Where did this article come from?
So let’s give credit where it is due.
This was the suggestion of commenter PROWRITER from way back when I did my Favorite Comic Book Characters Of All-Time list! He threw out the base idea, I changed it just a touch, and here we are.
Additionally, this is actually something we specifically covered on the podcast many years ago. So there’s a technicality that I have done this before… except on the show, we made a cumulative list between all of us. It’s a good list. A fine list.
But it wasn’t entirely MY list. So it’s wrong.
And I’m nothing if not self-centered, so why allow only a non-me version of something to be all that exists, right?
(Also, I didn’t agree with a lot of “our” choices!)
So that brings us to here and today and me and Comic Book Supporting Characters.
I mentioned previously in my Favorite Villains article that when I was coming up with my favorite comic book characters, even the cut-down list was lousy with basic comic heroes. There were very few villains that made it that far. When I was thinking of who I really felt attached to, they were almost entirely the larger-than-life heroes themselves.
There weren’t many villains. And honestly, there were even fewer supporting characters.
Which… I mean… the name gives away the game. These are great characters, sure, but they exist as a support structure. They are part of the world that informs the protagonists themselves, so it’s hard to separate them as a distinguishable aspect. Even the best and most wholly realized of them still just feel like a moon caught in the orbit of the main character.
Lois Lane for example! She has had some wonderful, empowering moments in her time. But you can not think of Lois Lane without your mind immediately drifting to think of Superman. It’s HIS world. Lois is just a fixture in it. You CAN think about Superman without letting Lois enter your thoughts, though.
Comics would be SO BORING is the core characters did not have a diverse cast around them, making the world in which they exist feel that much more engaging and powerful. If the friends, family, and other loved ones that a hero interacts with each day don’t matter to the reader, then is the hero’s world really worth saving?
Before we get into the top ten itself, some clarifications: I’m giving preferential treatment to STRICTLY supporting characters who haven’t become heroes or villains in their own right. We’re looking at unpowered, non-sidekick characters.
There may be a stray entry here or there for an ally who eventually became a separate protagonist or antagonist, but only if that character’s role as a supporter was what he or she was truly known for.
I was having a hard time coming up with a solid option from the world of manga besides Bulma. It’s rare that a book isn’t either a down-to-Earth tale with an ensemble collection of starring characters, or an action book where pretty much everyone somehow becomes a fighter. Bulma really stood out to me in this regard.
In a story about characters progressively getting more and more powerful, to and beyond planet-busting capabilities, Bulma remains a fixture without being any stronger than you or I. She starts the series off as the grounding character–we see through her eyes how absurd everything about Goku and his adventures are–and remains involved as the team scientist, put-upon ally, straight man, and…let’s be honest… eye candy at points.
She eventually gets together with Vegeta who sees her as a peer and not just an Earth woman to conquer. Unlike Chi-Chi, she’s no mere stay-at-home mom, though. She continues on as a relevant member of Goku’s group.
9. Lois Lane
Oh, Pre-Crisis Lois Lane. You and your whacky misadventures.
Ignoring the dark times from before the 1980’s when Lois would either be dying her skin black, getting spanked by Superman, marrying weird barbarians, or constantly bickering with Lana Lang in jealousy, Lois did eventually emerge as a serious, empowered character about 40 years in. Mostly starting under John Byrne’s watch, Lois became a serious reporter who was more interested in covering Superman’s exploits than fawning over him. She spent much more time exposing Lex Luthor than she did having cat fights with other women. She became more than a prop.
Even when she did finally get together with Clark and find out he was Superman, she was more than a prize. She stayed in her field and continued to earn respect rather than just be Superman’s Stay-At-Fortress Wife.
It’s just… too bad about all those Pre-Crisis comics.
This is my most off-the-wall choice, and I wrestled for a while with bumping Kong off for someone else.
But ultimately, Kong–one of Peter Parker’s classmates from the Ultimate Universe–was too layered and too much fun to leave off.
He started as little more than a punk-looking flunkie for Flash Thompson who helped bully and harass Peter Parker. But, as high schoolers are likely to do, he grew into his own man as the series went on. He put together than Peter was Spider-Man without being gifted the knowledge. He became a friend to Peter and Mary Jane and acted as a go-between for them and Flash. He had his own relationships that the book focused on.
He may not be one of the first supporting characters you think of, but he really earned his stripes in USM.
7. J. Jonah Jameson
There are going to be a few Spider-Man characters on this list. Deal with it.
J. Jonah Jameson is a character of astounding depth given that he is most frequently associated with gifs of J.K. Simmons laughing.
But Jonah has been a flat-out adversary for Spidey, a conflicted newspaper man trying to make sense of a struggling world, a straight man for Spidey to inflict insults and dishonor on, and even a helpful hero in his own way. Jameson has growth for days.
When Peter finally reveals his secret identity to Jonah in Chip Zdarsky’s Spectacular Spider-Man run, the response was likely not what anyone expected. He became a friend to Peter and began helping him out. It was the ultimate turn that Jameson needed after years of pivoting from antagonist to uneasy ally.
6. Jonathan & Martha Kent
Remember that time comic book Jonathan Kent told Superman that he should let a bus full of children die? Of course you don’t because only an edgelord idiot would think that fits Pa Kent’s character.
The Kents are the most important figures in DC Comics history, because it was their unrelenting love and goodness that turned Kal-El into the man he would become. They instilled the values of middle America in Clark, but also gave him a curiosity for the larger world that let him be the man of many cultures that he was meant to be.
Over the years, they have also helped raise Conner Kent and continue to be guiding forces for morality in the DC Universe (well, mostly Martha since Jonathan has passed).
5. Foggy Nelson
I feel like Foggy Nelson is the most underrated and underappreciated supporting character in comic books.
He has ALWAYS been there; he’s not one of those characters that disappears or gets written out for long. He is a core component to Matt Murdock’s life. Love interests have come and gone for Matt, but Foggy is always there.
And while he is generally a good person, he does struggle with doing the right thing. And the dynamic between him and Matt is incredibly fair. Sometimes Matt brings out the best in Foggy… sometimes it is the other way around.
4. Mary Jane Watson
Mary Jane Watson is probably the single most empowered and wholly realized love interest character in comics.
And that’s one of what I consider many things the Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire movies did wrong: they turned her into a vanilla damsel in distress. But fans of the comics know that MJ is no damsel. She takes care of her own problems, and what she and Peter have is a fully equal partnership. Peter often has wanted to protect her, but Mary Jane will always point out that she does not need protecting; she is not a defenseless gemstone.
Mary Jane, dating back to her inception, has been a fierce character who commands the page when she is on it and is worth every bit of the reader’s time and attention. She was never just a prop character.
3. Alfred Pennyworth
Imagine being Alfred Pennyworth.
Like, just… this guy’s life. He was a trained spy who became a butler for a wealthy American family. Then they were gunned down and he had to become a quasi-parent figure for a child he was never ready for.
And then that child grew up to dress in a maniac’s attire and go punch crime.
No wonder Alfred handles everything the books throw at him so gracefully, with little more than a snide comment to ever show it even gets to him. The guy has had a LIFE, and he has to spend his older years being a guardian and voice of reason to a borderline lunatic.
He’s helped raise a couple kids at this point, and he has learned as he’s gone. He both knows his role and knows what the people around him really need… even if they never ask.
2. Commissioner Gordon
Commissioner James Gordon is the superior version of Batman.
Gordon doesn’t have a trillion dollars or limitless resources or an ex-military butler or a lair or the excuse to blur every line.
He just has a dedication to overcome the mistakes in his past and make a corrupt, terrible town a safer place for its inhabitants. He’s far more interesting than Batman will ever be because he decides to stick as closely as he can to the letter of the law, not in spite of that fact. He does what he can while clocking in-and-out and earning a cop’s salary.
And he inspires everyone around him to be good, too. He is a role model for The Bat. A guide for his daughter. A leader to the police department he has cleaned up.
All while throwing an absolute minimal number of boomerangs at the mentally unwell.
1. Aunt May
There are so many terrific characters on this list.
But this was never, ever in question. Aunt May was always going to be #1.
I talked a lot about how Lois Lane is a great character despite spending forty years as a catty punchline. Aunt May became great even after so much of her existence was an outright DRAG. Aunt May was the obstacle the reader and Peter had to go by to get on with the exciting adventures involving his love life and his heroism. May existed to slow down the book by confusedly wandering on page and idiotically almost marrying Dr. Octopus or fainting or checking Peter for a fever or whatever.
And then… writers started taking her seriously.
And May became a hurricane of a character.
Both her main continuity and Ultimate universe reactions to discovering her nephew’s secret were powerful and realistic, and both led to fantastic character-driven issues wherein the two discussed what it meant. May wasn’t just a frail old lady stumbling around at home; she worked and volunteered and dated and became proactive.
Even after One More Day foolishly retconned May’s knowledge of Peter’s double life, the standard of her as a more competent character stuck around. And the Spidey books have been better for that.
I feel like I could write an entire article on how Aunt May is the best and how far she came as a character. I love Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, but damn… May was awful back then.
Regardless, as usual, we have more than ten. How could we not? Let’s see who ended up just on the outside…
Flash Thompson & Renee Montoya – Honestly? Either/both of these should be on the list. All that’s keeping them off is that their times as heroes (Flash as Venom in Marvel, Renee as The Question in DC) was just as memorable and impactful as their time as side players. They needed to get their consideration somehow, though, so they are are the top of the Honorables. I love both of these two.
Ben Urich – Always a touch underutilized, when Ben Urich is really focused upon (like in Born Again), he is such a great, human character. He has had other moments in books such as Frontline, too.
Jared Morillo & Fred Chyre – This highly entertaining pair of detectives has vanished from DC Comics since Wally West got removed as the central Flash, but their time working with him was great.
Maggie Sawyer – A frequent star across Superman, Batman, and Batwoman, Maggie is a powerful and respected character in DC lore.
Lyla – Not really a person, but a self-aware A.I. assistant to Spider-Man 2099, Lyla is delightfully snarky while being helpful. She is a kind of Alfred Pennyworth-lite.
I’ve rambled on enough, though. Who are YOUR ten favorite comic book supporting characters? Let me know in the comments. What are some of your favorites runs or issues of those characters?
Until next time… take care!