Top Ten Superheroes Your Parents Don’t Know

Everyone out there knows Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman. But those guys aren’t who pops up in my head when I think about my favorite costumed characters. There is no shortage of superheroes. If anything there’s a glut. This is why it was hard for me to narrow it down to just five. So I made it ten instead. But these are the kinds of challenges I have in life.

The following characters are not in the popular zeitgeist, but for my money, they’re the best of what we’ve got out there, protecting the little guy from evil’s cold embrace, or something like that.

Starman (Jack Knight)

I’m realizing how much of the current direction of DC’s universe comes from James Robinson’s Starman series. This book is like a tangible link from heroes of old to the heroes of today. Jack shows us that while things might seem different on the outside from the caped crusaders we were used to, at the heart, a hero is a hero. Geoff Johns’ JSA book owes a lot to Robinson and David Goyer who came before, and the current series is holding up this mantle of tradition and legacy in the DC Universe. Just as a character, Jack Knight was so great to watch as he went from reluctance, to acceptance, to pride in his role as Opal’s protector. Watching his relationships develop as well as his personal development into what was basically adulthood is one of the most real and relatable characters I’ve ever read. Especially if that character flies and fights bad guys.

Invincible (Mark Grayson)

Grayson is, simply, everything that was great about early Marvel Comics, but done with a modern sensibility and put out by Image Comics. Invincible is a young superhero in his late teens, and the story is a gorgeous blend of action, melodramatic soap opera, space action, and deceptively simple art. Grayson himself is actually a rather blank canvas, as all this stuff happens around him. He’s got the everyman quality that leads to great superheroes. He wants to do the right thing. He’s very powerful, but he’s got to make choices like we all do, and then some we don’t all have. He is also destined to have a magnificent mustache.

Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon)

He’s the guy you can’t beat. The merest whisper can level mountains. Because of that, he is the epitome of Roosevelt’s maxim of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, is the nuclear weapon of the Marvel Universe. I just love that a character who is largely just a man, has all this pressure on him, and the only option he’s really ever got is an endgame option. He’s got the quiet dignity that I feel is perhaps lacking in many of our real life leaders. It’s a throwback to an older kind of hero, and in that way, he’s actually refreshing. I base a lot of my opinions of Black Bolt on Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s excellent mini-series from 2000. I’m convinced that the Black Bolt who got thrashed on by the Hulk in the first World War Hulk issue was a Skrull, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s still the undefeated champion.

Multiple Man (Jamie Madrox)

This is recent addition for me. My only real experience with Madrox has been with the recent Peter David penned X-Factor run, but in him, I see a very unique character. All of his flaws are manifested in huge scale by his dupes. His personal conflict is like no one else’s and I can’t think of a character like him out there. He’s just fascinating to follow. Recently, he became involved in an inner-team love triangle, and for a character who can generate multiples of himself, that’s got a whole other angle to it than it would with a character with just one version of himself. Finally, I really like the relationship Jamie has with his dupes. It’s like watching him have conversations with the most intimate parts of himself. Even if a dupe has a personality that is a million miles from Jamie’s, it’s still part of him, so he always treats them as if they’re completely familiar. There is no end to the stories you could tell with him.

Jack in the Box (Zachary Johnson)

This is a character I’ve always wanted more of since I was first introduced to him in the pages of Astro City. Writer Kurt Busiek made a bold choice by making the premiere African American superhero in Astro City dress the part of a clown. Then, underneath that ridiculous exterior, the character, who has since passed the mantle to Roscoe James, was a character of remarkable integrity and dignity. There’s the specific cover by Alex Ross, which is easily my favorite Alex Ross piece ever, where he stands behind his pregnant wife. It’s just such a beautiful clash of ideas, existing in one perfect space. Unfortunately, due to the erratic schedule Astro City has, we don’t get to see too much of his continuing adventures. But the stuff that’s there has always been compelling to me.

The Question (Renee Montoya)

Oh Greg, how do you make me love them? I first got to know Renee Montoya when she was a cop in the nearly perfect series, Gotham Central. She stood out as this amazing, yet conflicted character, who shone in the hands of series co-writer Greg Rucka. After the series was canceled, due to people not buying it for some absurd reason, she reappeared, again wielded by Rucka in the pages of 52. In that story, like turned to sincere affection as we watched her go from broken down, to irritable, to capable, to really sad, to finally taking her responsibility and becoming the Question, following Vic Sage’s (really sad) death. I suppose the caveat to her inclusion in this list is that on Greg Rucka has been able to do anything with her, but so far that doesn’t make her less awesome. I also really like the fact that, while she is gay, I don’t think of her as “the gay superhero.” While it is an important part of her character, there’s much more to her than her sexuality.

Joe Pi

This robot doesn’t even get a wiki page. That is sad. If you read Alan Moore’s Top Ten, you’ll no doubt remember this character from the latter half of the series. He a replacement partner for Irma Geddon. So not only were people down on him for replacing a beloved murdered officer, but there was quite a bit of anti-robot sentiment among the police in Neopolis. Moore very deftly, and quite unexpectedly crafted a character who was utterly charming and interesting, and much like the characters in the book, you just didn’t see it coming. Much of Top Ten made comments on the sci-fi stories that came before it, and Joe Pi was no exception, as his character also dealt with Asimov’s Robot Laws in interesting ways. Joe Pi is one of the reasons I really wish Alan Moore had done more with the universe he’d created in Neopolis.

The Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny)

Right off, I should probably add Sue Dibny to this, because without Sue, there’s really isn’t a Ralph, at least in a dramatic sense. We’ve often talked about married couples not really working in a dramatic context, but these two are an exception. Their whole character, at least in the latter year, with which I’m more familiar, is based on the fact that these two Dibnys are just crazy in love. While it sounds like it would be hokey, it really just comes off as very sweet. Or course, the worst thing about the Dibnys is that they’re dead. Because of that death, taking place in Identity Crisis, we were treated to some of the most gut wrenching and emotional stories ever to take place in a superhero book. There’s not a fake Aunt May death that even comes close to this one. Ralph’s year long slide into madness, and ultimately triumph in 52 might have been the strongest part of the book for me. It seems that there’s a chance they’ll go on as ghosts, but that’s a resurrection I might not mind seeing in a few years. At this point, Plastic Man is feeling much more the also-ran, than the Elongated Man.

Mr. Terrific (Michael Holt)

I have no idea where this guy came from, but I find it amazing that in such a short amount of time, he seems to be a figure of great importance in the DCU. Marvel only wishes people had this kind of respect for The Sentry, but Michael Holt seems to be able to carry the weight. Despite what would seem like a terrible name, concept, costume, and general everything, I’m riveted when this guy shows up in his two books, Checkmate and JSA. Basically, he’s better and smarter than you, and just generally terrific. So far, there’s not really much more to it, other than I really like this character, and I think there’s a ton more that can, and probably will be done with him. This is a character to watch going forward. Mark my words!

Jessica Jones

How good was Alias? Seriously, it was stupid good. It was that good because Brian Michael Bendis loved Jessica, and it came through on all the pages. But because he’s a good writer, he had to put that love to the side, and put her through horrible experiences, and have her make wrong choices all over the place, while we watched her squirm and avoid being who she really should have been. We learn that she used to be a superhero named Jewel, but that was only part of what made her interesting. She’s got powers, but she doesn’t really like to use them, and she just wants to be kind of a regular person. In reality, none of these things seem to add up into what sounds like a good series, but they did. Then, Bendis went and ended the series before it had a chance to go stale, which is a great move. We’ll ignore the follow up series, The Pulse, and skip right to the fact that her presence around the fringes of The New Avengers is one of the greatest things about that book. Her marriage to Luke Cage has also had a lot to do with reinvigorating a character who I think sorely needed some dimension. It’s very likely that there isn’t a series more ripe for mature television adaptation than Alias, and there’s not a female supporting character in the Marvel who I like to see more.


  1. Amen to Jack Knight Josh…Amen, he is probably my favorite of all time.

  2. I can’t read the name Blackagar Boltagon and not giggle. Good picks though.

  3. You’re right, my parents would know none of those. I know them all though. Does that mean I win, or that I lose?

  4. Damn, I feel out of the loop cuz I only know 3 of these guys. Although I know my parents would have no idea who any of these Superheroes are.

  5. Great picks, all of them. Jack Knight is a total favorite of mine, but the others are all worthy of the mention. Also: glad to see Rucka’s Renee/Question get a spotlight. I feel like she’s been a little unfairly dumped on.

  6. It would take a while for me to come up with a top 10 list too. That said, Madrox would be one of them.

  7. These are superheroes I don’t even know of.


  8. I like this list, but feel it is missing a little Savage Dragon love. Y’know m’sayin’?

    Look at me…being all street.

  9. I can’t read the name Blackagar Boltagon and not giggle.

    It was such an easy joke, I couldn’t not write that.

    I like this list, but feel it is missing a little Savage Dragon love.

    Would that I had any of such love….

  10. Love lists like this, and this is a very interesting topic. Great summaries.

    Terrific would be on mine too, and probably the Runaways. Must ponder this further…

  11. Good list Josh. All of those characters are truly excellent choices.

    Black Bolt had some great moments in Earth X, which made me finally appreciate the character for how awesome he really is. He uses his powers to the fullest for a specific reason in that series and it made for an incredible read.

    Mr. Terrific is awesome, but more for Checkmate than JSA in my opinion. If Checkmate gets canceled, I’ll stop buying DC titles for at least 6 months out of sheer protest.

    Invincible is easily the best superhero character/comic independent of the “Big 2” publishers. Kirkman is a genius and one of the best writers around. Invincible is the classic “Spider-Man” of our generation.

    Jessica Jones has definetly made Luke Cage a better character and is herself a wonderful supporting character, but I can’t help but remember that she was supposed to be Jessica Drew (a.k.a. Spider-Woman). Jessica Drew characterized as Jessica Jones would have been a much better character than either character has ended up on their own. Also, I can’t bring myself to read Alias because Michael Graydos’ art hurts my eyes. It looks like the Marvel Universe displayed through an “ugly-filter”. That said, Jessica Jones has become one of my favorite supporting characters as well.

    The Question – Renee Montoya has great potential. Along with Mr. Terrific and Invincible, she’s one of the absolute best characters to come around in comics’ recent history. For whatever reason, DC is hindering her status by not giving her the Question title she deserves.

  12. My god…someone above mentioned who would be on their list, and I started thinking…and I have NO idea who would be on my list. OK, I can think of maybe three. I don’t think I could even come up with ten. It occurs to me now that either 1)I don’t read as many new super-heroes these days or 2) there simply aren’t that many good ones out there that aren’t the well-known icons.

  13. Well, this started out as a top 5 list, but I simply couldn’t make the cuts, so it became ten.

    They’re also not all that old. Several are 10 years old or more.

  14. Just to add one character that I’ve always found to be way, way outside of the superhero norm:

    Centennial ( ). Rutherford B. Princeton III (Almost as bad as Blackagar Boltagon) is an African Canadian who was a police officer during prohibition before falling into a coma for 20+ years and waking up with (basically) the powers of superman. (He was briefly in the version of Alpha Flight that proceeded Omega Flight). I don’t think that he really got much character development, but, for me, he is fascinating because he is completely the opposite of anything I’ve seen in comics. There are lots of comics that deal with being young and having powers, but what if your grandfather was superman? And he looked about 75 years old? And his last memories were of the great depression? In that way, he’s a bit like Captain America as a man out of time, but without any baggage of representing the American ideal (being Canadian).

  15. Again, no Deadpool? Come on man… he’s funnier than Spider-Man, kicks the crap out of Wolverine almost every time they fight (I don’t count that recent “sucker slice” when Wolverine cut off his head) and is (or is he still?) cursed with immortality?

    He’s fought alongside Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and while they’re often hilarious, his team ups are legendary.

    No respect for ‘Pool at ifanboy. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of comics or something.

  16. You know I’ve never read a single comic with Deadpool in it?

  17. Hmph. Thought “Sam” [Falcon] might get the switch-out over Jessica Jones on superhero criteria. Fun list, though!

    “You know I’ve never read a single comic with Deadpool in it?”

    Ant-Man + A hodge-podge of other references suggests you’d almost certainly be able to get behind a lot of the Kelly issues.
    Street sign crotch impalements, gender bending villains, creepy stalking, and Norman Osborn’s hair. Think Nicieza only a bit more over the top, but a little less obnoxious.

  18. Falcon was definitely almost on the list, but I simply don’t know enough about him to write enough on him. Also, I can’t be sure that he’s been cool before Brubaker’s recent treatment of him.

    And Jessica Jones was Jewel, a superhero. She counts. And if I’ve got to pick between Sam and Jessica, the bird man is going to lose that one.

  19. Okay, you put Deadpool on the video podcast and I got to say it…


    And Josh, you should totally check out everything Deadpool… hilarious.

  20. did you guys see that dc is releasing starman in hardcover omnibus volumes.
    after all the talking you guys make about this series i can’t wait to own this and experience it for myself.

    this is the info for the first one that comes out in May 2008.

    Writer: James Robinson
    Artists: Tony Harris, Wade von Grawbadger, Teddy Kristiansen, Christian H