Our Ten Best- Episode 26: Underrated Comic Book Characters

432px-DominoX-MenThe marvel universe consists of iconic characters who have transcended the comic-book world and have become intrinsic parts of pop culture. However, there are characters who are just as complex as Wolverine and as unstable as the Hulk who deserve to be recognized.

Domino: Her checkered past has been filled with mystery, and the attempts to find answers have only led to a gorgon knot of questions. From her appearance to her mutant ability, Domino stands apart from others in the Marvel Universe. Yes, she is associated with the X-Men through Cable and her various bouts as a mercenary would make for a rollicking game of six degrees of separation, but what makes Domino underrated is her mutant ability. You might think that the writers were scraping the bottom of the barrel when they came up with probability as a mutant power, but no. Instead, what could have been a joke has kept alive her companions and caused her enemies to be eliminated. You don’t become one of the best in the business without a little luck on your side, and Domino is exactly that – lucky.

Wolfsbane: Rahne Sinclair has had a troubled life. From the time we are introduced to her, she has been nearly burned at the stake (once her lycanthropy powers were manifested) by the priest who is later revealed to be her father, has been psychologically manipulated and has experienced tragic loss all in her short life. During her stints with the New Mutants, X-Factor and currently with X-Force, Sinclair is the type of character that is often taken for granted. However, she represents the mental instability and the struggle of what it means to be a mutant with a feral appearance. After all, we can’t all be Beast, and the amount of times she has been used as a tool (at one point she literally devours her own father as a result of his brainwashing her) would cause her to seek the easy way out. It is only her strict religious upbringing that causes her not to end her life – no small feat considering what she has gone through.

Shadowcat: Kitty Pryde has been an X-Men staple since her appearance in issue 129 of “Uncanny X-Men.” With the 1980 comic, the artwork of John Byrne and writing of Chris Claremont brought Pryde on the scene as a highly intelligent 13-year-old girl who has the ability to phase through walls. What could have been a useless character turned out to be one of the few X-Men to “grow up” in the marvel universe. She has been paired with Wolverine and has had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Colossus. Her affiliations with Excalibur and the first incarnation of the New Mutants has made her invaluable to the X-Men mythos. After recent events in Astonishing X-Men, she is currently hurdling through space in a phallic-like bullet. However, no one is completely gone in the Marvel Universe.

Nightcrawler: Beloved by fans of the X-Men, this swashbuckling blue elf is one of the most underrated characters in the marvel universe. With such a rich history, Kurt Wagner should be able to break out of the X-Men’s sphere. Instead, he is pigeonholed as a sidekick on a mutant team. Being the son of Mystique and biblical mutant Azazel, Kurt has the ability to teleport, looks like a demon and is a devout Catholic. Although his adventures with the X-Men have led to moments of levity, action and drama, there is still more to explore from the man who leaves the smell of brimstone in his wake. He got his own series in 2004, which was cancelled before it had a chance to gain momentum. Perhaps a limited run in the “Marvel Knights” comic (which deals with mature themes) would be a place where the “fuzzy elf” can delve deep into issues that have only been hinted at in the X-Men comics.

Moon Knight: Marc Spector has been a boxer, CIA operative and a mercenary – in other words, a perfect vessel for the god of Khonshu. From his introduction into the marvel universe (1975), Moon Knight has struggled to be a continuing series. In one of the incarnations of the comic, Moon Knight carried several personas. He was the wealthy entrepreneur and a cabbie in order to aid him in his crime fighting. With a close confidante in Frenchie and his lover Marlene that helped him keep a tenuous hold on his sanity, it seemed that there were storylines readymade for him. Perhaps it is because Spector has been surrounded by mentally unstable people and at times has struggled with his own sanity that a monthly comic with him as the star has not been able to sustain a long run. He has been paired with the likes of Spider-Man and the Punisher, and has had a love-hate relationship with the Avengers (which caused him to burn his membership card) to aid in making him popular. Still, he has trouble maintaining a comic as a solo hero. Besides having an apparent personality disorder, Spector has no problem killing his enemies. With a man who has no qualms killing people he believes needs to be eliminated, has a drinking problem and has assumed yet another persona, it remains to be seen if his most recent series will have a long run.

Cloak and Dagger: This tragic pair has had a difficult time in the Marvel Universe. Introduced as runaways in issue 64 of “The Spectacular Spider-Man,” Cloak (Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen) are mutants whose powers manifested when they were injected with an experimental street drug. In a world where it seems only villains are killers, Cloak and Dagger took revenge on the man who caused their mutant abilities to manifest and turned their backs on Kingpin when he asked for their help in healing his wife. One reason why they are under the radar is because of their powers. While Dagger manifests light in the shape of her name, Cloak literally absorbs his enemies. This has caused a need to have Cloak’s costume purged, and when that doesn’t happen, chaos ensues to the point where the likes of Dr. Strange have to be called in. Straddling the line between vigilante and the supernatural, Cloak and Dagger have yet to find their place in the Marvel Universe. There were rumors about a miniseries starring the pair, but it has yet to materialize.

Firestar: Initially, Angelica Jones was not a character in the Marvel Universe. Instead, she was a construct for the cartoon “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” Her origin in the animation was that she was a teammate of Iceman (one of the original members of the X-Men). Soon after the cartoon ended, Firestar had a comic-book miniseries that revealed her true origin. Her powers are generated from microwave-type energy. Firestar has had an interesting history. As one of the original surviving members of the White Queen’s Hellions, she went on several adventures with the X-Men. She was also an integral part of the “Maximum Carnage” storyline and a member of the New Warriors and the Avengers. During this time, Jones has had to deal with everyday problems along the superhero ones. Her father being shot, her short-lived engagement to Justice and facing infertility if she continued to use her powers cause Angelica Jones to be yet another character who is under the radar. As a result of the Civil War saga, she has decided to retire from the superhero business. And in the limited run of “Marvel Divas” it was revealed that Angelica is suffering from cancer as a result of her mutant powers. It would be a shame to see this character fade into obscurity, particularly since she’s one of the few people to have touched the lives of nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe.

Polaris: Being a member of the X-Men will eventually lead to mind control, and that has happened to Lorna Dane, a plethora of times. From the time she came on the scene (in issue 49 of “X-Men” in 1968) Lorna’s powers (the ability to manipulate magnetism) have been used by some malignant force as a tool to take over the world. Through it all, she has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Havok (Alex Summers). Lorna was most prominent during her stint with X-Factor. Being on a government-operated team led to her working with Mystique and Sabretooth, and nearly being killed by the latter. After several years it was finally revealed that Magneto is indeed her father, however, her mother is still unknown. After M-Day, Lorna lost her powers, but after being forced to be one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it was revealed that her powers are mutating. What makes Dane underrated is that she is related to several major players in the Marvel Universe. As a result of this, writers use her as a tool, which is a waste for a character who has been around for over 40 years. As a member of the Starjammers, Lorna is currently involved in the “War of Kings: Who Will Rule?” crossover. It remains to be seen if her family ties will once again be the cause of her being used as plot device.

Power Man: Luke Cage could have easily been discarded after the blaxploitation period of the 1970s. His origins are simple – New York teen gang member decides to clean up his act, and is then set up by his former friend and sent to prison. Once in prison, he is subjected to cruelty and the experiment that makes him impenetrable to harm. Cage is most famous for his team up with Iron Fist under the persona of Power Man, where they were guns for hire. Not knowing what to do with a man who is nearly indestructible, the powers that be decided to put Cage into early retirement, returning him to his Harlem neighborhood to clean up the streets. Recently, he has been involved in Nick Fury’s “Secret Wars,” Marvel’s “Civil War,” the Skrull invasion and now the period of Norman Osborne’s “Dark Reign.” Luke Cage has always been a dependable character. Whenever you need muscle, he’s there. During the past seven years there, have been rumors regarding a Luke Cage movie. Scripts have been written, but it never seems to come together. And although he is a popular character, he has been unable to hold a comic-book audience on his own. Perhaps with the recent events in the Marvel universe, the writers will be able to utilize Power Man, and not just for his abilities.

Spider-Woman: Although she has been around since the late ‘70s, it has taken over 30 years for fans to begin to appreciate her worth in the Marvel Universe. Her auspicious beginnings were that of a literal spider. With a demand from Stan Lee to create a new origin, Jessica Drew had her own comic from 1978-1983 – then, nothing. As other characters took up the mantle of Spider-Woman, something was missing. The grit, angst and underbelly of this world, with the exception of Wolverine, was sorely lacking until 2005, when Brian Michael Bendis brought the original Spider-Woman back to the forefront. Her five-part miniseries, although successful, did not create enough buzz to give Jessica her own comic book until the Skrull wars. It was discovered that she was replaced by a Skrull, and now she has her own motion comic soon to be released in hardcover about her dealing with the fallout of being in captivity. As a current agent of SWORD and former double agent of HYDRA and SHIELD, Drew has a lot to work out. Luckily, with the writing of Bendis and the artwork of Alex Maleev, it will be a fun ride that’s sure to bring new fans to this complex woman.

Honorable Mention: While Nova has his own monthly comic, the “War of Kings” and “War of Kings: Who Will Rule?” series have garnered him a larger audience. Nova’s history consists of an alien imposing his powers on an unsuspecting Richard Rider with no instructions. As he develops his abilities he joins the New Warriors, teams with Spider-Man and is involved in several storylines, all leading up the present space opera. It is hard to believe that a character that has been around since 1976 has been underutilized until recently. Then there is Darkhawk, who is yet another superhero that has been kicking around the Marvel Universe since 1991. Since his own series ended in 1995, Darkhawk (Christopher Powell) has been teamed with the New Warriors, the West Coast Avengers and has guest starred in the Iron Man and Nova series. Thanks to this crossover, Darkhawk is finally getting some recognition.

Marvel has had a difficult time with their otherworldly characters. With the exception of Silver Surfer, it has been rare that intergalactic-themed comics have been able to succeed. However, due to the “War of Kings” storyline, Nova and Darkhawk have found a new lease on life in the Marvel Universe.

So, who do you believe to be underrated in this comic world?

About Donna-Lyn Washington 636 Articles
Donna-lyn Washington has a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College. She is currently teaching at Kingsborough Community College where her love of comics and pop culture play key parts in helping her students move forward in their academic careers. As a senior writer for ReviewFix she has been able to explore a variety of worlds through comics, film and television and has met some interesting writers and artists along the way. Donna-lyn does a weekly podcast reviewing indie comics and has also contributed entries to the 'Encyclopedia of Black Comics,’ the academic anthology ‘Critical Insights: Frank Yerby’ and is the editor for the upcoming book, ‘Conversations With: John Jennings.’

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