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The 50 greatest comic-book characters

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Batman? Superman? Groot, even? The greatest comic-book characters in the canon have been debated and argued over for decades. The creations of Bon Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Stan Lee and co. undoubtedly form a might canon – in every sense. Empire has delved into it and picked 50 super-powered specimens we believe stand are the greatest in the pantheon.

50. SPAWN (Spawn)

AKA: AL SIMMONS

Spawn

In 1992 a group of Marvel's top artists, frustrated with having their work exploited, walked out to form Image Comics, a place where creators would retain the rights to the characters they created. Among their numerous launch titles, Spawn would prove to be by far the most popular. Created by Spider-Man legend Todd MacFarlane, Spawn was a murdered CIA operative who makes a deal with the demon Malebolgia, returning to Earth as an immortal, Hellspawn. While he began as a traditional – if unorthodox – vigilante hero, Spawn grew increasingly dark over time, slipping further into an anti-hero role as the theology-heavy storylines became increasingly twisted. His popularity has since waned, but Spawn remains an iconic crusader, both for the characters in his stories and creator-owned comic books.

Trademarks: A Billowing, semi-sentient cape, trailing chains, glowing green eyes and hell-derived magical powers.
On Screen: An award-winning HBO animated series ran in the late '90s, as well as a markedly less successful live action movie starring Michael Jai White. A sequel is currently in development and has been since 1998.
Did You Know?: The scope of Spawn's hell magic is limited only by his imagination. The energy fuelling it, however, is not and if Spawn ever exhausts his reserves it's a one-way ticket back to hell.

49. CAPTAIN HADDOCK (Tintin)

Captain Haddock from the Tintin series

Tintin's most enduring sidekick turned up in the ninth of the young reporter's adventures, and became more and more prominent thereafter – eventually becoming practically the main character. The full-bearded alcoholic, rageaholic, commitment-phobic British sea captain lucked into a fortune (Red Rackham's Treasure) and wound up drinking himself insensible in Marlinspike Hall, occasionally giving vent to amazingly picturesque salty language (often through a megaphone) when assailed by bashi-bazouks, troglodytes, prize purple jellyfish, Incan mummies and Signorina Bianca Castafiore, 'the Milanese nightingale'. Pursuit of whisky is his defining motive – he even got drunk on a trip to the Moon! One of the most human and perversely admirable characters in fiction.

Trademarks: Captain's hat, bushy beard, tumbler of whisky and a roll-neck pullover. Catchphrase: "billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!" ("Mille millions de mille milliards de mille sabords.")
On Screen: Georges Wilson and Jean Blouise played him in 1960s French films (Tintin And The Golden Fleece, Tintin And The Blue Oranges), Paul Frees dubbed the voice in internationally-seen cartoons (providing definitive live readings of the "blistering barnacles" business), and some bloke called Steven Spielberg directed the bequiffed Belgian in stop-motion animation The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn.
Did You Know?: The Captain's name was suggested by Hergé's wife, who explained that a haddock was "a sad English fish".

48. HARVEY PEKAR (American Splendor)

AKA: LUCAS TRENT

Harvey Pekar from the American Splendor series

Harvey Pekar, a fairly miserable and obsessive fellow who works as a file clerk in a Veterans' Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, is the creation of Harvey Pekar, a writer who sets out to chronicle his everyday life in comic form, recruiting artist Robert Crumb and others to illustrate anecdotes about the cranky hero's mundane, frustrating life. Eventually, the irregularly-published comic book - and its several sequels (Our Cancer Year, Our Movie Year, The Quitter) - made Pekar a fringe celeb, better-known for his fractious, controversial appearances on The David Letterman Show until the film adaptation brought attention to his ongoing comics. Besides covering his courtships, marriage, illnesses, career reversals and brushes with fame, Pekar has opened up the comic to chronicle the lives of his friends.

Trademarks: Poor fashion sense, middle-aged frustration, dour outlook and general whining.
On Screen: Cinematic sad sack Paul Giamatti plays Pekar in the film version of American Splendor.
Did You Know?: Jonathan Demme tried to adapt American Splendor in the '80s, but the project never came to fruition as Demme wasn't yet an established director.

47. APOLLO AND THE MIDNIGHTER (Stormwatch)

Apollo and the Midnighter

Technically this is clearly two characters, but how could we separate comics' most significant out-and-proud couple? In the often simplistically macho world of superheroes, these two were introduced as an off-kilter Superman and Batman into Warren Ellis' excellent Stormwatch series, but after a series of gradual hints were revealed as a couple in the Authority series which followed, hopefully shaking at least a few fanboy prejudices out of existence. Now married, with an adoptive (super)daughter, the pair have starred in a number of controversial storylines (including an implied rape) as befits the darker tone of the more adult Authority, but have recently been reunited after a mind-wipe took Midnighter away and broke up their home (these things are why the superhero divorce rate is so high). Now reunited, expect them to keep flying the rainbow flag and beating up anyone who gets in their way.

Trademarks: Apollo can absorb solar energy and convert it to superstrength, flight and heat beams from his eyes; The Midnighter has enhanced physical abilities, a spare heart, and the capacity to anticipate his opponent's moves.
On Screen: Think a blonde Superman-type for Apollo - maybe Matthew McConaughey? – and a brooding, darker figure for The Midnighter – say, Josh Brolin.
Did You Know? Marvel's gay pride poster-boy is Alpha Flight's North Star. Only implicitly gay when the series was launched in 1983, Northstar has since come out and even developed a crush on Iceman during a stint with the X-Men in 2002.

46. J. JONAH JAMESON (Spider-Man)

J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man series

Throughout his career, Spider-Man's major nemesis has not been Dr Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Kingpin or any other conventional super-foe, but J. Jonah Jameson, editor-publisher of the New York Daily Bugle – a newspaper which has run a campaign against Spider-Man (and other masked vigilantes) that has often turned the public against superheroes. Initially annoyed that Spider-Man got more acclaim than his astronaut son, whom he wanted to boost as 'a real hero', Jameson's hatred of Peter Parker's alter ego has grown into an overpowering obsession which has threatened his health and business. Ironically, he is also Parker's most frequent employer, buying the freelance photographer's blurry, out of focus shots of Spider-Man in action for the front page – and paying as little as possible for them.

Trademarks: Hitler moustache, brush-cut and an ever-present cigar.
On Screen: J.K. Simmons perfectly captures JJJ in the Spider-Man films. David White played the part in the 1970s TV pilot but was replaced by Robert F. Simon in the subsequent action series, and various Spider-Man cartoons have cast Keith Carradine, William Woodson, Ed Asner, Paul Kligman and Darran Norris.
Did You Know?: JJJ financed several super-villains, including the robot Spider-Slayers and the Scorpion.

45. DEADPOOL (Deadpool)

AKA: WADE WILSON

Deadpool

When he first appeared on the scene in 1991, Deadpool was a minor character, hailed as the mutant answer to Spider-Man. Or, rather, the mutant rip-off of Spider-Man, right down to the red costume with coloured rings around the eyes, the extraordinary agility and a propensity for delivering one-liners in the middle of a fight. But the Rob Liefeld/Fabian Nicieza creation quickly became a fan favourite and established a demented identity of his own. The constant regeneration of his brain cells has turned the former Weapon X subject certifiably insane – so much so that he realises he's in a comic book, and frequently refers to the fact. Although he began life as a villain, the Merc With A Mouth was given his own title in 1997 (although cancelled in 2002, Marvel's having another crack later this year) and is now officially a hero. Well, an anti-hero. And one of the most entertaining ones around.

Trademarks: Mutant with a healing factor (which constantly regenerates his cancer-ridden body), enhanced strength and agility, a variety of swords and daggers and the ability to wisecrack like no-one else.
On Screen: After that X-Men Origins: Wolverine appearance, Ryan Reynolds finally got his bona fide Deadpool solo movie made. And, boy, did it connect with fans, electrifying first Comic-Con and then the box office to sequel-guaranteeing effect.
Did You Know?: He once had his head cut off - and survived. His healing factor kicking in once the errant noggin was reattached.

44. JENNY SPARKS (Stormwatch)

Jenny Sparks by Brian Hurtt

Born on January 1, 1900, Sparks died exactly a hundred years later – though she stopped ageing in her early twenties because she was mostly made of electricity, the motive force of the 20th century. Though she was introduced as a new recruit to fairly conventional superhero team Stormwatch, she became a key player in the more ambitious, ambiguous and generally cooler line-up mostly known as The Authority. Various flashbacks have filled in her previous history as a World War II spy, a 1950s space-woman and a 1960s British superheroine, involved in a longstanding conflict with an alternate reality (Sliding Albion) where England rules the world thanks to collaboration with aristocratic aliens.

Trademarks: Union jack t-shirt, bad temper, alcoholism, tough-but-posh British accent and control over electricity.
On Screen: We're thinking Keira Knightley or Rosamund Pike.
Did You Know?: When she died, she was replaced by another newborn century baby, Jenny Quantum.

43. ASTRO BOY (Ambassador Atom)

AKA: TETSUWAN ATOMO

Astro Boy

A perky, atomic-powered robot created by Dr Tenma (translated as Professor Boyton or Professor Balfus) to replace his deceased son, Tetsuwan Atomo (Astro Boy) proved unsatisfactory and was sold to a circus – but emerged as a long-running hero working for the Ministry of Science. Besides having superheroic powers, the naive young robot grappled with human emotions and personal interaction. He also got into at least one destructive fight with another robot or super-powered baddie each issue.

Trademarks: Spiky shiny 'hair', red boots and his theme song: "There you go, Astro Boy! On your flight into space!," etc.
On Screen: There was a live-action TV series in Japan in 1959-60, and several episodes were cut together into a feature film, but Tetsuwan Atomo became internationally known (well, famous in America) thanks to an animated TV show which began in 1963 and was imported to the US as Astro Boy.
Did You Know?: The English name Astro Boy was selected after the closer translation 'the Mighty Atom' was rejected as "too generic" (and, perhaps as infringement of the DC Comics shrinking hero.

42. THE SAINT OF KILLERS (Preacher)

The Saint of Killers from the Preacher series

Garth Ennis' masterpiece, Preacher, is so good that two characters from it make our list (the other is – well, you'll see...). Choosing from the likes of Cassidy, Arseface, Herr Starr and Jesse Custer was tough, but if we hadn't plumped for the Saint Of Killers, he might have found us and killed us. A grim, taciturn, implacable killing machine charged by God himself to be his gun for hire, the Saint is an engine of pure hatred, driven by his thirst for vengeance (his family were killed, which precipitated his fall from grace). He's like the Terminator with a mullet. Indestructible and inexorable – like death himself – he's so badass that he manages to kill both the Devil and – spoiler warning! – God. Which makes him just about the most powerful character in the history of comic books, as far as we're concerned.

Trademarks: The Angel of Death reinvented as a cowboy: stone-cold snarl, battered hat and a green trenchcoat concealing Colts that can slay a small army in seconds.
On Screen: Ennis always saw the character as a combo of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood (although his artist, Steve Dillon, and Preacher cover artist Glenn Fabry made him look ten times more physically imposing). The man who's playing him in AMC's miniseries is the suitably grizzled Graham McTavish, erstwhile dwarf in The Hobbit trilogy. Cult status already looks assured.
Did You Know?: He made a very brief cameo appearance in Ennis' excellent DC series, Hitman, about a wise-cracking assassin plying his trade in Gotham City.

41. GREEN LANTERN (All-American Comics / Justice League / Green Lantern)

AKA: HAL JORDAN

Green Lantern

In the 1950s, DC revived discontinued titles from a decade earlier – reinventing The Flash, Hawkman and the Atom as 'all-new' characters, often using now-modish science fiction ideas rather than magic to explain their powers. The 'old' Green Lantern (Allan Scott) had a magic ring, but fearless test pilot Hal Jordon was given his 'power ring' by a dying alien who recruited him to take his place in a corps of space cops run by the Guardians of the Universe. As long as he kept the ring charged while reciting his oath, GL could project all manner of giant green objects (boxing gloves, etc) and travel through space. Over the years, Jordan has been stripped of his ring (and his life) – but currently he's back in action as the primary GL of the DC Universe. Connoisseurs reckon he was at his best partnered with left-wing liberal superhero Green Arrow in a socially-conscious 1960s run by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams collected as 'Hard Travelling Heroes'.

Trademarks: Power ring, domino mask, figure-hugging suit and his catch-oath: "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"
On Screen: Gerald Mohr, Michael Rye, Adam Baldwin and Dermot Mulroney voiced Jordan/GL on various DC cartoon team-up shows, but a different Lantern – Phil LaMarr as John Stewart – features in the recent Justice League animated series. And that was it. There was definitely no Green Lantern movie starring, say, Ryan Reynolds in, say, 2011. No siree. Never happened. Nothing to see here.
Did You Know?: Gil Kane originally modelled the look of Hal Jordan on Paul Newman.

40. SCOTT PILGRIM (Scott Pilgrim)

Scott Pilgrim

Bryan Lee O'Malley's creation is one of the most authentic twentysomethings ever committed to comic booky paper. At once self-assured yet nervous about his social interactions and encounters with Ramona Flowers, the girl who appears in Scott's dreams before he meets her, Scott is an enormously likeable character: droll and funny, spicing his conversation with pop culture references (and, like Deadpool, he seems to be aware that he's in a comic book from time to time), finding inner depths, emotions and resources he never knew he had, as his slacking ways are rudely challenged by the small matter of defeating those evil ex-boyfriends. The six volume comic (part four was released this year), in case you've never picked it up, reflects Scott: it's a mish-mash of styles and tones, mixing observational comedy with, say, videogame-inspired fight scenes, with the tone zigzagging about wildly and joyously. Go discover it. Now.

Trademarks: A 23-year-old Toronto youth who's just like you – except for the Manga eyes, the gay room-mate, the band called Sex Bob-omb, and the girl of his dreams (literally), whose seven evil ex-boyfriends he must battle before they can become an item.
On Screen: Scott is played by Michael Cera – whose nervous energy offered a perfect fit – in Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, an adaptation that's by turns manic and marvellous.
Did You Know?: Scott is named after a song by the Canadian all-girl band, Plumtree.

39. THE MEKON (Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future)

The Mekon from the Dan Dare series

Take that, Dan Dare. You may be the one who gets to save mankind all the time, but it's your arch-enemy, the mega-meloned Mekon who makes our list! And rightly so – certainly, when Empire was growing up, we used to flick nonchalantly through Dan Dare stories until the Mekon turned up, usually making threats that ended with some variation of "I will kill you/blow you up/take your mother, Dorothy Dare out for a seafood dinner and then never call her again, Dan Dare!" As created by Frank Hampson, The Mighty Mekon of Mekonta is an emotion-free genius, always coming up with nifty weapons (a weaponised black hole is one of his latest whizzes) with which he spectacularly fails to kill Dan Dare and his chubby pal, Digby.

Trademarks: A giant swollen green head to accommodate his mighty, over-sized genetically engineered Venusian brain; a levitating chair to hump his atrophied limbs around on. Oh, and lots of evil plotting.
On Screen: The Mekon has yet to be brought to the big screen, though there was talk of a Dan Dare movie, with Garth Ennis rumoured to be working on the script. If it ever happens we're sure it'll be CG, but we'd love to see someone in heavy-duty prosthetics, to be honest. And that man is... David Thewlis.
Did You Know? Elton John's song, Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future), contains the Bernie Taupin-penned line, "Dan Dare doesn't know it, but I like The Mekon!" In retaliation, Dare produced a single containing the line, "Elton John doesn't know it... but I like his partner, David Furnish."

38. CEREBUS (Cerebus)

AKA: CEREBUS THE AARDVARK

Cerebus the Aardvark

Canadian artist Dave Sim, an outspoken proponent for the creative rights of comic book creators, a frequent marijuana (and occasional LSD) user and the man responsible for creating the longest-running, single-creative-team-driven series in comic-book history, is the person to thank for giving us one of pop culture's strangest and most complex characters: a misanthropic, anthropomorphic three-foot tall gray aardvark with a chequered history that has seen him playing the roles of pope, prime minister, mercenary and unwanted houseguest. The saga of Cerebus is made even more compelling by the fact that he's a borderline alcoholic hermaphrodite with (according to his creator) a voice like George C. Scott and a general dislike for everything and everyone he comes into contact with. A character born of bizarre brilliance.

Trademarks: Possessing of a bad temper, fine skills at hand-to-hand combat and a predilection for speaking in the third person. Oh, and he's an aardvark.
On Screen: Despite numerous cross-fertilisation appearances in the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Flaming Carrot comics, Cerebus has never (and is rather unlikely) to ever make the leap to the big screen - just look what happened to Howard The Duck. If it did ever happen, however, we're thinking Warwick Davis in the aardvark suit and Danny Huston providing the voice.
Did You Know?: Cerebus' name was originally an accidental misspelling of Cerberus, the mythical three-headed dog who guarded the gate of Hades in ancient Greek myth.

37. DAREDEVIL (Daredevil)

AKA: MATT MURDOCK

Daredevil

One of the superheroes created by Stan n' Jack during their burst of unparalleled creativity in the mid-1960s, Daredevil was one of the first down-and-dirty superheroes, choosing to base himself in New York's less than salubrious Hell's Kitchen. A mess of contradictions – he's a devout Catholic who dresses up as a devil, he's a lawyer by day, while getting up to some pretty intense, and illegal, vigilantism by night – Daredevil has never enjoyed the following of a Hulk or a Spidey, but he's a compelling, layered and visually striking character who's attracted some of the best talent in the business. It was on Daredevil that Frank Miller came to prominence, while the likes of Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale and Kevin Smith have taken a shot at the noble but tortured hero in recent years.

Trademarks: Snazzy red outfit, complete with collapsible cane/billy club, enhanced hearing, smell, and a unique radar. He also has incredible agility and balance.
On Screen: Although he was by no means the first choice, Ben Affleck actually had a decent stab at playing DD in Mark Steven Johnson's 2003 flick. Charlie Cox has taken the part and run with it in a Netflix adaption that's afforded plenty of screentime for both Daredevil and his real-life alter ego. There's more to come too.
Did You Know?: Danny Rand - aka Iron Fist - donned Daredevil's horns recently, while Matt Murdock was in FBI custody.

36. AGENT GRAVES (100 Bullets)

AKA: PHILLIP GRAVES

Agent Graves from 100 Bullets

Apart from being the coolest cat on several continents, Agent Graves also serves as the harbinger of moral dilemma. Appearing as the protagonist of Brian Azzarello's 100 Bullets, Graves offers those who have been wronged the chance for revenge without consequences, if only they're prepared to take it. A briefcase, a gun, 100 'untraceable' bullets and incontrovertible proof against the single person behind their woes, these are what Graves has to offer. Interestingly, neither Graves nor the writers pass judgment on whether taking up the offer is right or wrong. Graves' motives are never made clear but he used to be a member of a group called The Minutemen and harbours a great deal of resentment for the shadowy organisation known as The Trust, who betrayed him in the past.

Trademarks: An older man in a nondescript, government official-style suit, Graves is meticulous, calculating and rarely displays his emotions.
On Screen: Someone unflappable, ice cold and possessed of extreme gravitas – we're thinking Chris Cooper or Alan Dale.
Did You Know?: The character's full name, Phillip Graves, is a homophone of 'fill up graves'.

35. HELLBOY (Hellboy)

AKA: ANUNG UN RAMA

Hellboy

There are few characters more original or striking (literally – Hellboy punches first, asks questions – well, almost never) than Hellboy, the genius creation of Mike Mignola, who uses the character as the outlet for his obsession with pulp comics, Lovecraftian horror and tales of ancient folklore and the supernatural. Enhanced greatly by Mignola's artwork – pitch-black shadows and popping reds – Hellboy is a lumbering but lovable giant of few words (although, "aw, crap" is usually high on the list) who interacts with talking corpses and giant tentacled horrors while trying to deny the destiny he was created for. For the movies, Guillermo del Toro gave Hellboy more inner turmoil and emotions, but the comics version is a blast as he investigates the paranormal in much the same way Gene Hunt investigates crime – fists first.

Trademarks: Red skin, horn stubs, yellow eyes, prehensile tail, massive right hand made out of unbreakable stone and a penchant for cigars.
On Screen: Two words: Ron Perlman. There's rarely been quite as immaculate a marriage of actor to character, with Perlman perfectly capturing Hellboy's contrary air of world-weary cynicism, and boundless, childlike optimism, while giving him a truly human edge. No wonder del Toro refused to make it with anyone else.
Did You Know?: His first appearance in his own comic, The Right Hand Of Doom, was actually written by industry legend, John Byrne, with Mignola restricting himself to story and art duties until he felt capable of writing his own dialogue.

34. DOCTOR STRANGE (Doctor Strange / Strange Tales)

AKA: STEPHEN STRANGE

Dr. Strange

This universe's 'sorcerer supreme' was originally an arrogant, money-grubbing surgeon who lost the use of his hands in a drunken car wreck and sought a miracle cure in the Tibetan lamasery of 'the Ancient One'. He then learned to master the mystic arts and moved into a mansion in Greenwich Village, New York, to take up the job of freelance psychic investigator and protector of the universe from menaces like 'the dread Dormammu' and even Count Dracula. Never a big-seller, Strange has consistently featured in outstanding comics, especially when drawn by Ditko and Gene Colan. As the Marvel Universe's leading magician, he remains a mainstay of the company's crossover stories – and organiser of the occasional group of testy superheroes the Defenders (with the Hulk, Silver Surfer and Sub-Mariner).

Trademarks: Cloak of levitation, Eye of Agamotto amulet, magical abilities, orange conjuring gloves, white-tinged facial hair. Catch-phrase: 'by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!'
On Screen: Peter Hooten played a bouffant-haired intern with magic powers in a 1978 TV movie Dr. Strange, Bryce Johnson voices the lead in a 2007 direct-to-DVD animated feature, and John Vernon intoned spells on the Spider-Man cartoon. Next up? Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel's high-risk adaptation of Doctor Strange, which lands later this year.
Did You Know?: Marvel had an evil Doctor Strange, who appeared two months before the magician's debut, as an Iron Man villain. Also, one of Batman's earliest enemies, from the 1930s, was Dr. Hugo Strange (no relation).

33. VENOM (Spider-Man)

AKA: EDDIE BROCK, ANGELO FORTUNATO, MAC GARGAN

Venom from the Spider-Man series

An alien symbiote with a thirst for violence and flesh, Venom started out as a living costume for Spider-Man, who thought the black-and-white threads were just that: threads. When Spidey rejected Venom's attempts for control, he latched onto the Daily Bugle's Eddie Brock, spawning a decades-long quest for vengeance. Arguably Spider-Man's biggest nemesis, Venom is the comic-book equivalent of a movie boogeyman like Freddy Krueger – he's meant to be terrifying and villainous, but readers thought he was so cool that eventually the symbiote became less obviously evil (he always tries never to hurt bystanders), appearing in his own title. In fact, he was so neutered that not only did he occasionally team up with Spider-Man, but Marvel created an even more evil symbiote, the mass murderer, Carnage, in order to mitigate Venom's crimes. Currently, the symbiote is not bonded with Brock, but that remains his most famous persona.

Trademarks: Black, organic fabric with shapeshifting capacity and all of Spider-Man's abilities.
On Screen: Spider-Man 3 has many flaws, and the casting of Topher Grace as Venom was one. Too weedy to pose a physical threat, and not able to pull off the grief and dementia that drives Brock/Venom, he plain sucked. Age the role 20 years, cast Kurt Russell, job's a good 'un.
Did You Know?: Spider-Man happened upon the alien costume during Marvel's classic 1984 cross-over, Secret Wars; after his red-and-blue costume was destroyed, an alien gizmo rustled up the black version. And, even though it flowed over his skin like oil, Spidey never questioned where it came from. Fool.

32. LEX LUTHOR (Superman)

AKA: ALEXANDER JOSEPH LUTHOR, MOCKINGBIRD

Lex Luthor from the Superman series

When you're as strong, fast, invulnerable and flat-out powerful as Superman, it's hard to find a nemesis of sufficient menace to actually provide you with a workout. Enter Lex Luthor, the bad guy's bad guy. He doesn't (usually) have superpowers, but then he doesn't need them, even against the Man of Steel. No prison can hold him, it seems, no setback is too great to overcome, and there's pretty much no scheme too outlandish for his considerable brain power to cook up. Since Superman remains reluctant to just break Luthor's neck, there's always tomorrow for this perpetual rebounder. Talk about try, try and try again – Robert the Bruce's Spider had nothing on Luthor.

Trademarks: Usually bald, smartest human on Earth, Machiavellian planning ability and a frequent prison escapee.
On Screen: Gene Hackman played him in the Christopher Reeve films, with Kevin Spacey taking the role for Bryan Singer. On TV, John Shea and Michael Rosenbaum have played the character in recent years, while Clancy Brown and James Marsters (Buffy's Spike) have voiced him in animated serials. The Smallville incarnation has been one of the most interesting, if also the most inconsistent, although Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor has added a intriguing tech genius streak to the usual Luther pathology.
Did You Know?: Lex Luthor, son of Lionel Luthor and Leticia Luthor, has on occasion dated both Lois Lane and Lana Lang. Sheesh.

31. USAGI YOJIMBO (Albedo Anthropomorphics)

AKA: MIYAMOTO USAGI

Usagi Yojimbo

Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi is a cute animal with a black belt in ass-kickery. But unlike those green-backed heroes in a half-shell, the ronin rabbit has kept to his adult-orientated roots with a saga that comprises all manner of murder, mayhem and the odd sexy scene in an anthropomorphic version of feudal Japan. This iconic bunny with a blade was originally conceived as a human and based upon historical Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. However, inspired by a doodle of rabbit ears atop his hero's head, Sakai was inspired to create a more unique and ultimately enduring comic book icon. The noble leporine's longevity can be put down to an intriguing mix of historical and cinematic influence, cute fluffy bunniness and an ability to slice and dice with stunning efficiency.

Trademarks: Highly skilled swords-rabbit with a deep-seated sense of justice and a bit of a mischievous streak.
On Screen: Usagi popped up on several occasions in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series in which he was voiced by Townsend Coleman, AKA the guy who gave voice to the title character in The Tick – incidentally he'd be a good fit for the role if a cartoon feature ever gets off the ground.
Did You Know?: Usagi is Japanese for rabbit.

30. EMMA FROST (X-Men)

AKA: THE WHITE QUEEN

Emma Frost from the X-Men series

Bad girls in comics are always so useful that they tend to reform and become at least semi-goodies (cf: Catwoman, Elektra). Emma Frost was introduced as an exceptionally nasty – and explicitly perverse – villainess, running a school for evil mutants in competition with Professor Xavier and high in the councils of the nefarious Hellfire Club (in homage to the famous 'Touch of Brimstone' episode of The Avengers). Marvel made her a qualified goodie in the X-Men spin-off Generation X, and writer Grant Morrison reinvented the character when he took over New X-Men and wasn't allowed to use his original choice, Storm. Now an actual X-Man, Emma remained the manipulative character fans loved to hate – and caused a minor kerfuffle when she began a 'telepathic' affair with Cyclops, long-term partner of Jean Grey. Despite strong competition, Emma has consistently worn the most striking lingerie (and little else) in comics – the covers for her brief solo series Emma Frost are basically porn star poses.

Trademarks: Extremely revealing white fetish gear, icy personality, enormous mental abilities, psychic ability, is a qualified sex therapist (always useful) and can now turn to diamond and be her own best friend.
On Screen: Finola Hughes plays Emma in Generation X, a 1996 TV movie which – three years before Bryan Singer's X-Men – was the first live-action X-project. January Jones takes on the, um, frosty mantle in X-Men: First Class.
Did You Know?: When Singer was thinking about making X-Men: The Last Stand, he wanted Sigourney Weaver for the role.

29. SWAMP THING (Swamp Thing)

AKA: ALEC HOLLAND

Swamp Thing

Scientist Holland gets splashed with a 'bio-restorative formula' when baddies attack his Louisiana swampland laboratory, and is transmuted into a big monster – who has a certain similarity with earlier comics creatures the Heap and Man-Thing. The first run of the comic featured marvellously grotesque Wrightson art, but it wasn't until writer Alan Moore took up the book – which was relaunched to tie in with the Wes Craven film – that ST really became a major player, even if he had to play straight man to Moore's John Constantine. It turns out that ST isn't a transformed human, but animated swamp with the consciousness of the late Holland. He has had a long-term relationship with a human woman, which some have criticised as perverted or icky.

Trademarks: A big shambling, roughly man-shaped hunk of muck and vegetation with a distinctive nose, ST is the only superhero capable of producing halluconogenic fruit from his body.
On Screen: Ray Wise is Holland and Dick Durock Swampy in the film; Durock reappears in The Return Of Swamp Thing and the short-lived Swamp Thing TV show.
Did You Know?: Matthew the Raven, a key character in Sandman, first appeared (and died) as a human being in the Swamp Thing comic.

28. THE TICK (The Tick)

The Tick

Ben Edlund was just 18 – the bastard – when he came up with The Tick, a character that may be, quite simply, the funniest superhero spoof of all time. Blessed with a fantastic supporting cast of outlandishly-named nemeses – Chairface Chippendale, take a bow – and self-involved allies, from Die Fledermaus in the comics to Batmanuel in the tragically short-lived live-action TV show, The Tick is a lovable lunk, given to overly dramatic declarations on behalf of justice. He doesn't know his own strength, which is prodigious and, indeed, fails to grasp even the most rudimentary basics of social interaction. Edlund's The Tick – his involvement runs through the comics, the animated series and the TV show – is characterised by sharply observed gags and a gift for hilarious hyperbole.

Trademarks: A blue costume with giant movable antennae, The Tick is, to quote the TV show, "the sterling silver ladle of justice, pouring his creamy foam over the freshly-picked strawberries of crime". His strength is mighty, his IQ is double figures. Low double figures. Catchphrase: "SPOON!"
On Screen: In the animated series, he's voiced by Townsend Coleman. In Fox's utterly brilliant live-action show (nine episodes! Nine episodes!), he was played to perfection by the deep-voiced and pretty vacant Patrick Warburton. Next up, it's Peter Serafinowicz's turn in Amazon Prime's new series.
Did You Know?: The actor who plays Batmanuel, Nestor Carbonell, shows up in The Dark Knight as the Mayor of Gotham. That's Batmanuel – in a Batman movie. Gotta love that.

27. JOHNNY ALPHA (2000 AD)

Johnny Alpha

The second most iconic 2000 AD character after Judge Dredd himself, Johnny Alpha was the poster child for Strontium Dog, an extremely popular series about a group of mutant bounty hunters. Although originating in Starlord, Strontium Dog switched to 2000 AD after the former's closure and soon became a staple series thanks mainly to the presence of Alpha and his cohorts Durham Red, Middenface McNulty and Wulf Sternhammer. Alpha himself was, of course, a mercenary but despite working largely for greenbacks he was possessed of a strong sense of duty and honour. Equally, though, Alpha demonstrated a stubbornly unforgiving streak, brooking no slight or double-cross and punishing transgressions harshly – as the vampiric Durham Red discovered to her great regret. In 1990 Alpha was killed off in a story that martyred him in order to saves all mutants from extermination. Ezquerra was so mortified by the decision that he refused outright to draw the story and replacements were brought in to carry out the deed. Wagner later admitted that Ezquerra was right and that killing Alpha had been a huge mistake. The character was subsequently revived by both of his creators for a brief resurgence in 1999.

Trademarks: Glowing eyes, granite jaw, distinctive metal headpiece, trademark variable cartridge blaster handgun and electroknux.
On Screen: An aborted Strontium Dog TV treatment by Wagner never came to fruition and the closest Alpha has come to the screen is a series of audio dramas (radio plays released on CD) where he is voiced by 2000 AD fan Simon Pegg.
Did You Know?: One of Alpha's landmark achievements was tracking and capturing Adolf Hitler back in the past and subsequently returning him to the future to stand trial for his crimes.

26. MARV (Sin City)

Marv from Sin City

When Frank Miller began Sin City – his series of ultra-noir set in the eponymous hotbed of crime – he needed archetypes that were almost Olympian in their grandeur. Marv is his grade-A patsy, the fall guy, the hapless hero at the centre of a conspiracy that he can't even begin to understand – but with a traditional Miller tweak. This dumb brute can more than take care of himself, and fully embraces the self-destructive path he starts down when he vows to avenge the brutal murder of Goldie, a prostitute who showed him kindness, despite his face. Marv is a force of nature, cutting a path through the corrupt power-brokers of the city, until his pound of flesh (and more) has been exacted. His death scene – he's juiced repeatedly in the electric chair, obstinately refusing to die right away – sums him up: stubborn, intractable, intent on doing things his way. Miller killed him, but brought him back for several Sin City prequels. Not even he could stand to see the big lug truly die.

Trademarks: A face only criss-crossed with ugly scars, a pancaked nose and a chin that could open cans of tuna – Marv is the archetypal hard man with a