I’m not the Silver Age expert on this site. We have Captain Comics, Commander Benson and Mr. Silver Age for that. Hey, I wasn’t born until almost halfway through the ‘70s. But I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the best characters from the ‘50s and ‘60s anyway. Consider it an outsider’s perspective on which characters were interesting, timeless, noteworthy or at least quirky enough to appeal to a latecomer like me. Have fun reading.
- Adam Strange (DC, 1958): He’s a science fiction action hero in the vein of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars, yet he’s also comfortable in the superhero milieu of Superman, Green Lantern and the Justice League of America. The mechanism that transported him back and forth to Rann was a little contrived but it did result in fast-paced adventures and a tragic emotional hook.
- Alfred E. Neuman (EC, 1954): His dim-witted, slightly mischievous mug had been featured in advertisements for half a century. Even the catchphrase “What, Me Worry?” had been around for decades. But in 1954, EC made the character their own. They gave him a name and turned him into the mascot for MAD. He’s still grinning today, making fun of Justin Bieber and The Walking Dead.
- Animal Man (DC, 1965): Maybe I just like the color orange. Buddy Baker was a late addition to the Silver Age and wasn’t elevated to leading status until Grant Morrison got ahold of him in the 1980s. Yet the man with the power of any animal is a classic superhero staple.
- Ant-Man (Marvel, 1962)
- Atom II (DC, 1961): I’ve always liked the underdog. That’s probably why I’ve always had affection for these often-belittled little heroes. They weren’t the first to shrink down to size but they did bring a scientific sensibility to their superhero adventures.
- Batgirl (DC, 1966): Barbara Gordon could have made two of these lists. Her reinvention in the 1980s as the information broker Oracle practically constitutes a new character. Yet I also love her as the light-hearted adventurer Batgirl. She brought a sense of joy and wonder to her escapades. Plus, I have a poster of Batgirl hanging above my home computer.
- Beast (Marvel, 1963): Hank McCoy wasn’t that interesting in his initial incarnation. He was another in a long line of Jack Kirby creations who demonstrated their intelligence by using big words. But he came into his own in the 1970s when he was reinvented as an actual beast with real fur and then joined the Avengers with a sense of humor that matched his super intellect.
Side-bar: The original X-Men were boring. Oh, a few of them will make this list but that’s mostly because of what was done with them by later creators. Don’t get me wrong. I love them all- even the ones that people mock like Angel and Iceman. They’re like family. But they’re great by association and they don’t all deserve entries.
- Beast Boy (DC, 1965): He was the rare standout in a world of sidekicks. He didn’t copy the powers of his adult mentor. He was the sidekick to an entire team rather than an individual hero. And he was a natural comedian, treating the entire superhero scene as a big lark.
- “Big Ethel” Muggs (Archie, 1962): I don’t think there’s anyone in comics quite like Ethel Muggs. She wasn’t gorgeous. She was incredibly tall, lanky, and a little buck-toothed. She didn’t have boys chasing after her, unlike Betty, Veronica or
the other ladies of Riverdale. Instead, she was the one trying to get Jughead to go out with her. She bordered on boy-crazy but even at her most intense, she was relatable as the average-looking girl who has to make her own destiny.
- Bizarro (DC, 1958): Me no like Bizarro. Him no make list of stupid characters.
- Black Bolt (Marvel, 1965): The silent leader of the otherworldly Inhumans, the Black Bolt is a model of restrained power and nobility. He’s also a model of artistic restraint. Jack Kirby’s character designs were often convoluted, but the Black Bolt
has just enough detail to be distinctive while staying sleek.
- Black Panther (Marvel, 1966): The first black superhero remains the best. He’s an African
monarch and an American immigrant. He has royal dignity and street credibility. He rises above clichés. He can stand shoulder to shoulder with heroes like Captain America or world leaders like Dr. Doom.
- Black Widow (Marvel, 1964): The Soviet spy who made almost every Marvel superhero fall in love with her at one time or another (not to mention, quite a few comic book fans), she’s an incredibly competent agent, spy, superhero and team leader.
- Blue Beetle II (Charlton, 1966): Charlton followed the DC blueprint to success: take a Golden Age character, divest him of mystical elements and
invest him with science and technology instead. Ted Kord may have inherited a name from Dan Garrett, but he was a gadget-wielding inventor who fought crime with knowledge and wit. And a pretty cool costume.
- Bouncing Boy (DC, 1961): The Legion of Super-Heroes could have contributed a legion of entries and most of them would have been square-jawed heroic types. But the charm of the Legion came from their offbeat members like Chuck Taine. As Bouncing Boy, he was impervious to both physical damage and sadness.
- Brainiac (DC, 1958): The Silver Age was a great
era for Superman villains. Bizarro showed up earlier on this list. A third villain will make a later appearance. But Brainiac was arguably the best. The alien genius was arrogant, callow and extremely dangerous. I prefer his later robotic look, but in any form he was one of Superman’s most perilous foes.
- Brainiac 5 (DC, 1961): What a brilliant idea! Brainiac 5 was the descendant of Superman villain Brainiac except this time the super-genius was on the side of the good guys as one of the Legion of Super-Heroes. However, even though he was one of the good guys, the heroic Brainiac 5 remained arrogant, selfish and snide.
- Captain Atom (Charlton, 1960): This nuclear-powered space hero created by Steve Ditko, has been a major player in several incarnations for both
Charlton and DC.
- Captain Comet (DC, 1951): He’s not a super-hero. Captain Comet was a science-fiction star with pulp fiction inspiration. Then again, he is a superhero. He has a vast array of powers including clairvoyance, telepathy and telekinesis. Captain Comet expertly strides the two worlds, which is kind of fitting for a character that was introduced in between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.
- Captain Flash (Sterling, 1954): The Captain was one of best new characters to come out of the short-lived superhero revival of 1953-55. His sleek costume and his radiation-based powers presaged the Silver Age. Oh, and most of his adventures were drawn by Mike Sekowsky.
- Captain Marvel (Marvel, 1967): It’s one of the mostly widely used names in comics. This is the Marvel version. Mar-Vell was a Kree soldier sent to spy on Earth. But after observing the planet, Mar-Vell decides to defend its people instead.
- Chameleon Boy (DC, 1960): Our third Legionnaire, Chameleon Boy was a shape-shifter from the planet Durlan. Over the years, Chameleon and his home planet became the focus for meaningful stories about xenophobia, isolationism, impersonation and paranoia. Thankfully, he eventually dropped the “boy” from his name.
- The Creeper (DC, 1968): Steve Ditko took villains that he had created for Blue Beetle (the Madmen) and reworked them into this antihero for DC. The Creeper was sometimes good, sometimes bad and always unpredictable.
- The Crypt-Keeper (EC, 1950): As the host of Tales from the Crypt, the Keeper introduces the stories and teases the readers. He’s just creepy enough that he’s part of the show, suggesting that even greater horrors await
those who are about to turn the page. He’s also a multi-media star having made the leap to television and the movies.
Side-bar: I’m not sure why everybody thought it was necessary but every horror comic needed a host. The Crypt-Keeper shared a neighborhood with the Vault-Keeper from The Vault of Horror and the Old Witch from Haunt of Fear, though they frequently crossed from one comic to the other. DC brought the brothers Cain and Abel in as the hosts of House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Warren had Uncle Creepy. And Charlton had a whole battalion of horror hosts, including Doctor Graves, Mr. Bones and Countess Von Bludd.
- Cyclops (Marvel, 1963): He’s the straight-laced leader of the X-Men. He bottles up his emotions for the sake of the team so that he’s sometimes considered a little stuffy. But he also has one of those powers that everybody wishes for (who hasn’t wanted to shoot beams out of their eyes at some point?) and that’s endlessly imitated (ie. The Incredibles’ Gazerbeam).
- Daredevil (Marvel, 1964): The first time I tried to invent my own superhero for a role-playing game, I came up with a blind hero who “sees” everything with super-senses. The games-master replied, “So you want to play Daredevil?” Then he let me know that Stan Lee beat me there by about 30 years.
- Doctor Doom (Marvel, 1962): Honestly, Doctor Doom is not one of my favorite villains. He’s full of bluster more than actual menace. But he is the standard for tin-pot dictators from fictional countries. And it would be weird to put a list together without him.
- Doctor Solar (Gold Key, 1962): Doctor Solar was an odd fit in the Silver Age. He didn’t wear a costume initially and his skin turned green whenever he used his powers. But a 1990s revival by Jim Shooter and Valiant Comics demonstrated that the guy in the red pajamas might just be the most powerful hero of them all.
- Doctor Strange (Marvel, 1963): After an accident robbed him of his ability to work as a surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange found a second career as the master of magic.
- Dynamo (Tower, 1965): He was the linchpin of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He was their most powerful member and their star. His powers, including super-strength, came from the Dynamo belt that he wore. He was also a very loyal, honest, hard-working hero.
- Elasti-Girl (DC, 1963): She’s the biggest star of the Doom Patrol. She was the one who held the team together when one of the boys got mopey or
threw a tantrum. She was a surrogate mom to Beast-Boy and a friend to everyone.
- Enemy Ace (DC, 1965): Every once in a while, you might read a story reminding you that the soldiers on the other side are decent, honorable fellows a lot like the guys on our side. DC took that concept and turned into one of their most compelling features. The Enemy Ace fought for the Germans in World War I. Yet he fought with honor, class and excellence.
Side-bar: War comics were big business in the ’50s and ‘60s. DC specialized in them. Marvel dabbled in them. EC and Warren published noteworthy titles. And Charlton practically drowned in them. Many of the titles were anthologies with a new lead for every story. But several titles focused on specific characters. In addition to the few, proud men who make this list, we salute Gunner and Sarge, the Haunted Tank, Leatherneck Jack, the Losers, Mademoiselle Marie, Willy Schultz, the Unknown Soldier and all the rest.
- The Falcon (Marvel, 1969): Don’t call him a sidekick. The Falcon was Captain America’s partner, a member of the Avengers and a solo hero in his own right.
- Fighting American (Prize, 1954): Joe Simon and Jack Kirby jumped into the superhero revival with the Fighting American but they couldn’t take themselves- or the character- as seriously the second time around. The Fighting American quickly became a parody of superhero comics, fighting communists such as Poison Ivan and Hotsky Trotsky.
- The Flash II (DC, 1956): Here’s another Silver Age hero that I find kind of boring. Sorry. But there’s no doubting Barry Allen’s place in history. As a revamp of a Golden Age character, he paved the way and provided the template for the return of superheroes.
- The Fly (Archie, 1959): Another Simon and Kirby creation.
- Galactus (Marvel, 1966): Galactus is one of great super-villains. He’s virtually unstoppable. He
exposes an ethical quandary- how much responsibility does he have for the lower life forms that live on the planets he eats for sustenance? And he has a huge, freaking helmet! Have you seen the size of that thing?
- General Zod (DC, 1961): Kneel before Zod.
- Gorilla Grodd (DC, 1959): Gorillas were pretty popular in the ‘50s so it’s not surprising that at least one of them became a classic foe. But what makes this gorilla so special is that he has mental faculties that exceed most humans, plus a dash of telepathy on the side.
Side-Bar: I would have loved to include the Flash’s Rogues. However, they’re more interesting together than they are individually. Yet they were introduced one at a time in separate stories (and different years). So they don’t cut it as individual entries or a truly fit as a group. Even so, they’re the gang that every group of super-villains aspires to be.
- Green Goblin (Marvel, 1964): Spider-Man’s greatest foe. He’s got a great look, a great set of gadgets (exploding pumpkins and a glider, how cool is that?) and a great laugh. He’s also got one of the greatest moments in comic book villainy as the one who killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
- Green Lantern II (DC, 1959)
- Guy Gardner (DC, 1968): They’re arguably the two most popular ring slingers: Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner. Hal is the buttoned-up, law & order guy, except he also has a fierce independent streak. That makes him a great test pilot, but also means he runs into friction with authority figures. Guy is brash and arrogant and a bit of a jerk. Except he’s also insecure and tenderly romantic. That makes him one of the most interesting characters to ever light the lantern.
- Gyro Gearloose (Dell, 1952): The world of Donald Duck and his Uncle Scrooge kept expanding and adding interesting, new characters. Most of this expansion happened in the late ‘40s or onscreen (ie. Professor Ludwig Von Drake) but Duckburg’s resident inventor made his debut in Dell Comics and has stuck around ever since.
- Havok (Marvel, 1969): He’s more than Cyclops’ younger brother. Alex Summers has a great look, an awesome power and a cool name. He also has interests outside of the X-Men, like archaeology. And, like a lot of younger brothers, he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
- Hawkeye (Marvel, 1964): I love guys who stir things up, whether it’s Guy Gardner in the Justice League or Hawkeye in the Avengers. Hawkeye teases his co-workers and agitates those in charge. Yet he’s also a very effective leader when given the opportunity.
- Hawkman II (DC, 1961): Another reinvented hero, the second Hawkman is Katar Hol from Thanagar. The alien origin is interesting though it hasn’t always meshed well with the Egyptology aspects that were left over from the original. Then again, there are Americans who are experts in Chinese history so why not a Thanagarian expert in Earth history?
- The Hulk (Marvel, 1962): One of the greatest anti-heroes ever created, in comics or anywhere else. Hulk smash!
- Human Torch II (Marvel, 1961)
- Invisible Woman (Marvel, 1961): This brother and sister tandem is the heart of the Fantastic Four. Sue Storm (now Richards) started out as the weak link on the team but an expansion of her abilities to include invisible force fields turned her into the resident powerhouse. She’s a great wife, mother, big sister and friend. She’s the team’s conscience and it’s real leader. Johnny was supposed to be the breakout star (he was the first to get a solo gig) but he didn’t realize his potential until the recent movies. He’s the one who reminds us that this is supposed to be fun. It’s cool to have powers.
- Iron Man (Marvel, 1963): Tony Stark is the natural evolution of technology. The Golden Age gave us robots and heroes with gadgets but Tony truly became the man inside the machine. Astonishingly, with his womanizing and alcohol addiction, the man inside the machine is sometimes more interesting than the superhero.
Special Side-Bar: While compiling this list, I tried to be representative of every era and multiple genres. But, perhaps not surprisingly, the list is heavily represented by the early ‘60s. That’s mostly because of the Silver Age superhero boom-though not entirely as non-superheroes like Ethel Muggs and Enemy Ace hail from those years as well. As for comics’ dark decade, four years in the ‘50s make the list only once and one year, 1957, doesn’t make the list at all.