Monday, September 28, 2009

“A” List characters – Who makes the “A” list.

Recently I have taken to jotting down different ideas that I have for post and then coming back to them and flesh them out in more detail. The Dick Grayson versus Bruce Wayne was one of those ideas and the “A” list is another one. I’m not sure why this idea came to mind, but we always refer to different characters as “A” list, top tier or whatever as to distinguish them from other characters. Batman is “A” list and Blue Beetle is not. Spider-Man is “A” list and Quicksilver is not.

So what makes a character an “A” list character and is the “A” list a set thing?

I’ll give you my answer on the second half of the question first. The “A” list is not a set thing and it can move over time.

What makes an “A” list character is perception, in my opinion. Perception is the key and the widespread knowledge of that character to a wider public is a major factor. Let’s face it no matter what Superman and Batman are the all time “A” list characters. I’m willing to bet that almost everyone knows who they are and probably most know a little bit about them. There all a few reasons why these two are the pre-eminent “A” list characters. Time and marketing are two factors, both are over 70 years old and have had TV series, cartoons, movies and more made about them and at this point are ingrained into popular culture. Now time alone is not a factor as Captain Marvel was at one time more popular then Superman, but from many reasons over the years Captain Marvel became a thing of the past and he is no longer an “A” list character.

Another “A” list character right now is Wolverine. He is rather young in relationship to other characters, but the wild popularity of his character can be attributed to the attitude and uniqueness of his character in comics. Another big reason is the fact that Hugh Jackman made him believable in the first X-Men movie. That lead to the character becoming more popular then any other X-Men and destroyed any chance of Hugh Jackman having a career much beyond portraying Wolverine. Since it made him a multi-millionaire I’m sure he is crying about the loss of that career in his huge home in Australia with his trophy wife by his side as he suns near his swimming pool being served a beer by his butler. So the “A” list is hard to make and falling from it can often be hard, as once you make it you are accorded that status for awhile regardless of whether it is deserved.

In DC I think the “A” list is relatively a short list with Batman, Robin and Superman perhaps being the only “A” list characters for DC. Batman has a family of books and right now is the glue that hold together Batman and Robin, All Star Batman and Robin (maybe one day), Batman, Streets of Gotham, Gotham Sirens, Azrael (coming soon), Red Robin, Outsiders, Detective Comic and The Brave and The Bold. That is a hefty list, but Batman holds it all together. Plus to cement Batman’s status of the “A” list character of the “A” list characters he had a movie that grossed a billion dollars. Robin gets to the “A” list by being part of the Batman mythology, but I would even probably exempt him, as on his own merit he does not make it. Superman is the same deal; Action, Adventure, Supergirl, Superman, Superman World of Krypton and Superman/Batman all depend on Superman being a part of the structure which holds it together. In the wider world Superman is a term that is used as a noun or more like an adjective at times in the normal course of conversation. Superman is ingrained in our minds and is surely as much a part of modern mythology as any other character. With the advent of digital media that cut across movies, video games, TV and whatever else I’m sure Superman will last longer then any of us.

After that I think Wonder Woman makes a weak case as an “A” list character. She has had a TV show and certainly many people might know of her, few I believe know who she is and what her background is anymore. From a publishing perspective it has long been rumored that DC only continued to publish her book as the agreement was she had to be continually published or the rights reverted back to her creator’s heirs (at this point). Even with editorial support and a push to put “named” creators on her book she has remained a one book character and plays a supporting role in many team books.

After Wonder Woman does DC have any “A” list characters? Green Lantern is working his way up to that status under Geoff Johns we have seen him grow into a two book character, have a direct to DVD cartoon with him as the star, a movie is in the works and he is the central star of DC’s big event right now. Still to the outside world, who is he and how many people really know him. You can make a case for the Flash and almost any JLA member as the popularity of that group via the cartoons is certainly widespread, but I have a hard time given them anything but “B” list status.

Marvel has few “A” list characters also and of course they have only been around since the sixties but still I think they have three “A” list characters and have a few more closer to be “A” list then DC does right now and that is due to the phenomenal success of their movies. The three “A” list characters are Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Hulk. Wolverine in addition to everything else even has the cartoon named Wolverine and The X-Men, which pretty much says it all. Spider-Man is almost iconic as Batman in some ways, between cartoons, movies and the multitude of books he supports Spider-Man is an “A” list character and is probably still Marvel’s number one known character. The Hulk comes in next as his TV show and even the movies have made him and continue to make him a household name. I saw Jets fans wearing his fists at a game in the Meadowlands recently.

After that Iron Man is popular now, but how to continue that for a long period is the question, one movie does not make you an “A” list character. Heck the FF should be, but to the wider world they are still ciphers. Thor, Cyclops, Storm, Captain America, Daredevil are all similar to the JLA members in my opinion and are solid “B” level stars but not “A” list characters.

So in my mind the “A” list is a very small list and includes a select few. If we are looking at this from just a publishing perspective the list would be different, but there I think you have to be able to support more then one monthly title to make the “A” list and both Marvel and DC have been trying to roll out more books related to groups realizing it is very hard for a solo character to be the back bone of a group of books. The most successful group book of all time is the X-Men as evidence but how many books Marvel publishing under the X-banner. Heck the X-Books alone would be the third largest comic book company.

It would be interesting to run a nationwide survey and see if any other comic book character would out poll my top five. Of course to the greater outside world they would probably include Mickey Mouse or something.

1 comment:

  1. It's a minor point but Hugh Jackman is hardly trapped in the Wolverine ID. He's an old style actor who can do song and dance, drama and comedy. The man played Bob Fosse, after all, since making his appearance as Wolverine. He's hosted awards shows. He's not a Leonard Nimoy, forever Mr Spock. He's more akin to Patrick Stewart, who has certainly continued in many roles since Next Generation.