Make sure to check out part 1!
I think it's perfect for this backwards-talking lady that we begin with the Z's. Zatanna Zatara has maybe one of the best superhero concepts I've ever heard! Already an accomplished performance illusionist, she develops sorcery-like powers and weaves her craft on the streets as well as the bright stage! Her powers usually take the form of incantations, when she speaks or writes them backwards. That comes across easily enough in text form, but I'd love to hear that trippy stuff in some surround-sound! The only exception to the spoken-word I can think of is when she's in a real bind! She's been known to write backwards spells in her own blood. If that's not magically badass, then I'm not sure what is!
Driven by her mission to find her vanished (poof!) father, Zatanna works with the likes of the Justice League and Batman, but has never really gotten much attention of her own in mainstream works. I don't know why because how cool would her spell-craft be on the big screen?! I'm as weary of the 3D trend as the next overstimulated moviegoer, but I have to admit, seeing Zatanna's magic rendered in glorious CGI would be truly... Badass. One last note: She didn't quite make this list (but I've got plans) - but I'd sure like to see Wanda the Scarlet Witch in a room with Lady Z, either in a battle of the magical furies, or an epic spell-slinging team up!
Static (Virgil Hawkins)
"Like any other awkward 15 year-old, Virgil Hawkins worries about pocket money, getting beaten up, and drugs. But recently, he's had even more on his mind: Stuff like his powers, his secret identity, and drugs. Because, when innocents are in danger, and Virgil can slip away from class, the geeky youth becomes Static, the dashing, adventurous superhero!"
- Dwayne McDuffie, Founder of Milestone Comics (Rest in peace)
You probably know Static from his very own after-school animated series Static Shock!
But he's been around for a very long time before he showed up on TV. Created and written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, Static started out from the independent DC imprint Milestone Comics, dedicated to bringing diversity and much-needed representation to the largely white, straight, dude-filled comic scene. Static - real name Virgil Hawkins, is often compared to Peter Parker's Spiderman, in that he's a regular teenage kid trying to navigate the horrors of high school while being a full-time superhero. To make matters even more chaotic, his hometown Dakota is overrun with "Bang Babies" a boom of super-powered gang members doused with an experimental chemical, in an event called the "Big Bang." Virgil was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now it's his job to keep these misbehaving Bang Babies from turning Dakota into their own personal playground.
What's really great about Static is that there's very little angst around his character. Instead, he's a refreshing breath of pure, unbridled super-joy. See, before the Big Bang, this boy was a hardcore comic book nerd! And now he's stepped into one! Having electrical and magnetic abilities, being able to zap, flow, magnetize and fly - yes, FLY - it's a slice of geek Heaven. Virgil loves his powers! How can you not, right?! He loves being a hero no matter how tough the job is. He's got a positive charge (ha-ha cheesy pun) and a hilarious wit (much better than mine, I promise) that makes him actually FUN to read: A welcome shift from the increasingly dark-gritty-darkity-dark genre. He's a gift to the fans, especially kids of color and other unprivileged people who grew up like him! Living on superheroes and wanting to be just as powerful as a force for good while not seeing many who looked like themselves on their comic book pages. He says "We know you're here, you matter, this is for you too." in his message. He shows marginalized kids who rarely get the attention they deserve that they can be heroes too! And that's the most badass thing ever! Annnd, lastly, again, he didn't make this list but the Static comic book and cartoon was a first in having a gay main character! Virgil's best friend and eventual partner-in-crime-fighting, Richie Foley (Rick Stone). He'd later get a secondhand dose of Bang serum to the brain, develop super-smarts, take on the name Gear along with a pair of hot rocket-powered rollerblades, showing another group of often ignored and mistreated kids that they can be heroic too! Milestone Comics and Dwayne McDuffie are just great all around! They definitely deserve way more attention and love than they get!
Toad (Mortimer Toynbee)
You think I'm nuts right now, don't you? Toad, you say?! Really?! The gross evil dude with the tongue that Storm zapped in the first X-Men movie after the worst line ever?! That guy?! Give me a break! But hear me out, guys! Just like there are a lot of X-Men continuities and universes and versions, there are a lot of different Toads. Some are total jerk-asses, some are minor comic reliefs, and some are precious woobie babies who need a warm blankie and a hug. The one I'd like to talk about though, is the Toad from Ultimate X-Men. He might fall into the "rough-edged rapscallion who's actually a pretty good dude" category, and he's pretty damn cool if you give him a chance!
More rock 'n' roll anarchist British punk than wimpy low-level bad guy, this Toad is smart, snarky, and totally aware of the dynamic between the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (the side he's currently on) and the X-Men (the guys you usually root for). He's not in the Brotherhood for the "Evil" part really, he's just a toad trying to survive. Though he's with Magneto at first, we learn that he knows exactly what the Brotherhood thinks of him - they think he's the same sniveling, greedy, gross-out wimp that most people do. The thing is, they underestimate him, like most people do. Eventually he joins the X-Men and proves himself to be a pretty solid fighter for the good guys, as well as becoming a freaking instructor at the Xavier Institute after all! That character development and side-switching is something I'd love to see explored in a detailed plot, especially on the big screen.
Not only that, but the guy's a revolutionary! We see him protesting "Proposition X," the Marvel-universe version of anti-gay legislation "Proposition 8." Proposition X would make it illegal for mutants to hook up and have babies, and our firebrand Toad is having none of that noise! In another book, he even plays superhero without the X-Men to back him up. When a teenage mutant girl is being chased by some violent humans (she's got cute tentacle hair and they want to cut it off, really messed up stuff), he saves her - and then gives her a heartwarming pep talk you wouldn't expect from his outwardly character! "You've gotta keep fighting", he tells her. "Give 'em every bit of every thing." He's a true underdog who has seen some crap, was treated like it too, and is doing what it takes to survive - and stick up for lost visibly-mutant kids who need a helping webbed hand. Just like he did!
I don't see a Toad movie happening anytime soon (not when we have the 19th Wolverine movie to think about), but it'd still be great. Sure, he's kind of unhygienic, and maybe not all movie-goers like that much tongue. But he's a great character, warts and all! I think a great inspiring teenage geared movie would suit this moral character well!
X-23 (Laura Kinney, Clone daughter of Wolverine)
But here's someone who actually was in a Wolverine movie, and deserves her own now! X-23, as she's known to everybody, even herself at first, is a pretty unique case! She first appeared not in a comic proper, but on the animated series "X-Men: Evolution." She later got her own books, and definitely deserves them, and then some! She's part of the same program that turned Logan into Wolverine, got the same Adamantium skeleton, claws and all. She has been trained from birth (or rather, creation) to be the perfect killing machine. You might be saying "so she's a Wolverine copy, so what? We have one of those" And you'd be half right - she's technically a clone. Brought to life in a test tube from one of Logan's damaged genomes, she's kind of his sister, kind of his daughter, and entirely her own badass mutant in her very own weird story.
X-23 comes into the world tragically. The scientist who cloned her, Sarah Kinney, is her surrogate mother, but she can't protect her daughter from the horrors that Weapon X project director Martin Sutter will subject her to. She's put through radiation poisoning and horrifying "treatments" to grow claws, extract them, and have them put back in Adamantiumized. All without anesthetic! Horrifying! As if this isn't traumatic enough for an innocent little girl, she's given a "trigger scent" meant to drive her into a violent rage when she comes across it. She's the perfect created assassin, meant to kill "anyone, everyone, for a price." Sarah wants more for her daughter than to be Sutter's attack dog, and breaks her out - but X-23's trigger scent is activated by the bad guys, driving her to unwillingly kill her own mother. As she dies, Sarah tells her daughter that her name is Laura, and gives her a letter saying to seek out Charles Xavier and his Institute.
X-23 might have been relatively helpless in her origin story, but she continues life as anything but! At her core, Laura's mission is to take control of her own life and decide who she is on her own terms. She's not just a badass, nearly-unstoppable fighter, she's an independent person trying to make her own place in the world. Her frightening treatment at the facility left her with low self-esteem (she self-harms, cutting herself with her blades, and thinks very little of herself) but she's trying, and just surviving with that baggage is a heroic act in itself! She deserves her own movie, not just a cameo in one of Wolverine's, and I think it would be pretty badass on all levels!
Gargoyles (The Manhattan Clan)
"One thousand years ago, superstition and the sword ruled. It was a time of darkness. It was a world of fear. It was the age of gargoyles. Stone by day, warriors by night. We were betrayed by the humans we had sworn to protect, frozen in stone by a magic spell for a thousand years. Now, here in Manhattan...The spell is broken. And we live again! We are defenders of the night. We are GARGOYLES!"
- Goliath, theme opening narration.
Please, please, please... Make this movie, Disney!
And at number five, we've got the darkest, smartest, arguably best thing to come out of Disney in a Saturday morning time slot ever! The Gargoyles. (A cartoon, true, but it actually does fit on this comic-centric list, because Marvel handled the graphic novel tie-in back in the day, and Slave Labor Graphics took over in 2010, so boom!) Created by Greg Weisman, who you also might recognize as the producer of superhero shows like Young Justice and The Spectacular Spiderman, Gargoyles was Disney afternoon's answer to Batman TAS - but the noir-like tone is about where the similarities end. The rest is an original story that spans from 10th-century Scotland to modern-day (well, "modern-day" as in 1994) New York City. It's got magic, flying robots, and mutants, oh my! Did I mention it has Shakespeare?! It has freaking Shakespearean characters and plot lines! This show had something going on, people!
As clan leader Goliath explains in the opening theme, these fantastic, scary-but-friendly people with horns and wings are called Gargoyles. The stoned statues of creatures that sit on top of churches and stuff to scare away evil spirits. And that's pretty much their job when they're not stone too, which happens at night. They protect their castle and all the humans in it. Until the humans they protect betray and massacre almost the entire gargoyle clan. The six sole survivors are then frozen in stone for a thousand years, and awoken when the "castle rose above the clouds," a prophecy fulfilled by ruthless billionaire Xanatos in the 20th century. (Why? Because he can and he has a plan. Go ahead. Click that. I'll wait.)
Now, here in Manhattan, the spell is broken and they live again! So, they're gonna protect their new "castle" which turns out to be the millions of people in NYC. But they can't do it alone, and waking up in a new country and CENTURY is a huge adjustment! So it's lucky that they've got the help of street-smart, badass lady detective Elisa Maza to help them navigate the concrete jungle! And she does certainly kick ass herself! Holding her own against sorcery, mythological creatures and futuristic weapons! Acting as the "Manhattan Clan's" guide, protector and first human friend. Gargoyles is great for a lot of reasons, and this tough, smart woman of color (half African American, half Native American) main character is one of them!
Elisa Maza's image was based on her voice actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield. Sali's father is white (Italian ancestry) and her mother is black (African ancestry).
Listen and you'll notice a lot of familiar voices, starting with leading man Goliath, who's voiced by Keith freaking David, my good ladies, gentlemen and nonbinary beings! He does a fantastic job delivering some of the most powerful performances of his career! Although the acting is great all the way around. Probably because it's full of Star Trek alumni. Can't go wrong there! Jonathan Frakes (playing Tony Stark-esque amoral antagonist David Xanatos) joked once that "old Star Trek actors don't die - they just do voices on Gargoyles." And he's right. You'll recognize Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Kathryn Mulgrew, Nichelle Nicols, LeVar Burton and Avery Brooks. There's probably even more that I'm forgetting. Let me tell you; watching any Star Trek after seeing Gargoyles is pretty weird but awesome! The best part is?! They're all still alive! Disney could easily put together one badass Gargoyles movie, either CGI or traditionally animated, and have the entire original cast! It's a pipe dream, and they'd better hurry, because some of these great folks are getting up there (Ed Asner, keep being amazing), but I'm pretty sure that if this happened I could die happy!
And under all the cool (and boy howdy, there is A LOT of cool!), this story really means something. It's about social issues like immigration (think about it, they're literally immigrants from another country), racial prejudice, adapting to a new culture, finding your place in a world that is often hostile, trying to help people who will call you a monster on sight. It's good. It's really good! Give it a try. HEY, Disney movie execs, if you're reading this humble blog, please give your black-sheep series the treatment it deserves! Stone by day, warriors by night! Cool as all Hell for two decades!
Thanks for reading part 2!
I'll be back with Undercover Badasses Part 3, so see you then!
Special thanks to my good friend RoAnna Sylver for helping me make this list and throwing in some of her awesome ideas into this fun article!
Please, show her some love!
RoAnna is an almost-graduated artist, singer, writer, actor, blogger, and a totally freakin' legit-for-reals published author! She loves ranting about cool geeky stuff (yeah, cool AND geeky!) and has a lot of feelings about all types of superheroes. Watch out for her first novel, "Chameleon Moon," from the Zharmae Publishing Press, launching October 9th, 2014!
Get that book folks!