Last week, I started my list of the 100 greatest characters of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As with the list I did last year for the 100 greatest characters of the ‘90s and ‘00s, I decided to present the list alphabetically. It’s hard enough narrowing all of the characters down to 100 without having to try and sort them, too.
51. Lilith (Marvel, 1974): One sign of a great villain is that they can move beyond the orbit of their original title. Lilith, the mother of vampires, may have started out in Tomb of Dracula but she eventually made life messy for the X-Men and Ghost Rider as well.
52. Longshot (Marvel, 1985): Longshot was like an independent series published by one of the big two. He was a naïve refugee from another dimension, being faced by multiple foes, many of whom disguised themselves with friendly faces. His luck powers were a little too convenient when he was a part of a team, but he was a truly intriguing solo star.
55. Lumiya (Marvel, 1982): She was introduced late in Marvel’s Star Wars title, not showing up until after Empire Strikes Back. But she was a memorable villain, with a great look and an inextinguishable hatred for the good guys.
She graduated to the novels where she trained Jacen Solo in the ways of the dark side. It’s always cool when the comics influence the larger Star Wars world.
Side-Bar: Comics have always borrowed- or licensed- characters from other media. Movie stars, radio stars, TV stars and even toys have made their way into comics. Some of the biggest hits during this era came from other sources. They were among the greatest characters. They contributed some of the best comics and stories. But they don’t count for this list. Yet comics wouldn’t have been the same without Conan, Star Wars, Transformers or GI Joe.
57. Misty Knight (Marvel, 1975): I wanted to add both Misty and her Daughters of the
Dragon partner Colleen Wing but I settled on picking just the one. Misty has always been a little more prominent. Maybe it’s the impossible-to-notice afro.
58. Mr. Miracle (DC, 1971): Jack Kirby allegedly based Mr. Miracle on fellow comic superstar Jim Steranko, who had been an escape artist earlier in life. It was an inspired idea, filling a niche that nobody else realized was empty.
59. Mr. Monster (Pacific, 1984): Michael T. Gilbert took a little known hero from Canada’s Golden Age and morphed him into a character all his own. The new Mr. Monster was a wonderfully wacky addition to the world of heroes and monsters.
60. Myndi Mayer (DC, 1987): Another great supporting character. George Perez assigned Wonder Woman a publicist as part of her relaunch. Myndi was self-assured, selfish, smug, snide, sexually confident and- to the shock of the readers- suicidal.
61. Mystique (Marvel, 1978): She can be anyone she wants as she shifts shapes, allegiances and motives as easily as anyone else changes shoes. She’s a dangerous foe, and potentially a more dangerous ally.
62. Nexus (Pacific, 1981): Arguably the greatest of the independent heroes. Horatio Hellpop is Nexus, the star of a space opera that combined science-fiction and super-heroics with questions about divinity, capital punishment and politics.
63. Nightcrawler (Marvel, 1975): One of my favorite characters. Nightcrawler is eminently likable, everybody’s best friend, quick with a jest and in love with life. Yet he runs deep, with a strong Catholic faith and an even stronger sense of mutant rights.
64. Ogami Itto (Futabasha, 1970; First, 1987): The Lone Wolf of Lone Wolf and Cub who walks quietly and carries a big sword.
65. Power Girl (DC, 1976): She’s bold. She’s unembarrassed by her sexuality. She’s confident as a woman in a man’s world, whether that’s as a superhero or as the CEO of a software company. She can sometimes be a little abrasive as well (especially when she’s written by a man who isn’t sympathetic to women’s right).
66. Psylocke (Marvel, 1986): She’s undergone some incredible transformations as part of some unforgettable stories. As Captain Britain’s innocent sister, she was captured by Mojo and given a cybernetic eye. As one of the Uncanny X-Men, she was captured by Matsuo and turned into a ninja. Yet, she has survived and even thrived through it all, becoming one of the more distinctive members of the X-Men.
67. Puma (Marvel, 1984): The Puma isn’t one of Spider-Man’s biggest adversaries but he’s one of the best. Puma was a fierce fighter. He was also a Native American who was trying to abandon the reservation for the boardroom. He was complicated, contentious and very cool.
68. The Punisher (Marvel, 1974): In the mid-‘70s, Marvel specialized in creating anti-heroes. The Punisher brought a gun and a grudge to comics as a former Viet Nam vet who now turned his sights on the mob. He also targeted those who protected them, a category that sometimes included superheroes who refused to take a life such as the Amazing Spider-Man.
69. Rachel Summers (Marvel, 1981): Other fans may have been distracted by her origin but I’m engrossed by her plight. As a refugee from a possible future, her family
doesn’t know her. As a young mutant, she can’t control her incredible powers. As a former slave, she carries guilt and embarrassment like accessories. Her understandable angst was perfectly in place for the Uncanny X-Men.
70. Rachel Van Helsing (Marvel, 1972): Rachel was an excellent combination of a hard edge and a soft side. She was an indefatigable vampire hunter yet she also developed tender relationships with mentors and lovers.
71. Ra’s Al Ghul (DC, 1971): The immortal Batman villain.
72. Raven (DC, 1980): The ingénue who was also the daughter of the devil. The empath who felt everyone else’s emotions yet was inexperienced with her own. The goth princess who was invented before goth was popular.
73. Red Sonja (Marvel, 1973): The sword and sorcery queen who
is infamous for her strong sword, her metal bikini and her hatred of men. It worked at the time, as long as you don’t think about it too much.
Side-Bar: Red Sonja isn’t the only product of her time who has difficulty translating to other eras. There were plenty of other characters who shone brightly for a short period. They have their fans, but I’m not among them. Villains may fear the touch of the Man-Thing but I fear his stories, as they’re usually frightfully boring. Howard the Duck’s
humor may have been timely, but it isn’t timeless. And Judge Dredd is like the Punisher without the depth of characterization. Sorry, guys, you had to be there. And I wasn’t.
74. The Rocketeer (Pacific, 1982): Now here’s a timeless character. The Rocketeer had a nostalgic glow that made him simultaneously classic and new.
75. Rog-2000 (Charlton, 1974): Before there was Wall-E, R2-D2 or C-3PO, there was Rog-2000. He started out as an illustration, graduated to small gags and eventually short stories. He also put John Byrne on the map, getting the artist noticed by first Charlton and then Marvel.
78. Sabretooth (Marvel, 1977)
79. Sebastian Shaw (Marvel, 1980): The X-Men quickly developed their own set of villains. Sabretooth was poached from Power Man and Iron Fist as a natural foe first for the X-Men and then for Wolverine. He’s had memorable bouts with Psylocke, Jubilee, Jean Grey and just about everybody else. Sebastian Shaw was the head of the Hellfire Club, causing consternation for our heroes while hiding behind a veneer of civility.
80. Shang-Chi (Marvel, 1973): The greatest comic book kung fu hero.
82. Spider-Woman (Marvel, 1977): Marvel developed a pattern of creating female heroes based on their successful male characters. She-Hulk was a cousin to the Hulk. Spider-Woman had no relation but the name. Yet these super heroines grew out of their derivative roots to grow legions of fans all their own, including future Marvel writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Dan Slott.
83. Spiral (Marvel, 1985): I love Spiral’s twisted approach to everything. She doesn’t defeat the hero as much as confuse him until he doesn’t know if he’s won or lost. She supposedly works for Mojo but she’s worked against him as well.
84. Speedball (Marvel, 1988): Life- and comics- would be boring if every hero was the same. We need those straight-jawed heroes that are always right. And we also need hyper-kinetic balls of energy that bring whimsy to their work.
85. Starfire (DC, 1980): The successful cartoon reminded us that Starfire was more than an alien supermodel. She brought an innocence, enthusiasm and passion to everything she did- from building friendships to budding romances to beating up bad guys.
86. Storm (Marvel, 1975): The queen of super-heroes. Storm was one of the greatest characters of any era. She was a black hero who embraced her African roots while eschewing stereotypical costumes or powers. She was quiet, yet forceful; regal, yet sneaky.
87. Swamp Thing (DC, 1971): He was already the best of the muck monsters thanks to his distinctive profile and his excellent early appearances. However, he eclipsed the rest of the category when Alan Moore re-imagined him as a swamp creature that thought he was a man.
88. Talisman (Noble Comics, 1981): He’s not even the most famous hero to bear the name. That honor belongs to the daughter of Alpha Flight’s Shaman. However, this Talisman was a trailblazer. Unlike every other hero, he was cynical, smarmy, and he refused to wear a costume, running around in a suit and tie instead.
Side-Bar: I’ve always been a fan of super-teams. For some of the biggest teams, like the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, it was easy to include every member. For some of the others, like Alpha Flight or Infinity Inc, I tended to choose one interesting character as a representative. But for a lot of the independent teams, it was difficult to single out one character. The DNAgents and the Elementals may have been interesting, but they’re still missing from this list. However, the lesser-known Justice Machine makes an appearance thanks to the memorable Talisman.
89. Terra (DC, 1982): She’s unforgettable. She was the sweetest young girl you could ever know and the Titans gladly brought her into their ranks. But it was all a lie. She was actually a hardened criminal playing them for fools. The revelation was shocking. And yet fans kept hoping that we had been right about her the first time.
90. The Tick (New England, 1986): How can you not love a superhero with the catchphrase “Spoon!”
91. Tigra (Marvel, 1974): Tigra is an interesting hybrid. Yes, she’s part woman and part tiger. But I’m more fascinated by the way she strode the fence between horror and superhero comics.
92. Tim Drake (DC, 1989): He earned the right to be a sidekick, even though that wasn’t his intention. Tim Drake decided that the Batman needed a Robin to keep him grounded. And he figured out that Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, used to be Robin. By convincing Batman and Nightwing of the importance of Robin, the dynamic duo offered him the job.
Side-Bar: For 40 years or more, one hero wore the red, green and yellow of the Robin costume. Then, in less than a decade, three characters pulled on the yellow cape. Jason Todd was the first. Or the second. There were incarnations, pre and post Crisis. One was slightly annoying. The other incredibly so. Carrie Kelly was next, wearing the suit in the future story, The Dark Knight Returns. But Tim was the best.
94. Ventriloquist (DC, 1988)
95. Venom (Marvel, 1988): It’s not easy to create a villain for a classic character. Their other opponents have such a long history that it’s hard for the new fellow to measure up. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Ventriloquist may not be as infamous as the Joker or the Penguin, but he’s an absolutely inspired creation. And Venom, the alien symbiote that likes to shape itself as a black Spider-Man costume, has elevated itself into one of the wallcrawler’s greatest foes.
96. Warlord (DC, 1975): The ‘70s were a good time for alternate genres and fans of those genres. Travis Morgan was the Warlord, a fantasy hero who drew inspiration from Tarzan’s jungle adventures and Conan’s sword and sorcery.
97. Wildfire (DC, 1973): The Legion of Super-Heroes were supposed to be located in the far future but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they started to explore the edges of imagination. Wildfire was a being of pure energy who wore a containment suit.
He was also a wild card, a loose cannon and a welcome addition to the often uptight Legion.
98. Wolverine (Marvel, 1974): One of the all-time greatest comic book characters. He’s the epitome of the anti-hero. He’s unrelenting against his enemies, irritating to his friends and shackled by his inner demons.
99. Yang (Charlton, 1973): Yang is arguably the purest of the kung fu characters. While others borrowed from pulp fiction or super-heroes, Yang stayed within the sphere of martial arts. That meant that his adventures weren’t always as wild as the others, but they were always precise.
100. Zot! (Eclipse, 1984): The innocent hero of the eponymous title. He fought blowhards, diehards and hardcases. But he had trouble figuring out the problems of a teenaged girl.
Thanks for reading. These lists are a lot of work, but they’re also a lot of fun.
The end. For now.