Top Ten Fictional Characters

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

Batman and Robin1. BATMANCreated 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 JOKERCreated 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 WHOCreated 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 BLINTCreated 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.

Sandman and Death5. SANDMANCreated 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 CONSTANTINECreated 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.

Conan9. CONANCreated 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 GRIMNEBULINCreated 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: ISIAHCreated 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?

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28 thoughts on “Top Ten Fictional Characters

  1. I disagree about Batman/Joker – I think it depends on the era in which you discovered Batman because I’d call his greatest nemesis Ras Al Goul who’s just as capable, financed and motivated (al be it differently) to change the world.

  2. An excellent list of characters, but I would have to add Superman as my favorite fictional character. The last surviving son of a doomed planet(although amended many, many times through the story), sent away to be the guiding star on a developing world light years away. As much as I like Batman for all the reasons you listed, I prefer the Superman mythos. Batman lost his family and became dark and brooding, hiding in the shadows and fighting in the darkness. Superman lost his entire planet and instead of taking the dark, gritty path, chose instead to embrace a path of light. Granted, there have been far too many Jesus references through the years, but it’s nice to have a character who tries to show us the best that we can be.

  3. Oh, and Mat Cauthon from The Wheel of Time series. Rand al Thor may have been Jordan’s front man, but Mat is by far the most interesting character in the series.

  4. 1. Burke (created by Andrew Vachss). Pure wish fulfillment. The beat-on little kid who grows up, chooses a good family and kills every last kid-whupping motherfucker in his way.

    2. Rickey (created by Poppy Brite). A boiling hot-tempered chef who, every time push comes to shove, chooses his long-time, long-suffering lover G-man. Absolutely brilliant.

    THAT SAID…

    Let’s talk chicks, man.

    Chicks, man.

    3. Margo Green (created by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child). Museum curator, genetics whiz, unfettered sex bomb and all-around ass-kicker, Margo is fabulously level-headed, brilliant and man enough to apologize when she’s wrong.

    4. Rangergrrrl (created by Tim Pratt). Okay, what barista *hasn’t* dreamed about an alternative Old West universe where she saves the world (as defined by Santa Cruz, CA’s cafe scene)?

    5. Fuschia Groan (created by Mervyn Peake). She’s selfish and sudden and terrifyingly childlike, all of which are to be expected by someone raised without even the benefit of wolves.

    6. Anna Pigeon (created by Nevada Barr). A fierce and feisty park ranger who has no intention of growing old gracefully or with an empty bed, Anna is all that is ass-kicking justice, fighting more often than not for the great outdoors. Because someone has to.

    7. VI Warshawski (created by Sara Paretsky). I don’t *care*, haters. I don’t care if you want to say she’s superhuman at taking a beating, or that she’s mean as a spider or sometimes has poor decision-making skills. Hello, who doesn’t? She’s still a tough-as-nails PI making it on the mean streets of Chicago and never backing down.

    8. Jane Marple (created by Agatha Christie). Oh my champion of the inherent strength and steely-eyed determination of the crone! That’s fine, young man, you go ahead and kill that person while I knit and call for the police and, you know, MAKE YOU FEEL TERRIBLE. It’s fine! I’ll wait here. Did you need an extra cardigan?

    9. Death’s daughter, Susan (created by Terry Pratchett). Simply put, after all the shouting’s done and the fires are out, someone still needs to tip the wee out of the shoe.

    Quite.

    10. Angua (created by Terry Pratchett). The fantasy lover’s Lacey to Carrot’s Cagney, Angua isn’t taking no for an answer, but she isn’t sure about everything yes entails either. And then there’s the whole *cough* werewolf thing…

  5. Stephen – it’s the Messiah analogies that put me off Superman more than anything else.

    Oddmonster – Good list. I considered Susan myself, but Death won out. As he always does.

    Blaque – Not so much the origin, but his ongoing raison d’etre.

  6. Agree with Batman, Constantine, Conan. I also really like Stephen King’s Roland Deschain. Roland’s sense of duty, persistence, and timelessness are moving. And Margo Green is really cool.

  7. To show my blogging biases, king David. Or perhaps even YHWH — certainly puts the Joker to shame!
    Gotta love Dr Lector too.
    And from the classics, Edmond Dantes from the count of Monte Cristo.

    I think there’s a tendency for these lists to lean heavily towards dark characters, no?

  8. See, I would have included Yahweh or someone similar, but they’re such inconsistent characters! 🙂

    And yeah, always leaning towards dark but I think that’s because the dark characters are more interesting. Shiny white paragons of virtue get boring pretty quickly.

  9. David – missed your comment before. Roland is a good call. One of King’s biggest strengths is his characterisation and Roland is one of his best.

  10. I didn’t mean shining paragons of virtue, I mean there seems to be a bias in human thinking. It’s easier to write an interesting villain but to write a full 3D character who’s a protagonist (with all the relevant flaws and quirks but still generally good) is much harder. I think it ties into it being really hard to write a utopia that people would actually want to live in whereas dystopias come much easier.

  11. Great list! This really got me thinking. So many great characters to choose from, I’m not sure who I’d pick to be in my top 10. I need to think about it for a while. Gee, thanks!

  12. Where are Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson? They are my all-time favorites for many reasons. I embraced Holmes style of logical thinking more than 58 years ago, and it has served me well during my life!

  13. Great list. I’ll have to acquaint myself with some of the ones I’m unfamiliar with.

    And you asked, so…
    great female character: Zoe Washburne in Firefly (TV) & Serenity (movie). Strong warrior chick, hard nosed, realistic, and still feminine without being a bitch. She kicks ass.

    Another personal favorite (not female though): Zaphod Beeblebrox from
    the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series).
    He’s outgoing, crazy, but everything seems to work out for him. He’s president of the galaxy partially because he lobotomized himself to get the job. I mean, if that isn’t memorable, I don’t know what is. 🙂

  14. Oh, almost forgot to mention,

    Another great female character: Sierra from Dollhouse. She’s a strong female character who starts out victimized, faces incredible hardships & obstacles, & again, kicks some serious ass. Echo may be the ‘star’ of ‘Dollhouse’ but Sierra imo is by far the most interesting character.

  15. Getting it down to ten would be nigh on impossible. If it stretched to eleven, I’d have to suggest Alexander De Large ‘Alex’ from A Clockwork Orange.

  16. Yeah, ten was a nightmare. Alex is another awesome character. So it Tyler Durden, from Fight Club. There are just loads!

  17. I think we must have grown up reading the same stuff. I have to agree with everything, except Durzo Blint, but only because I haven’t read those.

    As for women… what about Death, from Gaiman’s Sandman comics? I spent several years in my earth twenties wearing far too much black eyeliner thanks to her.

    And I must admit to having a taste for classic adventures, so if I were to choose a Top 10 of characters, it would include the likes of the Count of Monte Cristo, who would probably list as my all time favourite character ever.

    And still with Dumas, there’d be Milady de Winter from the The Three Musketeers (don’t bother with movie versions of either novel, just read the darn books).

    Or Jane, from Jane Eyre. And if you think that’s just a soppy Victorian romance, then go read the thing – it’s dark and sexy, all round.

    And one last note, absolutely you have to include your own characters. How could you write entire novels about them, and convince others that they are worth reading about, if you didn’t love them yourself?

  18. Ok, so another awesome creation from the Conan-era of the pulps was Doc Savage. Before Superman had a fortress of solitude, Doc had one. Before Batman could kung-fu, Doc had it down. Before anybody had their super-team together, he had his fantastic five. Before Spiderman was even a dream, doc used his incredible finger and toe strength to climb brick walls. He even had a chain-mail bullet proof vest before the hobbit was written and Bilbo got himself a mithril shirt. He was even above the law – when he captured a criminal, he would send that criminal to his own personal “Crime College” where he would rehabilitate the ruffian.

    I’d say that Doc was the spiritual grandfather of every single superhero and action hero that is popular today.

    That being said – Pretty much everything Robert E. Howard wrote is absolutely golden. Conan, Solomon Kane, Steve Costigan, his horror stories, all of it.

  19. kahmelb – I thought about Death from the Sandman Cycle, but couldn’t go past Morpheus himself. Have to agree about Dumas though, all excellent characters.

    Bryce – You have a point, Doc Savage did set the template for many awesome characters. I haven’t read any of that stuff in years. *starts rooting around in old comic collection boxes*

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