Lumps of Coal: The 12 Least Essential Comic Characters of 2008

Coal can get a bad rap this time of year, but look at the good things it does for us: heat, energy, coal of the char kind makes a nice BBQ, but at Christmas, we only associate it with a lack of effort in gift giving or a signal that we’ve been bad, bad kids.

That’s sort of the case with the twelve heroes, heroines and villains listed below. Each has a unique set of talents and gifts, and we’ve used them for loads of action and entertainment in the past, but for these folks, 2008 just didn’t seem to be their year. Here’s hoping all of them will have a much-improved 2009.

If they can. So, without further delay, I present the twelve LEAST essential of 2008, in no particular order.

1. Wonder Woman (DC Comics) - Apparently it’s hard out there for an Amazon. With the thankful arrival of Gail Simone, the series appears headed in the right direction, especially with story arcs like “The Circle” (issues 14-17) that wove the past and the present beautifully. BUT…consider a good chunk of 2008 for the Greek knockout: palling around with terrorists like Beowulf, enduring a battle with monkeys for her apartment, starting a bizarre relationship with Nemesis that reminds me of every Moonlighting plot EVER, and playing almost second-class status in Justice League of America and 2008 doesn’t look too shiny for ole’ Diana. Here’s hoping this A-list star of DC gets her shine back in ’09.

2. Dracula (Dark Horse) - Who would ever think that a literary figure on the scale of Count Dracula would be reduced to lame-ass wisecracks, slang and an odd bromance with Xander in the pages of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!? Even when he made his famous appearance in Season Five of BTVS, it was a slick, tight episode that acknowledged the history of the show in its mythical roots. When Drac showed up in issues 12-15, he found himself in Japan, but not after trading groaners this side of Henny Youngman and bemoaning not only his lack of Xander time but the magics stolen from him. Who is this person? If Dracula always comes back like Buffy says he does, the next time better show us the bloodthirsty, regal vamp we remember.

3. Misfit (DC Comics) - It’s truly sad that Birds of Prey must end, but perhaps the one (only) good thing to come out of cancellation is the hopeful permanent teleportation of Misfit out of the DCU. Since her debut as the poor man’s Batgirl in BOP 96, Misfit has more than lived up to her name. Despite some promise during a storyline involving forced metahuman fighting and her tension with Black Alice, Misfit has become the screw-up of the group. Comic relief, sure, but how many times can we laugh before the series goes from being an espionage and search and rescue driven group effort and quickly becomes Laugh-In meets Charlie’s Angels? Dark vengeance indeed!

4. The Abomination (Marvel) - Boy, did this villain fall farther faster this year than anyone else in the Marvel Universe! Besides the Skrulls and Tony Stark of course! Over the years, Emil Blonksy became more than just a beastly creation to destroy the Hulk, but took on a very complex emotional side in later issues, namely in regards to the “death” of Betty Ross. Explain then how this creation goes from being a powerful, bad-ass strong man that can trade blows with the Hulk to turning up shot and presumed dead in Hulk 1?? Sure, big villains and heroes can be taken down, but come on! He even made it in to the movie this year. If Abomination can come back after being atomized years ago, surely he can survive a shot, right? Right?

5. Ares (Marvel) - 2008 was not kind to Greeks! After being named to the quirkily dysfunctional Mighty Avengers after the Marvel Civil War, Ares seemed like an interesting choice for his combination of strength and vocal opposition to leadership from Tony Stark. After his interaction with Hercules in the World War Hulk aftermath, this god-like figure has quickly become yawn-like. Secret Invasion did him no favors either this year, as he became surprisingly ineffective, despite his strength and brute love of violence. Perhaps something interesting can happen with his son Alexander/Phobos in 2009, but this year was decidedly un war-like for this former god.

6. Kick-Ass (Icon) - It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece. When little Dave Lizewski put on his green suit and promptly got his…well, ass kicked in Kick-Ass 1, it created a buzz that demanded multiple reprints and a movie option! So…what happened? After four amazing issues and the appearance of some interesting new characters in Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, Kick-Ass has vanished. Perhaps the lump of coal in this case isn’t so much the character, but the creators. It seems that we’re waving good-bye more and more to issue five as the weeks continue to go by. Millar better hope the fans of the series don’t respond by losing interest in 2009.

7. Cyclone (DC Comics) - Justice Society of America has consistently been one of DC’s clearest, most character-rich series since its 2006 re-launch, but 2008 has seen the character of Cyclone turn from being a promising new recruit, to resident fangirl of those around her. The concept of using family members of former and current members is a great one, but the inclusion of Cyclone has quickly turned into an odd fit. She’s appeared in most major storylines this year, being a minor factor so far in the “One World, Under Gog” arc and taking a backseat even to the younger Wildcat in the “Thy Kingdom Come” issues. Cyclone has promise, but this year she’s a kid playing dress-up while the grown-ups handle the matters of the world.

8. Bane (DC Comics) - Where are the simpler days when Bane used to just go around breaking people’s backs? Ah, memories. When I saw that Bane was joining the Secret Six, I was excited that he would inject some much needed ‘swagger’ into this group of traveling mercenaries that has somehow become the modern Partridge Family. But, I would be wrong. Bane has become the de facto spiritual advisor for the group and a somewhat nagging mother to Scandal. Huh? While seeing the intellectual side of Bane while coupled with his brute strength adds some depth to his character, the constant demurring to standards of behavior and his giving advice as to what’s best for a cold leave me wondering if 2009 will see him handing out hard candies and stuffing tissue up his sleeve. Since when did Ragdoll become the backbone of the group!

9. Doctor Strange (Marvel) - I realize that Marvel and its writers have used the Sorcerer Supreme in the past to tie up some crazy storylines, but to almost totally take him out of the picture for Marvel’s Secret Invasion to perhaps avoid a crazy ending is a bit extreme. After telling the New Avengers that “yep, you’re all clean” in regards to their Skrulliness, he vanishes to “heal and meditate.” Perfect timing, doctor! Perhaps you can make the back nine on the mystic green while the rest of Earth’s heroes and villains play guessing games with an alien race that’s still pissed about being turned into cows over 40 years ago! If you’re available for real rounds of doctoring in 2009, that would be super!

10. Red Arrow (DC Comics) - Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow; whatever you call Roy Harper, don’t call him simplistic. A rather complicated romance with Hawkgirl has been brewing all along this year, but other than that, where is the character going? He’s been a consistent performer this year in the pages of Justice League of America, but he’s turning into the guy who’s just “there”. For a character with as rich a history as his, it’s a shame that more can’t be done with him than scattered scenes of angst with whichever character happens to cross his path. Hasn’t Vixen suffered enough?

11. Doctor Doom (Marvel) - If the pages of Secret Invasion #8 have taught us anything, it’s that 2009 looks to be a big year for the man in the iron mask. Although judging by 2008 standards anything would look up! It’s hard to believe an egomaniac like Doom was so absent from the Skrull invasion, but perhaps all will be revealed with that in the Dark Reign storyline. Yes, Doom was involved in two FF storylines this year, but his role seemed more reduced to victim flagging down the police than power-wielding, posturing monarch. Either coming back from the future or being used as a Duracell to power a future Earth, 2008 was not generally kind to Victor. Plan for 2009: more “bow down to Doom” less “oh officer, thank God you’re here.”

12. Slapstick (Marvel) - Of all the nutty characters to come out of the early 1990’s era at Marvel, Slapstick has to be one of the most headscratching inducing, even by today’s standards. Even characters like Sleepwalker and Darkhawk found some dignity in the 21st century, but not the walking Acme campaign. His appearance in Avengers: The Initiative is comical, and not always in a good way, and the team’s recent ballyhooed fight with the New Warriors saw him taking almost no part. You would think that someone with over 15 years in the heroic world, Slapstick would have graduated and traded up by now, much like Jubilee/Wondra has done, but alas, he remains one of the least essential figures this year.