And the countdown to my favorite fictional hero continues. In today’s post, we have 10 characters who again are all male, and include in their number four really smart young people, two galactic defenders, two military commanders, three fathers (one biologically, one through adoption, and one both), and one anthropormorphic animal.
30. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin
Ender’s Game and its sequels
Orson Scott Card’s seminal science fiction novel Ender’s Game is all about a young child who is discovered to be a prodigy when it comes to war and strategic combat. He is trained to lead the earth’s defense forces against alien enemy, only to discover (um, SPOILERS, by the way, for Ender’s Game, in case you still want to read it) that one of his computer simulated combat sessions is actually the war itself. And thus, before he knows it, Ender becomes both the savior of earth and the one responsible for mankind’s act of genocide against the only alien life form known to exist. However, Ender finds redemption in being able to save the last remnant of that race, allowing it to live with the promise that in the future both races could avoid the misunderstand that led to their war. In the later books, Ender grows up to become an anonymous “Speaker for the Dead”—someone tasked with the responsibility of declaring the truth about the deceased, whether for good or for ill, and thus helping people find a measure of healing after the loss of their imperfect loved ones. In this role, he becomes devoted to Novinha Ribeira, a woman who has lost both her husband and her son, staying committed to her through all her brokenness, as well as to her children. His commitment to genuinely understanding others, even his enemies, leads him to being instrumental to mankind being able to find common ground with the few alien races that it encounters.
29. Bugs Bunny
Warner Brothers cartoons
Bugs Bunny is the very famous rabbit trickster who was created in the late 1930’s and starred in something like 167 short cartoons up until the 1960’s, plus lots and lots of television shows and movies since. He’s spent a lot of time harassing his enemies and even tormenting them, but they pretty much always deserved it. Often his battle was for self preservation, but there were times he fought for others as well, and even with his cartoonish invulnerability, he faced threats that terrified him. In it all, he always demonstrated cleverness, quick thinking, and supreme ability to adapt to his surroundings to win his battles. Generally, even though Bugs Bunny might not be the first character to come to mind when listing great heroes, he’s so capable and so resourceful that there are few who I’d rather have on my side in a fight.
28. Endeavour Morse
Inspector Morse and Endeavour
The last, most highly rated of the English detectives on this countdown partly earns this position because he is the one whose adventures I’m enjoying the most recently. Morse, as he is generally known, started his existence as a senior detective in a series of detective novels by Colin Dexter. I’ve only read one, and it was pretty good although I don’t really remember it that well—just that Morse was constantly drinking and almost never paying his tab, leaving that for his sergeant to pick up. I’ve seen more of the older Morse in the TV series Inspector Morse, in which John Thaw gave a definitive performance as the title character. There, we see a Morse who is unashamedly educated and an appreciator of fine music, fine food and fine wine, who uses his classically trained keen mind to unravel mysteries and identify murderers, even while he remains abrasive and difficult in his personal relationships.
But as definitive as John Thaw was as Morse, I have to admit that my main connection with the character actually comes from the more recent prequel series, Endeavour, in which a young Detective Constable Morse is played by Shaun Evans. Young Morse is junior officer but a brilliant detective who is only slowly coming to terms with the idea that being a police officer is his genuine calling, and thus is slow to do anything to actually advance his career. He is of course the same educated snob in the making that we’d expect, but with more hope and more optimism for the future. Indeed, it’s sometimes challenging to imagine that this is actually the guy who will eventually turn into the older Morse, but aside from that I really enjoy his adventures and his efforts to identify and apprehend the guilty.
27. Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)
Kyle Rayner is another example of a character whose high place on this list surprises me. I like the guy, but I wouldn’t have expected him to be in the top half of the countdown. But there is something about Green Lanterns, with their will-power based power rings that appeals to me.
Kyle exists as a character because of some peculiar stuff going on in the world of comics at the time, as after about five years of stories following a big “reboot” of his story, DC and their sales figures had decided that it was time to shake things up in the story of the Green Lanterns. They did this by pushing long-time hero Hal Jordan out of the picture (turning him into a villain) and replacing him with Kyle, a brand new character.
Usually Green Lanterns were chosen thanks to their fearlessness, will-power and honesty—but Kyle was selected in-story at random. He became a Green Lantern as a result of a desperate gamble by the last surviving Guardian of the Universe to keep the Green Lantern Corp alive. Kyle was a cartoonist, full of creativity but with no natural pre-disposition for heroics. Instead, it was largely through the encouragement of his girlfriend, Alex deWitt, that he embraces his role as a superhero, and it was her eventual murder that taught him the cost of that life choice.
In spite of all that personal drama, my favorite take on Kyle Rayner came a bit later, when he was part of Grant Morrison’s JLA. There, Kyle was the everyman character in a pantheon of god-like champions. He possessed the power to give him a seat at the table but was constantly in awe of those around him, and even the deeds that he himself was called to do. It was a great take on the character that demonstrated an appropriate degree of both heroism and humility.
26. Reynard “Reynie” Muldoon
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The ostensible leader of the Mysterious Benedict Society was Reynie Muldoon, a supremely clever and intuitive young orphan. Where his compatriots (Kate, Sticky & Constance) are all extreme personalities, Reynie himself is the balance amongst them. With a personality that is quiet and even somewhat nondescript, he doesn’t offer any sort of specialization, but rather possesses a general strategic brilliance that helps to hold together the rest of his team, and finds the way forward in every situation that they find themselves in. And those situations are extremely perilous, requiring all of Reynie’s courage and fortitude to see them through, with basically the fate of the world at stake. The three novels that Reynie features in, starting with The Mysterious Benedict Society, are all written by Trenton Lee Stewart, and give a good portrait of a genuinely courageous and humble young man.
25. Commander / Captain Benjamin Sisko
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Sisko is in some ways, my favorite Star Trek character. He starts off as an angry officer who is pursuing his career while still raising his son as a single dad, his wife having been killed by the Federation’s first major battle with the Borg. At a low point, he takes the job of commanding a space station near the planet of Bajor, which has recently been liberated from a long-standing occupation by the aggressive Cardassians. Sisko is forced to manage a crew that is made up of both Starfleet officers and local Bajoran militia who don’t always appreciate Starfleet’s presence. Added to this is the discovery of a stable wormhole that provides easy transportation to the heretofore unexplored Gamma Quadrant of the galaxy. And then on top of that, the Bajoran religious structures come to view Sisko as a messiah figure, the “Emissary” of their gods, the Prophets (really, non-corporeal aliens who dwell in the wormhole and are not bound by linear time). All of this adds up to the fact that Sisko has the hardest job out of any of the Starfleet captains that have headlined a Star Trek TV show. He’s the only one whose command is fixed in one part of the galaxy, which means he has to engage more deeply into the political, military and cultural dynamics of the local systems then Captain’s Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Archer ever had to. Sisko’s resolve is pushed to the limit when open war breaks out between the power structures of the Gamma Quadrant with the Federation, and at times he finds he must sacrifice even his own conscience to save others. And through it all, he remains a family man, always committed to his son Jake and later, his wife Kasidy. Avery Brooks played Sisko for the seven years of Deep Space Nine, and brought a lot of depth to the part of Star Trek’s most complex commanding officer.
24. Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, is easily the most iconic Marvel Comics character, and just about the only Marvel character that I have any emotional connection with outside of the movies or TV. He is young Peter Parker, a nerdy but brilliant high school student who has the misfortune (or the fortune) to be bitten by a radioactive spider and to gain its strength and speed (proportionately), plus, you know, the ability to walk on walls and somehow know when he is in danger. Spider-Man was created to be a bit of an anti-classic hero (not, to be clear, an anti-hero)—he was constantly struggling for work, constantly struggling for money, constantly worrying about his frail aunt, constantly bemoaning whether or not being Spider-Man was a blessing or a curse. Yet through it all he kept rising above his own doubts, his own self-pity, his own limitations, to not only face evil but also to make jokes in its face. He is one of the most enduring and relatable superhero characters ever. (And of course, he also got romantically involved with a string of super-models, so let’s not feel too sorry for him.)
23. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
Hal Jordan was created by John Broome and Gil Kane back in the late 1950’s, when DC was in the process of reviving it’s superhero properties in new, fancy sci-fi packaging. In the case of Green Lantern, the hero with the magic ring was turned into a member of a galactic police force, who was chosen from amongst all others when his predecessor died. Test pilot Hal Jordan was picked for being fearless and honest, and was in those days, sort of the anti-Clark Kent—brash and aggressive, though still passed over in favor of his costumed persona by his lady of choice. Those early Green Lantern stories were fascinating, with Broome offering lots of interesting sci-fi ideas. But the heart was Jordan himself, as the man whose willpower made the ring do its thing. Over the years, Hal has been portrayed in lots of ways. One of the most popular has been to undercut the character’s essential confidence, and overwhelm him with insecurity or doubt. Sometimes that’s been interesting, like the famed Denny O’Neill social-justice fuelled run of the 1970’s, but often it’s been distracting. The writers of the character in the 1990’s attempted to reverse this portrayal, but it really took Geoff Johns’ work in the 2000’s to make it stick. At his best, Hal Jordan is shown to be not only fearless but also possessing peerless instincts. He’s someone who does not hesitate to jump into the thick of danger in order to win his battles, whose quick thinking and absolute determination to prevail stands him in good stead in a fight. Hal of course was also portrayed in the movies by Ryan Reynolds, but the less said about that the better.
22. John Robinson
Lost in Space
The first John Robinson was Guy Williams, back in the Lost in Space TV show of the 1960’s. Later, the character was played by William Hurt in the 1990’s movie. But today we’re talking about John Robinson as played by Toby Stephens. This John Robinson is a former soldier, who has left his career to follow his family to a new life on Alpha Centuari and continue to be a father to his children, even though his wife has essentially left him. Over the course of the show, the drama shows he and his wife facing their personal problems and renewing their commitment. But it also shows him leaping onto a spaceship that’s about to take off, wrestling with a giant alien eel, and shrugging off a blow from a crowbar like someone flicked him by mistake with the sleeve of their jacket. Because John Robinson is awesome. Indeed, when he tells his son that this other guy hit him with a crowbar, the son is worried…for the other guy. “Is he okay?” he asks. All this makes him sound like some sort of meathead tough guy, but there is a tremendous amount of realistic decency to the character. At his heart, he’s a good man who has made mistakes, and is now trying to do right by his wife and kids, and he’s a big part of why Lost in Space was one of the most enjoyable new series I’ve seen in a while.
21. Invisible Kid (Lyle Norg)
Legion of Super-Heroes
In the early early days of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Invisible Kid was just another character, a guy who didn’t an especially flashy power (like Lightning Lad or Sun Boy) who went on missions just like anybody and did his duty to stop bad guys. But then a young kid named Jim Shooter became the Legion writer in 1966 and he made Invisible Kid the team leader, giving him one of the strongest personalities of that early iteration of the team. Lyle Norg was a no nonsense sort of leader, who knew how to give orders and how to call his team into line (he once punched Ultra Boy in the face to keep him from disobeying a command). He wasn’t as powerful as some of the other members of the team, but he knew how to earn his victories by his smarts. He was also a genius chemist who had actually invented the formula that gave him his super-powers, making him one of the few characters to earn his place in the Legion through his own efforts, and not through either a mistake, a misfortune or an accident of birth. In the postboot era of the Legion, his intelligence and cleverness were even more capitalized upon. Lyle became one of the most capable and perceptive members, who was even used as an example of how useful a weaker member could be when he used his powers smartly. In that version, he was one who invented the Legion’s flight rings, as he could see the practical applications of research discoveries far more clearly than the admittedly smarter Brainiac 5. He was also repositioned as the leader of the Legion’s espionage squad, and was one of the few serious contenders for leadership of the whole team, aside from Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl. Of course, in the Threeboot era, Invisible Kid was insecure, frightened, and easily manipulated, so there’s also that. But otherwise, he remains one of my favorite Legionnaires.