The American comic book industry will always place a huge amount of focus on a select group of evergreen A-list characters; the ones that can be relied upon to shift comics and merchandise at all times. At Marvel, there is Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers. At DC, you've got Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League. Over the last few decades there have been a handful of other breakout characters who account for huge sales and fan interest -- Deadpool and Harley Quinn are the two best examples of this. In the indie comic world, The Walking Dead and Saga are the two biggest sellers and both those series' have introduced A-list characters to the industry.
But this is not to say that there are no efforts made to create new A-list characters or to boost the profile of existing characters up to A-list status. Every single year Marvel and DC attempt to cement new heroes and villains in the upper echelons of their respective universes. In recent years Marvel has tried very hard to make fans embrace the Inhumans, with mixed results, and DC has tried to convince the world that Cyborg is an A-lister by taking him out of the Teen Titans and dropping him into the Justice League. That hasn't quite worked either. This list will look at 10 heroes and 10 villains who we believe achieved A-list status in 2018. Whether their popularity, notoriety or creative excellence will stand the test of time is up for debate, but as of right now these 20 characters have made huge impacts on the funny book business as we know it.
20 VILLAIN: REQUIEM
Infinity Wars kicked off in August 2018, piggybacking on the world-conquering success of the Avengers: Infinity War movie. Written by Gerry Duggan and drawn by Mike Deodato, the prologue Infinity Wars Prime #1 introduced a new villain to the cosmic Marvel universe: Requiem. The mysterious character did the unthinkable when he or she ended Thanos.
As if that wasn't surprising enough, in Infinity Wars #1 it was revealed that Requiem was none-other-than Gamora, the former Guardian Of The Galaxy! She then took out Star-Lord with her sword and continued on her quest for the Infinity Gems (specifically the Soul Stone). After perishing in the movie and then being remade as a villain in the comics, 2018 was certainly a huge year for Gamora.
19 HERO: BLACK PANTHER
This past year will go down in history as the year in which Black Panther became a cultural icon. Obviously the MCU movie, which saw release in February and broke all kinds of box-office records, made him a mainstream star, but the comics have also solidified T'Challa's status as an A-list character.
The first half of the year gave us Rise Of The Black Panther, a six-issue miniseries which gave readers a new and fresh take on T'Challa and the Nation of Wakanda's origins. Then the core title relaunched in May, complete with the new status quo of 'the intergalactic empire of Wakanda', and sales have maintained a higher level than before the relaunch. T'Challa is also tangling with the Merc with a Mouth in the current Black Panther Vs Deadpool miniseries.
18 VILLAIN: THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS
A new series starring one of the breakout villains of the year, The Batman Who Laughs, is sure to cement this new villain's status as an A-list antagonist in the DC Universe. The character, a Jokerized version of Bruce Wayne spawned from the Dark Multiverse, first appeared in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's bugnuts Dark Nights: Metal event series and was immediately taken into fan's twisted hearts.
His look, which blends Batman and Joker with something akin to Clive Barker's Hellraiser, is truly disturbing and it's undeniable that he exudes a 'cool' factor that is important when introducing new characters. He recently reappeared in Snyder's Justice League run as a member of the Legion Of Doom, and we're excited to see what horrors he has in store for Batman in his solo series.
17 HERO: MISTER MIRACLE
Mister Miracle #12, the final issue in Tom King and Mitch Gerads' celebrated maxiseries, dropped recently and it was seen by fans and critics alike as a fitting end to a series that will go down in history as one of the classics of the medium. Both King and Gerads' won individual Eisner Awards for their work and the series was written about with effusive praise in mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post and The Hollywood Reporter.
It accomplished a rare feat of being a totally unique and personal creative work by King and Gerads that also sold brilliantly and increased Scott Free's popularity in the DC Universe. It was filled with King's anxieties about family life and dealing with trauma, and Gerads' left-of-centre superhero artwork was a revelation.
16 VILLAIN: VENOM
In 2018 it was scientifically proven that, no matter how many naysayers claim the character is a cliched remnant of grim n' gritty '80s/'90s comics, one thing will always hold true: people love Venom. The movie has made $822 million (and counting) at the worldwide box office, which is more than both Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man movies made, and in the world of comics Venom has enjoyed his biggest year in a very long time.
Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman's run has been a critically acclaimed gonzo tale that mixes surprisingly poignant drama with cosmic horror. It has also sold like gangbusters, with #1 being the number two comic in May (and the seventh highest-selling comic of 2018 overall) and subsequent sales have mostly maintained a Top 20 level.
15 HERO: JEAN GREY
Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey, a five-issue weekly miniseries, kicked off 2018 in a big way by bringing the Jean fans know and love back to life. Even though a time displaced teenage version of Jean had existed in the comics for a few years, classic Jean had been gone since 2005's X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong.
Jean then became the leader of a new X-Men team with the express purpose of founding a mutant nation and they used Atlantis as their headquarters. This title, X-Men: Red, was very well-received by critics and went a long way to re-establishing Jean as an A-list character in the Marvel Universe. The creative team of writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar are doing compelling and nuanced work with Jean, and fans love it.
14 VILLAIN: CASSANDRA NOVA
X-Men: Red didn't only give fans the much-anticipated return of Jean Grey; they were also treated to the reappearance of Cassandra Nova, Professor Xavier's twin sister (sort of). Xavier's ideological opposite, she was created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in 2001 during their seminal New X-Men run and was a parasitic lifeform bent on destruction.
She hadn't been seen since Astonishing X-Men #18 in 2006, but writer Tom Taylor brought her back to oppose Jean's new X-team and she was as scary as ever. She framed Jean for the end of an important member of a world organization and also created microscopic Sentinel tech that she used to control governments by implanting it into several high-ranking human brains.
13 HERO: ELENA ABBOTT
In January 2018 writer Saladin Ahmed (Black Bolt) launched his first creator-owned series at Boom Studios: Abbott, a '70s-set supernatural crime thriller. The book followed Elena Abbott, a black journalist in Detroit who is investigating crimes that the Police Department want nothing to do with, namely because they're tinged with the occult. She soon finds out that the cause is the same supernatural force that used dark magic to take her beloved husband's life.
Ahmed was raised in Detroit and, along with artist Sami Kivela, goes to great lengths to portray the sights and smells of the city, as well as the institutional racism and gender inequality Elena faces in her daily work life. We reckon we'll see her again in another miniseries, as this one certainly left us wanting more.
12 VILLAIN: THE COMMONWEALTH
The Walking Dead TV show recently began dropping some hints about a new set of villains that could be coming in the near future: the Commonwealth. This will be a pretty quick turnaround from comic to screen for the group, as they were only introduced into the comics with November 2017's #173.
Their first big storyarc 'New World Order' then began in January 2018's #175. They are a massive community of 50,000 survivors living in connected towns, complete with an event arena for sports and musicians to play in. Naturally, something is 'off' about the whole setup, and Rick and his friends soon find out it's all a way for the rich to maintain their stranglehold on society, even against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. Some social commentary there, huh?
11 HERO: AQUAMAN
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last several years, you will be well aware of the Aquaman movie that The Worlds of DC have big hopes for. It's a big deal for DC and Warner Brothers, as they're putting a lot of stock in James Wan's undersea blockbuster righting the ship for DC on film. Fittingly, Aquaman has seen an increased presence in the comics in 2018.
He is one of the main stars of Scott Snyder's Justice League run and, spinning out of that series, he is now the focus of a massive crossover event in October/November: Drowned Earth, in which the Ocean Lords (ancient Sea Gods) have invaded with an alien army and flooded the globe. Aquaman now has a new creative team and a bit of a Jason Momoa-makeover with issue #43.
10 VILLAIN: ROGOL ZAAR
In a move that surprised the industry, longtime Marvel supremo Brian Michael Bendis left the House Of Ideas in November 2017 and joined their Distinguished Competition. Fans were excited (and trepidatious) about him writing DC characters, and after a bout of serious illness, his first comics were released: a short story in the landmark Action Comics #1000 that introduced new villain Rogol Zaar, followed by the six-issue miniseries The Man Of Steel.
Zaar, an alien warrior who claims to be responsible for the destruction of Krypton, has proven to be a formidable foe thus far. This zealot believes Kyptonians to be a cosmic plague and will do anything to eliminate Superman. Could he become as important to the Super-mythos as Doomsday? Only time will tell.
9 HERO: MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the original TV broadcast of Power Rangers. Boom Studios marked the event with a crossover entitled 'Shattered Grid'. The story was told in both the core Mighty Morphin Power Rangers title by Kyle Higgins and Daniele Di Nicuolo and Go Go Power Rangers by Ryan Parrott and Dan Mora.
A hit with both fans and critics, the storyline was seen as a fitting tribute to the show and a wonderful culmination of story threads the writers had been seeding throughout their runs leading up to the crossover. Often these universe-spanning events can seem commercially driven and crass, but this one felt organic and earned and thusly had much more impact than if it had been created with the goal of simply exploiting fan nostalgia.
8 VILLAIN: THE INHERITORS
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse hits theatres in December and, in a move that will surprise absolutely no one, Marvel recently launched Spider-Geddon, a crossover event that is a direct sequel to the original Spider-Verse event from 2014. In this new story, the Inheritors have escaped from the decimated world they were imprisoned on and are planning revenge on all the different Spider-Men from different universes.
Creator Cristos N. Gage was excited to bring them back and it's easy to see why: the idea of a clan of vampire-like villains who feed on the lifeforce of Spider-people is undeniably interesting, with just the right amount of Gothic horror mixing with more standard comic book supervillainy. We'd say they're now A-listers in the Marvel Universe.
7 HERO: CATWOMAN
Catwoman has always been an A-list character in the DC Universe, but somehow it felt like she became even more important in 2018. A major focus of Tom King's run on Batman has been the romance between Bruce and Selina, and it all culminated in the controversial 'wedding' issue (Batman #50). While some fans were angered by the wedding not coming to pass, it can't be ignored that the issue sold in huge quantities and interest in Catwoman hadn't been so high in years.
She then received a new solo title by writer/artist Joelle Jones, which introduced a creepy new villain: Mrs Creel, a crime boss whose obsession with plastic surgery and substance abuse has caused her body to deteriorate badly. The title has maintained Top 20 sales thus far, which is impressive.
6 VILLAIN: KGBEAST
KGBeast (or The Beast) came back in a big way in 2018. In September's Batman #55 the story followed Nightwing and Batman on a routine patrol, all while Dick tried to cheer Bruce up after losing Selina in the wake of their 'wedding'. Interspersed with this was an unknown criminal preparing for something, and it turned out it was Anatoli Knyazev putting together an attempt on Nightwing's life.
He shot Dick in the head and, though the former Boy Wonder survived, Batman was consumed with vengeance and tracked Anatoli to a frozen wasteland in his native Russia. In a bleak moment, he shot Anatoli with his grappling gun, breaking his neck. He then left him out in the cold, unable to move; a decision that came perilously close to breaking his one rule.
5 HERO: BLOODSHOT
In March 2018 it was finally confirmed that Vin Diesel (The Fast & The Furious) had signed on to play Bloodshot in the upcoming movie, which will be the first film in a prospective Valiant Comics cinematic universe. There is some serious talent behind the movie, with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival) penning the script.
Valiant then announced in November that Bloodshot: Rising Spirit #1, their latest series relaunch for the character, had become the highest-selling Bloodshot comic since they started their modern publishing era in 2012. Any way you slice it, with Bloodshot: Salvation telling a very strong story as well, 2018 has been a big year for Ray Garrison and his nannites. Valiant will be looking to keep that momentum going in 2019.
4 HERO: THE SPIRAL CITY HEROES
Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's Black Hammer began in July 2016 and has quickly become a hugely important franchise for Dark Horse Comics. The core series has been heralded as a modern classic by critics and the spin-offs (Sherlock Frankenstein, Doctor Star and The Quantum Age) have all been beautifully told stories as well.
In November 2018, it was announced that Legendary Entertainment had optioned the property for TV and film, so fans can expect to see Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Barbalien, Coonel Weird and Madame Dragonfly on the big and small screens soon enough. The fact that Legendary has optioned the entire fictional universe is exciting and shows how much faith they have in Lemire's creative vision. We can't wait to see the first project.
3 VILLAIN: CIRCE
DC rebranded Wonder Woman in 2018 by tying her into the supernatural side of the DC Universe. She is the leader of the new Justice League Dark (alongside Swamp Thing, Zatanna, Man-Bat and Detective Chimp) and that new series led into a huge crossover event: Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour. Hecate (the Goddess of Magic, Witchcraft, Ghosts and Necromancy in the Greek pantheon) attacked and Wonder Woman defeated her with help from her old enemy Circe.
It was then revealed that Circe had wanted Hecate to be defeated, as she was then able to transfer all of Hecate's powers into herself, making her the new Goddess Of Magic in the DC Universe. A major new force was born and she'll be an A-list player going forward.
2 HERO: COSMIC GHOST RIDER
Cosmic Ghost Rider has undoubtedly become an A-list character in 2018. Created by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw in January 2018's Thanos #13, this new Rider is Frank Castle from a different Earth. During that Earth's final battle with Thanos, Castle perished and his soul went to hell, where he made a deal with Mephisto to become a Ghost Rider.
He then struck another deal with Galactus to become his new Herald, mostly so he could exact revenge on Thanos, and thus the Cosmic Ghost Rider was born! A uniquely crazy creation, his first five-issue miniseries has sold extremely well, debuting in the Top 10 and refusing to fall out of the Top 40 with subsequent issues. We wouldn't be surprised to see the character adapted to screen sooner rather than later.
1 VILLAIN: DOCTOR MANHATTAN
Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's controversial sequel to Watchmen, launched in November 2017. It has been plagued by delays, so as of this writing only 7 of the 12 issues have seen release, but September 2018's #7 did finally confirm Doctor Manhattan as the architect of the DC Rebirth universe.
Several hints had been dropped over the years in titles such as Flashpoint and Justice League, but the revelation that Manhattan had erased 10 years from the timeline of the DCU and killed several characters in the process (Metron, Pandora, Reverse-Flash) was jolting. Things are now poised for a confrontation between Manhattan and Superman, an encounter Manhattan has already foreseen and which somehow convinced him to meddle with the timeline.