It’s a great time to be a comic book nerd. Due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comics have become the in thing and audiences have been introduced to a host of superheroes. Everyone’s heard of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, A-list characters who’ve carried franchises in comic and movie form.
Yet there are still so many characters that people aren’t familiar with, so called ‘D-List’ superheroes and villains who aren’t taken seriously. They can be the kind of characters invented for comic relief or used as cannon fodder in stories e.g. Booster Gold and Bob, Agent of Hydra. But I’d argue that a D-Lister is only limited by the imagination of the writer. In the right hands, an obscure character can reach the same level as Batman and I’m going to explain how that happens.
Finding the right story to tell
The best way to connect with a character is to see them from a human level and understand what drives them. A superhero like Booster Gold has been seen as more of a joke than as a serious crimefighter. This can be seen through him embracing celebrity culture and acting as an ambassador for brands. It could be argued the character exists to poke fun at celebrities.
But in certain stories, Booster Gold has been hinted at having a greater purpose and his friendship with Ted Kord/Blue Beetle is an endearing relationship. It’s that kind of human connection that can elevate Booster Gold into a superhero that’s worth investing in.
The same can be said for obscure villains. Over the past few years, there’s been a growing trend of writers adding more depth to D-list villains. A good example is in Nick Spencer’s The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man series. Started in 2013, the series focused on Boomerang and a new version of the Sinister Six as they tried to overcome their latest defeat from Spider-Man.
All the villains were seen as second-rate, but Spencer shone a sympathetic light on them. Boomerang was given pathos in that he suffered from self-esteem issues, only for it to be revealed that he was prone to lying and exaggeration. The series became very popular and was extended past 12 issues. This is down to the creative team and Spencer’s ability to take a group of obscure characters and give them complexity.
Connecting on a human level
A more recent example is The Absorbing Man in Saladin Ahmed’s Black Bolt series. Crusher Creel was paired with Black Bolt in a maximum security prison and the two of them worked together in order to escape. Creel’s childhood and married life was explored in great depth, showing him to be far more than a one-note villain with a crazy gimmick. Ahmed humanised him by showing The Absorbing Man doing what he thought he needed to do in order to survive. Black Bolt was nominated for a 2018 Eisner Award and given how good Ahmed’s writing is, it’s not surprising.
It goes to show that any character can strike a chord no matter their origin or superpower. All it takes is an exceptional writer and a story that works.