Superhero comics Comic Books in the form that we recognize them are now some 72 years old if we make the 1938 debut of Action #1 as the jumping off point. In all that time and with all of the thousands of characters that have graced their pages, comics have produces exactly FIVE truly iconic characters. And only ONE character created in the last 50 years could be called iconic.
And of course….
Five in all those years. No more than that. I know that I a lot of you are already saying…What about Wolverine? Green Lantern? The Flash?
Nope…nope and NOPE.
Being popular, perhaps from time to time even more popular than the core five does not make them iconic.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali were both GREAT heavyweight champions and wildly popular, but only one is iconic (with all due respect and affection to Smokin’ Joe).
So what DOES make a character iconic?
First – The IMAGE of that character must be instantly recognizable to people who have never read a single comic book or seen a super-hero TV show. In other words the image (such as Superman’s shield) must be a part of the cultural vernacular. An example of this is the expression “Beam me up Scotty”. People who have never seen a single episode of Star Trek use this phrase all the time. It is part of the vernacular.
Second- In the case of a comic book superhero, the origin must be simple and essentially unchanging. Despite all the flourishes Spidey was bitten by a radioactive spider, cap was a 4F who took a super soldier serum, Wonder Woman was a gift from the Greek Gods to the Amazons etc. And like the IMAGE, the ORIGIN must be well known even among people who never read comics or see the shows.
Third – An Iconic character must be timeless. By that I mean that these characters must have the ability to be FRESH to a new generation of readers. Superman was originally a crusader against social injustice. During and after WWII he was reinvented as a figure of American dominance on the world stage. In the 60’s he became a symbol of the optimism of “New Frontier” and so on.
Which leads us to …
Fourth – Longevity. In order to be iconic, a character has to have been around long enough to cross several generations. In the case of a comic book superhero I would say that 40-50 years is necessary for this to be the case.
Given this definition of “Iconic” we see that only five characters fit the criteria.
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and Spider-Man (No bloody A, B, C OR D!)
Of course that is just one man’s opinion. Who would YOU say should be added to the list? Should any of the above be demoted?