Actually, in no specific order, just ten characters I enjoy the most or find the most intriguing.
There’s no limitation on media, as you’ll soon find out. I consume a lot of pop culture, often not quite mainstream, but most of these are widely known. Good characters just rise to the top.
Generally, to be able to make this kind of a list, a character has to have had more exposure than a single movie or book. This does give a distinct edge to those who have survived to appear in long-running comics, TV series or similar media serial in nature.
I’ve discounted fictional versions of real people, like Al Swearengen, who really did exist (and whose real version is actually much more interesting than the fictional one). Of course, the division here isn’t quite clear, so the limit is that if the name of a real person is used, than its out of bounds.
For some reason, there’s three Scots on this list. I guess that makes Scots quite interesting.
Lady Macbeth (from Macbeth)
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it.
Both Macbeth and her wife are quite ambitious, but its the Lady who is the actual power behind the throne. She is limited by her sex in a world where women aren’t much more than childbearers to bring more men to fight in to the world, but she does the best she can with what she has, her husband.
After manipulating her husband into killing the king and thus gaining the kingdom for himself, they both begin to crack, but she handles it much better. Macbeth hallucinates from guilt and paranoia, becoming a complete wreck, while his wife’s mental state isn’t much better, but once again, her sex is pronounced. While Macbeth, as a male, is seen as proactive and eccentric, she doesn’t have that luxury and needs to hide her feelings much better.
She does sleepwalk, which is clearly a symptom of her guilt, but she’s the one who tries to keep her husband on even keel, no matter how unsuccessfully.
Death (of the Endless)
I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude to my sister’s gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her. Dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her.
— Dream about Death
Most depictions of death are skeletal men in dark cloaks, carrying around a scythe. This one’s different. She appears to be a young, cute goth-girl, who brings solace and comfort to those who die. Although her job clearly takes a toll on her, she also understands its importance and besides Destiny is the most responsible of the Endless. She is nice to most people she meets, and gets that they are going through a major change in their lives. To her, its routine, but she does her best to help them move on.
She is a good counterpoint to her brooding brother, Dream, who is going through a major personal crisis after an extended period of imprisonment in the mortal world. Death does her best to let him know how much there is to life, even after billions of years of existance. She herself has learned to “lighten-up” over the years, having been a dark and feared figure in the early days of the universe. Now, most people (readers as well) just fall in love with her attitude.
There’s also a short comic of her giving advice on using condoms.
Garrett (from the Thief series of games)
Well since I’m in here I might as well pick up something for myself.
When Garrett was an orphan living in the streets of the Steampunkish City, he tried to steal from the wrong person, and was thus inducted into the ranks of the Keepers, an extremely secretive group of people, who kept the City safe. However, Garrett wasn’t interested and left the Keepers soon thereafter, to pursue a more lucrative career with the skills he learned from his mentors. However, time and time again, Garrett gets reluctantly dragged into business he has no interest in, but ends up saving the world three times with his quite unique skillset.
I’ve never robbed a god before. It’ll be a challenge.
Garrett is quite snarky and very detached, but does have a sense of morality. Actually, a pretty strong code he adheres to. He never kills anyone, if that can be avoided. To him, killing is a sign of an amateur. He is also very patient and can use the way people underestimate him against them. There’s a cutscene in one of the games, where the Big Bad begins to rant to Garrett, when Garrett simply listens until he sees an opening and then just disappears, leaving the Big Bad raging.
The fourth game introduces another man named Garrett, but he isn’t as cool and composed as the first one (and he is often confronted by little titbits about a Master Thief, who lived some time ago, who is actually the real Garrett).
Liliana Vess (from MtG)
When you find yourself teetering on the edge of oblivion, mine will be the hands taking pleasure in giving you the final push.
Her name is almost an anagram of ‘villainess’ (her name has one extra ‘a’), but that’s a coincidence according to the people at WotC.
I do fear her character will be watered-down with the new policy of putting the emphasis on stories. There was already an attempt to make her more relatable (which is a mistake you should never make with certain characters) by making her more of a tragic figure.
This was “accomplishes” by giving her a backstory, where she killed her brother through ill-advised medical care, which lead to her spark igniting (the term WotC uses for the traumatic moment a person becomes a planeswalker) and in her fear of confronting her brother after death, she made a deal with several demons for immortality. Now her major storyline is that she’s hunting down those demons, already having destroyed one of them.
She’s the iconic planeswalker affiliated with black mana, making her the mandatory evil person within the group. And how she does it… she isn’t as destructive in her evil as the demonic Ob Nixilis, but she is gleeful.
Liliana is known for being a necromancer, but generally her ability to mess with people’s minds, in a very literal way, is what comes into play.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to deprive you of all your secrets. Just your most precious one.
Of course, the fact that she wears her sexuality on her non-existent sleave, works too. Of course, this is a freedom far too often afforded to only the most evil women, but that doesn’t mean I can’t like that side of her as well.
Chandra Nalaar (from MtG)
… on the same vein…
They started it!
Whereas Liliana is gleeful in her evil, Chandra is just gleeful. She’s very destructive with her pyromancy, but she isn’t malicious. She just likes her freedom and is willing to go any distance to protect it.
Chandra never believed in using her “inside voice.”
Since Jaya Ballard (who was brought back recently for a mention in a Chandra related card) is gone, Chandra is the best source for quotes in Magic.
Well, this got out of hand.
Lighting a fire needs kindling and heat. You be the kindling. I’ll bring the heat.
Utterly’ is my favorite way to destroy something.
She even has her fanboys:
The Joker (from Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery)
Madness, as you know, is a bit like gravity, all it takes is a little push.
There’s so many iterations of this character, its amazing he hasn’t been completely destroyed yet. Of course, versions, such as the Heath Ledger version in Dark Knight that quote is from, help to revive the character.
You know what a “rape the dog” moment is? When an evil character “pets a dog”, its to show that he or she isn’t actually that bad, but that she does have a good side. When a character “kicks a dog”, its so you know this guy is evil. When a character “rapes a dog”, its to make sure that this guy is irredeemably evil and completely out there.
The Joker was supposed to have one of those “pet the dog” moments in The Killing Joke. They finally gave him a backstory, a reason for his evil. He used to have a family, but all that was taken away from him. In that very same story, he also permanently paralyzed Barbara Gordon from the waist down and tried to make some point by driving Jim Gordon insane in that very same issue. Petting turned into rape despite the genius of Alan Moore behind the story.
… and that’s what you get for messing with The Joker. Its just in his nature.
The Man With No Name (from The Dollar Trilogy)
One, two, three, four, five, and six. Six, the perfect number.
Actually, he does have a name. Joe, Manco or Blondie, depending on the movie. These are all probably just nicknames as Manco is one-armed in Spanish and there’s no real reason that one gravedigger, who calls him Joe, would actually know him or his name.
In a way he’s kind of generic, but Clint Eastwood just makes him so much more. Many other actors have tried to copy this, but they never work as well. He isn’t quite as simple as it seems. There’s subtle depth to him. He likes to let other people talk, because they tell him so much that way.
Cartman (from South Park)
Hippies. They’re everywhere. They wanna save the Earth, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad.
The idea behind Cartman is simple. Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted to make an outwardly racist and completely deplorable character. The only way they could? Make it a kid in an animation.
Sometimes he’s just stupid, often he just lets his prejudices guide him (well, always), but every once in a while he’s a Magnificent Bastard. For example, that one time he killed this one kid’s parents just so he could feed them to him, because he bullied Cartman. You don’t mess with Cartman.
… and what did he do after that deed? He licked the tears straight from his face, because that’s the kind of person he is.
Renton (from Trainspotting)
Swanney taught us to adore and respect the national health service. For it was the source of much of our gear. We stole drugs. We stole prescriptions or bought them, sold them, swapped them, forged them, photocopied them. Or traded drugs with cancer victims, alcoholics, old-age pensioners, AIDS patients, epileptics, and bored housewives.
In the movie, Renton is the POV character, so he’s a pretty good guy. He’s a junkie, sure, and he’s also a criminal to support his habit, but he’s still a guy you get. He has sympathy for Spud, his friend, who goes to jail, instead of Renton. And he does try to reform. Its just that his friends don’t let him quit.
He is a victim in all this, but its a complicated situation. He does have his own victims, but its not because he’s trying to hurt anybody. Its just that he has very limited control of his life.
I’d like to note that, Renton is a much bigger asshole in the book. He has sex in the toilet with his dead brother’s pregnant girlfriend at his funeral, but immediately ditches her, thinking she only did it to get someone else to take care of her baby.
Malcolm Tucker (from The Thick of It and In the Loop)
I’d love to stop and chat to you but I’d rather have type 2 diabetes.
The on-going motif in both The Thick of It and its spin-off movie In the Loop is damage control in politics. There’s a continuous lack of communication, which leads many of the major characters to make messes, which Malcolm has to clean-up, but he isn’t exactly their ally. He’s there for the prime minister and these people are all potential sacrificial lambs, if the prime minister or the party needs protection.
He isn’t courteous either.
I’ll just have to kill the both of you then, won’t I?! That’s a joke, by the way, not a very nice one, a nasty one, which masks a lot of very negative feelings about this fucking department.
You’re worse than dead meat. I don’t know what you’re laughing at. You’re too toxic to even feed to the vultures.
How much fucking shit is there on the menu and WHAT FUCKING FLAVOUR IS IT?!
… and that’s the glorious thing about him. The people he works with are clearly afraid of him. Their major motivation is to do well so that they don’t have be confronted by Malcolm, or his protegé, Jamie, who has the same mentality, but lacks the direction.
He did soften up near the end of the TV-series, which is kind of a pity.