Fact: The coolest comic book character of 2016 is Vivek Headland, the protagonist of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s sci-fi-horror-detective-spy series, Injection, whose 10th issue hits stands today. The first arc of the series offered a dark slow burn: you had to read all five issues to get any idea of what the hell was going on. In contrast, the second arc has been a visceral, pleasure-a-panel joy ride driven by Headland: a deadpan, omnisexual, genius detective who can tell ham from human flesh by taste.
While Ellis can bring badassness to anyone he writes—see his run on Moon Knight as well as his current Karnak series—his true gift lies in creating badasses from scratch. But not just any badasses: Ellis ass-kickers are dry-witted and smart as hell. The writer merges brilliant and badass in a way that is distinct and delicious. These are some of his greatest creations.
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Spider Jerusalem, Trans- metropolitan
For most writers, a character based on Hunter S. Thompson would be a one-issue wonder: a passing joke and nothing more. But Ellis made Spider Jerusalem the star of 60 issues of Transmetropolitan, a sci-fi political epic that is frighteningly relevant this election year. Accompanied by his trademark Bowel Disruptor and "filthy assistants," Jerusalem opposed the Smiler: a President so awful he would make demon-possessed Ken Wind blush.
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Miranda Zero, Global Frequency
Miranda Zero heads the Global Frequency, a rescue agency operation with exactly 1001 agents around the world. In the very first issue of the series, agents work to prevent a black hole from swallowing San Francisco: that bizarre risk comes from a former Soviet agent outfitted with weird tech in his head gone bad. This sort of dangerous debris is the Global Frequency's specialty: "The litter of the way we live. The unexploded bombs," as Zero puts it. Zero doesn't hide behind her agents: when captured, all she offers her interrogator is advice for a henchgoon: "…make sure he kills me with one shot. I don't want to hear your whining anymore."
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The Midnighter, Stormwatch, The Authority
When introduced in Stormwatch, this Batman analogue immediately got attention for being even more tactically brilliant than the Dark Knight (thanks to genetic modifications) and gayer, thanks to his romance with Apollo, a Superman analogue. Midnighter's ability to instantaneously see millions of permutations of a fight beforehand means he's pretty much unbeatable, and it informs some spectacular trash talk along the lines of, "I already know how this fight ends." Midnighter is the rare Ellis character who's been improved by another writer: the recently concluded Midnighter series by Steve Orlando and ACO is a gem that will be dearly missed in DC's All-new Deluxe Rubber Rebirth-boot.
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Elijah Snow, Planetary
On paper, a character with cold powers named Snow sounds awful. But this member of Planetary manages to be truly cool and tactically brilliant while leading his team of "Archaeologists of the Impossible" and facing an evil version of the Fantastic Four. I don't think I've ever read a comic packed with more ideas than Planetary, and Snow is a compelling team leader, equally ruthless and compassionate, who never gives up even when his own memory works against him. Bonus badass points: He easily dispatches a Dark Knight Returns-type Batman in the wonderful 2011 Batman/Planetary crossover.
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Paul Moses, Red
Forget the two movies based on Red, Ellis' collaboration with artist Cully Hamner: just go right to the original series for a tight, perfect story of a retired government assassin who should've been left alone. Moses, a former CIA killer haunted by death, is (sort of) enjoying retirement at an undisclosed location. His only human contact consists of letters from his niece and phone calls from his handler, who has no idea what Moses used to do. A squeamish new CIA director finds out Moses exists and is basically the Michael Jordan of secret government murder—so he orders his death, and away we go. Moses later explains his devastating modus operandi quite directly: "Because I kill people, you damn fool. I don't threaten. I don't pose. I don't play." Neither does Ellis.
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Desolation Jones, Desolation Jones
Michael Jones was an MI6 officer with a penchant for alcoholism and messing up, but that's where the resemblance to James Bond ends. The British government subjected Jones to the Desolation Test: a year-long torture-fest which left Jones a chalky white, gaunt figure who feels no pain, hallucinates constantly, and has a vampiric aversion to sunlight. For a series that includes a hunt for porn starring Adolf Hitler, Desolation Jones is surprisingly heartfelt, especially when Jones interacts with other people damaged by the spy game. Like many Ellis characters, Jones is a dangerous enemy and straight-up weirdo, but a loyal ally and friend.
J.H. Williams III
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Jenny Sparks, Stormwatch, The Authority
When Ellis took over Stormwatch in 1996, he reinvigorated the concept of the government-sponsored superteam with fresh characters and ideas, leading comics out of the dreary, Liefeldian '90s. Like Elijah Snow, Sparks is a century baby: one of several people born on January 1, 1900 with unique powers and functions who are basically unkillable for a century. Sparks controls electricity, and her power makes Electro look like a drained smartphone. Even when faced with the prospect of her death at the close of the 20th century and the return of a God-like force to wipe out humanity, Sparks never loses her, well, spark, as exemplified in her commentary: "Happy sodding birthday, Jenny. As your special gift, have a thing from beyond space that's come to turn Earth into a huge turd."
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Maria Kilbride, Injection
Along with Headland, Kilbride was part of the ominously named Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, which was tasked by the British government to keep the future interesting and prevent stagnation. Unfortunately, they choose to keep things spicy by injecting an "almost-conscious machine learning system that can mess with the state of the world" into the Internet. That sentient hybrid of science, magic and AI has since been wreaking havoc by turning folk legends into real menaces. How badass is Kilbride? Well, she deskinned a man to save him from spriggans, formerly nonexistent evil pixies that were given life by the Injection. Her craving for sandwiches is a humorous, grounding element of the series, proving the immortal words of Liz Lemon correct: "I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich."