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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sunday supervillainy - countdown of top 100 Marvel and DC characters (2)

Back in this post, I was talking about a countdown of the top 100 DC and Marvel characters (i.e. the top 50 from each company) that was underway, based on votes from "nearly 1400" fans.

At the time, the list was still counting down and listed the 15th to 50th most popular characters from Marvel and the 15th to 50th from DC, based on the voting. Since then the countdown has concluded and the lists are now complete.

How did I go in my prediction of the final 14 Marvel characters? Not that badly. Here is my prediction, from the earlier post:

1. Spider-Man
2. Wolverine
3. Captain America (Steve Rogers)
4. Iron Man
5. The Hulk
6. Thor
7. Doctor Doom
8. Magneto
9. Professor X.
10. Galactus
11. The Thing
12. Mary Jane Watson
13. Cyclops
14. Doctor Strange

And here is the actual list:

1. Spider-Man
2. Captain America (Steve Rogers)
3. Thor
4. Wolverine
5. The Hulk
6. Daredevil
7. Iron Man
8. Doctor Doom
9. Cyclops
10. Hawkeye (Clint Barton)
11. The Thing
12. Magneto
13. Nightcrawler
14. Doctor Strange

Some observations. First, I totally forgot about Daredevil (I knew I was forgetting someone important), who certainly should be in the top 10. On the other hand, I'm surprised to see Hawkeye and Nightcrawler ranking in the top 15 - both are important characters, but I wouldn't have said they were all that iconic or all that important from an in-world viewpoint. So I've learned that those two characters are more popular than I would have thought.

Second, I'm surprised and a bit concerned that Professor X has not only not made the top 10 or 15 characters - he has not made the top 50 at all! Yet, he is surely one of Marvel's most iconic characters and is very important from an in-universe viewpoint as well, as founder of the the X-Men (and their leader through much of Marvel's history). Something has gone wrong if such an important character is not getting ranked highly in a poll like this (conversely, his arch-rival, Magneto, ranks 12 ... not quite as high as I predicted, but still very high, and despite being primarily a villain; this disparity suggests that something really is askew in the marketing of a major character).

Third, a couple of wild-cards that I threw in didn't make the overall list at all. One was Mary Jane Watson. Well, she's Spider-Man's main (over the decades) love interest: though she's a somewhat iconic character, MJ is not a superhero or a supervillain, so perhaps it's not a great surprise that she doesn't make the list. Moreso since Marvel retconned away her marriage to Spider-Man. I'm actually a bit more surprised to see the important and iconic villain Galactus not make the top-50 list at all. I still think he should be up near Doctor Doom and Magneto.
Fourth ... now here's something worth talking about. The highest ranking female character turned out to be Emma Frost, at number 17. Ouch! That's a bit of a concern. Sixteen male characters before we finally get to a female character.

Some of the X-women have done quite well, with Kitty Pryde at 19, Jean Grey at 20, Storm at 21, and Rogue at 23. But She-Hulk is at 26, Ms Marvel languishes at 29 (despite getting lots of push from Marvel on an ongoing basis), the Scarlet Witch is at 31, Invisible Woman at 47 ... and the Wasp, who is one of the great classic superheroines from the Silver Age, does not appear at all.

A few others - the Black Widow, X-23, She-Hulk, Psylocke, and Spider-Woman - appear on the lower half of the list, but it's a poor showing overall for female characters. Worse, so many of those who do make the list are female variants of more popular male characters (She-Hulk is a variant of the Hulk, Spider-Woman of Spider-Man, and X-23 of Wolverine). And female villains do very poorly indeed - even Mystique does not make the top-50 list, despite her considerable exposure (in more ways than one) in the X-Men movies.

I'm not sure what Marvel can do about this. You can't force the readers to adopt a character and give it the sort of popularity that makes the character iconic. Marvel sometimes seems, to me, to be trying to force things with Ms Marvel, who clearly has a great name from the company's viewpoint, as well as a cool costume design and a classic power set - but with only limited success.

There's a limit ... but I can't help feeling that Marvel has made some bad decisions with female characters. Think about it.

The Wasp has been sort of dead for some time now, and there's no real push to bring her back. The Scarlet Witch was rendered unusable some years ago, when she was turned into an overpowered deus ex machina type character, though Marvel seems to be doing something about that problem in the current Children's Crusade mini-series. Jean Grey (a.k.a. Phoenix) has been considered dead for years, but still manages to hold down position 20. It seems crazy that Marvel has not yet found a way to bring her back to centre stage.

The move to destroy the Spider-Man/MJ marriage may have made commercial sense, restoring the Silver Age status quo of a bachelor Spider-Man with a troubled love life. I'm not so critical of that, though many others are (many fans are almost obsessed about it). But MJ is a well-loved character, and surely there are better ways to use her than as a relatively unimportant member of Spider-Man's support cast, i.e. just as an ex with whom he broke up amicably and who is still his friend.

As I say, this sort of thing can't be forced, but some of Marvel's decisions look, well, almost like the company has gone out of its way to sideline its great female characters. I'm sure that's not true, but it could also put a bit more thought into avoiding these bad scenarios.

Finally, my list doesn't look very different from the list as it actually eventuated. I had a few characters in exactly the same slots (the Hulk, the Thing, Dr Strange) and some others very close. I was a bit surprised at little things such as Wolverine coming out at number 4 rather than number 2, and at Thor doing quite so well (and I thought Iron Man would have done slightly better, given the success of the Iron Man movies), but all in all the outcome was fairly predictable.


The Uncredible Hallq said...

Re: the bad decisions

I wonder if this could be in part a result of clumsy attempts to push female characters.

Think about it: two of the three "bad decisions" you list involve characters who were "powered up" to ridiculous degrees. You say outright that the Scarlet Witch is now too powerful to be useable.

I suspect something similar happened with Jean Grey: the writers didn't want the main female character to be a weakling, so they powered her up until no one knew what to do with her and she had to be written out.

Also, what's the deal with Sue Richards? On paper, her abilities look the most useful, and I've heard she's officially the most powerful member of the FF. Why isn't she the star of the show--Superman to Reed's Batman? I'm guessing the writers just can't figure out *how* to consistently writer her at full power.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, when you go back to the Silver Age comics there are three main superheroines - Sue Storm/Richards, a.k.a. Invisible Girl (now Invisible Woman), Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp, and Jean Grey, a.k.a. Marvel Girl (now Phoenix, with the Marvel Girl name going to Rachel Grey).

The Scarlet Witch joined this group after she left Magneto's Brotherhood and signed up with the Avengers.

None of them were presented as heavy hitters in combat - and there was a bit of sexist thing going on here that "girls don't fight" except defensively. But they were able to use their powers in ways that made them useful at critical moments. You could say that there was an overreaction to this.

The great age for female characters at Marvel was the 1980s when Chris Claremont was writing Storm, Rogue, Psyclocke and others as very powerful and useful characters, while (generally - Jean Grey became the exception) not making them so powerful as to be unusable.

Rocket Stegosaurus said...



Russell Blackford said...

That may be the problem. ;)

Svlad Cjelli said...

"I'm not so critical of that"

Well, maybe you should be. :P

Spencer Troxell said...

Do you read the author of Dresden Codak's tumbler account?

I think you might like it. Very good in depth superhero stuff.


Bao Pu said...

Yes, Daredevil for sure. I agree Professor X should be much higher as well as Galactus. I also agree that Wasp should be there somewhere, but where is Electra? Being a big fan of Daredevil back in the day, she was also a favourite, as was Bullseye. I was also a big fan of the Black Panther, so I would have placed him higher. I've never been a big fan of Spiderman, but obviously I'm in the minority!

Verbose Stoic said...

Interestingly, I was just reading an old X-Men comic (I'm working through all of my old ones) and a survey in there had a question about whether the readers want Spider-man and Mary Jane to stay married or get divorced. So that thought's been around since at least 1994.

I think Professor X is iconic but isn't all that active. He's been very active at various times but the characters most up front and centre have been the rest of the team, not him. So he'd lose points on that. One could argue that Jarvis is important as well, but he won't get considered because of that background status.

I think for Pheonix she's been away for so long because it became a joke about how she dies and comes back, so they're trying not to overuse it again. I missed the Wasp death, though, so can't say much about that.

That being said, checking the list I don't think that there's that much of a dearth of female characters in a real sense, since the ones higher really are just the iconic characters that resonated with readers. The female characters from then on are still ones that have a lot of respect and attention, but it's hard to overtake characters like Thor, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, and so on.