So the other day I was thinking about the actor Michael York. He’s had a fairly significant career and if you’re a geek such as myself you should be at least somewhat familiar with him either from his movie career (Logan’s Run, Austin Powers), his varied television appearances (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Knots Landing), or his cartoon voice work (the Clone Wars, Justice League). Specifically I got to thinking about his character from Austin Powers and how I always wanted to see more from Basil in the zany James Bond parodies. This then got me thinking about other characters that I feel I haven’t seen enough of, or wish had bigger roles in their various genres. Always on the lookout these days for blog fodder I decided to compile a list from some of my geeky interests, of fictional characters I wish had a bit more screen time, or were present a little more on the page. The underdogs and the unappreciated, the forgotten and the mysteriously unexplained. Characters I can only describe as underused, and who if I had my way, would have a slightly longer moment in the spotlight!
Of course I don’t really cover all of the characters I’d like to see more of in this short list, and there are certainly many other fictional universes for me to choose from but I decided to go with the characters that directly sprang to mind when I chose this topic, and doubtlessly my choices have been influenced by my current activities. If there are some characters you think have been criminally underused leave me your lists in the comments! But without further ado, here’s the Ten Underused Characters I want to see more of!
#10 – Luigi: Mario Bros. Video Game Franchise
The younger brother of the heroic Mario, Luigi is the oft overlooked second half of the Mario Bros. duo. Luigi is controlled by the second player, a position that is not often taken up without some modicum of contention. As such Luigi is generally looked down upon as second best, and not at all as desirable as his elder sibling Mario. As the franchise has evolved over the years Nintendo has played up this aspect of Luigi portraying him as a bashful, reluctant hero forever eclipsed by the shadow of Mario. It is for this precise reason that I love Luigi! He is hilarious. Modern video games have allowed the characters to portray more emotion and personality then they could in the early 8-bit Mario games and for my money Luigi is where it’s at. In the various Mario themed sports games for instance Luigi’s lack of confidence is always emphasized making for humorous moments when he surprises himself with success. Luigi of course has had the opportunity to headline a game of his own with Luigi’s Mansion placing the younger Mario brother in a haunted house and pitting him against an army of ghouls and Boos, the perfect setting for the Don Knotts of the Mario universe. Although he’s had a big presence in almost all of the Mario games, I feel there’s always more room on my shelf for another solo Luigi game, I demand a follow-up to Luigi’s Mansion and perhaps a game involving his evil counterpart, Waluigi.
#9 – Marcus Cole: Babylon 5
Unfortunately many reading this probably don’t know who this character is at all, and I contemplated simply adding Babylon 5 in general to this underused list, but I decided against it and stuck with only characters. Continuing my quest to revive an interest in Babylon 5 just let me say that if you’re not familiar with this show, and you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy, then you really should check it out. It’s currently on Netflix so you really have no excuse. Anyway on to Marcus Cole. Marcus was a regular character on the show for two seasons and became the face of the mysterious group known as the Anla’shok, or the Rangers. Coming from a tragic background Marcus joins up with the Rangers who are a joint Human/Minbari organization who are keeping an eye out for dark, lurking things in the farthest regions of space. Marcus eventually comes to Babylon 5 and has a significant role in the show’s unfolding story, however by the time Marcus arrives on the scene there are already a great number of other important characters vying for face time. As cool as Marcus was, I always felt that his story was often pushed to the periphery and after every major appearance he made I was always left wanting to know more. I believe they could have gone farther with his storyline and I think he had potential for a far greater story.
#8 – Basil Exposition: Austin Powers
This is the one that sparked this list. Michael York as Basil is hilarious, he really does a great job in comedic roles and he can actually harness a real zaniness as evidenced by his cartoon voice work in the Clone Wars and others. I think Basil was best featured in the first Austin Powers movie where we got to see him in the retro 60’s scenes and the modern-day goofiness. His stifled, almost naive acceptance of Austin’s shenanigans are spot on and York’s subtle style really plays off well with Mike Myers outrageous Austin. However when the other two movies came out I felt that Basil was sort of pushed aside in order to introduce more characters and allow for more Mike Myers. Don’t get me wrong I still think the Austin Powers movies are great, but with a talent like Michael York among the ranks I thought they really could have expanded his role slightly, giving him a bit more room to flex his comedic muscle. Although I suppose Michael York has made a career out of underused characters, taking on small, but memorable roles and giving them his all and Basil Exposition is just another entry on that list.
#7 – Animal Man: DC Comics
When it comes to DC comics, Animal Man is the number one hero I want to see get more attention. One of DC’s more obscure characters Animal Man clearly doesn’t have much in the way of name recognition, but once you familiarize yourself with the character you will find that he does have one hell of an interesting history within the DC universe. Introduced in 1965 Animal Man only made a handful of comic book appearances throughout the silver age, and it wouldn’t be until the 1980’s that he would begin to rise in prominence. Finally getting his own title written by comic book legend Grant Morrison, Animal Man underwent a tremendous character change and definition taking him from a typical superhero, to a galaxy spanning man in search of a greater understanding. It really is quite hard to explain here in a single paragraph, but the Grant Morrison run of Animal Man is arguably the single biggest improvement to happen to any individual hero ever. After the Morrison storyline and a brief stint with the Justice League International Animal Man’s popularity faded once more. It wasn’t until the weekly comic event 52 which featured Animal Man and a small group of heroes trapped in outer space as one of the many ongoing storylines in that series, that Animal Man again found a major role in comics. Truly an underdog, and certainly unappreciated, I believe Animal Man is one of the most interesting characters DC has in their arsenal and I would love to see Buddy Baker have more of a presence in the DC universe.
#6 – Kremzeek: Transformers
I don’t claim to know all that much about the entire continuity of the Transformers or their universe, but I do know one thing. I. Love. Kremzeek. I was introduced to this character several years ago now and I have been a fan ever since. In the original cartoon series Kremzeek was created by Megatron as an ultimate weapon for the Decepticons, or something along those lines. Kremzeek is a bio-electric creature that can travel through, disrupt, and control electronic circuts and devices including the Transformers themselves. After devastating the Autobot base little Kremzeek sets off for Japan to wreak havoc by jumping through trains, walkmans, and factories until finally one of the Transformers tries to destroy him with a high dose of energy which results in Kremzeek multiplying in a tribble-esque variety of colors. Eventually the multiple Kremzeeks are reunited into a giant Kremzeek which the Autobots turn back on the Decepticons before begrudgingly destroying electricity monster. Of course one little Kremzeek manages to escape and the episode ends with the Autobots chasing him down. As far as I know this is the only appearance of Kremzeek in the cartoons, however there have been several homages to the little guy in other episodes and throughout the various Transformer series. I for one would love to see more of the tiny electronic terror, there should be a return of Kremzeek in the new Transformers Prime series!
#5 – Deathlok: Marvel Comics
Don’t know Deathlok? Think Robocop mixed with the Punisher, and a dash of Marty McFly. Any of that sound like something you’re into? Then check out Deatlok, not to be confused with Dethklok the cartoon heavy metal band of Metalocalypse fame. Deathlok, like Animal Man, has a bit of a confusing back story and a varied interdimensional continuity that sometimes places him in the normal 616 Marvel continuity and other times sets him apart in an alternate reality. Wherever in time and space Deathlok resides however, you can count on him to bring the pain. Basically an amped up cyborg zombie with a computer companion in his brain and a high-tech blaster in his hand; Deathlok has been known to seek revenge on the government that turned him into the undead robot he has become as well as team up with other heroes on occasion when it suits him. There is an element of mystery to Deathlok along the lines of Wolverine, with his origins tracing back to shady government military programs coupled with a loss of memory. A loner seeking revenge, Deathlok had a brief solo title career in the comics, but has now been relegated to a supporting role popping up on rare occasions as a surprise guest, most often being reactivated by some villain who rattles his sporadic memories and puts him to use in some dastardly scheme. I think it’s time Deathlok gets called up from the bench and put to use in this more mature comic book day and age for some truly gritty and dark anti-hero storylines!
#4 – Crystal Ball: G.I. Joe
This guys inclusion on this list is clearly influenced by my current Terrordrome Renovation project, but after doing a little research I believe he genuinely has a right to be here. Crystal Ball heralds from one of the earliest G.I. Joe toy lines way back in 1987 yet as far as I can tell had no presence in the G.I. Joe cartoon at all. His file card explains that Crystal Ball is a top Cobra agent and a dabbler in the dark arts who is a master hypnotist and mind reader. All of those sound like qualities I would think Cobra might want to employ against the Joes in order to force them to give up their plans and secrets. Also, according to urban legend, Crystal Ball is also connected to Stephen King, the master of horror himself. Supposedly King’s son was a fan of the cartoon and somehow through his fathers connections was able to write-up the biography for Crystal Ball lending a bit of sinister occult flair to the Cobra forces. As a side note, from another source, Crystal Ball supposedly was one of the worst selling G.I. Joe figures ever, many of which remained on toy store shelves for years! Rumor has it that as a result of his poor toy sales the makers of the cartoon deemed him unpopular and thus never included him in the show. That seems like the completely wrong thing to do if you want to sell toys, personally I would have gone the opposite route and included Crystal Ball in the show and made sure he was awesome, thus making him more desirable. Alas ol’ Crystal Ball has been relegated to running gags and parodies among toy collectors as seen in Toy Fare magazine and he is widely known as one of the worst toys of all time. I for one love magical elements involved in any story, especially when used by the forces of evil, it just makes for some good villainy. Aside from a few cameos in the G.I. Joe comics, Crystal Ball was never given a fair shake and I think it’s time he took his rightful place in the hierarchy of Cobra!
#3 – Every Bit Part and Background Creature in the Neverending Story
There are so many interesting creatures and odd folks in the Neverending Story that I could make a list of underused characters just from this movie alone! The racing snail, Night Hob the bat rider and all the other crazy bastards wandering around the Empress’ court were all so wild and exotic to me as a kid. I couldn’t get enough of this movie when I was growing up, and it had a similar appeal for me as Star Wars did, packed with strange creatures and places the world of the Neverending Story seemed so much deeper and more complex than the movies plot revealed. One reason to rewatch this movie is just to look around during different scenes to get a better look at the costumes and creature designs that were standing around in the background!
#2 – Mon Mothma: Star Wars
The supreme leader of the Rebel Alliance, this is Princess Leia’s boss and the heart and soul of the entire Rebellion to Restore the Republic, but we don’t get to see her until Return of the Jedi! Like the Emperor, the leader of the Rebellion goes unseen until the end of the saga. Unlike the Emperor however, Mon Mothma has only a brief inconsequential scene where she sets up the attack on the second Death Star, and then disappears not even returning for the ewok celebration at the very end. There were to be scenes in Revenge of the Sith that showed the first hints of the Rebellion and featured a young Mon Mothma, but those scenes were ultimately cut. Because of the focus of the stories in Star Wars we never really get a good look at the Rebellion other than our brief time at Echo Base on Hoth and so we don’t really have a chance for more Mon Mothma, but it would have been awesome to maybe see some hologram communications between Leia and Mon Mothma similar to the conversations between Vader and the Emperor. Leia is supposedly a prominent political figure among the Rebel Alliance but we never really get to see her do much in the way of leading the rebellion, she generally just gets taken prisoner a lot. A few transmissions with the rebel HQ between Leia and Mon Mothma might have helped maintain Leia’s leadership position beyond the first movie. Oh well, I’m not really complaining at all, just saying that I like Mon Mothma, she actually reminds me of my aunt, and I would have liked to see more of her and the Rebel command structure in the movies, but I guess that’s what the EU is for right?
#1- The Duchess: Alice in Wonderland
This might seem like an odd choice for my number one spot but I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, it was one of my first literary obsessions. Alice in Wonderland is one of the few books I can read over and over again. As such I was very disappointed in the recent movie which drastically departed from the style and story of the books and tried very hard to make Alice in Wonderland into something it was not. Alice is not a hero per se, but a traveler and a discoverer. Like an explorer from history charting a course through an insane realm. One of my favorite encounters Alice has in the book is when she comes across the Duchess’ house, the pepper tossing cook, and the transforming pig/baby. There’s just so much going on there, and the original drawings of the Duchess are just great, such a lovely woman. This moment in the book seems to often get bypassed in other adaptations and I always feel let down that I don’t get to see the startled look on Alice’s face as the baby’s upturned nose becomes a snout and the squirming child trots off a pig! I suppose it all boils down to the fact that few movies are ever as good as the book, as true as it is with most works, it is especially true with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The Disney cartoon is probably still the best but I have always kept my hopes up for a live action big screen adaptation that remains loyal to the books, or perhaps focuses on Through the Looking Glass entirely (which seems to never get much attention.) All in all there are a great many characters that pop up in Alice that I would like to see more of but the Duchess takes the top spot, I suppose I will just have to sit down grab a corner of mushroom, and make my own trip to Wonderland where I might not only meet the massively headed Duchess but perhaps all the other underused characters as well. I’ll let you know how it goes!
That is all!