Sunday, September 30, 2007

Top Ten Marvels, Minus One

So, Good Buddy Brian Cronin was nice enough to let me say a few words about Spider-Man for the Top 50 Marvel characters list. He was also kind enough to link to this blog, and that says to me I ought to throw up some sort of related content for you all to enjoy.

It oughtn't surprise anyone that Spidey was at the top of my Marvel list, but what about everybody else? So yes, let's be self-indulgent, and take a look at my 9 other favorite Marvel characters.

2. Hawkeye -
I'll be honest, I didn't think too much of Hawkeye the first time I saw him, but it's not his fault. It was Infinity War #2, and all he did was be a jerk to Spider-Man and then get his butt kicked by his Magus duplicate. (Long story, don't ask.) But then I read Busiek's Avengers, and *then* I read some Essential Avengers volumes, and I got it. Hawkeye's deal is he's the coolest guy in the room, without trying. Not just in his own mind, but in his own right. He's hanging out with gods, living legends, magicians, and super-scientists, and all he's got to his name is a bow and some funky arrows (not a fucking ninja sword, Bendis you dork), but he pulls his weight because he's damn good with them. He wears a bright purple outfit to work and makes it look good. He also keeps the Avengers (or the Thunderbolts, or any team he's on) on an even keel, appointing himself Bullshit-Detector-at-Arms. If you prove yourself to him, though, he'll show undying loyalty, as seen in his surrogate-brother relationship with Captain America. Because, really, he's there because he's looking for the family he's lost, and because he's just a decent guy who believes in helping people. He's really the best elements of the modern action hero (including a lot of John McLane) rolled together into one awesome package. Fabian Nicieza's short-lived Hawkeye ongoing a few years ago captured the best of the character: a guy who does what's right, looks good doing it, and doesn't fuck around.

3. Nightcrawler - I think I've talked about my grandpa the minister here, and I know I've gone on about religion in comics. And it's the religious aspect of Nightcrawler that drew me to the character. Sure, the furry blue Errol Flynn thing he has going on is cool, but add that to the fact that the guy who looks (and smells) like a demon is in fact a devout Catholic, and you've got a whole other level of hero. One of my first X-Men comics was an issue where he and Wolverine spend a good three pages drinking alien beer and debating theology. The X-Men are as much about finding something to center yourself on in an increasingly uncentered world as anything else, and having a character built on strong religious faith in that milieu allows for some great juxtapositions. A lot of fans kicked up some dust a few years ago when Kurt was studying to join the priesthood, but I was not among them. A religious leader who's a superhero? An ordained priest with fangs and a tail? How could you not look forward to that? Plus, he can kick Dracula's ass, and has.

4. Molly Hayes - Molly is the antidote to everything I hate about modern superhero comics. She is the Anti-Angst Equation. She's Peter Pan as a mutant tweenybopper who eats Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs. Because let's face it, heroes who are always moping about their lives are played out and boring. Even Spider-Man, much as he bitches, would tell you he loves his life if you pressed him on it. So it's great to have a character who's seen some pretty shitty stuff (like her parents turning out to be evil mutant supervillains who got killed by giant six-fingered biblical angel-spawn) and makes the conscious choice to be a bubbly, wonder-filled kid for as long as she can, because the comic book version of being a grown-up sucks. It's just what this increasingly stultified genre needs. Oh, Molly, we are awesomed by you. Never change.

5. Deadpool - I have issues. Like, big issues. I also talk to myself a lot. And I'm pretty fucking sarcastic about things that piss me off. So it's really no surprise that I've been a fan of Deadpool ever since Joe Kelly's run. He's really the sort of character I shouldn't like: One of Liefeld's less inspired ideas, extremely violent and irreverent, basically a lot of '90s clich├ęs. But ever since Kelly started writing him right (Mark Waid did some good prep work, too, in the second Deadpool mini), I can't get enough of this wacky bastard. Aside from some truly hilarious writing (including, bar none, the funniest single comic issue I've ever read, Deadpool 11), there's a simple but elegant depth: he's an idiot and a fuckup, and overall not a very nice guy, but he's aware of that, and wishes he weren't. Fabian Nicieza's done further work by juxtaposing him with Cable, giving him a person and an idea to want to believe in, and another day-by-day excuse to try for redemption. He'll probably never get there, but the eternal search for it makes him very poignant, and occasionally sweet. And in between all that, there's dirty jokes and explosions. And I like those, too.

6. The Thing - Ben Grimm is my grandpa. That's the secret. Not the minister one, but the other one. The simple man who spent his life in the army and the great outdoors, who puts on the airs of a man who takes very little seriously, but secretly cares a great deal about just about everything. He's avuncular, stubborn, strong-hearted, and eternally faithful to the people he loves. Then you go and stick him in the body of an orange rock monster, and you have some of the greatest pathos to come out of the medium, ever. Ben's very much the heart of the Fantastic Four, the one who got the worst of the radiation that changed them, but refuses to let it change him on the inside. And he has the best battle cry, ever.

7. Captain America (Steve Rogers) - Cap's got it rough. Not just as a person, but as a symbol. America still carries a great deal of metaphorical weight, no matter whom you ask, and he has to shoulder all of it. Sure, he volunteered for the job, but all he really wanted was to serve his country and make the world safe for the kind of good, everyday, hard-working people he grew up around on New York's Lower East Side. And it's because he's, at his heart, a humble man that he can shoulder that weight. Lesser men have tried and failed, both in the comics and real life, but Steve Rogers accomplishes it by sheer force of belief in the American ideal. Not necessarily Mom and Apple Pie and all that, but the simple words on the back of the coin that bears the face of the man who made him: E pluribus unum. From many, one. If everyone pitches in to the best of his or her ability, something great can arise. He's as much a man of faith as Nightcrawler, and while his faith is sometimes shaken, it never falls. It's telling that, even when dead, he can still support a book simply by the force of his absence.

8. Cyclops - He wears glasses, not to keep his identity secret, but to keep himself from destroying the world around him. The continual fan comparisons between him and Wolverine always amuse me, because really, they're so similar it's like they're brothers. (Marvel, don't get any ideas.) Scott Summers has been rudderless since he was eight years old, afraid of himself and his powers since he was fifteen, and devoted to fulfilling someone else's dream since he was eighteen. He's a textbook example of the pathology of self-denial, and in this culture, you can bet that carries some weight. But oddly, that's forged him into one of the greatest leaders and most compassionate men in the Marvel Universe. And now that he's finally exploring the undiscovered country of himself, he's even more interesting than ever. The X-Men are about change, and Cyclops is perhaps the most changing one of all. He's been the uncertain youth, the green commander, the mourning lover, the retired newlywed, the seasoned-but-unsure leader of a directionless team, the faithful second, the recovering possession victim, and now, the torch-bearer for a new future.

9. Mary Jane Watson - What's the line from Return of the King? "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you?" That's what MJ is for Peter, and why she's the most important person in his life. Where he's always uncertain, her faith never wavers. She's his rock, his lighthouse, his home. Every hero needs someone to lean on at the darkest hour, when everything looks hopeless. He needs a pair of strong, hopeful eyes to look into to see that all is not lost, and to remind him why he fights. MJ is all that for Peter, and more. And in her own right, she's a woman who's come from a terrible childhood and a dangerous cynicism to find unexpected depths of hope and strength within herself. And all without losing the adorable party-girl veneer we and Peter first fell in love with. She is, in short, the jackpot: The perfect complement for the eternally downtrodden hero and proof that, sometimes, nice guys do finish first.

10. J. Jonah Jameson - He keeps Spider-Man honest by lying to himself. J. Jonah Jameson is Peter Parker's second-toughest critic, and his own worst enemy. A man of strong principle, but always getting lost in his strange vendetta. At times a buffoon, at times a vanguard of truth, he's not easy to pigeonhole. Which is as it should be. A character like Spider-Man needs a voice like Jonah's in the back of his brain, to challenge his assumptions, to show him in the worst possible light. Not just because it gives him a reason to prove he's right, but to show that the truth is a multi-faceted thing, and that right and wrong can slip away from us very easily. Spider-Man is about choices, and Jonah is about their consequences. In some ways, by always showing the frank and unflattering truth of his actions, he's the best friend Spider-Man's ever had.

No comments: