Loring as The Atom cast of one, Dorthy Spinner from Doom Patrol, Amanda Waller from Suicide Squad, John Constantine from Swamp Thing, et al). If the The Wall counts, then I am going with The Wall. I am worried what she might have done to me if I didn’t.

1. Spider-Man is tough because he has the best supporting cast, but I pick JJJ.

2. Batman: Alfred.

3. Superman: Lois Lane

4. TMNT: Casey Jones

5. Avengers: Jarvis

Spider-Man – JJJ
Daredevil – Foggy
Black Panther – Everett K. Ross
Starman – Shade. If he’s inelligible, Ted Knight
Sandman Mystery Theatre – Dian Belmont

Ok. On to Marvel:

The Fantastic Four supporting cast (Alicia Masters, Franklin Richards, Valeria Richards, Willie Lumpkin, Wyatt Wingfoot, et al) I would argue that the key insight of Marvel Silver Age was that the best way to create realism is to surround your superheroes with a deep cast of normal (or mostly normal) people. Every book that Stan Lee stayed on for a long run wound up with a huge, memorable cast and FF was no exception. Franklin Richards gets my vote as the first “super kid” to stick.

The Amazing Spider-Man cast (J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Robbie Roberson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, Gwen Stacey, Aunt May, Mary-Jane Watson, Harry Osborn et al) No one juggled a bigger cast than Spidey did during at its creative peak. Every single character was plausible and interesting without any super heroic trappings. Any of them could step up and carry a sub-plot for months. The wedding choked that off in the ’80s and ’90s, but MJ is still the best Spider-Man supporting player.

The Incredible Hulk cast (Thunderbolt Ross, Betty Ross, Rick Jones, Glenn Talbot). If you really analyze the Hulk cast, then you could argue that the series had the wrong protagonist. The character that really connects everyone and has emotional conflicts with everyone is Betty Ross, not Dr. Bruce Banner. Unfortunately, she has never been that interesting. She is just another Marvel-style debutant. My money is on old Thunderbolt, who was at least a pretty good example of a Kirby bellower.

The Iron Man cast (Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Happy Hogan, Mrs. Arbogast). You subtitle Iron Man “Tony Stark and his Amazing Employees”, but this actually a decent group. It started similarly to Green Lantern with a co-worker/love interest and a comic relief sidekick. However, as the years have worn along, it has gotten deeper. A consistent five member cast is totally respectable. My personal favorite is Rhodey.

The Captain America cast (Sharon Carter …. ummmm …. Bucky! Bucky is back, right?). In contrast, Cap has a terrible cast. Everyone is either on loan from another book, or a superhero. Sharon Carter takes it by default.

The Thor cast (Jane Foster, Odin, The Warriors Three, Sif, et al) I am not a big Thor guy, but it is hard to argue with his supporting cast. As is typical for Marvels of Silver Age vintage, he has a weak primary love interest. However, that is more than offset by the terrific depth of the Asgardians. The other “two worlds” characters are generally on safer ground with their more normal casts. By contrast, Walt Simonson was able to discard Midgard during his classic run. My vote goes to Volstagg, because who doesn’t like Volstagg?

The Uncanny X-Men cast (Moira McTaggart, Stevie Hunter, Forge … Professor Charles Xavier?!?). This is a tough group to analyze, since Chris Claremont took the opposite tack from Stan Lee. Everyone cycled through the main X-Men cast. Everyone. Who was really a “supporting player” in the X-Men? From a certain perspective, Prof. X was the protagonist and from another he was a supporting player. Anyway, Moira McTaggart is the most consistent non-mutant , so I’ll give her the nod.

The Avengers cast (Jarvis, Henry Peter Gyrich, Maria Hill): This is a shockingly poor cast given how terrific S.H.I.E.L.D. is as a framing device for them and how well Marvel did with supporting casts during their founding era. I am going to cheat a little and call this for Nick Fury.

The Daredevil cast (Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, Electra Natchios and Ben Urich). Foggy wins here, obviously.

Others deserving mention: Colleen Wing and Misty Knight from Power Man and Iron Fist, Ivan Petrovitch from Black Widow, Pete Wisdom from Excalibur. Doug Ramsey from New Mutants. I’ll give the nod to Misty Knight in this group.

So, we are down to the following:
- Lois Lane
- Jim Gordon
- Hippolyta
- Kilowog
- Iris West
- Mera
- Sue Dibny
- Mal Duncan
- Proty
- Amanda Waller
- Franklin Richards
- Mary-Jane Watson
- “Thunderbolt” Ross
- James Rhodes
- Sharon Carter
- Volstagg
- Moira McTaggart
- Nick Fury
- Foggy Nelson
- Misty Knight

To me, the best five from that group are:
1. Lois Lane, who is the only human member of superhero supporting cast to carry a top selling title of their own.
2. Nick Fury, who (while not exactly a supporting cast member) is awesome.
3. Foggy Nelson, who is secretly the real hero of Daredevil.
4. Amanda Waller, who was terrific when Ostrander was writing her. She has been spottier in other places, so she gets dung a little.
5. Sue Dibny, who was the best “straight man” of the JLI era.

Spider-Man – Mary-Jane Watson
Batman – Alfred Pennyworth
Superman – Lois Lane
Iron Man – James Rhodes
Daredevil – Franklin “Foggy” Nelson

Natt the Hat.

Linda Park was great in Wally’s Flash adventures.

Betty Ross (before she died and got super powers) in Hulk.

Skeets in Booster Gold.

Gotta go with Gordan over Alfred in Batman – Gordan has a meatier role. Sometimes Alfred is just a sound board. (But he IS still a favorite!!).

Lois hands down in Superman – although I do love that Lex is a villian who is always around – and takes on the whole DCU – In fact, I love it more when he takes on Batman (NML and JLA), I see them more on par with each the extreme intelligence.

Carol in Green Lantern – although I wish she got more scenes. She needs a major storyline, or a mini series.

Ed (A Different One)

January 2, 2012 at 8:44 am

1. JJJ (ASM) – Simultaneously hilarious and maddening, likeable and detestable (when written well), JJJ has proven to be the one foe Spidey could not get the better of and the ASM comics suffer when he’s absent for prolonged periods of time.

2. Mary Jane (ASM) – Never has a supporting character had a more complicated relationship with its protagonist than MJ with Pete/’Spidey. Now, after having been ‘life raped” by the Mephisto deal, MJ stands in a totally unique position in comics – she is the “Unwife”, and ASM readers stand up and take notice like they never did before whenever she shows up within it’s panels.

3. Alred Pennysworth (Batman) – the staid, do-every-little-thing glue that holds Batman’s world together. Could Bats be anywhere near the effective crimefighter w/o having Alfred at his back?

4. Robbie Robertson – Staid, intelligent everyman served for years to counter-balance JJJ’s anti-Spidey ire – while simulatenously possessing JJJ’s respect and admiration. A fan favorite for years, though has begun to fade into the background in recent years now that JJJ is no longer associated with the Bugle..

5. Jimmy Olson (Superman) – Found perhaps his best characteization in the hands of GM in All-Star Superman, Jimmy has proven a fertile ground for plot points and entire storylines in the pages of Superman for years.

I know, I know, it’s a pretty Spidey-heavy list, but hey – can’t help it that Spidey has historically had the richest supporting cast in comics.

I know, I know, it’s a pretty Spidey-heavy list, but hey – can’t help it that Spidey has historically had the richest supporting cast in comics.

The trick, though, is to only compare the best of each character’s supporting cast against each other, precisely so that lists won’t be too Spider-Man, Superman. Batman heavy.

Fantastic Four- Willy Lumpkin. He’s a mailman, just like the best second banana in the universe, Cliff Claven. Ok, he really isn’t very Cliff Claven, but he was the really a very grounding sort of character that provided the first hints that Marvel was going to be about human relations as well as super-hero team ups.

Thor- Volstag. Supposedly based on Falstaff, Shakespeare’s best supporting cast member IMHO

Spider-Man- JJJ. Forget the Green Goblin, JJJ is his true archenemy. And he is based on Stan Lee, who is Jack Kirby’s best supporting cast member. (Ok, some of these comparisons are a bit weak.)

Iron Man- Tony Starks ego. Or maybe Tony Stark’s ego is the real star and Iron Man is the supporting cast.

Avengers- Jarvis. Literally support staff. Is the Jeeves to Iron Man, the Avenger’s Bertie Wooster.

Thor Bonus- Mjolnir, turns into Dr. Donal Blake’s cane, or….wait for it…his supporting staff. (Sorry, it’s late)

Captain America- If the Falcon and Sharon Carter are arguably ‘crime fighting partners, Bernie Rosenthal. Yeah, I know she hasn’t been around lately, but the time for a Bernie Rosenthal mini-series is way overdue.

Daredevil- Foggy Nelson has been mentioned, so in the interest of variety, I’m gonna go with Ben Urich.

Sandman- Marv the pumpkin headed guy. Or whatever he was called

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