Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Top Ten Best DC Comics Characters

Comics Should Be Good! have recently run a poll to find the Top 100 Marvel & DC Characters. Of course I voted. Like all superhero comic fans I'm insufferably arrogant and believe that I know better than every other fan, so I thought I'd present my own personal list.

This is the DC list. Check out my Marvel list here.

10. Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)


Where did Ollie come in CSBG's list? #10

Who was #10 in CSBG's list? Ollie!

Oliver Queen has often been referred to by fans as the "socialist" super-hero but his self reliant, libertarian views have always struck me as more right wing than left, albeit in a vague way. Ollie has typically clashed with characters who represent "the state", like Hawkman, the alien space-cop, and also the Guardians of the Universe, who have taken it upon themselves to police all of creation with their Green Lantern Corps. He always seems more concerned with what the individual can do to help the world, rather than what the government, or even his fellow Justice Leaguers, can do. While Ollie has modeled himself after Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, it's worth remembering that Robin is often depicted in popular culture opposing excessive taxation. 

That said, I'm sure it's possible to argue that Ollie's anti-authoritarian leanings have more in common with the left if you were so inclined. I think the reason Ollie's politics are difficult to pin down are part of his appeal - he's a thoroughly complex, almost contradictory character. Despite this, his defining characteristics remain a social conscience, a fierce sense of justice, and of course an unparalleled skill with a bow and arrow.


9. Starman (Jack Knight)


Where did Jack come in CSBG's list? #42

Who was #9 in CSBG's list? Barbara Gordon

James Robinson's Starman is a masterpiece that creates a world of nostalgia, horror and wonder, filled with characters that are simultaneously both believable and fantastic. The series is seeped in DC Comics nostalgia yet also manages to feel fresh and relevant. And yet this amazing world just wouldn't have worked if it didn't have Jack Knight at it's centre. Jack is an avid collector of 20th Century antiques and kitsch, something it's hard not to identify with as a comics fan. He also has a difficult relationship with his father Ted, the original Starman. This relationship is the heart of the series and it sucks you in so much that by the end Jack feels like your best friend and Ted feels like your own dad. 

A fan who wished to experience the DC Universe for the first time could do a lot worse than immerse themselves in the world of Starman. It's a story of superheroes, horror, sci-fi, romance, wonder, nostalgia, and family.These things pretty much sum up what DC Comics is all about.


8. Sandman (Wesley Dodds)


Where did Wes come in CSBG's list? Not in the Top 100!

Who was #8 in CSBG's list? Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

Before the late '80s Wesley Dodds was a Golden Age superhero best remembered for accidentally turning his sidekick into a sand-monster and then keeping him locked in a giant bell-jar for decades. When Neil Gaiman created his version of Sandman he threw in a one panel reference to Wes as a tip of the hat. Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle and artist Guy Davis ran with this reference and created Sandman Mystery Theatre. The series is set in New York in the 1930s. It's a crime thriller, and the tone is noir-ish and ugly. The crimes are brutal, the criminals are grotesque, the cops are racist, everything seems covered in a layer of grime and cigarette smoke, and WWII is an ever looming threat. Even Wesley himself is depicted as short, podgy, and owlish. 

Among the ugliness however is the relationship between Wes and his partner and lover, Dian Belmont. Wes and Dian together are quite simply beautiful. Their relationship is one of the most realistically depicted romantic relationships in comics. It has ups-and-downs, and doubts, and fears, and break-ups and make-ups, and that makes it all the more beautiful.  It's a true partnership and it's beauty contrasts with the world around it, and makes you want to stay in that ugly world with Wes and Dian a bit longer.


7. The Flash (Jay Garrick)



Where did Jay come in CSBG's list? #71

Who was #7 in CSBG's list? The Flash (Barry Allen)

James Robinson described Jay Garrick as "the everyman character that we all like, that we all want to be, want to hang out with. He's the likable guy, the one you care about." That sums up Jay, he's just a really nice bloke. He's warm, comforting, and reassuring, like if your favourite cardigan became a superhero. But that's not to say he's bland. After all, he's traditionally depicted as being active in WWII and he embodies the greatest generation more than any other super-hero, apart from Captain America. So, he's more like if your favourite cardigan became a superhero, liberated Europe, and then punched Hitler in the face at super speed.


6. Aquaman (Arthur Curry)



Where did Arthur come in CSBG's list? #11

Who was #6 in CSBG's list? The Flash (Wally West)

Aquaman is just one of those superheroes that people love to mock. He’s a perpetual pop culture punchline and it can be a bit disheartening if you happen to be a fan. There’s a lot of defences of the character on the internet that basically amount to “he’s so badass! He’s really strong!”, and while yes, he is a double-hard bastard (he once punched death in the face), I think there's more to the character than that. For example, unlike other heroes Aquaman is a world leader. If you upset him he won’t just send you to jail, he’ll invade your country. This means that Aquaman is usually involved in plenty of political intrigue, not to mention epic battles with other nation's armies. His tempestuous relationship with his wife Mera has made for lots of soap-opera, and his ancient, underwater home has been the setting for many mystical, fantasy tinged adventures. 

How many other superheroes can boast the potential for such diverse stories? There's no other super-hero quite like Aquaman, except maybe Marvel's Namor, and let's face it, Namor's a wanker.


5. Lois Lane


Where did Lois come in CSBG's list? #45

Who was #5 in CSBG's list? The Joker

Lois Lane is a human being in a Universe of super-gods.  She's ambitious, competitive, bloody minded, and a lousy speller. She's a gifted investigative journalist with a passion for justice, who hates bullies. She only ever writes the truth and will risk her life to get to it. She's worked twice as hard as her co-workers to get where she is. She's had military training from a father who wanted a son. Her cat is named Elroy.

It's only right that the most human character in the DC Universe should be the one, true love of a god-like alien who's so in love with the human race that he's dedicated his life to a never ending battle to defend it.


4. Lex Luthor

Where did Lex come in CSBG's list? #16

Who was #4 in CSBG's list? Wonder Woman

Lex Luthor manages to be the ultimate foe of the most powerful super being on the planet, despite having no superpowers of his own. He walks among other villains who can grow to giant-size, move at the speed of light or live forever, and yet they all defer to him and they all fear him.

Lex hates Superman, and a character completely driven by hate is easy to relate to. We all know what its like to feel resentment towards someone who is our superior in some way. As far as Lex is concerned, in a world without superheroes men like him would be the heroes. If he can just get rid of Superman then he'll get everything that he's due.

Lex hates Superman because he believes that everyone, deep down is as selfish and cruel as himself. Superman exposes Lex's world view as a lie. Superman, on the other hand, does what he does because he wants to inspire the best in the people of Earth. Lex displays only the worst humanity has to offer - greed, cruelty, hate. Lex is the one man who refuses to be inspired by Superman and so he exposes Superman's world view as a lie. 

They could never be anything other than perfect enemies.

3. The Flash (Barry Allen) 


Where did Barry come in CSBG's list? #7

Who was #3 in CSBG's list? Dick Grayson

Barry Allen's super power isn't super speed. Well it is, blatantly, but that's not what makes him special. After all, any old Whizzer or Quicksilver can run fast. Barry's real power is imagination. Your average Joe gains the ability to run at light speed and he might go running across the planet, catching bullets and fighting crime. But Barry gets super speed and like a good scientist he thinks "What's next?" The incredible gift of super-speed leads to further wonders. Frictionless fabrics that fit in a ring and expand on contact with air, parallel worlds, time travel on a treadmill, complete molecular control of the body, and racing death itself.

Barry Allen has so much imagination that becoming the Fastest Man Alive was just the sound of the starter pistol.


2. Batman (Bruce Wayne) 



Where did Bruce come in CSBG's list? #1

Who was #2 in CSBG's list? Superman

Batman is the orphan who made himself into the ultimate Dad. It's no accident that Batman has acquired a family of Robins and Nightwings and Red Hoods and Batgirls and Spoilers and Bluebirds over the years. He may have begun as a wish fulfillment/revenge fantasy/Shadow rip-off, but as soon as Robin first joined him the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place. He's the cleverest guy in the world and the toughest guy in the world, just like all dads. He lives in a giant toy box and takes you with him in his car (the fastest car in the world of course) to beat up bullies. Then it's back to the toy box where Grandad the butler has made sandwiches. His best friend is not just a policeman, he's the boss of all the police. His other best friend is Superman! He's a moody sod but that just makes it mean all the more when you win his approval.


1. Superman (Clark Kent)


Where did Clark come in CSBG's list? #2

Who was #1 in CSBG's list? Batman

Everybody, at some point in their life, will experience power over others in some form or another. More often than not, even if our intentions are good, we will misuse or abuse that power, sometimes without even realising it. After all, power corrupts, right? 

Superman is a person who will never abuse his power over others. Superman embodies the belief that when given absolute power a man won’t be corrupted by it, but rather he’ll do everything he can to make the world a better place. It’s the belief that maybe we human beings aren’t such a bunch of scumbags after all. Superman is hope for the human race.

On top that he can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. Bullets bounce off him. He's super strong and super fast. His childhood friends live in the 31st Century and his dog has a cape. All his friends think he's a nerd but he knows he's secretly awesome.

He's the greatest fictional character of all time.

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie Memories


(I resisted the temptation to name this blog post "Stardust Memories".)

David Bowie has passed away. Here are some of the ways he's popped up in my life.

  • When I was about 9 or 10 my dad made my youngest sister a tape of some songs from his record collection. Me and her used to listen to it together. The tape had Laughing Gnome and Love You Til Tuesday on it. I had never seen a picture of Bowie and based on those songs I pictured him as an aging crooner in a tuxedo.
  • After listening to Nirvana: Unplugged in New York I dug out my dad's vinyl of The Man Who Sold the World. By the end of Width of a Circle I was completely hooked. I dug out my dad's other Bowie records and made tape after tape of my favourite songs from each album.
  • In 1995 Bowie co-presented Mark Radcliffe's Radio One Show to promote Outside. They played Heart's Filthy Lesson and it soon got added to one of my Bowie compilation tapes. Radcliffe also played Pulp's Sorted for E's & Wizz because he thought Jarvis Cocker sounded like Bowie. Bowie said "It's in the genes, Mark" which made no sense. Radcliffe opened the show with Iggy Pop's Lust for Life. It was the first time I'd ever heard it and it blew me away (Trainspotting wouldn't be out for another year). 
  • I listened to Heroes for the first time over my Gran's house. Beauty and the Beast and Joe the Lion make me think of staying over my Gran's.
  • I used to listen to Bowie: the Singles Collection while playing on the Sega Mega Drive with my sisters. Bowie's rubbish cover of Alabama Song makes me think of playing The Lion King.
  • When I was 15-17 a group of us used to hang around a friend's house most Saturdays and drink cider and alcopops (it was mainly me on the alcopops). We would listen to The Man Who Sold the WorldHunky Dory, and Ziggy Stardust a lot. We had the CD versions that had songs like Holy HolyBombers, and Velvet Goldmine as bonus tracks. Those songs still make me think of my mate's living room in Trethomas and the smell of Strongbow.
  • During my first year of Uni Bowie released Hours. I would listen to it while hiding in my room and thinking of all the fun, crazy, drug and sex fuelled antics I probably should have been participating in. Years later me and my friend Tony would sing songs from that album to each other in work, usually in a comedy Bowie voice. Tony and I would also try to sneak the names of Bowie songs into our live science shows. Tony was the undisputed master of this, managing to describe the sparks from a Van Der Graaf Generator as looking like "two trains going from Station to Station."
  • I owe most of the friendships I made in Uni to bonding with people over Labyrinth.
  • In a London club over ten years ago my friend John and I worried that Bowie had died after the DJ inexplicably played all of Aladdin Sane (the album not just the song). Absolute Beginners is also a song I associate with John, as I watched him perform a cracking version of it for Karaoke one New Year's Eve in an East End boozer. 
  • Let's Dance is forever associated with my friend Llyr, who completely owned the song once at Karaoke, despite being confused by an extra long version of the song that I have never heard before or since.
  • I bought Bowie at the Beeb in a record shop in Prague while on a wonderful holiday with a now ex-girlfriend. Every time I listen to it I think of that holiday. 
  • When two of my best friends Emma & Rob, got married to each other they played A New Career in a New Town as they signed the register. I always think of them when I listen to Low, and that song in particular.
  • Recently I bonded with one of the wonderful new friends I have made since moving to Sheffield by discussing our favourite Bowie tracks while we were supposed to be taking part in a pub quiz. I think our team did pretty well but it was no thanks to us.
These are some of the memories that have been going through my head today.

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