Jun 16, 2014

The Superhero Hall of Fame, Part 3: The Superstar Tier

The Superhero Hall of Fame, Part 3: The Superstar Tier
Ben Smith

For all of you late-comers, I made the insane decision to create a superhero hall of fame, much like you would find in major professional sports. I also unwisely am attempting to rank the characters that will fill these fictional halls of justice, using categories of my own creation.

Those criteria for selection are detailed in the first part, so I’m not going to take the time to re-type it all here. You have access to the internet.

Last time out, I finished up the All-Star tier of characters, which mostly represented characters that were strong in a handful of areas, but pretty weak in others. This week, we’re going to launch into the Superstar tier, which will represent the characters that have much stronger overall resumes.

Let us begin, shall we?


16. The Legion of Superheroes

Resume: powers, popularity, evergreen, rogues gallery, consistency

Bit of a cheat here, to include them as a team, but it’s my list, so deal with it. The Legion of Superheroes was at one time, along with the New Teen Titans, the only books DC was producing that could compete with Marvel in the early ‘80s. Once one of the most popular teams and books in all of comics, that still maintains a dedicated core group of fans to this day. The Legion was one of the earliest books to use continuity to their advantage, having the characters age and grow, get married, and retire from the team. Their status as the superheroes of the future gave them extreme freedom for the writers to do whatever they wished. The massive cast made for one of the best built-in supporting casts in all of comics, to include Superman and Supergirl. Despite the multiple reboots the team has been put through due to various DC Crisis series, all the different versions of the Legion, and their resultant series, have been remarkably consistent (my favorite being the pre-New 52 Levitz series). They have a true evergreen book in The Great Darkness Saga, which (spoiler alert) revived Darkseid as a viable comic book villain. Cranky Editor: I think the cover of the book actually ruins that spoiler at this point. Along with him, the Legion has a great rogues gallery that includes Mordru, The Fatal Five, Time Trapper, and the Legion of Supervillains. They got their own short-lived animated series, and starred in one of the best single episodes of Justice League Unlimited. Brainiac 5, my single most favorite DC character, is a core member of the team.

15. Fantastic Four

Resume: origin, powers, Dr Doom, evergreen, cartoons, movies

The impact of the Fantastic Four cannot be understated. The first book that launched the re-branded Marvel, and the first to introduce the flawed hero approach to characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were trying to develop. Probably had the strongest first 100 issues of any series in comic book history. Introducing the Watcher, Skrulls, the Inhumans, the Black Panther, Galactus, and the Silver Surfer, to name a few. A decent rogues gallery headlined by the greatest Marvel villain of all, Dr Doom. At least one evergreen story in the previously mentioned Galactus Saga. Two characters with great solo potential in The Thing and the Human Torch. Right up there with Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk in the number of different animated series over the years. Two big screen Fantastic Four movies (unless you count the unreleased movie from the ‘90s Cranky Editor: And why wouldn't you? The last scene of the movie has Mr. Fantastic's hand stretching out of a limo, and it's basically a fake hand on a stick.), with another in development, that unfortunately were both extremely unremarkable.

14. Hulk

Resume: origin, powers, popularity, evergreen, Betty Ross, movies, cartoons

The Hulk is another character that is far more popular outside of comics, than his monthly comics would warrant. He’s got a great origin, and his status as the strongest Marvel character is instantly appealing to a lot of casual fans. Betty Ross is a great supporting character and star-crossed love interest. Hasn’t always had the strongest monthly series, but has had a handful of stories that could be considered evergreen, to include Hulk: The End, the first appearance of Wolverine, and Planet Hulk. Never had a particularly strong rogues gallery, but The Leader and Abomination are standouts. Only Spider-Man has had more animated series over the years. Unlike Spider-Man, the ‘70s Hulk television show was the first real impact Marvel ever made in live-action. Had a string of made-for-television movies spinning out of the show, that co-starred characters like Daredevil and Thor Cranky Editor: Great, now I want to watch it.. The Hulk’s first big budget motion picture was a flop, but he got a second chance with Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk, which is a highly underrated movie Cranky Editor: Up to that point, it had the single best fight scene in any live-action comic book movie. Along with Black Widow, the breakout character of The Avengers movie.

13. Robin/Nightwing

Resume: origin, love interests, costume, evergreen, popularity, movies, cartoons

As Robin, probably the fourth most well-known superhero in the world, after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. As Nightwing, one of the more popular characters in all of comics. Dick Grayson has a great origin, if slightly derivative, and unlike Batman, has a well-rounded and enjoyable civilian identity (more on that later in the list). One of the great costumes in all of comics as Nightwing. A bit of a ladies' man in the DC universe, he’s been romantically linked with The Huntress, Starfire, and Barbara Gordon. Has had many evergreen stories as part of Batman and Teen Titans books, most notably the Judas Contract and the Trigon Saga, but rarely has had anything of significance on his own Cranky Editor: This is why. As Robin or Nightwing (and sometimes both) is a key part of almost every iteration of a Batman cartoon or animated movie. Leader of the team in the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons. Had a big role in three of the worst comic book movies ever made, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and The Dark Knight Rises Cranky Editor: Batman Forever was fun, and you all know it. At least two of those were wildly successful, at least.

12. Wonder Woman

Resume: costume, powers, popularity, television show, cartoons

The single most perfect example of a character that is far more popular and successful outside of comics. The arguably third most recognizable and well-known superhero in the entire world. Her status as a symbol of female power and empowerment, helps compensate for the general mediocrity of her solo comic series over the years. Even highly regarded runs by creators like George Perez and Gail Simone only manage to create above average stories at best. Has one of the weaker supporting casts and rogues galleries among the top characters in comics, and her primary love interest historically, Steve Trevor, has spent long periods of time excluded from her books. Her origin and secret identity are at best confusing, most often ignored completely. Her power set makes her the most intimidating and powerful female character in all of comic books. (My favorite all-time Wonder Woman moment was in Justice League Unlimited, where Hawkgirl, Black Canary, and Vixen are stunned at the arrival of a brainwashed Wonder Woman. The sheer terror of the three of them having to face off against her really helps encapsulate how powerful Wonder Woman is.) Along with the Hulk, had a very successful ‘70s television series, if short-lived. Wonder Woman is always included in any Super Friends or Justice League cartoon. A core member of the best superhero animated series ever created, the Justice League. Got her own very well-done, but ultimately unsuccessful, animated movie. Set to make her big screen debut in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Probably the most lopsided character in terms of comic output vs multimedia output. (For basketball fans, she’s the Vince Carter of comics. Insanely popular despite never quite living up to that fan support in terms of stories/wins.)

11. Daredevil

Resume: powers, origin, consistency, evergreen, love interests, popularity, movie, cartoons

Almost the complete opposite of Wonder Woman, where Daredevil’s in comics resume can arguably only be matched or exceeded by Spider-Man or Batman. Daredevil has had one of the most, if not the most, consistently entertaining comic series from his inception. From the early Stan Lee years, to the run by criminally underrated artist Gene Colan, to the legendary Frank Miller, to Nocenti, to Kesel, to Kevin Smith, to Bendis and Maleev, to Brubaker, and now to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. Daredevil has been the destination for prestige runs by some of the best creators in the history of the medium. Born Again, the death of Elektra, and Man of Fear are easy standouts of evergreen stature. He’s had a remarkable string of love interests in Elektra and Karen Page, and one of the best supporting characters in Foggy Nelson (as well as Ben Urich). His rogues gallery is top-heavy with Kingpin and Bullseye, but modern creators have been unusually successful in updating old villains into competent threats, like the Owl and Mr. Fear. His secret identity as Matt Murdock is one of the strongest in comics, especially whenever he decides to pretend he’s his own twin brother Mike. Daredevil is one of the most frequent guest-stars in Marvel cartoons, without ever getting one of his own. Daredevil did get his own movie, played by Ben Affleck, which was apparently successful enough to get its own spinoff movie in Elektra Cranky Editor: I think Elektra was already contracted before Daredevil was even released. Don't quote me on that though. One of the four characters selected by Marvel to get their own television mini-series through Netflix.

10. The Flash

Resume: origin, powers, costume, rogues, consistency, Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, television, cartoons

Highly recognizable and popular, if only by name and power set. Suffers a bit, like most Silver Age DC characters, from a weak supporting cast and secret identity (at least the Barry Allen version), but one of the greatest rogues galleries in comics, on par with Spider-Man and Batman. His power set, as the fastest man alive, is something easily understood and admired by anyone that values physical capabilities like strength and speed (namely young boys, athletes, and sports fans). One of the great costumes in comics (sans chin strap) and one of my personal favorites. Flash has had a consistent run of excellent comics throughout the years, especially during the Waid and Geoff Johns runs. However, arguably the best Flash comic ever was one where he dies, saving the world in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (Geoff Johns' tremendous Super Friends obsession worked for Hal Jordan, but was decidedly less successful in the return of Barry Allen.) A core member of any Justice League cartoon, and one of the best parts of the excellent Justice League animated series. (When he almost dies defeating Luthor and Brainiac, it makes my heart grow three sizes bigger, Grinch style.) Had a solid live-action television series in the ‘80s, which was a big part of young Back Issue Ben’s week at the time. A version of the Flash had guest-starring roles on the Smallville and Arrow TV series, and is about to follow that up in 2014/15 with a brand new solo television series.

Cranky Editor: This is not the first time Ben's made a list and just lumped Wally and Barry together, and I agree with him. As longtime readers, yes, we can separate them and we know the differences, but in terms of casual fans and mass media, it's the Flash half that's important. But Wally is better.

If Flash, Wonder Woman, and Daredevil are the cutoff points for the Superstar tier of the hall of fame, what could the next category possibly be? What could possibly be higher than superstar. You’ll just have to join us again next week to find out.

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