Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Because nobody asked, I feel compelled to expand on a point from my last entry where I talked about "iconic characters" and who I consider to be in that rarified tier perhaps even higher than the A-list. The characters who possess some intangible that allows them to transcend the status of most and be indispensable to the medium.

Through a formula I can't fully explain but know involves continued print viability, some degree of mainstream notoriety and good ol' fashioned quality among other factors, these are the super hero characters I consider to be truly iconic (note there are plenty of non-super hero comic characters I'd consider iconic but am glossing over right now for the sake of simplicity)...

Aquaman, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Batman, Captain America, Catwoman, Daredevil, Deadpool, Dr. Doom, The Fantastic Four, The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Hellboy, The Hulk, Iron Man, The Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto, The Punisher, Robin, The Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Storm, Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing, Thor, Wolverine, Wonder Woman

Agree? Disagree? Who am I missing? Who doesn't belong? Discuss!


KP said...

I'm down with most of your list with the possible exception of Storm, who I always found pretty boring but I suppose in a visual sense she's standout of the all-new X-Men by virtue of a nice design and the fact that she's the first black superheroine.

I'd add to the list:

Dr. Strange - I've been getting more and more into him of late thanks to getting my hands on some Lee/Ditko stuff (all Strange stories from when I was a kid sucked) and some articles online. He really is the model for a smart, adult superhero in so many ways.

Captain Marvel - The DC version, obviously. It's the great all-time kids comic concept. I'm shocked more Image books don't rip off this idea more often.

Spawn - Speaking of Image books, I had a few contenders from the batch (Savage Dragon and Wildcats came close but really aren't big enough), but I think Spawn qualifies. I was never that into the character, but it is a striking visual with a classic origin and mixes the horror and hero genres better (and more successfully) than any dude I can think of.

Firestorm - This is a maybe for me. He's really not that big, but the visual is killer and it's one of the few concepts that bridges the sidekick and adult hero world in a really original way. Are there any other really great late teen/early 20s heroes? I'm kind of surprised you didn't put Nova on your list.

Professor X - I think he's as iconic as Magneto or Wolverine in his own way. My favorite X-Man will always be Cyclops, but Charlie really represents the concept as a whole so perfectly he stands out in a list that focuses more on characters than teams (FF excepted).

Red Skull - The ultimate Nazi supervillain that's not an actual real life monster. Honestly a better visual than Cap, IMO.

Ben Morse said...

I tried to put my personal preference stuff aside for the most part and give the characters I thought were bigger than just my fandom. "Would the average non-comics fan have heard of this character?" was a big qualifier. Hence why no Nova.

Captain Marvel and Professor X were both on the bubble for me and I wouldn't argue against them. Ditto Spawn to a lesser extent. Red Skull is one I didn't think of but I think you could be on to something.

I think Dr. Strange is on the cusp, but needs a movie or something. He definitely is not a character who always has a solo series, which hurts im in my eyes.

Spawn I'm intrigued by. I had him on my initial list for a sec, but thought maybe he was a character whose time had come and gone. I could be wrong.

You're right about Firestorm being a great concept/visual, but despite being in the Satellite League and the Super Friends, I don't think he ever hit icon status, definitely not in the way he was clearly being groomed to.

What do you think about Hawkman? I was shaky on him.

Ben Morse said...

Oh, and that first part of my response was to explain why Nova isn't on the list. :-)

David Uzumeri said...

As someone who's never read an issue of his comic, I was *just* about to jump in and say Spawn. It doesn't matter if anyone saw the movies or the cartoons or read the comics or not, it's an identifiable character design that's iconic both inside and outside of comics for the entire '90s Image era and the concept of BADASS SUPERHEROES. For better or worse, I'd say Al Simmons earned himself a seat at the Iconic Table.

KP said...

Oddly enough, my little brother (who is 14 now and has never really been into comics beyond occasionally buying a random issue of the Punisher or something) started asking me about Spawn like three years ago, and I've got no idea where he wouldn't gotten the idea that Spawn was a cool character. Maybe from a video game? I don't think he's ever seen the movie.

Similarly, before Spider-Man 3 was even filming, he was asking me if I had any Venom and Carnage comics. That stuff was huge in the '90s when comics sold like hot cakes to collectors foaming at the mouth, but how would a middle schooler today get the idea that that stuff is awesome? Someone else's older brother?

Either way, the point I'm making is that I'd add Venom too.

And I see your point about Dr. Strange, but I think Captain Marvel counts by virtue of the fact that all sorts of baby boomers and beyond seem to know the word "Shazam!" One movie and he's all over the pop culture map again.

Hawkman is weird. I think the idea of a character with wings called Hawkman has some cache in the same way that every knows Aquaman is the dude that talks to fish. Plus, there was that one Snickers commercial.

Ben Morse said...

Penagos and I were talking about Venom for a list like this recently and I'm very on the fence. I get that on appearance alone with that black Spidey costume he's kinda woven into our collective fabric, but I just don't see him as iconic. Yeah, he was in a movie, but so was Sandman. And yeah, he was big on the 90's cartoon, but I'm still not feelin' it. I guess Venom seems to be like the definition of a character who was very much a product of a time and was hot for a period then cooled off. He's not an icon in my book, but I see the argument.

Truth be told, I don't think any of Spider-Man's villains are really iconic on a larger scale, which is ironic, because they're incredibly iconic in comics (if that makes sense).

I was totally thinking about the Snickers commercial as well when I mentioned Hawkman.

It's also interesting that I almost put Hawkgirl, John Stewart and Martian Manhunter on there purely by virtue of Justice League Unlimited, but I'm a bit surprised at how quickly that show is fading out of the aforementioned collective memory and being replaced by stuff like Brave and the Bold. It doesn't seem to have the staying power of a Superfriends or even 90's X-Men cartoon and that upsets me a bit.