THE TOP 100 COMIC BOOK HEROES OF ALL TIME

35.  MR. FANTASTIC

Reed Richards may be one of the most intelligent men on Earth, but he is not also one of the most interesting.  Most of the time “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” and the first real “family” of superheroes is pretty…Dull.  But there are moments when they shine.  Under the current Jonathan Hickman run, for example.

So why is Mr. Fantastic on this list?  Well, his influence is undeniable.  He created unstable molecules.  He’s been in several movies and cartoons.  And he’s the subject of one of Norm MacDonald’s funniest routines–wherein he discusses the origin of each Fantastic Four member’s name…

This is a video based on the routine.  It’s much funnier as a stand-up, but I couldn’t find a copy of that.

Essential reading:

  • Reprints of the first few issues of FF
  • Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman

34.  RAPHAEL

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 was the best investment I ever made.  Back in 1984, before internet and before normal citizens had access to solicits, it was hard to know what was coming.  It was your duty as a comic book fan to show up at the comic store on the day they released the new books to make sure you didn’t miss some vitally important new #1.  I did my job one fine day in January 1984 and found an oversized black and white book with a ridiculously stupid name by authors I’d never heard of.  But for some reason, I bought two copies.  And sold ’em both a couple hundred dollars just a few months later.

It’s hard to think of the turtles individually, but the one most of us remembered most was the “Wolverine” of the team: The sai-wielding Raphael.  But in truth it was the collective that deserves placement on this list.

After the book came out, it started a phenomenon in independent comic publishing.  Much of it was crappy satire of this book, which in itself was essentially satirical: Adolescent radioactive blackbelt hamsters, Boris the Bear, Hamster vice … But a few gems came out of this explosion of anthropomorphic, creator-owned fringe books, like Fish Police and Flaming Carrot.

Eastman and Laird proved, via TMNT, that black and white indies could do more than just sell steadily (Dave Sim’s Cerebus (#13, below) had already proven that)–they could become overnight sensations.  Few managed to reach the same level of success, but it was a boon to the art form nonetheless to see so much creativity and expansion in the market.

Recommended reading:

  • TMNT Collected Book Vol. 1 (2009)

An awkward moment between Thor and one of the few guys strong enough to rassle with him

33. THOR

There have been quite a few characters based almost completely on ancient mythology by publishers of every stripe and with the possible exception of Hercules none of them have amounted to much of anything.  Except Thor.

An original Avenger, one of the most powerful characters in the world, and a spoiled brat who learns to be noble.  These are a few of the reasons Thor is one of the best comic book heroes of all time.

He’s also pretty reliable.  Whether it’s Walter Simonson’s definitive run with the character that relied almost entirely on the Asgard side of Thor, or J. Michael Stracyzinski’s Earth-meets-Asgard vision, or even the old Lee/Lieber/Kirby stories, there’s a lot writers can do with the man.  True, he’s suffered from a lack of high quality runs in his own book; but at the same time, he’s had some of the best ones as well.  The afore-mentioned Simonson run has its own omnibus, and the JMS run formed the basis of the successful, well-received 2011 film. I also really dug Mark Millar’s take on the character as a crazy environmentalist in the Ultimates storyline.  (See also the first Ultimate Avengers DVD, which is quite good.)

Here’s a few cool Thor stories you can check out:

  • Thor: The Eternals Saga
  • The first Walt Simonson run (i.e., the Beta Ray Bill storyline, which is collected in an expensive omnibus, but cheaper collections are available)
  • The first JMS arc ((Thor Vol. 3, #1-6), also collected in an omnibus but available in cheaper trades, too)
  • Ultimates Vol. 1

32.  BILLY CHALLAS (RONIN)

Six issues.  That’s your only look at Billy Challas–a.k.a., the Ronin.  Billy is a kid with special mental powers, but who was born severely disabled (without arms or legs), who manages to link psychically with a young samurai who, in turn, was recruited by an ageless mystical power to protect and keep a magical sword from a demon named Agat until said samurai becomes old and well trained enough to use said sword to kill said demon.  Got all that?

But it’s not a fuedal Japan story.  If it were, it’d probably be a pretty straightforward, been-there-done-that book.  Rather, Frank Miller’s 1983 Cyberpunk miniseries (originally designed to be a graphic novel until DC bought it out from under Marvel and realized they could make much more money with a series of oversized, glossy issues) takes place in a horrible future in which…Enough summary.

This book is one of Frank Miller’s greatest accomplishments, and it ushered in an influence of Manga into mainstream books that can still be felt today in books like X-Men Legacy and a Batman, Inc. arc.  It also presented a relentlessly complex narrative  featuring all new characters in a miniseries published by one of the “big two,” all the way back in 1983.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the success of this book (and Camelot 3000, produced at the same time) was part of what convinced them nine years later that a line like the Vertigo brand could be a success.

Finally, the book represents an important developmental stage in Miller’s own career.  It was his first creator-owned book, his major post-Daredevil work, and the book that brought him to DC where, just a few years later, he would produce The Dark Knight Returns and again change comic book creation forever.

Recommended reading:

  • Ronin by Frank Miller and Lynne Varley.

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