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Comics 411: Underutilized Comic Book Characters


Happy to see you again! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you love discussing all things comics, you’ve come to the right place. Every week we cover something in the industry and I always appreciate your input in the comments section below.


The last time we discussed our Favorite Black Panther Comic Book Stories. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Courier: “Never get bored of Black Panther destroying racist Klan members. I also really liked his relationship with Ororo AKA Storm.

El Atomic “I don’t really remember Marvel using Black Panther much when I was buying comics, which was a shame, I always thought he was a cool character”

Thanks to everyone who commented last week!

This week we discuss…

Underutilized Comic Characters
Love or hate the future She-Hulk: Lawyer series, it’s great to see some underrated characters get the love they deserve. She-Hulk has been a respected figure in Marvel for ages, but thanks to spotty writing, she’s never found a surge in popularity. I dare say Deadpool can thank her as Sensational She-Hulk John Byrne’s 1989 series, She-Hulk was portrayed with a form of “interdimensional” consciousness to break through the fourth wall.

It led to some funny moments, but the problem was that when she appeared outside of the show, it was largely ignored and I think it hurt the character.

It made me think of other comic book characters that have been underutilized over the years. Like most lists, this is all subjective. I could throw names like Red Tornado, Doctor Fateand Fire storm and I’m sure someone would list why they aren’t underrated due to appearances and inclusions in certain teams and storylines. On a similar note, as a big fan of Doctor Fate, I’m thrilled with his appearance on the big screen in black adam.

For the record, these 3 (Red Tornado, Doctor Fate, Firestorm) ARE underrated and are low hanging fruit for the right creative team.

I’ll put Captain Atom also on this list. He’s about to get his due, and I remember back in 1991, Captain Atom was set to become the hero-turned-villain Monarch in DC’s “Armageddon 2001” crossover event. Even though the internet wasn’t there, it was all ruined when the news got out and DC changed the ending at the last minute. A promising crossover event landed with a thud, as did Atom’s chance at something bigger.

In 2005/2006, Captain Atom moved into the Wildstorm universe and that was something. Although it was involved in the DC Universe, it was never properly fleshed out with a solid and memorable cast for the right reasons.

Similar to Martian Manhunter. Say what you will, but Martian Manhunter is one of the original seven members of the Justice League of America and one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe. Still, he’s barely a blip apart from comic book fans. Yes, I know that Manhunter was also part of the main cast of the super girl television series and in Justice League film but its popularity, overall, trails Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern.

He’s been in the mix for decades and is set to have a streak worthy of the character, especially the latest from writer Steve Orlando and artist Riley Rossmo. They seemed to understand the character’s strengths, but he didn’t seem to connect with fans as well as he should have.

Someone who is well known to everyone is Marvel Hercules. A popular member of the Avengers for years, in 2008 Hercules debuted in his own series called The Incredible Hercules. Talk about an underrated series! It was incredibly funny with lots of action and engaging in all the right ways. Again, Hercules should have taken off but never got a foothold. We will see if its appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder do anything for him.

Another underrated series with an underrated character is Aztec. The first Aztek first appeared in Aztek, the ultimate man #1 in August 1996, created by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. This creative team is all you need to know. To be fair, Aztek was before its time and even though those who remember it well, Aztek in the DC Universe never realized the potential the series gave it.

Like the potential The Ray series in 1992 made for Ray Terrill as The Ray by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada. This character was filled with fun and nuance and while he was hanging around he is definitely a few rungs below where he should be.

A fourth wall-breaking character is my favorite, Ambush Bug. If I had the choice to write a solo character, it would be him. As mentioned, I own all of the miniseries and specials he has appeared in. DC misses a lot with this character and I would have already had him in a movie all by himself. As for the comics, keep it in a well-written miniseries. Become crazy.

There are so many characters that deserve more spotlight, but when it comes to DC Uncle Sam, the timing couldn’t be better. Given the political climate, a series centered on Uncle Sam seems like a no-brainer. I would even give Marvel’s Union Jack a similar opportunity. Not only does he have one of my favorite costumes, but the character’s potential was never fully realized.

I was going to go on and list Darkhawk, multiple man, Marvelman…but I realized I would be writing for days because every time I think of one, 3 more come to mind. Instead, I’ll wrap up with the Ultraverse universe as a whole. I’m blown away that Marvel has a number of sitting, unused characters.

Yes, Ultraverse is owned by Marvel and I’m stunned that they haven’t done more with it. Prime, Hardcase, Ultraforce, The Strangers… all languish. In June 2005, when asked by Comicsrama if Marvel intended to revive the Ultraverse, Marvel editor Joe Quesada replied:

“Let’s just say I wanted to bring these characters back in a really big way, but the way the deal was originally structured, it’s almost impossible to go back and release these books. There are rumors that it has to to do with a certain percentage of sales that has to be distributed to the creative teams. While this is a logistical nightmare because of the way the original deal was structured, it’s not the reason we’ve chosen not to not get close to these characters, there’s a bigger one, but I really don’t feel like it’s up to me to do this dirty laundry audience.

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

Who makes your list of the most underused comic book characters?

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