1. 10. Gambit
Gambit was to be the cornerstone of Marvel’s X-Men leading into the 1990s. He was the most popular character the team had introduced in years, had a built in love interest with another popular character, Rogue and was well on his way to being the “new” Wolverine. However, a failed title launch and a poorly received limited run alongside Wolverine left him as a might have been. Marvel still keeps trying to push Gambit to new heights, but the original sizzle is gone.
3. 9. Moon Knight
You give a guy multiple personalities, a cool back story and make him the avatar of justice for an ancient Egyptian god, but that doesn’t mean he is going to sell. When Moon Knight first burst on the scene in the 1970s he was relegated to the “horror” section, where he had to slum with other B-List heroes like “Werewolf by Night.” Not helping him were the inevitable comparisons to Batman that kept cropping up. A spell on the West Coast Avengers and his own rebooted comic gave helped garner some more interest in the 1970s cult hero, but recent attempts to reboot him have been DOA.
5. 8. Blue Beetle
This is an instance where a new character was never given a fair shake. The original Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, was killed off in the now universally bemoaned “Identity Crisis” storyline. Kord’s death sent a huge outcry throughout DC fans who demanded the return of one of the funniest characters of the 1980s. Instead, DC replaced Kord with Jaime Reyes who picked up the mantle of the Beetle. Despite being especially well written, the new Blue Beetle book did fairly poorly. DC still runs the title, though it is no surprise that they have added a liberal sprinkling of flashbacks and other tricks involving Ted Kord to drum up interest.
7. 7. Black Panther
Give Marvel credit, they were the first company to introduce characters or color as major players in their books, first with Black Panther and later with Storm (in the X-Men) and Luke Cage (in Heroes for Hire). Black Panther was given a spot on the Avengers and several attempts to break out in his own book. The problem with the Panther was one of personality. He was just one giant sourpuss of a superhero. In the fun loving 1960s and 70s, the Panther would glower and grimace his way through otherwise lighthearted comic books. To this day, he still hasn’t won a Mr. Congeniality award.
9. 6. Firestorm
Firestorm has it all - the look, the powers and in interesting back story in which a young man shares his mind with a dead scientist who enables the young man to activate his abilities through the power of chemistry. Unfortunately, this has never resulted in sales. Firestorm is rebooted every several years at this point with a new duo making up the persona. Thus far, none of them have captured to popular imagination.
11. 5. The Spectre
A Golden Age hero, the Spectre was the manifestation of God’s wrath on Earth to punish the wicked. While this played well in the 1930s and 40s, the Spectre is an almost impossible character to write for today’s modern comic audience. DC made a valiant effort when they had Hal Jordan (the original Green Lantern) become the Spectre, but even that move was not enough to boost sales. Not really fitting into the larger DC Universe, the Spectre has been relegated to the fringes along with other “occult” heroes.
13. 4. Hawkman
Sometimes a character’s back story can become so complex that it renders any future representation of the character impossible to read. Such is the case for poor Hawkman, who has been reincarnated Egyptian Pharaoh, an alien space cop and numerous other things throughout his long and confusing career. DC keeps bringing him back with his own book, only for fans to complain that they wanted the “other” Hawkman in the first place.
16. 3. Captain Atom
When DC bought out Charlton Comics, Captain Atom was supposed to be the big “get” of the purchase. The Captain could be legitimately placed next to Captain Marvel and Superman as one of the true titans in the universe and someone who you could anchor a line of comics around. Instead, DC placed Atom in the in their critically acclaimed (but not at all serious) Justice League of America alongside another Charlton regular the Blue Beetle. While the board stiff Atom was the perfect straight man for the humor comic, later attempts to make him a serious hero fell more or less flat. He still gets trotted out every few years as a marquee attraction, but no one has taken him seriously since that initial run.
19. 2. Nightwing
Poor Dick Grayson. As the Original Robin he never got any respect thanks to his ridiculous outfit and the stylings of Burt Ward. In the 1980s, DC Comics decided to rehabilitate the character by giving him a new costume, a super team of his own (the Teen Titans) and place him firmly out of the shadow of Batman, Later, they went as far as to give him his own city, Bludhaven (Newark to Gotham’s New York) and gave him a spin as Batman before firmly yanking him out of the costume and putting Bruce Wayne back in the tights. Nightwing will never be an A-Lister but that won’t stop DC Comics from doing everything possible to get him to that point.
21. 1. Deadpool
Deadpool was originally conceived in the comic X-Force as a super badass mercenary who was impossible to kill. When he finally got his own comic in the 1990s, Deadpool followed in the footsteps of She-Hulk and Howard the Duck as a character who routinely broke the fourth wall with his audience and he was essentially a comical character. Now Deadpool has three concurrent comics running at once, has survived Ryan Reynolds murdering his character and is routinely trotted out as a special guest in every Marvel comic on the shelf. The problem is that Marvel still hasn’t made the decision as to whether Deadpool is an unkillable gun toting badass (a funnier Punisher) or a character to be used for comic relief. Until the higher ups at Marvel settle on which Deadpool they want to push forward, the character will never reach the heights he was meant to achieve.