I got to thinking about this and, of course, this is my personal top 10. I wouldn’t be so presumptive as to list a definitive top 10 of fictional characters, as everyone will have a different idea of what makes a character memorable. Shit, my own top 10 will change within minutes of me posting this, I expect. Please leave your suggestions in the comments, as I’d love to hear what other people rate as top characters.
I decided to list my Top 10 Fictional Characters after a conversation I had with a friend the other day. I’ve often said that my favourite character of all time is Batman. That got me wondering what other fictional folk really rocked my boat, so I made a list. With reasons. Bear in mind that this isn’t necessarily in any order – it’s more the ten most prominent fictional creations that came to mind during the writing of this post.
Top 10 Fictional Characters
1. BATMAN – Created by Bob Kane. I’ve long held Batman to be my favourite fictional creation. He’s the classic tortured hero. He’s always struggling with his demons, stemming from the senseless murder of his parents in front of him when he was just a boy, along with the things his very existence has subsequently created. His initial childhood trauma set him on a path of justice, to right wrongs in his parents’ memory. He’s the world’s greatest detective and the world’s greatest martial artist (with the possible exception of Talia al’Ghul) and he has a massive family fortune with which to finance his crime-fighting gadgetry. What’s not to like? I love the fact that this guy is one of the most feared and respected superheroes in the DC Universe, yet he has no superpowers. He’s just a man. He’s a flawed and troubled character, the true Dark Knight, and for this I never seem to bore of reading his exploits.
2. THE JOKER – Created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane. (There is some controversy about the actual creator). You can’t love the Batman and not love the Joker. They come as a pair really. As the Joker says to Batman in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s graphic novel, The Killing Joke, “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy… You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up like a flying rat?” That’s right, kids. While Christopher Nolan is a genius and The Dark Knight is an awesome piece of cinema, the story was largely based on The Killing Joke. It’s cool to love the new stories, but don’t neglect the classics. The Joker is possibly the greatest villain ever conceived. He’s not evil or calculating as such – he’s just pure chaos. He could never really finish the Batman off, because he’s the polar opposite of the Dark Knight and needs the man’s existence for his own raison d’etre. There have been numerous variations in the portrayal and modus operandi of The Joker over the years, but by far the best example is of the crazed, chaotic psychopath. Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Nolan’s film of The Dark Knight is by far the best example on film, in my opinion. The Joker’s absolute disregard for anything but pure chaos is what makes him, in my mind, the most terrifying creature ever conceived. Seriously, if you haven’t already, read The Killing Joke.
3. DOCTOR WHO – Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber & Donald Wilson. A time travelling alien that regenerates and has a sonic screwdriver. Brilliant. I’ve literally grown up with this character and he’s never disappointed me. There have been lows and highs, but I still love The Doctor. The programme originally ran from 1963 to 1989, which includes the first nineteen years of my life. There was an ill-fated TV movie in 1996 and then a much more successful relaunch in 2005. The idea of the Doctor as the last Time Lord, the final surviving member of a race that was once incredibly powerful in the universe, is inspired. His fascination with humans, particularly British ones, is what gives us access to the depths of the character and the entire universe as a playground is what gives the character unbridled scope to continue to grow and develop. And long may he continue to do so.
4. DURZO BLINT – Created by Brent Weeks. Durzo Blint, ridiculous name notwithstanding, is the main supporting character in the Night Angel Trilogy, a big, fat old fantasy epic by newish author Brent Weeks. I read this series a year or two ago and it’s the first big, fat fantasy I’ve read in a while. It’s dark and clever and convoluted and the characters are all very well realised. But for me, the concept of Blint as this assassin that’s been around for centuries, always playing a surreptitious part in the politics of his world, was fascinating. Weeks did an excellent job of slowly feeding us more and more backstory on Blint and it was that character, perhaps more than any other, even the lead, that really kept my interest in the books. A brilliant exmaple of developing a secondary character to carry the main plot and really fill out the world you’re building. Blint’s backstory almost hints of a more interesting yarn than the Night Angel Trilogy itself.
5. SANDMAN – Created by Neil Gaiman. The idea of The Sandman has been around longer than Neil Gaiman, of course. But Gaiman’s character of Morpheus, The Sandman from the comic book series of the same name, entranced me as a teenager and still stands as a colossus in storytelling. The whole Sandman Cycle, now available as ten graphic novels, is a masterpiece of fiction. The main character is another tortured hero, always questioning his existence and the meaning of it all from a very unique perspective. Gaiman created in Morpheus a character with such a recognisable voice that the whole tale becomes at once world encompassing and intensely personal. An incredible writing achievement.
6. JESSE CUSTER (THE PREACHER) – Created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon. It’s really the whole story of The Preacher that I love as much as the main character, but there would be no story without Jesse Custer. A small-town preacher that ends up with the very voice of God, giving him the ability to command anyone to do exactly what he says. He goes on a quest to find God, who has abandoned his creation, and kick his arse for it. Again, this is an inspired concept. Jesse wants God to answer for his sins against mankind and is guided along the way by the spirit of John Wayne. He’s accompanied by a crazy girlfriend and an alcoholic Irish vampire. He’s pursued by a military organisation called The Grail. By now, if you haven’t read The Preacher, you’re probably wondering why the hell not. You should be. Another must-read series of graphic novels.
7. JOHN CONSTANTINE – Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben. There’s a clear bias in this list to characters from graphic novels/comic books over literary, film and TV characters. This is partly due to my ardent love of the comic book medium, but also because I truly believe that some of the best characters ever conceived have come to us through the comic books. To be honest, I could have filled this list easily from comic book characters alone. Perhaps it’s because these characters get to have much more development over the many years they spend in ongoing serials, but both Morpheus and Jesse Custer were restricted to limited runs that are, in total, not much bigger than a series of novels. They’re just awesome creations. John Constantine is another one. He first appeared in Swamp Thing before getting his own ongoing comic book called Hellblazer. He’s your classic anti-hero, tortured and broken, he drinks too much, he smokes too much, he fucks people over if he has to. And he’s an occultist and modern wizard of no small ability. Speaking to comics magazine Wizard in 1993, Moore said, “It struck me that it might be interesting for once to do an almost blue-collar warlock. Somebody who was streetwise, working class, and from a different background than the standard run of comic book mystics. Constantine started to grow out of that.” Moore is one of my all-time favourite authors and Constantine one of my all-time favourite characters. Don’t be put off by that awful piece of shit horrible movie with Keanu Reeves. Read the Hellblazer comics and you’ll see what a brilliant creation Constantine really is.
8. DEATH (DISCWORLD) – Created by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s Discworld novels are all brilliant. I have favourites among them (like Mort, Thief Of Time, Small Gods) but I love them all. And the character of Death in Pratchett’s world is just superb. He does his job with a sense of absolute duty, yet he’s also rather bored of his work and constantly fascinated by people and the human condition. He loves a good curry. He is bemused by humanity’s ability to complicate their own existence. The view of humanity from Death’s perspective in the Discworld novels is both hilarious and mildly depressing. Overall, the novels are an absolute joy and should be read by everyone. Death appears in every one, as far as I know.
9. CONAN – Created by Robert E Howard. Originally appearing in 1932 in a series of fantasy stories in Weird Tales magazine, Conan has grown to become the world’s most famous barbarian. And rightly so. What makes him such a great character? Let’s let Howard himself explain: “Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” – Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, 1932. How can you argue with that? Another deep and fascinating anti-hero, he gave birth to the epic sword and sorcery hero. The Schwarzenegger films, while cheesy as hell, are also superb, particularly the first one, and a new film version is on the way next year. But Howard’s original yarns are where it’s really at.
10. ISAAC DAN der GRIMNEBULIN – Created by China Mieville. In China Mieville’s massive and incredibly imaginative novel Perdido Street Station, we’re introduced to Isaac, “a dirigible, huge and taut and strong. Grey hair burst from him abundantly.” This character is a brilliantly realised creation, an incredible mind in a massive body, both lovable and terrifying, with a genius intelligence and rough lack of social graces. In the novel in question he looses a terrible creature on the city and sets out to right his wrongs in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. This character is a great example of a hero that doesn’t have to be square chinned and roguish like Han Solo (another awesome character, though archtypal). He’s driven by a quest for knowledge, by love, by sheer bloody mindedness and by a desire to do the right thing. Mieville has created in Grimnebulin one of the most three dimensional characters I’ve ever read.
Special Mention: ISIAH – Created by me. I can’t really make a list of my favourite fictional characters without at least a passing mention of my own. Isiah is the main character in my novels RealmShift and MageSign and I think I’ve crafted a pretty interesting player there. I’ve really enjoyed writing his exploits and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers, so hopefully at least some other people rate him as a quality fictional creation. I won’t be so egotistical to list him in my actual top 10, but he surely deserves a mention. This is my website, so shut up.
If this list highlights one thing for me, other than the plethora of awesome characters out there in all mediums, it’s this: I need to read more stuff with powerful female characters! Look at my Top 10 – they’re all dudes. Just thinking about that now, some strong female characters that come to mind are Ripley from the Alien franchise; Xena, Warrior Princess; Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Sarah Connor from Terminator… But these are all TV and movie characters. Hit me up in the comments with some strong female characters in books!
And what about you? Who are your favourite fictional creations and why?