2019 Top DC Characters 10-7
Brian Cronin
killing joke joker 2 to 1
killing joke joker 2 to 1
After nearly 1,100 ballots were cast, YOU the reader ranked your favorite comic book characters from 1-10. I assigned point totals to each ranking and then tabulated it all into a Top 50 list. We're revealing that list throughout the rest of the month (and okay, maybe a little bit into November). The countdown continues now...
10. Aquaman - 970 points (12 first place votes)
Created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, Aquaman is one of the few comic book characters to last from the Golden Age of superheroes into the Silver Age of superheroes, as a backup in the pages of first More Fun Comics and then Adventure Comics (there was this amusing changeover where DC, at one point, realized that More Fun mostly had superhero stories while Adventure Comics had a bunch of humor features and so they figured that "More Fun Comics" was a better title for a humor comic, so they just swapped features). The thing is, just like his comic book "partner," Green Arrow (who debuted in the same issue of More Fun Comics as Aquaman and made the transition to Adventure Comics with him), these stories were often generic as heck.
In a lot of ways, his stories were the type of deals where it could have been a Superman story or a Batman story or a Green Arrow story, just with Aquaman in it, like "Aquaman joins the Navy"....
Beautiful Ramona Fradon artwork, but just a ridiculously generic style of story. One of the ways that Aquaman's generic nature stood out (which is sort of an oxymoron, right?) is that he had TWO distinct origins at first. The first one was that he was the son of an explorer who, through science, taught his son to breathe underwater. That was mentioned early on and then never mentioned again. Heck, forget his origin never being mentioned again, they never even gave him a NAME! He was just "Aquaman." Finally, at the very end of the 1950s, Robert Bernstein decided to develop Aquaman a bit and he gained the second origin, the one we have all grown to know and (sorta) love, which is Aquaman being the son of a human and a woman from under the sea, who turned out to be royalty from the lost city of Atlantis (this was the first time that Atlantis was a part of Aquaman's origins). That was later adapted to say that the human, Arthur Curry, discovered Aquaman as a child, and that both of his parents were Atlantean.
Aquaman was a founding member of the Justice League of America, where he served for many years. In fact, it was with the Justice League that Aquaman made his first American comic book cover appearance. That was how nondescript his feature had been, that he had never had a single cover appearance over his first two decades of existence (granted, for most of that time, he was in the same title as the very popular Superboy character, but there was a number of issues before that point and Green Arrow often beat him out for cover appearances).
Aquaman finally received his own comic book after giving a run in Showcase, DC's try-out series. It was during this series that much of the modern development of the character took place, with the introduction of Mera and the actual marriage of Aquaman and Mera (they had a child, as well). However, once his series ended, Aquaman was mostly relegated to the occasional backup feature and his constant appearance in the Justice League. He briefly had a cartoon series in the late 1960s, though, and so when they were putting together members for the Super Friends in 1973, Aquaman, being a cartoon veteran, was an obvious choice. His time with the Super Friends was a double-edged sword, as it made Aquaman a household name with kids, but it also depicted him as fairly ineffectual (Super Friends was famous for its avoidance of any sort of violent action), so he was sort of a joke, as well. It's an interesting tradeoff - everyone knows who you are, but everyone thinks you're a joke. Is that a worthwhile tradeoff?
This led to the darkening of the character, with his son murdered in the late 1970s and then, in the 1990s, having his hand bitten off by mind-controlled piranhas. He grew a beard, started wearing a harpoon for a hand and was a lot more tough, as shown in the pages of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA...
Aquaman actually died for a while and was brought back in Blackest Night. Geoff Johns was developing the character after this in the pages of Brightest Day (the sort of sequel to Blackest Night) when the New 52 occurred and Johns got the chance to totally reboot the character, with Johns and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado having fun with the idea of Aquaman being considered a joke despite him being very formidable...
Recently, Aquaman was adapted into a feature film, mixing together some of his classic origin, a lot of the Johns reworked version of the story and a little bit of the 1990s Aquaman (beard and being a badass) and it was a blockbuster success, helping to make Aquaman sort of taken seriously by the general public for the first time in years.
9. Batgirl/Oracle (Barbara Gordon) - 995 points (11 first place votes)
Created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, Barbara Gordon was the daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon, but was also secretly the crimefighter, Batgirl. Barbara was brilliant (she actually served as a member of Congress for a spell), and eventually realized she could do more good in the world with her mind than by patrolling Gotham City at night, so she retired as Batgirl.
Tragically, soon after her retirement, Barbara was paralyzed in the one-shot, The Killing Joke, when the villain Joker shot her, in an attempt to rattle Batman. Writer Kim Yale was aghast at how Barbara was treated as a secondary character in a Batman/Joker story, so she and her husband, John Ostrander, decided to revamp the character by turning her into a computer genius named Oracle. In a brilliant story in Batman Chronicles #5 (art by Brian Stelfreeze), Yale and Ostrander got in their disgust over Barbara's treatment in The Killing Joke...
We then see the development of Barbara's transition into becoming Oracle...
Chuck Dixon made Oracle a major player in the Batman books, as support for Batman and his fellow crimefighters. Eventually, Dixon created a title called Birds of Prey built around Oracle, who would employ superhero operatives to do missions for her. Her most prominent operative was Black Canary, and the two women became great friends. The Huntress was Oracle's second major operative (not chronologically, as a number of heroines had preceded Black Canary).
Oracle was so important in the DC Universe that she even joined the Justice League!!
In the New 52, she was still shot by the Joker and paralyzed, however she eventually got over it and over time, returned to fight crime as Batgirl.
She was famously given a bit of a makeover by writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr (working with Stewart)...
Batgirl also briefly featured in a revamped version of the Birds of Prey.
8. Flash (Wally West) - 1554 points (28 first place votes)
John Broome and Carmine Infantino created young Wally West soon into their run on Flash. Wally was the nephew of Barry (the Flash) Allen's girlfriend, Iris, and when Barry was giving him a tour of the police station Barry worked at, the same freak accident that gave Barry his powers happened to Wally!!!
Now with the same speed powers as Barry, Barry quickly added Wally as his partner. First in a kid-sized version of Barry's suit, but then later, in his own colored suit. Wally served as Barry's sidekick for many years, and also helped co-found the Teen Titans, where Wally continued to do his superhero deeds.
Eventually, though, Wally grew tired of the hero game, and gave it all up. Tragically, though, soon after Wally made this decision, his mentor (and, after Barry married Iris, his uncle), Barry gave his life to save the Earth. Wally was then forced to become the Flash.
While at the beginning of his tenure, Wally was a bit immature, he soon grew into one of the most notable heroes of the current generation. A big point in his maturation was his relationship with reporter Linda Park. The two had been friends for awhile, and their flirtatious banter during writer Bill Loebs' run was excellent, but during Mark Waid's tenure on the title, he had the two begin a relationship, and soon, Linda's love for Wally was all Wally needed to really grow as both a person AND a hero. Like when Wally was seemingly killed in Flash #98 in a battle with Kobra. Linda carries on, doing her best to defend her city even though, as she notes, she is now "dead inside" due to Wally's death, but then...
Has Wally returned only to die once again?!!?
Wally and Linda eventually married, but after giving birth to twins, Wally was forced to take his family with him, as he basically went into the Speed Force in an attempt to stop an evil villain. The group eventually returned, with the children now grown a bit, and with superpowers. Think the Incredibles.
Then the New 52 happened and Wally was basically erased from continuity. A new character named Wally West was introduced and became the new Kid Flash, but this new Wally had no connection to the original Wally. Then DC Rebirth occurred and we learned that the original Wally had been trapped outside of reality and was slowly vanishing. Just before he disappeared for good, though, Barry Allen reached through and grabbed his protege, anchoring him in this reality. Things were looking up for Wally, but the problem was that his wife, Linda Park, did not know who he was in this reality and their children also did not exist in this reality.
Wally tried to woo this reality's Linda, but eventually, the trauma of it all was just too much for Wally. He went to Sanctuary, a place for superheroes dealing with trauma. While there, he accidentally exposed himself to all of the files of the other heroes there, but he did so all at once and the process sort of overloaded his mind and he kind of snapped. In the process, he unleashed a good deal of Speed Force energy, killing many of the heroes there, including Wally's old friend, Roy Harper. Wally then made a fateful decision to frame Booster Gold and Harley Quinn for the killings and to then use time travel to kill himself in the future and bring his own dead body to the past and include him among the murdered heroes, thus totally framing Booster and Harley (as Wally couldn't very well be the murderer if he was murdered alongside the others, right?).
Eventually, his ruse was discovered and, after a future clone was substituted for the dead Wally, Wally was arrested by the Justice League.
7. Joker - 1757 points (15 first place votes)
Created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, the Joker was Batman's greatest villain even as soon as he debuted, even as he has evolved over the years.
In his earliest appearances, he was a sadistic, ruthless and clever murderer...
This version of Joker was extremely popular. In the first dozen issues of Batman, the Joker appeared in three quarters of them!
However, as time went by, the Joker's murdering ways were deemed a bit excessive, so although he continued to be Batman's most popular foes, he became more goofy than anything. In 1973, after the biggest gap yet between appearances (a couple of years - like I said, the guy was always REALLY popular), Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams brought back a new version of the Joker - crazy AND murderous...
Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin followed up on this...
In the late 1980s, led by Alan Moore's use of the Joker, he was now more a chaotic murderer (that is not a knock on Moore himself, as in his story the Joker DID have a motive - to drive Commissioner Gordon insane - it's a matter where later writers have picked up on just the surface aspect of Moore's story - the seeming chaos of it all). The Joker has continued to be a major villain ever since. Recently, in a bit of an homage to the fact that the Killing Joke established one POSSIBLE origin for the Joker, the Joker received an origin film that has become a blockbuster.