The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

New On The Shelf – Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a 2015 science fiction film directed by Alex Garland, known for his success as a screenwriter on films such as 28 Days Later and Dredd. It stars Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander in the lead roles, with a limited supporting cast. Caleb Smith (Gleeson) wins a week-long vacation away from his job as a programmer for Bluebook, a futuristic social networking company. He becomes one of the few people to met the creator the company, Nathan Bateman (Isaac), a brilliant but volatile hermit who is intent on creating functioning artificial intelligence. To test his latest attempt, “Ava” (Vikander), Nathan recruits Caleb into administering the Alan Turing test to see if Ava can pass as a human being.

Caleb and Nathan

During Caleb’s stay, he realizes two very important things: Ava is much more human than he thought possible, seemingly developing romantic feelings for him during their talks. And Nathan, though friendly on the surface, is less than stable. The later causes him to question if his days on vacation will be his last, and he hatches a plan to free Ava and himself from Nathan’s control.

Ex Machina is essentially a small “art” film, with limited sets, a very small cast, and relying primarily on dialogue to drive its narrative. However, the film’s special effects budget paid off in spades: Eva’s body, a mix of humanoid skin (the real actress) and a metal, robotic form created by CGI, is a masterpiece of visual effects. I never once questioned whether she was really, physically there, and that’s the best praise I can give to any character presented through special effects. I certainly hope that Ex Machina gets some recognition for its excellence in this category. And of course, considerable credit goes to Vikander for being so convincing as a robot who is learning to feel and make her own decisions.

Ava

Of course, if Ex Machina was simply a special effects showcase, I would not be talking about it on this blog. The film has been met with generally favorable reviews, with many audiences finding it to be a fresh film in today’s climate where truly good science fiction is something of a rarity. If I’m completely honest, I found the hype around this film to be a little too strong for what is, essentially, a very good movie that does not cover any new ground. If you have seen one movie about artificial intelligence, then you almost certainly know how this one plays out. Ex Machina fails to buck the trend of A.I. movies by showing that it is dangerous to create something as smart as ourselves, playing “God” so to speak, which I find to be the most disappointing aspect about the movie.

However, aside from that criticism, I don’t have much to complain about. After all, something that is truly new in this day and age is almost impossible to find. It isn’t the themes a movie has that make it good; it is how effective the film is at entertaining the audience while challenging them to think critically. And in that category, this movie soars. Caleb and Nathan have many interesting conversations about how Ava was created, whether she is sentient and deserves to be treated with the same rights as a human, and the like. Gleeson and Isaac are very talented actors and their scenes work well together. Ava also has completely different dynamics with Caleb and Nathan, meaning that any combination of the two on screen feels different enough that the relationships feel real and stick with us.

'Ex Machina' star, director discuss their thoughtful film

If Ex Machina taught me anything, it’s that a smartly written film can cover the same basic themes while never seeming boring. There is nothing I got out of this film that I couldn’t have gotten from say, Blade Runner, but it is the presentation of the story, the entertaining and sharp dialogue, the nail-biting tension of several scenes, and the performances of the actors that give this movie its own unique identity. If you are a fan of the science fiction drama and want to revisit the worthwhile questions that artificial intelligence poses to us, I strongly recommend seeing Ex Machina. It is a standout in a crowded field of good movies to come out this year, and one that is worth going out of your way to watch.

Can Batman Be A Better Character?

If you’ve clicked on this post or follow The Shelf Is Half Full, chances are you are a pretty big comic book fan. And if comic book sales, t-shirt sales and movie ticket sales are any indication, it probably means you are a pretty big fan of Batman. After all, Batman and his mythos have jumped from the pages of comic books and become ingrained in pulp culture for the better part of his seventy-five years of publication. He’s been the subject of live-action and cartoon TV series as well as animated and live-action movies. His image and his symbol have become a marketing juggernaut, and even casual fans would find it easy to relate his secret identity, the city he works in, and the name of everyone from his villains to his butler.

Which begs the question: is Batman really all that great of a character?

Batman

Okay, before you come at me with torches and pitchforks; yes, Batman is an awesome character. I am a fan of Batman, I think he’s awesome. But just because I like something doesn’t mean I can turn a blind eye when a character has some flaws. And sadly, Batman’s long history has shown us that the character has some major flaws. These aren’t the types of flaws that make him endearing either, but I’ll explain that in a minute. This of course, isn’t Batman’s fault; he’s simply a fictional character after all, and as at the mercy of whoever is in charge of writing for him at the time. And while there have been many, many good writers who have done right by the character, there’s also quite a few poor or at the very least misguided writers who have done some damage to the character as well.

This is not an article meant to be a character assassination of Batman. The purpose of this is to talk about some of the problems I have with the way the character is written and show examples of how it can be done better. After all, comic books will continue and there will be new writers for Batman, and I hope that anyone who takes on that challenge thinks a little more carefully about how to approach the character.

Detective

1) Batman Is Often Too Angry and Brooding

The Problem – We all know that Batman was born out of tragedy; Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him when he was a young child and he vowed vengeance on all criminals. That’s all well and good, and it does help define who Batman is. However, I feel that certain writers dwell too much on these aspects of the character; they characterize Batman as a rage-fueled sociopath without compassion or mercy. Writer/artist (and I use this term loosely) Frank Miller gets a lot of credit for redefining Batman in the 1980’s with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns but that isn’t always a good thing. Much like Miller himself, that Batman is fueled by hatred, self-righteous rage, and is generally an all around unpleasant person to be around. And don’t even get me started on Miller’s atrocious All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder comics where Batman is a sexist, homophobic S.O.B. who calls Robin “retarded”.

Sadly, crappy writing like Miller’s has become a large part of Batman’s identity, and some people have latched onto it. That’s why we’re getting a movie in 2016 where Batman wants to make Superman bleed. Ugh…

The Solution – To me, Batman’s story isn’t about someone who is consumed by grief and rage. That’s a sad and honestly pathetic take on the character and I’d like to think that Batman is a better hero than that. I believe that most humans prefer heroes who overcome tragedy and move on, becoming stronger, not people who dwell endlessly on the problems of the past. It’s okay for Batman to feel sad or angry just as it’s okay for anyone else, but he should also be allowed to feel happy or content once in a while. Batman: The Animated Series portrayed a Batman who was just as quick to throw humorous one-liners as he was to throw punches, and I don’t think anyone would say that show ruined Batman by allowing Bruce to smile and make jokes. Even Chris Nolan’s super serious Dark Knight trilogy shows that Batman has a keen sense of humor and is capable of making friends.

Balance is the key; I’m not suggesting that Batman be the 1966 Adam West version (though there’s certainly room for that), but he doesn’t need to be the brooding monster that Miller wrote his as. Somewhere between the two extremes should be the goal. Most of my favorite Batman stories tend to show a lighter side of Batman.

Tower of Babel

2) Batman is Often Too Arrogant and Self-Righteous

The Problem – Bruce Wayne is a very smart person with a mostly black and white view on morality. These aren’t necessarily bad traits; they give him the edge he needs to be a determined and successful crime fighter and detective. But you know, even geniuses screw up from time to time, and they often screw up in epic ways. Unfortunately, many writers believe that because Batman is the smartest person on the planet that he should have a contingency plan for everything. You know who else has contingency plans for everything? Lex Luthor. Doctor Doom. Just because Batman is brilliant doesn’t mean he should behave a like a mad scientist. Some writers also have an annoying tendency to show that Batman is more clever, better prepared and smarter than anyone he’s working with, including the Justice League. Sorry, I’m just not buying that, and any time I read a comic where Batman calls one of his heroes an idiot I want to find the writer and tell them to stop making Bruce such a pompous jerk.

And let’s get into another thing that comes out of this line of thought that Batman is the best there is at everything. One of the key aspects of Batman’s character is that he doesn’t kill. I am entirely in support of this: Bruce’s entire life was changed because of murder and he should be opposed to killing. Bruce also believes that it isn’t his place to be the judge of criminals and he shouldn’t execute them. That’s fine, that’s noble, it gives him a code to live by. But let’s just set aside the fact that Bruce should probably have killed Joker by now because the scales really don’t add up. If Bruce really believes that killing will be the step that drives him over the edge, fine. I’ll allow that. But man, it really annoys me when he tries to enforce his beliefs on other people; other than Superman and Flash, most of the Justice League is willing to make a judgment call of when it’s okay to kill someone. Batman has an annoying tendency to say that they shouldn’t under any circumstances. That’s just self-righteous and short-sighted, and Bruce should trust his friends to make their own calls.

The Solution – This is one of my biggest problems with Batman and sadly, one of the easiest to fix. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to not make Batman a self-righteous and arrogant jerk. I think that from time to time, Batman’s should make decisions that don’t necessarily live up to his standards, as we all do. And that includes his killing rule. In Hush, Batman nearly killed the Joker after his friend Thomas Elliot was killed, deciding it was finally time to put an end to Joker’s killing. In the movie Under the Red Hood Batman admits to Jason Todd that he thinks about killing Joker every day. In Born to Kill, he straight up tells a criminal named Nobody that he is going to kill him for attempting to murder his son Damien. In all of these instances something happened to keep Bruce from actually going through with the kill, but showing that the intent was there humanizes Bruce and shows that he isn’t always bound by his code; this actually serves to make his no-killing rule more meaningful because of genuine temptation.

Vulnerable

3) Batman Never Fails

The Problem – One of the things that annoys me most about devoted Batman fans is their insistence that he is the smartest, most resourceful hero there is and thus is impossible to beat. These are the people that claim that Batman would beat Superman in a fight because he’s so much smarter than Clark, so much better prepared and so much more ruthless. And despite the insane impossibility of this situation, some writers like to go that route, including Frank Miller. You know what a character who is so smart and so brutal that he can beat Superman with ease is? Every bit as invulnerable and therefore every bit as boring as Superman. This is what I like to call “God Mode Batman”, and yeah, every once in a while it is fun to see Batman go into this mode, just like its fun to see any hero at their best.

But take a look at the picture above and tell me that honestly that you aren’t more invested in a Batman who is pushed to the brink of death, with seemingly no escape. A Batman who has all the odds against him, and has to use his wits and his heart and his will to fight back and survive? Yeah, you can’t. Vulnerability creates tension and drama, and that is the essence of good storytelling.

The Solution – Fortunately, this one is more a problem with fans than writers. Most good writers know the basics of storytelling call for the hero to be in peril or at the very least in danger of failing to save others. The best Batman stories are always the ones where he is pushed to his mental and physical limits, the ones where he almost dies because, well, he’s human. Those are the ones that make us connect with the character and root for him to succeed. Heroes should always be more human than godlike. Even if they almost always win in the end.

Superhero Spotlight – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

As the 1950’s drew to a close and the genre of superhero comics was about to enter it’s most successful period since the Golden Age, DC Comics was having to expand their roster of superhero characters. While Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and even Aquaman had managed to maintain a level of popularity, most other heroes failed to capture the imagination of post World War II readers. America was more enamored with real heroes than fantastic superheroes, and genres like westerns, war comics and teenage humor comics had taken over as the most popular genres. But after finding success with retooling one Golden Age hero (The Flash) by giving him a new identity and a more modern costume, DC decided to try their luck again with another hero: Green Lantern.

Hal Jordan

Showcase #22

The original Green Lantern was a railroad engineer named Alan Scott who discovered a magical green lantern and ring that gave him the power to fly, walk through walls, fire energy beams and a wide variety of other powers. This mystical take was not going to capture the imagination of an America about to enter the “Space Age”, where science fiction reigned supreme, so the idea of the power ring charged by a lantern was heavily retooled for a new story. And in October of 1959, Showcase #22 introduced comic book readers to the new Green Lantern; a test pilot named Hal Jordan.

In this new take on the Green Lantern idea, the ring and lantern are inherited by Hal when an alien named Abin Sur crash lands on Earth. Dying, he sends the ring out in search of a replacement Green Lantern, and Hal is chosen for his ability to overcome fear. The ring allows him to create hard light constructs; basically he can make anything he imagines as long as he has sufficient willpower and charge in his ring, which gets its power from the energy in the lantern (also called a power battery). It also enlisted Hal into an intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps. Controlled by wise blue elfs called the Guardians of Oa, the Corps had a wide variety of members all around the universe, with Hal Jordan becoming the Green Lantern of Space Sector #2814.

GL Corps

From Justice League Founder to Super Villain

As one of the premier heroes of the time, Hal Jordan was one of the seven founders of The Justice League, alongside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Barry Allen. In addition to his solo stories, Hal was also known for his close friendship with Barry Allen and perhaps most famously for his confrontational partnership with Green Arrow. The creative team of Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams famously put the two together as a way to talk about relevant social issues, including racism, corporate corruption and teenage drug addiction. Due to the nature of the Green Lantern Corps, the books also introduced readers to other, “reserve” GL’s from Earth: Jon Stewart and Guy Gardner.

DC Comics continued to struggle with their sales in the early 1990’s, and made some controversial, headline grabbing story choices to catch the public’s eye. Superman was famously killed by Doomsday, Batman had his back broken by Bane, and Green Lantern was similarly shaken up. Hal Jordan was perhaps the biggest victim of this period in comics; rather than give him a heroic death or retire him gracefully, DC had Hal’s hometown of Coast City destroyed in a battle between Superman and Mongul. Hal was driven mad by his lack of ability to save everyone and went on a rampage killing all the Green Lanterns in the universe, leaving only his replacement, Kyle Raynor.

And suddenly I just realized where George Lucas got the plot for his Star Wars prequels from…

Rebirth

Rebirth and the Geoff Johns Era

Hal’s rampage eventually made him a supervillain named Parallax, and he was eventually killed off and then sort of revived as the host for the Spectre, DC’s interpretation of a punishing angel of God. Thankfully, Hal Jordan was destined for more than being remembered as a popular character of a bygone era. Hotshot DC writer Geoff Johns was a dedicated fan of the character and had several fresh ideas for the Green Lantern Mythology, and in 2005 DC editors gave him the go ahead to bring Hal Jordan back from the dead. The Green Lantern: Rebirth mini-series was a godsend to fans of the character; instead of being a simple reboot that ignored years of history, Johns tied up the stories that had been done with Hal to that point, spotlighted Jon Stewart and Guy Gardner while keeping Kyle Raynor around, and even managed to address some of the odd plot holes along the way.

Most notably, he explained the Lantern’s ridiculous weakness to the color yellow as being an impurity in the rings’ power source, the power battery on Oa, homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps. This impurity was the result of the Guardians trapping the fear entity known as Parallax in the power battery, who took over Hal Jordan in Hal’s bid for power. This introduction of other colors tied to emotions paved the way for new stories with the Green Lanterns, building a rich mythology that elevated Green Lantern to be one of DC’s most popular and critically acclaimed series of all time. Not bad for a character that arguably should have died for good in the 1990’s.

Green Lantern

The Jerk With a Heart of Gold

DC Comics is known for characters that are more archetypal than Marvel’s, more mythic figures that embody an ideal than a fully fleshed out characters. And while I would argue that is a bit of an unfair statement, I will grant that there is some validity to that; Superman and Batman tend to feel a bit flat compared to say, Spider-Man and Wolverine. However, I feel that of all of DC’s big names, Hal Jordan is the one that feels most human. Hal is brash and opinionated and often reckless; he challenges the authority of the Guardians of Oa and the Justice League, but also takes his duty as an intergalactic cop seriously. He’s a jerk and a screw-up, but ultimately he is a hero and that’s hard to dislike.

I think most readers can find a lot to like about Hal Jordan; things never seem to go quite right for him, and he often seems in over his head. He makes mistakes and falls on his butt quite a few times, but he never gives up. After all, Hal’s defining trait is the ability to overcome fear. I strongly encourage comic book fans to give Green Lantern a shot; he’s one of the most interesting, likable and well-developed characters in comic books.

Always On My Shelf – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Everyone has a couple of movies that they would call a “guilty pleasure”, a movie that they know isn’t objectively that good but that you still really enjoy for some reason or another. In this particular case, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) is a personal favorite primarily for nostalgia’s sake: I freaking loved the Ninja Turtles as a kid. The movie adaptation of the popular children’s cartoon based on dark and gritty satire comic books by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird takes me back to that period of life and is just good enough for me not to feel stupid for liking it. Heck, I actually this movie more now as an adult than I did as a kid; I grew up watching mostly the sequel The Secret of the Ooze (1991) but now that I’m older I appreciate this movie more for it’s more serious tone.

TMNT

If you’re of those people who neither grew up with TMNT nor have passing familiarity with it thanks to other people’s interests (my nephews and niece are crazy about them), let me give a basic rundown. Four young turtles living in a New York City sewer come into contact with a mysterious green “ooze” that transforms them into intelligent, anthropomorphic and giant sized mutants. Similarly transformed is a rat named Splinter, who has learned the art of ninjitsu from his owner Hamato Yoshi (just stay with me here). He raises the turtles as his sons, training them to become ninja warriors and naming them after Renaissance artists. Now teenagers, the turtles work together to fight crime in New York City.

Yes, it’s completely ridiculous… which is kind of the point. It’s a wacky, insane concept that started as a way for Eastman and Laird to parody other popular comics going on the time; the X-Men and Daredevil among others. The comics were dark and gritty and moderately successful, but when Eastman and Laird were approached by various marketing groups, the Turtles would soon become a commercial juggernaut with extremely successful toys and a popular television cartoon. Taking a decidedly more kid-friendly spin on the idea, the Ninja Turtles became ingrained in pop culture in the late eighties and early nineties. Kids loved it and even teenagers enjoyed them thanks to the more mature stories in the comics.

Donatello and Michaelangelo

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a live-action movie would be made. What is surprising is that despite the proven commercial success of the franchise, no major studio wanted to be attached to the project. The small independent studio New Line Cinema finally attached themselves to it, and with the help of the most advanced puppetry and animatronics that Jim Henson could provide, created one of the ten highest grossing films of 1990 and one of the most successful independent films of all time.

TMNT is a franchise that by all rights is too ridiculous to work, but in some ways is too ridiculous not to work; the premise immediately stands out from everything out there, but what makes the Turtles such enduring pop culture icons is that there was some extremely smart character work put into them. Leonardo (blue mask and katanas, for the newbies) is oldest one, the leader who is most devoted to Splinter’s teachings. He’s more serious than his brothers because he has more responsibility. Michelangelo (orange mask and nunchucks) was the youngest, the fun-loving goofball who never took life too seriously and was more of an innocent kid. Donatello (purple mask and bo staff) was the most intelligent and creative of the group, and the one I related to the most.

And then there’s Raphael.

Raphael

Arguably the greatest contribution this movie made to the Turtles mythology was giving Raphael a more defined and interesting character. In the TV show he was definitely comic relief, a little more fatalistic than Michelangelo but not in a way that separated the two in a meaningful way. This movie cast the red-masked, dual sai-wielding Turtle into an angry loner who often came into conflict with his brothers and was prone to rash decisions. This not only made Raphael a breakthrough character (probably the most popular Turtle), but also helped to make Mikey stand out even more. Unsurprisingly, the characterization has stuck ever since.

This characterization is really the heart and soul of the Turtles franchise; while fundamentally flawed in many ways (and suffering a severe lack of female characters), the characters are instantly recognizable by their personalities. These personalities bounce off each other perfectly, whether the characters are getting along or butting heads; there’s a real sense of family with these characters and I think that’s what made them stand out over time.

Shredder

So anyway, if you haven’t seen this movie and are unfamiliar with TMNT, this is a really good way to become familiar with the franchise. Besides the Turtles and their relationships, the movie also incorporates most of the key elements of the franchise. The Turtles meet April O’Neil, a reporter who serves as both the audience surrogate and the narrator for the movie (played excellently by Judith Hoag) and Casey Jones, a vigilante who fights with sports weapons who kind of sits around making fun of the movie without being obnoxious about it. He’s much cooler than he sounds, and a lot of that is thanks to Elias Koteas’ natural charm and swagger.

The main villain is Shredder, a Japanese samurai warrior who killed Splinter’s owner and is running the Foot Clan, a cultlike gang of criminals who try to brainwash the New York youth by saying the Foot Clan is their new family. In contrast to that is the strong real family dynamics of the Turtles and Splinter, and I think what I love about this film most is how much it explores the dynamic between Splinter and the Turtles; there’s some real emotion put into the dialogue in this movie and it’s hard not to feel for the characters and what they are going through. The fact that the film has a pretty strong anti-gang and pro-family message was certainly powerful at the time the film came out and I think still makes it a good film for parents to show their kids today.

Supervillain Spotlight – The Joker

Gotham City is home to many of the greatest comic book villains ever created, meaning that Batman never has any shortage of bad guys to challenge him or compelling stories to be told about his adventures. But it’s telling that in a list of rogues that is considered by most comic books fans to be the best in the business, there is also one criminal mastermind that stands above them all. The pure antithesis of The Dark Knight has just celebrated his seventy-fifth anniversary this month, and it’s only fitting that the final Supervillain Spotlight of June 2015 is dedicated to The Clown Prince of Crime.

Golden Age

The Joker

Little is known about who The Red Hood was before he fell in a vat of toxic chemicals while confronting Batman at the ACE Chemical factory. Did the chemical bath turn a decent human being into a psychotic killer, or simply reveal the monster that was already there? It matters little: The Joker was permanently changed into a ghoulish figure with sickly green hair, ghastly white skin and blood red lips almost always fixed into a laughing grin. That image has been terrifying Gotham ever since, his obsession with Batman driving him to create chaos and murder wherever he goes. While the city’s greatest hero was a grim, dark symbol of vengeance, the greatest villain would be a brightly colored, smiling clown.

Created by Jim Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, The Joker debuted in June of 1940, as the primary villain of Batman #1, the then bi-monthly companion piece to Detective Comics, the title where Batman had made his debut a year earlier. Joker was based on a combination of the famous playing card jester and Conrad Veidt’s appearance in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs. The Joker was a deranged serial killer with a knack for gallows humor, murdering civilians with his trademark “Joker Toxin”, a poison that left the victim’s face in the same horrible grin as the villain. Though he was intended to be killed off by the creative team in the first issue, the DC editing team saw dollar signs on the character and Joker would go on to become Batman’s arch nemesis.

Joker

The Man Who Laughs 

Despite his origins as a monstrous serial killer, The Joker managed to endure the massive shifts in the comic book world brought on by The Seduction of the Innocent and the Comics Code Authority. Writers had already softened the character to make him more comical and less murderous as a way to make him accessible to their primary audience (young children). But the new standards of the CCA forced writers to make The Joker more of an irritating trickster archetype instead of the monster he had been. This wasn’t completely a bad thing; the Silver Age introduced much of the thematic gadgetry that allows Joker to put up a fight against Batman; electric joybuzzers, acid-spewing flowers and the like. Joker’s sense of humor also became less grim and Joker became as well known for his comedy as his penchant for murder.

Dennis O’Neil and Neil Adams combined the two elements in 1973, setting the tone for how Joker would be portrayed for the next four and a half decades. Joker was able to kill again and often did so in truly gruesome ways. His design was also changed to be more menacing rather than the comical, non-threatening makeover he was given in the sixties. But some of the more appealing aspects of the Silver Age remained intact; his humor and his insanely high-concept crimes. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers once wrote a story called “The Laughing Fish”, where Joker poisoned all of the fish in Gotham so they carried his famous face… so that Joker could make money by getting a patent on the fish. It was utterly ridiculous yet completely entertaining and served as the basis for my single favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series. This era also made it clear that Joker was obsessed with Batman, something that become expanded upon more in the 1980’s.

Killing Joke

The Harlequin of Hate

While I am loathe to admit that Frank Miller ever wrote anything good, it’s impossible to deny his impact on the genre in the 1980’s. His extremely popular story The Dark Knight Returns, set in a dystopic future where an aged Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl one more time to defend Gotham City does have a very important take on The Joker. When Batman retires, Joker stays in Arkham Asylum and never bothers to get out; there is no challenge anymore. This idea that Joker needs Batman to be who he is not only makes the character more interesting, but also opens up the idea to questions about whether Batman is responsible for creating the villains. After all, would Joker be as much of a menace to Gotham if Batman weren’t around for him to fixate his psychosis on?

The 1980’s also saw The Joker and Batman’s rivalry become a more personal one. Thanks to reader votes (and a bit of controversy), The Joker murdered Jason Todd, the second Robin, in the climactic chapter of A Death in the Family. He also shot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl and daughter of Police Commisioner James Gordon) in The Killing Joke, leaving her paralyzed before he removed her clothes and took pictures of her bleeding, naked body in order to torture Gordon and prove that one bad day could make the sanest man alive lose their mind. This story, often considered the definitive take on the character, shown both the horrible depravity of the character while also bringing up his more tragic side. These horrible crimes left a deep mark on Batman, who has to live with the fact that his refusal to kill The Joker has had terrible consequences.

Bomb

Joker in Other Media

Batman has been adapted into both animated and live-action television as well as film and video games, and unsurprisingly The Joker has followed him everywhere he’s gone. Actors like Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson have made their own marks on the character, though perhaps the most famous version was Heath Ledger’s incredibly dark take on the character in The Dark Knight, a role which earned Ledger a posthumous Oscar award for Best Supporting Actor and has cemented the Joker as one of the great villains of cinema. But many Batman fans consider to be the definitive version of the character to be from Batman: The Animated Series where he was voiced by Mark Hamill. Hamill’s ability to capture everything from the camp silliness to the murderous menace makes him perhaps the most complete interpretation of the character, and he proved that evil laughter can indeed be an art form.

This series also added a new layer to The Joker character by introducing the world to Harleen Quinzel, the perky female sidekick and love interest of The Joker, going by the name of Harley Quinn. This new dynamic of having a love interest for a murdering psychopath allowed the writers to toy with the idea that Joker has a softer side that most of us never see. But it also allowed for exploring abusive relationships; Joker is verbally, emotionally and physically abusive towards Harley, and yet she enables him out of a mad love for him, believing that he really loves her despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Whether it inspires the viewer to see Joker as a misunderstood madman or just a loathsome evil scumbag (guess which camp I fall into!), it certainly makes him a more interesting villain.

Ledger

The Clown Prince of Crime

In my unbiased opinion, Joker is the greatest pure villain in comic book history. To me, he is absolute evil incarnate, wrapping himself up in a colorful package that fools some people, while continuously showing that he is an unrepentant murderer. Chaos, anarchy and madness are all The Joker truly loves, and everything else is just there for his hatred and amusement. He doesn’t need superpowers or gadgets even a gun; his depravity and imagination are the most lethal tools in his arsenal. While some villains have layers that make them more sympathetic or even seem justified, The Joker is simply a madman who wants the world to burn. And I wouldn’t have him any other way.

New On The Shelf – Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a 2014 psychological crime thriller directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The films screenplay is written by Gillian Flynn, adapted from her novel of the same name. The movie revolves around a missing persons case that starts when Nick Dunne (Affleck) finds that his wife Amy (Pike) has gone missing from his house in what appears to be a violent kidnapping or possible murder. The film alternates between following Nick’s cooperation with the police as they conduct their investigation, and flashback sequences told through Amy’s diary about the couple’s somewhat troubled history.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is an excellent suspenseful human drama, perhaps not at its best, but certainly very close. Even though it clocks in at just around two and a half hours, I think most people will find it incredibly engaging. The plot is full of twists and turns and keeps the audience second-guessing at every turn. We are lead to believe quite a few things and it is difficult to tell what is really going on, but it is certainly a captivating story about the dark side of love and marriage. This does make it arguably the worst movie to watch on a first date. Or any date. Unless you are a mature adult in a healthy relationship where a movie isn’t going to make you think your spouse may be planning to kill you.

Gillian Flynn’s story and her script are definitely highlights of the film, but this is a case where a really good story has the right director to tell it. David Fincher is extremely talented and this movie is a perfect example of that. The color palette, the editing, and the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are all used to help create tension. Fincher is also unafraid to push the envelope with the crazy stuff we see in this movie, allowing scenes to truly rattle us. it’s another worthy edition in a distinguished filmography hat includes Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999), and The Social Network (2010). And I daresay that even with the same story and script, this movie probably wouldn’t have been as good in the hands of most other directors. They are a perfect match for each other.

Pike

With a great story and a great creative team, the only thing that could have been this movie’s downfall is the acting. Fortunately, that may be the best thing in the movie. Ben Affleck gives what may be a career best as an actor. He’s perfectly cast as an “every man” who is clumsily making mistakes, and really sells the anger that the situation makes him feel. I think my favorite scenes with Nick are whenever he addresses the media; seeing him start as a timid, awkward victim to the more confident speaker he becomes is a real treat and proof that Ben is a better actor than a lot of people give him credit for.

Rosamund Pike gives an extremely charismatic performance as Amy Elliot-Dunne. She impressively excels in the role of a narrator, which is not something that’s easy to do. She lures the viewer in to make us connect with her and hope that she is safe, and… well, I won’t spoil anything. Those who have seen the movie know just how good she is. Since I don’t want to get to into detail about Pike’s performance, I also want to recognize the work of of Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris and especially Tyler Perry. This is genuinely the only time where I found myself that there was more of Tyler Perry on my screen; his character is fantastic and provides some much needed comedic relief in a movie that gets very dark and unpleasant.

Lawyer

Gone Girl was one of favorite movies of 2014, hitting pretty much every note that I want in a pure drama film. Everything in this movie is well done, and I especially respect that Gillian Flynn was allowed the chance to adapt her book into a screenplay. Movies have been adapted from books for well over a century now, but it isn’t all that often that an author gets to be so in charge of the process. Flynn has proved that she has a lot of talent as a screenwriter and I hope that she continues to contribute in the future. Affleck gives one of his career best performances, Rosamund Pike genuinely breaks through as a star to watch out for, and David Fincher continues to prove how good of a director he is. If you haven’t gotten around to giving this movie a watch, I definitely recommend checking it out.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #10-1

It’s been a long, fun and interesting journey to get to the end, and I feel pretty confidant about these final choices. However, the list went through a few changes and edits while I was putting it together and I figured it’s only appropriate to recognize some of the honorable mentions who almost made this list.

Some came down to personal preference, like Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. While she’s definitely got her fans, I’ve never really enjoyed the character or understood her appeal. For similar reasons, Power Girl was not really considered either.

A couple of notable omissions are anti-heroes like Emma Frost, Harley Quinn and Catwoman. All certainly have their appeal, but I’ve chosen to save them for another take on this list where we look at the sexy side of villainy. This list is more about acknowledging heroic women with strong moral ideals, and those characters just didn’t seem to fit the overall theme.

And then there’s a few who just didn’t make the cut because I only had thirty spots. Some notable ones include the Huntress, Renee Montoya as The Question, Flash’s love interests Iris West and Patty Spivot, Rachel Summers, Dazzler and Mary Marvel.

Carol Danvers

#10. Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel)

Whether she’s going by Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel, the alien-enhanced U.S. airforce captain is one of the most powerful and capable women in the Marvel universe. But don’t blame yourself if you haven’t heard of her; Carol’s gone through some serious down times; she’s been an alcoholic and was even put in a coma for years when the then Brotherhood member Rogue absorbed all of her powers. But she’s also been a valued member and even leader of the Avengers, and has been starring in some of the better comics Marvel has been publishing in recent years. And in a few years she’ll be coming to the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

From a personality standpoint, I tend to describe Carol as a cross between two DC heroes: Wonder Woman and Hal Jordan. She’s a warrior, a leader and a negotiator, but she’s also an adventurer and an explorer. And a bit of a dork. She’s a devoted Star Wars fan and even has a dog named “Chewie”. But perhaps the blonde bombshell’s most admirable trait is that the character has overcome so much adversity to be better than ever. Perseverance under pressure is always cool, and trust me; people want a significant other who is inspirational on some level.

Sue Storm

#9. Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman)

When compiling this list, Susan Storm was a name that came to mind a little late in the game, but once I thought about her she quickly ascended the ranks. I am a huge Fantastic Four fan and have a deep love for all of the characters, and Sue is pretty near the top of that list. More commonly known as the Invisible Woman, Sue is known both for her signature ability to vanish from sight as well as her energy shields that arguably make her the most dangerous member of the Fantastic Four. But while the FF are adventurers, scientists and superheroes, they are above all else, family. And Sue is really the glue that holds it all together.

It’s said that you can best judge the character of the person you’re dating by how they treat the people around them. If that’s the case, Sue is one of the best catches in comics. She is the older sister that both cares for Johnny and makes sure that his ego doesn’t get out of line. Even without their romantic interest, Susan is a grounding force for Reed Richards, reminding him that there are more important things than science and work. Ben Grimm can count her perhaps his best emotional support; she has helped keep from falling into despair. Sue is a woman whose presence strengthens everyone around her and makes them better than they may be. Hard not to fall for someone like that.

Jean

8. Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix)

Jean Grey was probably modeled off of Sue Storm and serves a similar function for her team. But I think Jean stands out a little bit more and is a better, more interesting character, so she narrowly edges out Sue. Throughout her history, Jean has been many things. Marvel Girl was a quiet introvert, Phoenix was a more outgoing and passionate person, Dark Phoenix was an extremely powerful megalomaniac with a dominatrix thing going… Pardon me, I seem to have lost my train of thought there for a moment. My point is that the appeal of Jean is sort of a mix between the “girl next door” archetype and the “danger is sexy” trope I’ve brought up a couple of times. On one hand she’s this incredibly nice, loving person who will do anything to help other people. On the other hand there’s a monster inside of her that can be incredibly damaging when it gets loose.

That mix of elements is probably what most defines Jean. Whatever you’re attracted to, it’s likely you can find at least some of it in the character of Jean Grey. And while that is great, it is a bit of a double-edged sword for the purposes of this list. Her personality is harder to nail down and thus it’s harder to analyze what exactly makes her so appealing. But then, there’s a lot of appeal in that too; she’s got layers, so she’ll always be interesting. If perhaps fatally so.

Black Canary

#7. Dinah Laurel Lance (Black Canary)

Ah, Black Canary. Crime-fighting martial arts expert, flirty and witty girlfriend of Green Arrow, brilliant and capable leader of the Birds of Prey, wearer of fishnet leggings, owner of an excellent singing voice… what’s not to love? For those not familiar with the comic version of Black Canary (or any of her excellent animated counterparts), Dinah is kind of a softer version of Black Widow. And no, I don’t mean more vulnerable, I just mean that she doesn’t have the colorful past history that Romanoff has. So she’s got a lot of the appeal of a dangerous, knowledgeable woman who’s on top of things, but doesn’t come with so much baggage. That makes her a little less intimidating.

Another key aspect of Canary is that while she is completely viable as a solo character, she has some key relationships that really flesh out her character. She’s the sometimes girlfriend, sometimes wife of Green Arrow, and while they have their issues they are an excellent example of a couple that respects each other’s abilities and support one another. So she’s got a pretty good history of being a loyal, supportive and loving partner. Definitely a plus. She’s also a big sister of sorts to Barbara Gordon and Huntress, her Birds of Prey teammates. She’s helps keep Helena’s dark side in check, and helps keep Barbara optimistic during some of the toughest times of her life. So, take everything awesome about Sue Storm and everything awesome about Black Widow and you get Dinah Lance.

Lois

#6. Lois Lane

As probably the first significant female character in comic books, Lois Lane has a very long history and not all of it is good. She started as a constant damsel in distress for Superman adventures; some could argue that falling through the sky to be saved by Superman was her defining trait. Fortunately, Lois Lane has evolved into a much more fleshed out character. She’s smart and extremely quick-witted, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and perhaps most importantly, she’s just as relentless about pursuing truth and justice as Superman. Lois is the kind of reporter who doesn’t care what feathers she ruffles or what personal danger she puts herself through; where there is crime and corruption, she will be there to shine a light on it.

Lois is arguably intended to be the “feminine ideal” in the same way Superman is for men. She’s independent, intelligent, confident and passionate. She’s got respect for herself and expects everyone else to respect her in turn. Her moral center is what drives her work and she is always trying to help other people. One could argue that this is an impossible standard. But much like Superman, I think Lois Lane is a pretty good role model for anyone. She fights for what she wants and does it for the right reasons and without compromising her integrity or her self respect.

Wonder Woman

#5. Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman)

If you’re read more than a few of my columns, you’re probably well aware of my undying love for Wonder Woman. Diana is my favorite superhero, but I don’t think she outranks the other four women ahead of her. The iconic prototype for female superheroes, Diana combines the physical strength and martial skill of male heroes like Superman and Batman, and adds a more feminine touch to it. Wonder Woman’s primary traits are her unconditional love and her honesty. Diana cares about everyone, fights for everyone, and tries to make life better for as many people as possible. She is also extremely honest and expects the same out of others, and isn’t afraid to use force (and a magic lasso) to get it.

Women love her because she’s a symbol that women can have strength and skill, and that they deserve equal respect. Men love her because even though she is representative of female strength, she is an equalist; men and women should be respected equally. She’s physically stunning and imposing, but also emotionally vulnerable. She’s supportive and caring but also has high standards. She’s fierce and competitive and driven but also gentle and kind and wise. By whatever measure one wants to measure beauty, Wonder Woman is going to knock it out of the park.

Zatanna

4. Zatanna Zatara

Many women who have made this list are physically imposing and a lot of the appeal is that they are stronger than the man or woman who is crushing on the character. Strength is largely attractive because we equate it with security, and safety is conducive to intimacy which paves the way for sexual fireworks. But there’s the opposite end of that too, and Zatanna’s a perfect example. DC’s most famous magician is generally depicted as petite and not the best hand to hand fighter. Her sex appeal isn’t in her physical power; Zatanna’s more the kind of person one describes as “cute” or “adorable”. Which I totally go for. See Gordon, Barbara. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, unpredictable and likes to create her own fun. Without being too stereotypical, I’d have to imagine that many comic book fans like me tend to be more on the introverted side and creatures of habit. If opposites attract, it’s no surprise so many of us love Zatanna.

But the cool thing about Zatanna is that her magical powers make her both one of the best escape artists and potentially one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe. She has unbelievable magic power at her disposal and has used it to help save the world numerous times. But if left to her own devices she’d rather use her gifts to put on a show and entertain others. She is a performer, the center of attention who manages to do so without being arrogant or annoying.

Starfire

#3. Koriand’r (Starfire)

Starfire is sadly a name that is synonymous with controversy. Many artists have made her the poster child for stripperiffic, impractical costumes that make her a sex object. Sadly, some writers have also found it acceptable to strip away her personality as much as her clothes, making her something that is less of an actual character and more of a pin-up model. These are all valid arguments, but sadly it has taken away from a very simple fact; when written with some actual care, Koriand’r is one of the most fun, likable, and yes, genuinely sexy characters in comics. After all, she’s a Marv Wolfman creation and Marv simply doesn’t create bad characters, especially when they are one of the main characters of a long running and beloved comic book series like The New Teen Titans.

So for those who may only know Starfire for being the subject of some incredibly poor writing and shameless artwork, let me explain what it is that makes us love Kori. First, it’s important to understand that she is very much a counterpart to fellow Teen Titan member Raven. Raven is an introverted pacifist who keeps her emotions bottled up. Starfire is an extremely curious and outgoing person who loves life and tries to squeeze as much out of every day as possible. For those who read Red Hood and the Outlaws and took issue with her having sex with two guys really quickly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Women are people, not things; they deserve sexual autonomy and Kori has always had that. She’s not going to wait around for a boy she likes to make a move; she’ll take the first step because life is too short to wait. What is out of character was the lack of emotion involved; Kori is all emotion; joy and anger and sadness, all felt intensely and coming across transparently. That’s what readers love about Kori, and that’s why she’s so high on this list.

Rogue

#2. Anna Marie (Rogue)

An often repeated phrase in this series has been “danger is exciting, and thus danger is sexy”. Rogue may be that truth to the absolute extreme; her mutation causes her to drain the life force, powers and memories of anyone who comes in contact with her skin. Super deadly. Even worse? Rogue couldn’t control it for the longest time; so she literally could not have sex ever without killing someone. That’s way beyond forbidden fruit there. On its own, it may have kept Rogue from ever being considered attractive by some. But when you take that power and mix it with a feisty, flirty powerhouse with a Southern accent, you have perhaps the most sexually frustrating character in comics. And one of the most common fan crushes in the industry.

Heck, for many of us, seeing and hearing Rogue on the 1990’s X-Men cartoon was the spark that made us realize that we actually did want to have a girlfriend. It also made us feel incredibly bad for Rogue and her main love interest, Gambit. These two always seemed to be made for each other, enjoying each other’s company and obviously caring for each other even they were butting heads. But Rogue’s mutation made it impossible to even kiss for more than a moment. Rogue raises a lot of questions for readers; would we be able to be a committed lover to someone if sexual contact was out of the question. For many, Rogue was worth it. So she went from being this incredibly source of sexual frustration to helping us realize there are more important things.

Storm

#1. Ororo Munroe (Storm)

Trying to pick the top woman for this list was very difficult, but ultimate I feel confident in putting Storm at the top of this list. Ororo has consistently been a major part of the X-Men for a long time and has maintained a high level of popularity from her initial appearances and all the way to today. Other than Wonder Woman, she’s probably the most well known female superhero to the general public. And she has many of the same traits that Diana has. She’s got power, both physically (she’s usually depicted as six feet tall and very well muscled) and because of her ability to control the weather. But she’s also a gentle, loving soul who is very much a pacifist and a nurturer. Somehow she manages to come across as both wise beyond her years and able to enjoy life with reckless abandon.

Ororo’s definitely got some of the exotic appeal to her, and not just because she’s one of the few truly iconic black female characters in comics. The white hair and blue eyes would stand out even if she were a real person. Many of her earlier appearances put her in the position of a stranger in a strange land, someone who isn’t used to Western customs or ideals. Though it isn’t as drastic as say, Kitty Pryde, Storm has still shown considerable growth. She started as a young, almost naive woman who felt out of place to a woman who felt at home with the X-Men and was soon capable of leading them. Ororo has many aspects that could appeal to someone, whether they want someone who is strong and steady, emotionally vulnerable, wise or curious, mature or young at heart. And unlike some characters, Ororo’s personality seems to blend perfectly into one definite character, as opposed to various interpretations that don’t always match up.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #20-11

It’s time for the second part of this list, and just in case you haven’t gotten the memo from the first part, this is more of a critical look at why readers fall in love with certain comic book women. This is not an excuse to post pictures of comic book characters in revealing clothing. I actually nearly gave myself a headache trying to find pictures of some of these women that were in relatively normal clothes and were still quality art.

At the end of the day, personality is a lot sexier than a pretty girl in a bikini. These are the DC and Marvel heroines that fit all that criteria.

Psylocke

#20. Betsy Braddock (Psylocke)

One of the archetypal character types for making a woman who is, shall we say, designed to have sex appeal is to make them an exotic beauty, a woman who doesn’t look like everyone around here. Exotic is different, different is exciting, it makes us want to know more about that person because we feel like they’ve lived a life we don’t know about. Elizabeth Braddock is a British model whose signature is her purple hair. Well that should already make her stand out from the pack. But nope, Marvel did us one better; through a crazy psychic body swap, Betsy’s mind is now in the body of Kwannan. So now she’s a British model living in the body of a Japanese ninja with purple hair. And those don’t come around too often. So Psylocke is already super attractive just because she stands out from virtually everybody.

Psylocke is also the first psychic to be on the list (she won’t be the only one), and that is an interesting trait. The idea of a woman being able to read a man’s mind can be utterly terrifying, especially given Betsy is best known for her stripperiffic outfit shown above in the most tasteful pose I could find. But on the other end, the idea that Betsy could fall in love with us even though she knows what we are thinking is really attractive. People want to be accepted for who they are and at the end of the day you can’t lie to a psychic. So if Betsy’s in love with you, you must be pretty special. The idea of being that in tune with someone is a pretty awesome thing to think about.

Supergirl

#19. Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

And from the extremely exotic to the epitome of the “girl next door” trope, we know have Supergirl. Like her cousin, Kara is kind of meant to embody the “feminine ideal” for readers. This of course means that she’s gone through some phases in different points in history that don’t exactly hold up to feminist standards. And no, Supergirl in her original incarnation is not a character I particularly enjoy; she’s pretty and compassionate and well… “nice”. But she lacks agency or layers to her personality, and Superman is in far too much control of her life. The only thing I like about this Supergirl is that I can at least look at her outfit without feeling a dirty old man.

But the more modern takes on the character are much more interesting. She’s no longer obedient, she rebels from time to time and sometimes that works out for her and sometimes it gets her in trouble. Which is a much better take on teenage characters, something that is easier to relate to. I enjoy her even more in the New 52, where she has little to do with her cousin and is instead a girl trying to find her place in the world. She’s somebody who feels like she could be your best friend, somebody who would go on an adventure with you.

She-Hulk

#18. Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk)

I am a firm believer that many men are attracted to women who can beat them up. There’s a sense of danger there and danger is exciting. But especially in a genre with as much action as comic books, it’s also nice to know that our partner can take care of themselves and can save us if we need them too. Yeah, there’s appeal in the “damsel in distress” character, but it can also get really annoying in a hurry. One look at She-Hulk, Strongest Woman There Is, and we know she can take care of herself.

Fortunately, She-Hulk’s personality is as much of a force of nature as her body. Jennifer Walters is Bruce Banner’s cousin, a lawyer who is a bit timid but very smart and very funny; the She-Hulk however, lacks her inhibitions. She’s not afraid to be funny or outspoken or confident in her abilities. This again is very appealing trait; She-Hulk just doesn’t know how to be fake. She’s always honest and always blunt, and there’s a lot of appeal in that. And of course, this can’t be overstated; She-Hulk has never hesitated about pursuing relationships; she’s not going to be chased, she’s the chaser. Again, blunt honesty and aggression is a turn-on for plenty of guys; the fact that she’s funny is even better.

Gwen Stacey

#17. Gwen Stacy (Spider-Woman)

Peter Parker first met Gwen Stacey in college, and despite a few obstacles, they quickly hit it off and were a well-functioning couple. Being the girlfriend of one of the most popular characters in comics, especially the one who was most designed to relate to teenagers, Gwen was sort of an “America’s Sweetheart” type; everyone loved Gwen. She was kind of the Betty to Mary Jane’s Veronica; not as outgoing or “exciting”, but kinder, more mature and more capable of handling a stable relationship. Honestly, were it not for her death, I imagine that Peter and Gwen would have become married. Many consider Gwen’s death to be the moment when comics lost their innocence and “grew up” to face the real world, which wasn’t always happy. Gwen is a symbol of that childlike innocence and the hope that we could have a happy ending.

Gwen was before my time, although her impact was still felt in later media. The Mary Jane Watson from Sam Raimi’s movies honestly has a lot more in common with Gwen than the comics MJ as far as personality goes. And conversely, the Gwen Stacey that Emma Stone plays (a much better love interest) has a bit of MJ’s fire, but is still definitely Gwen. Marvel has tried different ways to bring Gwen back (clones… ugh), but I think by far the most successful has been “Spider-Gwen”, an alternate reality where Gwen is bitten by the radioactive spider. And… yeah, that is pretty much a perfect idea. Gwen Stacey as Spider-Woman is awesome. Definitely a good way to update the character for more modern tastes.

Pepper Potts

#16. Pepper Potts

Pepper Potts is kind of an interesting case. Though she was introduced as Tony Stark’s personality secretary with a crush, their relationship was never one that went anywhere. No, she eventually fell in love with and married Harold “Happy” Hogan, Stark’s butler. And yep, the idea that a smart, funny, pretty girl like Pepper would eventually give up on the selfish, arrogant pretty boy for the steady, reliable guy who doesn’t look like Hercules is a huge point in her favor. I am sure most comic book fans have a lot more in common with Happy Hogan than with Iron Man. The “nice guy wins” is a story that is always going to make that guy’s partner more attractive.

However, Pepper seems to be subject of a bit of a war between some writers who want her with Tony and others who want her with Hogan. Sadly, Tony eventually won out in order to make things more in line with the Iron Man movies, where Gwyneth Paltrow stars as the character and is the primary love interest of Tony. Fortunately, I am a big fan of that couple and Paltrow definitely brings a lot of personality that has influenced the comics version in positive ways. Pepper fulfills two things that will always be attractive. She’s got that blunt honesty that I talked about with She-Hulk; she always calls out Tony on his crap; self-respect and standards are always a good thing. But she’s also the ultimate caretaker; her job is basically the same as Alfred Pennyworth. She is the ultimate support system for Tony, and that is probably what makes her stand out most.

Batwoman

#15. Kate Kane (Batwoman)

Again, being unique is always a good way to endear readers. Being easily the highest profile lesbian in comics gives Batwoman a huge edge in that department; she’s the standard that future gay characters are probably going to be held to. Kate Kane is actually the second version of Batwoman; the Silver Age version of the character was, ironically enough, created to make a love interest for Batman to show that he was not gay after concerns raised by the book “The Seduction of the Innocent”. Fortunately, we have evolved a bit as a society and there is a growing desire to see LGBT characters be represented in comics. Kate is an excellent example of this. While being gay is not her only defining trait thanks to her superhero career, close relationship with her father and her military background, it is not a simple personality quirk either. A major part of Batwoman comics is about Kate’s relationships with other women.

And not just the sex stuff either. The dates, the personality clashes, the ups and downs of a relationship. Kate’s relationship with Maggie Sawyer is one of my favorite in comics, and one of the more unique. In addition to being an example of a lesbian relationship that is given a lot of time and development and is usually pretty healthy, it’s also a generational gap. Maggie is much older than Kate and that is a key dynamic of their relationship. While there is plenty to love about Batwoman comics, from the supernatural element to J.H. Williams III’s gorgeous art style, what always stands out to me is that it is a romance comic done right. And well written relationships with two likable yet distinct characters will always be sexy.

Kitty

#14. Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat)

From one Jewish Katherine to another, it’s time to take a look at the X-Men who can walk through walls, Kitty Pryde. When it comes to examining why Kitty is on this list, it comes down to a pretty simple reason. X-Men fans have grown up with her, and she has grown up with them. Kitty was introduced as a fourteen year old girl who wasn’t quite ready to be on the team; in many ways, a link between the typical reader and the fantastic world of X-Men comics. And she’s likable from the start; full of spunk, creativity and courage but also emotionally vulnerable and often out of her depth. Easy to relate to, Kitty is a character that many people saw themselves in, and many fell in love with.

Fortunately, Kitty has been anything but stagnant. We’ve seen her take on rigorous warrior training from Wolverine, so we know that she’s tough and has self-discipline. We’ve seen her leave the team to join Excalibur, so we know she’s independent and willing to take risks. We’ve seen her become a teacher and a leader, so we know she’s intelligent and capable and confident. And yet through all of that, Kitty has never stopped being the optimistic, compassionate person that we first knew. And she recently became one of the spokesman for why the anti-bigotry message of the X-Men will always be important; she’s proud of who she is, unafraid to claim it, and inspires us to be the same.

Black Widow

#13. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow)

The fact that Black Widow has become a breakout character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is played by one of the most attractive women on the planet has certainly raised awareness of the character and helped make her a more major player. But this isn’t about Scarlett Johanssen and how awesome she is. Black Widow from the comics still has plenty to like about her. She’s still the best spy in the Marvel Universe and is an incredibly dangerous fighter, and a member of the Avengers. There’s that danger thing I keep bringing up. She’s also a bad girl turned good; she debuted as a villain but eventually had a change of heart and joined The Avengers. Yep, there’s another mark in her favor.

But perhaps the most important difference between the comic version and the movie version is that Black Widow is a much older woman. So instead of being the incredibly hot twenty something who we probably shouldn’t mess with, she’s the incredibly hot older woman who is so dangerous that she could eat us alive.Yeah, that about seals the deal. Natasha’s mix of intelligence, skill as a warrior, willingness to use her sexuality to her advantage, ability to bend the rules, and a long life of experience make her an extremely intimidating woman. And that is always going to appeal to certain people, including me.

Donna Troy

#12. Donna Troy (Wonder Girl)

To understand the appeal of Donna Troy, Wonder Woman’s sidekick/protegy, one first needs to understand what makes Wonder Woman appealing. Wonder Woman is a warrior, but one who fights for peace and equality. She holds up very lofty ideals and is very capable of standing up for them. She is simultaneously fierce and gentle, compassionate and ruthless. That is all very awesome. Now take these traits, and add them to a younger girl who is closer in age to the target audience. Where can you go wrong? Donna Troy has Diana’s lofty ideals, but has a younger perspective on things. When Wonder Woman gives a speech about equality it can almost come across as a scolding mother. When it’s Donna, it feels like a friend giving helpful advice to help you grow as a person.

But beyond that, Donna is mostly just a girl who feels like she just knows how to handle the world and whatever it throws at her. If you read George Perez and Marv Wolfman’s run on Teen Titans, you’ll notice that Donna is the only Titan holding down a job. She’s got her own boyfriend and it isn’t another superhero, but a teacher without superpowers. And she has enough experience as a fighter not to be afraid of the danger that goes on around her. And like Kitty Pryde, she’s a character that grew along with the audience, going from a young teenager to a young woman; that feeling that you’ve grown up with someone and seen them reach their potential provides an intimate relationship that lends itself to fan crushes.

Mary Jane

#11. Mary Jane Watson

Can I just take a moment to please ask any fans of Mary Jane Watson who have pictures of her where she isn’t undressing, wearing Spider-Man clothes, or showing off impossible flexibility, please put them up on the internet? I love Mary Jane, but man it was hard to find a picture of her that was more current and didn’t make me feel like I was one step away from looking at pornography. And that’s really why I’m doing this list; there is so much more that goes into sexual attraction than just physical attractiveness and these should be realized. A good writer and a good artist should be able to make their characters appealing and yes, even sexy, without showing them undressing. That way, when the character does show off a bit we have an established emotional connection to the character. This is the difference between “fan service” and “cheesecake”; one is showing off the sensuality of a beloved character and the other is just sexual objectification.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s talk about Mary Jane Watson, the iconic girlfriend/wife of Spider-Man. There’s basically two key phases of Mary Jane’s life that are extremely sexually appealing, but in different ways. She first shows up as a confident, self-assured party-goer who is way out of Peter Parker’s league but doesn’t see herself that way. The character has flaws, being a bit stuck up and shallow, but that just makes her a bit more human. And it means all the more when she grows out of that after Gwen Stacy’s death; she was just as close to Gwen as Peter was and that death causes her to grow up a bit. This brings me to other important aspect; MJ and Peter married and spent a very long time as a couple. And as the ultra-supportive, loving wife of Spider-Man she fulfills a fantasy that a lot of people don’t get; a loving, committed partner who is in for the long haul.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #30-21

If this is your first time reading an article from “The Shelf is Half Full” and you are expecting a post full of cheesecake drawings that amounts to click bait, this isn’t what you’ll find here. I sincerely hope that isn’t disappointing. This list is more of a psychological look at why comic book readers develop a sexual attraction to fictional characters. And while some of you may be thinking that the answer is obvious, it really isn’t. Because thinking that it’s just a sexy drawing that attracts us to a character ignores an obvious fact of comic books.

Any artist of decent skill can draw any character as being physically attractive.

And many of them do, sadly in a way that can come across as being exploitative. There are artists like Gillen Land who is known for tracing pornography to draw his characters, particularly women. But I’d like to think that most artists, writers and comic book fans would rather have their women stand out as being fully realized characters with attractive personalities that transcend artwork. Because ultimately, a sexy drawing is just that; a drawing. And no self-respecting comic reader develops a fan crush just because of a sexy drawing.

Well… okay. Sometimes it helps. But this is about the reasons we invest emotionally in female characters and find ourselves falling in love with them. So, with that clarification out of the way, let’s get this completely subjective and in no way definitive list of the Sexiest Comic Heroines (from Marvel and DC anyway) started.

And yeah, for those wondering if there’s going to be a list of Sexiest Guys in comics? Wait until August.

Wasp

#30. Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp)

Janet Van Dyne was introduced to comics as the girlfriend of Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and possesses similar powers. Namely she shrinks to a small size. But since she’s named “Wasp” she also flies using specialized wings and fires bio-electric energy bolts (“stingers”). Outgoing, energetic and with a love of adventure and “super heroing”, Janet’s personality could best be described as “pixie like”. This plays off of Hank’s introverted, quieter personality quite well, and when they are actually functioning Ant-Man and Wasp are one of my favorite couples in comic books. Sadly, Janet has also been the victim of Hank’s anger problems and his physical abuse. Which, believe it or not, does actually make her more appealing to readers; people feel compelled to save victims of abuse, and if you don’t believe me, look at Harley Quinn.

Fortunately, Wasp doesn’t need to be rescued. Somewhat surprisingly for a character intended only to be a sidekick/love interest, Janet Van Dyne has arguably become a more important player in the Marvel Universe than her ex-husband. She’s consistently been a member of the Avengers and has served as their leader on more than one occasion. These days, she is semi-retired and mostly works as a promoter for the team. Plucky, outgoing and tougher than she looks, Janet is the dream girl for quite a few comic readers.

Polaris

#29. Lorna Dane (Polaris)

I’ve got to be honest here; the green hair does it for me. I mean, there are other things to like about Lorna Dane, but the green hair is one of the smartest character design decisions ever in my opinion. She has a truly distinct physical trait that identifies her character. And no, Abigail Brand doesn’t pull it off as well. Anyway, Polaris is the daughter of X-Men villain Magneto (sometimes anyway, depending on the writer) and possesses similar magnetic abilities. She was actually the second woman to join the X-Men and has a long history as the lover of Alex Summers, alias Havok. For a long time they were one of the few couples that managed to retire happily from the superhero business.

I think the simple dynamic of being the daughter of a mutant terrorist is something that makes Lorna an interesting character. She is, generally speaking, a sweet and gentle person and initially hates that Magneto is her father. However, as she gets older and experiences more trauma, like the mutant massacre, she begins to appreciate his view of things a bit more and often serves as a devil’s advocate to the X-Men. Though she’s occasionally been the same kind of bitter supervillain that her father is, I think she’s most recognizable as a selfless hero. And let’s face it; there’s something incredibly tantalizing about the idea of dating the daughter of one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe.

Silver

#28. Silver St. Cloud

This list isn’t entirely made of superheroes; many of the most famous women in comics have never put on a costume and battled villains. But that doesn’t make them less interesting, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify them from this list. After all, serving as the emotional support for other characters is just as noble, and arguably more thankless. So the first of those characters to make this list is more of a sentimental favorite of mine; Silver St. Cloud. Silver was one of Bruce Wayne’s more serious girlfriends, appearing in several issues during the Bronze Age of comics and actually cracking through Bruce’s armor a bit to form a serious relationship. One of the more interesting things about her is that she is the first woman that Bruce is explicitly shown to have been in a physical relationship with. While some of that is indicative of the time as the comics code was loosening, I like to think that from a canon perspective Bruce was genuinely in love with Silver.

But I think what I admire most about Silver is that she’s not a clueless idiot. She immediately suspects that her boyfriend is hiding something. She’s even essential to solving a case where Hugo Strange tries to impersonate Bruce; she’s so in tune with who Bruce is as a person that she knows it isn’t him and calls Dick Grayson to inform him. And the first time she sees Batman up close, she immediately recognizes him. Despite being in love with him, she knows she can’t deal with the stress of worrying about his life every night and calls off the relationship. This has always stood out to me as a rare case where Batman was in a serious emotional relationship and may have lost his best shot at happiness because of his career as a vigilante. That hits hard and has always made Silver St. Cloud a personal favorite.

Carol Ferris

#27. Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire)

Carol Ferris is the owner of Ferris Aircraft, where future Green Lantern Hal Jordan works as a pilot. And despite the fact that she’s Hal’s boss, she’s also his primary love interest. And yes, that dynamic is one of the reasons Carol is on this list. The idea of seducing your powerful, gorgeous boss is a fantasy for a lot of people; it’s scandalous and therefore incredibly hot. It also puts a lot of natural tension between the two; they are clearly attracted to each other and even get along well. Hal brings a sense of fun and adventure to Carol’s life while she grounds him and holds him accountable for his reckless and insensitive behavior. They are a couple that’s easy to root for and the drama of if they will ever actually commit to each other instead of letting their jobs get in the way provides a lot of drama.

However, one of the biggest marks in Carol’s favor is that she isn’t just another pedestrian girlfriend for the male character to save. Carol has a dual identity as Star Sapphire, a character that was initially an enemy of Green Lantern’s who possessed Carol, using Carol’s love for Hal to power her own ring. Again, more tension, and that’s always a good thing. Later on, Carol has more control of her Star Sapphire persona and becomes a hero in her own right, helping to save the universe on a handful of occasions and even saving Hal’s life a couple of times. Whatever her role, Carol is always a woman in power, and that is exactly what Hal needs in his life. And since Hal is a character that many, many comic book readers relate to, it’s not surprising that Carol has landed a spot on this list.

Amanda Waller

#26. Amanda Waller

Yes, there are some shallow people who will claim that Amanda Waller doesn’t belong anywhere near this list because she is a middle-aged woman of size. Fortunately for those people, DC decided to remake Waller as a younger, thinner character who at least as Waller’s personality. So consider that version for this list if you prefer. As for me, and I imagine most fans of Waller, we prefer her the way she was originally portrayed; large and in charge. Waller is a government agent who primarily works on defending the United States from metahumans, both the villains and the heroes alike. Though she is often written as the antagonist of her books, Waller always has the best interests of people at heart. This makes her one of the most realistic, least idealized, most human characters in comics. And that is why she is so freaking awesome.

Amanda Waller is a woman in power and she has no problem exerting her authority. She is smart and capable and will not let anybody push her around, and guess what; that’s super attractive. Even though she has her fair share of enemies and can be a downright scumbag of a human being at times, she’s always doing it with the best of intentions. She’s a character that readers love to hate, and in some cases, just love. Let me put it this way; there’s a reason DC redesigned her to fit more… um… accepted standards of beauty. It’s because plenty of people were already in love with her to begin with.

Raven

#25. Raven

Marv Wolfman is one of the best character writers in comic books; he works extremely well with large casts, excelling at making several different and distinct characters as possible. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that several members of the Teen Titans make their way on this list. Wolfman was never shy about embracing the sexuality of his characters; after all, his characters were teenagers and marketed towards teenagers and there were a lot of hormones going around. But he was always tasteful, and the male characters were given just as much sex appeal as the gals. But this list is about women, and Raven is the first to show up on this list. And she may be the best example of the psychology of sexual attraction in comics.

See, Raven is an introverted, quiet, damaged character who doesn’t open up about her self or her past very much. This makes her mysterious and makes the reader compelled to find out more about her. Thanks to the strong friendships she forges with her teammates, Raven eventually starts to open up a bit. She never becomes an extrovert; that’s not her nature. But she becomes receptive to friendship and emotion and gives it back in kind, even eventually finding romance with her teammate Garfield Logan, a similarly damaged young man who hides his pain by playing the fool. Raven is a character that lures the reader in, rarely showing vulnerability and forcing us to get to know her to see how beautiful she is. And Raven is one of the best examples of the quiet type who feels emotions strongly but doesn’t show them; and yes, there are plenty of people who find women like this incredibly attractive.

Abigail Arcane

#24. Abigail Arcane

Alan Moore’s The Saga of Swamp Thing is one of the first comic books I’ve ever loved, and Abigail Arcane has always been a favorite of mine. What is it with white hair? Anyway, in those comics she’s young and quick to show compassion and love, and has a very “girl next door” kind of feel to her. Granted, it comes with a sick twist because her closest living relative is one of the most horrible monsters in comics, Anton Arcane. Who once took over Abbey’s husband’s body… and I’ll live the rest up to your imagination. Again, Abigail is a victim, and an innocent one; she inspires our protective instincts. We want to comfort her and tell her that everything is going to be okay, even though we know it never really will be. While I’m not advocating an increase in sexually abused characters in media, I won’t deny that it does create immediate sympathy. As long as the character remains compelling beyond that initial sympathy, it is likely to form a strong emotional bond for the reader.

And Abigail is pretty awesome. I’ve always had tremendous respect for her because she falls in love with Swamp Thing and doesn’t care that he is well… Swamp Thing. He’s a plant. She doesn’t care that he looks like a monster or that she’ll never have a true sexual relationship with him (psychedelic plant sex aside), or that some people will judge her. She’s truly in love with the kind, gentle soul that Swamp Thing is. And it’s hard not to love a character that doesn’t hesitate to fall in love with a man who isn’t even a man. Then she comes back in Scott Snyder’s run on Swampy as an older, more grizzled woman and becomes even hotter. I especially loved how Scott made her hesitant to fall for Alec since the Swamp Thing she fell in love with was a plant with Alec’s memories. There’s loyalty there that is admirable and when she finally realizes that Alec is the the Swamp Thing she knows and loves, it makes her decision to fall in love again all the more powerful.

Mera

#23. Queen Mera

Continuing the trend of extremely loyal people who have gone through a lot of crap by sticking with their loved one, we now have Aquaman’s wife Mera. The redhead queen of Atlantis is a superhero in her own right, possessing the same strength and durability that Arthur has in addition to specialized combat training and hydrokinesis; the ability to control water. This makes Mera one of the few examples of a superhero’s significant other who is able to fight alongside that superhero. Mera is awesome and I love having her as Aquaman’s partner. And there’s plenty of appeal in a fierce fighter who commands respect and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. Not even Arthur’s.

Arthur and Mera have been through a lot together; they have lost children, Arthur has died and come back from the dead, Mera has succumbed to madness and served as an enemy to Arthur from time to time. It’s an exaggerated scale, but they are an example of a couple who have gone through real problems and yet still care for each other. They always come back to each other because they love each other and want to be together. It’s love through adversity, and without getting too sentimental, it’s hard not to admire them for that. For everything she adds to Aquaman comics and for how awesome she is in her own right, Mera was an easy choice to make this list.

Scarlet Witch

#22. Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

Well, the joke’s got to be made; Magneto must have some good genes, because all of his children are ridiculously attractive. Similar to her sister Lorna, Wanda has the immediate benefit of being the daughter of a ridiculously powerful super villain who you do not want to cross. And like Lorna, Wanda’s chaos magic makes her plenty dangerous on her own; I’d honestly rather cross an angry Magneto. Who doesn’t love a good challenge though? Danger is exciting; danger is sexy. However, Wanda has a considerable edge on her sister because she’s been developed a great deal more, and thus feels like more of a complete character than just a sexy archetype.

Wanda actually started as a somewhat reluctant villain, working as part of the Brotherhood of Mutants under her father’s leadership. Along with her twin brother Pietro, she quickly left that life behind and joined The Avengers, beginning a much more distinguished career as a hero than a villain. She does sometimes wonder if she should side with her father, but usually sticks to her principles… when she’s not going crazy anyway. And like Abigail Arcane, she gets major points for being unafraid to fall in love with Vision, an android that most people wouldn’t consider truly human. Including her brother. Wanda has gone through a lot of problems but still maintains a level of popularity; I think most of us see the good in her and hope it wins out. Combining many of the attributes that got Raven, Abigail, and Polaris on this list, she manages to edge them all out.

Oracle

#21. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Barbara Gordon may be my single biggest fan crush. She’s got all the traits I find most appealing in women. For one, she’s super intelligent and always relies on her brain to solve her problems. She’s kind of a nerd, always stuck in a computer and alternating between extremely shy and awkwardly funny. And she’s tough and resilient; even a bullet that rendered her paralyzed couldn’t keep the former Batgirl down. She recreated herself as Oracle, communications expert and information broker for the Bat-family, the Birds of Prey and even the Justice League of America. And she’s someone who is very ruled by her emotions. When she’s happy, she’s joyful, when she’s angry she’s furious, and when she’s sad she isn’t afraid to cry. She is both strong and vulnerable and I like that a great deal.

Babs, for me, is a perfect example of why this subject is worth writing about. While fictional characters are obviously not real, a good writer can make a character feel real. A good character has a distinct personality, strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears, and meaningful relationships. Fan crushes on comic book characters can actually be a good thing; they help us to identify the important traits that we value in a partner. I fell in love with Barbara because of her intelligence, her ability to overcome obstacles, her loyalty to her friends and family, and her emotional vulnerability. She isn’t a stereotypical bombshell, but she’s pretty and she has a ton of character. And that’s what I want out of any real life partner.

Superhero Spotlight – Wolverine

Since the X-Men debuted in September of 1963, literally dozens of mutants have joined the team for at least some length of time. Naturally, some are going to be more popular than others; everyone knows who Storm and Cyclops, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any casual fan who knows who Maggot is. Don’t look him up, his mutation really isn’t pretty. However, there is one member of the X-Men who has definitely broken out from the pack, it’s the man with adamantium claws. He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.

Wolverine

Wolverine

Wolverine was created by writer Len Wein and artist John Romita, Sr. at the suggestion of then editor-in-chief for Marvel Roy Thomas. It may be a surprise that one of the most popular superheroes of all time actually debuted as an antagonist for another hero: Hulk. Debuting in the final panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 and making his full debut an issue later, the man we would come to call Logan was a mutant with enhanced senses and metal claws. Working for the Canadian government, he fights the Hulk to a stalemate and somehow survives his ridiculous original mask to become part of the “all new, all different” X-Men team that debuts in Giant-Size X-Men #1. Wolverine was now a part of the X-Men, and rest is history.

#181

Logan stood out from his fellow X-Men in several ways. First and foremost was his age; physically in his forties, Wolverine is in actuality much older that that, born in the nineteenth century. While most of the X-Men were young adults with little formal training, Logan was a grown man with a ton of combat training and a willingness to kill those who deserved to be stabbed with his claws. Wolverine was also a victim of experimentation; his ability to heal at an extremely accelerated rate allowed him to survive the process where the virtually indestructible metal known as adamantium was bonded to his skeleton. This process made Wolverine an even more deadly killing machine, and also cost him most of his long-term memory.

The Wolverine

The Beast and The Samurai

The character of Wolverine is a man at odds with dual natures. On one hand, he is essentially a good man, a noble warrior who wishes to protect the innocent. Logan has trained as both a ninja and a samurai, and his body is a lethal weapon even without the metal bones (or the claws). He wants to be a good man, a protector, but this puts him at odds with another aspect of his mutation. In addition to his animal like senses, Wolverine occasionally falls victim to a berserker rage in the heat of battle, This anger has caused Logan to take several lives that he wishes that he hadn’t, and is something he always struggles to control.

Logan is a loner both by the nature of his personality and the fact that his anger makes him a danger to those closest to him at times. Not to mention people like Sabretooth and Silver Samurai who are always trying to kill him. Logan tends to discourage people from making friends with him, but once he considers someone a friend he is an incredibly loyal one. When he first joined the X-Men his gruff, cynical and sometimes violent nature put him at odds with many of the team, but he gradually comes to accept them as his family and has formed several close relationships. He has served as a father figure to Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, and his clone (and eventual successor) X-23. This trait even made it into the movie adaptations where he serves as a protective father figure to Rogue.

Best There Is

The Best There Is

Chances are that is somebody only knows one member of the X-Men, it’s Wolverine. He was the ensemble dark horse of the Claremont era and starred in both a mini-series and a separate ongoing series before the 1990’s. By the time I was first getting into superheroes as a kid Wolverine was literally everywhere; along with Spider-Man and Batman he was definitely the superhero that everyone thought was cool. Logan’s status as something of anti-hero who wasn’t afraid to kill made him stand out and it inspired a new kind of comic book hero. Though one can argue the merits of having so many anti-heroes, it’s impossible to argue the impact Logan has had on the comic book business.

Despite being a relative newcomer to comics with just forty years of publication, Wolverine has already cemented himself as one of the most popular and enduring icons of the industry. In fact, one could make the argument that Wolverine is responsible for bringing superheroes to the point of mainstream acceptance they enjoy today. Hugh Jackman’s take on the character was the centerpiece of the X-Men movies and were it not for their success I would argue that we would not be enjoying Avengers movies today. He’s the favorite of many and certainly a favorite of mine.

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