It is the first of December and time for NBC to begin our look back at the year in comic books. Starting tomorrow, our Tuesday Top Ten lists will be devoted to year-end reflections. At the same time, some of us will be giving more personal takes on 2014.
And so, today I would like to look back at the characters who broke out of the crowd this past year. They are mostly new faces, though at least one of them has been around for a bit. Regardless, they made an impression on me, leaving me eager to see where their creators will take them next in 2015.
- Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel): Given the task of scripting Marvel’s first headlining Muslim superhero, G Willow Wilson could have emphasized what made Kamala different. Instead, she focused on the universal aspects of a teenager navigating peer expectations and well-meaning, if not always understanding, parents. Plus, trying to live up to that whole “with great power comes great responsibility mantra. This is not to say that Wilson ignores Kamala’s cultural background—far from it—only that it is never handled in a heavy-handed manner. As a result, the Kamala who emerges in the pages of Ms. Marvel is fully rounded and completely endearing. One of the greatest pleasures of 2014 has been watching Kamala find her own strength and voice as a hero. The result is a 21st Century successor to Spider-Man, who has a distinct personality of her own.
[The remaining entries are simply listed in alphabetical order]
- Babylon (East of West): Babylon has been around since the first arc of this series, where he was named the Beast. The son of Death and Xiaolian, he has been held captive by a sect convinced that he will usher in the Apocalypse (hence the Beast). In the finale to the third arc, he not only breaks free from his captivity, but reveals a fascinating, chilling personality. Mixing cold analysis with childish naiveté, he is a powerful force. There is an air of the tragic about him as well. When the series resumes, I am sure that he will play a central role in the rapidly escalating political & personal turmoil.
- Cat Clock (Shutter): In a book full on imaginative turns, one of the most charming has been Cat Clock. Longtime companion to series protagonist Kate, Cat Clock keeps at keeping Kate’s spirits up throughout her many ordeals. In the process, he endears himself to readers as well.
- Erica Seleski (Solar: Man of the Atom): The further I get into this series, the more misleading the title seems to be. The original Solar Phil Seleski is still around offering advice, only with each issue the spotlight shines more brightly on his daughter Erica. Accidentally imbued with the same seemingly limitless energy powers as her dad, Erica has been thrust into circumstances she never imagined. The current arc set in deep space has highlighted the differences between father and daughter, allowing Erica to have her own voice as well as expression for her abilities. She is the true star of the series. (Perhaps a rebranding Solar: Woman of the Atom might be in order for 2015?).
- Kadir (Black Science): It took a few issues for this series to finally hit the right emotional notes for me, but once it did, it was largely because of Kadir. Over the course of this year, he has confronted his own role in sabotaging The Pillar, stranding himself, scientists and children in foreign, hostile dimensions. He pledged himself the protector of those children, only to witness his own failure to save them. Readers have seen his mixture of arrogance and conviction brought low by remorse. As a result, he has become one of the core components of this increasingly excellent series.
- The Magician (Mind MGMT): The Magician was a former Mind MGMT agent dragged out of retirement by the simmering conflict between Henry Lyme and The Erasure. Gifted with the ability to make audiences see whatever they desired to see, acts of illusion proved to be the ideal cover for her work. As such she is a stand-in not only for creator Matt Kindt, but any storyteller who wishes to convince that there is truth within a piece of fiction. What makes her most memorable, though, is the tale she tells Meru in #22. Her personal history, not unlike many a burnt-out secret agent, is full of betrayal and lost love. It is a poignant story, not easily forgotten.
- Marcos Lopez (Deadly Class): Marcos has been a compelling character from the very first pages of Deadly Class. There is an authenticity to his voice, regardless of whether he is living on the streets, training to be an assassin or in Las Vegas running madly for his life while overdosed on psychedelics. These circumstances may be outside the experience of most readers, yet Marcos remains relatable, anchored in the angst of adolescence. If you have ever struggled with peer groups at school, stumbled over your first impressions, or been conflicted about how to act on feelings of attraction, then Marcos’ story is one that can resonate with your own. Sure, none of your girlfriends may have been raised by a Mexican drug kingpin, but that doesn’t mean that you knew how to treat them any more fairly than Marcos. There are some things which are simply universal.
- Natasha (Luv Suckers): Just as Rick Remender locates the universal in Marcos’ time at King Dominion’s School for Deadly Arts, Charles Forsman does the same with his take on vampires. Natasha is a melancholy teenager, daydreaming about being friends with her favorite band, while fumbling through awkward social interactions at school. She is immediately compelling, rooting a slowly simmering supernatural tale in emotions all too familiar.
- Toyo Harada (Harbinger, Unity): While Toyo Harada has been around for a few years now (or a couple decades if you count the original 90s iteration), it was in 2014 that his character gained a new prominence, events pushing him to a more central spot within the Valiant Universe. More importantly, writer Joshua Dysart dug deeply within the mind of Harada, revealing a character much more complex than he was originally believed to be. Harada can no longer be easily labeled either a hero or a villain. Both his goals and his methods are too complicated for such simple categories. And he is a far richer, more fascinating individual because of it.
- Velvet Templeton (Velvet): Debuting late last year, Velvet has developed into a great character. She is a strong, resourceful woman, more than comfortable with negotiating her way through a man’s world (in this case 1970s international espionage) without having to be any less feminine. She is not perfect by any means, which only makes her more appealing. This series, in the hands of a less talented writer, could have been satisfied with being a fun corrective to decades of gender stereotypes. Instead, thanks to Ed Brubaker, it an exciting mystery centered on a compelling three-dimensional heroine.
Honorable Mention #1, Ghus (Saga): Sometimes it only takes a brief scene for a character to endear himself with readers, especially when said character is scripted by Brian K Vaughan. Being adorably designed by Fiona Staples doesn’t hurt either. Either way, I suspect that Ghus will continue charming many a fan’s heart when Saga returns from hiatus in 2015.
Honorable Mention #2, Howard the Duck: Howard has had quite a comeback this year. A one-line cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy sent fans back to Steve Gerber’s iconic series. Marvel put Howard’s Omnibus back into print, and gave him a new series debuting next year. For once it looks like things are going well for him within this absurd world of hairless apes . . .