MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!! Peace and goodwill to you, dear reader and/or skimmer!
This post was originally intended to debut at the end of November in celebration of men’s health awareness, which is when extra action is taken against health issues that plague and claim many men before their time, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and suicide, but I thought, as I ran out of time, why stop blowing the horn just because I’m late posting? Why not extend the celebration of men to December (and eventually January, for the ladies), the month in which we give voice to the people and influences we’re most grateful to have in our lives? Also, this list took waaaay longer to compile and write about than I thought it would, and I do apologize for being late. It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s that I let it drag on. But showing concern for men’s well-being and celebrating the best of the male gender, especially now, in the midst of taking down so many who do abuse their status and privilege, are things we should always be talking about—not just because we should but because most men deserve it. So cheers to the true men and the men who find truth in their fictional counterparts!
*An aside, about Movember: Many of us, throughout our lives, have heard some version or other of the bullshit edict that men should not express their feelings let alone have feelings, and some may find that societal construct to extend to concern about their overall health. Well, the kind of feminism I follow values equality and requires us to champion for the betterment of everyone’s lives, not just women’s. We need to promote more positivity and support for our husbands, relatives and friends getting preventative check-ups or seeking counseling or considering medication. A “real man” gets help for himself, and a good person stands by him and/or gives him a push forward if need be. They should not have to do this alone.
If you feel the same and grace the States, take a look at the U.S. faction of The Movember Foundation and consider getting involved or making a donation (donations are accepted all year round, not just in November).*
As for me, instead of growing a mustache during No-Shave November, I’ve decided to list “My Top 50 Favorite Fictional Male Characters,” an intended paring down of the initial list I made back in April 2015. I find most of my inspiration and motivation for my writing and own personal mental health battle from the entertainment industry, from TV shows, movies, books and games, etc. If you’re looking for a little creative inspiration too, open your artist eyes and take a look at my list. You’ll likely find it within the heroes, villains and all souls in between discussed here.
Furthermore, if you enjoy this post, please leave me a comment to share some of your own favorite male characters and make sure to come back to check out my post for January, another holiday month, a continuation of the celebration of goodwill and good people, for a list of lovely ladies. I will be dishing out a list of 50 fictional female characters I’m personally grateful to have had in my life, ones who, like their male equivalents, also keep me strong or scared or otherwise entertained or conflicted. Gosh, I just love art. Don’t you?
And no…the irony of doing a post that celebrates the male gender right after doing one in which I describe my prejudice against them does not escape me. Regardless I acknowledge that my anxieties are irrational and foolish and harmful, and I wish to fight them. We’ll start with this list here.
50. Dexter Morgan – from Dexter, portrayed by Michael C. Hall
“This is what it must feel like to walk in full sunlight, my darkness revealed, my shadow self embraced. Yeah, they see me. I’m one of them… In their darkest dreams.”
Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who kills serial killers. Yes, he gets the irony. Later described as high-functioning “psychopath,” Dexter spends 8 seasons of his eponymous TV show straddling the line between man and monster, wrestling with his identity, wicked impulses and perhaps even genuine emotions. He is a fascinating character, one whom, for all his apathy, I can’t help but like, feel for, and on darker days, even root for.
49. John Coffey – from The Green Mile, portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan
“I’m tired, boss. Tired of being on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I’m tired of never having a buddy to be with, to tell me where we’s goin’ to, comin’ from or why. Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. They’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head, all the time… Can you understand?”
While it’s absolutely true that John Coffey can be seen as a glaring emblem of the “Magical Negro” trope (as he is a supporting character with the ability to perform miracles at the service of the main white characters), he’s much more than that to me. The late Michael Clarke Duncan’s stunning performance as a simple man in a world of paranormal pain really pulls at my heartstrings. In fact, it snaps them in half, every time. John Coffey is kind and sensitive. He’s also lonely and he suffers—because of this, because of who he is, I believe the end of his story is appropriate, even if it’s not what many of us wanted.
48. Jake Brigance – from the John Grisham novel, A Time to Kill, also portrayed by Matthew McConaughey
“It was simple. It was justice.”
A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s first novel, is my favorite of his works because it completely screws me up morally. It’s a hard read when you’re both a spiritual individual but also a vindictive person. The question the story poses is, “If two men beat, raped, and tried to hang your 10-year-old daughter and you had access to a firearm, would you kill them?” The answer for some, I suspect, as indicated in the above quote, is not a difficult one. For Jake Brigance, the young, ambitious southern lawyer tasked with clearing the black man who executed his daughter’s assailants, there’s a mite more to it. Admittedly, Jake and his dilemma are similar to #44 on my list; the difference is Jake has to describe not the actions of a pitiful woman coming on to a black man, but the dark and dirty details of a life-altering assault on a minor to make his jury understand what transpired and why, to lead one juror to a hypothetical that has the potential to break the case. Tenacious and sharp, Jake loves the law, despite the many faults in the judicial system. But it’s the people he serves in this story, his client, Carl Lee Hailey, especially. Culturally, the men are strangers. Father to father, however, Jake gets Carl Lee, and it’s from that standpoint that he attempts, at great risk, to do for him what is right if not entirely righteous.
47. Jerry Sunborne– from Things We Lost in the Fire, portrayed by Benicio Del Toro
“Hi, my name is Jerry and I’m an addict. I’ve been clean for 89 days. My mind is clearer…and I think it’s getting better. Every day, a little bit. But I wanna talk about this dream I keep having. It always starts with me stealing silverware. Then I go sell it to this guy who I used to know who owned a catering service. Then, with the money, I go to this place where I used to buy my drug of choice and…he’s not around. So I go to other spots, right, but for some reason, no one is around. All of Seattle is dry, and then I get that feeling—the dread—and I panic. And I start running, and it’s raining, and it gets dark. And then I’m in my old apartment, and I’m thrashing right through it, looking for something I might have stashed away. And I think I’m having a seizure. And then I find a balloon hidden in my suitcase. So there I am, with a bag of junk in one hand and the money for my next fix in the other, and I feel at total, utter peace. And then I wake up. One day at a time. One day at a time. One day at a time. One day at a time. Thank you.”
In a poignant and realistic tale centered around rebuilding a life after a tragic loss, heroin addict Jerry Sunborne struggles to get and stay clean while providing comfort and companionship for his best friend’s widow, Audrey. He possesses a wealth of strength, as well as some intriguing idiosyncrasies, beautifully brought to life by Benicio Del Toro in one of the most genuine performances I think I’ve ever seen. For as caught up as he is in a cycle of self-destruction, Jerry is a good man—unselfish, unassuming, funny and a wonderful friend to Audrey’s two young children. He handles them gently, with ease, and appropriately, making a point to explain that he is not replacing their father but offering them a different kind of bond, a different kind of love, that they are welcome to for the rest of their lives. He rolls with the punches, especially Audrey’s often-unfair treatment of him. All that matters to him is getting her and her kids through hell, and eventually himself too. This is a movie about imperfect people coping and hurting and aching and grieving, at the core of which is their ability to accept the good with the bad—advice Jerry himself gives at the beginning only to have boomeranged back to him by the end. And he is good. He is not the romanticized picture of good but goodness in its most natural, human state: broken but brave, benevolent, warm, selfless, witty, loyal, resilient and trying, always trying, in the face of immeasurable hardship, pain and loss. He is the best of all that is bad, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
46. Detective/Officer Samuel “Sammy” Bryant – from SouthLAnd, portrayed by Shawn Hatosy
“You’re right. I did come back to Patrol to try and make a difference. To help cops avoid some of the mistakes I made. Hell, some of the mistakes I continue to make. But all I can do is show them by how I act out there. Just to hold on to who I am and see if anybody cares. I won’t help everyone. I couldn’t possibly, I can see that now. But I don’t really have to, you know? That’s not all it is for me.”
On SouthLAnd, the gritty police drama that lasted 5 seasons, Sammy Bryant is a hard-working, good-hearted detective-turned-officer whose dedication often goes underappreciated. He proves to be a good role model to some of the kids involved with his cases, has a slick sense of humor and works well with his partners and fellow officers. He’s also temperamental and pigeonholes himself into one of the worst marriages I’ve ever seen portrayed on primetime television (ugh, Tammi—how I hate that bitch. No, really). The man’s not without his mistakes, but his strong sense of duty and follow-through more than makes up for his shortcomings, in my eyes. Sammy is not consumed by a life on the beat. He’s a man of the badge but a man beyond the badge as well.
45. Rupert Giles – from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portrayed by Anthony (Stewart) Head
“The Earth is definitely doomed.”
Upon viewing the first couple seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one may describe Rupert Giles as little more than an old English “fuddy-duddy,” the guy who’s just there to provide exposition or sarcastic quips, gaze disapprovingly at his young ward and her friends and clean his glasses. Well, all I’m gonna say is they didn’t call him “Ripper” for nothing… As Buffy’s “Watcher,” her trainer and guide for all things that go bump in the night, Giles is brilliant though nerdy and compassionate though firm. His path takes a number of unexpected turns in the series, but what appeals the most to me about him is the “father’s love” he has for Buffy. I love student-mentor relationships and love when they feel like surrogate parent-child relationships because that’s how most of mine felt, and the memories move me. Giles is a kickass father figure for Buffy and, by extension, the rest of the Scooby gang. Heh, heh. He stabbed the Mayor with an épée after he said he was going to eat Buffy. Yeeaah, I rather doubt that. Not only can Buffy take care of herself, I think Giles, who’s not a bad fighter in his own right, may have something to say about that…
44. Atticus Finch – from To Kill a Mockingbird, portrayed by Gregory Peck
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch is a southern lawyer who sets out to defend a black man accused of assaulting a white woman, similar to my #48. Atticus’s motivations for taking the case are a little less self-serving than Jake’s, however. Jake is not particularly noble whereas Atticus more or less is. He practices what he preaches. He’s polite to everyone, even the nasties in town. The widower is the pinnacle of ethics and equity, both authoritative and easy-going. He does what needs to be done and talks to his children about things that parents and children should discuss, like race. Atticus is a learned man and knows ignorance is the gasoline to the blinding fire that is hatred—he wants more for his children and for the future than what is offered in Maycomb, Alabama. Heh. You know what’s slowly occurring to me? That I guess I’m just drawn to white characters who aren’t afraid to advocate for civil rights. It’s important to have allies in the battle for equality, and it can be just as risky for whites as it can be for Blacks/Latinos/Asians/Native Americans, etc., which is something I feel radicals sometimes forget. Anyway, while I did read the book in school, Gregory Peck’s live adaptation of Atticus Finch grabbed me more. I think he won Best Actor for a reason…
43. William “Will” Schuester – from Glee, portrayed by Matthew Morrison
“Who cares what happens when we get there when the getting there has been so much fun?”
Let’s get the shallow out of the way: yes, Will Schuester is hot and yes, it’s still creepy that Rachel had a crush on him because that’s her teacher! But what a teacher indeed. Optimistic, warm, caring and concerned about his students’ education and well-being. I don’t remember anything about his Spanish class, but going to glee club every episode with Mr. Schue encouraging his kids to find their voices reminded me how much I loved and miss my band classes with my amazing music teacher. So I’m probably a little biased about this one, but from what I recall, he is, overall, an ideal instructor: passionate and talented but willing to share the spotlight, living for both his and others’ happiness. I didn’t watch the last 3 seasons of Glee but did catch the series finale to make sure those I still loved played on, and (for as fast-paced as it was) I liked what I saw. Here’s a hint: gingers! Note the plural. 😉
42. Kurt Hummel – from Glee, portrayed by Chris Colfer
“One day you will all work for me.”
What makes Kurt Hummel a dynamic character is not his saltiness, sweetness or sassiness—it’s the complete journey he makes from a kid uncomfortable in his own skin to a man damn proud of himself. While his being gay plays a part in many of his arcs, it’s not the end-all, be-all of his character. Kurt is a talented countertenor who works hard to both achieve his Broadway dreams and accept himself for the complex human being he is. He is kind, resilient, and, as an atheist, much more forgiving than many of the religious people I know. He blossoms through the initial discomfort and fear of judgment that comes with loving other boys—and yourself—with the support of his friends and amazing father, Burt (let’s hear it for all the open-minded, loving parents! Woo!). He is a star, and the best thing is he knows it.
41. Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot – from Gotham, portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor
“I’m not a criminal, you know? I’m just… insane.”
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Burgess Meredith or Danny DeVito or Nolan North as the Penguin—it’s that Robin Lord Taylor’s layered, intense and vulnerable interpretation of a pained and power-hungry young man made me appreciate the character so much more. Beginning in Gotham as little more than a go-fer for night club owner Fish Mooney, Oswald attempts to scale the ladder of the underworld with varying degrees of success, growing more ruthless with each cunning act. His arc is enriched throughout the series by both antagonistic and genuinely touching relationships with his aforementioned boss and once-best friend Edward Nygma a.k.a. The Riddler. However, he is nearly undone several times over by his emotions and the need to prove he’s in control. I, for one, love emotional male characters. They intrigue me, tug at my sympathies, as does Penguin. Loss has hardened him and continues evermore to do its cruel work. I consider the Penguin a tragic figure because he is someone I believe would have been a good guy had people been kinder, had life been a little less cold. But it was not fated to be. His blood runs hot, but like Victor Fries, his heart is now made of ice.
40. Daryl Dixon – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Norman Reedus
“You want to know what I was before all this? …I was nobody. Nothing. Some redneck asshole...”
I want to make one thing clear before I get into this one: I am not a Daryl fangirl. Yes, I do love Daryl; he was even my favorite character in seasons 2 & 3. Yes, I find Norman Reedus attractive, physically and as a person. Yes, the same goes for Daryl, as dirty and monosyllabic as he is. But no, I am not the type of fan who fantasizes about having forest sex or motorcycle sex or any kind of sex with the character or actor, nor do I think Daryl can do no wrong because he’s just so cool/badass/*insert generic adjective or description depicting Daryl as a god among men and superior to every other character on the show*. I love Daryl because when the world went to shit—even shittier than what his world was before the apocalypse—he chose to be a good person. From birth he was set up to be mini-Merle, but he dared to believe the people who told him he was better and worked hard to prove to himself that they were right. I can’t even describe how much mental strength and courage and resilience it takes to open up and let people in and to stop hating who you are when you’ve been on your own for essentially your entire life, beaten down in every aspect imaginable.
For the first 3 seasons of the show, Daryl was a compelling character with many poignant points to his arc. He began as a reckless racist, small-minded and impatient though a skilled fighter. A lone wolf more than willing to maul or kill to feed himself and provide a few scraps for the pack. But it wasn’t long before the divine if not altogether romantic connection between him and Carol Peletier led him to help search for her missing daughter. He knew it was a lost cause but he did it anyway, just to help. It was touching and spoke to a sensitivity in Daryl we were not privy to before. Predictably his most interesting character development coincided with Merle’s return, as the person he was becoming clashed with the person he left behind, literally—was he going to be Merle’s brother or Rick’s? And bless his heart, he wanted to be both. Of course, as is the nature of this drama, it wasn’t to be and Daryl fought the pain by securing his position in the group as a provider, caretaker, friend to most and a right hand to leader Rick. In other words, he stepped up and became his own man.
However, Daryl being his own man is exactly the problem for him in the last couple of seasons. His emotions have become so free-flowing, he’s reverted back to rash reactions, which, in my opinion, directly got a beloved character killed in the season 7 premiere and undermined Rick’s plan to fight Negan in the first half of season 8. As I mentioned, I love Daryl. I didn’t want him to be tortured for what he did and I’m sorry it happened, but I’m not excusing him. As a fan of The Walking Dead in general, I am fed up with the fact that no one—especially the writers and fans—will hold Daryl accountable for his mistakes. I maintain that there is a good person buried beneath all the rage, pain, grief and hunger for vengeance that’s been building for seasons, but I still think a lot of the calls Daryl has made lately have been wrong and I’m totally frustrated with him—even more so with the writers because they’re the ones who won’t let him evolve beyond this juvenile method of coping or the false notion of obtaining retribution in a war. FFS. They just keep him the same because he’s so popular, but he hasn’t even really changed or been interesting since season 4! The last time they tried with him was with episode 412, “Still,” but I never thought it got there and believe the ratings would agree with me. And I frickin’ swear, I will be that much closer to dropping the show if they try to “fix” all his internal crap with a love interest. I’ve always considered Daryl a fellow ace, interpreting him to be totally unconcerned about building a romantic relationship, especially in light of Robert Kirkman’s remarks on how they treat his sexuality. They better not ruin the most visible symbol of asexuality in the history of primetime TV. The love between us and our family and friends can be just as powerful as romantic love and asexuals deserve representation too, damn it!
Well, regardless of what they do with Daryl, I, for the record, did think he was the best choice to die in the lineup in season 7 and actually wish he had. It would’ve jarred and weakened the group, affected most if not all the characters and fucked up the audience. But no, he’s still here…doing and contributing next to nothing to the story. So the fact that Daryl is on my list at all speaks to how much of a good character/good character arc he had in the first half of the series, and it was very good. But that’s it, just half the series. Like I said, I blame the writers and producers more than the character or the actor. It’s frustrating and sad, is all, because here’s Daryl trapped in a cocoon, bound up with all this glorious potential once again, only this time around he’s experienced too much pain to free himself and no one can help truly release him because they’re too busy pardoning him or patting themselves on the back. -_- And we, the fans of high-quality writing, suffer for it. *sigh*
39. Alfred Pennyworth – from Gotham, portrayed by Sean Pertwee
“There’s a very fine line, Master Bruce, between justice and vengeance.”
My adoration for Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth comes from a very simple place: my love of badass father figures. When I stop and think about it, Bruce Wayne’s long-serving English butler and guardian, Alfred, has always been a badass with his dry wit and endless patience, and he’s certainly always been a father figure. He’s very caring yet remains dutiful and heeds his charge’s boundaries, never too quick or too late to offer wisdom or comfort. The incarnation bringing up a teenage Bruce in Gotham is a little more fierce than the others and has a tendency to fire off at Bruce out of tough love and a desire to mold him into the person he needs to be, not just the person it’d be easier to be. Alfred not only has the mind required to raise a strong young man but the physical skills needed to protect a child millionaire (or billionaire? Which is it in this canon?) and later teach him how to defend himself. A former soldier, Alfred is a phenomenal fighter, excelling with both a multitude of weapons and hand-to-hand combat. Where I find he excels the most, though, is in matters of the heart… mostly because I’m a huge sap. I don’t even care. Watch the end of the penultimate episode of season 3 and tell me you didn’t feel anything. Personally, I screamed. But I digress. Alfred is an amazing character on Gotham because he is steadfast, he is strong, and mainly because he loves Bruce so much. Eye of the tiger and heart of a lion, this one.
38. Officer John Cooper – from SouthLAnd, portrayed by Michael Cudlitz
“What the hell did you think the gun was for, huh? Show and tell? Look, you’ll get over it—all right, they’ll send you to BSS, you’ll do all that Buddhist “I love and revere all sentient beings” crap, then at zero-dark-thirty, next time you’re up, you will drag your weary, fried ass out of bed, you will put on your gun and your vest, and you will do it all over again. You know why? Because this is a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth. Can you abuse it? Yes, sir, you can, and you will—I guarantee it. Because it is relentless, and it gets to you, and it seems like it changes nothing. But a day like today, with some interesting capers and a few good arrests? That’s good. But every once in a while, you get to take a bad guy off the streets for good… and that, my friend, is God’s work. So now you wanna be a pussy and quit, you quit. You’re a cop because you don’t know how not to be one. If you feel that way, you’re a cop. If you don’t, you’re not. You decide.”
Officer John Cooper may be on the same series as my #46, but they might as well be worlds away. John, at his core, is more troubled and thus more multifaceted than Sammy. They are similar in that John too is a dedicated officer of the law, overworked and underappreciated. He spends his days patrolling, popping pain pills and training “boots” or rookie partners. Though harsh and forceful, he is also a good man and good commander—most of the time. And, in contrast to my #42, I like that he fully accepts his identity as a gay man from the word go, as he never saw it as a detriment to begin with. What he does is who he is, and who he is determines what he does. And that is “God’s work.”
37. Ennis Del Mar – from Brokeback Mountain, portrayed by Heath Ledger
“If you can’t fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.”
In one of the most heart-wrenching performances ever put on the silver screen, the late Heath Ledger bears to the world the aching soul of Ennis Del Mar, a cowboy who falls in love with another on the hillocks of Brokeback Mountain in the 1960s. Unlike my #38, Ennis is in denial about his feelings for former rodeo rider, Jack Twist, and chooses to marry a woman he loves (but is not in love with) named Alma. Jack also marries. Between 20 years, children and divorce, the two meet up for weekend stays on their secret mountain, one of which leads to Jack’s lament that they “could’ve had a good life together” but Ennis “didn’t want it.” It was never that Ennis didn’t love, it was that he tiptoed to it while Jack wanted to run with it. Because of things he’d seen as a boy, because of things his father had done, Ennis couldn’t. The best he could do was tread softly as time ticked away, ignorant of his agony. I just… feel kindred to these characters who are in a lot of emotional pain. It’s misery. It’s not that we don’t love, like I said, it’s that we can’t… fully be free in it. We can’t, and it just makes me feel so much for Ennis. He tries to hide between monosyllabic sentences and explosions of anger, but he can only hide so much.
36. Detective/Captain James “Jim” Gordon – from Gotham, portrayed by Ben McKenzie
“I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now, there will be light.”
With the exception of Gary Oldman’s portrayal in The Dark Knight, I was never interested in Commissioner Jim Gordon until the premiere of Gotham. Being a huge fan of SouthLAnd, I knew Ben McKenzie could play a cop whose horizons darkened over time, and between seasons 2 & 3 in particular of the Fox series, Gordon towed the line between right and wrong, light and shade, more than any big-screen version of Batman ever will, dare I say. I like and enjoy Jim because he has evolved into a realist idealist, a pessimistic optimist. I’d always interpreted him as more of a straight-laced goody-goody, an officer whose honor is absolute. He isn’t, which is great and far more interesting. Gordon now struggles more to do the right thing and has failed in the past. What he’s done haunts him as well as many others, but ghosts do not defeat him, demons do not beat him. He has always fought to prove there could be more in Gotham than despair and more in the GCPD than corruption and he is the type who will always fight (no, I’m not just saying that because Gotham is a prequel and we know what Gordon’s destiny will be). With this version of the future commissioner, hope is not a broad ideal, not some snow-white quintessence of pure faith or belief. It’s much grayer… but ultimately manages to cast more light on Gotham’s city streets than shadows. Batman will have Jim Gordon to thank for paving the way, if you ask me.
35. Alexander “Xander” Harris – from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portrayed by Nicholas Brendon
“Yeah. I get that. It’s just, where else am I gonna go? You’ve been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end, where else would I wanna be?”
In separating Nicholas Brendon’s troubles from the role he’s most famous for playing, I have to say that after all these years I am still stuck on the infinitely brave, infinitely devoted, class-clown reject, Xander Harris. Unlike some of the males on this list or in sci-fi/fantasy/horror/dramas in general, Xander doesn’t have any special powers or a particular aptitude for fighting—he’s one of those “just a guy” guys. He’s not overly intelligent or socially apt or the best boyfriend and provides little more than wisecracks and insight throughout the series. He can be selfish and jealous and immature and petty. He also has a deeply loving heart and a dogged determination to protect Sunnydale and his friends and does the best he can to hold the world together—those are the traits I admire. They’re the extraordinary born from the ordinary, and sometimes that’s special enough.
34. The Joker – from Batman: The Animated Series, The Dark Knight, Batman (1989), the Arkham video game series and, arguably, Gotham, voiced by Mark Hamill & Troy Baker, portrayed by Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson and, arguably, Cameron Monaghan
“That actually is…pretty funny…”
The Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman’s seminal supervillain, needs no explanation. He has no explanation. I’m not even positive I do. Is he really that insane or is he just pure evil? Either way, he is fascinating. He’s like a piece of devil’s food cake—layered, dark and yet light as a feather, bad for you but irresistible all the same. I love watching the contrast of charisma with the complete and utter chaos he causes; it’s almost like getting high off yourself, struggling with being torn between horror and delight. I feel kinda crappy I can’t really talk about the Joker as a person, as the man behind the makeup and/or disfigurement, but at the same time, I think that’s the point. The Joker is not a person. He’s a force. Better yet, in Gotham, he’s a concept, a creed of corruption. (And I don’t give a damn what the producers say, Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome Valeska is 100% the Joker. He’s the perfect mix of Heath Ledger’s anarchist and Jack Nicholson’s showman with Mark Hamill’s volatile delivery, ranging from teasing to maniacal to downright chilling. I couldn’t be happier or more impressed with Monaghan’s representation.) The Joker is so good at being bad, I can’t even hate him. I’m terrified of him and I don’t want destruction or death to ensue, but there is some piece of me, in the corner of my mind or the bottom of my soul, that connects to the type of reckless abandon that must come with embracing darkness. Allow me to be clear: I’ve never wished to hurt others… I just grow tired of fighting to be good all the time, to be right, to be righteous. I’m tired. I don’t know whether I’m a dark person or just a person with darkness; regardless I fight against it, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been drawn to it for a long time now. So when I enjoy the Joker—and I do enjoy the Joker, always—I’m living in it a little, and I’d rather do that in a fantastic capacity with a fictional character than in reality.
33. Reinhold “Daniel” / “Dan” Fielding – from Night Court, portrayed by John Larroquette
“You can have your principles AND get lucky!”
Dan Fielding, one of the unique cast of characters featured in the 1984-1992 sitcom, Night Court, is both the most popular and most complicated presence on the show. A Lothario and a letch, he frequently behaves in ways that belie his intelligence and success as the Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan’s Criminal Court Part II (largely for comedic effect). Yet, for as selfish and smarmy as he is, he manages to hold tight to his integrity. He has refused a bribe as well as a cushy position promising all the sex he could want, preferring to earn a promotion based on his courtroom skills rather than his bedroom prowess. As much as Dan doesn’t like to admit it, he does care about the people around him. I’m a big fan of his poignant relationships with Roz, Christine and Harry in particular; there’s a surprising amount of depth to them, as there is to Dan himself.
32. Michael Corleone – from The Godfather, portrayed by Al Pacino
“That’s my family, Kay, that’s not me.”
This quote kills me every time I see it. WHY, MICHAEL, WHY? Given The Godfather is the second-most highly rated film on IMDb, I take it most people know the story’s main plot of a nice, young war hero’s devolution into a ruthless crime boss, and if you don’t know about it, I’ve just told you. Holy gosh, I was obsessed with this movie when I was in high school—bought the DVD, read the book, gave a book report on it, everything, because I was so simultaneously mesmerized and horrified by Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone slowly descending into immorality. The sins of the father, it could be said, turned a relatively innocent young man into a scheming, mendacious murderer. He didn’t just pull a trigger, he became a trigger. I know some people don’t like Mafia movies because they don’t feel they can empathize with the main characters. Not me. I’m always holding out hope for humanity (and what they gave me was The Godfather Part III, but we shall speak of that no more -_-) and always see love there, even if it is only to a point. It makes the events that unfold that much harder to take. I love tragic characters. As I mentioned before, I feel some type of kinship with them, almost, as if they were a mirror from another world where I was less loved and even angrier and had less options in front of me. Michael Corleone is one of my shadow selves, one of my fictional extremes, like many of the men on this list.
31. Chief Martin Brody – from Jaws, portrayed by Roy Scheider
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Holy crap, I love this movie. And my dear, sweet Martin, of course. Martin Brody, police chief of Amity Island, is an admirable everyman. I make a point to say “admirable” because the man has a fear of the water yet boards a vessel with a “certifiable” shark hunter, sails miles out onto the ocean and fights a Great White Shark for the greater good of his town (also to save his own life, but you know). While well-meaning and a good husband and father, he’s not perfect. He doesn’t make all the right calls and is a complete novice at boating. He has also sworn to protect and serve the citizens of Amity and doesn’t let fear trump his responsibilities. I just really empathize with this character’s trepidation. I’ve never seen a male actor play abject terror the way Roy Scheider did in the scene where the shark breaks through the window of the Orca—how could you not feel for the guy? I sure did, and it’s because Martin gives me so many warm feels as a simple but valiant character complete with a collection of snarky comments and worries that he’s on my list as #31.
30. Merle Dixon – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Michael Rooker
“I don’t know the reasons for the things that I do. Never did. I’m a damn mystery to me.”
I know—it’s crazy Merle Dixon is on my list, right? My list, of all people, and this high up? Madness, right? Just bear with me… Merle Dixon is immediately presented to viewers as a delightfully divisive character when we’re introduced to him on the rooftop in season 1: he’s handy (lol, see episode 103) with a rifle but volatile and violent, humorous but horribly racist. Is it sad that I, as a feminist woman of color, can find a degree of comedy within this bigoted character? Oh, well. I’ll just chalk it up to how great Michael Rooker plays the part. Anyway, Merle spends his time on the show towing the thin line between mesmeric rogue and callous villain, confusing viewers like me as to whether they actually like him or not because he’s such a bastard but also an efficient fighter, strategist and practiced master of improper humor and flirting (ask Andrea and, to a less obvious extent, Michonne). XD He does this by carrying out “dirty work” for either our group or the Governor’s, just trying to survive, content to align himself with the minion role to which everyone else has relegated him. It isn’t until he’s challenged by Michonne the mentalist, whom he captures to deliver to the Governor as a way to save the prison (i.e. Daryl), that he considers what he’s doing and why. Considers his given status as the “bad guy.” Considers, truly considers for once in his life, his next move. What admiration I do have for Merle is born from the final half of that one episode, which is quite possibly my favorite in the entire series. I didn’t believe Merle had any sincere goodness in him, not like Daryl. Didn’t believe he had any semblance of honor or even that he loved Daryl, not really. Being used to being with somebody doesn’t necessarily mean you love them. Is he even capable of love, having been through all the abuse and penury Daryl endured but without the gentle nature to combat the hardness it bit into him? And the answer is yes, unequivocally. I thoroughly believe Daryl is the only person Merle has ever loved. He loves Daryl so much and respects so profoundly the point Michonne made (and how could you not because she is Queen), in the midst of one afternoon, that he is willing to give his life to keep his baby brother and his better family safe. It’s such a drastic shift in whom I perceived Merle to be, so brave and selfless and ultimately pretty badass, that my entire perspective on him changed. I was that impressed. Normally I’m not a forgiving person, nor am I keen to let one action redeem an entire character’s laundry list of bullshit, but when I go back and watch closer, I see the nuggets now, the little hints at who Merle could have become had he been afforded the same opportunities or amount of time with the group or made the same choices Daryl did. To me, it makes him all the more tragic, thus all the more better and all the more human. For once, this isn’t about tallying up good and bad deeds—I think we all know he does more wrong than he does right. It’s not even about the quality of his goodness or whether I consider Merle to be good or not. No, the questions I have here are: Did he love well? Did I feel it? Did I believe it? And did it matter? My answers? Well, he is #30 on my list of favorite fictional male characters, isn’t he?
29. Randle “R.P.” / “Mac” McMurphy – from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, portrayed by Jack Nicholson
“Jesus, I mean you guys do nothing but complain about how you can’t stand it in this place and you don’t have the guts just to walk out? What do you think you are, for Christ’s sake, crazy or somethin’? Well, you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets and that’s it.”
The bawdy, frank, freewheeling protagonist of the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel is my favorite Jack Nicholson performance and also a classic rebel, like #28, though most of his antics prove more playful and, eventually, inspiring than the sociopathic Alex’s. Similar to #28, R.P. McMurphy trades prison for an institution, believing it’d be time easier served. He quickly becomes entrenched in the lives of his fellow inmates, treating them precisely the opposite of how the head of the mental ward staff, Nurse Mildred Ratched, treats them: as normal human beings. Mac’s indomitable wit and will to challenge the sterile, bloodless environment rouses the disillusioned men, giving them hope, giving them a bit of perspective. Giving someone the large, generally mute Native American “Chief” Bromden a friend to talk to. Finally. On the other hand, some have interpreted McMurphy’s crusade against Nurse Ratched as having a misogynistic slant, and while it’s an interpretation I can see from a careful, feminist perspective, it’s not one I particularly agree with, even as a feminist. A woman in power is a fine thing. A despot is not, male or female, and Nurse “Wretched” is a cruel oppressor indeed. I’m not afraid of a story about a man taking down a woman—that doesn’t automatically make it sexist. All right, let me get off my soapbox. Basically I just love that Mac won’t lie down and that he asks others to stand up with him, to stand up for themselves. Sometimes people need a leader, sometimes they need a sacrifice, and Mac’s gave the Chief the strength—and means—to fly them both to freedom.
28. Alexander “Alex” DeLarge/Burgess – from A Clockwork Orange, portrayed by Malcolm McDowell
“I was cured, all right.”
Teen terror Alex DeLarge is the epitome of a “love to hate” and “hate to love” character for me. In fact the reason A Clockwork Orange is one of my top 5 favorite films is because it makes me question all that I am: what I think and feel and feel I stand for. It is that powerful, as is Malcolm McDowell’s performance as an intelligent and vivacious bully, rapist, murderer and victim. I don’t want Alex to be on this list. I don’t want to like him, nor do I want to be overtaken by morbid curiosity and immerse myself in his real “horrorshow” world, but I can’t help myself. Stanley Kubrick presents author Anthony Burgess’s ethical quandary so artfully, it’s like it would almost be a crime not to watch this and let yourself be sucked in. Oh, I’m in, all right. I’m so in, I’m envious. Envious of this character who is fully himself, a rebel against society, a young person who loves living life the way he lives it, because I feel I can’t do any of that—I’m too weighed down by self-hatred, almost completely bereft of any acceptance, measuring joy by moments instead of actually living. Damn it, I admire him. Not his acts, not what he does, but I admire that the only person who can stop Alex from being himself is he himself… by virtue of agreeing to undergo the Ludovico technique to escape prison. As a result, Alex is then tortured, quite literally, by everyone and everything that made him him, and while I’m not particularly sorry to see him suffer, I’m not sure I agree with conditioning someone out of his free will. But you can’t have people running around raping and killing either, now, can you? Augh! That novel! This movie! This movie’s ending! God help me, I saw it as a happy one. Albeit at the time I first saw the film, I was 19 and very bitter about having to go to college instead of pursuing acting and writing. I wasn’t about to adapt, to play society’s game, to become yet another automaton desk jockey who swept her dreams under the rug. Of course that’s what I’ve done for now, though, isn’t it? So to me, the quote I used above still very much encompasses a happy ending. May God have mercy on my dark soul…
27. Colonel Hans Landa – from Inglourious Basterds, portrayed by Christoph Waltz
“I have no doubt. And yes, some Germans will die, and yes, it will ruin the evening, and yes, Goebbels will be very, very, very mad at you for what you’ve done to his big night…but you won’t get Hitler, you won’t get Goebbels, you won’t get Göring, and you won’t get Bormann. And you need all four to win the war. But if I don’t pick up this phone right here, you may very well get all four…and if you get all four, you’ll end the war tonight… So, gentlemen, let’s discuss the prospect of ending the war tonight.”
O.M.G. This character. This hilarious son of a bitch. How I love and hate him too! Augh! Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is one of my favorite actors due to the fact that he just exudes charisma. Hans Landa is no exception, despite being a “Jew Hunter” for Herr Hitler. By turns he is charming and terrifying, cool and giddy. A deceptive detective and hyper-intelligent polyglot, he is interested only in which side appears to have the upper hand in WWII. Much of it has to do with Waltz’s performance, the way he chooses to deliver specific phrases, but Tarantino’s writing for Landa is also effective. You just can’t take your eyes off him. He’s the type of guy you want to die because he’s bad but you’d be sad to see go because he’s so good at it! Don’t you just love the inner conflict? I DO.
26. Malcolm Tucker – from The Thick of It & In the Loop, portrayed by Peter Capaldi
“People hate me? Good! Bring it on. Do you know what they think about you? I’ll tell you exactly what people say about you: Fuck all!”
Here we’ve come to another of my favorite actors, Peter Capaldi, in the other role he’s best known for besides the 12th Doctor: Malcolm Tucker, the angry, sweary, domineering spin doctor and media adviser to the Secretary of State for the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship—for a while, that is. Unlike many of the men on this list, I don’t particularly consider this character to be a good person. I mean, he’s not evil… not purely, anyway. But he is conniving, underhanded and mean-spirited. At the same time, he also works himself to the bone in a position that sucks his soul dry of not only empathy but a true quality of life, which the TV series, The Thick of It, does well to highlight alongside the comedy and satire. Some of Malcolm’s better moments come from his rapport with his personal assistant, Sam, proving he is capable of getting along with someone. He even has children’s drawings hanging in his office. There is definitely more here than meets the eye, but what does meet the eye—or ear, rather—is the cornucopia of creative verbal abuse and it’s absolutely hilarious. Satire, based on what I remember from my college literature and cultures class, involves critiquing society, often in a (darkly) comedic way. Tucker’s malicious, “fuck”-filled threats and diatribes cover the gallows humor quite nicely while those around him provide the bulk of decisions and actions the show aims to satirize. As terrible as it sounds, I think Malcolm’s role as the long-suffering bystander having to piss on the fires his co-workers keep starting is the key to the series’ success: if they weren’t so incompetent and he weren’t so miserable, it wouldn’t be worth watching! And boy, is this character (and his actor) worth watching.
25. Norman Bates – from the Psycho series, portrayed by Anthony Perkins & Henry Thomas
“She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”
Anthony Perkins’s famous turn as a young motel manager suffering from the worst case of Dissociative Identity Disorder ever is so raw, it hurts. It hurts my heart to see this character suffer so because I know all the ins and outs of mental illness. You feel like you have ZERO control over anything in your life, especially your thoughts and where they’re taking you. It’s miserable and scary and a sad existence. Honestly, the title of this movie (which is the same title as Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel) is kind of offensive. We’re not psychos—we’re sick. Norman is sick, and he pays for it just as much as everyone else around him does. When he’s himself, he’s the sweetest thing, just one of those characters you want to cuddle and protect and then lock away so they won’t get hurt… so this one won’t hurt anyone else. It’s when Mother shows up that the horror begins. Norman tries so hard to be good, to be good and fair to everyone including Mother, but she inevitably rears up to stomp him back into the ground where she taught him he belonged. The original film is a masterpiece, absolutely, but I ventured on to the sequels—not for more gore but to see if he could resurrect himself and reclaim his own life. Like, please, give me hope here! *sigh* It was like watching him trying to swim through quicksand, all those years and all those movies. I won’t spoil if I unearthed any hope or not, but I will say I was satisfied with the ending to Psycho IV: The Beginning. Take what you will from it—this character snapped his innocence in half as a boy and never got it back. He is tragic and all the more tragic in that he is sweet and deserves a full life as much as anyone else—as much as his victims did, as much as all of us with mental illnesses do. All I’ve learned from the Psycho series is that we’re going to have to fight for it… for the rest of our lives. But is it possible to obtain? Go watch Psycho IV and then come back and tell me…
24. Benjamin “Ben” Cartwright – from Bonanza, portrayed by Lorne Greene
“Are we so apart, boy? I’ve never held my land above my sons. Before that’d happen, I’d destroy the Ponderosa.”
In the tradition of great paternal figures, Ben Cartwright, effective owner of half of the 19th-century Nevadan territory and father to three (eventually four) sons, brings a stable warm but stern, righteous quality to the tone of nearly every episode of the 1959-1972 western series. Ben is the definition of a self-made man, serving first as a sailor, then traveling West to the tame the wild and build a foundation on which he could raise a strong family. Three wives each bore him a son, their respective deaths forcing him to press on with business while simultaneously adopting an active role in the lives of young Adam, Hoss and Little Joe, at which he has always excelled because he knows how to treat each as his own man and the family as a whole as a cohesive unit. He confides in Adam and allows him the room the scholar needs to think and explore; he shows appreciation and pride to gentle giant Hoss for being exactly that and so much more; and most poignantly, he gives young, rash and turbulent Little Joe the affection and support he needs to find himself. In spite of a few rough patches in the first season, Ben is ultimately a gentleman, magnanimous and unprejudiced despite his great power and influence, the picture of true strength and true manhood. Most of all, most impressively to me, he is the best father on this list.
23. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy – from Star Trek: The Original Series & original film series, portrayed by DeForest Kelley
“I choose the danger. Hell of a time to ask…”
I love Bones so freaking much. Sorry, just had to launch into it. DeForest Kelley is perfect as the gruff and grumpy old southern gentleman of the USS Enterprise during Captain James T. Kirk’s tenure. He shines on his own as a character, as a witty presence on the crew and a knowledgeable, honorable medical and science officer, but plays off Jim and Spock even better as the third member of the iconic brotherly trio of Star Trek: TOS. The friendship between McCoy and Spock especially can be a little tense, a little antagonistic, always teasing and even touching. I think of McCoy as the everyman of the final frontier. He’s not a suave hero or a genius alien hybrid or mystical sage or weathered warrior. He’s someone who is unfailingly brave but questions, principled but conflicted, droll but deep. Someone who not only stands up but rises to the occasion. He’s a doctor, damn it, and so much more in the simplest and strongest of ways.
22. Spock – from Star Trek: The Original Series & original film series, portrayed by Leonard Nimoy
“Tell her: ‘I feel fine.’”
Like most Trekkies, I am nowhere near immune to the subdued, straightforward charm and infamous logic of Captain James T. Kirk’s best friend and second-in-command, the half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock. Although I’m a fan of the entire TOS cast (with the soft exception of Chekov), I have always loved Spock the most, perhaps for a very strange reason: for all the ways I don’t and do understand him. I’m a stranger to being led by your mind as opposed to your heart, so that’s one way I don’t connect with him. And I’ve mentioned I like emotional male characters, right, so how can Spock be so high on my list? Well, because, despite his denials, he clearly is so emotional. It all gets pent up due to his repressing his humanity in shame and resentment, and I can totally relate to that.
Quick personal anecdote: I am a multiracial person, born to a Caucasian mother and an African-American father, who has never been totally comfortable being half-black. Due to my internalization of my father’s abuse, things I saw and cruel things I heard, I always equated my being ethnic to being lesser than people who were one ethnicity, especially white people, and pressured myself into overachieving, exacerbating my poisonous perfectionist qualities even more, to prove to the world (i.e. myself) that I was worth just as much as everyone else. But I still felt uglier, dumber and less valued by society. I still do—I still struggle with this bullshit emotionally even though intellectually I’m aware it’s bullshit.
So, long story short, I admire Spock mainly for coming to terms with his heritage, for being able to bridge the gap better between his human and Vulcan halves throughout the film series in particular. He is intelligent, immensely loyal, possessed of a laconic sense of humor and confident and capable in all facets of his Starfleet duties, rising from captain to commander to an ambassador of the United Federation of Planets. Spock is a man of honor and work ethic, the best of all pragmatists and equalists, and most importantly, a great friend.
21. Krillin – from Dragon Ball Z, FUNimation dub, voiced by Sonny Strait
“I know I’m gonna regret this, but here goes…”
Ask any fan of the anime and it’ll be said—usually with great relish—that Krillin is one of the weakest characters in the Dragon Ball universe. He’s strong for a human but still very much human, dwarfed by almost all the other characters in power, height and importance. Oh, they carried Krillin through to the other series because he’s Goku’s best friend. Yeah, he’s good for a laugh, either by virtue of something he mutters disparagingly or by getting his ass kicked (e.g. the “Krillin Owned Count” on TeamFourStar’s Dragon Ball Z Abridged videos), but not much else. Hardy-har-har. Well. To all that I say…it’s true. Physically Krillin is weak. He’s not really integral to the plot anymore. He is just kind of there. And thank God he’s still there. It’s fitting that he is, because he doesn’t have to be a Saiyan to be interesting and he doesn’t have to be an alien to be strong. Krillin represents the pinnacle of human fortitude—grit, courage, selflessness, a warm nature, a good sense of humor. He helped look after Gohan whenever Goku was away. He found empathy for an enigmatic cyborg (called “Android 18” but confirmed in season 7 to be part-human). And he’s gone into every major battle knowing how likely it was that he wouldn’t make it out alive, and he went in anyway. That is amazing and that’s an amazing character! I don’t know how people can make fun of someone good enough to do that. You know what, I don’t even care. I will always defend Krillin and always be proud to proclaim my love for him. For as funny as he is, he’s no joke. He’s all heart. It’s in the littlest moments, the simplest lines and beats, from his dropping Yajirobe’s sword to taking on Kid Buu in Other World at the risk of being wiped out of existence. As far as I’m concerned, Krillin is a badass, just like Vegeta, and as much of a hero as Goku.
20. Gohan – from Dragon Ball Z, FUNimation dub, voiced by Stephanie Nadolny & Kyle Hebert
“Dad, I know what I’ll remember about you. When you were up against Frieza and knew we couldn’t win, how you walked right up to him…and whenever things seem tough for me, I think of you walking forward like that and it makes me strong.”
When I started watching Dragon Ball Z, I was around the age Gohan was at his induction, a mere child. As such, he was the first character with whom I strongly identified—not just because we were kids but because we had things in common. As the son of the strongest warrior on Earth, Gohan was often thrust into frightening, harsh, adult circumstances beyond his control; as the child of an abusive parent who shared joint custody with my mom, the same could be said for me. Gohan, despite being the epitome of purity and kindness, never had great self-esteem. I was a pretty good kid, too, but didn’t think much of myself either. Logically he knew he was strong and possessed a wealth of potential to conquer the demons threatening his world, but emotionally he felt afraid, stunted and incapable of harnessing his power. I have always felt the exact same way—about my writing talent and my ability to cope with and fight my mental illnesses. Gohan in the Cell saga (in the FUNimation dub anyway) was me throughout school, is me now.
It’s this kind of kinship I share with Gohan that makes me love him so much; it’s because I understand him, understand how hard it was for him to blast back, that I appreciate so much his shift from self-doubt to self-trust based on the word of love, his father’s word. But he made the choice. That boy made the choice to fight back, to not let it all overtake him and chose to adopt a happy, grateful disposition despite things not necessarily working out to his best benefit. Over the years Gohan’s vulnerabilities transitioned into self-acceptance and he became so comfortable with playing the hero, he adopted the lovably dorky superhero persona of the Great Saiyaman (lol), attracting the attention of his kickass future wife. Unlike a lot of fans, I never grew bored of him. He is a different person than either Goku or Vegeta and only half-Saiyan to boot—he doesn’t have the same innate need to fight. He was smart and driven so he got an education. He married a strong, supportive woman and became a parent. He even made sure his surrogate father, Piccolo, didn’t fall out of his life. These were all things I wanted for Gohan because he wanted them; his being happy made me happy, gave me hope. Seeing Gohan grow in power and confidence yet keep both inner depth and the same lightness of spirit as his father was a beautiful experience to have as I grew up alongside him. In the quote I used, Gohan credits Goku with making him feel strong. Goku makes me feel strong too, but it was Gohan who helped me get through painful personal crises like college and visits with my father because I never felt like I was going through hell alone. Someone had already been there, done that and beat it, fictional or not. Gohan has always been so much of my strength and my will to get back up and fight. He’s the one who walked forward for me, and he’s never going to stop. I won’t let him.
19. Vegeta – from Dragon Ball Z, FUNimation dub, voiced by Christopher R. Sabat
“What’s so funny, freak? What are you gawking at? What did you think, that I was gonna roll over and die from an attack like that? You’re nothing, just a trickster. I am a warrior, the Saiyan Prince—Vegeta!”
At the risk of showing my hand too early, I have to say the character arc for #7 is the greatest hero-to-villain arc I’ve ever seen depicted. The character arc for Vegeta of the manga/anime Dragon Ball Z is the exact opposite though just as grand. Super Elite warrior, Vegeta, of royal and ruthless Saiyan lineage, arrives in the first season with nothing but immortality and murder on his mind. It is during his quest for Earth’s Dragon Balls that fate introduces him to a worthwhile rival, the lowly Saiyan outcast and defender of humankind, Goku, or “Kakarot” as Vegeta chooses to address him (the hero’s Saiyan name). Though it takes an entire team of Earth’s most fearsome fighters to best him in battle, Vegeta swears vengeance on Goku, their leader, the beacon of hope and decency, the man foolish enough to show him mercy. A large portion of his story revolves around his obsession with becoming strong enough to defeat and/or kill Goku; sometimes, however, circumstances and larger threats drive him to form unsteady alliances. Threaten to beat him down—body, mind, pride—even further. Force him to reveal secrets, such as the revelation that he was not born with a soul of stone but had it twisted that way by Frieza, intergalactic autocrat, destroyer of the Saiyans’ home planet and enslaver of their race. Over the course of nine seasons and the supplementary series, Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta continues to struggle, to question, to backslide and recover, to discover hidden truths about himself, such as his growing care for those around him and the subsequent unease with this perceived weakness, this softening. Most poignantly, by the end of the series, his life culminates in self-sacrifice. And even still, he overcomes the bitterness of his own death to devise a way to save all of Earth from a similar fate, at the same time admitting a certain type of reverence for Goku and the influence his rival’s steadfastness has had on others and ultimately himself. Oh, he remains arrogant, loud-mouthed, grouchy and rude—he’s always all of that. Would we have it any other way? An ill temper as legendary as his makes for great turns, both comedic and badass, but what is truly interesting about Vegeta is that he found might that surpasses that of a Super Saiyan’s, a power more potent than the drive to be the best in the universe: He found the inner strength to change, to drain from himself the thirst for blood, replacing it with a better sense of understanding, acceptance and an emergent desire to defend the family and friends he found in the wake of Goku’s choice to spare his life. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it, and after all these episodes and arcs and all these years in publication and syndication, I think he knows that now. And I think he’s okay with it. Pssht, forget all the reasons I both love and hate him—Vegeta is one of the most complex male characters in fiction, and for what he is, was and is destined to become, he deserves to be on this list.
18. Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi – from the Star Wars series, portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness & Ewan McGregor
“I will do what I must.”
Let me preface this by mentioning that I am 26 years old, hence I grew up with the Star Wars prequels. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was my first of the franchise. No, please don’t feel bad for me because for all its faults I really liked it and still do, as the reigning Queen of Unpopular Opinions. Anyway, the first character from the infamous faraway galaxy to whom I latched on was Obi-Wan Kenobi. Though he is a mere Padawan in Episode I, I admired him immediately (and not just because Ewan McGregor is so attractive, though that didn’t hurt any, ha). He is young and a bit impertinent regarding Qui-Gon Jinn’s extracurricular crusades but is also practical and modest, not without compassion or care, traits on which the ensuing films expounded better. As I mentioned in #39’s paragraph, I am a big fan of good father figures; to be frank, my favorite parts of the Star Wars series are the mentor-student/father-son/brother-brother relationships between the Jedi, and the bond between Obi-Wan and his Master, Qui-Gon, is my favorite. Much like Obi-Wan himself, it was gentle, deep and durable, and it’s the basis on which the tragedy of Darth Vader is built, of course. It was sad seeing what Anakin went through, but even worse watching Obi-Wan grapple with what he perceived to be his own “failure.” He had lost his father figure and took up his cause, grew into his compassion and proved himself to be a noble negotiator, a skilled swordsman and a wise teacher. Then, despite all his cleverness and care and best efforts, he lost his brother too, along with his extended Jedi “family,” and was forced into exile for 20 years. Even after all of that he managed to preserve his wry humor, his belief in the Force and the strength to train Luke after Anakin’s betrayal. He even reached out to Rey. His is a presence that has remained in the canon for 40 years and it should, for the kind of clarity and strength he represents are strong staples of the Star Wars universe and, we can only hope, our own. Obi-Wan makes me proud and he makes me smile. AND IF THEY WRITE FOR HIM A STANDALONE MOVIE I AM GOING TO FLIP SOMETHING OVER IN EXCITEMENT. There, you’ve all been warned. Bolt your furniture down…
17. Freddy Krueger – from A Nightmare on Elm Street series & Freddy vs. Jason, portrayed by Robert Englund
“When I was alive, I might have been a little naughty, but after they killed me, I became something much, much worse. The stuff nightmares are made of…”
Night stalker. Dream walker. Big talker. Master of black humor and stupid puns. As with previous entries, how I love to hate and hate to love the original Springwood Slasher, Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. My best friend even calls me Freddy (and I call her “Jason” as in Jason Voorhees, lol). As much as I like horror movies, I admittedly enjoy Freddy’s comedy more than his devilry, perhaps because we got so much more of the former than the latter as the film series went on, but he did frighten me when I saw the original movie at age 11. I promptly went to bed with all the lights on, thank you very much. I know Freddy is supposed to be scarier than pop culture has made him out to be (heh, New Nightmare anyone?) and he used to be, but as a fan I’m fine with him also being silly or insane or downright inspired with the way he kills some of his victims. You know what I find to be the scariest thing about Freddy? The intrusive nature of his powers. There’s something very disturbing about the idea of a child killer waltzing through your unconscious thoughts, manipulating your mind to bend to his every whim, toying with you at night to drive you crazy during the day, leading you to slip back into sleep at night. No matter what installment of NOES I’m watching, there’s always a potential creep factor there, if you really look for it. I can feel it, and I’m comfortable with this level of discomfort in my horror films. One of my favorite actors playing my favorite slasher = a mandatory re-watch of the series every October.
16. Lee Everett – from season 1 of The Walking Dead: Telltale Games Series, voiced by Dave Fennoy
“I’ll miss you.”
There could be no better protagonist for the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game than Lee Everett. Lee, a former history professor in his mid-30s, is the player character for the five-episode arc that involves managing and protecting an ever-changing group of survivors in Georgia while forging a close-knit bond with an orphaned eight-year-old girl named Clementine. I am…seriously about to cry just thinking about this game; this first season is on par with the best seasons of the TV adaptation. The vocal performances are all excellent and the characters feel so real. To relax during finals week in college (lol, like you can really relax when it comes to The Walking Dead), I binge-watched a gamer’s walkthrough on YouTube and just fell in love with Lee as a leader, a tough survivor, mentally and physically, and a stellar guide and father figure to Clementine. Though you can play around with his responses, choosing whether or not to make him more forthcoming about his feelings and his past (Lee was actually a killer before the apocalypse, it turns out), he is clearly written to be a strong-willed, considerate and solicitous individual with a temper that’s sometimes too quick for his own good. All in all, in my opinion, Lee does what needs to be done in a zombie apocalypse—he isn’t particularly vicious or without empathy and deals with a lot of crazy-ass people in ways that will satisfy a variety of gamers. XD Mainly he’s determined to teach young Clem how to make her way in a world gone all too mad and sad… and their story is sad. But it’s important to me—Lee is important to me—because his relationship with Clementine makes me think of fight and simple advice and unconditional love and the measure of a mentor and I’m tearing up again… Lee Everett is a good man and, I feel the need to reiterate, the best man to take you on this journey. I know there’s no one I’d rather have walked beside.
15. Gary Hobson – from Early Edition, portrayed by Kyle Chandler
“Sometimes that’s all a hero is, Chuck: the guy who’s there.”
Gary Hobson, the epitome of an everyman, somehow, some way, gets tomorrow’s newspaper today—that’s the premise of Early Edition, a four-season fantasy/drama series beloved by its audience but quietly canceled back in 2000. There was such extraordinary heart to this show, accompanied by both supernatural and chance circumstances and events, and I have nothing but fond childhood memories of spending nights cheering Gary on as he used the headlines from the future to race around Chicago and rescue people. A former stockbroker and later bartender/bar owner, Gary reluctantly becomes a full-time hero with the support of his best friends, Chuck Fisher and Marissa Clark. For the longest time, he doesn’t understand why he’s been chosen to receive the Paper or who sends it to him, and the origins of the mysterious newspaper are only alluded to in the series finale; nonetheless, Gary accepts early on the responsibility of changing the future, gradually growing more comfortable in the role as the people’s champion, never fully succumbing to resentment or ego. He is one of those ordinary people made extraordinary simply because of the choices he makes—he constantly chooses to be brave and run in, to advocate for other people, to talk until he’s blue in the face or nearly thrown in jail in an effort to inject some sense into the skeptics and the careless. He does all of this at great personal risk—physical and emotional—because the Paper is a gift and a curse and almost always a burden. I have always admired Gary, as a savior and a regular person. He is a nice young man, unassuming and generous, giving and diligent if a little impatient and ill-tempered at times. He’s complemented well by the cynical Chuck and conscientious Marissa, ever the voice of reason, both of whom he loves dearly. It all makes for a nice family show in the vein of Touched by an Angel or a tamer Quantum Leap, and I love Gary as a squarely good, kind and ultimately valiant man. He’s a good reminder that not everybody has to be dark or depraved or depressed to be a praiseworthy character.
14. Captain Jack Sparrow – from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, portrayed by Johnny Depp
“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that someday…”
Everybody’s list of favorite characters should include a kook, a weirdo, a renegade, a character of indistinct morals yet unmistakable allure, don’t you think? Captain Jack Sparrow is the one for my list. Although I believe movies 4 & 5 have added absolutely nothing to his character (which is the main reason I wish they’d stop making them, because as a diehard fan, I’m tired of being disappointed after having my expectations met thoroughly with that amazing trilogy), I love Jack, from his tongue twisters to his constantly shifting allegiances to his unmitigated genius, implied bisexuality and half-madness. He symbolizes everything I yearned to have for myself as a preteen growing up on the Pirates series: independence, ingenuity, self-acceptance of my own idiosyncrasies, freedom and the ability to ride the waves of life, doing the steering myself. And it’s plain fun having the hero of a Disney franchise who is good but not too good. After all, who isn’t a little naughty from time to time? And despite his inherent “pirateness” (i.e. greed, sordidness, decadence), he is also a man of honor, managing to establish worthwhile connections with many of the main characters as well as coming to terms with the discomfort of his own mortality. That can be difficult to do when you’re aware (and enamored with) your own legend. He comes off as both wise but still in need of counsel, and for this reason, his on/off, hot/cold “friendship” with his former first mate, Barbossa, is one of the things I enjoy about the series the most. So, for whichever reason you care to conjure, I think Jack Sparrow is a man to be respected if not downright admired or imitated. Thanks to his well-roundedness as a character and Johnny Depp’s unique and hearty portrayal (though I did think he was lackluster in the Dead Men Tell No Tales), Jack very much deserves to be the pop-culture icon—and one of my personal fictional heroes—that he is. I haven’t had a poster of him up in my room for the last 10 years for nothing…
13. Captain Hector Barbossa – from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, portrayed by Geoffrey Rush
“Dyin’ is the day worth living for!”
Yes, I love Barbossa more than I love Jack. Part of it has to do with Geoffrey Rush being my #1 favorite actor of all time. Another reason stems from the fact that Barbossa has a more satisfying character arc. Similar to #21, he makes the slow turn from main villain to anti-hero to a hero willing to put himself in harm’s way for friends and family over the course of the five Pirates films. Barbossa is equally as interesting and charismatic as Jack, serving as a fitting foil, a confidant and ultimately a friend. Aw, my feels. On top of all that, he is, without fail, impressive and crafty, a pirate of considerable influence and authority, a master tactician, skilled fighter and gentleman rogue who manages to wring chuckles out of me with many a deadpan look, eye roll or his soft, pronounced chortle. XD I’m often in awe of Jack but admire Barbossa even more—not just because he’s powerful and razor-sharp and funny but because I didn’t see the change in his motivations coming. It is such a simple, natural development, one that is bittersweet and, most importantly, gratifying. I love everything Barbossa is and becomes, the whole of his character, and I think that makes him quite a special addition to this list.
12. Eric “Hoss” Cartwright – from Bonanza, portrayed by Dan Blocker
“Every man’s got to fight his own battle in his own way.”
The middle son. The peacekeeper. The grand heart of Bonanza. Hoss Cartwright, whose nickname means “big, friendly man,” is indeed a big, friendly man. As minimal as it is, it’s the most apt description. People tend to underestimate him, mistaking his congeniality, large stature and simple tastes for slowness, but that’s their mistake and Hoss knows it. Unlike his younger brother, Joe, rarely does he struggle with who he is and unlike his older brother, Adam, he is content with his place on the Ponderosa, supporting his Pa and the ranch, communing with nature, tending to animals. This character is far too guileless and gentle to harbor any room for real darkness. Where his edge does come in, however, is when someone or something he cares about is threatened, usually Little Joe. XD As both an empath and a strapping young cowpoke, Hoss proves time and again to be very protective and does not hesitate to allude to his strength in an effort to warn baddies about how far he’ll go to stop someone from being harmed or avenge them if they are (which is, by virtue of who he is, an empty threat, but remains intimidating all the same). Speaking of Little Joe, the relationship he shares with Hoss is actually my favorite dynamic on Bonanza. Regardless of how many times Joe takes advantage of him or pokes at him or is willing to get messed up defending him, Hoss always has his back, always has his best interests at heart, even at his own expense. (Bonanza in general just kills me with how much these men love each other. It’s so sweet and amazing to see because it’s how camaraderie between men should be depicted.) He is the perfect big brother, for which Joe even thanks him in a season 7 episode. Oh, what’s that? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the massive heart attack I’m having brought on by so many feels… No, I don’t have much more to say other than there’s nothing I don’t love about Hoss Cartwright or Dan Blocker’s consistently beautiful and authentic performance. It’s no wonder the show couldn’t survive without him (may he and the character—who, it was revealed in a spinoff movie, died attempting to save a woman’s life, of course—rest in the sweetest peace).
11. Dr. Sean McNamara – from Nip/Tuck, portrayed by Dylan Walsh
“I’d rather be a good doctor who helps people than a brilliant doctor who hurts them.”
Dr. Sean McNamara is one of those characters you just want to slap at the same time you want to hug him. He’s uptight but caring but vindictive but dejected and tries so very hard to be good, to be perfect even (which is kind of the point of Nip/Tuck and an impossible battle I can relate to)—the perfect plastic surgeon, perfect husband, perfect father, perfect business partner—and the harder he tries, the more he internalizes his mistakes and all the turns he had to take to achieve his triumphs, the more he falls apart, disintegrates before your very eyes. It’s painful to watch, you feel so bad for him, and I do sympathize with Sean. Sure, he’s an idiot sometimes—who isn’t? And he’s not perfect, for as much as he tries and wants to be, but unlike his best friend and partner, Dr. Christian Troy, who will also appear on this list, Sean is a good person. His sincerest desire, what he wants even more than to be good, is to do good, and he truly and usually is an excellent doctor. Whether from the job or from his upbringing, likely both, Sean is emotionally inhibited, though not without sensitivity, stricken and all too aware of his fears and foibles. He is incapable of relaxing—something I, with my general anxiety, very much understand. He has also endured a lot of pain from others and inflicted a lot of pain on others, with it all beginning with his father and biological brother and ending always with his wife, Julia, and their elder children. He is in turns tortured and challenged by his conscience, effectively setting him apart from the other half of McNamara/Troy in that he prompts himself to make change and doesn’t need those he’s victimized/abused/ruined to do it for him per se. It doesn’t take six seasons for him to become self-aware, as it does Christian. Moreover, it is Sean’s love for his “brother” of 20 years that nearly destroys him. It’s almost like a Greek tragedy or a satire, their relationship, and I can’t look away. They’re so different yet so intertwined, two men who seem like compatible partners on the surface…but Christian’s dominant, selfish personality combined with Sean’s naiveté and desperation to hold on threatens all that they know, personally and professionally. Their story, and Sean’s in particular, is just sad. There’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for Sean by the end of the series (and thank Jesus because there’s only so much pain I can take in my entertainment), but it’s still sad when you reflect on how long it took and all it took for him to get to it. So I guess that’s why I like Sean: he’s sad. And you know what? I am too.
10. James “Jimmy” McGill – from Better Call Saul, portrayed by Bob Odenkirk
“I’m not good at building shit, you know… I’m excellent at tearing it down.”
I love Jimmy because he breaks my heart—just shatters it into little pieces every season, nearly every episode, the tragedy of his true nature indicative in the quote I used. Why do I consider him fatally flawed? Because he has a good heart that’s connected to a very clever, very corrupt brain and he can’t help himself. And I love watching this crashing train. Love it all. Hurts so good. (Does this make me a sadomasochist? I’m starting to wonder…) In the interim between season 3 and 4 of Better Call Saul, the marvelous prequel to Breaking Bad that follows the devolution of well-meaning Jimmy McGill into the dissolute defense lawyer, Saul Goodman, Jimmy has not yet become Saul. He’s tried on the alias, worn some of the lurid suits, but is still trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to fix many of the holes he’s dug for himself and his partner, Kim. It’s a compelling but sad watch, as we of course know where he’ll end up. It’s arguably even more upsetting to me as a viewer because now I’ve seen all the hurt and hardship that drove him to such a sordid lifestyle. Very much like #34, I believe Jimmy could have and would have remained a legitimate if struggling lawyer, or at least not gotten involved with drug kingpin, Walter White, if powerful and influential Chuck McGill hadn’t been so insulted and horrified by his delinquent younger brother’s decision to follow in his footsteps. Along with Chuck, nobody else really gives Jimmy a fair shake, not really, and for what the world did give him, Jimmy either rejected or, as the above admittance tells us, ruined it. *sigh* He’s doomed. I love his tenacity, his initiative and what heart is there, but it’s all doomed, and I can’t look away.
9. Joseph “Little Joe” Cartwright – from Bonanza, portrayed by Michael Landon
“First thing that goes is your courage. Then your manhood… and this is the last thing, but it’s got to go too: this is your self-respect. And this is what’s left of you—nothing.”
Ah, from Ben to Hoss to Little Joe (I like Adam but his general aloofness keeps him off this list). The handsome heartthrob of the Ponderosa, the youngest of Ben Cartwright’s natal offspring and arguably the most emotional man on this list. I think he’s always been my favorite on Bonanza for this reason. I don’t usually like westerns or hotshot playboys; I find them stale and annoying, respectively, but I have always enjoyed Bonanza—and Joe—as a whole. His good traits and best moments far outweigh the qualities I don’t care for. He is so raw in his emotional truths, wearing all the pain and conflict of his world on his face, exorcising himself through his words and actions, it’s both beautiful and sad to see, and I love that. I love that he is incapable of hiding and therefore has to face what he’s feeling or fighting. It’s interesting. For as impulsive and idle as Little Joe can be, he is every bit as gregarious and kind. He’s silly and mischievous and also smart and serious. For as wrong as he is, he is just as right. Really, all four of the Cartwrights are, for the most part, the picture of masculinity to me, and growing up with reruns of the show, watching Joe evolve from a cocky, lovesick, angst-filled teen to a strong, mature, formidable man was very satisfying as a viewer and as someone who was following the same trajectory from turbulent adolescence into adulthood. Just thinking of the conclusion to the two-part story from the final season, “Forever,” is about enough to bring tears to my eyes. I was never prouder of Joseph Cartwright than when he put dropped that rock and let it all go. He let the darkness go…because he was stronger. Now that’s a man. I mean, it’s true: Little Joe is always the first in a fight, but he’s also the first to offer a hand. He is the full measure of a man and for that I love, admire and respect him. I always have.
8. Dr. Christian Troy – from Nip/Tuck, portrayed by Julian McMahon
“You want the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and can’t change? Here’s Step 13: everything disappears. Love, trees, rocks, steel, plastic, human beings. None of us get out alive. Now you can huddle in a group and face it one day at a time, or you can be grateful that when your body rubs against somebody else’s it explodes with enough pleasure to make you forget even for a minute that you’re a walking pile of ashes. Now that is the truth. If you’re strong, it’ll make you free. If you’re weak, it’ll make you… you.”
You know how I said #26 wasn’t a good man? Dr. Christian Troy is even worse. He’s manipulative, spiteful, shallow, self-centered and cruel, especially to the many, many, many women he beds. But I can’t hate him. No, not because he’s attractive and charming and rich or even because he was molested as a boy or assaulted by a serial rapist—none of those things gives you the license to be an asshole and he is an asshole. No, I can’t bring myself to hate Christian Troy because of the good he does manage to do. He doesn’t even do more good than bad, I just feel the good so deeply because it’s so clearly from some secret place of genuineness deep inside and it keeps me from loathing him. He financially supported Gina throughout her pregnancy and took care of her baby even though he wasn’t his biological son, took care of him better than Gina did—in fact, adopting Wilbur is arguably the best thing Christian has ever done period. He jumped to get tested when it was revealed Liz needed a kidney. He was always good with Annie. He sent the superficial and sad Mrs. Grubman off respectably. He paid off Michelle’s debt to James. He freed Benny Nilsson from a life of sex slavery and gave him money to start over. He made amends with a well-endowed nun for making a pass at her and saved another woman’s life in the same episode. Yeah. Those moments are enough for me. Then there’s the bad…and there’s so much more. I don’t forgive. I don’t forget. But I can’t let go of this character. He gets under my skin and to my heart with every re-watch because he’s such a perfect disaster: so glamorous but so horrid yet so desperate and sad and lonely. I get sucked in even though I don’t want to. He’s intoxicating, reeking so much of darkness but also of victimhood. It’s beyond spellbinding to me, the complexity of this character, how there’s both meaning and meaninglessness at the core of all his sexual and personal relationships, and I think Julian McMahon’s portrayal of Christian is particularly exceptional as well.
For as captivating as he is on his own, Christian only has an arc—not even an arc, more of an epiphany—in the sixth and final season of the show, in which he transitions almost fully into a villainous role, driving those around him into madness or worse—emptiness. It takes the death of a major character and a prophetic dream to make him realize his fatalistic flaws and accept that he is, at his core, incapable of being a better person and that the effect he has on Sean is so toxic, he is very slowly killing the only person it seems he’s ever truly loved. Consequently Christian goes through with the most gracious decision he made since pledging to father Wilbur. It was a good act, maybe even his last one. An act of love, of self-sacrifice even, since the partners’ friendship will more or less go out the door with their practice and much of what tethered Christian to humanity was his relationship with his “brother.” But it had to be done to save Sean’s life. I hated it when the finale aired because I so loved them together in spite of their dysfunctionality, but over time I realize it was the right thing to do. Good enough anyway, from the man with a soul but without a heart. One foot on Earth and the other in hell, and he knows it and responds with a smile. I don’t like it—as someone naturally drawn to more virtuous characters, I don’t like it—but I have to respect it, because I love him. For all he is—insensitive jerkass, caring father, shameless slut, born of rape, calculated rapist, lonely little boy, decent doctor, loving brother—I love him, and while I can’t hate him, I hate that I love him. And I love that I hate that I love him. Ah, that’s some delicious turmoil…
7. Walter White – from Breaking Bad, portrayed by Bryan Cranston
“I did it for me.”
I am in the camp that believes Breaking Bad is, so far, the greatest TV drama ever to have been produced. Every element of the show came together to create a modern masterpiece of transformation and tragedy, and much of the show’s success lies with the writing and the high-caliber talent hired to tell the story, all of which begins and ends with the brilliant Bryan Cranston’s protagonist/antagonist, middle-aged high school teacher, Walter White. Walt begins as an average guy working hard to make ends meet for his family when he discovers he has terminal lung cancer. Driven to leave behind a financial legacy to be proud of, the chemistry expert opts to “break bad,” recruiting a former student, Jesse Pinkman, to assist him in creating and distributing high-grade methamphetamine. With each “cook,” each conflict and eventually each death that comes their way, Walt’s morality decays like a carbon atom in a fraction of the time. I like Walt so much precisely because he becomes so difficult to like. You want him to win, but you don’t always like him, or yourself, for it. It’s pretty fascinating and highly emotional, the journey we go on as an audience privy to a weak man’s rise to power and corruption: first you feel bad for Walt, cursing the Schwartzes and siding with him against Skyler, empathizing with his attempts to be a good father to Walt Jr. and Holly and even a father figure to Jesse; then you get frustrated with him and his hubris; then you’re in awe of him and all his genius is capable of; then you steadily grow terrified of him because of what his genius is capable of; and, by the end of the series, you’re feeling all of the above plus a thousand things more. It’s a story and a character of the highest quality, portrayed by one of our finest (and another of my favorite) living actors, conceived by a man who clearly is the one who knocks. Kudos, Vince Gilligan, and thank you for gifting us with an unfailingly captivating and cautionary tale of what can happen when desperation and ego mix together like red phosphorus and hydrogen. Thank you for my favorite anti-hero and for how his story ended. It was perfect.
6. David Fisher – from Six Feet Under, portrayed by Michael C. Hall
“Yeah, I’ll be the strong one, the stable one, the dependable one, because that’s what I do. And everyone around me will fall apart, ’cause that’s what they do.”
David Fisher has a few similarities to other characters on this list—like #12, he is a dutiful middle son, a mortician; like #11, he is traditional, emotionally stifled, tense and strangling himself with fastidiousness and the need to do everything right, to do what those around him won’t do; and like #42, he spends much of the phenomenal five-season series wrestling to come to terms with his resentment of those around him and embracing his identity and homosexuality. In spite of David’s many dimensions—his insecurities and his talents—I find that I don’t have much to say about him. I love him. I love watching him. I live inside him, almost, and David’s journey is beautifully written and portrayed—all his pain and fear and discord laid bare from minute one, realistic concerns, trauma and conflict as a religious gay man handled with finesse, his love for his family, his partner, Keith, and their brood more than apparent in spite of the often-strained relationships. I just see a lot of him in myself, believe it or not, and I love and admire him because he traverses a long, hard road to self-acceptance. I respect him because he earns it, finding the strength and the courage to shrug the devil off his shoulders in his own good time. David gives me hope and makes me proud. His transformation, his becoming, is a path I yearn to follow, a path I hope others are touched by and can get on too. We can all go together and maybe peace will be waiting for us, like it was for David.
5. Judge Harold “Harry” T. Stone – from Night Court, portrayed by Harry Anderson
“Can we talk? As you probably know…I don’t subscribe to any particular organized religion. But then maybe neither do you, huh? All right, I confess. I’ve had more than my share of spiritual doubt. But then I’ve seen some pretty glaring examples of man’s inhumanity to man come stomping through here night after night. After night. You remember that guy? Yeah, you remember everything, don’t you? Well, I’m telling you, that one just about shook—shook my faith down to its foundation. And then…you drop a brand-new life right into my hands…”
Described in the first season of Night Court as a “sweet humanist” by his law clerk, youthful, zany, magic-obsessed magistrate, Harry Stone, is also thoughtful, gentle and loving—a devotee to compassion and impartiality, making him the perfect, albeit not the court’s first, choice to preside over wayward New Yorkers and the other disillusioned souls who cross his path. There’s basically nothing I don’t love about Harry. Of course he has flaws—cynicism doesn’t always escape him and he’s not particularly good at romantic relationships—and he often finds himself questioning where he belongs in society and his ability to make a difference. Nevertheless he is indeed an effectual (if unconventional) judge, a loyal friend and even a great father figure, fostering for a time a precocious rapscallion named Leon. Above all he’s such a goof, maintaining an air of innocence and general zest for life and the best things about it (namely Mel Tormé, ’40s fashion and Halloween XD) despite harboring a fair deal of pain from his past. He’s just a very positive person, brilliant in the nuttiest way, a great anchor for the warm, silly sitcom, and Harry Anderson inhabits the part so well it doesn’t even feel like he’s playing one. Fitting, really, because Harry and all that he is will always be real to me. He’s like Santa Claus, lol.
4. The Doctor – from Doctor Who, portrayed by William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, John Hurt, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi & David Bradley
“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone or ’cause I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do. So I’m gonna do it and I will stand here, doing it, till it kills me. You’re going to die too…someday. How will that be—have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am, it’s where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me.”
As a (Nu)Whovian, as someone who is going to be sobbing out of grief yet grinning in excitement this Christmas night over the regeneration of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor into Jodie Whittaker’s, I have to say the Doctor is one of the main reasons I wanted to do this list. It’s so apropos… and a little ironic since the Doctor isn’t going to be a man again for a while. XD While I’m all for gender fluidity and know the 13th Doctor will be female, she hasn’t appeared in the canon at the time I’m posting this, which is why, with all of her previous incarnations being male, I am paying homage to the Doctor as a male character. One of the best there ever has been.
This is gonna be a long one, as I’m not sure I even know where to begin with the Doctor. My adoration for this character exceeds my ability to… use words well. To put it plainly, I love and look up to him, fictional or not. A Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor is an adventurer who traverses all of time and space with his stolen ship, the TARDIS, and a few friends he makes along the way. A self-described “madman with a box,” he never sets out to be the universe’s hero but is always compelled to help those in need because he simply cannot abide the suffering of others. He tries his best to remain true to “The Doctor,” the name he chose upon leaving home. It’s in everything he is and every man he’s been to defend, to teach, to learn, to love, to hate, to hope and to heal. For being an eccentric and genius alien, he possesses all the hallmarks of the best of humanity, starting and ending always with empathy. To borrow from my previous post about Doctor Who, every Doctor is my Doctor. I don’t care how many faces he’s had or which personality traits came out in what combination or even if I like a certain combination or not—he is the same man struggling with both acceptance and change, a sinner and a savior, the shadow behind the sun and the stars in the dark. I’m attached to 11 & 12 in particular.
Eleven is just so optimistic and loving and affectionate, strong yet vulnerable, the weight of all his years and actions lurking just beneath his young, handsome face. His power is light and he’s powered by light. He is whom I turn to for hope, for the blind trust and the spirited dreams that things can get better, that maybe life’s not all shit and people really do care about one another and maybe I’m important too. And older in appearance but with an energetic air of youth, Twelve is the only Doctor for whom I can identify a clear character arc. Upon reviewing his series as the Capaldi era comes to a close, I’ve come to appreciate him for all he ever was and has become (and boy, is Peter Capaldi just magnificent. In my last post about DW, I was of the opinion that David Tennant was the best actor suited for the role. I have since changed my mind…). Twelve has really warmed up from series 8 to now, which is, of course, making Peter Capaldi’s exit even more heartrending than I originally predicted. I legitimately tear up thinking about 12’s regeneration. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can’t help it. The Doctor is that important to my sensibilities and, frankly, my mental health. Twelve specifically comes off as more alien in nature than most of his predecessors and turns out to be the perfect mix of cool and uncool, passion and sobriety, sarcasm and warmth. Because he chooses to hide and deflect things, I find that he comes off as the most emotional Doctor of all. The lengths he’s willing to go to, what he’s willing to sacrifice, what he’s not willing to sacrifice… He is the one I turn to for strength.
As Twelve’s first companion, Clara Oswald, said, “You asked me if you were a good man and the answer is I don’t know. But I think you try to be, and I think that’s probably the point.” As a man in the middle of the universe, in the middle of all of morality, the Doctor never fails to shock or tick me off, but more importantly he never lets me down. He makes me smile and laugh out loud, makes me think and helps me hope, has for years, for all 10 years I’ve been watching Nu Who. He values the power of words over weapons and ingenuity over “facts,” despite being an expert in science and deductive reasoning. I so love the Doctor’s mind, his quirkiness, his moving, appreciative speeches. I shudder to think what kind of person I would be without the influence of Doctor Who in my life. And the thing I love about the Doctor the most, the one thing that sets him apart from so many other characters despite his being an extraterrestrial, is that he loves—always. Loves in so many different ways: as a friend, as family, as a partner, as a mentor. He loves so dearly, so ardently, and he doesn’t let inevitable loss stop him from loving again or loving still, and I love that. I love him, through and through, and have no doubt I will love him as a “her” too!
3. Glenn Rhee – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Steven Yeun
“People you love—they made you who you are. They’re still part of you. If you stop being you, that last bit of them that’s still around inside, who you are… it’s gone.”
Glenn Rhee was my first favorite character on The Walking Dead. Though I moved to #40 by season 2 and then #2 in season 4, my opinion of Glenn never changed. From the word go, from the words “Hey, you—dumbass,” he’s been humorous, he’s been kind, he’s been courageous and giving. He takes my breath away with how beautiful he is and I will forever love and support Steven Yeun for Glenn’s authenticity and credit Robert Kirkman for creating him. I love him like he were a real person and look for the best of him in the men around me, because Glenn is exactly the type of friend (or spouse, frankly—I ain’t mad at you, Maggie) I would want. Resilient, respectful, resourceful. Altruistic, thoughtful, self-sacrificing. I mean, this is just a list of adjectives; it doesn’t really do Glenn the justice he’s due. You have to see him, have to watch Steven Yeun in action, to truly appreciate how much Glenn shines, how important he is to the survivors as a source of compassion and strength. No, he isn’t without conflict or the follies of youth, but he never gives up on loving other people, on extending a hand or trying his damndest in the apocalypse—the time it’d be easiest to murder someone—to spare a life. He literally is too good for the world of The Walking Dead. He’s not too good to be in mine, though, and thank God ’cause I need him. I need him in my heart, always.
2. Rick Grimes – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Andrew Lincoln
“The ones out there, the living and the dead, they’ll try to get in here. ’Cause we’re in here. They’ll hunt us, they’ll find us, they’ll try to use us, they’ll kill us. But we’ll kill them. We’ll survive. I’ll show you how… You know, I was thinking, ‘How many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?’ But I’m not going to do that. You’re going to change.”
How the brilliant and (please permit me once again to be shallow) gorgeous Andrew Lincoln hasn’t even been considered for an Emmy for his portrayal of former lawman-turned-survival leader, Rick Grimes, is beyond my comprehension. I have no doubt my love for this character is derived from the actor’s performance just as much as it is from the script. Still, to give credit where credit is due, I will always be grateful to Andrew Lincoln, Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimple for combining their efforts and talents to gift us with such a tough but also emotional male lead on a television show as pervasive and thought-provoking as The Walking Dead. As the main group leader since the latter half of season 1, Rick has been dealt more loss, more guilt and more mind-fucks than anyone would ever wish on a person, living or fictional, and yet he persists in fighting for the future he believes in, for his family and his community. I don’t know of many characters to crawl back from the brink of insanity, but Rick did. It was nice to see, to be able to see it and hope that maybe I can step back from the cracks in my psyche too. Rick has made many mistakes and continues to do so as we progress through the current storyline, the All-Out War arc of season 8. Personally I think it’s been a pretty shitty season so far, but at the end of the day it doesn’t affect my opinion of Rick. I still love him and know him, know his heart because he’s so often held it out for others to see. We’ve watched it bleed and shrivel and shrink and grow, nearly explode… but it’s still beating. Rick is an imperfect leader trapped in an apocalyptic world, waging war with sinners, psychos and sadists, and for all the calls he’s had to make, all the plans he’s had to employ and all the sacrifices he’s had to endure, I believe he is a good man. I don’t think I can even call him a proper anti-hero. He is dark and he’s been death—he is also defiance and grit and love and life. He’s too good for me to think of him as any type of “anti” to the word “hero.” He and Negan are nothing alike and I hate that the writing this season is trying to draw existential parallels between them. There is no real comparison. Rick doesn’t enjoy killing or lord his power over his people. For better or for worse, he does what he feels he needs to do for the greater good, and I respect him. I don’t love everything he does, but I love everything he is, and Rick Grimes is a hell—and a heaven—of a man.
1. Goku – from Dragon Ball Z, FUNimation dub, voiced by Seán Schemmel
“I am the hope of the universe. I am the answer to all living things that cry out for peace. I am protector of the innocent. I am the light in the darkness. I am truth. Ally to good! Nightmare to you!”
I don’t care that the speech is a little cheesy. I don’t care that the vast majority of fans consider the dub for DBZ Kai to be better. All I care about is what these words mean to me and what Seán Schemmel conveyed while saying them, and they mean to me that Goku deserves to be my favorite fictional male character of all time. To go one further, I think Dragon Ball Z is the most important TV show of my life—of my childhood, definitely. It taught me about discipline, about different kinds of strength and courage. It made me laugh. It made me cry—out of joy and relief and grief. It made me hope. It made me fight. It made me strong. It still makes me strong, and at its center is the main cause of all those lessons, the sweet, honest and simple Saiyan, Son Goku.
I know most people love Vegeta more. A lot of them find Goku boring due to his static characterization or even find him annoying with his abundance of power and moments of sheer stupidity. Again I say: I don’t care. One of the biggest reasons I love and admire Goku so much is precisely because he doesn’t change. He doesn’t let the darkness and villains of the universe(s) twist him. They don’t win. Even when they win, they don’t win. He is too pure, too kind, too guileless for the kind of arc Vegeta and Piccolo had. In fact, I think it’s even more special that he changes the people who surround him, rather than the other way around. (My cousin tells me that’s an anime trope, but I dig it either way.) I, for one, value goodness because I feel it evades me in my life. I try hard to be a good person but never really feel like one. I have all these negative compound emotions and ugly thoughts building up inside me just to tear me down, wear my soul down, and it’s only when I can witness and touch goodness that I truly feel connected with it. Goku does that for me every time. It really is that simple. Goku is a hard-working, fun-loving martial arts expert not native to but living on and protecting Earth from the forces of evil. He is a very loving and merciful individual, the best husband, father and friend he can be, which is not to say he’s as good as he should be because, as any real fan knows, he isn’t. It’s in Goku’s nature as a Saiyan and thus a being who belongs on the battlefield to keep pushing to discover new depths to his power, and it’s ingrained in his personality to go out and forge new friendships and rivalries. I won’t lie, I don’t like that he can’t stay put, but at the same time it’s a characteristic you just come to accept as a fan who loves and understands Goku. Also, I have always believed that Goku’s motivation to train continuously is more noble than selfish. Yes, he loves and needs to fight—he also loves and needs to protect the people he cares about. How can he do that if he’s not strong enough? It’s a hero’s sacrifice, being away from family and friends, and Goku understands this whether the critics do or not. They’re always the ones he’s thinking of to spur him on, to raise him to new heights. It’s not the lust for battle that makes him strong—it’s love.
Love is at the heart of this character, at the heart of my heart for this character. Did that sentence even make sense? Meh, I still don’t care. I love Goku. I love Seán Schemmel for gifting his voice and performance to the FUNimation version of Goku, as he is the perfect voice actor for this character, and love Akira Toriyama for creating him. I have since I was 8 years old and my love only grows (hell yes, I’m watching Dragon Ball Super). That’s the mark of a truly great character, I think. One who inspires you to love and love more and harder as your life goes on. So Goku is pretty great. No. Actually… he’s the best.