24 Sep 2015 9:28 PM +00:00 UTC

9 Comic Book Characters That Deserve Better

There’s a lot of great characters in comics who aren’t used to their full potential. Anyone could probably make a long list of characters who deserve better treatment.  So I did.  I was pretty strict with this list, though!  I limited it to characters who were currently dead or cast off to limbo, meaning they hadn’t appeared in comics for years. These are characters that were left hanging in the cruelest ways and truly put through the wringer with all their potential shot and their plotlines unresolved.

Of course, I found a pattern. This wasn’t a purposeful thing. I wasn’t the only one who came up with these characters, I asked around online as well. But every mistreated character we came up with happened to be a woman, minority or both.

I’m going to try to impress why these characters deserve better. Each of these characters is interesting and successful in their own right. These are not poorly conceived bit players. They simply had their potential squandered by uncaring creators. Comics are slowly making strides forward in diversity, but this list shows they still have a long way to go.  This is my plea for these characters to be given the love they deserve.

Of course, there's a lot of other characters who got a raw deal that didn't make the list. So our readers should feel free to demand justice for their own beloved characters in the comments!

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  1. Cassandra Cain/ Batgirl

    The treatment of Cassandra Cain is honestly one of the most baffling, infuriating things I’ve had to experience as a comics fan. Cassandra debuted as Batgirl in 1999. She was the daughter of an assassin and had been forced to learn to communicate through body language rather than human speech. She had been made to kill at a young age before rejecting her heritage and running away.  Regular society was largely alien to her due to her upbringing and she also struggled with a language disability.

    She was a fascinating character and her book was very popular. Her series last 73 issues, making it the longest running title starring a woman of color in DC or Marvel.

    Robin #150 (2006)

    Despite being such a successful character, DC never pushed to include her in any media adaptations. Her series was also canceled despite the fact it wasn’t selling that badly. DC took this beloved, unique hero and turned her evil offscreen. Not only evil, but evil in a way that didn’t tally with her previous characterization at all. Adam Beechen wrote Cassandra as a cackling dragon lady with nonsensical motives. She was suddenly talkative and no longer a good fighter. Despite the fact he’d basically considered Cassandra a daughter, Batman shrugged off the fact she was now going around killing people and laughed at how “disturbed” she was.

    Teen Titans #44 (2007)

    After fan pushback, DC did a clumsy retcon, revealing her evilness had been due to being drugged by a villain.  Cassandra was then given a miniseries…only DC hired the guy who had botched writing her so badly in the first place, Adam Beechen, to do it.  Shockingly, the series was terrible and sold badly. So DC used that as an excuse to shuffle her off to limbo. They had her quit for a reason completely anthithetical to her previous chracterization. Dare to compare:

    Batgirl #50 (2004)

    Batgirl #1 (2009)

    She was replaced by Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. She left Gotham and all the other characters seemed to forget she existed.

    After a long absence, Cassandra finally got a new hero identity and appeared in an actual decent miniseries. At the end she declared she was going to return to Gotham for good! At last!

    Gates of Gotham #5

    And then the universe rebooted immediately after that and Cass was erased from existence entirely. You could practically hear DC yelling “Pranked ya!”

    It took five years, and she’s far behind every single other member of the Batfamily, but Cassandra is finally set to make her New 52 debut. However, considering she’s been treated horribly for nearly a solid decade at this point, it’s hard not to be wary. You’d think Cassandra ran over Dan Didio’s dog or something.

    I’ve pretty much stopped supporting DC largely because of what happened to characters like Cassandra, but if they finally do right by her for a sustained period, I might consider giving them my business again. This character was milestone for the company and important to many people. Stop trashing her, DC. I’m watching you.

  2. Eli Bradley/ Patriot

    Eli was a fairly prominent character in Marvel Comics for a while as the leader of the Young Avengers. But you wouldn’t know it from his treatment lately. He hasn’t been active in comics for about four years.

     After a fairly reasonable action of his had ridiculously horrific consequences (ahhh, comics), he quit the team and was nowhere to be seen in the next Young Avengers book. The only mention of him was when his friends called his house and his mom reported to them that he hadn’t gotten out of bed for two weeks. His friends showed exactly no emotional response to the fact he’s apparently so horrifically depressed he can’t even function, and he hasn’t been seen since.

    Young Avengers #8 (2005)

    Eli deserves better, not just because “probably suffering near-suicidal depression but nobody cares” is a gross thing to do to any character, but because he’s an majorly important character to the Marvel Universe. He’s the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, who was given super soldier powers in a program that duped African-American soldiers into being test subjects in an experiment to recreate Captain America. (most of them died). This was a deliberate reference to the real Tuskegee experiments. Eli is depicted as young man who is passionate about continuing his grandfather’s legacy and reminding America of the underlying racism that props them up.

    Young Avengers #1 (2005)

     Eli is an important part of the Captain America universe because any representation of America as a country needs to acknowledge the ugly parts of it. Eli’s life is entrenched in that ugly history, but the character himself is about the desire for America to both acknowledge its past and become better for it. Eli is a representative of the new generation, a kid who sees how the current affluent America was created on the backs of his ancestors and he won’t let their sacrifices be thankless forever. He’s also not going to silently watch the injustice continue.  If you want the legacy of “Captain America” to truly represent all of America, you need a character like Eli as part of that team.

    Yet Marvel sees fit to throw him away. Kieron Gillen stated that he wanted to use Eli in Young Avengers, but he was told no. Why? There’s no reason not to use Eli, and you’d think with Marvel touting a diverse line-up, a character like him would be welcome. 

  3. Angela del Toro/ White Tiger

    Angela del Toro, the White Tiger, was the heir to a heroic legacy and former FBI agent. She got her own miniseries by Tamora Pierce and she was an important part of Daredevil’s cast.

    Daredevil #113 (2009)

    But like any woman who comes into contact with Matt Murdock for ten seconds, she was brutally murdered. But then she was resurrected! Yay! As a corrupted puppet of an evil organization!  … Not yay. She briefly escaped the evil influence only to be revealed to be corrupted again. And then what, you ask?

    White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion #6

    Uh, well…. we don’t know. She basically vanished from the face of comics in 2010. There’s a new White Tiger now and no mention of what happened to her. Is she dead again? Still evil? Retired in the Bahamas? Her friends just forgot about her, which sure makes them look like callous jerks.

    Honestly, Marvel, if you feel the need to needlessly torture your characters, at least have the decency to actually resolve their torment-filled plotlines. It’s just sloppy to leave us hanging.

  4. All Milestone Characters

    Milestone was a DC Comics imprint created by several African-American artists, including the late, great Dwayne McDuffie. It was an attempt to tell the stories of minority characters and correct their lack of representation in superhero comics. It produced a lot of interesting, successful characters! Naturally, DC has treated them all like dirt.

    Icon #41

    Despite making a big deal out of combining the Milestone Universe and the DC Universe and honoring McDuffie’s legacy, Milestone characters have been thoroughly neglected in the new 52. Icon and Rocket, two really prominent characters in Milestone who made appearances in the Young Justice cartoon, have yet to appear outside a cameo.

    Static Shock #1 (2011)

    Static, or Virgil Hawkins, was the star of his own animated show that ran four seasons. You’d think DC would want to use such a major character well, but they completely botched his title in the reboot, canceling it after 8 issues. Now he appears very infrequently. 

  5. The Runaways cast (Mostly Xavin and Gertrude Yorkes)

    The original Runaways was a well-loved book, judging from the multiple releases of graphic novels and talks to turn it into a movie. Actually, it was the book that got me reading Marvel Comics in the first place. But every relaunch of the series since the second one has been botched somehow and the characters are largely wasted as a result.

    Runaways #22 (2007)

    The character Xavin definitely has it the worst of all. Xavin was a shapeshifting alien in an adorable relationship with Karolina Dean. They were represented by their original creators as being genderfluid, identifying as male, female or neither at various times. But despite the fact “genderfluid” is actual identity humans have, Joss Whedon made it clear that he considered Xavin’s gender identity (which they had previously defended and expressed pride in) inhuman. So their “happy ending” was to discover they in fact are 100% female.

    Secret Invasian Runaways Young Avengers #1

    But that wasn’t the end of Xavin’s woes. They sacrificed themself to save their girlfriend, taking her place when aliens come to arrest her. And that’s Xavin’s last appearance, six years ago!  One of Marvel’s few queer characters and their only genderfluid hero, who had a completely unresolved story and character arc, lost in space. Nice.

    Runways #18 (2006)

    Gertrude Yorkes was similarly left hanging. The sarcastic and loveable dinosaur owner died during the second run of Runaways. Now, her death was incredibly heroic, well-written and touching. I remember being moved to tears. On the other hand, she was pretty much the only character larger than a size zero Marvel has.

    Runaways #18 (2006)

    That’s the problem with lack of representation. If Marvel had a bunch of heroes who weren’t stick thin, I’d be pretty much fine with Gert’s death, but they don’t, so it leaves a bad taste. Gert appeared to be making a comeback at the end of the most recent Runaways relaunch, but the title was canceled before anything could happen with that. Another case of Marvel just not caring enough to resolve a dangling plotline involving a cool character.

  6. Connor Hawke and Lian Harper

    Connor Hawke is the son of Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. He was a major character who actually headlined his own title,  taking over as Green Arrow for a while after Ollie died.  He was still an important part of the team after Ollie came back. He was a good guy and unique character, a kind and level-headed former monk in contrast to his more jerk-tastic dad.

    He was also often miscolored as white, despite being introduced with dark skin and being mixed race. It was probably due to his blonde hair, but it kinds showed the lack of care and oversight DC had when it came to him.

    Green Arrow and Black Canary #3

    Whitewashing wasn’t the worst of it.  He was late put in a coma and woke up to find he had lost his archery skills and all his memories and emotional connections. He basically faded into comic book limbo after that.

    Earth 2 #20

    His only appearance in the new-52 has been an alternate universe version that took the tradition of whitewashing him even further, representing him as a pale redhead indistinguishable from Roy Harper. This whitebread version of Connor was quickly killed by monsters. Dude can’t catch a break no matter what form he takes. 

    Lian Harper

    Arsenal #4 (1999)

    Speaking of Roy, he once had an adorable little daughter named Lian. He had to juggle raising her with his hero duties, which made for a unique narrative in a universe where most heroes have dead families.  Lian had a lot of potential as a character who had to deal with having a parent in a dangerous profession. It was hinted she’d one day grow into a hero herself.

    But forget all that! You know what comics likes to do to adorable little girls? Kill them off for cheap shock effect! So a building fell on the five-year-old in the series Cry for Justice.

    Cry For Justice #7

    The whole thing was just an excuse to have an unintentionally hilarious miniseries where Roy fell back on his previous heroin addiction and while hallucinating (not an actual effect heroin has, by the way) he beat some people up with a dead cat. Truly, a story that needed to be told.

    In the reboot, Roy has been retooled as a younger guy in a terrible baseball cap, so Lian just plain doesn’t exist anymore. While at least she’s no longer the fuel for her father’s animal corpse flinging angst, it’s still a pretty raw deal for her. 

  7. Rikki Barnes/ Nomad and Kaldur'ahm/ Aqualad

    The new version of Aqualad, called Kaldur’ahm, debuted in the Young Justice cartoon and so a comic book version of the guy debuted too. The Young Justice Aqualad was very popular among fans, so it seemed only right that DC would want to do their best to give the comics creation as much exposure as they could.

    Young Justice, Warner Bros Animation

    Except….that didn’t happen.  Aqualad has yet to appear in the New 52. Once again, DC wastes a perfectly good opportunity.

    Rikki Barnes/ Nomad

    Nomad: Girl Without a World #1

    Rikki was another earth’s version Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky, who crossed over into the main Marvel Universe. She took on the name Nomad and her story was an interesting exploration of that it was like to be a fish out of water trapped in a world almost like your own, but also very different. She got her own miniseries and appeared in a regular backup comic as well

    In a really confusing turn of events, Rikki was revealed to have….maybe…actually died when she crossed over to another universe and she was actually a construct made by a villain…or not? At any rate, she was possessed by the bad guy and had a fellow hero kill her. Probably? It was hinted maybe there was more to it, so…I’m not sure?

    Please just bring her back and explain things so my head doesn’t hurt so much is basically what I’m saying.