It’s pretty universally accepted that most things in the world exist in accordance to some sort of hierarchy. Society is largely organized by wealth, sports teams are typically ranked by skill (or wealth at this point), and the fictional characters of comic books are usually sorted by popularity. A-listers take top billing, get their own film franchises, the occasional TV show or cartoon, and get their names plastered on the cover of their very own comic week in and week out. Then there are the B-listers, the sidekicks, smaller hero groups, and occasional lone wolves, always just on the cusp of mainstream popularity and even capable of carrying their own titles, but never reaching the same heights as the A-listers. And then there’s the unfortunate C-listers, characters relegated to supporting and cameo roles even in the B-listers’ titles.
They’re the ones who can arrive, involve themselves in the narrative, and leave without heightening their position in comic social circles, leaving an impactful impression on the readers, or even showing off the reason for their own existence. But just because the comic book companies shove these characters to the back of the line doesn’t mean fans can’t find something to love about them, and vice versa with the more pushed characters.
20 A-LISTER: WONDER WOMAN
Yes, she’s one of DC’s holy trinity of top billers. Yes, she’s the goddess of war and the Amazon ambassador of peace. Yes, she’s an inspiration to women and girls everywhere as a symbol of empowerment and equality. But apart from those very broad, esoteric things, who exactly is Wonder Woman? Her personality is that of an uncharacteristically optimistic army general, typically cool, collected, and focused on the problem at hand with result-oriented thinking. But apart from that and a general distaste for evil and its many forms, Wonder Woman seems to be lacking in the essential character traits that drive the comic book medium.
If it wasn’t for the aforementioned reasons for her popularity, it’d be a mystery as to how she’s endured as such an iconic character when her agency seems so superficially imposed. There’s tragedy to her character, to be sure, but those are all elements that have happened to her, not things influenced by her personality. But if you want to keep telling yourself that Gal Gadot had more to work with than a rich, borrowed mythology, an ethereal accent, and a fantastic director, that she had a naturally colorful and rounded character persona to mold herself into, then you keep on doing that. Everyone else is anyway.
19 C-LISTER: SWAMP THING
Alan Moore is pretty universally recognized as every comic book reader’s favorite crazy uncle. A scathingly witty and critical writer, Moore has mountains of published work that attest to his creative genius and experimental vision. None perhaps more so than his reinvention of the DC character Swamp Thing. As the living representation of nature given esoteric form, Moore was able to use Swamp Thing to explore themes of psychedelia, unconventional romances, and environmental awareness. He interacted directly with DC mainstays like Batman, John Constantine, and Superman. But some 30 years down the line, his popularity has somewhat deadened. Sure, he was still relevant enough to be a playable character in Injustice 2 (and an upcoming TV series), but he hasn’t had a really seminal comic book story all to himself in years.
It doesn’t help that his backstory has been rewritten, revised, and even changed with no explanation or reason since Moore retired from the line. This is an issue that writers need to rectify because not only is there definitely a market for this character, but it could expand the DC Universe in a meaningful way with Swamp Thing’s near limitless potential for organic storytelling. Pun intended. And if you’re not convinced, imagine Swamp Thing leading his own team of nature powered superheroes acting as a veritable Captain Planet. If that doesn’t at least intrigue you, then you’re reading comics wrong.
18 A-LISTER: IRON MAN
Iron Man is one of the most compelling and well-rounded characters in all of comics. He’s been a playboy, an alcoholic, a gun runner, a pacifist, a peace-advocate, a recovering alcoholic, a futurist, a tech genius, a recovered alcoholic, and even Sorcerer Supreme in a possible future. He’s got one of the coolest looks and arsenals of any Marvel characters and there’s a reason he was chosen to be the trigger character that set off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But therein lies the main problem with Iron Man. Not overexposure necessarily, but being spread to thin. Of the 19 current MCU films, he’s starred, been a part of, or at least cameoed in eight of them.
He’s been in so many of them that his character’s alignment, temperament, and even persona seems to differ between each of them. He’s a foil in Captain America: Civil War, a mentor figure in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and goes back to being the arrogant but lovable jerk he was introduced as in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s gotten to the point where he could very well be the villain in the next Avengers and it wouldn’t be all too confusing. Unfortunately, the ending of Infinity War suggests that not only will Tony continue to play a major role in ensuing events, he might once again be the one to save the world as we know it.
17 C-LISTER: GAMBIT
The fact that a Gambit movie has been in development limbo for the better part of a decade and seems to only still be in consideration because Channing Tatum is passionately tied to the project is about as telling as you can get as to where Gambit’s popularity lies in the 21st century. Debuting as a mutant anti-hero who acted like a Cajun Pepe Le Pew and dressed like the late '80s threw up on the early '90s, Gambit hasn’t exactly aged well. But despite all that, he’s still an important member of the X-Men roster and is an active part of several of its best features.
His powers, essentially the ability to turn any object he touches into the equivalent of a hand grenade, and his choice to wield a bo staff are creative enough to provide a lot of invigorating action sequences. All that and his bone dry wit can inject any situation with at least a little bit of humor. Though his stop-start romance with Rogue is annoyingly inconsistent, it’s also provided a corrective point of interest to compare other X-Men romances. He might need a bit of a character update, but Gambit is still in the zone where he can be rehabilitated into a more rounded personality deserving of more mainstream exposure.
16 A-LISTER: HULK
Hulk smash! Hulk is strongest one there is! Hulk refer to self in third person and use horrible grammar! And Hulk do this for nearly 60 years with very little to break up the repetitive monotony of his persona. Unfortunately, characters like the Hulk are doomed to fail from the get go. When you set up a character as being the end all be all in terms of their universe’s limits of physical or metaphysical strength, then the only possible things they can do to be interesting is have defined character traits or be beaten. The same problem holds true for Superman but he at least is an outlined immigrant parable and is a living embodiment of the American dream.
Hulk is just a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story for the nuclear age, which isn’t different enough from the original version to be interesting. That means that the Hulk is essentially Marvel’s version of the WWE’s Undertaker. Both are beloved because they’re iconic and helped put their respective companies on top, but both have also been the subject of some questionable storylines and the most shocking, attention-grabbing thing they’re capable of doing at this point is very publicly losing in order to establish a new character as the new strongest one there is. To be fair, when the Bruce Banner Hulk was killed, the new Hulk, Amadeus Cho, was a much more compelling character than he ever was.
15 C-LISTER: NAMOR
Marvel has been subtly teasing Namor the Sub-Mariner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as far back as Iron Man 2 and frankly needs to pick up the pace on following through with their unspoken promise. Especially considering that the MCU’s ace in the whole continues to be an at least surface level understanding of the female gaze and the tickets it can sell. Aside from that, however, Namor is still an incredibly tangible character who could do with greater mainstream exposure.
Although appearing far sillier than his DC counterpart, Namor is exponentially more intense than the most serious version of Aquaman. His unwaveringly piercing gaze is formed by both tilted eyebrows and the full weight and responsibility of an underwater empire resting on his shoulders. He takes his duty as Imperious Rex seriously and is only a superhero when the situation demands, making him a unique blot among the Marvel landscape. He’s been in some significant Marvel stories over the years, but almost always as a bit player. He was the least effective part of Marvel’s Illuminati and was even the worst part of the Phoenix Five. He doesn’t need a character reboot or reimaginging, he just needs a new venue to express his persona. Seriously Marvel, where’s the Namor/Squirrel Girl team up that we all want and need?
14 A-LISTER: KITTY PRYDE
Kitty Pryde is one of those few characters in comics that have almost aged tangential to their series. Readers have watched her grow from a bratty teenage girl still developing her powers to the confident and conflicted leader of the X-Men that she is today. And while measuring her growth is certainly a novelty, it has also become incredibly grating over the years. Instead of seeing her as a mature version of a beloved character, fans are seeing her as a more self-obsessed and whiny persona than the teenager she was originally introduced as. Also, Marvel seems to think people are much more interested in her love life than they actually are.
Case in point, she’s more than once slipped the tether of her earthly bonds to hook up with now ex-fiancé Peter Quill. And not all that long after ending things with the man who wants you to call him Star-Lord, Kitty got engaged to her long-time crush and on-again, off-again boyfriend Colossus. Who she met, mind you, as a 14 year old girl. This is a move so sketchy and awkward that even saving the world dozens of times over doesn't take away just how icky it is.
13 C-LISTERS: CLOAK & DAGGER
Yes they’re getting their own TV show soon, but it’s airing on Freeform which is basically Disney admitting that it doesn’t have as much faith in them as it does in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- a show that got its legs cut out from under it by The Winter Soldier and served as a jumping-off point for the lackluster Inhumans series but at least still gets a block on ABC. But Cloak and Dagger deserve more respect than that, considering all Marvel has done to them in the comics. Their origin story begins with them running away from home, getting kidnapped, drugged, and chased through city streets. And it only goes downhill from there.
But their characters are both well defined, with Cloak being reserved and introverted and Dagger being basically an east coast version of a valley girl, and their looks are equally as colorful and iconic. They’ve had meaningful crossovers with the likes of the X-Men, the Runaways, and even played a pretty big role in the Secret Avengers portion of the "Civil War" story, but they’ve still been largely neglected for the majority of their existence in the world of Marvel Comics. As one of the first interracial couples in the medium, would it hurt to maybe shine a bit of alight on this duo?
12 A-LISTER: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Captain America can be a genuinely fascinating character with deep emotional flaws and personality layers when portrayed correctly. Unfortunately, he oh so rarely is. The core gimmick behind his character is that he was already as all-American and pure of heart as one could get before he got pumped full of the Super Soldier serum -- the drugs just accentuated the uber-patriotism that was already there. This has often led writers to confuse his personality traits with that of his namesake and conflate Captain America with Superman in terms of just being the generic, default good guy in almost any scenario he’s in.
There have been moments where his ingenuity as a character got to shine through, his role in the "Civil War" storyline for example, but there hasn’t been much substantial about him even within his own titles. Need further proof? The most creative thing writers could think to do with him in recent years was to reveal that he’d actually been a Nazi this whole time. And we all remember how well that went over with fans and critics alike. When they only thing you can do with a character is to completely rewrite them from the ground up, maybe it’s time to let the character rest for a few years.
11 C-LISTER: RESURRECTION MAN
The fact that DC writers haven’t even touched the Resurrection Man IP since 2012 is evidence of their lack of imagination and creativity. For the uninitiated, Resurrection Man was originally an idea pitched to Marvel in the early 1999s. Marvel, of course, turned the idea down because they made a lot of bad decisions in the '90s. He was published by DC in 1997 and immediately caught peoples’ attention with his insanely creative power set. Resurrection Man has what is referred to as ‘retroactive immortality’ and ‘resurrection roulette.’
Essentially, every time he dies, he comes back with a new superpower which can range from utterly useless to god-like. This has lead to some very interesting plots, including times where Resurrection Man has had to kill himself in order to gamble on coming back with a more appropriate power for a new situation. Unfortunately, his own personal line didn’t sell well and he was shelved after only twelve issues. But that’s no excuse to not have him be a part of a team or even just show up for a few quick cameos. He was originally meant to be the new leader of the Great Lakes Avengers after all. There’s no excuse for not showing him off around the likes of Justice League Dark, Hellblazer, or even a series tangentially similar like Wonder Woman.
10 A-LISTER: DEADPOOL
Go to any convention in any city around the country and you’ll see a lot of really cool and interesting things that are unique to each gathering. Except for one thing. There’s one thing that you’ll see at each and every single con in the world, and that’s a room full of people dressed in Deadpool’s iconic red and black uniform all acting as goofy as possible. And if you think they can get annoying, just remember that Deadpool himself has been in comics for almost 30 years and has basically been running the same shtick the whole time. Not only are in-universe characters kind of sick of him by this point, but readers have been rubbed pretty hard the wrong way after multiple decades of phallic humor, meta-jokes, and chimi-freaking-changas.
Granted, Ryan Reynolds was able to reinvigorate the character through sheer charisma and by taking Deadpool to his logical conclusion, but it’s sort of up in the air if he can pull off the same trick twice, which given the range of his talent, says more about Deadpool than it does about him. In all fairness, however, this might be on us readers. When Deadpool first debuted his fourth-wall breaking humor, it was such a unique novelty that fans had been raving about it for years before they realized they were actually kinda over it.
9 C-LISTER: RAGMAN
An almost literal rags to riches story, Ragman is a superhero who gets his powers from a suit made of stitched together rags, each of which contains the soul of a sinner that has been absorbed into the suit. Though the man inside the suit, Rory Regan, is a more than competent magic user, the real power of Ragman is his ability to manipulate his own costume. Using the rags, Rory can break down someone’s physical form, transmute them into fabric, and access their own abilities. He’s got a visually captivating look, with a whip-stitched costume completed with a quilted cape and hood.
Overall, he’s a pretty awesome character and notably is one of only a few Jewish superheroes who actively involve their religion in their identity. But writers have been very hesitant to use him anything more than a supporting role. To be fair, he’s been a crucial part to some pretty good stories, including a fairly recent one in the pages of Trinity and the character even showed up as a briefly recurring role on Arrow, but he’s still not considered on the same level as even DC’s B-player wizards like John Constantine, Raven, or Zatanna, a role he very clearly deserves.
8 A-LISTER: SPIDER-MAN
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man first debuted, it made waves by being the first superhero who was essentially a reflection of his teenage readers at the time. He was basically a hero who was also a loner nerd and used his alter-ego, which was visual language for his obsession with pop culture and "appearing" as cool as possible despite his true nature, to escape from the depressing reality of his place on the social hierarchy. As far as metanarrative goes, it was one of the most ingenious ploys ever undertaken by an artist and it quickly turned Spider-Man into one of Marvel’s hottest properties.
But that was all the way back in the '60s when most Spider-Man readers were teenagers -- this is 2018. In the comics, Peter Parker not only has a virtual army of alternate selves, many of whom have their own comic lines to boot, but is a high-level executive of a wealthy company. He’s had three different film franchises based around him, which have ranged from the directorial masterpiece of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films to Amazing Spider-Man 2. At this point, any remaining shreds of relatability that could be associated with the character are quickly being stripped away by the combined forces of Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen.
7 C-LISTER: ANGELA
Created by the incomparable Neil Gaiman under the Image Comics label, Angela was the subject of a highly convoluted, 15-year long legal dispute between Gaiman and Image Comics founder Todd MacFarlane. MacFarlane was reportedly envious of the high merchandising returns Gaiman was getting from Angela and decided to claim copyright on the character despite the fact that doing so violated his and Image Comics’ mission statement. After over a decade of deliberation and dispute, Gaiman eventually won the legal rights to Angela (which he technically never lost) and even walked way with a few other properties that he’d been trying to get his hands on for years. And as one last middle finger to MacFarlane, Gaiman sold Angela’s IP to Marvel for a ridiculously low price. Marvel subsequently changed her origin story to make her Thor’s long-lost sister.
Remember Hela’s origin story from Thor: Ragnarok? That was essentially a restructured version of Angela’s reboot. She even joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, and holds the distinction of being in a relationship with Marvel’s first openly transgendered character. Despite all this, most readers probably don’t even know who she is. Marvel writers definitely need to up their game and bring Angela deeper into Marvel’s core stories. Seriously, she could be easily be drinking buddies with Medusa and Captain Marvel.
6 A-LISTER: WOLVERINE
Wolverine has been in almost every single X-Men movie and the focus of more than half of them. This would be fine if he was consistently well represented but then he wouldn’t be on this list now would he? His brief, ten-second cameo in First Class was a fun little nod but Apocalypse had to go wildly out of its way to include him. Logan was a masterclass in how to paint a modern western in a superhero-defined medium, but The Wolverine was a shlocky B-movie affair that didn’t deliver on some of its key promises. The point is that Hugh Jackman has been running back and forth across movie screens with claws on his knuckles for almost 20 years and we’re all just about as sick of it as he is by now. To be fair, however, Wolverine is a difficult character to base the entire X-Men film franchise around.
Despite his storied history in comics, Wolverine is and always has been the physical embodiment of rigid, unyielding masculinity. The most evolution his character has gone through is converting that machoness from an aggressive, quick-tempered berserker to an aggressive, quick-tempered berserker who is also a decent dad when it suits him. That’s not even mentioning the fact that Laura Kinney, Honey Badger, Daken, Jimmy Hudson, and Old Man Logan are basically just slightly altered versions of the exact same character, meaning there’s at least five or six different Wolverines in existence today.
5 C-LISTER: PHANTOM STRANGER
The only thing more intriguing than a good character is a good mystery. Enter the Phantom Stranger. Not to be confused with The Phantom Menace, ever, Phantom Stranger is a unique DC character who exists in ‘Hypertime,’ which allows him to do just about anything the plot requires, including inter-dimensional travel, time manipulation, and near omniscience. He’s such a mystery that his origins and backstory have always been contested, with some stories claiming he’s the son of DC’s trinity from the Kingdom Come alternate future and others claiming he’s an immortal Judas Iscariot, cursed to forever wander the Earth in search of unattainable redemption.
Everything about him from his motives to the true extent of his abilities is left up to the imagination, meaning that writers tend to use him as little more than a MacGuffin or a deus ex machina. He’s disappeared from comics for years at a time and, upon returning for a brief cameo, would explain his extended absence with some vague allusion to the fifth dimension. The fact that DC has never fully realized the potential of the Phantom Stranger is actually what has allowed him to attract such an aura of mystery over the years, but the bubble is close to bursting and DC better give him his own line soon before he either fades into obscurity or becomes too overpowered to care about.
4 A-LISTER: SUPERMAN
At this point, you can’t even see a picture of the Man of Steel without hearing that swooping John Williams score. He’s become so ingrained in the fabric of American culture that the only character that can even come close to his measure of importance is Santa Claus. And if the fact that a fictional character wields actual, real-world cultural influence doesn’t terrify you, then it should, weirdly, at least bore you a little bit. Sure Superman is important as a figure, but mostly because his steadfast devotion to corny, all-American ideals and living practices are as baked into his character as a the red cape.
He’s been portrayed almost the same way since he set off this whole superhero thing to begin with. Even his current Rebirth persona is just the perfect dad archetype straight out of an advertisement from 1955. Even his powers haven’t been updated since Crisis, though that might be for the best considering that he’s already one of the most overpowered character in all of fiction. But it wouldn’t kill writers to do something slightly interesting with him. Not something crazy like ‘turn Captain America into a Nazi,’ but maybe make him actually have to struggle with… anything?
3 C-LISTER: AMBUSH BUG
Ambush Bug’s generally accepted origin story is that an alien’s wardrobe crashed into a radioactive spider which in turn crashed into a man named Irwin Schwab while he was putting on his socks. And that’s just the beginning. Ambush Bug was essentially DC’s prototype version of Deadpool that was never fully realized. Cognizant of his place in a comic book universe, Ambush Bug was mostly considered a teleporting wack-job in a weird green suit known for making clothing puns. At one time, he was considered on par with Mr. Mxyzptlk both in terms of extra-dimensional lunacy and how he was able to annoy Superman.
As time went on, writers started deeming him too absurd to use and his appearances became few and far between. It wasn’t until after Deadpool proved the limitless possibilities of a fourth-wall breaking character that he started to be reconsidered, and even then, it was in very small doses. Still, this is a character who uses a toy doll as a stand in for a sidekick and whose arch nemesis is a living sock dictator named Argh!Yle!. There’s definitely a place for him somewhere in the DC mainstream continuity if writers really want to fit him in.
2 A-LISTER: BATMAN
He’s the Dark Knight! The Caped Crusader! He is vengeance! He is the night! He! Is!... Kinda boring after 80 years of going largely unchanged as a character. Perhaps no character in all of comics is as overexposed as Batman. Though he should be an innately interesting character as his only superpower seems to be his psychotic need to be Batman, he’s been portrayed for too long as a brooding, gritty, lone-wolf figure, so much so that he’s now become the progenitor of an entire archetype of ‘the Batman.’ This was all pretty much a direct response to the beloved Adam West camp show of the '60s. Despite the show’s enduring popularity, comic writers were afraid they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they didn’t portray Batman as a graphic, adult vigilante.
This stereotype persisted for so long that none of the ‘serious’ Batman film of the modern have bothered to include some of the most important elements of his lore, like his dramatic poses on gargoyles, his limitless arsenal of increasingly specific gadgets, or, you know, ROBIN. Just how far gone is the character? There are some who praise The Lego Batman Movie as the best Batman film of all time simply because of its brutal roasting of this archetype. Seriously, give the poor man a break, DC.
1 C-LISTER: ANIMAL MAN
Buddy Baker has always been skirting the fringes of mainstream comic culture but has too often been sidetracked into niche audiences. His powers of borrowing the traits of any nearby animal without changing his physical appearance made him popular with animal rights activists in the mid '60s and '70s, but didn’t really escape from that demographic until he became embroiled in Crisis on Infinite Earths. After that landscape-altering story, Animal Man was passed off to legendary comic writer and reinterpreted Grant Morrison. Though Morrison kept the animal rights theme strong, he also used Animal Man as a creative outlet for some of his more deranged and meta ideas.
Among his infamously bizarre stories, Animal Man meets an anthropomorphic dog who turns out to be a version of Wile E. Coyote that had escaped the endless horrors of his cartoon, visits a purgatory exclusive to comic book characters who know the nature of their own existence, watched his wife and child be literally erased by the writers, and, in one of the most existentially terrifying panels ever put in a comic book, stared down the reader directly with the sudden realization that he is, in fact, a character in a comic book. Why DC hasn’t given this guy two cartoons, a live-action remake, and an entire franchise worth of films based purely on Morrison’s creative vision is a mystery.