My grandmother used to say I was a character. But I think she was insulting me. For the folks on this list though, “character” is a purely complimentary label. Read on and you’ll see why.
(Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man, various limited series)
My favorite hero since I was a kid and the one I most sympathize with on account of being a twenty-something smart-ass loner with a crummy job and a gorgeous significant other whom I have NO idea how I wound up with. That’s why I think Spider-Man has lasted so long: because there’s a lot of us twenty something geeks who could relate to being the first to get beaten up and the last one picked for teams at PE. And it was nice to see that, as much as “the ol’ Parker luck” made his life difficult, that Peter Parker could endure all the hardships we did and more and still come out of it stronger and wiser.
Is this really a shock to anyone? The guy has had his powers questioned, his arch-nemesis coming after him both physically and mentally – and he also was in a really fun movie!
Spidey is one of those characters it’s hard to dislike. He’s not a badass or a brain surgeon- he’s just a dude. A dude that got bit by a spider. It’s his ‘everyman’ status that makes him, by far, one of the greatest superheroes of all time.
2. The Flash
(The Flash, JLA, Justice League Elite)
Wally West had a pretty tough year. He’s had to readjust to having a secret identity. His wife left him. His teammates began to distrust him. Then he began to question his colleagues after he learned that they mindwiped criminals. And after that he even saw his mentor, Barry Allen, in a different light after Barry “confessed”, via a letter, to trying to reform a villain. Wally also fought some criminals, and “accidentally” caused a car accident involving the ex-wife of the guy who caused his wife to miscarry. But the year ended on a high note as Linda, his estranged wife reentered his life. So this year as an emotional journey for Wally West.
Wally West has not had the best year ever. Perhaps he can comfort himself with the knowledge that his lousy, no good, very bad year is a large part of the reason he’s #2 on our list.
West faced, in no particular order, the departure of his wife, the return of his secret identity (and the ensuing fallout), the revelation that the JLA might not have always been as righteous as he imagined them, the revelation that that meant his uncle, the previous Flash, was not the saint we had come to see him as, a stab wound from Deathstroke, being accused of the attempted murder of police profiler Zolomon, realizing that it was indeed his negligence that led to Zolomon losing control of her car, the return of Turtle’s sanity, and the knowledge that one of his rogues killed Robin’s father. Whew…any of those would have made 2004 a tough road to hoe. But all of them? Ouch.
However, it is not just having a bad year that earns Wally his place. Anyone, I suppose, could suffer that outrageous fortune. No, the reason Wally makes the list is because of how he responded to those terrible events: with strength, resolve, and compassion. He did not crumble in the face of the fact that his mentor was not as flawless as he had once believed. He did the right thing in healing The Top’s mind, even though he knew it could have dangerous repercussions. He respected his wife’s decision to leave him, even as it tore him up inside. In other words, he makes the list because he kept being himself, he kept being a hero.
It was another banner year for my favorite character, Wally West, The Flash, the fastest man alive.
People say Superman and Batman are too hard to relate to because they’re gods or millionaires. Spider-Man, supposedly the most relatable character of all, started out as a nerdy science enthusiast, which I’m sure some of us were, but, well, not all of us. Then you’ve got Wally West, a likable blue-collar guy who can hang with aliens and titans on the moon then grab a drink with the boys down at the local watering hole before settling down for a nice evening with his wife; Wally West is truly the everyman.
It also doesn’t hurt that The Flash has the coolest power of them all: super speed (which means he doesn’t just run really fast, he can do literally anything he can think of at light speed…let that settle for a moment). He’s also a hero because it’s been his dream since childhood and because he’s carrying on the legacy of his mentor and hero, his uncle Barry. If you don’t love The Flash, I just don’t get you.
It was a trying year for Wally, as he suffered the consequences of some very human decisions, lost and regained the person closest to him, and found his faith in some of the people he grew up worshipping, not to mention the one he held above them all, tested and shaken.
After the death of his unborn children at the hands of Zoom late last year, Wally appealed to The Spectre to erase the knowledge of his dual identity from the collective consciousness of the world; what he didn’t count on was that the minds of him and those closest to him would be affected as well. When 2004 closed, Wally’s wife, Linda, left him; as 2005 kicked off, Wally set off to rediscover his place in the world.
Wally reconnected with his allies in the JLA and his best friend, Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing. As The Flash, Wally also set off on a fascinating journey relearning how to reconcile the purity of his motivation for being a hero with the fame and accolades that had ultimately cost him his wife. At one point in his life, Wally lived for the love of the masses, but through his triumphs and tragedies, through all he’s been through since taking up the mantel of the Flash, other things have become more important. Doing what’s right and living up to what his uncle would have wanted superseded idolization and the love of his wife, family and friends was more than enough; unlike so many characters in comics, Wally grew like a realistic human being. It was an interesting thing to see such a 180 occur and Wally suddenly be shunning the fame he once embraced and then learning that being a hero for the public can be just as important as putting Gorilla Grodd behind bars.
Of course this year also brought pain and revelations about the legacy he follows that threatened to strip Wally of everything he held dear. He learned that some of the heroes he respected most, long standing members of the Justice League like Green Arrow and Hawkman, had chosen to violate the minds of Dr. Light, other villains and even Batman in what was perhaps a misguided attempt to render them less of a threat; worse still was learning that Barry Allen, Wally’s uncle, a man who respected the sanctity of a person’s mind as much as anybody, had been the deciding vote. Wally lashed out at his former teammates upon the revelation, took some time to absorb it, then dealt with it; he will never look at things the same, never view these people the same, but Wally is not petty enough to let one mistake ruin lifetime relationships.
At the end of the year, Wally proved himself once more as a hero, accepting a mistake of his uncle, a man he felt incapable of making any, and doing his best to correct it, regardless of the cost. Wally learned that in the hopes of simultaneously eliminating a dire menace to him and his family and creating a new force for good, Barry had Zatanna alter the mind of the villainous Top to make him a hero; the ensuing toll on his brain drove him insane, a state he’s remained in ever since. At the behest of a final request from mentor to protÃƒÂ©gÃƒÂ© in written form, Wally sought out The Top and corrected his mind, despite the fact it meant unleashing a menace he would later have to deal with. Within one day, Wally learned his hero’s darkest secret and made amends at risk to himself, something that would have taken other heroes years to gain the courage to do, but hey, fastest man alive.
2004 ended with Linda returning to Wally’s life, though we’ve yet to see what turns their relationship will take. The Top is now at large and he left Wally with the ominous knowledge that many of his “reformed” Rogues (Heatwave, the first Trickster, The Pied Piper) were only thus because he had tampered with their minds, and that he would undo them any time he chose. Much like this year, next will once more see The Flash facing challenges created by his own sacrifices to try and do right; much like this year he’ll try his best, make mistakes, and remain a hero through and through, just the way we like him.
3. Ultimate Spider-Man
(Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Six)
Some people may scream about Spidey taking up two spots with two different incarnations. But the Peter Parker of the Ultimate Universe has truly become a different character than the one in the original Marvel Universe under Brian Michael Bendis’ pen. No longer a friendless wallflower, Peter may be a geek and an outcast but he has an attitude and a sharp tongue for his oppressors that Stan Lee’s Peter Parker didn’t show until his college days. And that makes all the difference in taking a classic character and twisting him just enough to make something new and something equally good.
Two Peter Parkers in this list. That’s pretty cool actually, since the trials of Ultimate Peter Parker are so different than those of his 616 counterpart. Ultimate Peter has dealt with the Goblin trying to turn him into his son, the death of his friend Gwen Stacy, and a movie being made that he doesn’t get to see scratch on the money made.
This version of Peter is, hard to imagine, even more innocent than his Amazing counterpart – because he’s only just begun this. Every time he sees a SHIELD Helicarrier he’s shocked. If the X-Men are nearby, he’s doing his best to stand up as his own man, but you can tell there is this odd amount of hero worship. Congrats Peter, you do stand out of the crowd.
4. Christopher Chance
Chance is a complicated man, and no one understands him; not even his woman. This year alone he’s had to face some of the worst humanity has to offer, and sometimes just by looking in the mirror. As “The Human Target” he’s “become” priests accused of molestation, as well as convicted murders. He’s been a 60’s radical who went into hiding and leaders of religious cults. He’s also managed to maintain a pretty stable relationship with Mary White, the wife of one of his former “brief lives.” But Chris is still searching for his inner peace while exposing part of the American life that go ignored.
I think I put it the best way I could in DC News & Views, so I’ll just quote myself. Chance is the perfect cipher to take the journey through modern American life with: dryly sarcastic, unemotionally observant of others’ foibles, and always yearning to know who he was and what his place was in the world. He is both entirely comfortable with his role as a mimic and totally resentful of the sense of identity it how cost him. He wants a “true” relationship with Mary, but every chance he gets, he slips away from her in favor of adapting another’s mannerisms, face, and life. A bundle of contradictions, Chance was as “real” as master of disguise on a comic book page could be.
(Daredevil, Secret War)
The blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen continued to confront the horror that the revealing of his identity by a local tabloid wrought. He battled a swarm of Yakuza, out of costume, armed with only his walking stick and still managed to come out on top. His best friend Foggy forced him to see that, since the death of the love of his life, Karen Page, he has been suffering from a slow, but definite mental breakdown. This breakdown, in turn, cost him the love of Mia, his wife, and he eventually acquiesced and granted her an annulment, despite still believing his love for her to be real. He traveled to Latveria to fight a “secret war”, one that he himself remembers nothing about. This “war” brought him more enemies at home, as they used his semi-public identity (see, there that bugger is again) to hunt him back to his own apartment. Another unwelcome visitor, Jigsaw, came through to at first cooperate with the new Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen and then, when that didn’t work, to eliminate him. Jigsaw’s timing couldn’t have been worse as DD also had to juggle the return of his ex-lover, Black Widow, who was being hunted down for a SHIELD mission she performed abroad. And just when you thought he might catch a break, Alexander DeBont, the man who was NYC’s kingpin before Wilson Fisk made that a position and a name, was released from prison with a mad on for good ol’ hornhead. If success is measured by the struggles you endure, Matt is one hell of a successful guy.
6. Green Arrow
(Green Arrow, Identity Crisis)
Poor Oliver Queen. He broke up with his girlfriend Black Canary. He also had to deal with the death of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis. He even managed to create a personal beef with Deathstroke, involving the stabbing of a nonfunctional eye. In Identity Crisis he provided the “human voice”. In Justice League Elite he was the moral center. In his own title he was stoic as he dealt with his ward Mia Deardon testing positive for HIV. He’s since embraced her as the new Speedy. Through it all Ollie has managed to remain true.
Oliver Queen was a man on the run in 2004. On the run from violence discouraging demons, on the run tracking a man mountain who seized control of Star City in the wake of a power vacuum, on the run after Sue Dibny’s killer. But the biggest thing that Ollie’s been running from, but still can’t escape, is himself. Still angry at his betrayal of Black Canary, he broke off the relationship without confessing his misdeeds and hid his guilt from her with a show of coldness that would have impressed Batman. Not knowing how to help Mia deal with what she did to end the reign of demons, Ollie sunk deeper into his costumed identity. Unable to deal with the revelation that Mia has HIV, Ollie ran out after something to hit. Ollie’s been running for an entire year and there’s no sign that he’ll be stopping.
7. The Fallen Angel
Fallen Angel is one of the most complex characters out. She can be both brutal and just. This year she tortured Black Mariah for some information. She also tore a man’s heart out. But she came to the aid of those in need and those who had been swindled. She has helped bring families back together. She also had her heart broke, twice. First by Doctor Juris. The second time was when she gave up their child. She’s also been attacked numerous times. But throughout it all she’s remained mysterious.
8. Green Lantern
Which one? Any of them. I love all of the Green Lanterns and they’ve all had their moments in the sun this year. Kyle Rayner proved his mettle facing down Major Force in the conclusion of his solo book this year. John Stewart showed himself to be more than just a token player in his stint in various JLA titles. Guy Gardner is back to his usual bad self. And Hal… well, Hal’s on his way home. Nuff said!
With sales figures that exploded in both Rebirth (to a massive extent) and GL during the Homecoming storyline (to a lesser, but still noteworthy extent), Green is DC’s new black (ugh…I hate myself for saying that). Under Johns’s script, each GL has been given a chance to sign and the result is a fandom that is all a tingle about the return of the Hal Jordan and the direction of the GL legacy as a hold. The GLs are certainly the characters to watch in ’05.
I think this goes on the ‘Wow, how’ld she make the list’ category, but it’s great that she did. Her current title is so much more fun than most ‘fun’ books out there. She-Hulk has been starting another life this past year, and as long as she keeps practicing law, I’ll be there.
10. Yorick Brown
(Y: The Last Man)
Poor Yorick. Not only is he the last man alive, but he’s also a bit of an idiot. This was a pretty bad year for him. He had to face some dark secrets from his childhood that shed light on his interest in becoming an escape artist. Yorick also had to kill a woman this year, though it was in self-defense it still scarred him. But he did finally have sex and he managed to heckle people at a professional basketball game. This year Yorick did some serious growing as readers found out a great deal about him. But he ends the year with the status quo returned; he gets food poisoning and thinks he’s dying from the plague.
The last man on Earth, and probably the most realistic person on this list. For the first year or two of ‘Y’, Yorick was this guy who just didn’t make sense. He was the last man on the planet and he had his picked litter of crazed gun-toting women on his way across the country. No, though – he chooses to wait to find out if his fiance is alive. He’s whined and pissed and moaned.
This year, he grew up. We were told a lot more about Yorick’s crazy ways than we ever would have expected. Why does he run headfirst without thinking? Why does he seemingly want to die? So much of him was revealed to us, he became a 3 dimensional character, and we didn’t even realize he wasn’t to begin with.
We’re taking the weekend off (this is a marathon, not a sprint, thank you), but we shall return on Monday, ready, refreshed, and wielding the Best Writers of 2004.