My Modern Age Five

Every since Rey and the geek friends discussed modern heroes, I've been thinking about which characters have been created in the last 25 years. I suppose the comic geek in me will never fully die, and so it's fairly easy to set my mind down this road. For the most part, both the heroes and villains got darker which, as Rey astutely pointed out, mirrored the changes in society itself. Pop culture is a reflection of reality, though sometimes that can be a chicken and egg relationship. In any case, inspiration often comes from the things I need to get out of my brain, hence My Five favorite comic book characters created in the modern age:

1) Apocalypse:
I suspect this villain may have initially been created for the logical play on words of his henchmen being named after the four biblical horsemen, but he definitely developed into a formidable villain in his own right. First appearing in the pages of X-Factor in 1986, this shapeshifting metallic mutant's initial greatest claim to fame was taking a wingless Angel and granting him new metal wings that hurled blade “feathers” laced with a neuro-toxin. Angel's teammates believed him dead until Apocalypse unveiled him as his horseman Death. Later, he rejoined the team as Archangel, and would probably have a place on this list were he not an updated version of a character created in 1963. Apocalypse was responsible for giving Cyclops' son a technorganic virus for which there was no cure in the present, forcing him to send the child far into the future where he would grow up to become the mutant mercenary Cable, another popular modern age character that might be on my list if I called this “My Sixes”. And, as if X-Men stories weren't convoluted enough, Apocalypse was later the chief villain in the Age of Apocalypse saga, a tale about an alternate timeline created after history is altered by the murder of Charles Xavier in the past. Apocalypse, later revealed to be the world's oldest mutant, born in Egypt 5,000 years ago, remains a formidable enemy of the mutant heroes, as though they didn't have enough to worry about between Magneto and a world that hates and fears them.

2) Speedball:
As dark as the ‘90s were, there were still a few lighthearted heroes out there. Enter Robbie Baldwin in 1988, a kid whose power was bouncing--how absurd! I have to admit that I didn't initially care for the character when he first appeared. His hair always sticking up to a point due to the kinetic spheres that surrounded him, he kind of looked like an ice cream cone. Comic book newbie that I was, I didn't appreciate the art of Steve Ditko in his solo series. It wasn't until he became a founding member of The New Warriors that Robbie got interesting. He wasn't this happy-go-lucky kid anymore, instead portrayed more as a real teenager with real problems. His parents were fighting, and eventually separated. His joking facade covered his problems, much like Spider-Man. And his powers started to seem formidable. Any impact could activate his kinetic field, but he gradually learned to control it instead of bouncing around like a maniac. He would do interesting things like jump in front of a train and allow the impact to trigger his powers and send him across a vast distance. When facing off against Terrax, Speedball's teammate Marvel Boy grabbed him in a telekinetic field until his kinetic bouncing spheres built up, then released them against their opponent. Taking down a herald of Galactus was a sure right of passage for any young hero, really a hero of any age. Sadly, the modern age eventually caught up with Robbie Baldwin, and I've read that after a story in which he felt guilty for surviving when hundreds of innocents including several of the New Warriors died, he adopted the codename “Penance” and started wearing a suit with spikes on the inside to cause him constant pain(and because his powers were somehow altered by the explosion that killed everyone else). Jerry pointed out that Baldwin may be returning to the Speedball persona in the near future though, which I was glad to hear. Sometimes, something good comes out of the “nothing is permanent” status quo nature of these stories that factored in my decision to stop collecting after 8 years.

3) Firestar:
That's right, I'm listing another New Warrior. More importantly, Anjelica Jones' place on this list doesn't have so much to do with her comic book adventures as it does with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons growing up. In a rare occurrence, she was a brand new character created for the show in 1981, but would eventually join the Marvel Universe proper in 1985. So I'm counting her as a modern age comic book character. Despite her name, her powers are based in microwave radiation rather than flame, though they allow her to fly and fire concentrated bursts of heat energy. Though depicted as a lighthearted college student and superhero on the cartoon, she had a rougher time in the comics, struggling with her mutant powers and joining the Hellions, rivals to the X-Men's New Mutants. She found a more heroic fit with the New Warriors eventually, a romance with Marvel Boy, and even became an Avenger. That's not bad for a character who only existed because cartoon makers couldn't get the rights to use The Human Torch. That would have been a very different show indeed....

4) Gambit:
These days, they probably come up with a new X-Man each week, but in 1990 the team was pretty tight. Remy LeBeau was a thief with a charming personality, able to woo the ladies while fighting with his bo staff. His mutant ability wasn't too shabby either, and he was able to charge any object with kinetic energy, causing it to explode. But what made the character really interesting and supported his codename was his choice of weapons: playing cards. He'd carry a few decks around in his trenchcoat and hurl an endless supply of exploding cards at his enemies. He's a man with a shady past and some questionable allegiances, but always seemed to be a hero at heart. For a high school art project in which we had to create a giant figure out of foamcore, I chose the impressive Jim Lee character design and still have the four-foot creation(shorter now since over the years the feet have snapped off). Gambit, the cajun thief, was often paired with Rogue, the untouchable Southern mutant belle. He's gone on to appear in both animation and film, and remains a popular character today.

5) Venom:
One thing I loved about comics was how it was this giant sandbox of resources that artists and writers could dig around in, drawing inspiration from years of stories while bringing something new to the mix. I'll never forget Venom's first appearance in 1988, when Spider-Man's wife at the time Mary Jane came home to a darkened apartment and thought she saw her husband lurking in shadows, wearing his black costume. But it wasn't him, as we all soon learned, as he grew a fanged smile on his mask and uttered a chilling, “Honey, I'm home!” At that time in the comics, Spider-Man was also wearing a black costume, but his original black costume had been an alien symbiote he picked up during the Secret Wars. After it tried to bond with him, he though he destroyed it with church bells, since it was vulnerable to sound. Instead, it was only weakened, and found a new host in Eddie Brock, a reporter contemplating suicide after his career was ruined by Spider-Man disproving a serial killer exposé of his by catching the real killer. The costume gave Eddie all of Spider-Man's abilities while enhancing his own strength, could simulate webbing, and could share knowledge, which meant that Eddie knew Peter Parker's greatest secret. This made him one of Spidey's deadliest foes, and he remained so for years until the symbiote somehow ended up with Scorpion, one of the b-list villains in the rogues gallery. Brock is still around as a character called Anti-Venom, but I don't think I or any of my comic book collecting contemporaries will ever forget his earliest appearances.

Can you tell I was a Marvel fan back in the day? Static and Mike Mignola's Hellboy are two notable examples of independent creations from this era too, but if I'm being honest I know them mostly from a cartoon and a film series respectively. Who did I leave off this list that you would have included?



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