The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Top Twenty-Five Favorite Fictional Characters

So, inspired by Pterobat's "Peculiar Olympians", and Doug Walker's Top Ten Favorite Characters, I decided to write up mine. I also decided to give myself the rule of one character per franchise... otherwise I'd end up with six characters from "Gargoyles". Also, I decided to post them in alphabetical order instead of attempting a ranking, because we all know who #1 would be, and what's the point of doing a countdown anymore, because on any list she qualifies to be on, she'll be #1.

Anyway, here we go, consider this post my way of celebrating five years of this blog.

Nancy Botwin - While "Weeds" petered out with a whimper, I never lost my love for this character. Nancy Botwin's middle name may as well be trouble because that's where she always finds herself. She seeks it out. She gets a high off of it. She may even get herself off to it. An upper-middle-class suburbanite soccer mom whose husband drops dead, she becomes a marijuana dealer to support her family's lifestyle because any retail job she qualifies for wouldn't maintain it... but really, she'd be bored with a retail job. A series of wrong decisions leads her deeper and deeper into the underworld where she marries a crooked DEA agent, and after he gets killed, she marries the head of a powerful Mexican cartel... he dies to. Even the nice rabbi she later marries dies. Everyone she marries dies although not at her hands; a truly passive black widow if there ever was one. And you know what, in a way, I can relate to this. I don't want to live a boring, "normal" lifestyle. Part of the reason I went to film school in Hollywood, aside from my passion for film and television, was the more exciting, fast paced lifestyle. I don't want a career in an office building, or to manage some retail outlet. None of that. Nancy didn't want to be a normal person, and neither do I.

Al Bundy - I've been laughing at Al since I was eight years old, at least. Let me get this out of the way, I find his misogynistic outlook to be deplorable. But I don't have to agree with a character for them to be a favorite, as this list goes on, you'll find many more characters I disagree with. Al Bundy is a pig, plain and simple. When things briefly start going well for him, he does treat his family better. But, he is such a scumbag, it's fun to watch him lose. However, despite it all, I still feel some sympathy for him and Ed O'Neil brings so much humanity and comic timing to the character that he endears himself to me despite the fact that I disagree with him. He isn't someone I would ever want to be friends with, but the thing that does endear him and his family to me the most is for as often as they will be horrible to each other, they'll unite when threatened by an outsider, and there's something to be said for that.

Captain America - Cap's presence on my list surprises me as I'm sure it does some of you. I'm not usually a fan of the Big Good archetypal character. I don't care about Superman or Optimus Prime. I'm not even jingoistic in the slightest. So why Captain America? Why Steve Rogers? Because, at his best, he represents the best of us, our ideals. He will do the right thing no matter the consequences, even if that makes him a traitor... because he represents the idea, not the reality. I don't usually like to get political here but the United States has committed really atrocious actions not only in the last thirteen years, but for many years before that. Our country has never been close to being as great as we want it to be. Slavery, the Alien and Sedition Act, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing our own puppet dictators, the invasion of Iraq, torture, I could go on. But, in comic book land, Captain America would be the first to say that this is wrong, this is not what we were founded upon, and we're acting little better than our enemies. I think that's what made the events of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" resonate with so many people, definitely me, HYDRA's take over of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very powerful allegory. Besides all that, Steve Rogers is an interesting character in and of himself, especially as a man out of time which is played for drama as opposed to the fish out of water laughs.

Eric Cartman - Oh, how do I love this little bastard. Let me count the ways. If Captain America represents our ideals, Cartman is an indictment of our worst traits. Selfish, lazy, egotistical, glutinous, xenophobic, and wrathful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker wanted to create the next Archie Bunker and succeeded all too well; they held a mirror up in front of America and forced us to take a good long look at ourselves, and what did we get? One of television's most entertaining characters of all time. It's fifteen kinds of fun to watch him scheme, and even more fun to watch him get his ass kicked. I never get tired of watching him.

The Reverend Sir Doctor Sen. Stephen T. MOS DEF Colbert, D.F.A., Heavyweight Champion of the World** La Premiere Dame de France - For nine years, he made me laugh. Comedian Improv performer, Stephen Colbert, created one of the truly great TV characters when he crafted his "well meaning, poorly informed, high status idiot" of a character who has done more to educate and inform the country than most of our so-called journalists and reporters have in a very long time. From his failed bid to run for President, to showing America just what a SuperPAC is and why they're a bad idea, to sitting down with the likes of Paul McCartney, President Barack Obama, and Smaug the Dragon... and asking harder questions than Meet the Press, or getting them to admit that smoking coke and enjoying prostitutes is a fun thing to do. I was legitimately depressed a month ago when he said good-bye to America one last time and flew away into immortality. You'll be forever in our hearts, Stephen. Who will be there to put us On Notice?

Michael Corleone - We all go through a phase where we're embarrassed or ashamed or just flat out hate our families. While Michael never hated his family, it was clear early on that he wanted to pursue a life apart from the family business. But fate and circumstances interfered and Michael not only was forced into the family business, but he soon became the head of the family... and it soon destroyed any semblance of the life he could have otherwise had. From war hero to brutal criminal to losing his family all culminating in the murder of his brother. Michael Corleone became exactly what he tried hard not to become.

Artemis Crock - When I first started watching "Young Justice", I knew I was going to like Artemis. What I did not realize at the time was just how much this character would endear herself to me. Strong and tough, yet vulnerable. Artemis came from an awful background. A mother who was in prison, a father who was the chief enforcer for a secret society of the world's greatest villains, and an older sister who served Ra's al Ghul. How's that for a family? But that's not all, she ends up sort of being adopted into the Arrow family and all but marrying into the Flash family... the girl is connected without any of it feeling forced of contrived. Her arc just spoke to me, unlike the previous entry on this list, she didn't let any of her families define her. A shame the series got cut short, I would have loved to see what was next for her.

Crowley - Crowley was once a human tailor who sold his soul for a bigger dick, before becoming the demonic King of the Crossroads, making deals with humans for their very souls, and being so good at it that he was Lilith's right-hand. A pragmatist at heart, caring only for his own self-interest, he helped the Winchesters defeat and re-imprison Lucifer before becoming the King of Hell, himself. Smart and cunning, he runs Hell like a business, always seeking to expand his power and reach. He is also the only one who doesn't underestimate the Winchesters, and when their usefulness to him ended, he made every move to eliminate them. Right now, for as weak as the show has gotten, I want to see where his current plotline with his returned mother, Rowena, will take him.

Demona - I've talked about her ad nauseum, so I'll be brief. At the most minimal of glances, she seems very typical. We’ve seen genocidal human haters before. But scratch the surface, even a little, and we get the deepest creation of not only the series, but one of the deepest creations in the realm of fiction. She has a guilt complex that makes Peter Parker’s look tame by comparison, but she spreads it around to everyone else rather than internalize it. And considering how much she has to feel guilty over, this makes her arguably the most dangerous character in the series. Demona created her own pain, and she intends to wipe out every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth just to justify every damned stupid choice she ever made. Despite all of that, she is an eternally conflicted character. She is not a one-dimensional cut-out. Deep inside, she knows she’s wrong, she knows what she did. But she cannot and will not acknowledge that. Demona is an endlessly fascinating character. We’ve never seen anything like her in the realm of western animation before her debut, and I don’t think she’s been replicated since. Why? I don’t know. But lightning has been caught in a bottle, and I am rather happy that no one has attempted to imitate this unique and perfectly conceived character but tragically flawed person.

Doctor Doom - The archetypal supervillain and definitely the biggest gun in Marvel's pantheon of villainy. Doom is arrogant beyond all measure, and as smart as anyone you'll ever meet. He is so prideful he always keeps his word... as he interprets it. Ruler of the tiny nation of Latveria, and recognized by the world abroad... his enemies can't just send him to prison. But more than that is his fascinating backstory, and his desire to save his mother's soul from Mephisto and bring peace to the world... under his iron rule. Doom might be the leader the world needs. If we were willing to part with our freedom. But he'll always set that aside because he cannot live with the fact that just for one moment, Reed Richards was smarter than him.

Galvatron - With great power comes great insanity, Galvatron has always been my favorite transformer, always. From his debut in "Transformers: The Movie" where he was forged in the fires of a dark god, to when he was pulled out of a lava pit emerging as a mad man in "Five Faces of Darkness", to his appearances as a psychotic engine of destruction in Simon Furman's comic books. Galvatron works for me, always has. His design is spectacular, and there's always been a lot more to him than just being some insane loose cannon (figuratively and literally). His relationship with his second-in-command (and favorite punching bag), Cyclonus, was always interesting and pretty deep for an 80's cartoon. I've always preferred him to Megatron. Megatron was a perpetual loser; Galvatron was a perpetual loser with unlimited entertainment value. Feared by Autobot and Decepticon alike, along with the testicular fortitude to stand up to an eldrich abomination, I'm more than happy to show respect and shout "Hail Galvatron!"

Gandalf - Gandalf is, without a doubt, the archetypal wizard. He has long been my favorite character in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, from the moment I saw the Rankin Bass animated production of "The Hobbit" then read all of the books and got to watch Sir Ian McKellan's masterful performance of the grey wizard. Inspired by iconic characters such as Odin and Merlin, Gandalf has always been more than he appeared, showing up to advise the people on how to defeat evil without ever doing the job for us. But once you read "The Silmarillion", you learn that Gandalf is a Maiar spirit, a lower level angelic, named Olorin wrapped in a meat suit and sent into the world, tasked to help us defeat Sauron... but I love the most about this reveal is that the reason he was chosen was because he was afraid of Sauron. So his journey wasn't just to help us grow into who we needed to be to defeat Sauron, but a journey of growth for himself. We all learned a lot from Gandalf just as he learned from us.

Rupert Giles - I must have a thing for characters who are mentors, I just listed Gandalf (and while he's not on this list, I always loved Obi Wan in the OT), and now here's Giles. Giles was quite the revelation, when he first shows up, he appears to be your standard, stuffed shirt English librarian who ends up being the butt of jokes. But he is anything but as he ends up becoming the father figure to not only Buffy Summers, but just about every single one of her friends. While at times he seems a bit out of touch, he can give as well as he gets in the snarky sass department. But Giles has a past, as he was once more of a chaotic teenager than any of them. I felt the show lost something when Anthony Stewart Head left the main cast, while he continued to make appearances, his loss was one of several elements that helped the show diminish. I thought he was integral, and despite all appearances, he can kick your ass. Rupert Giles, don't judge a book by its cover.

G'Kar - When we first meet G'Kar, we think he's going to be the villain of the series. A bitter, vengeful ambassador from Narn. For a hundred years they were occupied by the Centauri, enslaved, tortured, killed, before the Centauri withdrew due to their declining empire. Now the Narn are expanding and they want vengeance. When the show opens, this is the status quo, and G'Kar, while likable, is a bitter extremist to be foiled. Then the second season happens and the galaxy is turned upside-down when the Shadows come and start knocking over all the ant-hills. The Narn are enslaved by the Centauri once more, and G'Kar is thrust back into being a resistance fighter. But things go differently this time, he has a spiritual awakening and as he learns to work with others, he comes to better understand others, and while he can't ever forgive the Centauri for what they did, he can learn to stop hating them. It is a journey of spiritual growth seldom seen on television, and it was moving to watch.

Griffith - Where the hell do I begin? I despise Griffith. Griffith is, very possibly, the most evil character I have encountered in the realm of fiction... aside from Morgoth and Sauron. Griffith is what happens when ambition festers and grows like a disease. Not that ambition is a bad thing, but Griffith took it to a whole new level. He grew up poor, formed his own mercenary hand, and became the champion of Midland with his eyes on marrying the princess and becoming King. What went wrong? He allowed himself to get personally attached to his favorite toy, a soldier named Guts. He lost it all, got tortured for a year, crippled, his tongue got cut out and then he sacrificed the troops and friends who loved him so he could be reborn as Femto, the fifth and final member of the God Hand before raping Caska (his most fanatically loyal and devoted follower, and Guts' love) in front of Guts while she was pregnant, infecting her fetus to eventually create a vessel for him to return to Earth in. Now he's in the process of conquering humanity as a seemingly ordained messianic figure... the Hawk of Light. His story is not over yet, but Griffith is the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. Especially since we go through what Guts goes through as all of this is revealed. Griffith is proof that you can hate a person but love a character.

Tyrion Lannister - This one was love at first sight. One of the most intelligent power players in the kingdom, Tyrion knows how to live life. Whether it's food, drink, or the company of women; Tyrion revels in his hedonism. He's also clever, and a real power player. But sadly his greatest weakness is that he has a big mouth. He will speak his mind, and while watching him tell off awful people like Cersei and Joffrey makes us smile, it ultimately bites him in the ass. I can relate to that, as I have a history of speaking my mind when it is better to just hold my tongue. On top of it all, he is another victim of an awful father, something else I can and do relate to. His final scenes of the fourth season were very cathartic. I think what I love most about Tyrion is his lack of shame. He knows who he is and he's comfortable being that. But with the end of last season, his status quo has truly changed and it will be interesting to see where he goes now that he is out of his comfort zone.

Lucifer Morningstar - He's the Devil. 'Nuff said. ... okay, I'll say more. Lucifer is everything Mephisto should be. Clever, cunning, scheming, and the ultimate rebel. He gave up the throne of Hell and handed the key to Dream of the Endless just to screw with him. He created his own existence so Yahweh would no longer have the monopoly on creation with only one rule, worship nothing. Ultimately, he's a conceited prick rebelling against his conceited father. As David Easterman, a character who sees himself as a victim of Lucifer, puts it: "when the devil wants you to do something, he doesn't lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to hell."

Magneto - Thank Kirby for Claremont, or the Master of Magnetism might never have made this list. Magneto is the villain you can't help but agree with. A survivor of the Holocaust, and a victim of bigotry, Max Eisenhardt will stop at nothing to prevent a second Holocaust from taking place. In the process he has lost friends, alienated his children, and has become the boogieman that humans use to justify their fear of mutants. If that irony wasn't enough, Magneto walks a fine line between being a mutant Malcolm X, and becoming that which he hates most... a mutant Adolf Hitler. Remember how I said that Doom was at the top of Marvel's supervillain pantheon? Well, Magneto would easily challenge him for that spot, and some might say he's long ago won it. And for good reason. Magneto has a great, compelling story that you can understand and relate to. He has creative and innovative powers. And there are so many stories you can tell about him, from the big grand epics, to the intimate character studies.

Maleficent - Out of all the films in Disney's canon, Maleficent is the best. Sometimes less is more, and I don't want or need Maleficent to be anything but the Mistress of All Evil. I did not look forward to the movie starring Angelina Jolie. I thought it is a mistake. But, Jolie aside, Maleficent knows what she is and is the epitome of spiteful evil. Now, I'm not saying it's bad to reveal the details of a villain's backstory. Sometimes it works for the character and sometimes it doesn't. Recently I got into an argument about this with somebody and they cited the "Gargoyles" multi-parter "City of Stone" for going into Demona's past and revealing her story, and used that as the reason why doing the same for Maleficent is a swell idea. I argued that Demona is the on-going main villain of a serialized television series and that her past and what made her what she is are questions introduced early on, and we got those questions answered after less than a year. There was no such thing for Maleficent, and nobody asked these questions the movie itself did not present in the entire fifty-three years since the movie made it's debut in 1959! The classic Maleficent remains one of my favorites no matter how hard Disney has tried to tarnish her.

The Monarch - This will sound silly, but were it a real thing, supervillain would be my career choice. The Monarch is every single supervillain cliche there is completely dissected and subverted to show us all just how sad and pathetic these people really are. I just love him. He can be quite the badass though, in fact he's pretty much hurt or emotionally destroyed anyone he's ever menaced who wasn't connected to Rusty Venture. But what I enjoy most about him is that he's not very good at being a supervillain, but he loves it and endlessly pursues it, no matter how much bad luck (self-inflicted or otherwise) stands in his way. Pursue your dreams, people. The Monarch is my spirit animal.

Antonio Salieri - He makes the list because he is as true to history as Shakespeare's Macbeth. This guy is just the personification of jealousy, and F. Murray Abraham played that to a tee. Now, I know that historically there is a rumor that says he confessed to the murder of Mozart on his death bed. Is it true? We'll never know. But it made for a delicious rumor and a delicious story. A story about mediocrity, jealousy, and the quest for an undeserved immortality. The thing that has come out of this is that Salieri's operas and music are being played in the 21st century. People would likely never have heard of Salieri had F. Murray Abraham not done such a brilliant job in portraying him. One might wonder, however, if it is better to be remembered as a villain for all time, or be forgotten to everyone but the historians.

Spike Spiegel - What I love most about Spike is how little is spelled out for us. You need to pay attention to more than what he says, but the situation as a whole, his body language and all sorts of subtle mannerisms to know what's really on his mind because Spike plays it close to his chest. He's not exactly straight forward. You look at him and he's the coolest person in the room without really trying to be, mostly because he doesn't care what others think. A man with a past, even a dark past who is a better person than he gives himself credit for. He is laid back, easy going, but can and does get serious when the need arrives, or when the phantasms of his past appear. His attitude in life (whenever Julia and Vicious aren't involved) is "whatever happens, happens" and I often have that same attitude. Why worry about things you can't change? And as much as he pretends he is cold and unfeeling, and only after his bottom line, he is full of mercy and compassion for others. I can relate to these things.

Tamora - I love this character. I first encountered her in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's production of "Titus Andronicus" back in 1999 where she was played by Nance Williamson. The play captivated me, so naturally Julie Taymor's production had a lot to live up to in my eyes... and again I was captivated by this Shakespearan Queen of Evil as portrayed by Jessica Lange. Tamora is a vengeful mother and the former queen of the goths, who was defeated by Roman general Titus Andronicus and dragged back to Rome in chains alongside her three sons. On the way, Titus sacrificed one of her sons to Jupiter... and his own family would soon pay for it. Once in Rome, Tamora proceeds to marry Emperor Saturninus; encourages her two surviving sons to assault, rape and mutilate Titus' daughter, Lavinia, during a hunt where her tongue is cut out and her hands are severed and replaced with tree branches; has two of Titus' sons framed for murder and has them arrested and promises to release them if Titus will cut off his own hand and send it to the emperor only to return his two sons' severed heads. And that's just for starters! Tamora did everything she could to give me a Midsummer Night's Nightmare and god bless her for it.

Mary Jane Watson - I was surprised, also. I sat down and thought about it, and Spidey himself was a hair away from beating Mary Jane out for this slot. But the more thought I gave it, I discovered that MJ, herself, was my favorite character in the franchise. I think what I love most about Mary Jane is how she took not just Peter, but everyone involved both on and off the page by surprise. She wasn't created to be the Great Love of Peter Parker's life, she just grew into it. When "Spider-Man" first started, it was all about the triangle with Betty and Liz, then Betty and Peter split and Liz faded away after graduation. Stan Lee then developed Gwen Stacy with the express purpose of being Peter's love interest, and eventually marrying him just as Lois Lane was created for the express purpose of being this for Superman. Things did not work out. He and John Romita also developed Mary Jane and she, like a force of nature quickly ended up deciding her own destiny. It wasn't supposed to happen, but time and character development, particularly at the hands of Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, and even Stan himself developed Mary Jane in a manner that didn't feel forced. She and Peter both had to grow up and grow into the type of people who would be right for each other. They were friends, first. I think this is why most of the adaptations of Mary Jane, be they the 90's cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man, or the Raimi movies never worked for me because she is the franchise's Lois Lane in those. I understand that recreating what happened in the comics would require a lot of long term patience and seeding, but that's exactly why it worked. That's what makes MJ unique, she wasn't tailor-made for Peter nor he for her. It was organic, it was real.

Walter White - A High School chemistry teacher, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, is diagnoses with terminal lung cancer... not wanting to leave his family with medical bills, and to make sure they're taken care of, he teams up with a former student of his to cook methamphetamine... and that's how it starts, as a "victimless crime". But there's no room in this business for nice people, and slowly Walt becomes more ruthless, and more monstrous. Known to the DEA and the criminal community by the alias "Heisenberg", he transforms from unassuming High School teacher into the most ruthless and evil person in the series. Or maybe it wasn't a transformation, maybe that was all already there, and it came out. Walt has many chances to get out, other options come along that could solve his problems, but he rejects them all out of pride, and continues to build his business, leaving many bodies in his wake. Whatever his intentions, it doesn't matter and the show never sugarcoats him; Walter White is a terrible person; a bastard who destroys the very thing he sets out to save, all because he is a prideful narcissist who blames everyone else for his own failings. You weren't meant to root for him. I felt sympathy for him at first, I grew to hate him as well as pity him. But I never wanted to be him, he was a complete subversion of the badass outlaw alpha male fantasy in ways others on this list aren't, and all while never feeling preached to, and keeping him a fascinating, three-dimensional character. Yes, he loves his family... but just because he's not a one-dimensional cartoon character doesn't mean he's not one of the most evil people ever to exist in the realm of fiction. I raise a glass to Walter White, I would say that I hope you are some day topped, but the thought is frightening. Oh yeah, and he was played by Bryan Cranston... the dad from "Malcolm In the Middle".


  1. Lots of villains on this list, Greg, I like it. I'm a bit surprised that Tony Soprano wasn't included though, I thought for sure that he'd be in it somewhere.
    Oh, and now I can't help but wonder what a list of your least favorite characters would look like.

    1. I think Tony got beat out by Walter for the spot here.

      For least favorites, I could only imagine it including the likes of Superman, Venom, Apocalypse, G1 Megatron, Sam Witwicky, Bella and Edward, TGC John Castaway, Mako, Bolin, Unalaq, that rapist quarterback from that King Arthur cartoon, any given Seth McFarlane character, and nearly everyone on Agents of S.H.I.T, especially Grant Ward and Special Snowflake Mary Sue Poots.

    2. Sounds about right, I'm not going to make that list, though.

      Tom Bombadil, too. I love LOTR, but Tom Bombadil sucks.

    3. Yeah, he was out of place and really didn't do anything for the story - just extra little world building details. There's a reason he's cut out from adaptations.

  2. If you weren't limiting characters from franchises, would there be anybody else from Breaking Bad?