The end of the year is always a time for reflection, and we're taking this opportunity to look back at the long and weird history of superhero comics by picking our favorite heroes from each decade. Our panelists must put together fantasy teams drawing from the last 80+ years of superhero comics, using heroes from any publisher.

The rules are as follows: Each team must include one character who debuted before 1950, one character that debuted in each decade from the '50s to the '90s, one character that debuted in 2000 or beyond, plus two wildcard picks from before and after 1980, for a total team of nine characters.

 

DC Comics

Tara Marie: I'm so so sorry, but I'm going first so… Superman (1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster). He's the superhero, one of the best things we've ever made in fiction, the Antidote to the Bomb. If one piece of fiction had to represent humanity, I don't think it'd be Superman, but we should aspire to that. Of late, he's been put through the ringer but hey, these are dark times, he'll find the music eventually.

Kieran Shiach: Rassum frassum.

Tom Speelman: Gol ‘durn it! *Stomps straw hat on the ground*

Andrew Wheeler: I don’t think it’s a surprise that he’s the first pick. I don’t want to tip my hand, but my expectation is that the first round is going to be pretty competitive, and fairly focused in on one or two periods!

Emma Lawson: I think I would have been mad if Superman hadn't been picked first.

Tom: Same. Because Superman is the best --- sorry, haters! As for my Golden Age pick, I went with the hero who was actually the first to pop into my head when this draft was announced: Red Tornado/Ma Hunkel (1939, Sheldon Mayer).

Initially a working mother and supporting character to Mayer’s semi-autobiographical boy cartoonist character Scribbly in the pages of All-American Comics, the take-no-guff, secretly super-strong Hunkel donned a costume of long johns and a cooking pot helmet to clean up her NYC neighborhood after seeing how much her own son admired OG Green Lantern Alan Scott (who headlined All-American). There’s obviously a lot of inherent comedy to her, but she’s also pretty dang strong, resourceful and can hold her own against all kinds of crooks. And hey, every team needs a mom figure to whip them into shape and keep them fed, right? Plus, not for nothing, she’s the best character ever to be named Red Tornado. Like, it’s no contest.

Elle Collins: I’m not worried about my pre-1950 pick, because I have a lot of Golden Age faves, so there’s no way I’ll run out of characters I like from that era.

Image Comics

With that in mind, I’m jumping ahead to the 1990s, where at least for my tastes, the pickings are much slimmer. My first choice is Midnighter (1998, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch). There were a number of queer superheroes before him, but looking back from today, especially with all the work Steve Orlando has done on the character recently, Midnighter feels like one the first truly great queer superheroes, and one who has that baked into his identity, although of course he’s also much more. And he’s a superhero who wears black leather and kills people when he feels it necessary, so he’s very much a product of his time, which feels important for this project.

Andrew: Oh wow, I didn’t think we’d hit the recent decades for a couple of round yet, even though I agree that there’s a lot of rich material to mine from the Golden Age --- but Midnighter was definitely one of my top seeds for the '90s.

In that case I need to swoop in on a character who I think was just as much a pioneer of her age as Midnighter was in his, and a character who I think ought to be right up there among the icons of the genre. My first pick is Storm (1975, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum), the ultimate X-Man, and a powerful symbol of '70s outsider radicalism. She's a phenomenally rich and complex character, and just like Midnighter, she looks formidable in black leather.

Elle: Well now we’re even, Andrew, because Storm was at the very top of my list for the '70s. Great pick.

DC Comics

Emma: I'm going to jump to the '60s so I can grab my top pick, my ultimate, my girl Barbara Gordon (1966, Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino). As a librarian I do identify with her, but she's also just gone through such an incredible journey as part of the Bat family and then leading the Birds of Prey. And as Oracle, she proved that you can totally kick butt from a wheelchair.

Elle: That’s another character who was high on my list for her decade! But I certainly can’t object to our resident librarian getting Barbara.

Kieran: Just to get this one out of the way, and because Tara Marie already grabbed Superman, I’m gonna go ahead and grab Batman (1939, Bill Finger and ugh, fine, Bob Kane). I want to really try and build a team of icons with this draft, and if I can’t have Superman, I’ll have the next best thing.

Tom: Don’t let Chris Sims hear you say that, Kieran! I feel him shooting daggers right now.

Tara Marie: All right, I'm attempting to go in order here, so my next choice is a character who, in her first form, premiered in the 1950s. But I'm going with her newer incarnation. That's right, I'm taking the best of the Batfamily, Kate Kane AKA Batwoman (1956, Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff; reimagined in 2006 by Greg Rucka, JH Williams III, Michael Siglain, Alex Ross and Devin Grayson). She's my number one favorite, she has the best costume, she's a tactical genius, a redhead and a lesbian. There is basically no way she isn't perfect. Also, I'm aiming to create my perfect Justice League here and it'll need a good leader. I think Kate Kane fits the bill nicely.

Marvel Comics

Tom: I’m going with a recent pick too, because while I could’ve gone with Peter Parker, who I love dearly, I decided to go with Miles Morales, Spider-Man (2011, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli). He’s got all the powers and appeal of OG Spidey, plus he can basically turn invisible by camouflaging himself, and has a venom sting for zapping opponents. His costume is also really, really cool. For a stealthy guy who can hold his own in battle, there’s few better choices.

Elle: Sticking with my plan of starting with the decades that spawned fewer great heroes, while also continuing this early Round 2 trend of derivative heroes, I’m turning to the 1950s, when not a lot of superheroing was going on. My second pick is Supergirl (1959, Otto Binder and Al Plastino). Kara Zor-El is superman’s cousin, who arrives on Earth as a teen and becomes a great hero in her own right (not to mention a TV star). There’s been a lot of takes on her over the decades, but when she’s good she’s great, and she’s really great right now. Also I think she and Midnighter would be a lot of fun on a team together.

Tara Marie: Ooh, good choice. She was my second choice for this decade. I would've gone with her too, but after Emma and Kieran grabbed Girl and Man, I thought I should grab the best Bat.

Marvel Comics

Andrew: OK. Gimme a minute here, I just need to cross “Batwoman” and “Supergirl” off my embarrassingly sparse ‘50s wishlist. Beyond those very excellent choices, I agree, that was not a great decade for new superheroes.

So you’d think I’d go ‘50s for my pick now, right? But honestly, there’s no-one else in that decade I’d be heartbroken to miss, so I’m going to a very rich decade instead, and a character that should have been picked by now; the other Spider-Man, Peter Parker (1963, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee). He’s the greatest Marvel hero, maybe the only other contender to the claim of greatest hero of them all, and certainly the one that reset the paradigm after Superman. By my reckoning, there are about four heroes in the toppermost tier, and we’ve now picked three of them.

Tara Marie: Spider-Man is an excellent choice.

Tom: I’ve always felt that Super, Bat, and Spider-Mans respectively represent the three types of hero: the superhero, the superhero without powers, and the superhero with problems. So it’s good we get them out of the way early on.

DC Comics

Emma: I want to have a team full of amazing female superheroes, so I'm going to snag Wonder Woman (1941, William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and H.G. Peter). She fought against Axis forces, rescued herself time and time again from bondage, and was named a UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls this year (albeit all too briefly). She's also queer and has amazing biceps.

Kieran: I’m trying to go in order by decades, which means I’m using my first wildcard pick for a character from the 1940s, and that’s Captain America, Steve Rogers (1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby). If I’m going for a full-blown team of icons as my theme, you can’t get more iconic than The Sentinel of Liberty himself, especially at a time when we need the real Steve Rogers more than ever.

 

In day two: A Doom Patroller, a dog, an extreme teen, a latter-day Stan Lee creation, and our second pick from the 21st century. Come back tomorrow for the next round!