Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Critical Commentary: Wizard's Top 200 Characters

It may (or may not) surprise you that read Wizard magazine.  And have been reading it, in fact, since the very early days.  Say what you will about it's content, which has admittedly varied in quality over the years, but the mag has been a constant in my comic reading life since I was a pre-teen.  Recently, Wizard rolled over the 200 issue mark, and put out a pair of commerative issues to celebrate.  (Of course, this happened several months ago, but I am very slow about reading magazines!)  One of the specials was the "Platinum Anniversary Edition," and inside was their list of the Top 200 Characters Of All Time.  And while, overall, this list is not a bad collection, I really felt the need to make some sort of commentary on some of these choices.  I mean, honestly.

-- #65 Jason Todd; #68 Robin (Tim Drake): Wha... ?  How does Jason Todd rank higher than Tim Drake?  Their explanation that Todd has been cool since he came back from the dead simply doesn't hold water... does anyone, anywhere, actually like Jason Todd?  I haven't met any such fans.

-- #62 Red Skull; #139 The Leader; #143 Loki: I have no real problem with any of these rankings (in fact, I'd probably put Loki a little higher), but by who is not ranked... The Mandarin!  How can you put the top baddies for Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor on the list but not Shellhead's big bad?  Mandarin is one of Marvel's top universe-wide villians, and deserves to be on this list, if not the Top 100.  Will this anti-Shellhead bias never stop?!

-- #21 Daredevil: I just can't wrap my brain around how a character as inherently unoriginal as Daredevil can be so high on this list.  Whether we're talking about starting out as a poor man's Spider-Man, or languishing on the bottom of the Marvel barrel teaming up with Black Widow, or rushing to be re-invented into a poor man's Batman, DD has never struck me as anything but an also-ran.  His popularity baffles and astounds me constantly.

-- #14 Jesse Custer; #26 Cassidy; #31 Tulip O'Hare: Now, I know that Preacher was the Greatest Thing Ever because Garth Ennis is Just So Damn Awesome, but all three of the stars in the Top 50?  Not to use a "comic blogosphere" trope, but "really Wizard?  Really?"  Also note that all three of these characters evidently rate higher than Conan The Barbarian, Silver Surfer, Usagi Yojimbo, and Cerebus.  "Really?"

-- #1 Wolverine: Ahh, nothing says "Everything that everyone says is wrong with Wizard" than putting Wolverine on top of a list of the Top 200 Characters Of All Time.  Sometimes it makes you wonder just how much of their enthusiasm for things comes from actual appreciation, and how much comes from an editorial directive to piss off the netmarks as much as possible.

Good ole Wizard: You are many things, and boring is typically not one of them.


Adama said...

I can't believe you read "Teh Wizard!" What are you, some kind of "Wiz-tard?"

Actually I've been known to enjoy an issue of wizard every now and then. Not often, but occasionally.

Diabolu Frank said...

I bought Wizard #1 the week it came out, picked up most of the first year, then irratically for the next few. I read it every month for eight years when I had my shop copies, and have rarely seen it since. Meh.

I liked Jason Todd a lot-- certainly more than Tim Drake. However, this was before his resurrection. Now he's one of the many banes that keep me from reading DC Comics these days. Winick keeps putting the emphasis on ick.

I'd have to see the full list to defend Mandarin. Iron Man's presence is assured, but Mandarin could legitimately be left off. M'boy Dave is one of Tony's biggest fans, but the Iron Man book has rarely mattered in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, much less comics in general. For instance, Valiant's been out of business for many years, but I'd still rank someone like Master Darque ahead of Mandarin, because he was a definitive villain over their entire line. Mandarin? Not so much.

...Wait-- I just scanned the list via web search. It is retarded. I will end further discussion beyond responding to your comments...

Daredevil is one of my favorite Marvel characters. He IS highly unimpressive in concept, but occasionally killer in execution.

"Preacher" is about the most damned overrated comic ever. I dropped it two years in. Attention Morons: It's "True Romance: The Series," plus a wealth of anti-Catholic rhetoric and an Irish vampire. Whoop-dee-freakin'-doo. I say again: John Ostrander's last trip to Heaven in "The Spectre" was more transgressive and bad ass than Ennis' limp finale.

Wolverine? Color me unsurprised. My favorite(ish) character from ages 8-10-- about Wizard's reading level. Fan-tastic.

Luke said...

I don't think that Mandy has been any less of a major, universe-wide baddie than Red Skull -- and if not Skull, then certainly The Leader! Until recently, the Hulk's book was just as unimportant as Shellhead's book to the overall universe. And Mandarin at least has done the Big Bad thing a few times against the Avengers, something I don't think Leader can claim.

As far as Jason Todd and DD, well, that's why they make chocolate and vanilla: because some people like crappy ice cream. There must be something to Daredevil, but I'll be damned if I have ever seen it, in all honesty.

And Wolverine being number one is not only appropriate for the source but also utterly hilarious, which, ultimately, is not a bad thing, I don't think.

Diabolu Frank said...

The reason I disliked the Pre-Crisis Jason Todd and Tim Drake is because they're both carbon copies of Dick Grayson-- one inferior, one superior to the original. I liked the Post-Crisis Jason Todd because he was Dick's polar opposite. He made Batman's acquaintence while trying to boost the tires off the Batmobile. He had two living, highly dysfuntional parents. He relied more on aggression than brains. He liked handling guns. He quietly executed a rapist that enjoyed diplomatic immunity, and Batman either denied its occurance or silently approved.

By rights, Jason Todd should have grown up to become Dick Grayson's nemesis and betrayed everything Batman believed in. Evil opposites are very important in comics, and every attempt to give Dick one has failed miserably. That's part of the reason Nightwing is still a poor man's Daredevil.

I intend to make up a post in the near future to discuss the many reasons I love Matt Murdock, but one of them is his having an evil opposite in Bullseye. I never particularly liked the character, but Bullseye effectively contrasts Daredevil.

So too do the Leader, the Red Skull, and Loki reflect the heroes they face. Where Thor is forthright and a physical wonder, Loki is slight and conniving. The Hulk is strongest one there is, where the Leader is among the smartest. The Red Skull is not only a Euro-horror that faces the greatest American hero, but he's essentially THE Nazi of the comic book world.

...and then you have the Mandarin, a politically incorrect Yellow Peril figure. He's Chinese, but not a communist, so the East vs. West line doesn't work as well as it could. Both Tony and Mandarin or deterministic and controlling of others, making them somewhat similar, but hardly two sides of the same coin. They both derive their power from outside sources, and I think I've heard the rings called magical, but aren't they really alien artifacts? Mandarin is usually in robes or nearly naked, which I suppose contrasts the armor, but it's a stretch.

The point is, the Mandarin is a problematic foe who doesn't work nearly as well against Iron Man as Obadiah Stane, Dr. Doom, or the Russkies. Further, the hero he fights is lesser known and regarded than Hulk or Cap, plus lacks the career and artistic highs of Daredevil. The Mandarin has never made a significant impact outside of Iron Man comics, and has appeared far less than a more prominent mainstay like the Leader. Did the Mandarin even appear in the 60's cartoon?

Luke said...

I guess the Mandarin is just one point where you and I differ. You say that The Red Skull is THE Nazi of the comic book world, a point I agree with whole-heartedly. But, in my mind anyway, The Mandarin is the Fu Manchu for the entire comic book world. Even Marvel's actual Fu Manchu never had the exposure or play that Mandarin has had. (For what it's worth, I don't remember if Mandarin showed up on the 60s toon or not, but he was the key bad guy on the 90s series, which, by Wizard's own criteria (ie, during their "era"), should have more weight.

Leader makes a good opposite number for the Hulk, but I have always found him much too comical to take as a serious threat. Indeed, aren't most of his plans undone by his own hubris moreso than the Hulk punching things? He's the main sticking point for me; had Skull and Loki both been on there without Mandy, okay, I can see that. But putting Leader on there ahead of Mandarin is just too bizarre to me. I don't see this gulf of difference between them; Mandy appeared just as regularly as the Leader did throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. And again, Shellhead's book may not have been overtly relevant to the larger universe, but neither was Ole Green Genes; the most critically acclaimed Hulk story in literally decades involved sending him to another planet.

Mandarin is not a Communist, no, but he is a Totaltarian; Iron Man represents who any one man can make himself great, while Mandarin stands on the "only the chosen may rise up" platform. And while the armor/robes might be a stretch, the whole mechanical might/kung-fu thing isn't. As early as his second appearance, Mandarin was fighting Iron Man toe to toe with only his martial arts skill -- and that continues to as recently as a few months ago. And while the rings may be alien, his chi is mystical. To me, that kind of contrast -- freedom vs. oppression, mechanical might vs physical might -- works well to move the characters out of a Cold War context, which is a common criticism thrown at Iron Man over the years.

Again, I see your point, but I think we can agree to disagree on this one. And I do recognize my own bias in the matter, so that's worth considering as well.

Bullseye and DD do make a good matched set. I've always thought that, even though DD himself has never really done it for me. Nightwing being a poor man's DD is an interesting take, one which I hadn't thought about before now. But there's a lot of merit to it -- Nightwing's main advantage is that he has history and nostalgia on his side. I don't really like Nightwing either, but since most Nightwing fans come off as hysterical, that's never bothered me so much!

You never really hear that much about the Pre-Crisis Jason Todd, probably for the reasons you mention. He was more interesting Post-Crisis. But I think that Tim Drake has grown from being a Dick Grayson clone into his own man -- err, teenager -- and has the strong following to show for it. Jason Todd as the evil Red Hood I can get behind. Jason Todd as the Hawkeye-esque version of Robin from an alternate timeline? That's, uh, lame (not an uncommon theme right now in the DCU, sadly). The guy, as you said, shoved a rapist off a building -- let him be a bad guy for crying out loud!

Diabolu Frank said...

My friend Dave often calls me to help him settle random disputes with friends and message board types. I flipped the script, and asked him to name his favorite Iron Man villains. His order of response was Justin Hammer, Obadiah Stane, the Mandarin, Crimson Dynamo, and Titanium Man.

I then explained the "why" of the call, and he too had a problem with Leader being on the list, but not so much Mandarin being left off. He said words to the effect of "Mandarin was always built up as a major character in big stories, but..." The magic isn't really there.

To really dig a hole, I'd also place Baron Zemo, Abomination and Absorbing Man above Mandarin. The guy never seems to step up into the greater Marvel Universe. Red Skull, sans Cap, still killed Spider-Man's parents, took on the Avengers, and had a war with Dr. Doom in Super-Villain Team-Up. Loki's the reason the Avengers formed. The Leader-- okay, I'm not saying you and Dave don't both have a point about Leader's lameness, but he was drawn by hot artists and has been in the public eye as Hulk's main villain since the 60's.

Mandarin's status is muddier. Every third super-villain is a dictator, he has no "family" or well-known underlings, I can't name a single Mandarin story arc, he's not especially well known and he's not "the" Yellow Peril character of comics. Fu Manchu isn't even owned by Marvel, and he helped drive Shang-Chi's series for ten years. I don't plan to press further, especially if we're just going in circles, but I hadda say it.

Tim Drake has been treated very well, but to Dick's detriment. He's essentially the exact same guy, but more. Smarter, inevitably a better fighter, detective, and team leader-- the only difference is Dick smiles more and started getting proper lays at age 18, where Tim seems more likely to become Batman. He gets more respect at 16(?) than Dick does in his mid-20's.

I'm a big Nightwing fan, and I don't feel he should be the Poor Man's Daredevil, but that's exactly what he's been since the launch of his solo series under (former Moon Knight writer) Chuck Dixon and (former Daredevil artist) Scott McDaniel.

Luke said...

Mandarin is not my favorite Shellhead baddie -- that goes to Titanium Man by a longshot. But my personal feelings is that between his longevity as an opponent, his exposure on both Iron Man cartoons (I checked this yesterday at HeroesCon), the fact that he was an old school thorn in the side of the Avengers, that he spawned a son who also plagued Iron Man, has had several toys over the years, and just recently in a high profile miniseries and in the main title was put over as an all-around badass, he should have been on this silly list if the Leader made the list. Damned Leader, this is all your fault!

But yeah, we're going in circles here. Let's just agree to disagree on this one.

It's hard for me to really make a lot of value judgements on Nightwing and Robin, as I have never read either of the solo series and really just know them from guest spots and team books, and most would argue that Nightwing really wasn't Nightwing in Outsiders. How to make Nightwing different than BOTH Batman and Daredevil is an interesting problem, because, well, it seems that is what most of his fans want, for him to be just like Batman or Daredevil only to make wisecracks. So I have no answers on that front!

Diabolu Frank said...

The only extended period that I read "Nightwing" after the first year was toward the end of Devin Grayson's run, after Phil Hester came on board. I also picked-up the two trades released of Marv Wolfman's run. Relentlessly, uncompromisingly mediocre. Nightwing is so a watered-down Daredevil at this point that Devin rewrote "Born Again" for him by osmosis, as she'd claimed never to have read it. I discuss this some in my ...nurgh... reviews of the trades and here: http://nurgh.blogspot.com/2008/04/trouble-with-nightwing.html

I became a Nightwing fan through "New Teen Titans," which I'd recommend as one if the best team books of the 80's. Outside that title, good Nightwing stories are hard to come by, which is damned depressing given he's had his own book for over a decade. Just my opinion, though.

Anonymous said...

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