You've no doubt clicked on this article to see my top 5 superheroes not because you care, but because you need to make sure that your list is better than mine, so you can win that comic book prize pot. Well despair, traveler, for it is mine. Mine I tell you! But before the list, my honorable mentions:
• Deadpool - He's not in my top 5 because everyone will have him in their top 5
• Caitlin Fairchild - for years I had a lithograph of Caitlin Fairchild in pink lingerie, handcuffed on a bed with the other Gen 13 girls - autographed by Campbell. It has...affected me.
• Link - more of a video game character than a comic book character
• Master Chief - same deal
• Ryu - KamehameHADOUKEN! It's the same thing.
Let's get to the goods already.
5. Spiderman: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Spiderman delivers the laughs and the heartaches. My biggest attraction to Spiderman is his witticisms. Laughs matter a lot, and Parker delivers them in spades. In spite of his wit, I can't think of a character who is consistently as tragic as Spiderman. Yes, I know guys like Frank Castle and Bruce Wayne are marinated in tragedy, but they also walk on the darker side of good. To an extent, they bring a lot of their misery on themselves. Parker tries to walk tall and do right by others, but he still can't get ahead. Even when Parker catches a break, something else happens to offset his gains, so he's always breaking even and never getting ahead. There's no schadenfreude on our parts, though. We root for him, even though we know the cruel writers won't let his victories last. It's also worth noting his animated spin-offs. I particularly love the Ultimate Spiderman cartoon. Parker is at his best when he's still a minor in high school living under Aunt May's roof.
4. Vash the Stampede: A Study in How Violence Ought to be Used
Yasuhiro Nightow created a character who's a true pacifist, but he doesn't turn off the reader. It's hard to make a character that's devoted to protecting all life and make him cool (God knows people hate Superman for it), but Vash strikes that puzzling balance. His refusal to kill has been both his greatest strength and greatest liability. It gets him hurt, gets him in trouble, even costs him his pride at times, but you can't help but admire him for sticking to his code, even when you see all that he's lost for it. It's one thing when Batman refuses to kill, since he doesn't use lethal weapons. But Vash's primary means of combat is a GUN. A gun-toting pacifist. And it WORKS. I have yet to see this magic work for another character (if you can think of one, tell me in the comments). I usually don't like gun-toting "good" guys because they tend not to be good. Punisher comes readily to mind, along with Cable, Lobo, even Jason Todd. Deadpool is in a class of his own. Those guys aren't interested in the greater good. They're usually out for revenge, or they have some other ax to grind. Vash's motto was "love and peace". Nobody else could get away with that and still be a badass.
3. Goku: The Chuck Norris of Anime
I know a lot of comic book fans tend to groan and roll their eyes whenever someone brings up Goku. I've felt that way myself a few times. I think of the infamous Death Battle episode that pitted Goku against Superman, and the Goku fans lost their minds over it. They were like Republicans after Obama got re-elected: disillusioned, furious, and bat-shit crazy. But there's a reason people have a devotion to Goku that transcends human sanity. He's a badass. I was a teenager when I first discovered Goku, and even now as an adult, I can't escape his influence. Not just him, but all of the tropes that permeated Dragon Ball Z have shaped the way I think about comic book battles: training under heavy gravity, assigning numbers to battle powers, and shooting those massive, bright power beams. I'd seen comic book characters shoot beams before. Cyclops, Silver Surfer, Ms. Marvel, Iron Man...yeah, they all had power beams, but when Goku shot a Kamehameha - holy crap! Now THAT was a power beam. I'd never thought of inflating martial arts to such levels that warriors could literally destroy planets. With Kung Fu (yes, I know their styles weren't strictly Kung Fu, but I use the descriptor as a type, not literally). Beyond that, Goku was my gateway drug into the world of manga and anime. I've got a whole shelf full of Shonen Jump magazines and other manga graphic novels, but I wouldn't have given any of it much thought if it hadn't been for Goku. Let me also just say that I recognize that Goku can't beat Superman, but I'm okay with that. Goku doesn't have to beat everybody for me to justify liking him. And I don't have to be like Goku in that every Superman fan I meet is some strong opponent for me to test my fanboy debate skills against. It's okay, Goku fans. It's okay to admit that Goku could lose a fight. Once you admit it and accept it, life gets a lot better.
2. Batman: With Enough Money, You Can Beat Anyone
Batman is probably the superhero I've watched the most growing up. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini were part of my formative years with Batman: The Animated Series, and it was a show I watched religiously. Even though he wasn't my favorite superhero, I wanted to be Batman. He was the best at everything. He was better than everyone at martial arts. He was better than everyone at building cool gadgets. He was better than everyone at being a detective. He was better than everyone at just being cool. I think what made Batman the most interesting was the suggestion that, because he had no super powers, anyone could be Batman. Yeah, it would take an outrageous amount of training and discipline, but if a normal man could do such incredible, even super human things, then I could too, right? It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that no, I couldn't. I never could. Never mind that no human being could push himself to such a level of combat mastery and sensory awareness that he could single-handedly wipe the floor with a SEAL team, but there's one premise that's necessary for this scenario to work: money. Lots of money. Bruce has more money than Lex Luthor, the guy who built half of Metropolis. Could you conceivably master every martial art? If you were freaking loaded, then I suppose maybe because you wouldn't have to worry about getting a job and paying bills; you could just devote your entire life to training, and you could hire the best trainers on earth. It would take you your entire life, though, and you sure couldn't do it before you were 25 (while simultaneously earning 12 separate Master's degrees). Really, when you get down to it, Batman does have a super power, and it's money. He's super rich. Come on, who wouldn't want to be super rich?
1. Superman: Proof that Americans Hate Good Guys
You knew this was coming, right? Why is Superman my top favorite comic book character of all time? I'm not going to lie - John Williams' original Superman score has a lot to do with it. If that theme song wasn't as epic and inspiring as it was, I would probably be a diehard Goku-can-beat-anyone-even-Batman fan. But Superman has a lot more than just rad fanfare working for him. He's the original superhero, and because of that, he's held to a lofty standard that no other superhero has to meet. Not only does Superman set the bar for super powers, he sets the bar for superhero temperament. Yes, I realize that early in his comics career he could be kind of a dick sometimes, but since his modern superhero career - really since Christopher Reeve's interpretation of him - he has defined how a man with godlike powers ought to behave. Imagine for a moment that the first real superhero to hit comics was Punisher. There's a chilling thought. Imagine that the standard for "heroic" conduct was ruthless vengeance. Superman's code of honor is the thing that makes him the most respectable hero. Even Batman has admitted that other heroes view Superman as their plumb line. This gets him a bad rap as "the boy scout," but most people who blast Superman for being an upstanding guy do so because they themselves fail to measure up. It's easier to tear down the standard than measure up to it. Ray Stevenson said of his interpretation of Punisher that he tried to make the Punisher seem like a guy that no one would want to be. Strangely, I've met some comic book fans who admire the Punisher instead of Superman, as though being the Punisher was something they aspired to. Superman is the kind of guy that everyone should want to be. Now let me make one clarification: this has nothing to do with patriotism. For years, Superman's creed was "truth, justice and the American way." But in Action 900, the creators finally admitted that the "American Way" really isn't a good direction for Superman anymore, especially since most Americans turn their nose up at him for being "lame". Superman still stands for truth and justice, but he also stands for mercy and compassion. He favors diplomacy over violence - definitely not the American way. Just because he can annihilate any foe doesn't mean he should. And he understands that. He knows that because he has the most power, he also has the most responsibility to be an upstanding citizen and lead by example. He doesn't have the luxury of being head strong, or he would turn into the Superman from Injustice. We don't want that Superman. Only fanatics have no doubts. Wise men are always very unsure of themselves. My favorite Superman line is from the animated movie Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. When Adam asks Superman if he fights for the Wizard, Superman responds with, "I fight for those who can't fight for themselves." THAT is why I love Superman the most. It gives me warm fuzzies. Haters to the left.