What is the essence of cool? That’s a problem that has plagued philosophers since Clarkson and co tried to use a “Cool Wall” as an objective measure in Top Gear. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a go at trying to define it. Who decides what’s cool? We do, of course, Which is why we’ve compiled our picks of the 25 coolest characters in comics. These aren’t characters chosen for their heritage (sorry Superman, you’re just too earnest), these are characters picked because they don’t just look awesome, but they break rules and grab our attention.
Coolest Comic Book Characters
Like a female Berlin-period David Bowie, Luci is actually a reimagining of the devil (as in Lucifer, geddit?). Star of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + Divine, she’s witty, stylish and dangerous.
Batman taken to his logical, dark conclusion, Rorschach is the, umm, dog-loving star of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Real name Walter Kovacs, he’s a violent psychopath who has brutal methods and questionable politics… but fans love him anyway because let’s face it… he looks pretty cool.
23) Rocket Raccoon
An anthropomorphic raccoon, who likes heavy weaponry and whose best friend is a talking tree, Rocket became world famous following the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. But the character dates back to 1976 - and did you know he was named after a Beatles song?
22) Kamala Khan
Kamala Khan is a teenager first and a superhero second - which is one of the reasons she has become an idol for outsiders of all ages. As Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, she was the fourth character to inherit the Ms Marvel mantle. Yes, she has problems - but she has a lot of fun and follows her own path in life too.
21) Spider Jerusalem
A misanthropic mash-up of Hunter S Thompson and HL Mencken, Spider Jerusalem is old, bald and doesn’t have anything in common with similarly named Peter Parker. Star of Transmetropolitan, his weapon of choice is the Bowel Disruptor (which does exactly what it sounds like).
20) Dream of the Endless
The hero of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, this character was often only in the background or tangentially involved in the plot. But that doesn’t mean that this Robert Smith-alike goth isn’t iconic.
19) Black Widow
Natalia “Natasha” Romanoff was a Russian Spy before she turned heel to become the First Lady of SHIELD. Despite a mysterious childhood, or perhaps because of a mysterious childhood, she is now a well trained fighter who is able to hold her own amongst the super-powered milieu of The Avengers. Marvel really ought to get around to making a stand alone Black Widow film.
18) Johnny Alpha
Psychic powers: Check. Glowing eyes: Check. Bad-ass weapons: Check. Mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, one of the stars of 2000AD is not just terrifying, but he’s a fierce champion of the underdog. He even once caught Hitler and brought him into the future to face justice. Seriously.
The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen rightly makes the list as he’s a more relatable version of Batman. Rather than have billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne’s resources, Matt Murdoch started out poor, on the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Blinded by radioactive material, with heightened other senses, and with a side of Catholicism, Daredevil is one of the most complex Marvel characters out there. And he’s brilliantly portrayed in the gritty eponymous Netflix series, which just launched its second season.
16) Jesse Custer
Jesse Custer isn’t your typical wimpy vicar. A clergyman in the deep south, he got entangled with a supernatural entity called Genesis, which gave him the power to control anyone by speaking to them - a power he called the “Word of God”. A fan of Bill Hicks, and a hero who retains deep moral convictions, Garth Ennis’s character is the toughest preacher ever.
15) Silver Surfer
“Now I ride the eternal winds once more! And none shall ever be my master!”
One of Jack Kirby’s most celebrated creations, the Silver Surfer was not just Radd by name, but rad by nature too. An alien who muses on philosophy while surfing on cosmic winds, the surfer became a symbol of the 1960s’ hippy worldview. Peace out.
Half of the longest running “Will they/won’t they” story in comics, Selina Kyle is a thief and a burglar, but one to whom Bruce Wayne is inexplicably attracted. A complex character who doesn’t fit neatly into either the “good” or “evil” column, Catwoman answers to no one, and does whatever she wants. Just don’t mention the 2004 Halle Berry film.
13) King Mob
Created by Grant Morrison for The Invisibles, King Mob is a bald, tall assassin who likes James Bond and the occult. Oh, and he’s also a kung-fu master. But in the hands of Morrison, he isn’t simply all about the violence - he is also troubled by the punishment he dishes out. So much so that at one point in the canon he renounced violence completely.
Blade is the son of a sex worker who had been bitten by a vampire - and was consequently imbued with vampiric powers, like having an extremely long life. He rocks a Matrix-style long leather coat and shades with swords to create one cool character - one who was later portrayed on screen by Wesley Snipes.
11) Tank Girl
Rebecca Buck is exactly what you imagine when you hear the words “anarcho-punk”. Created in the late 80s, she’s better known as Tank Girl and was created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. It was funny, filthy and surreal. And did we mention that her boyfriend was a mutant kangaroo named Booga?
10) Nick Fury Jr
The original Nick Fury was your pretty average tough guy, but when it came to reinventing the character for the Ultimates line, Mark Millar had a flash of genius: What if he was like Samuel L Jackson? Slicker and more stylish, the new Fury’s resemblance to the actor was not just a coincidence - he officially gave permission for his likeness, and then later appeared in the Avengers films to play the man himself.
9) Halo Jones
An 18 year old punk kid who is both stylish and relatable… oh, and did we mention she lives in the 50th century and spends her days travelling the galaxy? Halo Jones was created by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson and was designed to be the polar opposite of the traditional space warrior archetype.
8) Iron Man
Originally on the Marvel B-team, thanks to the wildly successful movies Tony Stark is now front and centre in the Marvel universe. Arguably the very distillation of cool, this hard-drinking, smart-quipping billionaire playboy is a genius too - and doesn’t need humility to make him likeable. Iron Man has had his darker moments - such as in the celebrated “Demon in a Bottle” storyline - but he ultimately always manages to save the world anyway.
Since the early 90s when Mike Mignola first created Hellboy, he has been battling the forces of evil. As a giant red demon, Hellboy’s appeal is that he’s big, burly, chomps cigars and won’t take any shit. He’s sweet too, though - setting him apart from the occult monsters that he takes on in every issue.
6) John Constantine
Look beyond the, umm, slightly dodgy TV show and instead look at a working class lad from Liverpool done good. John Constantine drinks, smokes and fights during his career as an occult detective - through the course of which he encounters everything from conspiracies to demonic forces. So beloved is Constantine that he singlehandedly kept Hellblazer afloat when it was published by Vertigo - though he has since joined the DC stable.
5) Death of the Endless
Neil Gaiman’s personification of death itself came not as a traditional grim reaper, but as a goth girl who looks like she walked straight of a Cure gig. Rather than make Death scary, Gaiman instead made her kind - she’s not killing people… just helping them on their way. And as a result - and perhaps thanks to the relatively easy cosplay (dressing up as a goth is easier than making spandex Spider-Men suits), she became a regular fan favourite at conventions too.
Despite Wolverine probably being one of the most recognisable characters in comics, the character had more humble origins as a villain in Incredible Hulk #180. Created by John Romita and Len Wein, Logan’s hot headed attitude is mitigated by a sense of justice not found in his enemies, making him the perfect hero for X-Men fans. In current comics canon, Wolverine is currently dead (not easy for a man who can heal himself), but we suspect that he’ll be back sooner or later.
The monosyllabic Michonne first appeared in issue #19 of The Walking Dead, and shook up the series which had remained relatively well grounded. Wielding a katana and with two armless zombie companions, she really livened things up. Amazingly, she wasn’t a cold killing machine: Her creators, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard actually made her surprisingly sympathetic, with later issues digging through her tragic past. After the “All Out War” Arc, Michonne managed to get hold of a boat - meaning that now she is technically a pirate.
From Peter Parker to Miles Morales, one thing is clear: As soon as the iconic mask is put on, Spider-Man turns into a quip-dropping, crime-fighting machine. Sure, the character might lean a little towards wish-fulfillment for large sections of its audience (how many comics fans were the nerdy guy who was good at science, we wonder?), but what’s wrong with that?
Underlying the character too is an important moral message - and one that proves to be a constant theme underlying every page: That with great power, comes great responsibility.
Was it ever going to be anyone else? The Dark Knight himself takes his rightful place as the coolest character in comics. But why? Batman feels more human - he doesn’t have any powers. He’s just a vigilante who doesn’t follow the rules while trying to make his city better. He can’t magic up laser vision or lightning bolts. The caped crusader is fallible and can be beaten (just ask Bane) - which means he has to use his wits and his gadgets to try and stay ahead of his adversaries.
What’s particularly great about Batman too is that the character has almost the same legendary status as Sherlock Holmes or Hamlet. There’s a Batman for everyone - whether you like campy 60s zap/pow action, or prefer Batman at Frank Miller’s most dark and brooding. Batman is both timeless - and timelessly cool.
A version of this article first appeared in Comic Heroes, the world's best magazine for all your comic book needs. From Marvel and DC to indies and graphic novel classics, pick up the latest issue and back issues here, from MyFavouriteMagazines.co.uk, and follow the mag on Facebook.