Funnybook Babylon

August 8, 2008

Apples, Oranges and Spiked Ball Mines: “Comic Book Characters” Is Not A Category

Filed under: Blurbs — David Uzumeri @ 2:39 pm

I was recently linked to this list on Empire Online of the “fifty greatest comic book characters.” This isn’t all that different from many of the lists I’ve seen go around, where they throw together characters from every subgenre to create this fucked-up chimera of superheroes, everymen, Warren Ellis-style “yeah he is on a heroic mission and has special powers and people who help him but he is NOT A SUPERHERO”s, and real people.

You know, because you can compare a corporate franchise like Superman, a creator-owned property like Jesse Custer whose influence is limited to Preacher, and motherfucking ART SPIEGELMAN’S DAD.

Entertainment media, please, for the love of God, “comic book characters” are not a remotely useful classification. Top fifty comic book *franchises*? That I could buy. But to compare a corporate-owned superhero, a character in a creator-owned book and a real person is like a Top 50 Film Characters list with Luke Skywalker, Lloyd Dobler and Oskar Schindler. The narrative goals, origins and purposes of all of these characters are so wildly divergent it’s unbelievable, and no self-respecting film mag would build such a list, because they’d recognize the numerous issues with grouping numerous genres together and judging aspects of them on such an abstract and fucked-up metric. “Comic Books” are not a genre, and Superman and Art Spiegelman’s dad aren’t comparable on any reasonable level other than “I’ve got to come up with a dumb list to get my paycheck.” Come on.

I can’t help but feel lists like this are built off of the assumption that all comic book characters should be longrunning franchises, like that’s an unspoken and implicit rule. While the majority of the superhero genre has had the plot dictated by the characters, throwing them into the same hat with characters whose roles and functions are dictated by the plots and aims of a single work (rather than worldbuilding) is such a completely retarded comparison my mind is pretty much blown.

Sorry, this was rantier than usual for me, but… damn.

11 Comments »

  1. Ain’t no blacks, either, and Spawn doesn’t count.

    Comment by david brothers — August 8, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  2. Yeah well when YOU GUYS have a tearjerking comic book written about YOUR horrible period in history maybe you can join the—

    *hurriedly covers up copies of Nat Turner*

    Comment by David Uzumeri — August 8, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  3. What do you mean “you guys?!”

    Comment by david brothers — August 8, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

  4. What do YOU mean “you guys?”

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — August 8, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  5. But to compare a corporate-owned superhero, a character in a creator-owned book and a real person is like a Top 50 Film Characters list with Luke Skywalker, Lloyd Dobler and Oskar Schindler. The narrative goals, origins and purposes of all of these characters are so wildly divergent it’s unbelievable, and no self-respecting film mag would build such a list, because they’d recognize the numerous issues with grouping numerous genres together and judging aspects of them on such an abstract and fucked-up metric.

    Actually…

    Schindler is number 13, below Tom Joad and above Han Solo. Gandhi is only 21, between Spartacus and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Moses is down low at 43, but he still easily beats Batman at 46.

    Comment by Aaron Nowack — August 8, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

  6. I, apparently, had too much faith in humanity.

    Comment by David u — August 8, 2008 @ 10:08 pm

  7. it’s Empire, not Film Comment.

    Comment by seth hurley — August 9, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  8. Aside from the AFI list, mags like Premiere and EW seem to be built on exactly the sort of list you’re claiming they wouldn’t do.

    Comment by Joe Gualtieri — August 10, 2008 @ 12:31 am

  9. […] Custer whose influence is limited to Preacher, and motherfucking ART SPIEGELMAN’S DAD.” – David Uzumeri on the absurdity of top (insert number here) comic book character lists that have become the craze […]

    Pingback by Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Quote, Unquote — August 11, 2008 @ 2:11 am

  10. I totally see your argument–at the same time you know, it’s fucking Empire. Do you get mad at Fangoria when it includes Devil’s Rejects and the Korean War on a “Best Gun-Battles” countdown?

    Comment by Tucker Stone — August 11, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

  11. It’s a silly list, yes. About 25% of it are good picks, the rest of the list seems to have no more logic behind than ‘these characters appear in comics’ (I mean, Emma Frost, really?) I’m also puzzled by the inclusion of Captain Haddock and Obelix. Why are they there among all these British and American characters? If you’re going to bother including European characters, just putting on those two isn’t enough (the same point can be made for Japanese characters).

    Anyway, I believe that there are (at least) two underlying problems with the creation of a list such as this one.

    One problem is that the comicbook is a fragmented form, it contains so many genres and subgenres that any list that attempts to be comprehensive is automatically rendered vaguely ridiculous. The same can be said for any fully developed artform (films, as mentioned in the article, but also theater and poetry). Perhaps the creation of a top 50 list of characters for a form is just an impossible thing.

    Another issue is that there is quite a lot of ‘nonsense’ to be found in comics that still holds an important position in some people’s minds. I mean, if you’re trying to create such a list in a serious way, why put Deadpool and Spawn on it? It’s like the article says, Superman and Vladek Spiegelman can’t be compared to each other.

    I’ve been thinking about what characters would be put on this kind of list if the subject were novels, and for some reason, it’s much easier and less ridiculous.

    A short personal selection of novel characters that could be placed on such a list: Leopold Bloom (Joyce’s Ulysses), Yossarian (Heller’s Catch-22), Holden Caulfield (Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye), Humbert Humbert (Nabokov’s Lolita), James Bond (Fleming’s Bond novels), Victor Frankenstein (Shelley’s Frankenstein), Don Quixote (Cervantes’s Don Quixote). I suppose Harry Potter (Rowling’s Harry Potter series) should have a place too. Out of those characters, only 007 and Potter are somewhat odd picks, and even those are still defensible in my mind.

    The same problems raise their heads when making a selection, the novel form is also fragmented and contains many ‘silly’ characters, but for some reason these things don’t become real issues when making a selection for a list of novel characters. No one in their right mind would include Fielding’s Bridget Jones, for example (and yet, Emma Frost is on the comic character list).

    Anyone agree or disagree?

    Comment by Derk van Santvoort — August 12, 2008 @ 6:52 am

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