A list of my favourite eclectic personalities from comics history.
A list of my favourite eclectic personalities from comics history.
My first exposure to this latter-day Prince of the Forest came from the 1992 Disney adaptation where he is portrayed as a wisecracking, smooth-talking, anarchic and immediately endearing party animal with a devil-may-care outlook on life. In his own world, Mars is so cool he approaches absolute zero, but his ultimate naivete and unfamiliarity with the human world gets him into awkward situations which provides much of the conflict and charm of his stories. Nevertheless, he always elegantly dances his way out of problems with his head held high and optimistic attitude intact. Much like Garfield or especially Snoopy, Mars is not quite as cool as he thinks he is, but the very important fact that he doesn't CARE even if you point that out to him is a major distinguishing feature and makes him astonishingly likable. Marsupilami is the ultimate free spirit who bounces to the beat of his own drum, and whether you like it or not doesn't faze him one way or the other. I laughed with him, at him but most of all I idolized his plucky and carefree demeanor, which may have had the greatest impact on shaping my worldview. Disney's streetwise rover was admittedly very different than his original depiction as a curious and fiercely protective animal (and a silent one to boot) and while I love both incarnations and both are valid, I do tend to prefer Disney's re-imagining over the original, probably the only time you'll ever hear me say that. Either way, Marsupilami is an icon of comics and quite possibly my favourite character of all time.
I would not have started writing anything were it not for Donald Duck. That's just a fact: He was most likely my primary inspiration to pick up a pencil on a regular basis. There is a depth and sophistication in Carl Barks' characterization of Donald that was absolutely unheard of at the time and actually puts his parent company to shame. Disney's theatrical shorts cast him as the perennial loser who's funny because he loses his temper all the time, but Carl Barks writes him as a person, not a joke. Barks' Donald is an everyman with working-class loyalties who is always trying to make ends meet and is constantly between jobs. Donald can most certainly be selfish, short tempered or antagonistic at times, but aren't we all? He's a good person at heart, but he can still be the hero or villain of the story depending on the circumstance and that's just amazing. Barks' Donald makes me laugh, but he does so because of how relatible and versatile he is, not because of how cartoonishly angry he can get.
Much like his nephew, those familiar with the Disney cartoons (with the notable exception of DuckTales)might be surprised to see the depth and nuance Carl Barks, his original creator, infused Uncle Scrooge with. Scrooge is the richest duck in the world, but far from being the miserly recluse his namesake is, he made his fortune through savvy business deals, prospecting and treasure hunting. Scrooge has a deep mistrust of loan sharks, mortgage schemes and other ways money is used to make money with other kinds of money. He's an old-world entrepreneur in the classical sense who shows the benefits of capitalism in its ideal state. While Scrooge is tight around the belt, he's not mean-spirited and is actually very helpful and supportive to his friends and family, though it must be said that he practises tough love: Scrooge values personal responsibility above all else and hopes to instil that value into his nephews. In many ways Scrooge is the compliment to Donald: Donald is poor and always between jobs. His life isn't easy, but he has a nice family life with his nephews and his on-again-off-again girlfriend. Scrooge has always put his career first and is ludicrously successful, but never had much time for anything else. Is one perspective better than the other? I think Carl Barks intent was to show the merit in both of them and realistically portray how two people could come to these conclusions in life. For that, he should be forever commended.
Poison Ivy seems at first glance to be fanservice personified, and she may well have been in her earliest appearances. However, starting with Neil Gaiman's retool of her in the 1980s and especially with Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini's spectacular re-imagining of her for Batman the Animated Series Ivy's become a top tier and very popular villain. Nowadays, though, we have to ask: Is she really a pure villain? Perhaps surprisingly, I don't think so. Not anymore. In my favourite depictions of her, Ivy (usually) never strikes first: Only if she or something she cares about is harmed will she retaliate, and she's almost always completely justified in doing so. I've always seen Ivy as an extremely tragic character: A character who's rapidly becoming more force of nature then person and who is struggling to find a reason to hold on to her humanity. Ivy must ask herself, especially as someone who has been abused and neglected almost her whole life, what's so special about being human if the human world is filled with petty trifles and worse, spite and malice? In many ways Ivy reminds me a great deal of Doctor Manhattan and Swamp Thing, except with the crucial difference that she has somebody who will always stand by her. Let's cast aside the lesbian jokes here-Harley and Ivy need each other. Harley needs someone older, wiser and (unbelievable as it may seem) more stable to keep her grounded. Ivy needs Harley because without her, she has no reason to keep any part of her human. Harley reminds Ivy that, horrific as humans may be, we have a range of emotions and experiences that it would be a shame to cast away. Are they in a relationship? Most certainly. Is it a lesbian one? Probably, but so what? They're two people whose lives have been made infinitely better by knowing each other and that's what's most important. Perhaps we should treat Ivy the same way we treat Donald and Scrooge, as being perfectly able of playing the hero or villain depending on the circumstance and who's in the spotlight. With or without Harley, though, Ivy's personal struggle is a really powerful one and one that resonates quite strongly with me. That's more then enough reason for her to take such a high spot on the list.
I considered putting all five of these iconic sleuths on here individually, but I realised that might stretch the list out a bit much and it's ultimately their team dynamic that I enjoy the most. If they were exclusively comic characters they would probably be even higher, by the way, but I decided to put them a bit lower because they're mostly cartoon characters, despite some of my favourite adventures of their being found only on the printed page. Either way, I am not ashamed to admit that I owe a great deal to Scooby-Doo in its many incarnations and this is a great place to make that known. I think what I really admire the most about Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby is that they're friends through and through. In the franchise's best moments you really do get a sense that these five go way, way back and are probably each others' soulmates. They travel the world together and have the kind of adventures together that risk making Tintin or Uncle Scrooge feel insignificant. What I would give to have that kind of life: An endless road trip with my four dearest friends in the whole world. It's a really powerful and alluring sentiment, and that's what I think has allowed Scooby to last as long as he has.
OK, snark all you want Internet comedians, but Garfield is more then unfunny recycled jokes and merchandising. It was, at one time at least, one of the most brutally honest and straightforward comics you could find. Is Garfield a jerk? Sure he is, but we all have our bitter and sadistic tendencies and so does he. Especially under the incredibly talented Mark Evanier during the run of the TV series Garfield and Friends, there was no better place to hear much-needed cynical satire about everyday life, and there was no-one better to bring that voice to life then Lorenzo Music. Garfield's biggest strength as both a character and a comic strip is how it just masters the slice of life concept. Garfield has the most boring life conceivable, yet he dreams of coming up with an infinitely more interesting and exciting one, something us writers and fans can relate to. Garfield's world feels exaggerated enough to be funny yet down to earth enough to be realistic and immediately recognizable. When written well, Garfield's deadpan style can also be really, really damn funny too.
Being such an institution, it can be hard to step back and look at Snoopy for who he really is. Snoopy is an incredibly tragic character, possibly one of the most tragic in all of comics. His life is utterly devoid of any meaning. Even Garfield has a show to run and chats amicably with his audience. Snoopy is barred even that luxury. Snoopy constructs his own world around him, and its so convincing we don't know where reality ends and the dream begins. He's convinced he's the world's greatest writer, but he can't put out anything sensible. He dreams of fighting in the great war or creaming champion after champion in the most prestigious sporting events in the world, but his escapades, as humorous as they are, may ultimately be absolutely pointless. In many ways, Snoopy may be the horrible, bleak deconstruction of the writer's trick of trying to live vicariously through their creations. Even as the nihilistic end result of creativity gone wild, Snoopy still manages to be profoundly entertaining: His running commentaries on his other lives somehow managing to come out endearing instead of depressing.
Batman may be my favourite superhero mythos, but if you ask me to name my favourite superhero in particular, I'm pretty sure it'd have to be Peej here. Being of the Superman family she sure has the pureblood superhero pedigree, but what really makes her appealing to me is her grown-up realism, by which I mean she seems the most like an actual person of the heroes I've taken the time to follow. For one thing her physique is very unique among superheroines, and I'm not talking about the obvious bit here: Power Girl (at least when she's drawn correctly anyway), is still tall, but is noticeably stockier and much more toned then the willowy, busty Amazonian stereotype for female crimefighters: She's not a supermodel in spandex, she's a ripped-up, bare-knuckles, gym-honed street fighting brawler, and she definitely looks the part. I can't think of another girl in comics who comes close to that. Another thing I love about her is her personality and mannerisms, all which combine to make her seem really collected and down to Earth (which is weird considering she's Kryptonian, but make of that what you will). Power Girl just seems COOL, and like someone I'd actually like to hang out with and talk to. That being said, she's also a loving, supportive (but disarming) mentor to her friends and a nightmarish terror to her enemies, so her range of emotions is complete. Another thing to compliment Peej on, especially under Amanda Conner, Jimmy Plamiotti and Justin Grey, is her absolutely charming genre savvy sensibilities. Power Girl is absolutely a product of the most ludicrous excesses of the comic book industry, and she damn well knows it. Even so, she's supremely confidant in herself and her body despite her quirks and foibles and that's incredibly refreshing. Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, Power Girl may be the most human superhero of them all.
Like with many of the characters on this list, Selina Kyle's history has been a bit up and down. There have been some incredible highs (Gotham Girls, her solo series, becoming Adam Hughes' muse) some pitiful lows (the Halle Barry movie) and some definite take-it-or-leave-it moments (Batman: TAS, Batman Returns). Typically consistent across all her portrayals, however, is the idea that Catwoman has the ultimate devil-may-care attitude: The archetypical rebellious spirit. Of all her Gotham neighbours, she is the most unambiguously grey and the most resilient to the ho-hum Good/Evil binary. She's a bank robber, international jewel thief and perpetrator of high-level industrial espionage and money laundering, but she has an upstanding moral code and never hesitates to help out the less fortunate. In fact, the money she gains from her crimes more often than not goes to charity or to help out the less fortunate, as we see in Gotham Girls and Gotham City Sirens, for example. In fact, she's shown just as often helping Batman put the criminals behind bars as she is eluding capture herself. That's what I think is most appealing about her: Her fiercely indomitable independence and the proud way she marches to the beat of her own drum. I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned in that.
Hunter S. Thompson is one of my personal heroes, so it goes without saying Warren Ellis' tribute to the late great Doctor of Journalism would be right up my alley. Spider's endless crusade to deliver the truth and unravel the lecherous complacency surrounding him is a perfect analog to Dr. Thompson's real-life sensibilities, and the crazy, upside down world of Transmetropolitan is *almost* as fascinating as the stories the real Duke could tell.
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