11
Dec
2013
Top Ten Most Interesting Comics Characters of 2013
Best of 2013: Comics
Chris and Jordan
Comics are a cyclical medium, and in order to keep books fresh, characters will fall in and out of the spotlight from year to year. This was a great year for comics with many characters stepping into new roles or reminding readers why we loved them in the first place. Whether through major status quo changes, amazing acts of heroism, horrifying acts of villainy, or quiet moments of vulnerability, these were the characters who left the biggest mark on 2013.

#10) Captain America:

Arguably the best approach to picking up the torch after a landmark run is to cut dramatically in a different direction. In this regard, Rick Remender’s Captain America has been deceptively effective. On the surface, Remender has eschewed Ed Brubaker’s grounded espionage approach for high-concept sci-fi that harkens back to the Silver Age. Yet his major story so far, which found Cap trapped in an alternate dimension ruled over by Arnim Zola, is actually a very traditional Captain America story from a thematic perspective. Throughout his travels in Dimension Z, Steve recalls his upbringing during The Great Depression, and the values his mother instilled in him there help him to survive in a world that runs on a basic morality antithetical to his own. More than this, though, the Dimension Z epic has returned Cap to his basic roots by making him, once again, a man out of time. In the last few issues of the year, Steve has returned home, and though little time has passed for his friends, he feels he has been gone for over a decade. Forced to face a world that feels alien to him, after suffering the loss of the only things that tied him to his former life, Steve Rogers relies once again on his core values to guide him in a world out of step with his values.

#9) Havoc:

A character perhaps most defined by one of the most crippling cases of little brother syndrome in the Marvel Universe, 2013 finally gave Alex Summers a chance to step out of the shadow of his brother Scott, who had fallen from respected hero to infamous mutant revolutionary. Havoc was chosen by Captain America to be the face of the Avengers Unity Squad, a group of X-Men and Avengers working together to realize the dreams of the deceased Charles Xavier. However his first year on the job has yielded a less than stellar performance rating as the Unity Squad splintered under his watch, and the mutant community became divided over his public rejection over the label of “mutant” for its divisive quality. Most of the characters chosen for this list were selected for their ability to overcome incredible odds and prove their mettle in the face of adversity. Alex Summers makes the list for barely keeping his head above water and showing readers something we rarely see in comics: a hero that can fail. Whether or not Alex can emerge from these challenges hardened and victorious is a question for next year. For now, watching Alex struggle without the crutch of his brother’s shadow has given the character an unprecedented level of depth and purpose.

#8) Batgirl:

Though behind the scenes turmoil threatened to disrupt the future of Batgirl in the early months of 2013 (when Gail Simone was temporarily removed from the book), the conflicts within the book are the ones truly worth talking about. This year saw Barbara Gordon facing down her greatest nightmares: first, in direct conflict with the Joker, the madman who left her paralyzed for years, then against her sociopathic brother James Jr., and finally against her own father, James Gordon, once Batgirl becomes an enemy of the GCPD. In 2013, Batgirl just kept losing, whether the challenge was to her sanity, her sense of morality, her family, or her closest relationships. In pursuit of justice, Barbara Gordon has seen herself become a killer, alienate her father, and see a lover caught in the cross-fire. By going through these paces, she has learned exactly what it means, and what it cannot mean, to wear the symbol of the Bat on her chest. As the year drew to a close, Barbara decided she could no longer be Batgirl after all she’d done. Yet as we roar into 2014, she has learned she may have to don the cowl one last time, and in doing so, may redefine who Batgirl really is.

#7) Black Bolt:

2013 opened with Black Bolt and the rest of the Illuminati confronted with an impossible situation: Parallel worlds from alternate realities, materializing in our universe on a collision course with our Earth in an event that would destroy both universes upon impact. With no end in sight to this crisis, and knowing that hard choices might have to be made, Black Bolt along with the others has kept this information secret, all the while preparing to do the unthinkable. But as Infinity would reveal, this was not the only secret Black Bolt was harboring. Black Bolt knew that potential Inhumans were living among the human population of earth, and that Thanos' son was hidden among their number. When Thanos arrived in Attilan with a choice,the heads of all Inhumans between the ages of 16 and 22 or the annihilation of the entire Inhuman species, Black Bolt set in motion a plan that will have major consequences for the Marvel Universe for years to come. He evacuated Atillan, spread his people across the globe, and then gave Thanos his answer the way only Black Bolt can. It has long been known that Black Bolt is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, but rarely do we get to see him cut loose, let alone against the biggest of bads that is Thanos the mad Titan. Merely saying the word “No” is enough for Black Bolt’s devastatingly powerful voice to bring Atillan crumbling down on top of Thanos. In the process, Black Bolt also triggered a bomb designed by his brother Maximus to spread the Terrigen Mists that triggers an Inhuman’s transformation across the globe. For going toe to toe with Thanos, and ushering in a new Inhuman age for the Marvel Universe, Black Bolt claims a well deserved spot on this list.

#6) Animal Man:

While many protagonists in superhero comics are defined and driven by tragedy, few are ever confronted with the unthinkable, the loss of their child. That was the fate of Buddy Baker, who began the year with a short lived victory against agents of the Rot, who in their death throes, murdered his son Cliff. Buddy’s agony has made for compelling stories over the past year, as Jeff Lemire explores what happens to a superhero who has experienced the ultimate loss. Estranged from his wife Ellen who blamed Buddy and his refusal to give up his Animal Man persona for Cliff’s death, Buddy sank into a spiral of depression, self-loathing, and alcoholism. Buddy’s meltdown was exacerbated by being thrust into the spotlight upon being nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as a down on his luck superhero estranged from his family in a fictional film called Tights. Hounded by the press and fans alike, Buddy’s grief became a very public spectacle. Buddy’s defining characteristic has always been that he is a down to earth family man, a soccer dad who occasionally fights crime as a hobby. It is this same everyman quality that has made his suffering so painful and his eventual reconciliation with Ellen so cathartic.

#7) Black Bolt:

2013 opened with Black Bolt and the rest of the Illuminati confronted with an impossible situation: Parallel worlds from alternate realities, materializing in our universe on a collision course with our Earth in an event that would destroy both universes upon impact. With no end in sight to this crisis, and knowing that hard choices might have to be made, Black Bolt along with the others has kept this information secret, all the while preparing to do the unthinkable. But as Infinity would reveal, this was not the only secret Black Bolt was harboring. Black Bolt knew that potential Inhumans were living among the human population of earth, and that Thanos' son was hidden among their number. When Thanos arrived in Attilan with a choice,the heads of all Inhumans between the ages of 16 and 22 or the annihilation of the entire Inhuman species, Black Bolt set in motion a plan that will have major consequences for the Marvel Universe for years to come. He evacuated Atillan, spread his people across the globe, and then gave Thanos his answer the way only Black Bolt can. It has long been known that Black Bolt is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, but rarely do we get to see him cut loose, let alone against the biggest of bads that is Thanos the mad Titan. Merely saying the word “No” is enough for Black Bolt’s devastatingly powerful voice to bring Atillan crumbling down on top of Thanos. In the process, Black Bolt also triggered a bomb designed by his brother Maximus to spread the Terrigen Mists that triggers an Inhuman’s transformation across the globe. For going toe to toe with Thanos, and ushering in a new Inhuman age for the Marvel Universe, Black Bolt claims a well deserved spot on this list.

#6) Animal Man:

While many protagonists in superhero comics are defined and driven by tragedy, few are ever confronted with the unthinkable, the loss of their child. That was the fate of Buddy Baker, who began the year with a short lived victory against agents of the Rot, who in their death throes, murdered his son Cliff. Buddy’s agony has made for compelling stories over the past year, as Jeff Lemire explores what happens to a superhero who has experienced the ultimate loss. Estranged from his wife Ellen who blamed Buddy and his refusal to give up his Animal Man persona for Cliff’s death, Buddy sank into a spiral of depression, self-loathing, and alcoholism. Buddy’s meltdown was exacerbated by being thrust into the spotlight upon being nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as a down on his luck superhero estranged from his family in a fictional film called Tights. Hounded by the press and fans alike, Buddy’s grief became a very public spectacle. Buddy’s defining characteristic has always been that he is a down to earth family man, a soccer dad who occasionally fights crime as a hobby. It is this same everyman quality that has made his suffering so painful and his eventual reconciliation with Ellen so cathartic.

#5) Wonder Woman Supporting Cast:

The New 52 has done great things for Wonder Woman as a character, making her both more compelling and more relatable than she has ever been before. Yet it would be a mistake to miss the great character work going on in her supporting cast, both good and evil. Over the first two years of Brian Azzarello’s run, Diana has surrounded herself with a rag tag bunch of allies (Zola, mother of Zeus’ newest offspring, Orion of the New Gods, Hermes, War, and Hera, who is now a mortal) who are compelling in their own rights, and who represent facets of Diana’s character personified. Zola is her maternal instinct, Orion her rage, Hera her distance from humanity, and War her fundamental contradiction. That each of these characters is compelling in their own right, and is developing along their own arc, even as these facets of Diana develop alongside them, makes for one of the best, most fully realized supporting casts in comics. Which is leaving aside the diverse cast of mythological beings (Gods, Demi-Gods, and other) who have proven to be adversaries, and occasionally unlikely allies, to their newly discovered “sister.” Besides wholly recreating its central character, Wonder Woman has built a full world, with a completely developed pantheon of Gods, and a perfectly realistic conception of the mortals whose lives they meddle with thoughtlessly. That a major character death can be both completely heartbreaking and totally invigorating shows just how much every single person matters to Wonder Woman, and how each and every loss teaches her more about the woman she is becoming, the woman she was always intended to be.

#4) Darla Deering (aka Ms. Thing):

There is a lot to love about Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, and Lee Allred’s FF, (a list that I’m sure we’ll delve into later in the week), but one of the best aspects of this series also happens to be one of our favorite new Marvel characters. Darla Deering, codename Ms. Thing, was introduced as Johnny Storm’s pop star girlfriend, a music superstar intended to be an audience surrogate for Fraction and Allred’s tour de force of the weird world of the Future Foundation. Johnny asked Darla to take his spot on the team while he and the rest of the family left for a time and space spanning vacation that would take place over four minutes of real time. Of course, something went wrong, the family didn’t return in four minutes and Darla was thrust into a world of subterranean invaders, evil litigious magicians, and mad scientists intent on proving the superiority of the nuclear family with the help of a nuclear powered other-dimensional tyrant. The fact that Darla isn’t an ordinary person, and is in fact an international superstar, emphasizes just how overwhelming an experience it is to step into the world of the Fantastic Four. Initially doubting that she was up to the challenge, over the course of the year we saw Darla grow in confidence, wearing a mechanical Thing armor exoskeleton to confront an increasingly bizarre and dangerous array of threats. Additionally, Darla has become the glue holding the makeshift replacement Fantastic Four together, repeatedly building up both the adults and the kids by making them aware of the fantastic qualities she sees in each of them. Her continued belief that she doesn’t belong among the ranks of one of Marvel’s greatest superhero teams does not stop her from standing by her new family against each new enemy they encounter, and it is that mixture of fortitude and humility that makes Ms. Thing one of the most endearing characters of 2013.

#3) Lex Luthor:

Lex Luthor is one of the greatest villains in comic book history in large part because his motivations usually feel distinctly human. Though his hatred of Superman has grown far out of proportion with reality, and he has pushed himself further and further to defeat the Man of Steel, his basic drive has always made sense: Luthor is a genius, one of the finest exemplars of human potential, and he sees Superman as a force that will slow human progress. Lex Luthor doesn’t want Superman to save mankind because he fundamentally believes we can do it ourselves, and that we will be better if we do. This makes his arc in Forever Evil fascinating stuff. Without softening Luthor or making him an anti-hero, the event has placed him in the position of saving humanity from the Injustice League in a world without Superman. It lets Luthor’s drive feel justified--all along he has argued that humanity should be prepared to cope without its otherworldly saviors--without making him an ounce more sympathetic or eschewing his inherent egomania in the process. Lex Luthor isn’t a hero, even now. He’s a villain in a position to do some good, but these acts won’t make him a better man, even if they do give him further fodder in his war against Superman.

#2) X-Men:

Brian Michael Bendis’ decision to bring the Original X-Men into the future at first seemed worrisome, unlikely to change much and destined to function as a retread of the same basic themes. Instead, it has recast the entire X-universe by filtering it through the eyes of the innocents who started it all. The X-books tend to be convoluted and complex even at their most accessible, and having the Originals trying to unravel the continuity of the world in which they find themselves has been a consistent source of humor. More than that, though, it raises the most important question facing mutants in the Marvel Universe through new eyes: What is the dream of Charles Xavier? Who is following it more closely? And is that the wisest course? We have seen the Original X-Men engage with both sides of the Schism, attending both Wolverine’s Jean Grey School and Cyclops’ New Charles Xavier Academy, and they have pointed out some of the flaws in each with fresh eyes.

Beyond that, though, Bendis has legitimately approached the arcs of each of the Original X-Men as they might be altered by seeing their current selves. Jean Grey has gone through a crisis of confidence after finding out she is destined to die, and has questioned her romantic attachments, and even the nature of determinism, as she tries to figure out how to live in a world where she is revered as a God, but perhaps better left in the collective memory of the mutant community. Scott Summers has emerged into a world where he is the World’s Most Wanted mutant, basically seen as the new head of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and working alongside Magneto, who from his perspective is his arch nemesis. Hank McCoy has had to face the inevitability of his secondary mutations and his romantic insecurities, in addition to facing versions of himself whose arrogance and self-righteousness teeters closer and closer to outright villainy. Bobby Drake has seen that he will become immensely more powerful as well, and is warped by the consequences. Warren Worthington has mostly refused to face a future in which he has been mind-wiped and believes himself to be an actual angel exercising God’s will on earth. From both a thematic and a character perspective, the presence of the Original X-Men has invigorated the X-Books, creating new wrinkles to the current status quo while allowing the series to take stock of five decades worth of twists, turns, and traumas through the eyes of those with whom it all began.

#1) Thor:

Thor has always stuck out from the rest of Marvel’s A-List characters for maybe being just a little too perfect to stand alongside the likes of Iron Man, The Hulk, and Spider-Man whose defining traits can be boiled down to the idea that they are heroes in spite of their very relatable human flaws. However, Jason Aaron’s work on Thor God of Thunder hammers home the idea that Thor is just as screwed up and inspiring as the rest of the Marvel greats. Aaron’s run featured three different Thors from three different eras dealing with, and eventually teaming up to stop Gorr the God Butcher, serial killer of gods. Young Thor is brash, impetuous, and arrogant but perhaps more connected to the people of earth that he protects than his older counterparts. Old King Thor is bitter, consumed by the failure and regret of having seen Asgard and Earth fall under his watch, but he is also wise, and full of the grit necessary to keep moving forward long after losing everything that mattered to him. Thor the Avenger faces a crisis of faith, questioning his worth as a god and wondering if the pantheons of the Marvel Universe do more bad than good. In his past self he sees the mistakes of his youth, a time when he was not worthy of Mjolnir, and in his future self he sees his worst nightmare realized, that eventually he grows to become his father. This fascinating character deconstruction was littered with numerous jaw droppingly cool, hammer pounding action beats, but the one viscerally satisfying moment of fanboy awesome I would like to focus on actually comes from the pages of Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity. Sent by Captain America to negotiate with the representative of the Builders, an ancient race of aliens that had been carving a path of destruction across the galaxy decimating the Kree and Shi’Ar empires, Thor arrives at the meeting only to be told he must enter the negotiations unarmed. Thor throws his hammer into space, and calmly suffers the Builder’s taunts as he waits for his hammer to swing around the sun and return to his hand straight through the chest of the aforethought invincible alien. 2013 was a great year for Thor fans, and with Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman plotting the character’s stories for some time to come, there is much more to look forward to in the coming year.

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