As much as we'd sometimes like to think otherwise, the world can't be divided into simple pockets of good and evil. Sometimes the good guys can't be trusted and sometimes the bad guys have reason to do what they do.
If things can be that complicated in the real world, just imagine how crazy they get in the Marvel Universe. And while we love and respect the heroes trying to rise above it all, we can't help but appreciate the ones who know they must straddle the line.
Call them anti-heroes, vigilantes, whatever you want—the Marvel Universe could not function without men and women who operate in the grey areas of morality.
We asked a panel of Marvel editors and creators for their favorite "shades of grey" characters and got the following.
It's Friday, so kick back, relax and enjoy.
HOWARD CHAYKIN (writer of SQUADRON SUPREME and artist of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL):
As nutty as it may seem, the guy in the Marvel Universe who fits best in this category for me is Magneto. He's exactly what I believe an anti-hero is: a man with his own very specific moral code, whether you share it with him or not, who cleaves to this code despite society's objections.
JUAN DOE (cover artist of SECRET INVASION: FRONT LINE):
Without a doubt, the Punisher is my favorite Marvel anti-hero. He really straddles the line between hero [and] sociopath. I'd like to think that if any super hero was thinking of doing something wrong they'd be well aware of who they'd be dealing with if they did: an individual who enjoys the act of punishment.
MIKE PERKINS (upcoming artist of THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS):
I believe that the ultimate "shades of grey" characters—although not necessarily anti-heroes—are the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Here's a bunch of guys who carry heavy ordinance, dress in leather jump suits and have a floating battleship hovering above the land, and they have to be totally aware of the politics of any situation. Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, Black Widow—these are
people who don't deal in black and white; those grey tones always seep into their actions.
RALPH MACCHIO (Marvel Senior Editor):
My favorite Marvel "grey guy" is undoubtedly Mr. Clint Barton, ol' Hawkeye himself. He's a truly fascinating conflicted character who was first shown to be in love with Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow, and was badly burned by her. Stan [Lee] set up a very sophisticated relationship between Clint and Natasha. And Hawkeye's later bad boy persona when he entered the Avengers and was constantly at odds with Captain America presaged the Wolverine/Xavier squabbles [of] a decade later. Clint is a complex character and it requires a deft hand to write him correctly. But when he is written well, he's an enormously satisfying Marvel character.
ANDY SCHMIDT (writer of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS):
It's got to be Wolverine. He was Marvel's first widely popular anti-hero and the reason for that is because he was portrayed so well. The characters around him were shocked not just by his willingness to cross lines they wouldn't, but how unaffected he was by doing so. Slaughtering Hellfire Club soldiers? All in a day's work.
PAUL CORNELL (writer of CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI: 13):
My favorite here's got to be Pete Wisdom: burdened by duty, capable of doing terrible things, but entirely for the public good and at his own expense. And just for once, I'm in a position to say that he'll very much continue in that vein!
KEVIN GREVIOUX (writer of NEW WARRIORS):
It has to be the Hulk. He's the perfect Jekyll and Hyde persona turned into a superhero.
RAFA SANDOVAL (artist of INCREDIBLE HERCULES):
For a good guy, the Punisher is very bad. I don't remember exactly when I started liking him, but in my opinion, I believe the Punisher is one of the most important characters in Marvel.
DAVID MICHELINIE (former writer of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN):
I know it seems self-serving to answer these questions by featuring characters I've created, but really, those are the toys I most enjoy playing with so it's hard to avoid. That said, I have to admit that Venom would be my top pick. The guy wants to protect victims because he
considers himself a victim, but doesn't realize he's just a victim of his own weakness and shortcomings. Plus, it's a great challenge trying to generate sympathy for a psychotic and unrepentant mass murderer. My second choice would be Man-Thing. You gotta give props to a man who keeps trying to do the right thing even when his body is turned to muck.
TODD NAUCK (artist of AMERICAN DREAM):
I started reading comics in the mid-80's just as Magneto took over the X-Men. I remember the story where Xavier was critically wounded and Lilandra teleported him away to be cared for by Shi'ar medical practices and Xavier asked Magneto to take care of the school.
That blew my teenaged mind! The X-Men's worst villain now their leader? I really enjoyed seeing Magneto as part of the X-Men and teaching the New Mutants. That would be my favorite "Shade of Grey."
GREG PAK (writer of SKAAR: SON OF HULK)
This one's easy—Punisher all the way! I'm finally catching up on Garth Ennis' already classic Punisher run, and it's incredible. Nobody out-anti-heroes Frank Castle!
KAARE ANDREWS (writer/artist of SPIDER-MAN: REIGN):
I guess the real question here is "what makes a hero"? Is it someone who always does the right thing? Or is it someone who tries
to do the right thing? The real answer lies in consequence. If you always do the right thing at no personal cost then it is simply not heroic. If even trying to do the right thing comes at the expense of things you hold dearly then no matter the result you are truly being heroic. This is why for me a lot of these greyer shades of heroes are actually more 'heroic' than most vanilla do-gooders. Except Spider-Man of course.
TOM BREVOORT (Marvel Executive Editor):
The quintessential anti-hero series, at least in its heyday, was always X-MEN. And in particular, Wolverine.
The early Wolverine would be almost unrecognizable to modern day readers except for his distinctive costume. He didn't yet have a healing factor, he hadn't been alive since the turn of the century, and he wasn't influenced by Japanese culture to try to become a better man. He was a short, feisty, homicidal guy who liked to drink beer and look at girlie magazines and cut up bad guys with his claws. He was the first super hero who regularly killed people—a fact that then-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter objected to, and so had most of Wolverine's victims turn up again later as cyborgs to keep his hands clean. He was trouble, a loner who nonetheless joined the X-Men and remained with the X-Men—largely because he had the hots for Jean Grey, who was forever denied to him [and] didn't even give him a second look. In short, he was an evolution of the Hawkeye archetype, the "spoiler" character introduced into a team situation to create sparks with the other more straight-laced characters. But this was Hawkeye taken to an extreme, and that made him pretty interesting to watch.
It was almost a game among X-Men fans, long before it became an enormous cliché, to gather up the disparate and random clues to his history and back story along the way. We first learned that his real name was Logan in UNCANNY X-MEN #103—and even his fellow X-Men didn't discover this fact until #118 two years later.
When Wolverine's popularity eventually became such that his outlook changed, and he became the noble samurai who was the true guardian of the spirit of Xavier's dream, my interest in the character went right out the window. And once Jean started reciprocating his feelings, forget it!