Last week, I started a two-part column on the greatest comic book characters of the 1950s and ‘60s. These kinds of lists are always less the definitive end of the conversation than the start of one. So keep reading to find out if your favorite heroes made my list, and feel free to respond with your different opinions.
51. The Jaguar (Archie, 1961): The Jaguar is a wonderful example of Silver Age excess. He might have looked cool in his sleek red costume, except for the matching jaguar belt and boots. His mystical belt gives him the power of the jaguar, which somehow includes the power of flight. He might have been a formidable foe, but he followed Superman into stories of domestic deception.Yet despite his flaws- or perhaps because of them- the Jaguar is a fun and memorable character.
52. J. Jonah Jameson (Marvel, 1963): I’ve learned to appreciate J. Jonah Jameson over the years. At first, I found him annoying. But I’ve grown fond of his bombastic style, his belligerent attitude and even his brush-cut.
53. Josie and the Pussycats (Archie, 1963): Dan DeCarlo introduced this power trio girl band into the world of Archie, inspiring girls with their independent attitude while enthralling boys with their cat-print bathing suits. Forget the Go-Gos and the Spice Girls- the Pussycats were there first.
54. Kang the Conqueror (Marvel, 1963): Arguably the Avengers’ greatest foe. Kang the Conqueror is a time-travelling villain who attacks the present in order to establish and preserve his empire in the future. He overmatches the heroes with advanced technology and an intense drive to succeed.
55. Kid Flash (DC, 1959): He’s just a normal kid. He’s not an orphan. He’s not an addict. He’s a nephew who likes to hang out with his uncle, and whose uncle happens to be a superhero. Wally West was always one of the most likable sidekicks. And, by reversing the Flash’s color scheme, he always had one of the most likable costumes as well.
56. The Kingpin (Marvel, 1967): The Kingpin is a great villain, whether he’s giving trouble to Spider-Man, Daredevil or anyone else. He has a distinctive look, with his bald head, white coat and formidable size. He portrays menace, while mostly getting others to do his dirty work. He’s the Godfather or the Teflon Don of comics.
Side-bar: The ‘50s were a good decade for animal heroes. Rex the Wonder Dog and Detective Chimp were introduced to comic book fans before Krypto came along. Then Ace the Bat-Hound, Streaky the Super-Cat, Comet the Super-Horse and Beppo the Super-Moneky followed in Krypto’s paw-prints.
58. Lana Lang (DC, 1950): Lana Lang was the last character to make the list as she’s little more than your standard ingénue. However, she’s become an indelible part of the Superman canon and her presence added all kinds of possibilities for romantic triangles and entanglements.
59. Legion of Substitute Heroes (DC, 1963): They’re (almost) everybody’s favorite underdogs. They were turned down by the Legion of Super-Heroes because their powers are (mostly) useless. But they don’t give up easily. They formed their own team and proved that determination is just as important than ability.
Side-bar: Comedy doesn’t translate well across eras. I like the Substitutes, even though they were often played for laughs. But few of the other humorous characters provoke even a chuckle. With apologies to Forbush Man, Herbie the Fat Fury and the Inferior Five, you had to be there and I wasn’t.
61. Magneto (Marvel, 1963): Here are a couple of classic villains who have pestered Thor and the X-Men from the beginning. Loki is the master trickster. He’s a manipulator, a liar, an uncertain ally and a dangerous foe. The first Loki appeared in Marvel’s Venus stories in 1949, though he bore little resemblance to the later version we all love to hate. Magneto is a megalomaniac. He perceives himself as the victim because of his tragic childhood during the Nazi regime but he learned the wrong lessons. Striking first and preaching subjugation of his adversaries, he has become the enemy he hated.
62. Martian Manhunter (DC, 1955): The Manhunter from Mars is a man without an era. He’s too late for the Golden Age and too early for the Silver Age. On the bright side, he’s one of the most powerful characters in comics, with a wide array of powers that puts even Superman to shame.
63. Marvel Girl (Marvel, 1963): She became a much more interesting character- and was also blessed with a much better nom du superhero- in the hands of Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne. Whether she’s Marvel Girl, Phoenix or the Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey belongs on this list.
64. Marvelman (L & M, 1954): Legal opinions may vary. When DC bought the rights to Captain Marvel from the faltering Fawcett Comics company, the British license holder forged on with their own Captain Marvel imitation named Marvelman. He shouted Kimota! (“atomic” backwards) instead of Shazam! He also became an international sensation in the 1980s due to writer Alan Moore, though he had to be called Miracleman on this side of the Atlantic.
65. Mary Jane Watson (Marvel, 1966): You hit the jackpot, Tiger!
66. Metal Men (DC, 1962): The Metal Men are a great group. They have a cohesive unity, but also individual identity. If I wanted one representative, I could have chosen the stuttering Tin, the surly Mercury or the sultry Platinum. But, like the table of elements, they’re better when they’re all together.
Side-bar: In general, I like teams and DC had a lot of them during the Silver Age. But I find a lot of the groups from this era to be indistinguishable from one another. They would wear identical uniforms and have only the most basic of personalities. Fans who grew up during this time may disagree but I have no room (and little patience) for the Challengers of the Unknown, the Secret Six or the Sea Devils.
67. Metamorpho (DC, 1965): It’s not easy to take this many disparate elements (pun partially intended) and pull them together into a look that works. Ultra the Multi-Alien failed but Metamorpho succeeded. He looks great. He’s incredibly powerful. And his working-class demeanor, in spite of his world adventurer status, resonates with fans.
68. Mr. Fantastic (Marvel, 1961): He may be the leader of the Fantastic Four but he’s often the least-appreciated character. He’s the brains behind the outfit but he’s sometimes socially awkward, which is off-putting to fellow characters and fans alike. However, Mark Waid’s classic run showed the depth and strength of the character like never before.
69. Nick Fury (Marvel, 1963): A character so great he could have made the list twice. As Sgt. Fury, Nick led the Howling Commandoes during World War II. As Commander Fury, Nick led the super-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.
Side-rant: Who cares what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for? It’s a holdover from an era when, for some weird reason, everything had to have an acronym: S.P.E.C.T.R.E., The Man from U.N.C.L.E., T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and so on. I hope the new James Bond movies never try to define Quantum as Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. It’s completely unnecessary. It’s entirely possible to name an organization Shield or Quantum or Thunder without having it be an acronym.
71. NoMan (Tower, 1965): People tend to forget this but the Silver Age was more than just Marvel and DC. Charlton, Tower and others got into the superhero scene. Nightshade was part of Charlton’s Action Hero line appearing in Captain Atom stories before starring in her own back-up strip. She has since been eclipsed in the public consciousness by her stand-in, Silk Spectre of the Watchmen, but she’s still appearing in DC Comics such as Shadowpact and Secret Six. NoMan was arguably the most interesting Thunder Agent. He could project his mind into a series of android bodies, and would ditch one body for another when it ran into trouble.
72. Nukla (Dell, 1965): This may be the most obscure character I picked for this list. Nukla starred in only four issues for Dell, a company known better for their Disney comics or for their wrong-headed superhero/horror monster mash-ups. But Nukla, aka test pilot Matthew Gibb, was a pretty cool character and cool artists like Dick Giordano and Steve Ditko contributed to his adventures.
Side-bar: In part one, I admitted I like the underdog. Well, I like obscure characters for many of the same reasons. I would have loved to include more in the list. Nemesis and Magicman (Adventures into Unknown and Forbidden Worlds) have interesting looks but they’re better known for appearing on cool covers than for starring in good stories. Private Strong was an interesting addition to the Archie superhero canon, but he was mostly a mix of Captain America and the Shield.
Charlton’s Nature Boy was a late entry to the mid-‘50s superhero revival but despite some great John Buscema art he was a holdover from the Golden Age with a set-up similar to Captain Marvel’s Shazam.
74. Professor X (Marvel, 1963): Over the years, the X-Men have tried to outgrow their founder, teacher and mentor. He’s been killed off, sent into outer space and voluntarily imprisoned. But he keeps coming back. After all, it’s his name and his dream.
75. The Question (Charlton, 1967): The man without a face.
76. Quicksilver (Marvel, 1964): There had been plenty of speedsters in comics before Quicksilver came along. There was even another Quicksilver at Quality. But no one was ever as conflicted or complicated as Pietro Maximov. He’s an overprotective brother, an evil mutant, a hero, a rogue, a jealous husband, a devoted father, an Avenger and an X-Man.
77. Ralph and Sue Dibny (DC, 1960, ‘61): Ralph wasn’t the first extendable superhero, but he stretched the boundaries of the genre. He was among the first to reveal his identity to the world. He was among the first to treat his wife as an equal partner and not a sidekick (with a tip of the cap to The Thin Man’s Nick & Nora Charles). He was more of a detective than a superhero. And while he had a sense of humor about his powers and himself, he more than a jokester.
78. Rawhide Kid (Marvel, 1955): The last of Marvel’s Big Three western heroes, the Rawhide Kid is Johnny Bart. He wears a distinctive white hat and like a lot of cowboys, he was an outlaw for a crime he didn’t commit.
79. Richie Rich (Harvey, 1953): This list may be full of superheroes but few characters are as famous as Harvey’s poor little rich kid. Richie Rich was a superstar. He was kind to his servants, his friends and even his enemies.
80. Rick Jones (Marvel, 1962): I know people make fun of him. I’ve done it myself. But in all honesty, Rick is much more than a hanger-on or a superhero groupie. He initiates a lot of the action. He helps out despite having no powers. He’s partnered with the Hulk, the Avengers, Captain America and Captain Marvel. That’s pretty impressive for someone who started out by wandering into a place he didn’t belong.
81. Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Archie, 1962): Another Dan DeCarlo creation for Archie Comics. Sabrina is the wholesome face of the world of witchcraft, dealing with typical teen problems like adults who don’t understand you and atypical problems like spells that go awry.
82. Saturn Girl (DC, 1958): My daughter is a big, Saturn Girl. Probably because she wears pink. I’m a Saturn Girl fan too but that’s because she’s the calm heart of the Legion of Superheroes. Cosmic Boy, or the latest winner of some fan poll, may be the official leader but Saturn Girl is the glue that holds the team together.
83. Scarlet Witch (Marvel, 1964): Scarlet Witch is a testament to character growth. She started out a wilting flower, sheltered by her brother and cowed by Magneto. She was made an Avenger and quickly became one of the team’s most stalwart members. She’s been a lover and a mother. She’s grown more and more comfortable with her ethnic roots (she was raised as a gypsy). And, recently, she’s become more conflicted, mysterious and possibly evil.
84. Sgt. Rock (DC, 1959): Arguably the greatest war character ever created for comics. Sgt. Rock is the stoic leader of Easy Company. Yet despite his brusque exterior, he has a big heart.
86. Silver Surfer (Marvel, 1966): One of the coolest characters ever created. He has shiny silver skin. He rides a surfboard through space. He works for one of the greatest powers in the universe and wields cosmic power of his own.
88. Spider-Man (Marvel, 1962): One of the greatest characters ever created. Peter Parker is the hard-luck hero who learned that great power requires great responsibility. He perseveres against impossible odds, while cracking one-liners and keeping a brave stance.
89. Spy vs. Spy (EC, 1961): You don’t have to know their names in order to understand the depth of their rivalry. The animosity between these two spies has given rise to countless amusing encounters. And, despite their simple features, their geometric faces convey a lot of emotion.
92. Thor (Marvel, 1962): They’re two of the toughest guys around. One is the Norse God of Thunder who fights with a war hammer that no one else can pick up. The other is an everyman made of rock who fights with his fists, though he has more trouble overcoming his low self-esteem.
93. Turok (Gold Key, 1954): There’s a long list of characters who star in jungle stories. There’s even a pretty good crowd of characters who star in dinosaur stories. But Turok is one of the best. The Son of Stone is a master hunter in any location and in any age.
94. Ultra Boy (DC, 1962): I love his self-esteem. Ultra Boy considers himself one of the big boys even though the limitations on his powers (he can only use one at a time) mean that he’s often caught out of his weight class. Yet that utter confidence, that supreme belief that he’s as good as anyone, is charming.
95. The Vision (Marvel, 1968): You’ll believe that an android can be more interesting than a man. The Vision predated Star Trek’s Data by decades as an android who wondered what it would be like to have human emotions and then had trouble understanding them once he got them.
96. The Warriors Three (Marvel, 1965): The three Norse Warriors make for great supporting characters. They’re distinct and easily recognizable. They have strong personalities with just enough depth to keep them from being mannequins. And now they’re movie stars. They’re Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg (aka Errol Flynn, Charles Bronson and Falstaff).
97. Wasp (Marvel, 1963): I’ve always liked characters that enjoy being superheroes. Wasp is one of those. For her, the life of a superhero was one big lark. She delighted in designing new costumes. She had a blast hanging out with the boys. But while she didn’t mind making a few jokes, she was never a joke herself. She was smart, and made a great team leader when given the chance.
98. Wendy the Good Little Witch (Harvey, 1954): Harvey had one of the best stables of kids’ characters. After starting out as a companion to Caspar the Friendly Ghost, Wendy graduated to her own series in 1960.
100. Zatanna (DC, 1964): The backwards writing is kind of annoying but everything else about Zatanna is alluring. She’s smart, spunky and has a better sense of humor than most superwomen. And, oh yeah, she knows magic.
Final Side-Bar: When you’re creating something like this, you always set out with the intention of creating the perfect list. But, of course, it’s never definitive. Other people will obviously disagree with you. And, in retrospect, you may wonder yourself why you picked one character over another. When I look back at my earlier lists, I’m surprised at some of the characters I didn’t include. I hadn’t read any Scott Pilgrim yet but he’d easily make the ‘90s/’00s list now. I thought I had included Gravity but I guess I didn’t. Ana was right that I should have included Big Barda in the ‘70s/’80s list. And I was so sure I had included someone from Alpha Flight that I mentioned it in a side-bar but apparently I didn’t. Either Heather Hudson or Northstar must have fallen out between a first draft and the final. I expect that will happen with this list as well. I’ll probably change my mind in six months. So don’t be afraid to tell me who you would have included instead.