Welcome to the belated apex of 2003 for us here at 411 as we spend the next couple weeks giving you what we thought were the absolute best in comics across the boards in the year that was.
The top ten lists you see were compiled via the cumulative voting of the entire 411Comics staff. The top ten format was graciously loaned to us by our friends over at ComiX-Fan; we did our best to do it justice, but those guys are hard to match.
We start off with what is at the heart of every comic book: the characters. They are our eyes and ears to the world of the story, the men and women (and other) that we grow to love and hate, cry and laugh with; the best characters become as real to us as any other important people in our lives. These were the ten characters we felt entered our hearts in 2003â€¦
#10: Detective Renee Montoya (Gotham Central)
Imagine that you woke up one day to find your heretofore hidden sexuality revealed to everyone, including your ultra traditional parents. Now imagine that the sleazeball who arranged for those revealing photos to be taken winds up dead and you stand accused of the crime. What if these were the best things that happened to you all week? Consider that and you’ll start to understand the year that Renee Montoya of the Gotham City Police Department has had.
In a quick series of seemingly ever increasing disasters, Internal Affairs comes down hard on Montoya (as much for her â€œcrimesâ€ as those of her former partner, the now disappeared Harvey Bullock), she is kidnapped in the middle of her prison transport, and Two Face is revealed to be the mastermind of all her troubles. The kicker is that good ol’ Harv claims he was only doing it for her own good and that the two were meant to be together.
She responds by literally and figuratively beating her demons, in the physical form of Two Face and in speaking to her parents about her sexuality. The victory proves short-lived and hollow however as her family is hardly willing to hear what she has to say.
In the end, Montoya may finally have the satisfaction of being out (both in the sexuality sense and the non-jail/kidnapped sense), of having reached a new relationship plateau with her girlfriend, and overcoming Two Face’s insane plan. However, it is quite clear that she has hardly survived the experience emotionally unscathed. Perhaps not broken, but most certainly bruised.
For the emotional journey and where it left her, Renee Montoya as undoubtedly one of the best characters of the past year.
By Tim Stevens, writer of DC Comics News & Views
#9: Obregon Kaine (Negation)
It wasn’t a very good year for Obregon Kaine. Right off the bat, he was teleported by the Lawbringer QZTR to a quarantined planet, a punishment reserved only for the worst enemies of the Emperor Charon. Kaine’s enemy, Komptin, was sent too, and they were forced to work together to escape. Unfortunately, Komptin proved untrustworthy, imprisoning Kaine as soon as they escaped. Luckily, Kaine’s teammates managed to rescue him.
There wasn’t much time to rest, however, as the group received word that the Leader of the Resistance against Charon was imprisoned. Kaine planned a successful rescue attempt, but another Lawbringer murdered one of their teammates, which caused the group to splinter, many of them feeling Kaine was leading them all to their deaths. Later, Kaine and the others were forced into a battle with their former friend, Javi, a fight which saw the death of another teammate. As the year wrapped up, most of the team abandoned Kaine, planning to find a habital world to spend the rest of their years. With almost everyone, even Evinlea, abandoning him, the future looks bleak. But if anyone has a shot at taking out the God Emperor Charon and the rest of the Negation, it’s Obregon Kaine, who will undoubtedly play an integral part in the upcoming Negation: War.
By Kyle Litke, writer of CrossGen News & Views, 411 reviewer
#8: Ultimate Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Six)
I think most of us had it pretty rough back in our high school days. Heck, I know that between the onset of puberty and the regular mockings I got for being in speech club AND band, I wouldn’t contemplate going back to 10 years ago for anything. Still, my own problems pale to those Peter Parker has faced these past few months. Between his kidnapping and identity exposure to five dangerous super-powered criminals in Ultimate Six, his firing from work for asking the wrong questions, growing friction between him and his aunt and the crowning stroke of his girlfriend being taken away from him, Peter is proof positive that even with great power, it still sucks to be a teenager.
By Matt Morrison, writer of Looking To The Stars, 411 reviewer
#7: Green Arrow (Green Arrow)
Over all, it was a pretty good year to be a Green Arrow fan. Granted, there were some rough spots during the Green Arrow/Green Lantern crossover, but other than that, Oliver Queen was shown at his best this year. He took on an incredibly powerful assassin who took out Conner Hawke and Black Lightning’s niece in the Straight Shooter story arc, and just a month later, he found himself involved in an E-Bay bidding war for the old Arrow Car.
After suffering through blown deadlines and distinctly â€œnon-Ollieâ€ storylines (spiritual resurrection? Onomatopoeia-Man?) under Kevin Smith, Green Arrow went through a creative rebirth under Brad Meltzer. Over the last year, this continued under Judd Winick. Both of these writers seem to be fans of the character and were able to write actual â€œGreen Arrowâ€ stories. Even though Kevin Smith was the one who brought him back to life, Winick and Meltzer really restored him to greatness.
By Mike Maillaro, 411 reviewer
#6: Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four)
Many have suffered as much as Reed Richards in the last year, but I dare say that nobody has triumphed over quite so much adversity as he. After barely staving off a magical attack upon his family at the hands of his arch-nemesis Dr, Doom, Reed was horribly and permanently scarred. Falling into a deep depression, he attempted to find a new purpose in dismantling all of Doom’s weapons and succeeding where Doom failed in becoming a loving and giving ruler. Richard’s efforts, however, were opposed by the UN and he quickly found himself staring down several armies as well as SHIELD agents with weapons designed specifically to kill him or his family.
In a desperate move, Reed attempted to lock himself and Doom (who he literally snatched from the gates of Hell) in a dimension of his own discovery in order to personally insure that Doom would never escape to harm his loved ones again. Sadly, his family came to the rescue, only to become possessed by Doom’s evil mind. In the end, Reed was forced to gun down Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) in order to stop Doom once and for all. On top of all this, the team’s image has fallen greatly, the family is in deep financial straights and his best friend… the man who kept him grounded in reality is gone. And yet, despite all this… he perseveres and even now is planning a way to cheat death.
By Matt Morrison, writer of Looking To The Stars, 411 reviewer
#5: Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter Parker: Spider-Man, various limited series and one shots)
The first and greatest of the everyman heroes and my all time personal favorite, Peter Parker has had a year of it. After wining the love of his life back after a brief, though painful, separation, Peter had to readjust his life yet again. With Aunt May now privy to his secret, Mary Jane moving back in and Flash Thompson, still not 100% after an attack by the Green Goblin, living near him, Peter tried to bring back some semblance of normalcy to his life as he settled into the role of a teacher.
Still, things were no less hectic in his costumed life. He confronted Doctor Octopus a number of times and single-handedly fought an undead gestalt of gangsters with the strength of The Hulk. And in an attempt to save the life of a cancer-ridden Eddie Brock, Peter brought back one of his greatest enemies as The Symbiote was forced to bond with Brock permanently, forcing him once again to become Venom. And in perhaps his greatest moment came when a time-tossed Peter helped to save the world as he stopped Reed Richards from accidentally bringing a very powerful magician back to life. Then again, that’s just par for the course for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
By Matt Morrison, writer of Looking To The Stars, 411 reviewer
#4: Nightwing (Nightwing, Outsiders, Titans)
Nightwing started out the year in a rough spot, on the pages of the mercifully canceled Titans. Boy did that book suck. But things got better. In Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day he had to bury one childhood friend, Donna Troy, and over in Outsiders he had another childhood friend, Arsenal, critically wounded in battle. Ok, so that wasn’t much better. Let’s try his own title. In Nightwing Dick’s cop partner realized Dick was Nightwing, his girlfriend, Barbara â€œOracleâ€ Gordon, broke up with him, and it appears has though Roland Desmond, the crime boss of Bludhaven also knows Dick Grayson = Nightwing. Did I mention that Desmond blames Nightwing for his mother’s death and is doing everything in his power to ruin Nightwings life, including manipulating a rookie vigilante? I can’t imagine another hero who had a more difficult year and through all this Dick has never lost sight that he is a hero. Now, that’s what I call (a) good character.
By Mathan Erhardt, writer of Who’s Who In The DCU
#3: Holden Carver (Sleeper)
Holden is one of the most complex characters in superhero comics today. Rather than slapping you in the face with ham-handed morality, Brubaker takes the hard route, forcing Carver to make difficult decisions that are never completely good or completely evil. Holden’s a guy who is stuck in an impossible situation, trying to do the right thing. But doing the right thing will get him killed. Watching him dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole is endlessly fascinating. He’s unpredictable, and you never know just how far he’ll go to protect himself. He’s an amazingly complicated and interesting character.
By Kevin Rapp, 411 reviewer
#2: The Flash (The Flash, JLA)
Since Geoff Johns came on The Flash a few years ago, he’s revitalized the Rogues, the supporting cast, even the setting of Keystone City. However, there’s always been one thing in one of comics’ consistently best titles that has gone overlooked: the title character.
In 2003, all that changed.
After a long growing up process following Barry Allen’s death and the former Kid Flash’s ascension to the role of his deceased mentor, the character of Wally West has been somewhat on cruise control, facing tremendous challenges and super-villains, but always having a nice consistent home life with his lovely wife Linda to return to at the end of the day. Sure, Wally would get sent through time and replaced by an alternate reality doppelganger or nearly sacrificed by a crazed cult, but in the end, the happy couple would always end things smiling and the status quo would resume. Wally was so affable and his life was so perfect that the people and events surrounding him inevitably became more interesting.
Right off the bat in 2003, Wally faced the daunting challenge of one of his most frightening villains, Grodd; not only did the massive gorilla manage to cripple Flash’s friend Hunter Zolomon (an event that would come back to haunt the speedster), but Wally couldn’t even get a decisive victory as Grodd retreated to Gorilla City where he was detained by his tribe. From there, Wally faced another moral dilemma with the return of Peek-a-Boo, the Rogue who was out to steal an organ for her dying father; Wally failed to help save Peek-a-Boo’s father even after she helped him to save his pregnant wife, injured during their fight. From there, events that would redefine Wally spiraled out of control when he refused to go back in time to prevent Grodd’s attack on Zolomon, causing his friend to use the cosmic treadmill, transforming him into the ultra-powerful and insane speedster, Zoom. The ensuing battle with his former friend would see Linda lose the couple’s unborn children and Wally be driven to the point of wanting to give up his Flash identity. Instead, with some advice from a time-traveling Barry and the power of The Spectre, Hal Jordan, Wally erased his publicly known secret identity from the minds of everybodyâ€¦including himself.
Now we are faced with a Wally West who is only now coming to terms with who he is and why he does what he does. The answer to that latter question proved interesting, as we saw a Wally who had no idea of what he was learn what he could do, a revelation that would have scared the hell out of most, but at Wally’s core we found that even without the fame of being The Flash, the experience of being one of the DCU’s longest-tenured heroes, and the confidence of being one of the most powerful beings on the planet, Wally still used his powers to save lives, because that’s the way his uncle raised him and because that’s the right thing to do. At the center of The Flash, surrounded by colorful villains and loads of history, is one of the best characters in comics.
By Ben Morse, writer of The Watchtower, co-Editor-In-Chief of 411Comics
#1: Batman (Batman, Detective Comics, Gotham Knights, Legends of the Dark Knight, JLA, various limited series and one shots)
Writers and artists really got to explore the many levels of Batman this year. Whether it was romance (Batman managed to hook up with Catwoman and Wonder Woman this year, even though neither worked out), detective skills (Broken City), and or epic-superhero stories (Hush, Superman/Batman), we got to see a lot of sides to The Dark Knight this year.
So how is it that Batman is sitting at the top of our Best Characters of 2003 list? In a word, Hush. In a few more words, Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb. They took over a title that was selling well but by no means spectacularly and marched up past Marvel’s multiple X-books to capture the top of the charts. For twelve straight months, we were treated to glorious Lee renditions of Batman, Nightwing, Robin, Superman, Catwoman, and scores of Batman’s most frightening, gruesome villains. More impressive, however, were the Lee drawn flashbacks, with their sepia palette, that introduced us to a whole new facet of the superstar artist. On the writing side, Loeb kept fans guessing month after month on the identity of the master manipulator behind it all, only to pull the run out from under them revealing that it was not Hush pulling the strings at all. Batman nearly had his skull caved in, kissed Catwoman, revealed his identity to her, and went a little paranoid (big surprise there), to rattle off just a few groundbreaking events. And all this was only in one title.
In the rest of the Bat-world, he buried the hatchet with the man who broke his back, Bane, and nearly ended up being Bane’s half-sibling, (thankfully, Thomas Wayne was not the philandering type). He began what is being trumpeted as his most dramatic (and perhaps last?) confrontation with uber-villain Ra’s Al Ghul. He faced off with a whole new villain, Charlatan, in a storyline that cemented Two-Face as being one of the most dangerous and brutal villains Gotham has ever encountered.
At year’s end, the real question is not how we could choose Batman as 2003’s top character, but rather how could we not?
By Tim Stevens, writer of DC Comics News & Views & Mike Maillaro,411 reviewer