Who’s Your Stilt-Man?: Creators on Their Favorite Characters Outside the A-List
Everyone has their characters.
That’s been a common topic in conversations I’ve had of late, both for interviews and outside of them, and it’s not just their characters. The recurring theme has been it isn’t always the A-listers that draw our love, but the C-listers and below that really lock in our passion for superhero comics. Everyone loves Batman, Spider-Man, and other top characters. But Matter Eater Lad? Murd Blurdock? Dogwelder? Those are the characters that we form incredible bonds with, because they aren’t just characters we enjoy alongside everyone else: they’re our characters, in a way, even though they may be completely ridiculous. 1
The line for what determines that type of character is blurry, of course. Because of our passion for them, simply suggesting someone like my beloved Stilt-Man – a character I love because externally he’s a joke but in-universe he’s a grinder just looking to make a living, 2 and more than that, it’s an identity multiple people decided was a good one to take on, 3 which I find fascinating – is in anything but the most elite class of characters is a grave insult to Stilty, myself, and our entire families. It can be difficult to distinguish between the classes for that reason.
And the funny thing is, the story for these characters can change quickly these days. One day you’re a goofy C-lister or below, the next you’re a character in actual movies or TV shows like the path M.O.D.O.K., Spider-Man 2099, or Taskmaster followed. I’ve even heard rumor of Stilt-Man himself appearing in an upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe release! 4 The path to elevating to the A-list is a short one. But still, until the day our faves go the way of the Rocket Raccoons and Groots of the world, they’re still our characters, the lower tier ones we connect with in a unique way.
It’s not just comic fans who have these characters. Even creators do! Once upon a time, creators were fans just like us, and they have their own favorites like we do. Given how often these conversations happened of late, I decided to reach out to comic creators to see who their favorite C-lister or below is, and predictably, their answers did not disappoint. Let’s get to them.
Jason Aaron: I mean, as a writer, I’d probably have to say the Orb, because of how I’ve Forrest Gumped him into most everything I’ve written at Marvel over the years, starting with my Ghost Rider run. Back in the 70s Ghost Rider series, the Orb was just a guy wearing a motorcycle helmet that looked like an eyeball, so I figured we needed a sad and creepy new version who actually had a giant eyeball for a head. But for me as a fan, I’d have to say my favorite unheralded character is DC’s Blue Devil. That series by Dan Miskin, Gary Cohn and Paris Cullins debuted in the mid 80s when I was just starting to pick up comics, and I’d say it’s mix of weirdness, silliness and all-out fun is something I’ve been chasing ever since, both as a reader and a creator.
Jordan Blum: My Stilt-Man is actually a team. I absolutely love and will go to bat for the Serpent Society. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run left a huge impression on me as a kid but my favorite concept to come out of it was the Serpent Society. Founded by Sidewinder, they are a snake based consortium of villains… like EVERYONE has a snake name, power and gimmick — deep cuts like Boomslang and Fer-de-Lance and incredible designs like Bushmaster who has a cybernetic snake tail body! On top of that they are a full on supervillain labor union. They protect each other, share profits from the jobs they pull and, I have to assume, offer dental. Also, Sidewinder using his teleporting power will automatically bail you out of jail once you’re arrested. Let’s see Thanos or Darkseid give that kind of guarantee.
They’ll do any job whether it be assassinating M.O.D.O.K. or seducing Captain America. And speaking of, Captain America’s greatest love interest, Diamondback, got her start as a member. Not enough writers have played with concept but I’d love to see a Serpent Society miniseries that explores the mundane bureaucracy that comes from running a supervillain union (Marvel call me).
Gerry Duggan: My character I adore and try to use when possible is Turk. A street tough that despite all that goes in Marvel’s NYC has survived it all. A true roach of a crook. I even gave him an Infinity Stone once – which Dr. Strange still owes him a favor for giving up.
Liana Kangas: So I think my answer is DC Batman’s villain JOHN SMITH: and here’s why– 1) created by my all time fav Scott Bryan Wilson and Skylar Patridge! 2) wow probably the most UNIQUE NAME in the game of villains. Fresh, Authentic, 10/10 never forgettable. 3) Gives me an Ocean’s 11 Rusty vibe, ya know?
Declan Shalvey: I AM BAYTOR!
I’ll never forget the gut-punch laughter that shuddered out of me the first time I saw that character in Ennis/McCrea’s HITMAN. Just the sheer ridiculousness of it, and McCrea’s wonderful eerie depiction of such a lunatic character. The yelling, the physical spasms, the jagged teeth, all while YELLING that immortal phrase… I’m chuckling just thinking about it. I now realise I have to go back and read some Hitman and on top of that… draw Baytor sometime!
Kyle Starks: I am a sucker for those under-used, different, unusual characters. I’ve always been way more Blue and Gold than Bats and Super. And I think I’ll always be that way. In many ways a fan WILD DOG comic I did years ago put me on the map, and I famously adore Demolition Man. I can and have spoken at length, multiple times, about my love for D-Man.
BUT, I recently got to write Great Lakes Avengers for the Marvel Unlimited app or webcomic side of Marvel or whatever its called. And Great Lakes Avengers has been my answer to date for “if you could write any big two property who would it be?” Those first two appearances in West Coast Avengers are two of my favorite comics ever. It’s a master class in introducing a team and they debut a team from a place no superhero teams are ever from (the midwest) with powers that maybe don’t seem that great or even make sense – but who in no way act or see themselves as lesser than any other hero.
And that’s my jam.
Give me the little guys who never give up. Give me the guys, who despite having fewer resources available to them, try just as hard and can succeed just as much as the ones who can rip a plane in half or wield the power of a God.
For what it’s worth, I hated almost every iteration after those early, sparse Avengers appearances. The big two can have problems with nuance and things that are different often become jokes and jokes in that venue are often cheap and low hanging fruit and that absolutely happened to the GLA. I rolled back almost everything I hated in that webcomic and I hope it sticks.
Give me the little guy forever.
Kelly Thompson: Man, I have such trouble understanding where characters fit on the list. There are no hard and fast rules to this kind of thing and for me, when I love a character so much, it becomes hard to see them as C-List (or worse!) But let me give this a try anyway. If we assume A-List characters are sort of your iconic characters recognized the world over, then B-List are like — mostly recognizable to most media savvy folks, can carry their own book maybe. Then I guess that makes C-List more like “cult favorites” that are still mostly not recognizable to the general public but maybe have had some impressive or good runs historically?
Using that as my metric…I’m gonna say Big Barda and Scott Free. I love that from the jump they upset so many couple dynamics — she’s big and strong, he’s small and smart/quick. I love that they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them. I love that Barda was a baddie, one of the worst, and took one look at Scott Free and everything he was about and the goodness in him and chucked it all to take a chance on that instead. It’s beautiful. It’s big. It’s Big Barda and Scott Free. Nuff said! ;D
I love them so much. And they’ll always be A-List to me, dammit.
Joshua Williamson: I have many characters like that. If I see them on the cover or hear they are in the story I’ll get interested. Like Spider-Man 2099 used to be a big one for me, but at this point Miguel O’Hara has gone very mainstream. I’ve always been interested in Deadman, Multiple Man, Neron, Trickster, The Hood, Aztek, Prometheus, Zauriel…but I’m not sure if any of them hit that “Stilt-Man” level you’re talking about, so I’m going to go for a deep cut and pull from Bloodlines.
I was just a kid when the classic DC event Bloodlines came out and was super into the introduction of all those new characters. The winner of Bloodlines was clearly Hitman, but I was really drawn toward Argus. His power was that he was invisible at night. And he had some cool vision powers, too. But something about the night abilities was super neat to me. And I thought he had an amazing costume, designed by the legend Phil Hester! He had a mini-series, and guest-starred in Flash a few times but disappeared into the night after that. When I started to write for DC Comics I tried to sneak him into Flash, and especially into the Justice League vs Suicide Squad series but I couldn’t make it work. It’s just a matter of time before he emerges again! And when he does, I’ll be there.