Books  |  Lists

The 100 Best Comic Book Characters of All Time

May 12, 2014  |  9:24am
The 100 Best Comic Book Characters of All Time

When you flip through a comic book, you’re looking at a medium that has existed for less than a century. Within those approximate 80 years, comic book stories and the avatars within have graduated from the scrutiny of child psychologists to multimedia empires that annually generate billions of dollars. Arguably, we’re in a golden age: the legacy characters of Marvel and DC have the support of the largest companies in the world, while any writer or artist can transform their own compelling cast into a creator-owned foundation, stewarding the most innovative intellectual properties forward (hello Saga and The Walking Dead).

With so many stories and characters out there, what still resonates and drives us to the comic store every Wednesday? The Paste staff decided to dig deep into their long boxes to identify the faces who shaped some of the most compelling narratives in sequential art. Quantifying characters from such a wide range of genres and eras was undeniably difficult, but a good story is universal. We guarantee that any one of these heroes, villains, lovers or fighters has earned their immortality in comic book history.

1linebreakdiamond.png

1dodgefinal.jpg 100. Lucas “Dodge” Caravaggio
First Appearance: Locke & Key #1
Best Writer: Joe Hill
Best Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key centers on the members of the Locke family, who move into patriarch Rendell’s old New England home in the wake of his grisly murder. The overarching Big Bad of the series comes in the form of an ancient demon who’s entwined with the soul of Dodge, Rendell’s childhood friend. For close to 40 issues, the demon-possessed Dodge wreaks havoc not only in the lives of the Locke children, but anyone even tangentially related to them, all in relentless pursuit of the Omega Key. While comics have no shortage of great demonic characters, it’s Dodge’s unique, twisted brand of cruelty that makes him one of the greats. — Mark Rozeman

1linebreakdiamond.png

1warlockfinal.jpg 99. Adam Warlock
First Appearance: The Fantastic Four #66
Best Writer: Roy Thomas
Best Artist: Gil Kane

Some of the characters on this list are here because they have become a template or trope for other heroes and villains. Adam Warlock’s role is rooted in un-assimilated weirdness, and little of that has changed in the space god’s 47 years. Yes, with his tendency for cocoon-hatching resurrections, early storylines hint at more than a few Christ parallels, but over time, the character has settled into a near-unique role as a fill-in-the-blank protagonist in any story with cosmic undertones or stakes. — Michael Burgin

1linebreakdiamond.png

1suziefinal.png 98. Suzie
First Appearance: Sex Criminals #1
Best Writer: Matt Fraction
Best Artist: Chip Zdarsky

One of the most interesting comic characters we’ve seen in recent years doesn’t fly. She doesn’t have x-ray vision or scale buildings or fight bad guys. She does, however, stop time with her earth-rocking orgasms, and that’s pretty much all you need to know to get the gist of the very hilarious Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. Suzie — a sexually liberated librarian who robs banks while in her post-climax “quiet” — is more than you could ask for in the role of Sex Criminals’s deeply troubled (and hilarious, and real) lead character, and she forever sets an example for selfish dudes to be considerate. While Suzie’s conflicted about robbing banks, she’s doing it in the spirit of Robin Hood to give back to her own troubled library. Guys, maybe the special lady in your life could rob banks if you just gave her the extra 50-to-75 percent. — Tyler Kane

1linebreakdiamond.png

1tankgirlfinal.jpg 97. Tank Girl
First Appearance: Deadline #1
Best Writer & Artist: Jamie Hewlett

Long before visualizing the cartoon anarchists of Gorillaz with Damon Albarn, British artist Jamie Hewlett devised the perfect grrrl power counterculture icon in Tank Girl. A blinding reflection of the punk groundswell that greeted former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ultra-conservative legislation, Tank Girl occupied a series of underground comic strips before writers like Peter Milligan cast her in long-form comics and graphic novels. A gorgeous, gratuitous veneer of post-apocalyptic guns ’n ammo excess, Tank Girl evolved the gritty 2001 AD formula with a needed dose of estrogen. — Sean Edgar & Caitlin McGurk

1linebreakdiamond.png

1tonychufinal.jpg 96. Tony Chu
First Appearance: Chew #1
Best Writer: John Layman
Best Artist: Rob Guillory

Chew embraces one of the more eye-raising concepts in recent years — a Philadelphia FDA agent draws psychic impressions from whatever he eats to solve crimes, even if it means biting into the occasional human body part now and then. Such a bonkers premise necessitates a great protagonist to keep the story anchored in an emotional reality, and Tony Chu is the man for the job. He’s a fiercely intelligent, grounded character in a world full of crazies. Tony also represents a pleasant oddity in comics — he’s a Chinese-American hero who’s neither a hacker nor ninja/samurai stereotype; in a medium where minority heroes remain unfortunately minimal, Tony is a delightful exception. — Mark Rozeman

1linebreakdiamond.png

1lyingcatfinal.jpg 95. Lying Cat
First Appearance: Saga #1
Best Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Best Artist: Fiona Staples

Don’t be fooled into believing Lying Cat is nothing more than a glorified polygraph. Sure, she only speaks one word — “lying” — whenever she witnesses someone bend the truth, but she also possesses unfathomable depths of loyalty. Lying Cat fights for the individuals she cares about, whether that entails sacrificing an eye in battle or nurturing former child sex slave Sophie:
1sophieandlyingcat.jpg She makes us weep; she makes us cheer and snort with laughter. In Lying Cat, we find extraordinary heroism in the guise of the quirkiest sidekick. —Frannie Jackson

1linebreakdiamond.png

1antonarcanefinal.jpg 94. Anton Arcane
First Appearance: Swamp Thing #1
Best Writer: Len Wein
Best Artist: Berni Wrightson

It’s not often that heroes get to stare into the eyes of the villains who killed them — okay, maybe it is — but there was a special brand of evil in the heart of Swamp Thing’s nemesis. Anton Arcane, like Spider-Man’s Venom, is terrifying because he doesn’t take a form you can just kill or send to a supervillain prison. We’ve seen him take on many different forms since Swamp Thing #1 in 1972 — an old man, a demon from Hell, Swamp Thing himself and the recent protector of The Rot (or basically everything that’s dead) — but the same always remains for Alec Holland’s fly-infested foe: he’s a brilliant manipulator with a soul of pure darkness. — Tyler Kane

1linebreakdiamond.png

1flycatcherfinal.gif 93. Flycatcher
First Appearance: Fables #1
Best Writer: Bill Willingham
Best Artist: Mark Buckingham

Frankly, if you’re a recurring character in Bill Willingham’s Fables, there’s probably an argument to be made to put you on this list. The series is so well-written and the characters so well fleshed-out … if you don’t belong here it’s likely just because Willingham hasn’t gotten to you yet. Still, some arcs stand out, such as the journey of Flycatcher (also known as the Frog Prince or Prince Ambrose) from humble janitor to an Adversary-thwarting king. Bigby Wolf may give the Fables series much of its punch, but Flycatcher is its undeniable heart. — Michael Burgin

1linebreakdiamond.png

1hitmanfinal.jpg 92. Tommy Monaghan
First Appearance: The Demon Annual Vol. 3 #2
Best Writer: Garth Ennis
Best Artist: John McCrea

Garth Ennis’ most underappreciated creation, this sunglasses-wearing assassin (whose Catholic upbringing only lets him take out “bad” people) and the regulars at Noonan’s Sleazy Bar are the motliest crew in comics, prone to mocking superheroes — Batman finds himself on the receiving end of some undigested Indian food, Green Lantern gets stuck with a bar tab and Lobo…you don’t want to know. The crew takes out a bizarre litany of terrifying targets, including zombie dolphins and a T-Rex, while trading stories over endless games of poker. You wouldn’t want to mess with Tommy Monaghan … but you probably wouldn’t mind having a beer with him, either. — Zack Smith

1linebreakdiamond.png

1minaharkerfinal.jpg 91. Mina Harker
First Appearance: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1
Best Writer: Alan Moore
Best Artist: Kevin O’Neill

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but mainstream comics tend to have a gender-equality issue. The Wonder Womans and Sue Storms of the world are nice, of course, but comics could definitely use more gals like Mina Harker. A former prisoner of stifling Victorian patriarchy, Harker’s experiences with Dracula led to her becoming the leader of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore’s Avengers-like super group of famed literary characters. Fiercely independent and unafraid to explore her sexuality, Mina is the kind of person who can verbally dress down her egotistical male counterparts while simultaneously one-upping them in sheer badassery. — Mark Rozeman

Previous
See All
comments powered by Disqus
Related
Load More