15 of the best cosmic comic heroes
Marvels Thor was always as much sci-fi hero as he was Norse God, most notably during an incredible run in the mid-60s that took us into space to meet the Colonizers and Ego, the Living Planet; introduced Mangog and the High Evolutionary with his Knights of Wundagore; saw Thor lose Jane Foster but find a more fitting mate in warrior goddess Sif; then battle one of his most visually impressive enemies, Ulik the Troll.
Without Kirbys success on Thor at building these rolling stories, he might never have applied the same to the Fantastic Four and without the inventions that brought us, this list (and the joy of comics) would be thin gruel indeed.
Just about any list we ever do will contain this guy: hes the first superhero, the most powerful and probably the most famous. Hes not higher up this list for two reasons: the spotty nature of the comics themselves, and the fact that space adventure is only one of the many things he does. The greatest Superman period of them all ran through the late 1950s and early 60s, and its this we have to thank for so much of the mythology the Bottled Cities and the Negative Zone, the flying dog and the memories of Krypton. Superman came from space, but he was just as much Clark Kent, bookish Midwestern farm boy, as he was Kal-El, and in him the domestic and the most fantastical space adventures sit side by side.
Novas first series, introducing a young, very ordinary human rocket with Green Lantern-like space-police powers, was a minor hit, and hes been back numerous times since a minor-to-mid-range player, at least until the original Earth-based Nova, Richard Ryder, appeared to sacrifice himself in one of Marvels giant cosmic storylines, to be replaced by 15-year-old Sam Alexander, whose booze-hound dad had always told bedtime tales of his time as a member of the Nova Corps himself.
Over the years numerous otherNovas have appeared though they swim in and out of focus and the Corps have recently become much bigger players in the Marvel U.
Every Hawkman is a flying hero a muscular man with artificial wings and an intimidating raptor-esque helmet but the original version was strictly Earth-bound. It was with his 1961 revival, in the wake of The Flash and Green Lanterns successful returns, that the idea of Hawkman as an alien took hold; this version wasnt called Carter Hall but Katar Hol, and he was a fairly brutal cop from the planet Thanagar, who came to Earth with his wife Shayera (Hawkgirl) to catch a runaway, then stayed to fight crime.
Numerous reboots have muddied the waters between the two versions considerably, but its the aggressive can-do attitude and impressive visuals that have always been key to Hawkmans appeal, as well as the romance between the two leads.
11. Flash Gordon
Alex Raymonds lush adventure series, following the exploits of hunky sports star Flash Gordon on the planet Mongo, is packed with spectacular landscapes and non-stop cliffhangers. The human hero becomes champion and saviour of an alien world trope has rarely been executed with such verve and class.
Mid-century French illustrator Jean-Claude Forest is now best remembered for his 1962 sci-fi creation, Barbarella. Shes a liberated woman confident, independent and sexually generous who wanders the stars, occasionally doing good.
Though Babs first appeared in V-Magazine, it was when the original serial was collected two years later that it became an international hit. Further Barbarella stories would follow over the next couple of decades, but it was the hit 1968 movie version the film that made a star of Jane Fonda that cemented Barbarella in the public consciousness. Today, even people whove never read the comics or even seen the movie know exactly who Barbarella is, and what she stands for.
Though it looks like a superhero strip indeed, our hero, Horatio Valdemar Hellpop, dresses in one of the most dramatic superhero suits of them all Nexus is actually pure sci-fi.
Set in the deep space of the far future, we follow Horatio as he earns superpowers from a powerful, manipulative alien called the Merk; his new job is to kill a certain number of human mass murderers per cycle for reasons unknown. Horatio aint keen, but the Merk compels him through powerful dreams. Meanwhile, an endless stream of refugees rock up to Nexuss lonely home on the moon Ylum, creating a vast supporting cast of complex individuals, each with their own agenda. And slowly the mystery of whats really going on is revealed
8. Legion of Super-Heroes
The best superheroes are great fun, of course, but in many fans the hackles rise when they think somethings childish or goofy or, you know, likely to get them laughed at. With the Legion, pretending it makes sense or isnt often laughable is not really a viable option; to best enjoy their sunny early 60s future, where super-cool, superpowered kids can do pretty much whatever they want, and adults are damn near invisible, you just have to give yourself over to it. Reading Legion youll never be one of the cool kids but you might just have more fun.
7. Alana & Marko
Brian K Vaughans Y: The Last Man was one of the most successful high-concept SF epics in comics, but it never took us into space. Once it was finished, Vaughan largely dropped out of comics for a spell, but his return was spectacular in Saga he and artist Fiona Staples have created one of the most compelling space operas in years, a fairytale-esque mash-up of spaceships, alien worlds, gender politics and high adventure, in which a mismatched mixed-species couple go on the run with their baby daughter while, behind them, an intergalactic war between magical and scientific factions rages.
Our heroes are Alana and Marko parents and rebels and a little bit of justice would see their story become, yes, this generations Star Wars.