Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #36, and this week, a variety of circumstances have resulted in Rod not being able to give me a new question, so to fill in I’ll do something of my own:
Who are my all time favorite fictional heroes, and why?
Not long ago I saw a series of blogposts by another writer counting down his 100 favorite fictional hero characters. I thought the idea interesting and it got me thinking about what I actually consider to be a hero—what qualities turn somebody from just being a character (even a nice character) and make them a hero.
And along the way I remembered something I wrote in an episode of The Adventures of Captain Strong, where the main character reflects upon somebody that he considers to be a hero. He says:
The principles by which he commanded are the ones I strive to uphold: courage, resourcefulness, sacrifice.
And I realized that these qualities were the ones that meant the most to me in a fictional hero—whether it be from TV, film, comics or stage plays.
Courage: The willingness to face danger or fearsome menaces, and especially to confront that which makes you feel weak, helpless or insecure, especially for a good or benevolent purpose.
Resourcefulness: That quality of intelligence, creativity and quick thinking which allows the hero to accomplish their goals even when it looks like he or she do not possess the means to do so. Often it means not being dependent on just one strategy, set of tools or environment to do score a victory.
Sacrifice: The willingness to do what is right, regardless of the cost. This goes a lot into the motives for the heroism on display—in general, the most inspirational heroes go above and beyond the call of duty, and are willing to see things through for the sake of others, or simply because it is a good thing to do.
There are other things that are important, like loyalty, approachability, gentleness and so on, but I think many of these factors can come back to the ones I’ve mentioned.
But of course, when I start applying this to fictional heroes, there are uncountable possible choices I could consider, many of whom would be high in all of these factors. So as I decided to construct my own list, I realized that there has to be a fourth quality, and that is simply how much I like them. For example, people might think that Wolverine, Captain Janeway, or the Lone Ranger would rate highly in some of these areas, but they aren’t on my list because I just don’t like them that much.
So I made a list of heroes I was interested in, that I liked or respected or admired, who I think fit these criteria, and I came up with about 135. (Naturally, this list is also limited to characters that I’m actually familiar with). And then I ranked them out of 1-10 in all four of these categories, and then ordered them. In the cases of a tie, I had an order of preference, with my liking them coming first, then sacrifice, then resourcefulness, and finally courage. Sometimes even then there were ties, which I broke by just choosing which characters I decided were more of a favorite. Finally, I arrived at my list of Top 102 Hero Characters. Why 102? Well, honestly, I was going for 100, but as I was doing so I came up with a couple of others that I’d forgotten and ended up adding them to the list.
And lots of times the results surprised me. Characters I definitely personally preferred still ranked lower others because of the way the numbers came out. I’ve tried not to cheat around as a result and just let the numbers speak for themselves.
And here are the results, part 1, counting down:
102. The Champion of Justice
The Champion of Justice, played by Mirai Moriyama, is one of several characters who feature in the chain of events that make of up the Japanese film Fish Story (2009, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura), and he is the most overtly heroic. Raised from youth to never be helpless or hesitating in the face of danger by a father who was both, he finally gets his chance to put his skills into practice when a strange religious cult takes over a passenger boat, proving himself admirably and taking down the villains even after being shot.
Incidentally, the Champion of Justice actually tied for the #100 spot in the initial rankings, but squeaked out on personal preference over both Kyle Reese (from The Terminator) and Jed Bartlett (from The West Wing).
101. Kira Cameron
Not to be confused with actor Kirk Cameron, Kira Cameron (Rachel Nichols) was a police officer from the future who found herself trapped in the present day when a group of terrorists who were about to be executed pulled off a daring escape. Continuum was about Kira attempting to stop these terrorists from changing the past without giving away her futuristic origins. Over the course of the show, we saw Kira come to realize that some of her convictions were not grounded on truth, as much of the future she was defending was actually based on control and injustice. Her journey sometimes smacked of inconsistent writing, but it was still watch someone so firm in her convictions be willing to make changes as she gained greater understanding about what lay behind them.
100. Gene Kranz
Gene Kranz is the first real-life person to show up on this list, but here we’re talking about the fictional version played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13. Gene Kranz was the senior mission director for the failed Apollo 13 space mission, and ultimately carried responsibility for bringing the endangered astronauts home safely. He demands then best from his people and holds them to highest standards of excellence. His catchphrase in the movie, “Failure is not an option!” is fictional, but it captures his conviction that it is possible to rescue the astronauts, and therefore no other outcome is acceptable.
99. Meg Murray
A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels
Meg is the protagonist of the first two of Madeleine L’Engle’s “time” series, and is shown to be a scared and insecure teenaged girl who must rise up and overcome her fears and her darker impulses, even while she helps to save the universe from darkness. I’m a big fan of the two novels and I’ve always liked Meg for how down-to-earth and relatable she is. She is played by Storm Reid in the recent film adaptation, who did a passable job, though she doesn’t really feel like the character from the book.
98. Luke Skywalker
Star Wars franchise
I have never been the biggest fan of Luke Skywalker, but he’s still a heroic character, with his appearance in Return of the Jedi being the strongest display of that quality. In it, he clearly “mans up” from his previous appearances, leading a daring rescue of his friend Han Solo from capture, and ultimately sacrificing his freedom for the hopes of ensuring a rebel victory while at the same time reaching out to his father and attempting to bring him back to the side of the light. His choice at the film’s climax to eschew the darkness even if it meant his own life is one of the saga’s best moments. Too bad all that characterization basically went out the window sometime off camera prior to The Last Jedi. Luke Skywalker is, of course, played by Mark Hamill.
97. Kermit the Frog
The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie, and overall franchise
Kermit is regularly terrified but he never lets that stop him from pursuing the right thing for his friends, even when they don’t fully understand. As we see in The Muppet Movie he is someone who has the courage to follow his dreams and he inspires others around him to do the same. Kermit was originally played by Muppet creator Jim Henson, and then after his death by long-term Muppet performer Steve Whitmire, and most recently by Matt Vogel.
Run, Lola, Run
Lola is a character played by Franka Potente in a movie directed Tom Tykwer, who learns that her boyfriend has gotten into trouble with some criminals, and finds that she to save him by finding someway to bring him a whole bunch of money she doesn’t have. Along the way, she has to face brokenness with her family and other difficulties to do right by him. And the whole thing involves her running a lot, running as fast as she can, so all the way through the movie she is pushing herself beyond her limits to save the guy she loves (even if he’s a bit of a loser).
95. The Atom (Ray Palmer)
The Atom was created by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. He is a DC superhero who figured out a way to safely shrink himself when he was stuck in a cave, as a way to rescue himself and others. He fought crime for years alongside the Justice League of America, and also helped liberate a group of small yellow aliens from slavery while riding on the back of a frog and wielding a sword. In more recent years, stories have emphasized Ray Palmer as bit of an outsider, as much a scientist than a superhero. Even his enemies will refer to him as “Professor Palmer.”
94. Liberty Belle
DC Comics, especially The Golden Age
I actually don’t have a lot of familiarity with Liberty Belle. I do know that she’s a major character in The All-Star Squadron, a book from the 1980’s which was set during World War II and gave writer Roy Thomas a chance to play in his favorite sandbox. She’s also the mother of Jesse Quick, who is part of the “Flash” family of characters and someone who at one point took on the “Liberty Bell” moniker. Though she was created by Don Cameron and Chuck Winter, I’m most familiar with the character from The Golden Age, the great miniseries by James Robinson and Paul Smith. There we saw her as a proto-feminist woman dealing with the personal and social aftermath of World War II, who at the right time rose up with other heroes to face the greatest menace of their day. It was strong characterization that made me love the character. In the end, Liberty Belle is the hero of The Golden Age, as she was the one to take down the reborn Adolf Hitler.
93. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter
J’onn was created by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa, two comic book talents that you’d think I’d have heard of, but I haven’t. He is an interesting character in the history of DC. He somehow was granted charter membership of the Justice League over the more popular Green Arrow, and functioned as part of the group for years without a distinct personality. Then he left, and didn’t return into much later when he came in time for Gerry Conway’s revamp of the title into the little regarded “Detroit” League. That book didn’t do very well but it helped make J’onn a mainstay of the team and of DC Comics again, and he’s gone on to have an illustrious career with them under writers like Keith Giffen, Grant Morrison and John Ostrander. At his best, J’onn is not just a clone of Superman but a seasoned outsider who brings wisdom, steadiness and a fresh perspective to his fellow superheroes. And he’s also at heart a police officer, who is motivated to use all his powers and skills to stop and capture criminals, because he sees that as his calling and vocation.
92. Virgil Hiltz
The Great Escape
Virgil Hiltz, played by Steve McQueen, is an American soldier and prison escape artist who is locked away with an international collection of escape specialists by the Germans during World War II. Most of these other guys know each other, but Virgil is an outsider. But that does not stop him from using all his skills to help the ambitious plan their leader concocts: to see over 200 people escape in one night and cause chaos and confusion for the enemy. At point, he even deliberately allows himself to be captured, knowing it will mean days in solitary confinement, in order to bring critical information back to the others. In the end, Virgil doesn’t escape (although he gives it his level best with an amazing motorcycle chase), and he is returned to the “cooler”, his solitary cell. But he doesn’t mind, he will just continue to wait it out, until another opportunity presents itself.
91. Sam Beckett
Scott Bakula is the first actor to show up on this list who will ultimately appear more than once. Here he plays Sam Beckett, a brilliant scientist who impulsively activated a time travel experiment that sent him “leaping” through time into the lives of other people, wherein he must find way to set right things that have gone wrong. Sam’s whole story is a story of sacrifice, as he must constantly defer his own hopes and dreams, using all his skills and ingenuity to put himself at risk and improve the lot of others. The last episode even controversially revealed that this process never ended, and he never went home.