The Shelf Is Half Full

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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.

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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.

The Top Twelve – Superhero Movies

This list is just my own person favorites and not intended to be a scientific or definitive list. I don’t expect my opinions to be shared by everyone, but at least that should make this a refreshing read, right?

X2

#12. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Not enough credit is given to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films these days. I think the poor quality of X-Men 3 (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) as well as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made people forget that before X-Men released to positive reviews in 2000, superhero movies were pretty much a joke. The Batman franchise was dead and buried thanks to Batman and Robin (1998) and the most successful comic book franchise was Blade. Anyway, the first film was good but the second one was even better. Wolverine’s origins were explored, the tension between humans and mutants took center stage, Nightcrawler was a worthy addition to the cast, and everyone from Mystique to Pyro got meaningful character development. Twelve years later this film still stands as one of the best ensemble superhero movies and arguably the blueprint for The Avengers movies.

Superman

#11. Superman (1978)

The first modern superhero film is still one of the best. The movie told us that we would believe a man would fly, and thanks to the cutting edge special effects, it’s still easy to believe Superman can fly almost four decades later. But more importantly, thanks to Christopher Reeve we believed that Superman could act; his portrayal of the Man of Steel was so different from his portrayal as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent that it was easy to believe nobody could make the connection. To me this is the standard for everything that was to come; it’s also so much better than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that it isn’t even funny.

Spidey

#10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Yesterday I wrote about how awesome Doctor Octopus was in this film and how the movie raised the bar for action in the genre. But there is plenty more to love about Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie. The characters are older and more complex. Peter feels more of the toll that being Spider-Man takes on his personal life, which is probably the most important dynamic of the character in the comics. Harry Osborn really comes into his own in this film as well. While the franchise took a nose dive after this, this is still a high point and I feel is the film that should be most closely modeled when Marvel brings Peter Parker into their cinematic universe.

Ultron

#9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The most recent addition to this list, Age of Ultron is a worthy follow up to the most successful superhero movie of all time and another hit in Marvel’s recent flurry of creative successes. The all-star casts returns and by this point could play the characters in their sleep. Jeremy Renner’s increased role as Hawkeye arguably makes him the breakout star of the movie, but everyone has their moments. The Maximoff Twins worked better than I could have hoped and the Vision ended up as one of the best parts of the movie instead of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ultron was also a strong antagonist who entertained me in ways I didn’t expect. While not as good as the first one, it’s still a great time at the movies.

Logan

#8. The Wolverine (2013)

Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for about fifteen years at this point, but for my money, it’s this film where he gave his greatest performance as the character. I love this movie because it is a great character study and a solid action film and doesn’t try to be more than that. I also enjoy the film for helping wipe away the bad memory of Logan’s first solo film, and for not trying to insult me for being a comic book fan like other movies from 2013. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet I highly recommend it.

CA.0417.ironman

#7. Iron Man (2008)

I remember going to the theaters to see this movie and not having overly high expectations. As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Tony Stark was hardly a pop culture icon. I knew of him mostly because I played War of the Gems on Super Nintendo. By the time the movie was over I was in love with Iron Man and even more in love with Robert Downey, Jr. Turns out I wasn’t the only one; this movie helped launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and made Robert a high profile star once again. And it still holds up as one of the most fun comic movies out there, and is far better than its sequels.

Lights

#6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I remember when Marvel announced that they were doing this movie shortly after the release of The Avengers and thinking that they may have gone in over their heads a bit. Sure, Iron Man and Thor weren’t exactly cultural icons but the Guardians of the Galaxy were obscure even by comic book standards. I expected this to bomb hard, but that is why Kevin Feige is a millionaire and I am writing about his movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was irreverent, innovative and glorious entertainment, introducing audiences to a slew of new characters that almost all comic book fans have come to adore. Including myself. This movie is fantastic and arguably the best launch of a franchise ever.

Batman

#5. Batman Begins (2005)

Then again, this is a pretty good argument too. While I have gained a certain appreciation for the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman, especially Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader, I have to say that on the whole those movies fell flat for me. And let’s not even talk about the Joel Schumacher films. But Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the character in movies was the breath of fresh air that the character needed, the most serious dramatic film based on a comic book to date. This told the origin and training of Batman so well that I don’t think it ever needs to be addressed again.

Future

#4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

It was a long and bumpy road, but the third Bryan Singer directed X-Men film was more than worth the wait. Featuring a story that was loosely based on one of the best stories in the X-Men’s history, this film brings together the cast of the original series with the younger cast from X-Men: First Class (2011) to stellar results. In many ways this is my favorite comic book movie, because it felt like a reward for sticking with the series even after it burned me as a viewer more than a couple of times. Unfortunately, being a movie that runs on time travel, there are some serious logic problems that sometimes distract from the experience, but other than the film is a blast. Especially when Pietro is involved.

Avengers

#3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Here’s a bright idea; take a World War II soldier, a Norse God, Frankenstein’s monster, a female James Bond, a male Katniss Everdeen, and a man in a flying robot suit and make a movie. This should have been a disaster, but Marvel’s careful world building mixed with talented actors mixed with Joss Whedon’s writing and directing somehow formed the perfect mixture for what may be the best comic book movie ever. It’s a miracle that this film works as well as it does. Which is spectacularly. I think I saw this movie around five times in theaters and was never bored, and I still like to throw it in when I have nothing better to do. One of the best popcorn flicks ever put together.

Joker

#2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman Begins was a great… beginning, but it turned out to be a mere appetizer for the most critically acclaimed film based on a comic book ever. The Dark Knight is more of a serious crime thriller than escapist popcorn fun, though it does have its moments. However, this was one of the first movies to take the heroes and villains seriously and show that they actually can be symbols with greater meaning. Even if it did beat those points into the ground. Still, it’s got a ton of great performances and an Oscar-winning Heath Ledger as The Joker, one of the all time great antagonists in cinema; not just comic book movies, but movies in general. It’s a remarkable piece of film making, and it just happens to involve a guy in a bat mask.

Scuffle

#1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If one takes the comic book escapism of The Avengers and blends it with the real world seriousness of The Dark Knight, you get the conspiracy thriller action film called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was a huge fan of the first Captain America film but the sequel was an improvement in every single way. Chris Evans is brilliant as Steve Rogers, there’s a strong supporting cast and a genuinely compelling plot. The action scenes are gorgeously choreographed and feature a lot of practical stunt work, and the film even brings in political concepts from the real world to discuss them. It’s my favorite comic book movie and I think it’ll be a while before anything challenges it.

The Top Twelve – Reasons To See “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Mad Max: Fury Road is a 2015 post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller, the fourth film in his “Mad Max” series of films. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the titular hero, and also stars Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hault as main characters Imperator Furiosa and Nux. It is also my favorite movie of 2015 so far and the best action movie I have seen in years. And if you haven’t had a chance to see it and are apprehensive about doing so, I have compiled an organized argument of every major reason to see this awesome movie.

Miller

#12. George Miller Put 30 Years of Passion Into Making This Movie

Despite being the fourth movie in a series, Fury Road feels remarkably fresh because the last time audiences saw Max Rockatansky was three decades ago. Mad MaxThe Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome are more like cult favorites among action movie fans. My point is that this isn’t a rushed product put out to capitalize on a hot property; fifteen years passed before Miller even considered making another Mad Max story, and a series of problems kept this on the backburner for a long time. Miller had to find a new actor to replace an older (and less popular) Mel Gibson and get funding behind it. There is no reason anybody would go through that period of time without giving up unless it was an absolute passion project.

Nathan

#11. Every Single Character Is Memorable

Whether it’s the excellent costuming and even better makeup that make an impression, or a memorable bit of dialogue or just a guy playing an electric guitar with flames shooting out of it, every single character has something about them that sticks with viewers. Many of these characters border on being savage monsters, yet still have moments where the audience is able to feel sympathy for them. That guy up there played by former pro wrestler Nathan Jones? He has a heartbreaking scene lamenting the loss of his sibling. He’s a horrible villain the rest of the movie, but I still felt bad for him here. There are no boring, bland faces to be seen in this film. When every moment of a movie can stick with you, no matter how small, it’s something special.

Western

#10. It’s a Post-Apocalyptic Western/Action Blockbuster/Art Film

This movie has elements of several different genres, most heavily classic Westerns. We’ve got a hardened hero in a harsh environment that we know very little about. The plot focuses on him helping innocent civilians transport precious cargo on a road where everyone is trying to steal it; a post-apocalyptic caravan heist. It also is unafraid to be “B Movie”, an action film that is certainly indulgent that runs on “Rule of Cool”: it assaults your senses in the best way possible. And surprisingly, it actually is an “art film”, a movie that is made to appeal to serious movie analysts. It doesn’t spoon feed plot details to the audience, it lets the scenery and lighting tell the emotions of the characters. It’s not Under The Skin by any stretch but it’s definitely a film made for students of the art form.

Immortan Joe

#9. Immortan Joe Is A Spectacular Villain

I love this guy. I am a huge fan of villains in general and love really strong antagonists; Immortan Joe is the best new bad guy I’ve seen in a movie since Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. He has a great introduction where he is shown to be vulnerable yet feared and even worshiped by the people he is leading; it’s like Darth Vader without any of the redeeming qualities. This mask is a brilliant prop, and Hugh Keyes-Byrne is able to do a lot of acting with just his voice and his eyes. He has spectacular one-liners and is just utterly unlikable and for that I love him.

Action

#8. George Miller and John Seale Know How to Shoot Action

If you’re one of those people who is tired of seeing poorly choreographed and terribly shot action scenes in movies, you will adore this film. The cinematography in this film is absolutely incredible; wide shots clearly capture all of the action, all of the characters are visually distinct so we can tell what is going on, and the action is creative and exciting throughout. Most of it is also practical stunt work; there are real people doing these insane action scenes with real props on real sets and that just makes the film work so much better than CGI does. George Miller’s direction is key here, but John Seale’s cinematography cannot be downplayed either.

Color

#7. It’s the Brightest, Most Colorful Post-Apocalyptic Setting Ever

Post-apocalyptic films and TV shows are nothing new, and they are usually appropriately bleak and harsh. Mad Max: Fury Road is no exception, but George Miller understands that you don’t need a dark, muted color palette to have a harsh, gritty atmosphere. The blue sky and yellow deserts work perfectly well in getting across the idea that this world is hostile, and allow the greys, browns, whites and blacks of the characters and vehicles to stand out. When some other color like the occasional green of vegetation or the orange-red flames from explosions show up, they stick out brilliantly. The film just looks gorgeous.

Quiet

#6. Dialogue is Both Minimal and Memorable

Another key element borrowed from Westerns is the way dialogue is handled in this movie. There are long stretches where nothing is spoken, allowing for the action scenes to tell the story or for the actors to use their body language to show what our characters are going through. One of my favorite scenes is when Max and Furiosa first meet each other; it’s an incredibly tense situation as they don’t know if they can trust each other but are desperate to survive. There is very little dialogue between the characters in this set and yet there is a lot told to the audience by how they silently interact with each other. Another key element in the script is that the villains are more talkative and loudly scream their lines; they are more like savage beasts than humans. Conversely, the heroes have a more restrained, weary quality to their voice, as they are victims of the world. It’s a brilliant but subtle way of helping distinguish the characters.

Adrenaline

#5. Two Hours of Adrenaline-Fueled Action

This movie is just an incredible ride from beginning to end. The action scenes are plentiful but varied; they are filled with nail-biting tension and insanely cool ideas. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun watching a movie, or having the kind of urgency to go back to the theater to see the same movie again as I do now. Movies like this are why people go to a movie; to lose themselves in a world for two hours and be absolutely enthralled the entire time. If you want to go to the theater to have a good time, see this movie.

Max

#4. Max Rockatansky is a Vulnerable Hero

The worst thing an action film can do to the audience is have a character who is invincible. Yes, an action hero has to be capable of pulling off incredible feats and be able to deal with pain. But they have to feel pain in order for us to empathize with them and believe in their physical and mental toughness. Max Rockatansky is extremely vulnerable in this film, getting captured in the opening scene, being tortured and then enslaved. He also is emotionally vulnerable, haunted by survivor’s guilt and clearly having problems with trusting people or even empathizing with them. Not because he’s a bad person, but because he’s trying to survive and has to look out for himself. Max suffers, but he also triumphs; he is a perfect action hero.

Furiosa

#3. Charlize Theron is Brilliant as Imperator Furiosa

While the title is Mad Max: Fury Road and Tom Hardy is excellent as the titular lead, Charlize Theron is the one who steals the show. Imperator Furiosa is the one driving the plot; she orchestrates a plan to rescue Immortan Joe’s slave wives from their life of servitude and carries it out to the best of her ability. She shows savvy and determination, toughness and passion; she’s just a great character all around. Theron gives a restrained performance that pulls the viewer in, and that only makes the moments where she breaks down even more powerful. She is one of the absolute best female protagonists in any action movie I can recall, which brings me to another key point about this movie.

Women

#2. Women Are Treated With Respect By The Filmmakers 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a violent, gritty action film designed to appeal to a predominantly male audience. It is set in a world where women have absolutely no freedom or rights, and are treated more like cattle than people. Older women have their breast milk harvested to feed Immortan Joe’s war boys. The younger woman are slave wives, called “Breeders” explicitly throughout the film to emphasize this point; these women are forced to have sex and produce children by Immortan Joe. One would think that a world so hostile to women would be the last movie that one could describe as “feminist”. Yet while the world treats women as objects, the script, the director, and the camera work does not. There are at least eight major female characters in this movie, each with a distinct personality. While they don’t always agree with each other, they are all trying to help each other.

And despite the fact that five of them are in very minimal clothing and one of them has a scene where she is fully naked, the women are never shot in a way that seems exploitative. There is a scene with five half-naked women and a water hose and it doesn’t feel pornographic in the least. That’s a tremendous feat and a tribute to the script and the way these women are shot. George Miller is not trying to titillate the male audience with sexual objectification; this is a movie about women who are treated as property fighting for their freedom.  It’s refreshing to see a movie that is so obviously designed for a male audience also be respectful of female characters and promote a message of gender equality. And it’s a smart business move too; women are far more likely to enjoy a movie where they don’t see women treated as toys for the men. As the girls say on more than one occasion, “We are not things!”

Survival

#1. The Themes Of Survival, Moral Decay, Freedom and Redemption

Despite being an over-the-top, often campy, explosion and violence filled movie, Fury Road has a surprising amount of thematic depth to it. The core theme is survival; the world has ended and everyone has limited resources, so they have to fight just to live another day. This situation has led to moral decay; Immortan Joe and the War Boys are little more than beasts, violent and cruel and only out for themselves. The worst of humanity is on full display, and not even our heroes are immune to it. Max and Furiosa are at each other’s throats until it becomes clear they have to work together to survive, and they still struggle to make that decision. The film also explores the difference between merely surviving and finding more to life than surviving. The women are slaves who desire freedom and will forsake safety to have it. Joe’s War Boys blindly follow him as an act of faith, hoping to go into Valhalla, a better place than the world they live in. Max and Furiosa want to find a place to call home, something they have had stolen from them. And they are also looking for redemption; they’ve both failed themselves and others, but perhaps they can find redemption in their actions on this day.

These are powerful, universal themes that anybody can relate to. You may not notice them because the film is so in your face with the action, but this allows those ideas to sneak in under your skin and stick with you after the shock and awe wears off. There are a lot of ideas worth discussing in this film, and that depth is what makes it more than just one of the best action films of all time. It’s just a great movie, period.

The Top Twelve – Original Star Wars Characters

When I talk about my love for Star Wars, most of it is relegated to my affection for the original trilogy of movies: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. While there are things from the prequel trilogy that I do enjoy, my feelings are generally negative. As for the expanded universe, very little has caught my attention; the only thing I really got into was Knights of the Old Republic. But the original movies hold a special place in my heart, and rather unexpectedly have become a pretty major part of my blog since I started writing.

I love the story, but I really love the characters, so I thought it was only fitting for the second edition of my “Top Twelve” countdown lists should be about Star Wars and the characters in. This list is a mix of my personal enjoyment of the characters as well as a more objective analysis of how well defined and developed the characters are. Also of note, this only refers to the original trilogy; while many of the characters appear in the prequels (some in major ways), those movies and the character development (or damage) will not be factored in for the sake of this list.

Jabba the Hutt

#12. Jabba the Hutt

Jabba the Hutt is first mentioned in Star Wars as somebody who Han Solo owes money to. This debt provides Han Solo’s entire motivation for Han’s charter flight to the doomed planet of Alderaan. We get the impression that Jabba is an extremely powerful crime lord and not the sort of person one would want to cross. When the bounty hunter Boba Fett captures Solo and takes him to Jabba to collect on the bounty, we are finally granted the opportunity to see Jabba on screen. The heroes’ quest to rescue Solo from Jabba’s clutches takes up most of the first half of Return of the Jedi, and we see that Jabba is more nightmarish than we imagined. A hutt is an enormous slug-like alien, grimy and ugly and if Jabba is any indication, clearly not wanting for anything. Jabba’s palace, the cast of characters and Jabba himself create one of the most memorable atmospheres in Star Wars, and he was definitely a memorable villain.

Chewbacca

#11. Chewbacca

Chewbacca is Han’s extremely memorable co-pilot, a wookiee who brings both brawn and brains to the team. Throughout the trilogy Chewie is shown to be a capable pilot and mechanic, an intimidating physical presence, and most importantly, a loyal and caring friend. Chewbacca is a triumph of movie making; it took Peter Mayhew’s physical presence and acting, a great costume design, animatronics and stellar sound effects to bring Chewbacca to life. The fact that he is such a fully realized character despite having no words we can understand is really pretty incredible.

Emporer

#10. The Emperor

Want to know how to make a great villain that perfectly sums up most people idea of The Devil? Look no further than the Emperor; despite only appearing for one brief scene in The Empire Strikes Back and the last half of Return of the Jedi the Emperor makes an indelible impression on the story and its main character. While Darth Vader is the primary bad guy in the series, the Emperor is a perfect example of “the bad guy behind the bad guy”. Vader is the weapon, but the Emperor calls the shots. He’s creepy, manipulative, sadistic and tremendously entertaining.

Artoo

#9. R2-D2

Everyone’s favorite little astromech droid, R2-D2 is one of the first two major characters we are introduced to in the original Star Wars film, where he is tasked with bringing a message from Princess Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Artoo tends to go wherever the action is, proving to be an invaluable asset to Luke Skywalker and company. He helps Luke on his mission to destroy the Death Star, accompanies him to Degobah for his Jedi training, helps our heroes escape from Cloud City and Jabba’s palace, and nearly succeeds in disabling the second Death Star’s protective shield. He’s extremely useful and even more endearing. I haven’t met any Star Wars fan who doesn’t love this guy.

Lando

#8. Lando Calrissian 

Most of the key heroes in the Star Wars trilogy are introduced in the original film, but The Empire Strikes Back does introduce us to new characters, which essentially fill voids from the first movie. Han Solo was the morally gray space pirate in the first movie, but by the end of it he is a hero who has saved his friends. In The Empire Strikes Back he is put in the position of being a hero, taking care of C-3PO and Princess Leia as the Millineum Falcon is pursued by the Empire. With Han now playing the hero, Lando brings back the morally gray aspects that Han did. But he is his own stand alone character, in many ways opposite of Han. He is charismatic, outgoing and puts other people ahead of himself, but he makes compromises that make him almost become an unwilling villain. Lando is perhaps our greatest insight in how the Empire controls the rest of the galaxy who aren’t openly rebelling; he is pressured until he finally fights back to save his friends.

Yoda

#7. Yoda

With Obi-Wan Kenobi becoming a Force ghost after the events of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was a student without a master. In The Empire Strikes Back introduced us to the Jedi Master Yoda. A diminutive alien brought to life by the voice and puppetry of Frank Oz, Yoda initially introduces himself as a comedic, useless and potentially insane old creature that Luke meets on Degobah before revealing who he truly is. Yoda is a source of some of the movie’s best humor, but more importantly he is the one who teaches Luke (and us) how the Force works and the way Jedi are expected to act. Yoda taught us to be patient, to not give into our fear and hate, to embrace knowledge, and to never judge people by their appearances. He is iconic for a reason; the character, as he was presented in these movies, was almost flawless.

Threepio

#6. C-3PO

C-3PO is our guide and narrator in the Star Wars universe; the character with the first line in the series and the one who goes on these wild adventures while being more or less unable to affect the outcome of the events going on around him. He is as helpless as we are, and often as confused and afraid as we are, so we connect with him. But aside from just being an audience surrogate, C-3PO has a well-defined character; prissy, worrisome, and bumbling, he is great comedic relief who plays very well off of the characters around him. And he has the essential duty of translating Artoo’s chirps and beeps for us. To me, it isn’t Star Wars without Threepio.

Kenobi

#5. Obi-Wan Kenobi

While Yoda was an excellent new mentor for Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi was the original and still the better of the two… slightly. We are introduced to Kenobi as “Old Ben Kenobi”, an old man who lives in a desert. He takes Luke Skywalker under his wing, reveals that he was friends with Luke’s father, and manages to enlist Luke on his quest to save Princess Leia. Alec Guiness’ performance is really what makes this character work, but Obi-Wan is an essential character who helps set the stage for the mythology of the franchise and starts Luke on his quest to become a hero.

Leia

#4. Princess Leia 

It speaks extremely well of the strength of Star Wars’ characters that a character as awesome as Princess Leia could only make it to the number four spot. Princess Leia starts as an actual damsel in distress; by which I mean, she’s a woman who is captured by forces she can’t defeat and needs to be rescued by allies. We know she can take care of herself; she’s smart and tough and can handle a blaster, but she’s got the whole Galactic Empire breathing down her neck. Once she’s free, she helps to save her rescuers on more than one occasion, and in the last two movies she is anything but weak. I will get more into Leia’s progression from damsel to rescuer in a later post, but I will simply say this: Leia is perhaps the golden standard for strong female characters in blockbuster movies. And she is one of the coolest, most capable princesses ever.

Solo

#3. Han Solo

Some will balk at Han being ranked so low on this, and I can understand that sentiment; Han Solo is my favorite character from Star Wars. However, in terms of importance and overall character development, I feel he’s a notch below the two people I put ahead of him. Han is one of the most clearly defined and iconic characters in cinematic history; cocksure, selfish, ruggedly charming. He’s the definitive rogue, the guy who gets by on his smarts and his guts and a lot of dumb luck. Solo does make the transition from self-absorbed crook to a loyal friend and freedom fighter, but he never loses his edge. That’s why we love him. He brings a unique element to the heroes of Star Wars and is arguably the most memorable character from the movie.

Vader

#2. Darth Vader

For those who have not seen Star Wars (and there are surprisingly large amount of people who haven’t), I will not spoil any of the exact details of Darth Vader’s character arch. What I will say is that Darth Vader is a magnificent villain, with an iconic physical presence and fantastic voicework from James Earl Jones that make him extremely intimidating. He goes from being kept on a leash in Star Wars to being the active antagonist of The Empire Strikes Back, a film which brings us new revelations and shows that Vader is a real person behind the mask. The sympathy and character shift make Vader one of the most compelling characters in Star Wars, but it is his image that is what is most iconic; when people think of Star Wars, I imagine that Vader’s look, voice and the signature breathing sound effect are what first come to mind.

Luke Skywalker

#1. Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker is the character that I most readily identify with, but probably the character I took the longest to appreciate. I was always more drawn to the “cooler” characters of Han and Yoda and even Darth Vader. Now that I’m older and have been more involved in creative processes and understand what makes good writing, Luke’s greatness as a character is much more obvious. No character starts lower, grows more, or reaches greater heights that Luke. He starts as a poor kid on a backwater planet with no attainable goal in sight. Then he starts training to becoming a Jedi, and becomes a hero of the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire. He finds strength in his friends and his allies, but also learns to embrace his own strength. When we first see him he is angry and reckless, but by the end of the series he not only shows his vulnerability, but shows that there is strength in compassion. In short, he starts out as someone like us, but grows to be what we all aspire to be; a hero. And an awesome, swaggering, powerful one at that.

The Top 12 Batman Villains

Batman is one of the longest running characters in the history of comics, and there are many reasons why he has been so successful. One of the main reasons is that he has, without reasonable debate, the best rogues gallery of any superhero. Here, I’m counting down my Top Twelve Batman Villains, based on a combination of factors such as quality of the character, their presence in popular culture, and personal preference. But the main determining factor was “how well does this villain work in contrast to Batman?” A strong protagonist-antagonist relationship is one that helps both characters come out looking better at the end of the day.

Clayface

#12. Clayface (Basil Karlo/Matt Hagen)

Choosing the#12 spot was not easy, and basically boiled down to personal preference. Other characters that were considered include Killer Croc, Mr. Zsasz, The Red Hood, Man-Bat and Black Mask. But there’s something about Clayface that just speaks to me as a reader. I am a fan of monsters (think Frankenstein and the Wolfman) and I also enjoy villains who have a tragic backstory that makes me feel for them. Clayface fits both of these bills nicely. While the original Clayface was simply an actor named Basil Karlo who used make-up to make his face look however he wanted, the Clayface most people recognized was Matt Hagen, a treasure hunter who turns into a massive shapeshifting blob of mud. My favorite interpretation of the character is from Batman: The Animated Series, where Hagen’s name and powers are used, but he is given Basil Karlo’s backstory. Clayface is also a rare Batman villain who can challenge him physically, adding an extra element of danger to stories involving him.

Freeze

#11. Mr. Freeze (Victor Fries)

Very few Batman villains benefitted more from Batman: The Animated Series than Dr. Victor Fries, a scientist who suffers through a horrific accident that turns him into a being that has to stay at zero degrees in order to survive. Taking on the alias of Mr. Freeze, Victor creates a survival suit and a cold gun capable of rapidly freezing anything to terrorize the people who ruined his life. Originally a one-note character from the Silver Age named Mr. Zero, the television show fleshed out the character and in turn made him one of the most sympathetic bad guys of all time. In addition to his accident, it was revealed that Victor’s primary motivation for his crimes was to raise money to save the life of his wife Nora, the victim of a rare disease. To save her life, he had her chryogenically frozen, only to be made into a monster by those same chemicals. He is a villain motivated by love and loss; in many ways, a representation of what Batman could become if he allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment.

Harley

#10. Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel)

Almost from the moment she arrived on our television screens as The Joker’s perky but psychotic girlfriend, Harley Quinn started accumulating a fanbase that has turned her into one of DC’s most successful marketing machines despite only being around for about two decades. Funny, dorky, and more than a bit off of her rocker, Harley brought a new layer to The Joker but more impressively carved a niche for herself. Her mad, inexplicable love for the madman allowed DC to explore an emotionally and physically abusive relationship in a complex way, something that I am sure has contributed to Harley’s popularity. The reason she is low on the list is that she very quickly became an anti-hero because of how easy she is to root for, and because ultimately, she’s not that much of a Batman villain. She’s gone up against the Bat a couple of times, but she is mostly a character that contrasts with The Joker and more importantly, a compelling character in her own right.

Riddler

#9. The Riddler (Edward Nigma)

Conundrums and puzzles are obsession of Edward Nigma, perhaps the smartest idiot in the DC universe. Intellectually superior to most, his narcissism compels him to leave clues to his crimes in the forms of riddles. While he is smart enough to fool the Gotham Police most of the time, he is rarely ever a match for Batman. While not a physical threat, Riddler is perhaps the best villain for one of the most important roles that Batman plays; the Detective. Requiring an intelligent and creative writer in order to use effectively, Riddler is somewhat underutilized but still has a place among Batman’s greatest rogues because when he’s done right, he’s just a brilliantly entertaining character. I also think readers identify with him as he tries to think of a problem that Batman cannot solve.

Bane

#8. Bane

Bane was one of the hottest villains in comics when I was a child; the brand new menace to Batman who was both a mental and physical threat. Bane’s greatest story was his debut story; a brilliant strategist with a burning hatred of Batman, he planned a massive escape from Arkham Asylum that stretched the Batman to his absolute limits as he battled every major foe he’d ever been put up against. Knowing that Batman was Bruce Wayne, Bane waited until he was was physically exhausted before assualting him in his home, breaking Batman’s back in one of the most famous Batman moments ever. While his intelligence and physical skills are already impressive, Bane’s most unique source of power is “Venom”, a unique blend of steroids that exponentially increases his strength. While there aren’t many great Bane stories aside from that debut, he made an incredible first impression and dominated Batman comics for the better part of two years.

Harvey

#7. Two-Face (Harvey Dent)

Harvey Dent was once the handsome, noble and popular District Attourney of Gotham City, one of Batman’s strongest allies in his fight against crime. However, Harvey carried a dark secrect, a dual personality that was one of the most sadistic men in Gotham. When a vat of acid was thrown in his face during a trial, Harvey was left physically scarred on the left side of his face and his personality was split down the middle. A criminal mastermind whose every deed, good or ill, is determined by the flip of a two-headed silver dollar, Two-Face is an interesting look at duality. He was a noble man on a crusade for justice, much like Batman, but one bad day turned him into a monster, albeit one who still occasionally acts on the side of good when his better nature wins out. I think the story of how Harvey becomes Two-Face will always be a compelling tragedy, but I do think that the villain only has a limited amount of use after that point.

Penguin

#6. The Penguin (Oswald Cobblepott)

While most of Batman’s rogues serve as twisted reflections against Batman, Oswald Cobblepott is more of a dark reflection of Bruce Wayne. Born poor and ugly but determined to improve his lot in life, the man who would come to be called The Penguin fought his way through Gotham’s criminal element to become one of the most influential crime lords in Gotham. Known for having an element of class but also ruthless cruelty, Cobblepott is kind of Batman’s version of Lex Luthor; more interesting as a guy that Bruce can never quite put away but is always fighting against. He’s also an interesting example of how a character can have a sympathetic backstory without being sympathetic; he’s a cruel, heartless man and I love him for it.

Ivy

#5. Poison Ivy (Pamela isley)

Poison Ivy is probably my second favorite Batman villain, a femme fatale who is one of the most powerful female villains in comics. Possessing the ability to manipulate plant life to her will and also producing deadly toxin through her lips and pheramones that no man (or woman) can resist, Pamela Lillian Isley is truly a beautiful nightmare. She’s also a great analysis of extremism; Bruce Wayne is not unsympathetic to taking care of the environment, but Ivy values the lives of plants more than people. Ivy just stands out as a unique character in the Batman pantheon and I think that’s what draws me to her; she’s different and fantasticly so.

Demon's Head

#4. Ra’s al Ghul

Ra’s al Ghul is the Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant man with a twisted sense of morality who wants to remold the world into one that fits his vision of perfection. Nearly immortal thanks to numerous baths in mystical pools called Lazarus Pits, Ra’s possesses near infinite resources and limitless ambition. While he views Batman as his rival, he also views him as his equal and would like to sway to his point of view, inheriting the earth as the bride of his daughter Talia. Ra’s is a character that I’ve personally never been fond of, but I respect that he is a great concept for a villain and has been a part of some of Batman’s best stories.

Catwoman

#3. Catwoman (Selina Kyle)

I debated whether to put Selina on this list at all, since she is less of a villain these days and more of an anti-hero; however, I think that her role as an antagonist to Batman is a crucial element to the character that can’t be ignored. If nothing else, she is one of the most essential characters to the Batman mythology, giving the character a gray area of morality in a world where most people are either wholly good or wholly evil. Selina is a little of both. Catwoman is one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, and one of my favorites, but when it comes to the best Batman rogues, two men are superior foes in my opinion.

Crane

#2. Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane)

Scarecrow is my favorite Batman villain and it really isn’t close. The master of fear is perhaps the truest dark reflection of Batman; both men use fear as a weapon, but Crane uses it against the innocent. He is the one preying on the fearful, and that makes him the perfect antagonist for Batman. One of the reasons that Scarecrow is one of my favorites is that his character is unsettling and terrifying psychologically, not just physically. This is a man who enjoys to torture people through horror, and often targets children. And what’s perhaps scariest is that Jonathan Crane is not psychotic or even sociopathic. He has a full grasp on what he is doing, but does it deliberately. He is just a screwed-up, evil human being.

Joker

#1. The Joker

The Clown Prince of Crime is Batman’s greatest nemesis, a ruthless psychotic monster obsessed with killing Batman and willing to go to any means necessary to do it. If you want to know how screwed up of a place Gotham City is, the greatest hero is a man who dresses like a demon and the most vile terrorist is a man dressed as a clown. Batman is stoic, The Joker is always laughing. They play off each other perfectly because they have absolutely nothing in common, except that they will never budge. Joker is also one of the all-time greats because he is incredibly versatile as a character; he can be an almost harmless trickster suitable for children’s television, or a deranged lunatic that is one of the great cinematic villains in history in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The fact that both versions of those character feel completely true to the Joker character is a testament to how perfect he is an archetype and how effective the rivalry is. He is the obvious choice for the top spot.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #10-1

Finally, I’ve reached the ten greatest moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (in my completely subjective opinion). If you haven’t had a chance to the first forty moments, you can easily read them in the links provided here:

With that out of the way, it’s time to get started on the absolute best of the best. And once again, SPOILERS!

Coulson

#10. The Death of Phil Coulson (The Avengers)

Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. was introduced to us in 2008’s Iron Man as the likable spokesman for the organization. Clark Gregg returned to the role for Iron Man 2 and Thor, and was a good addition each time, helping to tie the universe together when the narrative was still struggling to be cohesive. While he was always portrayed as a man with authority that tended to be politely ignored, new layers were added to the character in The Avengers; Pepper Potts mentioned a cellist who he had been dating and the usually reserved professional became a giddy fanboy around his hero Captain America. When Loki killed Phil Coulson, I have to admit that I was almost surprised how much it affected me; I liked the character, but I realized in that moment that I’d taken him for granted a bit. The death of Phil helped to bring The Avengers together as a team, so it definitely is one of the key moments of the film. However, I do feel like this whole scene is cheapened somewhat by Coulson’s return from the dead in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But for that one moment, Loki may as well have stabbed all of us in the heart. The fact that Phil still managed to fire off some sharp quips and an impressive gunshot made the moment even more awesome.

King Loki

#9. Loki On Asgard’s Throne (Thor: The Dark World)

The sequel to Thor was definitely a movie that got better as it went along, and it carried that momentum right until the very end. The final scene sees the God of Thunder talking to his father Odin, relinquishing his right to Asgard’s throne. He claims that he would rather be a good man than a great king, which is a fantastic moment for the character. But once Thor leaves the room, the film ends in the best possible way as Odin is shown to be Loki in disguise. One of the best things about this scene (and a few others building up to it) is Anthony Hopkins’ delivery; he manages to be wholly convincing as Odin the first time the audience watches, but on subsequent viewings we can see Loki’s motives in Anthony’s actions. Marvel has done a lot of cliffhanger endings but none quite as sweet as this one. It’s satisfying to see Loki finally achieve his goal, and it will be interesting to see where the character goes from here… and how Thor will react when he finds out.

Winter Soldier

#8. The Winter Soldier is Unmasked (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

While I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier immediately, I have to admit that I was kind of surprised by how little the titular villain was in the film. But subsequent (and frequent) viewings have made me realize that this isn’t really a detriment. All of his appearances mean something and he comes across as very threatening, and while comic book enthusiasts knew who the Winter Soldier was, I know that the general public was still caught off guard when Bucky Barnes was revealed to be the man in the mask. This event is placed at just the right time in the movie; just when Steve and company think they have all the answers, the good Captain is thrown for another loop right in the middle of an intense fight. The reactions from the two is so perfectly done that it doesn’t matter that I knew who the Winter Soldier was; I still felt that emotion and the scene was one of the best in the movie.

Stark

#7. Iron Man is Born (Iron Man)

Considering that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has Norse gods and talking raccons, it’s almost hard to believe how gritty and down to earth the first thirty act of Iron Man was. Tony Stark is attacked by terrorists while showcasing his Jericho missiles to the army in Iraq, and is forced by the leader of the terrorists to build one of the missiles for their use. To complicate matters Tony has shrapnel trying to dig its way into his heart and the only thing saving him is a magnet hooked up to a car battery. In the absolute worse situation possible, the man born to privilege uses all of his wits, limited resources and the help of a kind man named Yinsen to escape, The scene is genuinely gripping and raw, and Robert Downey is able to show Tony’s character growth exceptionally well. By the time the miniaturized arc reactor is in his chest and the Mark I armor is complete, most of us were already hooked and ready to get into the movie. It was a great scene that started the Marvel Cinematic Universe off on the right foot.

Convicts

#6. Escape From the Kyln (Guardians of the Galaxy)

If Guardians of the Galaxy has one major flaw, it’s that the most thrilling action scene takes place in the middle of the film, not at the end. This scene is amazing; Rocket goes through a plan to escape from the prison and is shown to be essential to the team with his skill set; he’s smart, good with technology and thinks in a way most people wouldn’t. The scene also showcases Groot at both his funniest and most terrifying and has possibly the best line in the movie when Drax explains how nothing goes over his head. It’s chaotic, but there’s a narrative that makes it easy to follow; everyone has something to do and then they all come together. This is the movie in a nutshell; fun, hilarious, action packed and filled with unique and quirky characters. Once this scene was over, any trace of skepticism I had was gone and I was fully invested in the movie.

Angry

#5. “I’m Always Angry” (The Avengers)

With all due respect to Bill Bixby, Eric Bana and Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo is the definitive Bruce Banner in my opinion. From his first moment on screen we could tell there was something special about this performance. Bruce isn’t a terrified man running away from his problems; he’s come to an uneasy peace about the situation he’s in. Nobody can threaten him because “the other guy” is the most powerful and terrifying force on the planet. He’s got a dark sense of humor and well justified paranoia, but one can also see the good man who wants to use his brilliant mind to save the world. Still, it was kind of hard to pinpoint what exactly about the performance made it so different from other people. Then we got the best line in any Marvel movie ever, Bruce chose to become the Hulk, and everything clicked. This moment was amazing and it still gives me chills every time I watch this movie.

Monster

#4. Loki Confronts Odin (Thor)

Thor is one of my least favorite MCU films, but it has one of my absolute favorite moments. In a film that often fails to create genuine emotion, this confrontation is so raw and tragic that it rips your heart out with a spoon. This was Tom Hiddleston’s coming out party as an actor as he was able to portray intense sadness and anger without going over the top, and Anthony Hopkins rises to the occasion on the other end. The sense of self-loathing and betrayal Tom puts into lines like “I am the monster that parents tell their children about at night,” and “No matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard,” are bone chilling. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made me cheer and laugh many times, but this is the only moment that makes me tear up every time I watch it. Consequently, it’s the reason this film edges out Iron Man 3 for me.

Dire Straits

#3. The Helicarrier Attack (The Avengers)

One typically doesn’t equate the term “action scene” with the term “character development”, but a well thought out action scene can actually become a defining moment for a character. The Helicarrier attack at the end of The Avengers’ second act is a perfect example of this and I will argue that it’s probably unappreciated by many. It’s an example of extreme dire straits, and in those moments people tend to reveal who they really are. Nick Fury is a leader; he calls the shots and makes sure that everybody is on task. Bruce Banner sadly becomes a monster, but it allows Thor to be a protector, the one who fights giants. Tony Stark is a mechanic; he immediately starts repairing the machine. Steve Rogers is a soldier who goes where he is needed most, and Natasha is the assassin who is able to track and shut down the man behind the attack; the mind controlled Hawkeye. Every hero is at their most pure here, and that in a nutshell is what makes The Avengers work; amazing action featuring compelling characters we can get behind.

Zola

#2. “A Beautiful Parasite” (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

This is one of Marvel’s most brilliant moves; every comic book fanboy who went to see The Winter Soldier thought they were safe because they knew they twist. The Winter Soldier was Bucky Barnes. We all expected that. So Marvel managed to catch us off guard with this gut punch of a revelation that absolutely nobody saw coming. The return of Arnim Zola was cool enough, but when he tells us that Hydra has secretly survived inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. for over seventy years, it was absolutely mind blowing and one of the coolest moments possibly. It’s the kind of twist that’s more satisfying without any foreshadowing, and it also sent a clear message. Big moments won’t just happen in The Avengers films. The film universe is not playing by the same rules as the comics. And the organization whose presence has been a factor or been referenced in every Marvel film was not what we thought it was. The very foundation of the MCU was shook to its core.

Avengers

#1. The Battle of New York (The Avengers)

It really couldn’t be anything else. Honestly if I were to separate the finale of The Avengers into different moments I could probably fill up the top ten spots using only the last half hour of this movie. But I chose to throw it all together, only giving one moment a separate entry. Everything in here is so great. Tony Stark threatening Loki sets the stage beautifully, the alien invasion is an amazing spectacle, Thor using lightning to zap several Chitauri grunts at once is immensely satisfying, and then Bruce Banner shows up, turns into the Hulk and stops a leviathan dead in it’s tracks with one punch. And that’s just a warm up. The tracking shot where all of the Avengers are in a circle is iconic, Captain America’s natural progression into field commander is brilliantly played, Hulk smashing stuff is truly incredible, and Hawkeye gets to show off and prove it was a good idea to include him in the movie. Everybody gets individual moments to shine, but the most impressive visual is an ingenius tracking shot that follows Iron Man as he flies by Black Widow, blasts his repulsors off of Cap’s shield to take out aliens and flies by Hawkeye as he shoots an enemy down at point black range. Then it continues to follow an arrow shot by Clint and seamlessly transfers to Hulk and Thor wreak havoc on top of a leviathan before bringing it down. This ends in Hulk punching Thor out of frame in what should be the most hilarious use of slapstick comedy ever… but it isn’t.

No, that distinction goes to the confrontation (if one generously feels like calling it that) between Hulk and Loki. Loki tries to talk the Hulk down and claims that he is a god, and Hulk picks him by his legs and treats him like a ragdoll in what is quite possibly the greatest thing humans have ever accomplished. I can’t think of any film moment in recent memory that made so many people so happy. It’s a fantastic capstone to the most amazing finale in comic book movie history. This is what comic fans have been waiting for, not just since Iron Man came out, but since X-Men came out and dare I say since Superman came out. It is truly magical and I don’t think that once in a lifetime feeling will ever be truly duplicated.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #20-11

I’ve crossed the halfway point on this list, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the bulk of it so far. Now we are down to some of the very best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. Many of these were considered for inclusion in the top ten but lacked that one special factor to put them over the top.

So, to recap:

  • The list is completely subjective and based on my opinion; the moments were selected for being notably action packed and fun, or for their emotional resonance, character development and impact on the MCU.
  • Only the ten theatrical Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were considered, not television shows or Netflix series.
  • Spoilers!

Brilliant Escape

#20. A Brilliant Escape (Thor: The Dark World)

The second Thor movie was a notable improvement over its predecessor, but it was still merely “okay” for the first half of it or so. However, once Malekith and his dark elves invade Asgard in an attack that ends in the death of Freyja the film starts to pick up considerably. Freyja is the wife of Odin, mother of Thor and adoptive mother of Loki, so we know that Malekith is pretty much screwed if Thor can ever get his hands on him. But in order to do that he needs Loki’s help because Odin thinks it’s wiser to stay in Asgard and await another attack. This results in one of the creatively structured scenes in the MCU as Thor, Heimdall, Sif and the Warriors Three sit a table going over their plan in dialogue while we see them executing their plan in real time. The real draw here is seeing Thor and Loki back together to play off of each other, and that is tremendous. From Loki’s hysterical Captain America impersonation to the threats to kill Loki from everyone, and from their banter as Thor drives a dark elf ship on a destructive chase scene to the final twist, this scene is just pure fun. Something the Thor movies could use a little more of.

Rocket

#19. A Raccoon Makes Me Cry (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Knowing that Rocket Raccoon was going to be in Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the main reason for my skepticism going in. I knew the character existed and had a cult following, but I always kind of put him in the same category as Howard the Duck. Who also showed up in this movie. Go figure. I just didn’t expect to be able to take him seriously, although the casting of Bradley Cooper as Rocket’s voice was a good sign in my opinion. As expected, Rocket was tremendously funny as comic relief, but what I didn’t expect was that Marvel would be able to make him look capable and add a tragic element to the character that makes him feel real. The scene where Rocket and Drax get drunk in a Knowhere bar and Rocket finally explodes over people calling him vermin really stuck with me. The genetic experimentation that led to Rocket’s existence was not glossed over and is instead referenced as a horrifying event that makes us realize he’s the most broken member of the team. He ends up becoming the heart of the film and I can’t imagine it without him.

Steve Rogers

#18. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Super Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Since the MCU is comprised of Norse gods, men in flying metal suits, aliens in space and giant green rage monsters it is no real surprise that most of the big action scenes throughout the movies are digital effects. While I have a great deal of respect for the hard work and artistry that goes into making a convincing computer generated image, I will always maintain that if an effect can be done practically, then it should be. Fighting that involves people and actual stunts will always feel more real because it is real and that allows us to connect with it a more human level. This is what makes the opening action sequence of The Winter Soldier so riveting; we see Captain America dive into the ocean, climb onto a ship and take down a small army of mercenaries in a scene that is almost all practical stunts. It gives the film a unique identity right away and feels more like a James Bond film than a superhero epic, which in this case is a good thing. This scene is so perfect that they managed to make Batroc the Leaper into an awesome adversary. Not easy.

Avenger Initiative

#17. The Avenger Initiative (Iron Man)

It’s less than a minute, but the post-credits scene of Iron Man may be the single most important moment in MCU. While dedicated comic book nerds knew that Marvel Studios had been planning to make a cohesive universe with characters crossing over, the general movie going public was in the dark. I remember going into Iron Man with no expectations only to fall in love with it. But then I got to this scene and was blown away by what Marvel was planning. Samuel L. Jackson is always great, and I liked seeing Nick Fury, but the prospect of seeing Captain America, Hawkeye and other Avengers characters on the big screen got me excited. There’s an argument that this moment should be higher, but it really is just a teaser, Marvel making a promise we had no clue if they could deliver on.

Tucci

#16. A Good Man (Captain America: The First Avenger)

Stanley Tucci is an actor that I have consistently enjoyed in almost every role he’s been in, and I was very happy to see him in Captain America: The First Avenger. As Dr. Abraham Erskine, Tucci serves as a mentor figure to Steve Rogers, giving him the small, sickly man an opportunity to prove his worth. They have two major scenes together where Erskine shows that he is more interested in Steve’s character than his physical attributes, and the second scene is one of my favorites. He explains what his super soldier formula can do and the effect that it had on Johann Schmidt, while also telling Steve that what makes him the best candidate is really simple; he’s a good man. This scene did a lot to sell me on Rogers character and why he would be chosen to be Captain America. And I really wish we could have gotten more time with Erskine. I still miss him.

Ronan

#15. The Guardians Unite Against Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, is a Kree fanatic and the main antagonist of Guardians of the Galaxy. In a movie that is filled with goofball moments he is one character that is played straight, if a bit theatrical, and for the most part it works. He has a cool look, some good fight scenes and just enough character development that he doesn’t feel hollow as a bad guy. But he’s still mostly just there to chase after the Power Gem to further that ongoing story and to give our heroes someone to unite against and defeat. The finale of the movie sees Peter Quill, Drax, Gamora and Rocket all work together and literally join hands to share the Infinity Stone’s power and defeat Ronan. It manages to look cool and also is satisfying as an emotional level. These characters were damaged loners in a way the Avengers never were, so watching them become friends and almost a family was a special moment.

Red Skull

#14. The Red Skull Revealed (Captain America: The First Avenger)

The First Avenger is a movie with two main characters on opposite ends of the spectrum, affected by the same super soldier serum but in completely different ways. We connect with Steve Rogers because he is a weak man who never gives up and has an inherit toughness and nobility to him that makes him Captain America even before the serum is injected. So it makes sense that a similar approach worked so well for the character of Johann Schmidt. Having a recognizable star like Hugo Weaving play the character was a smart decision; Hugo knows how to play characters that have a heavy dose of theatricality without losing the audience. But what was especially excellent was the way the film carefully laid out clues to the ghastly appearance of Red Skull, letting us know there was something off but not just throwing it out there. This smart foreshadowing, along with the brilliant makeup and just the right amount of digital effects allow us to believe that Red Skull truly looks like this monster. The film could have easily fallen off a cliff at this point but it instead triumphs.

Assembly

#13. Some Assembly Required (The Avengers)

The Avengers has a large cast but four main heroes, and introduces them to us in four very well done introductions that tell the audience all they need to know about the characters if they haven’t seen previous films. I originally was going to include them all separately, but instead decided that the common theme is enough justification to throw them together as one big moment so that I can put the focus on other films. Natasha Romanoff is introduced in a perfect scenario where we get to see her work as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative interrogating Russian criminals without them even realizing it. The scene does more with the character of Natasha than the entirety of Iron Man 2 and removed the doubts of many who didn’t think she could work with the stars of the movie. Fans had similar concerns about Bruce Banner; Edward Norton was not returning to the role and we instead got Mark Ruffalo; one conversation between Bruce and Natasha was enough to show us that the creative team had a good grasp on how to write the character and that Mark was far and away the best person to play Bruce. Captain America’s introduction sees him demolish a punching bag and establishes him as the pure good guy in a dirty world by having him talk to Nick Fury; the conviction Steve has when telling Fury that S.H.I.E.L.D. should have left the Tesseract in the ocean is particularly impressive. And Tony Stark is in a refreshingly new scenario; in a happy relationship with Pepper Potts. Gwyneth and Robert’s on-screen chemistry is always brilliant and having her in this introduction made the movie better, and added a new element to Tony; he’s not just fighting for himself, but for Pepper as well.

Thanos

#12. Thanos Threatens Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)

The Mad Titan wasn’t heavily advertised as being part of Guardians of the Galaxy, but his one scene very nearly stole the show for a lot of fans. While we’d gotten a very vague cameo at the end of The Avengers, this was our first look at a fully realized Thanos, complete with Josh Brolin’s voice work. The scene is very smartly constructed. We start with Ronan talking to The Other, Thanos’ right-hand man who was able to intimidate Loki in The Avengers. Ronan then kills The Other, so we know he’s a big threat if he can so effortlessly dispose of a guy who scares Loki. And then we very nearly see Ronan cower as Thanos threatens to bathe the stars with his blood. Thanos has a ton of presence and without even stepping away from his throne has cast a shadow that looms large over the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Debate

#11. Freedom vs. Fear (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) 

The Winter Soldier is an action movie and a conspiracy thriller, but it also dabbles into the realm of politics, which was a fitting but still shocking decision. What’s perhaps more surprising than the decision to involve political concerns in the film was that the Russo brothers did it so well. This scene allows both Nick Fury and Steve Rogers to explain their points about the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers and whether it is right or wrong to neutralize potential threats before they become real threats. More importantly, the dialogue doesn’t openly support or condemn either side; it simply presents the information in a way that allows us to understand where both characters are coming from and to make our own decision. When written well, a good conversation between two characters can be just as thrilling as the best action scene, and this is my personal favorite in the entire MCU. It solidified Captain America as my favorite Avenger and is one of the first scenes I point to when arguing that superhero films do not have to sacrifice intelligence and relevance in order to be a good time at the movies.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #30-21

It’s time for part three of this epic countdown. We are out of the “good but flawed” territory and down to the moments that made Marvel’s movies really good. I do feel the need to remind everyone that this list is very spoiler-heavy, so if you haven’t had a chance to watch all the movies you may want to do that before reading this list.

Which, again, is completely subjective and only represents my opinion.

Star Lord

#30. Indiana Jones With A Mix-Tape (Guardians of the Galaxy)

More than any other Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy had to immediately establish an identity for itself that would make it stand out among everything else out there. The movie didn’t have the advantage of a big name comic book character or movie star to headline it; it was a space opera with mostly untested stars based on an obscure Marvel property. That can be a tough sell. Fortunately, the first major scene in this film did a lot to give Guardians its own identity. While my title for this moment is somewhat tongue in cheek, Guardians is a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve; this is movie that is fun and thrilling and irreverent and nostalgic. It feels more like Star WarsIndiana JonesBack to the Future and The Princess Bride than most superhero movies. From the opening credits scene with Star Lord dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” to the dashing escape scene to the introduction of the Orb of Power (The Power Gem), this opening scene is fantastic and sets the tone gloriously.

Mjolnir

#29. Thor Is Not Worthy (Thor)

Thor was a film that struggled with its identity a bit. It plays things a little too safe by mostly adhering to traditional superhero tropes with a bit of Norse mythology thrown in for flavoring, when it probably should have been more of a high fantasy epic. Another difficult aspect is that the character of Thor is a spoiled brat when we are introduced to him and other than the fact that he is the title character and is really good looking, it’s difficult to find something genuinely likable about him. However, there is one scene in the movie where the character of Thor is really done perfectly and earns our sympathy. Thor goes on an impressive rampage through a S.H.I.E.L.D. installation on a mission to retrieve Mjolnir and return home to Asgard. When he finally gets there, he finds that he is unable to lift the hammer because he is unworthy. This is where Chris Hemsworth’s acting abilities are first truly showcased; he realizes that he’s lost all of his power and cannot go home and there is nothing he can do about it. It humbles the character and makes him human; once we can relate to Thor on that level, we are able to relate with him as a god later on. And we also get Hawkeye’s debut as a cameo character, so that’s another good thing.

Peggy Carter

#28. A Tragic Reunion (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Captain America can sometimes be a tough character to relate to; he’s an “aw shucks” boy scout type of hero with a perfect moral center, with true conviction in his values that rarely lead to genuine moral mistakes. One of the reasons The Winter Soldier works so well is that it takes this character and throws him in an environment where that kind of idealism is not practical and everyone around him has compromised in some way. It’s a new world, a dirtier, uglier world, and Steve isn’t sure how to adjust to it. But perhaps no other scene drives this point home harder than the scene where Steve visits Peggy Carter in the hospital. While there is a sadness in seeing how she has aged and Steve has not, there’s still a certain level of happiness in seeing these two lovebirds meet again. But when Peggy’s memory fails her we get a true sense that every thing important in Steve’s life is lost. This is heartbreaking, but it also helps set the stage for Steve to relentlessly pursue both new friendships and to recover one that he’s lost.

Brothers

#27. The Sons of Odin (The Avengers)

The Avengers is a film with the unenviable task of introducing a group of characters that all have fairly complex histories in a very short amount of time while still furthering a plot. It has to do this both for new audiences who have never seen the other movies and for devout fans who have seen them all. It can’t be too complicated or it loses the new crowd and it can’t be too repetitive or it bores the ones who’ve seen it all. Thor isn’t introduced until over a half-hour into the film when we’ve already received a lot of exposition already, so it’s all quite remarkable that this particular scene works well on all of these fronts. I have told people that all they really need to see before The Avengers is the first Iron Man and Captain America movies because this one scene does such a good job of telling us everything we need to know about who Thor and Loki are and what their relationship is. While it is a summation of the plot of Thor, there is also a lot of emotion in the argument and we get plenty of insight into their characters; Thor has grown into a much more sympathetic and likable hero and Loki has descended into a madness that even the bond between brothers cannot repair.

Weapon

#26. “The Weapon You Only Have to Fire Once” (Iron Man)

I have always enjoyed this scene. It made me laugh when I saw this movie in theaters and completely sold me on both Tony Stark as a character and Robert Downey, Jr. in the role. He’s charismatic, he’s patriotic, he’s funny, but there’s also the underlying danger of the fact that this is a rich, arrogant man who profits selling deadly weapons to the army. The first Iron Man film does a great job of showing us who Tony Stark was before he becomes Iron Man and it all culminates in this one glorious moment. What I have only recently realized is that this scene heavily foreshadows the entire narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When one strips away the superhero elements and the fun and just looks at the MCU from a narrative perspective, one realizes that it is essentially a story about an arms race. The villains are looking for weapons powerful enough to take over the world and the heroes are looking for weapons strong enough to counter that threat. Iron Man films are all about who has the most powerful weapon, Hulk is a living weapon that wants to be used by everyone except for Bruce Banner, and the Tesseract and other Infinity Stones are literally “the weapon you only have to fire once”. Whether it was intentional or just a happy coincidence, this one scene planted the idea for the whole narrative thread of the MCU.

Captain America

#25. Captain America Is Born (Captain America: The First Avenger)

If you’ve been reading this list continuously you have probably noticed a very high number of moments from the two Captain America movies. This makes sense as Steve Rogers has certainly evolved into my personal favorite Avenger and so a lot of his scenes just resonate more with me than the moments of other heroes. I remember going into this movie wondering how much they were going to keep to the classic origin of Captain America and was pleasantly surprised at how effective it was. Steve is incredibly sympathetic for the first third of the movie and we see what a noble person he is long before he becomes a superhero. This all makes the ultimate payoff where Steve is transformed into a super soldier extremely satisfying, and quietly hilarious when Peggy Carter has difficulty trying not to touch Steve’s new body. The film is also smart by immediately transitioning into an action scene where Steve’s new abilities are shown off.

Groot

#24. “We Are Groot” (Guardians of the Galaxy)

I am probably going to get some flack for rating this scene this low, but I’m going to say it; this moment was a cliche emotional sacrifice and it’s something the MCU has overused. So it really didn’t affect me that much. But it did work, and I want to talk about the fact that it somehow miraculously worked. Groot is a character that I did not expect to click with audiences. He’s a walking tree who says one line over and over again: “I am Groot.”. That is all he says. And yet somehow the animation manages to convey what an innocent and loving presence he is and make us feel for this tree. And Vin Diesel’s voice work is proof that it doesn’t so much matter what is said as long as we understand the intent behind what is said. Groot is awesome. Groot is one of the best things about this movie and I never would have expected that. So, yes, this scene is great because it absolutely should not have worked and yet works perfectly.

Loki

#23. The “Death” of Loki (Thor: The Dark World)

Remember what I said about spoilers? This moment is a double spoiler so if you have not seen this movie please move on to the next moment. Loki is a very interesting character; he went from being a sympathetic but somewhat weak villain in Thor to a charismatic, greatly entertaining megalomaniac villain in The Avengers, managing to be a foil for six heroes and still coming out looking more sympathetic than all of them. That’s unique and it’s made Loki one of the great cinematic characters of all time, in my opinion. The fans have embraced Loki so much that it greatly affected the narrative arc of this film and largely sold audiences on it. The prospect of seeing Thor and Loki work together against a common ally was too tantalizing to miss. Little did we expect that we would have our hearts skewered when Loki was killed saving his brother. Loki is one of the very few villains that could have pulled off a noble sacrifice death and make us care about it, and the effect it has on Thor elevates the scene even more. While the Thor films have their issues, the arc between these two brothers is sublime.

Fury

#22. Fury in Jeopardy (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy film at its core. This makes it vastly different from other Marvel films because we spend the first hour or so not really knowing who the bad guys are. It’s quite different from the villains that are introduced early and loudly declare their clear goal. In order to make that work, the film makers have to create an atmosphere of tension. One of the more subtle ways this is accomplished is in Nick Fury’s arc; he is vulnerable and concerned. This man has always been calm and in control, and even in the utter chaos of The Avengers still came across as being steady as a rock. Winter Soldier is the first time we truly see Nick Fury lost and afraid and that unsettles us. It’s all well founded because Nick Fury is attacked in his car, setting off one of the most inventive, well-shot and engaging car chase scenes in recent cinema. And it’s all capped off with the first appearance of the Winter Soldier; a definite highlight of the film.

Chess Match

#21. Black Widow Outwits the God of Mischief (The Avengers)

One of the great things about The Avengers is that the main villain has only interacted with one of the heroes beforehand, so the bulk of the characters don’t really know how to handle him. He also manages to have a unique dynamic with pretty much everyone. He and Tony share an arrogant and theatrical attitude; they want to be seen doing whatever they are doing. Nick Fury is a master manipulator just like Loki, but he is fighting for the side of good. He views The Hulk as a beast and plans to use him to fight everyone else, which eventually backfires spectacularly. He is the polar opposite of Captain America with absolutely nothing in common, which makes their exchanges great, and he mind controls Hawkeye to set up a personal vendetta. This is all great, but my favorite dynamic is the one he has with Black Widow. They only have one key moment, but it’s my favorite quiet scene in the film. Loki and Natasha are both manipulators and seducers who know how to get what they want by pretending to be weak and waiting for the opportune moment. She manages to outwit Loki and get the information she needs from him, but not before he cuts through her bravado and damages her emotionally. It’s an excellent moment for both and really established Natasha as a great character.

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