I have the strangest relationship with Marvel Comics. I’m a fan! Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I’m a fan of the characters and concepts that I’m supposed to like. I discovered Marvel shortly after I’d begun reading DC Comics. With DC, I was a huge Wonder Woman and Aquaman fan, thanks to ‘The Super Friends,’ and I loved watching reruns of ‘Batman.’ And I loved the ‘Super Friends’/'Justice League of America,’ all the biggest guns in one place! Why pay 60 cents for a comic with just Green Lantern in it, when you could pay the same price and get Green Arrow, Black Canary, The Atom, Zatanna and Elongated Man, too?!
When I discovered Marvel Comics, things… changed.With Marvel, they didn’t put all their biggest names on the same team. Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, their two biggest stars, were both strictly solo at the time. Captain America was in The Avengers, one of my first Marvel discoveries, which I instantly adored, but he starred alongside heroes like The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and The Wasp. At such a young age, I’d never heard of these characters! And so many of Marvel’s other solo headliners like Daredevil were also mostly lone wolves.
Nevertheless, a superhero is a superhero to a kid and I dove headfirst into the Marvel Universe with almost as much zeal as I had with DC. However, I continually found myself enraptured by the oddest characters to populate this universe! I wasn’t remotely interested in Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America… no, I kept fixating on the supporting characters! But ya know what? I love ‘em to this day!
So without further ado, here are my Top Ten favorite Marvel heroes:
10. Iceman – Bobby Drake was a founding member of the X-Men and served as the team’s resident Class Clown. My first exposure to him came from the Saturday morning cartoon ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,’ where he also served as a comic foil for Peter Parker and was professionally partnered with Firestar, a heat-powered character created just for the show.
Iceman’s ice-based powers were unique on cartoons at the time. Plus they made a neat sound effect and he had a cool transformation sequence where he encased himself in a block of ice only to smash free! I never quite figured out if somehow his body was transformed into ice or if he was just coated in it. The latter is what ‘The Official Handbook To The Marvel Universe’ implied, but that just sounded dumb to me. Plus, they said he constantly crackled from the ice breaking as he moved and that all his ice slides were held aloft by support beams, when clearly I, with my functioning eyes, could see they weren’t. (Inya FACE, ‘TOHTTMU!’) Iceman was just cool, no pun intended!
9. (tie) Namor, The Submariner and Moondragon – These two share a couple of similarities which forced me to lump them together. Number one, skimpy green costumes. Yep, every time I complain about female superheroes’ costumes being too spare, there’s Namor, the Avenging Son to spoil my argument. (Exception, not the rule!) Second, they’re first class A-Holes.
Never before had I read of heroes that were anything but honest, altruistic and compassionate. Then along came this pair. Namor was cocky, entitled and dismissive of his fellow heroes. I went on to learn that for a period of time in the early ’60s, he was actually considered a villain! He kept trying to bag Reed Richards’ wife. He’s currently trying to bag Emma Frost, so… apparently he has a thing for blondes. There’s something appealing about someone who is just an unapologetic jerk, though. Like they have the guts to say and do what we all think, but never act upon. Guy Gardner owes his entire career to The Submariner!
Moondragon also started off as a villain, with the unfortunate moniker, “Madam McEvil.” Really?! I must admit… as a kid, I had some weird fascination with bald women. I was captivated by Ilia in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and had to have her action figure, even though that movie was as boring as dirt and I didn’t want any of the other figures from the movie. (I integrated her into the ‘Star Wars’ action figure continuity and she totally OWNED Darth Vader!) I was also obsessed with Grace Jones and saw every godawful movie she was in. ‘Conan The Destroyer,’ ‘A View To A Kill,’ I don’t care how bad they are, it’s Grace FREAKIN’ Jones! So yeah, me plus bald women equals swoon!
When I first met her, Moondragon was a reluctant member of The Defenders, under the watchful eye of Brunhilda The Valkyrie (who narrowly missed out on a spot on this list). She was just such a bitch! She had nothing but contempt for her teammates and would have used her telepathy to conquer them all, except for that psionics-blocking headband Odin slapped on her forehead! But eventually, she opted to be a real hero and at one point sacrificed her life for the greater good. I was crushed! (Valkyrie also “died” in that story.) But both women eventually recovered and are once more active in the Marvel U.
8. Luke Cage – Luke Cage is simply the pure personification of the word “Badass!” He’s tough in both physical ability and attitude. His super strength and impenetrable skin are almost an afterthought. His real power is sticking it to whitey! Luke was created by Marvel in the early ’70s as a reflection of what we now refer to as “Blaxploitation” movies, low-budget action films which featured African American protagonists (“heroes” might be a bit of a stretch in some cases) in urban settings, battling white oppressors. The most famous of these were ‘Shaft’ and ‘Superfly.’ As comic publishers often do, Marvel attempted to tap into this market and the result was deliciously campy and misguided.
Nevertheless, Luke Cage is a badass. He doesn’t take any crap from anyone. He is honest, compassionate and always does the right thing. He originated as a “Hero for Hire,” but he ultimately never accepted payment from those truly deserving. (Otherwise, he wound up screwed by those undeserving. I don’t think he ever actually got paid!) Plus, he partnered with Iron Fist, a Kung Fu expert… Blaxploitation and Kung Fu?! Does it get any more ’70s?! Why yes! Once they teamed up with… (pause) ahem, #4 on this list.
7. Misty Knight – Whereas Luke Cage was Marvel’s answer to ‘Shaft’ and ‘Superfly,’ Misty was their ‘Cleopatra Jones’ or ‘Foxy Brown!’ Um… even BETTER!!! Misty was a hard-boiled detective, with a powerful cybernetic arm, a hot boyfriend (Ironfist!) and the absolute most fabulous afro in existence! In the ’70s, she was mostly a supporting character, but in recent years, she has led a number of titles, either teamed with longtime partner Colleen Wing or as the head of the new ‘Heroes For Hire’ and now possibly ‘Villains For Hire.’
Misty is smart, resourceful and above all else, tough! (Just look at her! Do you want to mess with her?!) She doesn’t take crap from anyone! She gave Tony Stark quite the tongue-lashing following ‘Civil War!’ Misty and Colleen (a.k.a. KnightWing Investigations) would make a killer television series! Someone get on that! (And call Annie Ilonzeh from the recently cancelled ‘Charlie’s Angels’ reboot before someone else snaps her up!)
6. (tie) Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel – Perhaps you are thinking, “Another tie?! You’re totally cheating! Why didn’t you just make this a Top 12?” Because nobody makes a Top 12! Don’t be ridiculous! No, actually the two ties (I swear, that’s all) have a lot in common, so I couldn’t rank one over the other. In this case, I became enamored of these two heroes as a very young child. So young, I couldn’t actually even read yet. Spider-Woman starred in her own cartoon on Saturday mornings which I loved! It wasn’t until years later that I learned that her cartoon had absolutely nothing in common with her comics. (Which is probably why I never liked her comics.) But she was stunning! Her yellow and red costume was completely eye-catching. Brian Michael Bendis once said, she had the “best head of hair in comics” and I can’t dispute that! (Well, for a Caucasian character, ahem #7.) For a time she was pretty much the only female Marvel Superhero to appear on licensed merchandising, so she was everywhere!
I also became aware of Ms. Marvel through merchandising before actual comics. When I was five, I got a tiny Ms. Marvel cup (slightly smaller than a shot glass) out of the quarter machine at the Winn Dixie grocery store down the street from my house. Ms. Marvel?! Who the heck was she?! Eventually, I discovered her in some back issues of ‘The Avengers,’ and was suitably impressed. Luckily I didn’t read the storyline which led to her leaving the team until I was much older. (She um, went to live with her own son, Marcus who had grown to adulthood via cosmic powers. That’s ick on every level.)
As much as I love these two, I can’t help but feel that love is somewhat superficially based. I love them… but neither has ever had a very strong comic series. Their depictions in ‘The Avengers’ is about the best that either has enjoyed. But then again, is that so wrong?
5. Firestar – Iceman’s costar on ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ was a former X-Man, now seeking new thrills in the Big Apple. She wore a fabulous gold jumpsuit, rocked a titian Farrah hairdo, could fly, wore a fabulous gold jumpsuit, fired heat bolts and wore a fabulous gold jumpsuit! With a V-collar! Take that New 52 Justice League! Good job jumping on the Firestar bandwagon 30 years too late!
In actuality, Firestar was created especially for the cartoon series. The producers had originally planned to use the Human Torch, but opted instead to create a new female character, who went through a few alternate names, Heat Wave and Firefly before they opted for the dazzling ‘Firestar.’ Firestar was the most level-headed of the Spider Friends and her powers were quite effective. She was later introduced in the Marvel Comics continuity, with an altered back story. The Spider Friends didn’t exist in the “real” Marvel U, so instead she was a member of Emma Frost’s Hellions, before becoming a long-running member of The New Warriors and eventually The Avengers! She also recently beat cancer!
But really… as one character in the ‘Marvel Divas’ miniseries exclaimed, “Best! Costume! Ever! (Except for… )”
4. Dazzler – Iiiiiii… love to love you, baby! Sorry, I was a child of the ’70s and Donna Summer is the first musical artist I ever knew by name. When other four year-olds were singing “Old McDonald” I was putting on my mom’s thigh high suede disco boots and rocking out to “Hot Stuff” a song about what we refer to today as a “booty call.” So yeah, that’s me.
Dazzler, like Luke Cage, I adore because of the misguided-ness of her creation. Trying to tap into current pop culture is a sure fire recipe for disaster in comics and Dazzler drove that home. She could convert sound into light, even powerful laser beams, but the fact that she roller skated into battle just made it impossible to take her seriously… which I think is what makes her the ultimate gay icon among superheroes. Gay men love camp! I bought the “Special Edition” of Olivia Newton-John’s movie ‘Xanadu’ the day it came out! I may have even woken up early to do so!
That shimmery jumpsuit, the KISS makeup, that hair… NO superhero is more glamorous!
3. Hellcat – The Wasp just barely missed making this list, but I love her for much the same reason as I love Patsy Walker, Hellcat! My first comic shop had most of ‘The Defenders’ back issues in the quarter bin. Lured by the presence of The Submariner, I bought these by the pile and quickly came to adore the female leads in the book, the previously mentioned Valkyrie and even more so, Hellcat! Like Namor and Moondragon, she exemplified a character type I’d never seen in a superhero. Unlike those two d-bags, though, her trait was that she absolutely LOVED being a superhero! Think about being a kid and the allure of superheroes. Doesn’t it all boil down to how much FUN it would be? And Patsy had a BLAST being a superhero! She was funny, energetic and just a complete charmer!
What is it about these upbeat, positive characters that creators feel the need to squash? She wound up married to the Son of Satan and being tortured, driven insane, then killed and stranded in Hell. What the…?!
Anyway, she’s alive again. She helps The Avengers out when they need her and also has formed a friendship with fellow female heroes The Black Cat, Firestar and…
2. Captain Marvel – That’s right. I called her “Captain Marvel!” Monica Rambeau adopted this code name in the early ’80s, following the death of Marvel’s first Captain Marvel, the Kree warrior Mar-Vell, and she served the title proud as a long-running member and later leader of The Avengers. When Captain America selected the heroes that he felt were the truest “Avengers,” she was on the short list. Yet… Marvel in the ’90s, decided they wanted a male to take the name, so they introduced Mar-Vell’s son Genis and made Monica hand the title over to him. She selected a new code name, “Photon.” Genis as Captain Marvel amounted to diddly squat. Then, and I seriously don’t get this, they decided that Genis should go by the name Photon, so Monica once again changed her name, this time to “Pulsar!” The hell?!! Did I mention she LED The Avengers? Thor! Captain America! She told them what to do!
Monica can transform into any form of energy, even Green Lantern’s emerald power and project it. She can travel at light speed and pass through solid matter. She is simply one of the most powerful Marvel Superheroes there is. She was the sole female character to grace the cover of Marvel’s popular role playing game in the ’80s. And what does she get for it? Injustice! Nowadays, she simply goes by her real name and pops up in the occasional miniseries. Not cool!
1. Storm – Love at first sight! I first encountered her on ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ and was instantly smitten! She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, real or animated. Then, when I read her comics, she was so multidimensional! Strong, proud, intelligent… then there was her claustrophobia which reduced her to panic! (A plot device too many writers have gone back to over the years.) She valiantly led the X-Men, comics’ biggest property at the time, even after she herself had lost her mutant powers!
And what about those powers? The ability to manipulate the weather? If you’ve ever witnessed a real storm in its full fury, you know that’s no laughing matter. Tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis… sheer destruction and she could whip any of the above up with a twitch of her hand! Who hasn’t wished they could summon a cooling rain storm in the blazing summer or warming sunlight after a blizzard? It was all hers.
At her peak, Storm was the Queen of superheroes! She led the biggest selling team in comics. She exudes power, logic and grace. She’s the woman that walks into a room and all eyes go to her. When she married the Black Panther and officially became a queen, it was just a formality. Everyone already bowed before this powerhouse!
So, I completely get that this is strictly MY Top Ten list. NO ONE will agree with it! But I can’t change the way I feel about my Marvel heroes. I love Spider-Man! Just… far, far less than I love Dazzler and Luke Cage. And that’s just how it is! So bring it!