NBC’s year-end coverage kicks into full swing this week — yep, it’s list making time. Today I am offering my third annual look at which characters made the strongest impressions in 2015.
All entries are listed in alphabetical order.
0-0-0: This was probably one of the easiest pitches that Kieron Gillen has ever made: “evil 3-CPO”. The concept sells itself, right? What elevates the character above gimmick though is how well-executed it is. Despite some notable differences in ethical programming, 0-0-0 is very much a twin of the galaxy’s most famous protocol droid: deferential, thorough, proud of a job well-done and a bit cowering at times. Gillen evokes the mannerisms of 3-CPO so well that the reader cannot help but hear 0-0-0’s dialogue in Anthony Daniels’ familiar voice. This quality makes 0-0-0’s gleeful remarks about torture all the more chilling. It is also classic Gillen.
Bat-Mite: Who would have predicted that with all the new DC series this year, one of the most enjoyable would have starred Bat-Mite? Yet, there he is, the sole non-Vertigo DC character on this list. Dan Jurgens turned in his best scripts in years, crafting goofy tales of the bumbling imp who could not help but charm. Bat-Mite became an expression of some of the more ridiculous aspects of both fandom (his arch-nemesis is obsessed with freezing cultural development at the glory days of his youth) and DC itself (enough with the costume redesigns already). Fingers crossed that DC will give Jurgens time to spin some more tales of Bat-Mite in the new year.
Beta-Max: For his limited series Dead Drop, Ales Kot took a minor character from Quantum and Woody and thrust him into the spotlight. Beta-Max is a cyborg whose technological upgrades, as his name suggests, have passed their shelf-life. I mean, come on, the guy has a built-in fax machine? Still, Kot invested the character with an instantly endearing personality, which is contagious. The reader cannot help but root for Beta-Max as he faces severe obstacles in executing his mission for British intelligence officer Neville Alcott (another character who grows richer with each new use). Oh and as it turns out that fax machine does kinda save humanity. Go figure, right?
Charlie Parish: When he first appeared in the debut issue of The Fade-Out, Charlie Parish seemed to be a familiar figure of noir: the patsy. Stumbling into (or more precisely waking up within) a crime scene, Charlie gave off the air of a dope in way over his head. Yet, as the mystery deepened so did his character. Haunted by his experience in World War II, coupled with his own feelings of moral compromise more than explained his habit of drinking the night away. There was the occasional oasis in the arms of starlet Maya Silver, yet, unlike the saps of many a noir gone by, Charlie knew better than to think that there was any permanence to it. Love is tricking yourself into thinking such things possible and he long ago lost the ability for that sleight of hand. Instead he stays focused on solving the murder at the center of The Fade-Out’s plot and in the process writer Ed Brubaker reveals a much more complicated character than originally suggested.
Dream: Two years ago, Neil Gaiman returned to The Dreaming with such a natural ease, it felt as though he had never left it. Still, a long-time reader might have fairly wondered if there was anything new Gaiman could have had to say about the character of Morpheus. Overture proved to do exactly that, especially in the final issue. Gaiman did not simply reveal the plot mechanics of how Dream was sufficiently weakened to be captured in the opening of Gaiman’s iconic series. Gaiman also laid the seeds for Dream’s slow, gradual emotional maturation over the course of Sandman. The result was a prequel which truly broadened fans’ understanding of the character.
Hank Pym: For better or worse, for ill or misunderstood intentions, Hank Pym has long been a difficult character with which to reckon. His treatment of his wife Janet is the most prominent symptom of a period when he was pretty unlikable, a reputation that for many fans such as myself, he has been unable to shake. If anyone was going to make him sympathetic without scrubbing the discomforting traits, it would make sense it would be Rick Remender, one of the reigning kings of brooding angst. For his graphic novel Rage of Ultron, Remender gave readers a deeply flawed, at times self-loathing Pym, who still struggles to do the right thing. Rage’s final twist of the knife merging creator and creature together was a brilliant stroke of poetic justice. A few months later, though, Nick Spencer teamed the former Ant-Man with the current one, Scott Lang, in a funny, odd-ball adventure that still allowed plenty of riffing on Pym’s past troubles. Remender and Spencer’s style of writing might be very different, yet they each showed that Pym still had some good left in him.
Hazel: Hazel’s adult voice has been part of Saga since the very first page, yet it has been in the form of an unseen adult narrator. This year, however, readers began to witness the emergence of Hazel the child’s personality amidst the carnage of war. Her silent reaction to Klara’s brutal killing of a revolutionary spoke volumes about the lasting scars of violence. This history of trauma was not far from the surface in #31 as toddler Hazel adjusts to life in a detainee center. Brian K. Vaughan writes her with a mix of natural child’s inquisitiveness and deep discomfort with her surroundings. It promises to be a compelling combination as Saga heads into its own 4th year.
James Robinson: Airboy might have been the title of the series, but the real star was “James Robinson.” Over the course of four issues, writer James Robinson revisited one of the lowest points of his career. He is a total mess, self-medicating with copious doses of drugs and self-loathing, slipping further along a seemingly endless downward spiral. Yet, it is to Robinson’s credit as a writer that he never pushes anything into caricature or cheap navel gazing. In the end, the character’s self-doubt is something with which anyone can relate, which makes Robnison’s moment of clarity, when it does arrive, all the more believable.
Ms. Marvel: If one of the greatest pleasures of 2014 was watching Kamala Khan find her own voice, 2015 was about her continued growth. She wrestled with her Inhuman roots, experienced first love, followed swiftly by first heartbreak. She met her idol and faced down the literal collapse of her world in some of the most moving issues of the year. Through it all, she met all the challenges head-on growing in the process as both a person and a hero. Outside of co-creator G. Willow Wilson’s sure hand, she appeared in a charming Secret Wars, Secret Love story and began mixing it up with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (even if that Nova kid is a total jerk). With barely a stumble, she avoided any sophomore slump to continue being one of the brightest stars in the Marvel Universe.
Ninjak: Ninjak was always cool. With a costume like that how could he not be, right? However, in the pages of his current solo series, Matt Kindt has delved deep into the character’s personality. He investigated Colin’s traumatic childhood, restless adult years and complicated first steps into espionage. All of these elements were thematically woven through the present day narrative so that what ultimately emerged was a portrait of a damaged, driven individual. Kindt did all this without skimping on any of the fantastic set-pieces that readers would expect from a series about a ninja secret agent. Thanks to Kindt, Ninjak is now cooler (and more fascinating) than ever.
Sera: When I read the debut issue of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin about a year ago, I was disappointed. It felt like a lot of hustle and bustle, sound and fury without, well, signifying anything. Most of all, Angela remained a mostly blank character. I gave the series another shot with its 1602 Secret Wars iteration, which I enjoyed and followed into the current Queen of Hel volume. One of the key reasons for this change of mind has been the character Sera. Her breezy personality adds a bit of levity to the series, a much needed antidote to Angela’s otherwise grim demeanor. Their love softens the fierce warrior, and in the process humanizes her. Equally important, Sera is a resourceful, capable character in her own right. Through her, Marguerite Bennett has developed an engaging dynamic with which to anchor her narrative.
Squirrel Girl: 2015 was the year Squirrel Girl stopped being a joke or a hip throw-back or charming second-tier character and stepped into the limelight of the Marvel Universe. From the first page of her debut issue Doreen Green won over readers. Her plucky can-do attitude was a welcome addition to the super-serious default mode of still too many books. She simply enjoys life, both as superhero and as freshman computer science student. And that enthusiasm could only be contagious. Her never belabored quirkiness created an atmosphere of fun reminiscent of the old Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League. It is easy to see how she became the biggest breakthrough character of the year.
Tara: Tara’s time in The Wicked + The Divine limelight was brief, but it was searing. Kieron Gillen provided a poignant portrait of a young woman stung by the constant attention that her good looks brought her. So, she sought the safety of anonymity only to be thrust onto the most visible stage imaginable. Soon she would be cracking under the weight of celebrity and the public’s unquenchable thirst for scandal. If Inanna proclaimed that fame and power equaled freedom, Tara’s example demonstrated instead that it was the most restricting of all positions.
Tippy-Toe: From the debut issue of Squirrel Girl when Tippy-Toe berated Doreen about not majoring in squirrel, it was apparent that Tippy-Toe would be more than a cute side-kick. (Though Erica Henderson does render her absolutely adorable). She has a focused, no-nonsense personality which perfectly complements Squirrel Girl’s more upbeat, “everything will all work out” attitude. Tippy’s constant hectoring about the dangers of time traveling was the highlight of the most recent issue. Together she and Doreen make an excellent team and it is impossible to imagine the title without Tippy’s endearing presence. Also, the best internet handle in comics (@yoitstippytoe). Never get tired of that . . .
Best Ensembles (i.e. such superb character work, but hard to single out one individual): Material, Omega Men, Secret Wars & Southern Bastards