28. NICK FURY
It’s inevitable that Fury would make the list. He was an early Jack Kirby creation (debuting in his own book in 1963) that has morphed into the architect for pretty much the entire above-ground Marvel superhero universe. His MAX version did the same for Punisher. His Ultimate version was even more Fury-us then his Earth 616 version. So that he matters isn’t up for debate. But does he meet the other criteria for placement on this list?
Fury is the cold warrior who can’t separate from his paranoid past–and that is, in fact, what saved him during the dark days of Tony Stark and Norman Osborn’s governance of S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s not afraid to call bullshit on the powers that be because he knows where all the bodies are buried. He’s a symbol of the military-industrial complex, in that his militarism took on a life of its own and maintained, arguably, past the time it was needed. He may be an underground character these days, but we all expect that he’ll be rising again. Soon.
Probably just in time for the release of a certain movie in 2012.
- Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD vol. 1
- Secret Warriors vol. 1
27. BLACK PANTHER
T’Challa is widely attributed as being the first black superhero, but he wasn’t. There was one before him: Iron of the Metal Men.
First appearing in the pages of The Fantastic Four in July 1966 (preceding the black version of Goliath by three months), The Black Panther was the first black superhero who mattered. He was a king, for one thing. For others: He was as tough as Captain America, as smart as Tony Stark, and cooler looking than Daredevil.
Black Panther certainly mattered because he was black. There’s no question. The afore-mentioned Goliath was never (ahem) that “big” a character in Marvel, despite many attempts to have him catch on with a broad fanbase, and The Falcon didn’t arrive until three years later–and even then, he was pretty much a sidekick to Captain America (the irony of which was not lost on African American comic book readers). So his race was important.
But even more so was the imagination and effort put into creating his mystique, from the name (which immediately conjures images of the militant Black Panther Party) to the look to his proud, non-stereotypical (and non-ebonics) manner of speaking. He spoke like a king. He carried himself like one. He was noble.
And, in his very first appearance, he handily defeated all four of “the world’s greatest” comic book team.
Not bad for an intro, eh?
These days, all the big actors talk about wanting to be Luke Cage, and thanks almost entirely to Brian Michael Bendis, Cage is a more influential character in comic books (see #15, below) as well as a more interesting one…But Panther came first.
- Fantastic Four #52 and 53 (Black Panther’s first appearance; reprints can be found easily in various formats)
- Secret Invasion: Black Panther (don’t fret that this was a tie-in to a disappointing event–it’s a terrific, badass story by Jason Aaron)
- Black Panther: Who Is Black Panther by Reggie Hudlin and John Romita, Jr.
26. GREEN LANTERN
This list makes no attempt to hide my preference for Marvel. So it’s probably no surprise that I have very little to say about Green Lantern. In fact, my favorite GL story is actually in All Star Batman, where Bats notes that Hal Jordan’s power is limited only by his imagination…But Hal has no imagination. And then Robin kicks Lantern’s ass in a room painted yellow. It just shows how stupid the character is.
But I can’t deny his influence.
- Green Lantern: Rebirth
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow Vol. 1: Hard Traveling Heroes
- Blackest Night