By Stephen Brown
The Big Two elevated a handful of B-list or otherwise flagging characters to stand-out status in 2011, either thanks to explosive new creative teams (Daredevil, Punisher) or line-wide reboots (Animal Man, Swamp Thing). With 2012 looming, it’s time to place bets on which second-string characters we’ll be discussing a year from now (barring any Mayan prophecies).
Some of the most obvious contenders have been left off the list. With Marvel gearing up for Avengers vs. X-Men, it’s a no-brainer that Scarlet Witch and Hope will both be at the center of a lot of action in the 616. Likewise the newly Jeremy Renner-fied Hawkeye, who is positioned to ride a wave of interest from Joss Whedon’s Avengers flick this summer.
Where to find him: Uncanny X-Force, Secret Avengers
Brian Braddock burst back on the scene in the closing pages of December’s Uncanny X-Force #19, and writer Rick Remender looks to have big plans for Britain’s best. After playing an antagonistic role in Uncanny X-Force, Captain Britain will follow Remender to the pages of Secret Avengers, where he’ll be taking – and debating – orders from Hawkeye. Fans have been clamoring for more of Braddock since the end of the much-loved (but commercially underwhelming) Captain Britain and MI:13, and 2012 looks to be the year to get it.
Where to find him: Avengers Academy, Secret Avengers, Ant-Man Season One GN
Speaking of Rick Remender, here’s one more character he’ll help steer this year. Bouncing between breakdowns and changing monikers more often than you can count, Pym has rarely had a stable place at the top of the Marvel U. Lately he’s found purpose as the head of Avengers Academy, a responsibility he’ll continue this year under writer Christos Gage, but he’ll also split his time with the new squad of Secret Avengers in a role Remender has stated will be more active than Pym might anticipate. In addition to this, Pym, as Ant-Man, was recently revealed as part of the second round of Marvel’s new “Season One” graphic novels, a move that bodes well for Pym’s enhanced profile – as well as the possible fruition of long-brewing movie plans.
Where to find him: Defenders, Doctor Strange Season One
Another Marvel character long-rumored for multimedia expansion, Doctor Strange has had a consistent, if not overwhelming, presence among team books for years now. Stepping up to the plate in Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson’s Defenders, Strange is portrayed less as the mystical consultant of the Marvel U. and more of a leading-man magic master. Couple that with his own Season One GN and Strange looks poised to finally crack back onto Marvel’s A-List.
Where to find him: Generation Hope
While Velocidad’s fellow “Five Light” Idie Okonkwo stole the spotlight (no pun intended) during Schism, it’s Velocidad who has managed to break ahead of the pack since Regenesis rebooted the X-books. New writer James Asmus has spoken realistically about the continued existence of the title and appears to be pulling no punches as a result. With a power that rapidly ages him with every use – and Marvel’s general willingness to make you care about young characters and do horrible things to them – Velocidad could stand to have a very good – or very bad – 2012. Either way, he’ll be one to keep an eye on.
Where to find her: Uncanny X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Avengers
Storm has struggled to find traction in the modern day Marvel U. ever since being relegated to X-Treme X-Men in 2001. With Marvel receiving a lot of attention over its representation of women, Storm should have a lot of eyes on her this year. And rightfully so – with a newly minted spot on the premier Avengers team, a familiar role as the voice of reason on a tempestuous Uncanny X-Men line-up, and a flirtatious alternate-reality doppelganger running around in Astonishing X-Men, it looks like 2012 might be the year Storm finally regains focus worthy of her character.
Where to find him: Wolverine and the X-Men
Another prominent X-Men with a spotty recent track record, Bobby Drake looks ready to own up to his founding X-Men status thanks to the attention of superstar writer Jason Aaron. Drake was Wolverine’s first choice to return to Westchester and help rebuild a school for young mutants, and he’s already made a big splash in the title – most notably by kissing Kitty Pryde and introducing another hitch in the her already strained romance with Colossus. Drake has long been described as an “Omega-level” mutant, a concept that’s never been nailed down. Will Aaron be the author to pursue this concept? Either way, Drake looks to be the character most likely to benefit from the divided attention of the X-Books.
Where to find him: Justice League
Victor Stone’s spot on the rebooted Justice League roster rankled some readers, who viewed his inclusion as a shoehorned attempt at diversity, but writer Geoff Johns has repeatedly stated his passion for the character and showed some of his potential in Flashpoint. Justice League has taken an origin approach, so it’s unlikely we’ll see much to justify his place on the team until at least the second arc. With the team expanding (if early promotional images are any indication), Cyborg has the highest chance of falling to the wayside and fans will want to feel his impact on the team sooner rather than later. Johns has consistently proven to be in-touch with his fanbase, so expect 2012 to be a big year for Cyborg.
Talia al Ghul
Where to find her: Batman: Leviathan, Red Hood and the Outlaws (flashback)
Spoiler alert! The recent oversized Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! revealed Talia to be the true mastermind behind the Leviathan conspiracy snaking its way through Grant Morrison’s Batman epic. With Batman: Leviathan a few months away, it’s unlikely we’ll see much of Talia anywhere else before then (unless Scott Lobdell has plans to use her outside of flashbacks in Red Hood and the Outlaws), but she’s bound to cause a lot more trouble for Bruce Wayne just in time to capitalize on whatever role she might play in The Dark Knight Rises.
Where to find her: Batgirl, Birds of Prey
While Babs might seem too high-profile for this list, 2012 may prove to be a make-or-break year for the character. While her titular New 52 book has received plenty of praise, it’s undeniable that its outstanding sales were buoyed by controversy surrounding her recovery from being paralyzed. Writer Gail Simone’s enthusiasm about the character helped sell fans on the change, but she has already left one New 52 title and spoken very frankly about the lack of editorial communication surrounding Batgirl’s inclusion as a permanent cast member in Birds of Prey. Could the title recover if Simone decided to leave, and will she be able to sustain interest past initial curiosity? Of all the trials Barbara Gordon has faced, 2012 could be her biggest yet.
Where to find him: Grifter
One of Wildstorm’s most popular characters – and the first to make a big splash during Flashpoint – Cole Cash made a rocky transition to the DCU proper, with a mid-selling book, changing art team, and mixed critical reception. All of that aside, Grifter’s titular book seems to be ground zero for the Daemonite invasion working its way through the New 52, so don’t expect DC to pull support from the character any time soon. And if the mystery woman from the Justice League roster teaser turns out to be Zealot, Grifter’s longtime Coda love interest, expect Cash to keep his feet firmly planted in the DCU.
Where to find her: Superboy
Speaking of Wildstorm expats, Gen13’s resident powerhouse redhead has been stealing the show as a double agent of the mysterious N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in Superboy. Each issue has steadily dropped a few more clues about how her Gen13 origin might fit in the DCU, so expect to learn much more information before 2012 ends. Whether that means we’ll see Grunge, Rainmaker, or any of the other gen-active kids is still anyone’s guess.
Where to find him: Action Comics
This might seem a bit premature – John Henry Irons has just made his New 52 presence known in the pages of Action Comics, and there’s been no indication that he’ll be at the center of any upcoming plotlines – but if we’ve learned anything from Grant Morrison’s work, it’s that the Scottish scribe doesn’t introduce characters just to throw them away. It might not happen in 2012, but expect the newly less-derivative Steel to hammer his way into the spotlight again before too long.
There’s no indication that the following characters will get much attention in the coming months, but they deserve it. Here’s hoping the second half of the year will hold some surprises for us concerning these perennial also-rans with untapped potential.
For many Bat-fans, Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! served as a cruel reminder of the awesomeness of Stephanie Brown, the pre-DCnU Batgirl. While DC is committed to having Babs back in the cowl, it’s also shown an increased interest in Internet buzz, and Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl title found its way onto many year’s best lists. It’s most likely that we’d see her back in action as Spoiler, and we’re okay with that, as long as we get our Stephanie Brown fix.
Another character who hasn’t seemed to benefit from the New 52, Karen Starr went from headlining a fun solo title to appearing as Mr. Terrific’s romantic interest. While she’s been one of the top suspects for the mysterious woman in the Justice League expanded roster teaser, there’s no guarantee we’ll be seeing Starr back in her (in)famous costume any time soon.
Sam Wilson has a long track record as a supporting player, but it’s time to stop making him a punching bag around Captain America(s) and start positioning him for greater things. While his most recent vehicle, Heroes for Hire, seems to be done for now, there are enough Avengers teams running around to give Wilson a shot at establishing himself at a higher visibility in the Marvel U.
Black Widow’s going to be in plenty of books this year, including multiple Avengers titles and Winter Soldier, but it’s still unknown how much Marvel will attempt to capitalize on her appearance in the Avengers movie and increase her profile as they’re clearly doing for Hawkeye. Her 2010 solo title, released to coincide with her appearance in Iron Man 2, didn’t meet sales expectations, but it served as an awesome vehicle to get a strong female writer (Marjorie M. Liu) writing a strong female character. Will Marvel give it another shot, possibly with a female creator at the helm again?