We’re all familiar with the Batmobile, Superman’s kryptonite weakness, and Peter Parker’s run-in with a radioactive arachnid. Hollywood has turned the Avengers into a billion-dollar business, bringing comic books into the mainstream. Each of us has a favorite, be it the Hulk, Iron Man or for those less enlightened souls; Aquaman, and while it may seem like comics have taken over media, the truth is there’s so much more out there that you, the casual fan, have never heard of. Die-hard fans might scoff at this list, but for those who know Captain America only from the big screen, here are ten of the coolest comic book characters you have never heard of.
10 Blue Beetle -- DC Comics
Blue Beetle has been around since 1939 when he first appeared in his own comic published by Fox Comics. Since then he’s had a rather strange path as the character was passed along to other publishers before eventually ending up with DC Comics. The modern version of Blue Beetle is somewhat disappointing – but the older versions are rather intriguing. Beetle started out as a costumed crime-fighter without any super powers, but that was changed in later renditions of his origin story. The version we like best is the one where Beetle is an archeologist bitten by a mystical scarab in Egypt. At any rate, Beetle is an enduring and intriguing super-hero who has undergone several changes to his design and origin but remains a rather iconic and important costumed hero.
9 Scarlet Witch -- Marvel Comics
Born Wanda Maximoff, Scarlett Witch is the daughter of a rather notorious villain we all know and love; Magneto. Believe it or not, she’s been around since the 1960s and she’s played a huge role in several large plotlines which propelled Marvel’s Avengers and X-Men forward for the better part of several decades. She killed Hawkeye and Ant-Man and she broke up the Avengers. Without a doubt she is one of the most likely candidates to appear in future Marvel movies and her powers, which are reality altering in nature, will make for some rather intriguing movie plots.
8 Doctor Arthur Light -- DC Comics
Casual fans might be surprised to know that Doctor Light has been a DC villain since the Silver Age of comics – first appearing in the Justice League of America #12. Doctor Light is a rather introspective and tortured villain – so much so that he goes off and joins a group of incarcerated super villains called the Suicide Squad. This group is contracted by the government to do stuff in exchange for pardons and clemency. Most are coerced into joining, but the badass Dr. Light is so guilt-ridden he volunteers for the job. He’s been a foe to Green Lantern, Batman and Superman. His powers are based around the manipulation of light (a surprise, I know). He uses these powers to become invisible, generate powerful beams of damaging light, and create protective fields.
7 Doctor Strange -- Marvel Comics
Must be something about medical school that turns these guys into super beings, because Doctor Strange is just another in a long line of doctor-themed super people. Doctor Strange is Marvel’s version of the Earth’s protector against magical and mystical forces. He’s sort of a self-appointed guardian of our world – and you should be thankful for him! When he needs to, Doctor Strange works with other good guys, but he’s sort of off on his own a lot. Doctor Strange doesn’t really seem to be phased by much that happens in the world, including the fact that his home is routinely destroyed by supernatural forces. Doctor Strange draws his powers from all kinds of crazy things and places, but that’s not what matters. What’s important is that Doctor Strange rocks a ridiculously large red cape like a boss.
6 John Constantine -- DC Comics
They made a movie about this super hero starring Keanu Reeves called Constantine, and no one cared. Even so, most people still have never heard of him. Constantine is something of an anti-hero. He’s a trenchcoat-wearing, chain-smoking, and self-deprecating hero who fights mystical forces. Truth be told, Constantine is more detective than crime fighter, but that doesn’t make him any less cool. Created by Allan Moore, Constantine was modelled off of the image of Sting – but we won’t hold that against him. What makes Constantine unique is that unlike his brethren, he attempts to solve his problems with his sharp mind and cunning wits. He reluctantly uses his powers at only the gravest of times.
5 Black Hand -- DC Comics
We all love a good bad guy, and few are more ‘bad’ (or dark) than Black Hand. One of Green Lantern’s foes, Black Hand started his work in 1964 by doing some pretty awful stuff. William Hand was a spoiled, rich brat who grew tired of his family and embarked on a life of crime. More modern versions of this villain take on a far darker origin and tell the tale of Will, the son of a coroner who spends his spare time practicing taxidermy and necrophilia, before he murders his family and crafts a super-villain suit from a body-bag. You know, waste not… At any rate, Black Hand uses a power ring like the one Green Lantern uses. He basically just wants to kill everyone, which is something of a simplistic and unusual motivation for a comic book super villain, but it seems to work well for him.
4 Doctor Solar -- Dynamite Entertainment (Currently)
Gold Key Comics introduced us to Doctor Solar in 1962, but he disappeared in 1969. In 1980 the comic was continued from where it left off and Doctor Solar has been around more or less ever since, though he’s been passed around from publisher to publisher. Like many superheroes, Doctor Solar gains his powers when he’s exposed to radiation. His exposure comes during the testing of a nuclear bomb that detonates prematurely on him. He uses his powers and wills himself back into existence after the accident – and that’s pretty damn cool. Like a video game character, Doctor Solar boosts his powers by drinking radioactive fluids or eating cobalt pills – because that makes sense. He flies extremely fast, shoots laser beams from his eyes, can turn himself into electricity, and creates a powerful atomic shield around himself. He basically can’t be killed unless he decides he should be, and then he just wills himself back into existence.
3 Rocket Raccoon -- Marvel Comics
When Marvel releases the Guardians of the Galaxy in the summer of 2014, even the casual fan will know who Rocket is. Until then, he’s one of the more unusual super hero characters most people have never heard of. Rocket first appeared in 1976 and he’s bounced around the Marvel universe ever since, appearing occasionally here and there. He’s teamed up with the Hulk, but mostly he works with Star Lord and is the Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant. He’s an alien (of course he is), but he’s also an expert marksman, a starship pilot and a bit of a crazed maniac at times. He often travels around with Groot, a living tree.
2 Carnage -- Marvel Comics
Relatively new to the scene, Carnage made his debut in 1991 as a villain opposing Spider Man. Carnage was once a serial killer named Cletus Kasady. Cletus had a troubled past and his sadism and homicidal rampages aren’t exactly PG material. Kasady was eventually arrested and thrown in a cell with Eddie Brock (better known as Venom). When Venom is reborn, a small portion of the symbiote is left behind and clings onto Cletus, transforming him into Carnage. Carnage likes to kill people and write “Carnage” at the scene of the crime in his own blood – it’s kind of his thing. Carnage is reborn a lot and he seems to become worse every time. His powers involve super strength, shape shifting, and some mind control.
1 Grimjack -- First Comics
Grimjack is a lead character for First Comics. He initially appeared in 1983 and like many who become heroes, he’s had a sordid and varied path to becoming an icon. Grimjack is a mercenary and detective, but he’s also ex-military, and just like you and me, he fought as a gladiator as a child. Grimjack’s home city is rather unique in that different portions of the town seem to follow different laws of physics, though this doesn’t really bother Grimjack that much – because you know, he’s pretty awesome. Grimjack is a bit like Batman – a vigilante at heart and more concerned with the outcome rather than his methods used to achieve the result. Oh, he also owns a bar and has a sidekick named Bob who just happens to be a drunken lizard.