To include independent comics in this list or not; that was the question.
The problem that I ran into is that so many independent comics–Saga, Hellboy, Fables, Monstress, Strangers In Paradise, Spawn, and so many more–are so inextricably linked to their supporting cast that the idea of a “main character” in those books can get lost in the shuffle. Sure the BPRD are a support structure around Hellboy, for instance, but they also are strong enough to carry their own book. And when a title is focused on one character living his or her own continuity, the supporting cast of that character basically NEEDS to be developed for the book to work.
In short, independent comics almost always either have legendary supporting characters, or they are an ensemble production without a defining “lead”. So I decided to leave them out. It was going to get difficult parsing out who was a support and who was essential to the title.
I’m a coward, sorry!
So we are going to look at some mainstream comics today and parse out who has the best characters to enjoy besides the core hero.
Oh boy, spats of this list were tough. #1 through #5 were immediate, and all I had to do was rank them. After those were out of the way, #6-#9 came to me as a second batch. So I was left with one spot to fill, and it was genuinely hard figuring to whom out to give it.
After some deliberation, we landed on Shazam. I mean… he DID have a talking tiger as a friend way back in the day. And you can’t deny the snazzy of that.
Aside from that, you’ve got good enough support heroes in the Marvel Family, specifically Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior (or CM3…? What is he calling himself these days?).
So it’s fine, it’s FINE. Shazam gets to be #10 on the list.
It’s gotta be pretty sweet when your supporting cast is a combination of:
Literally the entirety of a major world mythology
Whatever 1960’s Jack Kirby and Stan Lee could think of for a fantasy realm.
I mean, come on. That’s almost unfair.
But for Thor, yeah, you’ve got an entire Norse pantheon with characters like Odin, Loki, Baldur, Hela, Sif and Frigga. You’ve got a trio of companions with distinctive personalities in The Warriors Three.
And that’s just in Asgard!
Elsewhere, Walt Simonson gave us the beloved horse-faced hero Beta-Ray Bill! Eric Masterson took over as Thor’s host for a time and became his own Avenger, Thunderstrike! Jane Foster went from meek 1960’s era love interest for Don Blake to a new version of Thor herself! Lot of people out there wielding their hammers and maces to help Thor out.
I will say the purely HUMAN side of Thor’s support cast is lacking, but when you’ve got an immortal realm of gods and several legacy heroes doing their best… you’re in good shape.
8. The Hulk
The Hulk doesn’t have a vast supporting cast as far as import goes, but he makes due with high quality in small numbers.
His cousin, She-Hulk, has been all over the Marvel Universe. She had a terrific John Byrne title in the 80’s and 90’s. She’s been a respected member of both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. She works as a serious character or a humorous one.
Doc Leonard Samson is a man of super-powered muscle who tries to win the day with his training in psychology. One such instance stands out as one of the greatest comic books of all time. He constantly struggles with not having to put his muscles ahead of his mind.
Rick Jones started off as Hulk’s unwanted sidekick and ally before he went on to become a fixture across the Marvel Universe.
Besides those, you’ve got Betty Brant, who has had moments of relevance, but was often just a plot device. Marlo Chandler? And, wait, can I count all the different Hulk personalities as “supporting cast”? That feels like cheating…
7. Wonder Woman
Seriously, Diana would make this list on the strength of Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark alone. They are absolutely great legacy characters who have made up huge roles in the Teen Titans and Young Justice.
There’s also apparently a newer Wonder Girl, but my apologies there… I haven’t had much experience with her yet. But she’s holding down her on book!
Speaking of characters with their own books, Nubia is an Amazon heroine who has had a bit of a renaissance of late! She used to be… well, she was just this weird token character that I think even most people who knew her figured they must have imagined her. But no! She’s real! And she’s relevant now!
There’s a whole island full of other Amazon warriors, too, and Steve Trevor for an occasional love interest.
Another case of quality over quantity, you’ve got basically Foggy Nelson and Ben Urich carrying the load here, but doing it so darn well.
Foggy, man! He has a terrible name, but it’s definitely memorable, so kudos to that. I never get him mistaken for one of his own relatives! Matt Murdock’s law partner has been a lot of things in his comics history, but he’s at his best when he is Matt’s constant confidant and ally. He’s the occasional voice of reason Matt needs, and the constant reminder of humanity that keeps Daredevil honest. He’s also regularly a source of comic relief for a character who gets pretty heavy on occasion.
Then you’ve got Ben Urich, the star Daily Bugle reporter who was never better than in Born Again, where he wrestled with protecting himself from The Kingpin’s reach and doing what he knew had to be done. Also, his name is BEN Urich, not PHIL Urich, who was a Green Goblin for but the hottest of minutes. That’s how you know I started reading comics in the early 90’s. I get a nobody like Phil Urich confused with his much more relevant uncle.
Let’s not forget characters who have bounced in and out of Matt’s life (and book) like Elektra, Karen Page, and Black Widow! They help get DD over as the top of the second tier of this list.
5. The Flash
Time to look at The Flash Family!
There are SO MANY FLASHES! Aside from Barry, you’ve got Wally, Bart, Jay, Max, Jesse, Wally’s kids… Just an army of Speed Force boosted speedsters that have branched from the Flash tree. Some have had more success than others, sure, but those that have had the biggest success have been huge stars in their own right.
(Also, Wally and Bart are both so much more entertaining than dry toast Barry ever was)
These characters work because they function so well as… well, a FAMILY. Wally was the nephew trying desperately to live up to his uncle’s legacy. Jay is the patriarch who doesn’t have the power of the youngsters, but makes up for it with experience. Bart was a rebellious teen who was constantly under Wally and Jay’s skin while they tried to mold him. Jesse Quick is… an underlooked cousin who is there sometimes? Max Mercury is… a friendlier version of Jay? Like… you have two grandfathers, right? So do The Flashes! Wally’s kids are… there, too. Look, family dynamics are weird, okay? I lost the plot here.
But you could make an argument that if these characters consistently had a team book, they’d rival the Fantastic Four as the first family of comics!
Keeping the book grounded would be Iris Allen and Linda Park-West, the wives of Barry and Wally respectively. As far as comic book love interests go, both are immensely empowered and feel less like damsels than they do fully-realized women who move stories in their own rights.
4. Green Lantern
Thor has a mythology. Wonder Woman has an Amazonian island. The Flash has a family.
But the Green Lantern has a whole ass CORPS. There’s a whole intergalactic military support team for Hal Jordan, made up of fellow Earth heroes and aliens alike.
Kyle. Guy. John. All capable of carrying their own weight as either a solo hero or member of a team. Killowog and Tomar-Re and fun support Lanterns. The Guardians and their “are they good or are they evil or are they just hopeless” storylines that Geoff Johns loved so damn much for the entire late 2000’s.
And then, OH YEAH, Johns just went and created a whole bunch of other lantern corps, giving us full-times allies like Saint Walker and several on-again/off-again antagonists/allies like Atrocitus and Larfleeze.
There’s a whole damn galaxy of a support structure out there for Hal Jordan, man.
Superman at #3 feels a bit sad, but he’s a bit top heavy before the quality dips.
Sure Perry White and Jimmy Olsen exist and have been occasionally interesting, but they just have this weird air of one-note-ism that is always a bit hard for them to erase. Supergirl is a decent hero in her own right, but, like… which one? Supergirl is a character about whom I know far too little. There was the one that was made of pink sludge, right? And the one with short black hair? And the one that wore a white t-shirt? I have no idea who any of these characters are in relation to each other. DC and their damn multiverses and shit, I swear to god.
But when you get past that, what gold you can find!
Steel and Superboy were both created in the wake of Supes’ death in the 1990’s, and they’ve proven fantastic characters in their own right. And past that, you’ve got Lois Lane and The Kents, and if there are three comic book supporting cast members EVERYONE knows, regardless of how little they have read of Superman, it’s Lois and the Kents.
Hell, Lois has been a TITLED character in TWO different Superman TV shows!
But The Kents are the reason Superman is who he is (and the reason it will take far more than the death of Lois to make him go evil, despite how many creators want to lean in on that notion). And Lois is a strong, brave character who excels at her career and bears most of the brunt of Clark’s double life.
I love those three!
And the, you know, 14 Supergirls.
We should all be so unlucky at love as Peter Parker.
Guy has had more girlfriends than I’ve had FRIENDS. And while many have been blink-and-you’ll-miss-them affairs, several others have stuck around and had real lasting impact on the Spidey books. Felicia Hardy and Mary Jane Watson in particular are two characters who have been hot and cold with the wall-crawler, but they work in his books whether the flames are currently lit or not.
And then there is Aunt May, who is just the greatest supporting character in comics. But I’ve already told you that.
Batman is not an interesting comic book character.
I’ve written on this before, and one of my core beliefs is that Batman is so boring and one-dimensional, that his true greatest purpose is to serve as a foil to all of the marvelous characters around him.
I do not care about unrealistically rich, unrealistically smart, unrealistically trained, infallible, can-take-down-the-JLA-in-an-afternoon-if-gets-bored Batman. He’s an insulting character.
But what I DO care about is how he is viewed through the lens of those around him.
Jim Gordon is an honest cop trying his best, even when his best is letting a vigilante roam the streets and kick crime in the teeth. Gordon has to fight the inner demons of this necessary skirting of the law to save lives. That’s interesting!
Damien Wayne was raised to have a violent belief system, but his father wants to impart moral relativity in him, even though it goes against everything Damien was previously believed. That’s interesting!
Alfred loves Bruce Wayne as a son, but he never knows which is worse: letting that pseudo-son put his life at risk nightly? Or trying to dissuade him from his mission, knowing that would break Batman mentally? So Alfred has to measure both desires for Bruce’s health. That’s interesting!
And so on with characters like Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Cassie Cain, Selina Kyle, Lucius Fox (and on and on)… they all have a different lens with which to view the godlike Bat and how they measure up (or fail to). That’s interesting!
Batman spending a gajillion dollars on a new Bat-vehicle and throwing gas pellets at Two Face? Not so interesting!
Batman was always going to be #1 here. That dude’s supporting cast is unreal, and it really throws that whole “dark and brooding loner” thing out the window. Why don’t more Bat-movies have these characters added in? We’ve only gotten two modern Batman films with Robin, and those were the Joel Schmuacher era! Revive the Robins, WB and Discovery!
Until next time… take care!