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The House of Ideas. Talking Time's 50 Favorite Marvel Characters!

Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)

Thanks to Johnny Unusual for suggesting this video to kick off the countdown.

Including my own, there were 15 ballots submitted for this list, generating a list of exactly 150 classic and new Marvel characters, only a third of which gathered enough points to make the final cut. What struck me while compiling the list is just how many fun characters Marvel has in its catalogue. Basically every new name submitted elicited a "Dang, that's a good character!" from me, and there are plenty more I can think of who didn't get a vote. When I write these up I'll be mostly leaning on my own knowledge, which mainly comes from the last 20+ years of comics and movies, so feel free to jump in with stories from any older comics, animated series, or whatever else made you love these characters.

Honorable Mention: Winter Soldier
Honorable Mention: Mister Sinister
Honorable Mention: Machine Man
Honorable Mention: Man-Thing
Honorable Mention: Boom-Boom
50: Dazzler
49: Spider-Ham
48: White Queen
47: The Dryad
46: Luke Cage
44 (tie): White Widow
44 (tie): Red Queen
43: Black Widow
42: The Kingpin
41: Hawkeye
40: Green Goblin
39: Mirage

Previously when I've run character countdowns I've given honorable mentions for any characters that received multiple votes but not enough points for the top 50, but there were too many who received that distinction this time, so here's just the top 5. I will be using the characters' most current alias where applicable, but I'll include alternates. Also, I didn't list general enhanced physical ability among characters' powers, because it would get pretty repetitive.

#53 (tie): Winter Soldier
Winter-Soldier-678x381.jpg

AKA: James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, Captain America
Powers: Cool cybernetic arm
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1, 1941
Created By: Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Portrayed By: Sebastian Stan
2 votes, 47 points (Top voter: Adrenaline)

Bucky first appeared in the 40s as Captain America's kid sidekick, back when it was cool for superheroes to have those. He went missing near the end of World War II, and while he appeared in flashbacks and was represented by multiple "Bucky" imitators over the years, he finally reappeared in the 2000s during Ed Brubaker's seminal run on Captain America as the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed, highly effective Russian assassin. Cap eventually got Bucky back on his side, and he took up the shield himself for a time, though he has struggled with the horror of what he did for the Soviets ever since. He's a supporting character in the MCU, appearing mostly in Captain America and Avengers movies.

#53 (tie): Mister Sinister
mrsinister-ftd.jpg

AKA: Nathaniel Essex
Powers: Telepathy and telekinesis among others

First Appearance: The Uncanny X-Men #221, 1987
Created By: Chris Claremont
2 votes, 47 points (Top voter: Octopus Prime)

Essex was originally living in Victorian England, working on improving the human race, when the immortal mutant Apocalypse found him and gave him superpowers, setting his life on a new course which he continues to this day. He strives to create the perfect mutant specimen, leading to him capturing and manipulating the DNA of various members of the X-Men, and generally causing all sorts of trouble. He also has an army of clones of himself to take over his work should he ever be killed. Now that his work is accepted as part of the nation of Krakoa's mission, he's more dangerous than ever. He was teased in Fox's X-Men movie franchise but never appeared before Disney bought the company.

#53 (tie): Machine Man
Machine-Man-Origin-Story.jpg

AKA: Aaron Stack, X-51
Powers: Flight, various useful robotic components
First Appearance: 2001: A Space Odyssey #8, 1977
Created By: Jack Kirby
2 votes, 47 points (Top voter: Olli)

I don't know a whole lot about the early days of Machine Man. I do know that he is the only survivor of a race of robots, and he has at best a complicated relationship with the humans he now lives among. He was a member of the short-lived team known as Nextwave, he's been on various Avengers squads, and pretty much any other team that would have him. He has pride in his robotic nature, and fights against the idea that artificial life should be seen as less valuable than organic life.

#51 (tie): Man-Thing
marvel-man-thing.png

AKA: Theodore "Ted" Sallis
Powers: His touch burns if you fear him. Also he's a plant monster
First Appearance: Savage Tales #1, 1971
Created By: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gray Morrow
Portrayed By: Conan Stevens
2 votes, 48 points (Top voter: Peklo)

Although DC's Swamp Thing is arguably the more famous plant-based anti-hero, Man-Thing was actually created first. Ted Sallis was a biochemist attempting to recreate the super soldier formula, but things went poorly for him and he ended up transformed into a walking plant/human hybrid. He eventually became a guardian of the Nexus of Realities, which can be used to travel to other universes. There are also other similar Man-Things walking around, but Ted's the most notable.

#51 (tie): Boom-Boom
Boom-Boom-New-Mutants.jpg

AKA: Tabitha Smith, Time Bomb, Meltdown
Powers: Creates explosive energy balls
First Appearance: Secret Wars II #5, 1985
Created By: Jim Shooter, Al Milgrom
2 votes, 48 points (Top voter: Peklo (#1))

Boom-Boom is a reliably entertaining supporting character in the X-family of titles, appearing most frequently as a member of the New Mutants and X-Force. She was also a member of Nextwave with Machine Man. She's reckless and defiant, traits that often get her in trouble, but she's also quite capable of taking care of herself, blasting enemies with her explosive orbs.
 
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Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I didn’t know Man-Thing was portrayed by anyone…

This is going to be a good list because a few characters I assumed would be shoo-ins have only shown up in the Honorable Mentions.

And also Machine Man, who I like well enough but c’mon
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Sinister wasn’t even on my radar as a villain for a long while; “Oh that metal Dracula dude, whatever” I’d often say.

Then about ten years ago, maybe a bit before Secret Wars, everyone at Marvel said “What if we just straight up made this guy Tim Curry, at his Tim Curriest”

And then he immediately became one of my favourite supervillains.
 

Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
They shot an apparently terrible Man-Thing film in Australia that never made it to theaters in North America
 

Issun

Avarice
Can't believe I was the only other vote for Bucky.

As I told Adrenaline, my entire experience with Marvel has been all movies and TV. I wonder if I was the only voter in this contest that that holds true for.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
As I told Adrenaline, my entire experience with Marvel has been all movies and TV. I wonder if I was the only voter in this contest that that holds true for.
Do you mean live action TV only or are you also including cartoons?
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
It's really important to highlight Nextwave in Boom-Boom's context, I think, because that's probably the worst treatment of the character across her entire publication history. A bad depiction in a bad comic by a bad writer, but I wouldn't expect any less, and she didn't suffer alone.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
The best outcome of Nextwave was one of the Mighty Avengers series Al Ewing wrote where it was pointed out that it’s horrifying someone would consider those events to be a comedy and the big villain was a thinly veiled stand in for Warren Ellis.

Monica made herself really really big and punched him in the face.
 

Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
#50: Dazzler
pjimage-12.jpg

AKA: Alison Blaire
Powers: Transforms sound into light
First Appearance: The Uncanny X-Men #130, 1980
Created By: Tom DeFalco, John Romita Jr.
Portrayed By: Halston Sage
3 votes, 52 points (Top voter: WildcatJF)

Dazzler has an interesting creative history that I didn't know about. She was originally conceived as part of a collaboration between Marvel and Casablanca Records. There was going to be an animated special, and after Filmworks joined, plans shifted to a live action film starring Bo Derek. Both companies eventually dropped out and Marvel settled for keeping the character around in comic books. Dazzler can use her mutant powers to turn sound into harmful light beams, but she also uses them as part of her live shows in her other career as a recording artist, working in whatever genre is hot at the time the story was written.

In her time Dazzler has been the star of her own comic, a member of the X-Men, an agent of SHIELD, and also part of the all-female Avengers squad known as A-Force. I think she's a fun character since she plays a role as a celebrity in the Marvel Universe that helps it feel lived in, but she's also good when you need another person to play a role in a group dynamic, with a visually interesting skillset. She had a brief appearance in Dark Phoenix, the last X-Men film before the Disney sale.
 
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Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Ha, that video is great.


This is interesting, so does this mean if you don't fear him you're fine? Totally unfamiliar with this character.
IIRC, if you’re actively terrified his touch will burn you, not necessarily scared of him specifically.

But he’s also a terrifying muck monster, so it’s kind of hard to get a. Control group
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I hadn't realized that Dazzler showed up in film...If even just a cameo/background character.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I hadn't realized that Dazzler showed up in film...If even just a cameo/background character.
They were trying to make her a cross media thing so there was an IRL Dazzler the character was based on.

Didn’t really work as hoped, but I’m pretty sure at least a couple of singles got published.

And I guess she also showed up in Dark Phoenix but I didn’t see that so IDK
 
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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Man-Thing came before Swamp Thing bur both took inspiration from the less famous character The Heap.

Airboy-Heap.jpg


But Man-Thing's whole deal is interesting and while he and Swampy are both great characters, they are very different. Swamp Thing begins as a tragic human and explores being a being beyond flesh.

Man -Thing, though is merely pseudo-sentient, reacting to any emotions he cones across. He can be a threat or an ally but he has little motivation unless reacting to emotion. There are a few characters in the Marvel Universe without Minds of their own (Dragon Man, Dough Boy, Simon Garth AKA the Zombie). So what put Man-Thing heads and shoulders above them to me?

A lot of it has to do with the quirkiness of Steve Gerber to have a protagonist who doesn't think (really the Man-Thing is the title character but it's more like other character's stories happen to him and he unthinkingly muscles his way to a story conclusion while Gerber can tell whatever oddball tale that strikes his fancy.

But beyond the weird powers and storytelling is that character design.
91CT9il6nAL.jpg



It's those elephantine trunk and bulbous eyes. He's a wide eyed Cipher that both seems scary yet innocent. I usually don't like it when he arches his eyes, preferring what ever emotions to be expressed by action. He's weirdly endearing and never malicious but often dangerous. He's not one of those antiheroes who kills for some greater good, he doesn't think at all. He's horrific yet pure. Just treat him good and water him twice a day and you'll be fine.
 
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Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Interestingly, not Long before Man-Thing debuted, but long after the Heap, The Hulk had a recurring enemy in The Night-Crawler ( no relation to the X-Man) who was also pretty much the same character.

People love muck monsters.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
A lot of fantastic artists left their mark on the character during that essential Gerber run--Mike Ploog is an all-timer--but the very first depiction by Gray Morrow is really something else.

xAVceo7.png
njdg6kR.png

I'll always be a horror genre dweeb regardless of the medium and Man-Thing from moment one tickles all those sensibilities and thanks to Gerber carries incredible narrative substance too as the series picks up from its premise.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Can't believe I was the only other vote for Bucky.

As I told Adrenaline, my entire experience with Marvel has been all movies and TV. I wonder if I was the only voter in this contest that that holds true for.

MCU is the vast majority of my direct experience with Marvel, though I've read some single-digit number of actual comic runs over the years. I wanted to diversify my list a little though so it ended up being about 3/5 MCU. I did consider Bucky but ended up barely leaving him out.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
A note on Dazzler (whom I also voted for; as I did Sinister): Bo Derek wasn't the first visual basis for her--Romita's intentions were to model her on Grace Jones. The artist unfortunately doesn't get to make the final call in circumstances involving that many cooks. It's always going to gnaw a little in the back of your mind, wondering what might've been.
 

WildcatJF

Mysterious Ghost World
(he / his / him)
As I told Adrenaline, my entire experience with Marvel has been all movies and TV. I wonder if I was the only voter in this contest that that holds true for.
My Marvel exposure is the MCU, the X-Men cartoon show, and the Capcom/Konami games. I had very little comic experience.

Dazzler showing up in Konami's brawler was a fascinating pull, and I tended to play her if I wasn't Nightcrawler. I even have her figure based on her look in that game! Always thought she was a cool character.
 
It's really important to highlight Nextwave in Boom-Boom's context, I think, because that's probably the worst treatment of the character across her entire publication history. A bad depiction in a bad comic by a bad writer, but I wouldn't expect any less, and she didn't suffer alone.

I was the other vote for Boom-Boom, and I agree with this. She's a great character in Simonson's X-Factor/X-Terminators/New Mutants, Jo Duffy's Fallen Angels, and then for a lot of X-Force volume 1, depending on who is writing. NextWave is particularly bad, but honestly she's very rarely been used well since. (My list is basically just a list of characters who were important to Claremont/Simonson era X-books.)

Pzlh1aw.png


12SvTi5.png


Dazzler showing up in Konami's brawler was a fascinating pull

The reason she's there is that the lineup and story (to the extent the game has a story) are loosely based on the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men animated pilot. At the time of that pilot, Dazzler was on the core lineup of the X-Men. Like Tabitha Smith, I think she mostly hasn't been used well since this era, but I voted for her on the strength of her role at that time.

nWAhnpT.png


4kJmJ8g.png
 
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in case this isn't clear, the cover is itself a self-aware joke that's throwback to that kind of over the top hard sell cover

(the issue is mostly just the women on the team hanging out in the mall and chilling out. they briefly fight ghostbusters parody joke villains, who mostly exist so the runaway jubilee can notice it happening and decide to secretly follow these cool ladies home. it's a fun issue, and a good example of how much this era focuses on the interpersonal relationships between storm, rogue, psyclocke, and dazzler)
 

Issun

Avarice
in case this isn't clear, the cover is itself a self-aware joke that's an over the top throwback to that kind of hard sell cover

(the issue is mostly just the women on the team hanging out in the mall and chilling out. they briefly fight ghostbusters parody joke villains, who mostly exist so the runaway jubilee can notice it happening and decide to secretly follow these cool ladies home)
Oh no, I got it. It just made me think of that bit, and it's rarely a bad choice to make a The Critic reference.
 
ah, okay

wasn't sure how clear this was without the context that it's the chill hang-out issue right after a huge event
 
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