Ever wonder why some things are shoved at you from every direction while others are virtually ignored? Why some things seem to dominate the pop culture scene and you feel almost guilty for not embracing them like everyone else…even though no one you know likes them either? Why, for the life of you, you can’t figure out the reason for a character’s popularity when nothing about him is terribly interesting?
If all those things have occurred to you after running into a TV show, movie, celebrity of the moment, novel, or…in this case, super-heroes, you’ve likely discovered something that’s overrated. Something that might have little demand or is largely uninteresting in and of itself but keeps getting pushed before the public, viewing audience, or readers by the powers that be for reasons unknown or simply inscrutable.
In the field of comic book heroes in particular, there could be any number of reasons including sales figures (once, in the 1960s, sales figures indicated that having apes on the covers of their comics improved sales, so editors at DC made sure covers featured an ape or two every few months), political correctness (by the 1990s, ideology trumped common sense in editorial offices), or simply to create a buzz (Dazzler anyone?).
Of course, some comics characters such as Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man may have appeared to be overrated at different points in their careers, but time has proven that to be untrue as they have demonstrated their staying power over the decades. Truly original characters can overcome the threat of becoming overrated through overexposure from the sheer inspiration they offer to creators in succeeding generations.
Such, however, cannot be said of most other characters. Surprisingly, few of the thousands that have been invented in comics over the years have been so overexposed as to render them overrated, that is, reaching a point of over-saturation based on a false hysteria whipped up by an overheated media.
But can anyone really blame comics publishers or their editors for promoting any character in their stable that displays even the slightest amount of heat? After all, do they have any other choice than treating the shrinking pond of comic book buyers as an indicator of what the larger public might go for? (On the other hand, how reliable is the enthusiasm of a few thousand comics readers in gauging the tastes of the larger public?) Be that as it may, publishers must justify their existence now that the movies have become the tail that wags the dog of the comics industry. How else to explain the mutual spectacle of multiple reboots of hundred plus million dollar film franchises or their equivalent in comics shops where their featured heroes star in a dozen different titles at once?
The danger of course, is that the requirements of the film industry feed into a narrative that sometimes only exists, not in the minds of the public, but in those of editors, marketing consultants, and comic shop sales representatives making for a toxic mix that grant some comic book heroes a false cachet to the point where they inevitably become: overrated.
10) Lex Luthor
Okay, so most of you are going to say “No fair! He’s a villain!” And for the most part, that’s true. On the other hand, there have been enough scenarios in the comics (as well as in other media), especially lately, where Lex is portrayed as a super-hero (complete with Iron Man style armor) and even President of the United States, that there’s some justification for his inclusion on this list. His overrated index which has been pumped up over the years by a much ballyhooed John Byrne comics reboot in the 80s, a Superman cartoon show in the 90s, and various movies (including one made in 2006 ) that he’s become synonymous with Superman himself. And why? Well he’s a millionaire tycoon! He can buy and sell mad geniuses to invent stuff for him! And…and…he’s bald! Exactly why does Lex deserve all the attention he’s gotten over the years? Why? Is Superman’s rogues gallery cupboard as bare as all that?
Suddenly, you can’t see a publicity pose of the Justice League of America without him. There they are, the founders, the cornerstone characters of the the whole blamed DC universe: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and…Cyborg? Where did he come from? Who ever heard of him? Whoever he is, he’s suddenly being treated everywhere as if he was always there: a founding member of the Justice League. Actually, he was newly minted in the mid-1980s by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez to balance out the uniformly white membership of the New Teen Titans.
Basically, a rip-off of Marvel’s Iron Man what with his armored body with built in high-tech weapons, Cyborg was the black member of the group but with a deep and sometimes interesting back story that managed to set him apart from IM. That said, he seems to have been brought into new versions of the Justice League for reasons of political correctness. DC has few super-heroes of color and as John Stewart was unavailable (the black Green Lantern who had been the go to model until the fan favored Hal Jordan came back from the dead), it seems that left Cyborg as the only candidate to once again balance out the group’s membership roster. Otherwise, the character has little to recommend for the major role DC big wigs seem to have carved out for him.
It’s hard to imagine any other comic book hero or heroine as overrated as the She-Hulk! Beginning life as a throwaway character needed to protect a possible threat to Marvel’s Hulk copyright, the She-Hulk’s original series lasted only 25 issues. But that didn’t stop editors at Marvel from trying to push this feminist wish fulfillment on unresponsive readers! They tried again with her own series at least four more times and even threw in three high priced graphic novels for good measure. On top of all that, high powered writers such as John Byrne and Roger Stern insisted on shoe horning the character into popular series such as Fantastic Four and Avengers for extended periods of time in an effort to prove that she could be a contender if only she were written correctly. (At one time, Byrne even wrote her adventures as straight comedy). None of it worked. For good reason. Why would Marvel’s predominantly male readership be interested in a distaff version of the Hulk who carried her boyfriends under one arm like sacks of potatoes? More often than not, the character was portrayed as a boob and foil for male chauvinist straw men. And there’s actually been talk of a She-Hulk movie? Please…
Who? What? You may well ask. But believe it or not, this independently conceived character (the so-called brainchild of James O’Barr and produced by fly by night Caliber Comics) caught the attention of Hollywood producers and actually made it onto television and into film…not once but three times! And apparently, there have even been people willing to write novels based on the comics! What publishers and producers saw in this dark, unlikeable set-up is anyone’s guess (the concept involves a crow with supernatural powers who brings back murder victims to life so they can revenge themselves on their killers… I swear, I’m not kidding!) but for a brief, shining moment, the Crow generated some heat with some portion of the public… before it mercifully faded from the scene.
In a way, Elektra’s life began with her death… or “death” as the case may be. Created by writer/artist Frank Miller for Daredevil #168, Elektra seemed to catch the attention of fanboys already mesmerized by Miller’s violent take on the DD character. Otherwise, there was nothing much to recommend Elektra for special attention: orphaned, she runs away and is trained in the martial arts somewhere and returns as an assassin for hire (naturally!) Along the way she comes across former boyfriend Matthew Murdock, aka Daredevil, and Miller-style bloody mayhem ensues until she’s killed by villain Bullseye. Later, Elektra is apparently resuscitated and resumes her bad girl ways in a graphic novel and other places never much changing her MO. She made it to the big screen in a (2003) DD movie adaptation of the Miller tales as well as, unbelievably, an original solo followup but, as could have been predicted, failed to score with audiences. Where the character’s standing with comics readers comes from is anyone’s guess. Clearly she seemed to be a favorite more with editors than anyone else.
Clearly a beneficiary of the feminist movement as it gripped writers and editors at Marvel in the 1980s, there was nothing much to recommend the flighty, flirty Wasp to anything but her most suitable role: junior partner and wife to Hank Pym (Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket). But following a convoluted plotline that saw Pym suffer a mental breakdown followed by betrayal of the Avengers and finally divorce, writers such as Roger Stern, caught up in the office race to see who could write the most powerful, capable super-heroines, upped the ante on the Wasp’s powers until they dwarfed those of her husband’s and then by promoting her to leadership of the Avengers, changed her personality and fixed it so that she appeared to be on a par with the likes of Captain America and Thor! Since then, the Wasp has been on display among different incarnations of the Avengers as if Hank Pym never existed!
For a while there in the 1980s and early 90s there was no escape from the Punisher…at least in the comic book world. Unostentatiously introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #129, the Punisher proved popular enough to make regular guest appearances with Spidey for a few years. But it wasn’t until he guest starred with Daredevil where he was given the Frank Miller treatment (ie unleashing his full, anti-mobster killing potential), that fans sat up and really took notice. From there, an immensely popular limited series confirmed to editorial that they had a bona fide hit on their hands and the Punisher exploded in every direction finally culminating in not one, not two, but three films (1989, 2004, 2008, and a fourth planned for 2012 before cooler heads prevailed), each confirming that the character’s popularity didn’t extend beyond the four color page. And even there, it was beginning to fade so that by the 2000s, though still starring in various comics venues, no one was taking much notice.
How to count the ways this empty suit (or costume as the case may be) has hoaxed gullible fans about its worth and still come up with zero? Creator Todd McFarlane (who once said that he hadn’t read a book since high school and didn’t need writers for his comics), was at one time the hottest artist at Marvel (which only showed how far the company had sunk by the late 1980s). Taking advantage of his star status, he made certain demands on the company which were refused. McFarlane (who, at least, had a head for business), left with a number of other disgruntled creators and formed his own company called Image. Each of the partners then proceeded to recreate the same characters they’d been doing at Marvel only changing the costumes to avoid getting sued. McFarlane’s contribution was at least nothing like what he’d been doing before; just a mish mash of other hackneyed concepts. He called his character Spawn, an assassin (tell me if you’ve heard this before) who dies and makes a deal with the devil in order to come back and see his wife again. Later, of course, he decides not to honor his deal with the devil and ends up using his hell spawned (get it?) powers to fight back. The reader will be spared any more description of this truly execrable comic concept except to note that due to mob mentality that seized fans in the early 90s, Spawn became a huge hit that catapulted the character into the movies (1997) to inflict itself on the public at large. Luckily, ardor for Spawn has since cooled and at the time of this writing, he’s once more consigned to the little frequented aisles of quickly disappearing comics specialty shops.
2) Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman officially debuted in Sensation Comics #1 way back in 1942 and immediately became the reigning doyen of the comics world. At the time, the character was seen as a positive role model for female readers even though many of the situations Wonder Woman found herself in were questionable at best. However, it was a time before political correctness so it’s likely sales justified the character’s continued adventures in her own title even beyond the establishment of the Comics Code Authority when many other characters ended their careers. Unlike those others, Wonder Woman joined Superman and Batman in retooled versions of themselves allowing her to coast along for years. Sales of Wonder Woman however, lagged behind those of her male co-stars until by the 60s and 70s, there was little question the title should have been canceled. But as the character had become a feminist icon (who had appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms Magazine no less) DC editorial could not bring themselves to admit defeat. Attempts to revitalize Wonder Woman in the 80s and 90s were only partially successful but then sales for comics in general had sunk to such levels that even the low ball figures for Wonder Woman could now be considered good. But even with low sales, it has always been considered good policy by DC to keep publishing a Wonder Woman title if only for copyright purposes (after all, the character did manage to have a semi-successful TV series in the 70s and was constantly mentioned as movie material). But with the example of other action heroines in film (check out Elektra for example), it is unlikely the overrated Wonder Woman will make it to celluloid except in company with her male friends on the Justice League.
On the surface, Wolverine is kind of cool. He has that healing factor making his age indeterminate. He has an adamantium skeleton (implanted), and he has those claws! In addition, he also possesses a feisty personality to go with his animal totem. What’s not to like? And readers in 1972 who were there when the character made his debut in Incredible Hulk #181 felt that attraction. But Wolverine really came into his own when he joined the new X-Men in 1975 and became really super-charged when John Byrne took over the art chores on the book from Dave Cockrum. Suddenly, Wolverine was the hottest new character around. Every book he appeared in sold (even the Kitty Pryde and Wolverine Limited Series!) His figure became ubiquitous as Marvel promoted the heck out of him. Finally, it was proved that comics readers were right about the character as he became the breakout hero of an increasingly successful X-Men movie franchise. But appearances can be deceiving. For instance, the personality of Logan (does he still have no first name?) is one note and often annoying. His main super-power resides in his artificial claws (the movies promote the notion that he had bone claws before he was given an adamantium skeleton!) which to use most effectively, he must kill or at least maim making them almost useless against enemies (at least in a Comics Code world). But enough is enough! Is Wolverine really that much more interesting than practically any other hero? Or is what we’ve seen so far all the media moguls have? Where are his frailties, his personal tragedies, his doubts and fears? In short where is the human dimension? Is Wolverine just a ball of repressed violence waiting for the spring to be released? Logan has been involved in romantic relationships but all have failed to generate heat such that readers or viewers cannot be convinced of his sincerity. All of it doesn’t add up to much and in the end it seems, Wolverine never deserved to be cast in the major spotlight as he has been. For that reason, he’s likely the most overrated super-hero of all time.