These guys are the best at what they do, and what they do is make us want to read comics about them.
Hope Summers is often seen as more of a plot point than a character–a lot of things happen around her or because of her. But she’ll be damned if she’s going to let anyone treat her that way. Stubborn and curmudgeonly, Hope can and will totally kick your ass. We’ve seen her handle the weight of her responsibilities with strength and grace both as the would-be Messiah of the Mutants and this year when facing the Phoenix force. Few would have the figurative balls to not only pass up the power of the Phoenix, but then train like hell to kick it’s fiery ass out of Scott Summers. Hope is every bit a hero.
11. Doctor Octopus
Spider-Man has an extensive (and really awesome) rogues gallery. For years Norman Osborn/Green Goblin has held a special place above all the other villains. But not this year. Otto Octavius played the long con on Peter Parker, ultimately causing the demise of our friendly neighborhood wall crawler. Writer Dan Slott has been laying the groundwork with Doc Ock since back when he was part of the Spidey Brain Trust. And since then we’ve watched Ock, much like Ahab and his White Whale, chase after Spider-Man with maniacal obsession while his body rapidly deteriorates. Dan Slott cooked up one of the coldest dishes of revenge served up in comics, and this year it paid off brilliantly.
10. Harper Row
I like to think of Harper as the girl who out-Batmanned Batman. When we first met the spunky, young electrical engineer, she came out of the shadows to jump start Batman’s heart with a set of jumper cables. In Batman #12 (with some awesome artwork from Becky Cloonan) we get to see what her life is like working on the city’s power grid and taking care of her younger brother, as well as the impact the Batman has had on her life. While the entire Bat Family was fumbling to find Bats when the Court of Owls has him strung up in their labyrinth, Harper rigs up an impressive tracking system to find the caped crusader and save his life. Top that, Robins.
9. Li’l Depressed Boy
Li’l Depressed Boy is one of those quietly surprising books. It’s a slice-of-life comic about relationships and insecurities and what it’s like to be young and figuring things out. But what brings me back to this book month after month is LDB himself. He’s all of your vulnerabilities and anxieties rolled up into a plushy round face. It would be easy to dismiss him as a bit of a sad-sack, but instead you see pieces of yourself in LDB, and you find yourself hoping things work out for him.
8. Old King Thor
Sometimes it doesn’t take long to leave a big impression. And that’s exactly what Old King Thor has done in Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s wonderful new Thor: God of Thunder comic. We’ve seen young, brash Thor before. We’ve seen Thor the Mighty Avenger before. But we’ve never seen anything quite like the ancient, grizzled Thor with one eye using the Destroyer’s arm as a prosthetic while he runs head-first into battle with a God Butcher. And good lord do I want to see more of him.
7. Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre
Regardless of how you felt about the publication of the Before Watchmen comics, the books set out to shed some more light on the world created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons all those years ago. And none of the new comics did it better than Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre. Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner took a character who always felt to me a like bit of the token girl on a team of men and showed us how brilliantly optimistic and wonderful she started out as. Not only did we have a chance to see the origin of a hero, but we got a beautiful glimpse at Laurie’s inner most feelings and emotions.
6. Boyd Linney
This kid! He just breaks my heart into itty, bitty pieces. You think you know what you’re getting with a 10-year-old bounty hunter in a hat twice as big as his head, but no. Boyd is full of dogged determination and cold righteousness. He’s made it his mission to bring in each and every one of his outlaw family members, starting with his dad. Boyd’s strict and steadfast moral code makes even Batman look wishy-washy.
5. Jean Grey
Jean Grey may be dead, but she is still a huge presence in the Marvel Universe. She’s the namesake of Logan’s new school for mutant kids, giving her a status equal to Charles Xavier. With the Phoenix Force playing such a key role in this year’s Avengers vs. X-Men, Jean’s specter perpetually loomed over the event. Marvel made sure we knew Jean Grey still held power in the 616, just in time to reintroduce a teenage Jean in Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s time-bending All New X-Men. On top of that, she was an absolute joy in Denis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie’s wonderful X-Men: Season One graphic novel.
4. Dex Parios
Greg Rucka’s biggest and best strength as a writer is his characters. Each one is uniquely nuanced that they feel so very real. There’s an inherent truth to his characters that lets you instantly identify with them and helps ground the story, no matter how crazy things get. Dex Parios is no exception. The down-and-out private investigator from Stumptown, Dex gets her ass kicked, she flirts, she pokes her nose in where she shouldn’t. But she’s also damn good at her job. She’s the stubborn underdog and you just can’t help but root for.
3. Scott Summers
If the Phoenix Force corrupts, absolute Phoenix Force corrupts absolutely.
Scott Summer’s tragic fall from grace in this year’s Avengers vs. X-Men (as well as it’s build up in Uncanny X-Men) was downright Shakespearean. Cyclops has been “the leader” of the X-Men for quite some time, but this year we saw him as both their political leader and military general, with the morally dubious Magneto and Emma Frost (and Namor, come to think of it) close at his side. If the ends are achieving Charles Xavier’s dream, then Scott has gotten extremely comfortable justifying the means. From the Extinction Team to the Phoenix Force Five, Cyclops’ plan this year was to keep humanity in awe of Mutantkind’s collective power–culminating with the Phoenix-induced murder of Charles Xavier, Scott’s long-time mentor and father figure.
2. Alana and Marko
If there was an award for the Most Kick-Ass Parents in the Galaxy, these two would win it no contest. There are so many things that are amazing about Saga, but for all the epic cosmic elements of the comic, it’s really a story about family and love. And no two characters embody that juxtaposition better than Alana and Marko. Yes, they bicker and fight. Things are not at all perfect and rosy for these two, but the motivation for every single one of their actions is protecting their new family. They are so deeply and brilliantly in love with each other and their baby Hazel that it shines through the rest of the comic and makes Saga the masterpiece it is.
1. Kid Loki
This could have so easily been a cheap gag of a character–”We’ve already made Loki a lady, what if made him a kid?” But Kieron Gillen embraced that concept and ran with it in the most brilliant way possible. The premise behind the character (and Journey Into Mystery as a narrative) was simple and elegant: what happens when a kid who just wants to be hero like his big brother Thor only has powers based in deception and manipulation at his disposal? This year, we’ve watched Loki plot, scheme, and equivocate all in the name of protecting Asgardia and the Nine Realms. It hasn’t always worked out as expected and at times there were pretty disastrous results. But for once, in a very long time, Loki’s heart was in the right place. On top of all that, the kid was witty and charming, working his way into your heart. And just when you were good and in love with the mischievous bugger, Gillen pulls the rug from under you. Loki was forced to make a terribly difficult decision at the end of his story. Watching him take the hero’s route of self sacrifice makes you so proud of Kid Loki while breaking your heart at the same time. I haven’t cried so hard for a character in a long time.