Thursday, March 31, 2016

Top Ten Underrated Superheroes

It's time for us to do another top ten, folks, and this is one I've actually wanted to do for quite some time. It's not secret, I am a big ol' comic geek and I do dig me some superheroes. But here's the thing...most of my favourite heroes tend to be pushed aside for the more popular options. This happens a lot to me as a fan. I get attached to a character and they end up rarely getting the attention they deserve or written/used properly. It's a problem that I cannot imagine bothers just me. I'm sure we've all got characters we'd love to see get the spotlight more. Well, now's my chance to give these characters I love the spotlight. Or rather, I can give at least ten of them the spotlight.

Because I can't make this list a hundred people long. Come on.

I will be pulling these characters from multiple companies and it may very well feature characters you yourself are not familiar with. I personally hope that by reading this, maybe you'll want to look into these characters yourself. Who knows, maybe you're a future fanboy/girl and don't know it yet? Having said that, let's get this show on the road. I want to be at some point tonight.

I promise, I like him for more than his colour palette.
#10, Hero Zero

Back in the 90s, Dark Horse Comics experimented with superheroes. It was called Comics' Greatest World and with it came a large grouping of interesting characters who I would honestly like to see all get more attention and focus. But, being a fan of kaiju, I found myself really drawn to one in particular. David McRae was a teenager who gained the ability to turn into a Ultraman-esque superhero who could battle giant monsters. And he did, first taking on a dragon, then a Mesa-Man, before finally facing the really big challenge: Godzilla. Sadly, that's where his superhero career seems to have ended following his friend's death and him telling his father about his powers. It's a shame too, as I love the idea of there being a Western equivalent to Japan's most famous size-changing hero. He's a complicated case too though, as he's most likely a creator-owned character and that means the company isn't really in charge of him making a comeback. Still, I do wish he would. The world can never have enough giant things punching other giant things.

Proving that Freddy Krueger hasn't cornered the market on red striped sweaters.
#9, Simon Dark

Now, let me say something right now: I adore this character and his comic series is one of my all-time favourite comics ever written. He's near the bottom for much the same reason as Hero Zero though: he's creator owned. That means that the company cannot use the character without the creators giving the go ahead or without them writing/drawing the story themselves. Simon here was a young vigilante operating out of Gotham City who took on a cult that wanted to take over everything by using demonically infused soap. Yes, that really does happen in this comic series. Personally, though I am a big Batman fan, I really love it when we see he's not the only person keeping Gotham safe. Cities are big and one man cannot protect one alone. Simon Dark's comic series felt very standalone though, not featuring any other heroes. It also did have a satisfying conclusion. But I'm greedy. I want more of Simon and I won't be happy until Steve Niles makes it happen. Do you hear me, Niles?!

No kissing on the lips. Seriously, he has no lips.
#8, Chamber

Back when Scott Lobdell wasn't completely awful at writing and didn't sexualize teenage girls, he was a part of creating one of my favourite comics, Generation X. They were a team of young mutants brought together to learn at a brand new school and they actually acted like teenagers. They had personalities that weren't defaulted to "angsty" and different backgrounds. Chamber here was the new guy to the group, as the others had all met through a previous crossover. He was a young British teen who manifested his powers in a rather spectacularly terrible way. The literally exploded from him, horribly injuring his girlfriend and leaving him with a massive hole in him that extended from the lower half of his face to his midsection. He had no mouth, most of his organs were gone, and he felt like a freak even among those who thought themselves outcasts. He has angst, yes, but it was earned through his experiences. Over time he really grew as a character though, learning not to let his appearance, that of a man with telekinetic flames bursting from him at all times, define him and even going on to be the first of the group welcomed into the X-Men. The great tragedy of him in the comics is that almost no one seems to know how to or want to write him well though. Where writers like Larry Hama and Jay Faerber really brought him and his teammates to life, others seemed to not be able to. It was a trend that started with Warren Ellis and has continued mostly to this very day. Here's hoping that someone comes along and changes that.

I promise this isn't a comic book put out by NAMBLA.
#7, Prime

Once upon a time, there a comic company called Malibu and they were a fairly decent indie publisher. They got it in their heads to create a self-contained comic universe like the Big Two, which brought us the Ultraverse line of books. Many of these books were very popular too, offering new ideas regarding superheroes and reinventing old concepts. Prime here is one of the best too, because he took the Captain Marvel (SHAZAM) concept and turned it on its head. He wasn't magically turned into a wise adult with godlike powers...he was the same teenage boy inside...but still with godlike powers. This resulted in him not really being able to handle the hero thing early on, which is made tougher still when you realize he has the grossest "costume change" in the history of comics. He literally sheds the deteriorating form of Prime as it melts into goo. Eugh. But seeing 13 year old Kevin Green here try to handle being a superhero made the grossness worth enduring. His struggles, while fantastic to a degree, felt very real. He confronted things as Prime that Kevin felt unable to confront, like an abusive molester gym teacher. Sadly, while the Ultraverse books always did well, Marvel bought the entire company and shuffled all the properties off into the void. It sure would be nice to see Prime and some of his friends come back though. Hint hint, Disney & Marvel.

Necrophiliacs beware! Because she once let one get torn apart by the spirits of the dead women he violated.
#6, Dead Girl

Oh, if you only knew how long I've wanted to talk about Peter Milligan and Michael Allred's contributions to Marvel Comics' mutant set. Back around the same time Warren Ellis was taking a dump on the Generation X book, Marvel tried doing a new version of their X-Force book. It came and went without much fanfare. But they tried again soon after and this time it was a winner. A team of mutant superheroes whose missions were recorded and aired on television, making them celebrity superheroes. It was an idea Rob Liefeld could never quite nail down with his Youngblood book. Of the many interesting members, two really stood out. One being Doop, who has gotten quite a lot of love and is still used quite often. The other being this lady right here, who got her mutant abilities postmortem and has a number of abilities involving her condition. From controlling severed parts to being able to raise the recently dead, she lives up to her name quite well. She's only really been used once since the run concluded, starring in a mini-series by the same creators. But with Doop getting to be played with so much, I ask why not Moonbeam here? There's still plenty of stories left to tell with her and I think it's long past time we got some.

Hogarth and the Iron Giant, Marvel style. 'Nuff said!
#5, Juston Seyfert

Avengers Arena is a festering pile of shit and I don't care if you like it. For those who are wondering what I'm talking about, it was a comic series from the recent past where a grouping of young heroes were dumped on an island and forced to battle to the death. Now, while the idea itself works with stories like Battle Royale, it feels incredibly out of place in a superhero universe. At least, it should. But the problem is that there are too many people who seem to think killing off characters equates a compelling story and builds good tension. It doesn't. All it actually does is piss of fans of the characters who get killed off by making their end nothing more than cheap shock value. Basically, Avengers Arena was Eli Roth's idea of a good superhero book. Torture, unlikable characters (or likable ones written out of character), and cheap shock deaths. I bring all of this up because Juston here was killed off in that comic. Created by Sean McKeever, a writer who had pretty good handle on writing teenagers, Juston was a kid who came from a rather humble life and had an incredibly brilliant mind. He found a broke down experimental Sentinel (the mutant hunting robots) and rebuilt it, befriending it and getting it to stop the whole mutant hunting thing. He was very interesting character in the Marvel books because he didn't have superpowers, rather depending on his brain and determination to carry him through. His bond with his robotic friend carried on into him being added to the Avengers Academy comic series and, while he wasn't use enough, he was used fairly well. Then Avengers Arena came along and killed off him and many other young heroes just so a D-list villain could be built up. With Marvel's revolving door policy regarding characters staying dead, I do hold out hope those kids will come back someday under a better writer, but I'm also not going to hold my breath on it. All I can really say is fuck Dennis Hopeless and Marvel for being wasteful assholes.

He's not a bear...but he could be a bear, if you catch my drift.
#4, Tasmanian Devil

Holy Loony Tunes, Batman! Taz sure does look more menacing right there! Nah, that's not the famous cartoon character, he's simply hero named after the same creature. And hey, look, another character on the list who was cheaply killed off for stupid shock value! How novel. Hugh Dawkins here is a guy who can turn into a large Tasmanian devil man, while still retaining his human intelligence and ability to speak. He's served with the Justice League for quite a while in the past and has done quite a lot as a superhero. Makes you wonder why you never heard of him, yes? Probably because he's also openly gay and that always seemed to scare executives off when it came to him being in anything other than comics. Even more insulting though was how he was killed off to make villain Prometheus look good during the Cry For Justice comic series, where he was featured as a fucking rug on the guy's floor. Lovely. DC Comics, where existing gay characters get either killed off or blipped from reality so their dad can be gay instead. Classy. He did get brought back from the dead though in 2011, which seemed to be priming him up for a comeback, maybe even meaning a return to the Justice League. Then the New 52 happened, because fuck me for thinking that whole resurrection was meant to lead to anything. Like Obsidian (the guy whose dad is gay now so he doesn't exist), Hugh has been ignored in favour of pushing other characters. So remember, DC has a history of having interesting gay superheroes who aren't stereotypical...they just choose not to use them.

She better be careful. I heard from a giant floating wizard head in a tube that too much pink energy can be dangerous.
#3, Rocket

Yeah, you might remember this lady from my Young Justice retrospective. She was one of the characters who was incredibly cool and barely got any focus following her introduction to the team. Introduced back in the Milestone line of books the were put of by DC Comics in the 90s, she was the sidekick/partner of the black Superman-esque hero, Icon. And she was way more interesting. Nothing against Icon, but he really did just feel like Superman with a different background. Rocket though? She was the real star, encouraging him to become a superhero and use his abilities with her at his side. She's also one of the few female heroes that has been allowed to have a kid without said kid being killed off to create "drama". She's also very intelligent, being a gifted writer, meaning that she has more to offer on a surface level than simply having powers and looking good in a tight outfit. When they added her to the cast of Young Justice, I was incredibly ecstatic, being that I was a big fan of her and the entire Milestone line of books. Now if we can only get both those characters and Young Justice brought back, maybe we'll be seeing more of Raquel Ervin. One can only hope, yes?

Despite his name and shirt, he's actually more of a cat person.
#2, Wild Dog

Very few people truly understand how much I love this guy right here. My buddy Rudy is one of the only people I think really gets it. While it would be easy to call him yet another Punisher clone, you'd be very wrong. Yes, he kills criminals, but he's not some disassociated sociopath who only is focused on that task. He goes after corruption both on the street and in higher levels, even going after terrorists who pose a major threat to people. He utilizes a pair of shock gloves for stunning enemies as well as his guns, with the rest of his uniform consisting of random clothing he already owned that serves its purpose of concealing his identity among the public. Rarely ever used, he made a fairly nice splash when originally introduced. Since then he's only really appearances in a gag comic, a crossover event, and an alternate reality when he was forced to shoot himself in the face. The only really good use of him since his original stories in the 80s was from a web comic by Kyle Starks, which made me wish he'd been given a Wild Dog book to write over at DC, because it was a damn good use of the character from him. He may not get much love from anyone, but he will always get a ton of love from me, because I have a soft spot for guys in hockey masks.

"FUCK YOU, CHARLES! GET OUTTA MY HEAD!" There, I referenced the meme.
#1, Juggernaut

There's a lot of characters that could've gone on this list. I could make multiple lists of the people who I had to bump off the list in favour of my choices I settled on. But there was never really any doubt for me, Cain Marko deserved the top spot more than anyone else. I can feel you asking, "you mean that guy who breaks shit and seems dumb" and "isn't he a villain?", to which I would answer to both with a resounding "no". Cain Marko was once a character who only existed to be a bruiser who broke things, yes. He was a guy for the X-Men to rally against or for the Hulk to punch. Then Chuck Austen came along. Now, I won't defend Austen's X-Men run as a good collection of books. But some of the ideas and characters introduced in those books were great and it's long past time people stopped acting like they weren't. He offered us a look at Juggernaut as something not many writers had done previously: he wrote Cain as a person rather than a punching bag. he developed friendships and relationships among the X-Men, earned a spot on the team, and continued on past Austen as a hero in the New Excalibur comic series. We saw stories focused on his and Xavier's abuse as children and how they blamed one another, Cain's own poor body image at being a massive man who some might see as deformed, and his struggle with the source of his powers. The worst thing Marvel Comics ever did with him was to lazily toss him back into the role of a villain. It was short-sighted and felt like the old guard coming in to undo natural character growth in favour of what felt familiar to them. Thunderbolts helped a bit, but not enough, and now all we're left with is them trying to make him that boring old bruiser once more. Of all of the things to truly upset as a comic fan, this honestly trumps most things, because I personally connected on a deep level with Cain. I'm a big guy who has long struggled to be comfortable in my own skin, feeling awkward and deformed because I was once this small cute kid. Reading the stories about him growing into a hero helped me overcome those feelings as he came into his own, defining himself as more than just "the big guy". If Galactus can give worlds life now, Marvel, then Juggernaut deserves to be given his character development back.

And seriously, stop giving his powers to other people. This was stupid. Really really stupid.
That's my list on heroes and heroines prom the power set who I personally feel are both underrated and underutilized. Don't agree with it? That's fine, feel free to make your own list and share it. Just remember that this is my list and it is biased because it is based on my personal opinions and feelings. And before you ask, yes, there were a lot of indie characters here. the reason for that is fairly simple: most indie hero books don't under-use their characters, as those characters tend to be the stars. Stuff like what we're talking about here mainly happens in the big companies where there are so many characters who shoved aside so we can yet another book tangentially related to Spider-Man or Batman or the Avengers or what have you. Oh, and if you're upset that I insulted Avengers Arena or Dennis Hopeless and want to tell me how wrong I am? Eat my ass. I take nothing back and feel absolutely no guilt or remorse in standing by what I said. So, until Wild Dog gets his own movie and Simon Dark shows up in a new Shadowpact comic series, I'll be here wishing I had pulled a Lewis Lovhaug and burned those Avengers Arena books rather than donating them. Later days, bleeders.

We'll just have to make due, I suppose.

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