Movies & TV / Columns

Who is the Most Underrated Comic Book Character?

August 19, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Martian Manhunter 1

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last week we asked What’s Next for DC Comics?. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Conrad Schwarzenneger “Screw Marvel, i want to see what DC will comes out next…. Shazam, Joker, Wonder Woman, the new Harley Quinn… this is dark, fun, different… Batman vs Superman my favorite Batman after 89 and Dark Night… DC are in good health and i can’t wait to see WW 84 and Black Adam movie !”

Robert Stewart: “”I’m going to start off asking a favor. Please don’t use this news as an excuse to bash DC or the people that work there. I get that it’s easy to point your finger at a publisher you don’t like or don’t agree with but a number of good, creative people lost their job and this news isn’t good for the industry as a whole.”

Isn’t it awful that we even need to say this? I saw on Twitter yesterday that a certain well-known hate group and their leadership were positively reveling in the news about DC. What wonderful people they must be.”

Defective: “DC Comics will be fine. This wave of layoffs were hitting more than just DC. HBO was also hit with layoffs as well.

That said – if DC does what marvel did in letting third parties publish books of their lower tier characters, then I’m excited to see where they go from here.”

Mike Riley: “Atts involvement was always going to f with Time Warner creatively. They now have the pandemic as an excuse to continue to generate billions while laying off hundreds without regard.”

Benjamin Kellog: “DC starts relying even more on their Walmart partnership to boost sales across the board. That’s the only thing I’m completely certain about. It’s a move they’ve been focused on for a few months now, and in these trying times, it might be their most surefire survival tactic.”

Gold Any Ranger: “It’s the latest nail in the coffin for DC Universe. First, Doom Patrol being shared with HBO Max, then the end of DC Daily, and Stargirl being renewed for only the CW. All DC Universe has left in terms of original programs are Titans and Young Justice. Harley Quinn has yet to be renewed for a third season. And they no longer offer an annual subscription for new sign= ups. This seems like the end is nigh for my (once) most used streaming service.”

Thank you to everyone who commented!

This week we ask…

Who is the Most Underrated Character in Comic Books?

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is scheduled to drop in theaters on November 5 and it looks like Marvel Comics will put out a few series starring Black Widow connected characters who will appear in the movie around the same time. The one that caught my eye was for Taskmaster. 

While the character is starting to finally get his due, I’ve felt he’s been underutilized as a whole for decades. Luckily, Taskmaster from writer Jed MacKay and artist Alessandro Vitti takes the mercenary/supervillain and puts him up against his own reputation as he’s accused of the murder of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, and must go on the run to prove his innocence in what Marvel calls “a globe–spanning adventure that will send ripples through every corner of the Marvel Universe’s espionage community!”

“Taskmaster has murdered Maria Hill!” reads Marvel’s official solicitation for Taskmaster #1. “Or at least that’s what the whole world thinks. Now the greatest spies in the business are hunting him down and won’t stop until Taskmaster is dead or clears his own name!”

Which brings us to today’s topic. The underrated character in comic books who have never gotten their due with fans. Sure, some of them might have had a series or two but for whatever reason haven’t found the fame they deserve. The potential is there. Just waiting on the right moment. 

Like most lists, this is all subjective. I could throw out names like Red Tornado, Doctor Fate, and Firestorm and I’m sure someone would list off why they’re not underrated due to appearances and inclusions in certain teams and storylines. 

For the record, those 3 ARE underrated and are low hanging fruit for just the right creative team. 

I’d put Captain Atom on that list as well. He’s come close to getting his due and I remember in 1991 Captain Atom was to become the hero-turned-villain Monarch in DC’s ‘Armageddon 2001’ crossover event. Even though the internet wasn’t around, everything was spoiled when word of this leaked out and DC changed the ending at the last minute. A promising crossover event landed with a thud and so did Atom’s chance at something bigger. 

In 2005/2006, Captain Atom crossed over to the Wildstorm universe and that…was something. While he’s been involved across the DC universe, he’s never been properly fleshed out with a strong supporting cast that’s memorable for the right reasons. 

Similar to Martian Manhunter. Say what you want but Martian Manhunter is one of the seven original members of the Justice League of America and one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe. Yet he’s barely a blip outside comic book fans. Yes, I’m well aware Manhunter is also part of the core cast of the Supergirl TV series but his popularity, overall, trails Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern. 

He’s been in the mix for decades and has come close to having a series worth the character, specifically the latest one from writer Steve Orlando and artist Riley Rossmo. They seemed to understand the character’s strengths but it didn’t seem to connect with fans as well as it should have. 

Someone who’s well known with everyone is Marvel’s Hercules. A popular member of the Avengers for years, in 2008 Hercules debuted in his own series titled The Incredible Hercules. Talk about an underrated series! It was incredibly funny with plenty of action and engaging in all the right ways. Again, Hercules should have taken off but never caught footing. 

Another underrated series with an underrated character is Aztek. The first Aztek first appeared in Aztek, The Ultimate Man #1 in August 1996, created by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. That creative team is all you need to know. To be fair, Aztek was before his time and while it’s well remembered by those who remember, Aztek in the DC universe never fulfilled the potential the series set up for him. 

Like the potential The Ray series in 1992 did for Ray Terrill as The Ray by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada. That character was filled with fun and nuance and while he’s hung around, he’s definitely a few rungs below where he should be. 

Another character who’s respected but thanks to uneven writing whenever she appears is She-Hulk. I daresay Deadpool can thank her as the Sensational She-Hulk series by John Byrne in 1989, She-Hulk was portrayed with a form of “cross-dimensional” awareness to break the fourth wall. This led to some funny moments but the problem was when she appeared outside the series this was largely ignored and I think that hurt the character. Time for her to come back center stage, even though I seem to remember that she died during ‘Civil War II’ but that’s never stopped anyone before. 

Another fourth wall breaking character is my personal favorite, Ambush Bug. If I had my choice to write any solo character, it would be him. As mentioned, I own every miniseries and special he’s appeared in. DC is missing out HUGE with this character and I’d have already had him in a movie all his own. As for the comics, keep him in tightly written miniseries. Go wild. 

There are so many characters who deserve more spotlight but when it comes to DC’s Uncle Sam, the timing couldn’t be more opportune. Given the political climate, a series centered on Uncle Sam seems like it would be a given. I’d even give Marvel’s Union Jack a similar opportunity. Not only does he have one of my favorite costumes, the character’s potential has never been fully realized. 

I was going to go on and list <Darkhawk, Multiple Man, Marvelman…but realized I’d be writing for days since every time I think of one, 3 more pop into my head. Instead I’ll wrap up with the Milestone and Ultraverse universes as a whole. It blows my mind these two have a number of characters just sitting, unused. With Milestone you have Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate, Shadow Cabinet, Xombi…and yes, Static being incorporated into the DC universe was a great move. 

Ultraverse is owned by Marvel and I’m dumbfounded why they haven’t done more with this. Prime, Hardcase, Ultraforce, The Strangers…all just languishing. In June 2005, when asked by comicsrama whether Marvel had any plans to revive the Ultraverse, then Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada replied:

“Let’s just say that I wanted to bring these characters back in a very big way, but the way that the deal was initially structured, it’s next to impossible to go back and publish these books. There are rumors out there that it has to do with a certain percentage of sales that has to be doled out to the creative teams. While this is a logistical nightmare because of the way the initial deal was structured, it’s not the reason why we have chosen not to go near these characters, there is a bigger one, but I really don’t feel like it’s my place to make that dirty laundry public.”

All these characters need to come back in a very big way. 

Who makes your list of most underrated characters?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!