Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Superheroes I wish I liked more than I do

Last week was fairly Hulk-centric. Along with my regular Friday Hulk column, I reviewed two Hulk Visionaries trades and Hulk: Fall of the Hulks Prelude. With weeks like that, I would sympathize with any accusations of tunnel vision.

I'm a geeky Hulk fanboy. There's no denying it.

I got to thinking about that, how I've never harbored a similar loyalty to another superhero character, and how many superheroes there are that I've desperately wanted to like - many times just because I liked how they look - but was always disappointed.

These are those heroes, or at least as many as I could think of - the superheroes I wish I liked more than I do.


I always liked Green Lantern's look and the way his powers worked. Growing up as a Marvel kid, I didn't really get to know the character. By the time I was reading DC regularly, Hal Jordan had been replaced with Kyle Rayner.

I liked Rayner in Morrison's JLA and later in Waid's, but didn't really care about his solo stuff. I thought he worked great in a team setting, but just didn't find him interesting at all on his own.

Ironically, the things I liked most about Green Lantern's powers worked against his appeal. The fact that he can make anything with his ring just makes things seem too easy. If he loses to a bad guy, it's tough not to think "Well why didn't he just make (insert thing I would obviously think of in a similar situation because I'm such a genius)."


Depending on who you talk to, Ghost Rider wasn't really in the Defenders. He was a guest star in an issue or two, but when a team bills itself as a "non-team" like the Defenders your criteria for who is and isn't a member is pretty thin. Regardless, he was Defender-ish, and I love the Defenders. He's a dark, mystical loner. And he looks cool. Leather jacket, spikes, flaming skull, and a motorcycle. He's like a bad-ass tattoo come to life as a superhero.

I just hate his comics. Simple as that. I've read a bunch of them, from different volumes, and I never read an issue of Ghost Rider I liked. It made saving money when the movie came out pretty easy.


There was a time when Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Spider-Girl made something of an underdog triumvirate at Marvel. They were always described with phrases like "critically acclaimed" and "fan favorite" but still suffered low sales. I read Captain Marvel and Black Panther at the time, wanted both to succeed, and figured somehow I needed to at least give Spider-Girl a try.

I loved Ron Frenz's art. I also appreciated the fact that Spider-Girl enjoyed a unique setting. It was an alternate Marvel future, but unlike almost every other alternate future superhero story, it wasn't dystopian. There was something immediately refreshing about reading a future story that wasn't about how Everything Went Wrong. Unfortunately, the second-person narrative was a deal breaker for me. Writing in the second person isn't easy to pull off. When you do it well it can be phenomenal, but it's tricky, and it made Spider-Girl unreadable.

Not to mention, she kind of looks creepy. I haven't read the new Spider-Girl, but I think the fact that the old one basically had the same mask as Spider-Man with a woman's body made her look a little weird.


I dug Paul Jenkins's first Sentry limited series and the related one-shots. I thought the concept of a forgotten superhero was interesting, I liked the fact that my favorite green guy was closely associated with Sentry's story, and I thought overall the series was just a good read. My only complaint was what I thought was a fairly ho-hum ending. I had guessed as early as the second issue that Sentry was the Void. I was so sure of it, I assumed it was supposed to be obvious and was confused when it was treated as a surprise.

But I was never impressed with how he was handled once Brian Michael Bendis brought him back in New Avengers. Now that the cat was out of the bag about the Sentry/Void relationship, Sentry seemed to mainly serve as a ticking time bomb. The drama and suspense of that bomb was smothered by the fact that I knew he was going to go crazy. It seemed like the only purpose he served in stories was to eventually go crazy, so if he showed up, it isn't like I was wondering if. I just wondered when.


Actually, I like Namor. In fact, John Byrne's Namor was the only series Byrne wrote that I liked. Unfortunately, I think the way his character's been handled makes it tough to follow his adventures.

I recall some years ago Christopher Priest going on a little rant on a message board about an issue of Cable in which Black Panther was abruptly granted some form of telepathy. This is no direct quote, but if I'm remembering it right, the basic gist of what Priest said was that he found it annoying that because Black Panther didn't enjoy the popularity of a headlining superhero, writers felt they had more license to do whatever they wanted with him. A writer would never, for example, come up with an out-of-the-blue explanation that made Captain America develop new super powers (though people have done it with Hulk for years, and you could very well argue Priest committed the same crime when he branded Falcon a mutant back when he was still going by the name Jim Owsley).

I think Namor has suffered something similar. The very idea of trying to chronicle Namor's history makes me want to punch myself until I pass out. Namor's character, his loyalties, and his powers seem to change from appearance to appearance. And he's been dethroned more times than--well, anyone. I can't really think of that many analogies because generally when people get dethroned it's permanent. But in the case of Namor it seems like every writer has the same tired device: dethrone him.

It's a shame because I enjoy his character for a lot of the same reasons I enjoy the Hulk. He doesn't completely fit the mold of a traditional superhero, but at the same time he isn't a lame, one-dimensional "bad ass" hero either.


I think Doctor Strange suffers the same fate as Namor and for a lot of the same reasons, or at least similar reasons.

His history can be confusing because he's had so many canceled series. Like Namor's dethroning, he's currently suffering the tired device of having his Supreme Sorcerer status taken away from him. I know that's happened to him at least one other time. Probably more.

I think Strange should be treated much like Alan Moore treated Swamp Thing. In other words, he should be kept tenuously connected to the rest of the shared universe, but he should have his own adventures with their own unique, more fantasy-tinged flavor. Doctor Strange doesn't belong in the Avengers. He shouldn't be brawling with Hobgoblin in Manhattan.


Moon Knight is another guy - like Ghost Rider - I always thought looked very cool, but once I got a chance to read his comics I was thoroughly underwhelmed, most recently with the short-lived Vengeance of the Moon Knight.

I don't remember any specific reasons why I didn't like his comics. Though I do remember reading a couple of Moon Knight appearances in Defenders when I thought it was lame that he had a sidekick following him around in a helicopter.

I also can't help but look at a picture like the one here and question the wisdom of fighting crime at night dressed in all white.


I don't have a lot to say about this guy that I didn't already say in my piece about his last series. I really want to like the guy, and loved Immortal Iron Fist while Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction were on it, but once they went away, I just didn't care.

I think I was even looking forward to playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 for the chance to play Iron Fist, but even in the video game I didn't enjoy the character.

I just don't think his character has a good hook. There's nothing about him, beyond his bad-ass kung fu, that I give two shits about. Until that changes, I don't think he'll ever succeed as a character.


Now this is not a guy I wanted to like because he looked cool. This is a guy I wanted to like because he's just got the coolest freaking name in comics.

But, like a lot of the guys on this list, his comics are just not very good. The storyline that introduced him, The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill, is great but nothing else I've read with Bill has clicked for me. Michael Avon Oeming seems to be the one who writes Bill more often than not, and I'm not a big fan of Oeming's writing. I read Stormbreaker hoping to be wooed by Bill's stories, and even after hating that I picked up Omega Flight, but no dice. The appeal of Beta Ray Bill escapes me, beyond his freaking awesome name.


Unknown said...

I never got into Spider-Girl because it went beyond a "non-dystopian" future, and went into seeing the older heroes live out their happy endings while the younger heroes got to live free of their parents' pathos. If May Parker doesn't have her dad's guilt complex or her mom's smiling to cover sadness, why should I care about what happens to her?

Unknown said...

The second person narration of Spider-Girl did the same thing for me. I struggled through a few of the digests before deciding it wasn't for me.

Unrelated, but when I went to post this the captcha was "dendstro." It sounds like something Cobra members would call Destro to piss him off.

Anonymous said...

Namor's a guy that I always loved as an idea, but for some reason the execution was always uninspired.

As for Ghost Rider, the only good books of his I've ever read were a handful of issues penned by Jason Aaron. Really good stuff.