But the 90's weren't all bad. You had the rise of major writers like Grant Morison, Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek and artists like Jim Lee and Alex Ross. The 90's brought us books like Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Busiek's run on Thunderbolts, Marvels, Kingdom Come, Young Justice and Morrison's run on JLA. The 90's also saw the creation of lots of new characters. A lot of them were bad... really bad... but some were really good. A few even changed the world of comics. Here are Jonny and my Top 20 Marvel and DC comic book characters created in the 90's!
The greatness of these characters are being gauged by three categories: Relevance (is the character still a part of the comics scene?), Impact (did this character help change the comics industry?) and Success (is the character popular enough to warrant solo books, action figures or even movies?)
Apollo & Midnighter - I am sort of lumping these two together for the twenty slot, both because they are a bit of a package deal and that they didn't technically start out with DC Comics. They were created in 1998 when Wildstorm had been bought by DC (or just before, I couldn't find confirmation on that) but while they were still technically published by Image Comics. Honestly, that appearance was almost more like a cameo. Their real introductions came with The Authority, which debuted in 1999 with the new Wildstorm Universe under the DC umbrella.
So imagine if Superman and Batman were more violent, had no problem with killing villains and were in love with each other. That's Apollo and Midnighter in a nutshell. Part of why they are on this list is that I really love the characters as well as The Authority book. However, they have had an impact on the comic book industry. They were openly gay characters before it became a cool "minority" thing in comics, but more importantly, their sexuality wasn't what defined them. They were badasses that just happened to be gay. Even today that's surprisingly rare.
Think about it, nearly every character that had been gay before Apollo and Midnighter were never that tough and in many ways it seemed like being a homosexual was one of their super powers. Northstar is a groundbreaking gay character for Marvel Comics, but I feel like his sexual orientation means more than anything he does as a superhero. I can't even remember the last time he was in action!
Apollo and Midnighter are great in that they are not stereotypes. They aren't paraded around to prove anything. They are who they are. I think that's a big part of the reason that they were brought into the New 52 reboot, not just so DC could boast of having gay characters, but unique ones. I just wish DC knew what to do with them.
Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) - What often happens when I find out about a great comic is that the book is either over or about to end. By the time I really discovered how cool of a character the Cassandra Cain Batgirl was, it was, unbeknownst to me, only a few issues away from ending. Since then she has been renamed the Black Bat and has fallen into some level of obscurity, but not before leaving her mark.
What's notable about Cassandra Cain's stint as Batgirl was that she was the first Batgirl to have her own ongoing series since The Killing Joke, where Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by the Joker. Now I was never a huge fan of Batgirl, or any female version of an established male superhero... it just seems cheap and unoriginal.
However, right off the bat (no pun intended), Cassandra Cain was different. She was raised to be the ultimate assassin by her father and the League of Assassins, to the extent that her learning to speak and read was considered unnecessary and counterintuitive. Her journey saw Cassandra abandon that life for a more noble one inspired by Batman, where she would learn to speak, read, write and learn to interact with people, especially by kindling a friendship with Barbara Gordon.
She could have easily been just another "extreme 90's" character, but her tenure as Batgirl was very character driven. Cassandra Cain's story was unique and her training made her an unmitigated badass. She was part of a late 90's surge in strong, ass-kicking women that included Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Chyna in the WWF. I also suspect that she helped pave the way for X-23, the female clone of Wolverine that currently uses her father's mantle in her own comic book series.
Wondergirl (Cassie Sandsmark) - Another Cassandra edges out the previous one simply because she has current relevancy in DC Comics. At some point in the 90's, the character of Wondergirl was revamped with a new character replacing the continuity nightmare that was Donna Troy. Cassie Sandsmark helped rekindle the popularity of the DC teenager comics, first with Young Justice followed by Teen Titans.
I'm not super familiar with her character, but I know that her powers and origins have been altered from time to time, especially after the New 52 reboot. However, Cassie Sandsmark remains a major member of the Teen Titans and as such a relevant fixture in DC Comics almost twenty years after her debut.
Starman (Jack Knight) - In a sea of bad 90's creations and uninspired books full of flexing, muscles and violence, James Robinson's Starman was one of the shining beacons of great storytelling and complex characters... or so I'm told. I have never actually read the book. I have read about it and it seems great, but I just never got around to it. Jonny thinks it was the best regular ongoing series of the 90's (since Kingdom Come was a mini-series and Astro City came out very sporatically).
At some point Jack Knight retired from crime-fighting and gave his cosmic rod to Courtney Whitmore, who became Stargirl... a character that has found a following even into the New 52 reboot. It's the legacy of how great the book was that really places Jack on this list.
Blink - For a time, Blink had a huge following in Marvel Comics. I think a part of that is due to her being killed off soon after she debuted in the Phalanx Covenant storyline, before she even had a chance to join the team Generation X. Well, that's only part true. Blink played a major role in the Age of Apocalypse storyline shortly after, an alternate reality where Charles Xavier had died before founding the X-men, Apocalypse took over North America and Blink was never killed. Her appearance in the AoA was what really solidified her popularity as she had a cool look and was freakin' awsesome!
Her popularity was so great that she ended up starring in the mutant Quantum Leap book called Exiles. Eventually that book ended and she hasn't been seen that much since, that is until she appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Who knows, since her character was resurrected by the Black Queen Selene, maybe she will pop up more often. Blink is still popular enough that just a few years ago she won a Heroclix fan poll to get a new version of her made, so that says something!
Impulse - So at some point in the 90's a new speedster from the future named Bart Allen entered the world of The Flash. I think he was inspired by the rise of the ADHD issue of the 90's as he was reckless, out of control, a little dumb and possibly crazy. He was named Impulse.
I'm not really that familiar with Impulse except that he was a very fun character, extreme comic relief especially in the Young Justice book that came out in the late 90's. Then at some point Geoff Johns changed his name to Kid Flash and made him boring. Usually Johns has a good to great track record, but maybe he should have left Impulse alone.
That said, he did become The Flash for a while... but then he was killed and through time bullshit was resurrected and then came the New 52 where we learn their version of Bart Allen is somebody else completely and a terrorist murderer and then I stopped caring. Ugh. But anyway, the Bart Allen character has persisted for a while and as such, he makes this list.
Static - Easily the most popular character from the Milestone Universe (under the DC Comics umbrella), Static was like a black Spider-man before Miles Morales was a twinkle in Brian Michael Bendis' eye. In fact, he was designed to be Milestone's contemporary answer to Spider-man. He was popular enough to get his own animated series and the only Milestone character to get his own book when DC merged characters from Milestone, Wildstorm and Vertigo into their New 52 reboot. Unfortunately that comic sucked and was soon cancelled... something that probably wouldn't have happened if co-creator Dwayne McDuffie were still alive. With both DC and Marvel's massive shifts to promoting minority characters to major players, I really don't get why Static doesn't have another book or isn't even an active member of their Teen Titans.
Bishop - I remember when Bishop was introduced, he helped usher in the new age of the X-men... the post Claremont era that would bring about some very memorable yet dark times for the mutant universe. It didn't help that Bishop a mullet headed gun weilding character, a prerequisite for the "extreme 90's" archetype, but he also brought with him something I like to call "time baggage."
Time Baggage is when a character's continuity is closely tied to time travel and either knowing about some foreboding future event, being on a mission to stop said event, or both. Bishop was both. His power was weird, as he could absorb energy attacks to redirect them. I guess the gun was there for when he didn't have energy to redirect? I don't know. I do know that a friend of mine has stated that any mutant that needs a gun has shitty powers. I tried to defend Bishop on that, but I really couldn't come up with much.
Bishop has been a major factor in Marvel's mutant-verse since his debut, playing a major role in the Age of Apocalypse storyline, The Messiah Complex storyline and even appearing in the movie X-men: Days of Future Past. So, he definitely has to make this list... regardless of Time Baggage and mutant with a gun issues.
Carnage - What happens when you push the envelope on an "extreme 90's" concept? You get Carnage. Take everything about the Venom character and amplify it. Carnage could do everything Venom could do, plus make weapons out of his symbiotic body to aid in his murdering people. Oh, did I mention that Carnage is a serial killer? Yeah, that's important. It helped lead to his most renown storyline Maximum Carnage.
At least Carnage was never intended to be a hero. I think his creation was to help make Venom into more on an anti-hero... something that never really worked with the Eddie Brock character. It's hard to make a murderous, bloodthirsty monster into a hero and to Carnage's benefit, he never had that problem.
Carnage is a little like Doomsday in that he pops up every now and then and everyone knows he's a huge threat. He still pops up, most recently in the pages of Nova. He has a lasting legacy and a bit of a following, making him memorable, relevant and a part of this list.
Doomsday - While I have to include Doomsday on this list, I just can't justify putting him very high on it. He only really had one memorable story, but boy was it a doozy! Doomsday will forever be known as the monster that killed Superman... sort of. Through the magic of retconning, I guess Superman was in a Kryptonian coma or some crap... whatever. The bastard died, we all know it.
The thing is that since then, it's been hard to really use Doomsday effectively. For a character that powerful, you really only have two options. Either keep him as powerful and have him plow through more heroes, making them look useless, or weaken Doomsday enough to make him manageable. For the most part, DC went with the latter.
Sure, there was the sequel story where Doomsday messed up Darkseid, but since then he has been relegated to being the "used to be a massive threat but now gets owned by whatever new character needs to be established as a bad ass" treatment. (That was certainly the case against Imperiex.) However, Doomsday has a lasting legacy and was the catalyst of bringing change to the DC universe in the 90's and beyond, and for that alone he would make the list. In addition to that some variation of Doomsday has appeared on Smallville and will be in the upcoming Batman Vs Superman movie.
Steel - I guess DC needed their own Iron Man, because that's basically what Steel is. Brilliant scientist, feels guilty about his role in creating weapons used by bad people, builds a super suit of metal, fights crime. That's both Iron Man and Steel in two nutshells.
I will defend Steel in a few ways. First, his introduction in the Reign of the Supermen storyline was pretty cool and left a lasting impact. Second, DC had tried before to make their own Iron Man... both with Technocrat and Booster Gold when he decided to be 'extreme!' after Doomsday kicked his ass. Third, even after adding the former Milestone character and Iron Man archetype Hardware to the New 52, DC still goes with Steel as their resident "guy in a robot suit."
War Machine - So while the character of James Rhodes was created in the 1980's, he didn't actually get his own set of armor and become his own unique character of War Machine until the 90's. Let's be honest, he started as a very 90's character, using massive guns and basically being a more extreme version of Iron Man. However, his popularity has endured over the years to make him a major part of Iron Man's world as well as an Avenger in his own right.
I would argue that his recent surge in appearances can be attributed to Rhodes being African American, one of the rare already established non-white heroes in Marvel. Also, his appearances in the Iron Man films (or I guess film as "War Machine" was only in the second one) helps as well. Now he seems to mostly go by Iron Patriot, wearing an armor similar to the one Norman Osborn used during the Dark Avengers storyline. However, he wouldn't have gotten there without having been War Machine first.
Gambit - There was a time when Gambit was massively popular in the comics. There was a time when he only followed Wolverine on the list of favorite X-Men. Today, not so much. I don't know why he is no longer big, maybe writers didn't know what to do with him. His solo books never did that well, meaning he probably works better as part of a team. Regardless, in the prime of his popularity, Gambit was awesome. He looked cool, had awesome exploding energy cards and those dark eyes. Subtracting claws, blades, guns and pouches, Gambit was a prime example of the "extreme 90's" character... especially fitting well with the X-men prerequisite of being dark, brooding and a mysterious background.
Why is he so high on this list? Because he was so popular he had numerous toys made, appeared in all the X-men cartoons since his debut, has appeared on film and is also getting a film of his own! That screams out Top 10 characters of the 90's to me!
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) - Jonny Prophet doesn't want to admit to it, but Kyle Rayner was a major piece of the DC Comics puzzle in the 90's and beyond. I get why many Hal Jordan fans dislike Rayner, but he was created for a purpose and served that purpose well... to breathe new life into an aging franchise. Not only that, but he also helped bring more relatable youth into the Justice League books. DC replaced an old character with graying hair from the silver age, with a young struggling artist turned inexperienced hero (that by the way, is half Hispanic, making him a major minority character before it was cool).
Due to the events of Emerald Twilight, where Hal Jordan went insane and slaughtered the Green Lantern Corps (a further slap in the face to Jordan fans... until DC decided to absolve Hal's sins through retcons), Kyle Rayner became the last Green Lantern and as such a guardian of the universe. He became a cornerstone of the JLA book, which totally revamped DC Comics by turning the Justice League into an all-star book. Eventually, he was instrumental in resurrecting the Green Lantern Corps through his ring's power.
Since Hal Jordan was brought back to life and made a Green Lantern again, Kyle Rayner has lost a lot of his relevance in the books. They've made him a White Lantern to help give him a new direction, but he's essentially one of many humans with a power ring. Regardless, Rayner was a major part to the changing face of DC Comics in the 90's and certainly deserving of a spot in the Top 10.
Bane - Superman had Doomsday, Batman had Bane. Yes, Bane was designed to be a near unstoppable threat to Batman and help shake up his books the way Doomsday did to Superman's. As such, Bane became huge and like Doomsday, legendary for his role in beating Batman. Unlike Doomsday, however, Bane has proven to be useful beyond the Knightfall storyline.
He has appeared twice in feature length films, though ironically neither were accurate to the comic book version. Batman & Robin relegated Bane to being a grunting mindless powerhouse (completely disregarding his brilliant criminal mind... he did, after all, put together and execute a plan that defeated Batman!). In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane was closer to being the criminal mastermind he was in the comics, though his League of Shadows origin and lack of reliance on the super steroid "venom" also made him less authentic. That said, Bane continues to have a lasting effect on Batman and was the second most influential 90's addition to his rogues gallery.
Superboy (Conner Kent) - The Death of Superman set the ball in motion for change in the DC universe during the 90's, but it was the Reign of the Superman that really jumpstarted things with new characters and turning points. I already mentioned one of these new characters (Steel) but the one that made an even bigger impact was Superboy. Back in the Silver Age, DC ran a Superboy comic illustrating the adventures of young Clark Kent. In the 90's, DC found a way to have a young Superman without having to go the "prequel" route.
Conner Kent, as he would come to be known, was a clone of Superman and (it would later be revealed) Lex Luthor. Superboy would become instrumental in reviving the teenage superhero side of the DC universe first with Young Justice and then with Teen Titans. Even in the dreaded New 52 he not only had his own title but became a fixture on that incarnation of the Teen Titans.
While I wasn't huge on Superboy at the start, mainly because he was an obnoxious brat, DC helped his character settle into a role that helped set him apart from Superman and still kept him relevant enough to make it plausible that he might one day take up that mantle for himself. His powers are unique, a "tactile telekinesis" that allows him to fly and provides a different level of imperviousness. He's powerful but not powerful enough to usurp DC's golden boy.
Given his various solo titles, his action figures, his starring role in the underrated cartoon Young Justice and his continuing impact on the DC universe, Superboy deserves his place among the greatest of the 90's.
Cable - I would rank Cable even higher, but since the 90's, he has had a declining impact in a comic book environment less obsessed with huge guns and cybernetic enhancements. That said, he is still a major part to the mythology of the X-men and the mutant part of the Marvel universe. Cable pretty much exemplified the archetype of the "extreme 90's" character with his aforementioned cybernetic parts, comically oversized guns, oddly glowing cyber eye, tough attitude and SO MANY POUCHES! (Everyone knows pouches are the key to extreme... their could be anything in those pouches... ANYTHING!)
I always liked the Cable character. He has an interesting, if convoluted origin. While he looks like the prototypical extreme character, there were good reasons for much of his appearance. The cybernetics are the result of the techno-organic virus that his eternal nemesis Apocalypse infected him with as a child. He has very strong telekinetic abilities, but had to use most of that power keeping the virus at pay, necessitating his need to fight with those huge futuristic guns. He is forever a soldier, fighting numerous wars throughout time and helping the mutant cause in the process.
In recent years, Cable has been a part of many storylines, including all that stuff involving Hope Summers. He has had his own solo comic many times, shared one with a certain Merc with a Mouth (who is on this list) and has been with the X-Men and X-Force, so Nathaniel Summers is clearly of some importance still to the Marvel Universe. In fact, a certain Regenerating Degenerate revealed that his sequel will in fact feature Cable... so maybe he will see a resurgence in popularity.
Venom - You could make a strong argument that the dark 90's characters began with the introduction of Venom, a villain that would create a huge ripple effect in Spider-Man comics and beyond. He was in instant fan favorite, a reverse Spider-Man that was stronger, more vicious, could attack without setting off the Web-Head's "Spider-Senses" and Venom knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man's secret identity! You could say Venom was a game changer, a villain on caliber with (at the time) the late Norman Osborn's Green Goblin,.
Over time, though, it became harder to keep Venom a true bad guy. Fans wanted more of him, but you can't have Venom in every issue of Spider-Man. This led to the aforementioned Carnage, but more importantly put Venom on the path to becoming the anti-hero with the nickname of the "Lethal Protector." The only problem is that Venom couldn't be a true superhero and still kill his opponents, but it was his viciousness that gained him his following. Overtime, the character of Venom got stale.
Attempts were made to rejuvenate the character by having Eddie Brock (the possessor of the symbiotic Venom suit) to sell it, eventually landing it into the hands of Mac Gargan, formerly known as the Spider-Man villain the Scorpion. (By the way, Eddie Brock went on to get a weird new symbiote named Anti-Venom, which I think was created from his cancer? I don't know, it's weird.) Gargan, being a true homicidal criminal, used the Venom suit to monstrous ends, from slaughtering a roomful of cops at once to eating Skrulls! He even impersonated Spider-Man in Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers.
After Gargan was apprehended, the Venom symbiote was taken by the government and used to create a form of super soldier with Peter Parker's old friend "Flash" Thompson. Thompson, who had lost his legs fighting in Iraq, was granted new legs by the symbiote when it was attached to him. This new direction reinvigorated the character and made Venom popular again. He not only is the Avenger's liaison to the Guardians of the Galaxy, but Venom has his own book called Venom: Space Knight.
Venom has had a lasting effect on Marvel and the comic business. He's appeared in Spider-Man 3 and had countless toys, statues, shirts... you name it. That's why he's the third greatest 90's comic book character in my book.
Harley Quinn - It's amazing how a character created solely for Batman the Animated Series as the Joker's sidekick took off and became a phenomenon unto herself. Truth be told, she is a fantastic character. She is a lost soul that can be compete with Joker's sadistic nature while showing glimpses of the good person she was before the Joker corrupted her. Harley Quinn is the perfect love interest for the Joker, something that sounds outlandish but works on a comedic level.
It was in the comics that Harley began to evolve beyond Joke's sidekick with benefits. She got her own books, teamed with other characters such as Poison Ivy (with whom it was implied that she had a romantic involvement) and eventually wound up a member of the Suicide Squad... a member that will likely NOT be killed. I mean, come on, that would be stupid.
Within a couple of years of her cartoon debut, Harley was introduced into the comics themselves. Since then you could say she's been a runaway success. She has starred in several series, had lots of statues and action figures made of her and inspired countless cosplays at comic book and pop culture conventions around the world. Oh, and she will be making her big screen debut this summer in Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn is truly DC's greatest creation of the 1990's.
Deadpool - Yeah, it was probably pretty obvious who number one is on this list. Deadpool started out humbly as both a parody rip-off of DC's Deathstroke the Terminator and as something of a cliche, a smart ass mercenary for Cable and the New Mutants (later X-Force) to fight. Somewhere along the way, though, Deadpool lost his frickin' mind! I'm honestly not sure when it happened, but as he gradually gained a following certain writers decided to have fun with him. Deadpool began making pop culture references, "riffing" his own books and even breaking the fourth wall. Before long Deadpool became a morally devoid and heavily armed Bugs Bunny.
Now, Deadpool has never been more popular. His comic sells so well that Marvel puts out constant miniseries of old Wade Wilson, often teaming up with other heroes and driving them insane. He's about to get his second monthly book Deadpool's Mercs for Money. He was recently made an Avenger and a centerpiece to the Uncanny Avengers book. His figures, statues and Heroclix sell out consistently. His image appears on everything from t-shirts to keychains. Oh, and there was that movie of his that made copious amounts of money at the box office (as was both hilarious and awesome... or hilsome... or awlarious... I like that one better. It was awlarious!) So while you might argue whether or not Deadpool is truly the greatest 90's comic book character, you'll have a tough time disputing that he is the most successful!
So there you have it. Anyone you think we missed anyone or dont agree with the rankings, feel free to eviscerate us in the comments. Until next time Stay Strange.