21
Dec
2011
Top Ten Characters of 2011
Comic Book Characters
Chris and Jordan
Comics, especially mainstream comics are a unique medium because they have to advance status quos in just increments in order to ensure that the never ending stories they tell, remain interesting and that (most) of the characters are available in a recognizable form for whoever picks up the baton after you. One of the most noticeable results of this consideration is that each year, certain characters will step out into the spotlight. Some are the big names, stepping up to shine a way they haven't in awhile. Others are fan favorites who a particular writer has decided to dust off and show us the potential in. These were the characters who for good or bad, made the biggest splash in 2011:


10. The Flash (Barry Allen)

You still have a long way to go to convince the Review to be Named crew that Barry Allen is a better character than and a compelling replacement for Wally West. However there is no denying the impact Barry had on the comics landscape in 2011. Not only was Barry the focus of Flashpoint, DC's big blockbuster event of the Summer, he was also the in-story mechanism by which DC justified the drastic changes to their continuity that accompanied the New 52 relaunch Initiative. In terms of in-story developments 2011 has not been a pleasant year for Barry. While trying to travel back in time to save his mother from death at the hands of his time traveling nemesis, he accidentally created the dystopian alternate time line of Flashpoint. Ultimately Barry was forced to choose between saving his mother's life and fixing the timeline as best as he could. Whether he remembers or not, Barry is responsible for drastically altering all of his friends lives, something they might not be to thrilled to learn if the truth ever comes out. As a result of the timeline alterations, Barry's marriage to the love of his life Iris West has been completely erased and his nephew Wally West is currently M.I.A. Things began to look up for Barry at the end of the year as the early issues of his 52 relaunch series have shown us a more confident and heroic Barry whose adventures are a slice of classic sci-fi super hero goodness. Facing impossible decisions and being at the center of DC's biggest move in decades, it's easy to see why Barry Allen deserves a place on this list.

9. Sin aka Red Skull

The Red Skull has been trying to destroy America and its heroes since the "˜30s, but he could only ever dream of wreaking the kind of havoc his daughter Sin did during Fear Itself, Marvel's blockbuster summer event of 2011. Driven equally by a desire to win the approval of and the spite for the dead father who despised her, Sin unleashed an ancient Asgardian evil and let some of the Marvel Universe's biggest, baddest heavy hitters go all hammer time all over the good ol' U.S. of A. If laying waste to D.C., New York, and Chicago wasn't enough, Sin also did what her father never could, and personally delivered a mortal wound to the then Captain America, Bucky Barnes. The tragedy of Sin's greatest success was that she final found the love and approval she had always been craving but only indirectly. While wielding a mythical Asgardian champion she became possessed by Skaadi, an Asgardian diety and daughter of The Serpent, the Asgardian god of fear. And while the hell she raised was equal parts Sin and Skaadi, the love she received was entirely directed at her godly half. Sin is a relatively new character when compared to the great villains in the Marvel toy box, but in 2011 she proved that she had what it took to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the worst.



8. Sinestro

Becoming a Green Lantern is a pretty big moment in any creature's life. They work directly for the Guardians of the Universe as an inter-galactic police force, after all, and their legions are drawn from the most willful people in the entire universe, those with the power to overcome great fear. Yet this was not Sinestro's first time wearing green, and his return to the corps has proven to be as rejuvenating for Geoff Johns' epic, all-time great run on Green Lantern as it has been confounding for that series greatest villain. Sinestro was once one of the greatest GLs to ever roam the stars (second perhaps only to Abin Sur), but he left the corps, lured away by the power of fear. Over the course of Johns' run, we have seen Sinestro build his own fear-based corps, but watching him deal with the burdens of rejoining the Green Lanterns has been a highlight of the entire run. 2011 has seen Sinestro struggle with returning to a cause he fundamentally disagrees with, do battle with the army he himself created over the proper use of fear, and ally himself with his greatest nemesis, Hal Jordan. Sinestro has always been one of the great villains of the DCU, cunning, calculating, and ultimately completely assured of his own righteousness. Watching him doubt himself and deal with the consequences of his actions, both for himself and for his home world of Korugar, has made for some of the most compelling work done in comics this year.


7. Avengers Academy Inaugural Class (Reptil, Finesse, Striker, Hazmat, Mettle, and Veil)

In times of war, it is often the young who are called to man the front lines. For the Marvel Universe, Fear Itself was an all out war for survival that taxed the Avengers and their allies to their limits and forced them to do the unthinkable: drop the inexperienced teenaged recruits of Avengers Academy into a warzone. Veil, Reptil, Finese, Mettle, Striker, and Hazmat were told that they had what it took to be the next generation of earth's mightiest heroes, when in reality, the Avengers took them under their wing because they feared their potential to become the next generation of Earth's deadliest villains. Stretched to their limits by the nigh unbeatable forces of the Serpents, the Avengers deployed the Academy kids to defend the nation's capitol against an army of Nazi piloted mechas. In the ensuing battle Mettle and Hazmat both killed enemy pilots (the former out of necessity the latter out of rage), actions that haunted both long after the battle had ended. When two of the Serpent's godly acolytes followed the kids back to their extra-dimensional headquarters, they were forced to make a stand without the aid and protection of their teachers. It was the narcissistic and seemingly shallow Striker who stepped up with a plan to save his friends and score their only victory against their extremely powerful foe. And when their enemies devised a plan to use the Avengers Academy headquarters as a weapon, materializing it in our dimension and crashing it into a city, the ever pragmatic Finesse devised a plan to save the day. It would only require her sacrifice and that of Hazmat and Mettle. With heavy hearts and a brief tender moment between Mettle and Hazmat they committed to their plan, and were ready to sacrifice themselves right up until a last minute save by the Avengers. While the worry remains that they could one day become villains, in 2011 the kids proved they were heroes.

6. Aquaman

For years, Aquaman has just been that one guy from the Justice League who (sometimes) has a hook for a hand and can maybe talk to fish. Aquaman has been more a punchline than a hero for most of the last decade, for fans and the uninitiated a lot. In one of the smartest moves of 2011, Geoff Johns relaunched the character using just that problem as his premise. No one takes Aquaman seriously as a hero, no one understands his power set, and no one is prepared for just how much ass he can kick. For those who have loved the character all along, Johns' new book is a stunning return to prominence for the King of the Seas. And for new fans, drawn to the book by its author or by that shiny new #1 on its cover, there was a huge surprise waiting in the pages of Aquaman this fall: Arthur Curry wasn't just relevant again. For the first time in years, Aquaman was cool.

5. Fantomex

This was a great year for this great, and oft-underused mutant. Fantomex has been one of the coolest mutants in the Marvel Universe since he debuted in Grant Morrison's New X-Men, but aside from a brief appearance in Matt Fraction's run on Uncanny X-Men he hasn't had a whole lot to do since. Not only did Uncanny X-Force finally put him center stage, but Fantomex truly evolved as a character this year. Over the course of the Dark Angel Saga, we watched him grow from a preternaturally cool, detached super thief to someone who actually wants to save the world. We watched him develop from self-interest to selflessness. We watched him lose someone he truly cared about, and watched him realize he loved one of his fellow team mates. When Fantomex fled from the battle at Dark Angel's fortress, the regression broke our hearts. But this time, he came back, with a plan, with a vengeance, and with a willingness to risk everything to save his friends and the planet. He's a character with an ever evolving moral compass, who also happens to be hilarious, incredibly badass, and a perfect counterpoint to Deadpool. 2011 saw Fantomex, a mutant resolutely without a home or any admitted allegiances find a place he feels comfortable and develop relationships that mean something to him. Fantomex finally realized his vast potential this year, and did so while fitting in perfectly with the team of morally compromised individuals as they made some incredibly tough choices, and risked their souls for the betterment of mutant kind.


4. Wolverine
Wolverine has been one of the most popular Marvel characters for decades, so it may seem like kind of a shock that he made our list of the best characters of 2011 (or, conversely, it may seem like no surprise at all that one of the all-time great characters stayed great). Yet what we saw this year was not the standard recalcitrant with a penchant for sarcasm and a slight beer dependency. While we at Review to Be Named have always loved Logan for what he was, we truly enjoyed watching the character grow out of his shell this year. Used to standing in the back, grumbling and doing Cyclops' dirty work, this year Wolverine took a stand. In the summer event Schism, he stood up to Scott, even coming to blows over Cyclops' willingness to put children on the front line of his battle for mutant survival. Logan saw things differently, and was willing to break up the unity of the mutant race for the courage of his convictions. That alone would have been enough to land him on this list, but this year also gave us two other glimpses into the depth of the character and his evolution, in the phenomenal Uncanny X-Force, which had him leading a team of assassins willing to risk their moral well-being for the good of mutant kind, and in the brand new (and incredibly promising. Seriously, be on the lookout for how high this book will be on our 2012 year-end lists) Wolverine and the X-Men, which showcases a humorous side to mutant-kind we haven't seen in many years, while also allowing Logan to further evolve into his position as the headmaster of the newly created Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, where he has to check his snark and murderous tendencies and actually be a role model for the various children he brought with him, and aim to create a place that will shelter them from the anti-mutant storms rather than utilize them as so much cannon fodder. The subtlety of the conflict between Logan and Scott was great. What was even better was the way the aftermath allowed the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe, and its most prominent character, to grow and change over the course of 2011.

3. Ultimate Peter Parker

The Peter Parker of the Ultimate Universe is very similar to his Marvel Universe counterpart. Both Peters stood by and did nothing as the criminal who would go on to fatally shoot their Uncle Ben escaped justice. Out of that tragedy both Peters were reborn as one of the greatest heroes the world would ever know. The guilt of failing to prevent a completely preventable tragedy drove Peter to take responsibility for things he could have no control over, and to stand against any threat no matter how hopelessly outmatched he might be. The only real difference between Ultimate Peter and MU Peter is that the former is only 16 years old. When Norman Osborn brought the Sinister Six out of retirement and showed up at Peter's front door looking for blood, things looked bleak for the teenaged web-slinger. To make matters worse, earlier that evening Peter had been shot, taking a bullet for Captain America, Peter's personal hero who hours earlier had chewed out the young hero for being too cavalier. Bleeding and exhausted Peter was in no condition to face one of his enemies, let alone six. However Aunt May, Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy, and all of his neighbors were in harms way all of because of who Peter was and what he did. Peter took on the ultimate responsibility, he fought Norman Osborn and his allies to standstill, taking out one after another, until finally with the battle won, he collapsed utterly spent. For making the ultimate sacrifice to save his friends and family the way he couldn't save his Uncle Ben, and in the process teaching everyone around him the great power that comes with great responsibility, Peter Parker more than earns his title as one of the greatest characters of 2011.

2. The Human Torch (Johnny Storm)

The perpetual kid brother of the Fantastic Four never truly received the same kind of respect from the team's allies, enemies, or fans that the other three did. Until 2011. As the Thing took a formula to turn himself human for a week, Johnny was right by his side, helping and encouraging Ben to make ever moment count. When the Baxter Building came under siege by the vast armies of Annihilous, Johnny, a powerless Ben, and a group of gifted children held them off and journeyed to their side of the Negative Zone to close the portal between the two dimensions forever. When it became clear that someone would have to stay behind to close the portal, Johnny made his stand and showed his family and the entire Marvel Universe just what kind of a man he is. He threw Ben back through the portal and faced down Annihilous' vicious hordes all by himself, going nova again and again, taking down thousands of the mindless insectoids with him. Johnny may have been dead for most of 2011, but his absence made a powerful impact on the pages of Johnathan Hickman's relaunched FF. Though it wasn't always discussed, Johnny's loss weighed heavily on each of he characters and guided their actions moving forward. Towards the end of the year, Johnny made a triumphant return. It was revealed that Johnny had died and been brought back by Annihilous who had forced Johnny to fight for his amusement in the Negative Zone gladiatorial arenas. Not only did Johnny lead his fellow captive gladiators in a full on result, but he defeated Annihilous and claimed the device by which he controls his army, taking what was potentially the biggest threat the FF was facing in the war of the four cities, completely off the board. While 2011 was Johnny's year to shine and show everyone that he could stand shoulder to shoulder with his family, we can't wait to see this effect his return will have on the Marvel Universe in 2012.

1. Batman (Dick Grayson)

If we think getting to be a Green Lantern is a great moment in a person's life (and we do. Aren't you even reading this list?), it myst be even better to get the chance to put on the cowl and patrol the streets of Gotham City as THE Batman. When Dick Grayson got to step into the cowl a few years back, it was a huge evolution for the character. Yet not until 2011, with Scott Snyder's landmark run on Detective Comics did the true burden of being the bat catch up to Dick. Over the course of 2011, Grayson ran the gamut as Gotham threw new threats in his direction that corresponded to his own psychological hangups the way the Rogues Gallery matches those of his predecessor. Dick faced threats both strange and deadly, and ultimately was thrown up against a villain who cut close to home in the thrilling final issues of the (all too short) run. That alone would earn Dick Grayson a high slot on this list, but the relaunch put him back in his old uniform and gave us a glimpse of how his time as Batman has changed him as a hero. Dick has always been his own man, but now he knows for sure he can stand in the shoes of his mentor, and is freer than ever to make his own way as a hero. His past is still catching up to him, of course. The past is always a hard thing to outrun, especially in Gotham City. But after 2011, we're more sure than ever that Dick Grayson is up to the task, and more excited than we have been in a long time to watch him take a run at greatness.
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