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December 29, 2009

Best New Characters of the Decade

These are the ones that left a mark, from all the types of fiction I consume: television, film, books, and video games. The only rule was that the character had to originate in the past decade. That knocked out some excellent characters that may have been created earlier, but who really came into their own in the past ten years. Thems the breaks, right?

I can’t really describe an ordering principle for these like I did the villains list (racism!). I knew immediately who my favorite character of the decade was. In fact, I knew who the top few would be. The others fall pretty arbitrarily after that. One other thing I did was limit myself to one character per source. The truth is that folks who create one good character probably have a hella shot at creating several. I’ve chosen my absolute favorite from within each source.

I recognize that a list like this will be even more subjective than a Top Film Villains list.

10. Luna Lovegood—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Luna wasn’t introduced into the Harry Potter universe until 2003, making her eligible for the list. And I’m glad she is. Aside from Neville Longbottom, she’s one of the few characters in the series I like unreservedly. She has what the others lack: faith. In the early books Rowling is so busy building a believable universe she has über-rational Hermione explaining every last detail. Luna doesn’t need that explanation and she sees the world through different eyes.

9. Dr. Perry Cox—Scrubs

Perry was a condescending and sarcastic jerk with a heart of gold who, over the course of the series, dealt with aging, family, divorce, depression, and death. And this was a light-hearted comedy! He was well known for his epic rants.

8. Tidus—Final Fantasy X

I have been a fan of the Final Fantasy series since I got my grubby little fingers on the first one back in 1987. Over the years the games got prettier and the stories more complex, and powerful characterization became an inextricable part of the series. Tidus is the main character of Final Fantasy X. Supposedly a fish out of water seventeen year-old partial amnesiac, he and the player eventually come to realize that his role is much more complicated and sad. The story tricks you into believing that the big reveal will be “it was all a dream.” In the last chapter you get the opposite and, man, did that resonate.

7. Shaun—Shaun of the Dead

It was a simple message, but finely told. Pressed to the breaking point, this guy realized that family—his mother, his girlfriend, and his BFF—are what really matters. The fact that he manages to keep one-and-a-half of them alive says something right?

6. Captain Jack Sparrow—Pirates of the Caribbean

Another jerk with a heart of gold…and I’m just realizing that there’s yet another further down the list. Hmm, let’s make no conclusions about what that says about me. Captain Jack was not always good, nor always bad. He was mostly interested in what was good for Captain Jack. Fortunately, the free-spirited pirate also had a soft spot for series protagonists Will and Elizabeth. Good for a quip and probably insane, I like Captain Jack for the same reason I like Luna: he has faith.

5. Ned the Piemaker—Pushing Daisies

The facts were these: Ned is the main character from the sadly cancelled series about a man gifted (and cursed) with a touch that can wake the dead. He and his delightfully named friends, Emerson Cod, Olive Snook, and Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, solve murders and work on their angsty pasts. Ned’s abandonment issues, his touch issues, and his quirky romance with formerly dead Chuck somehow made for laugh out loud television and a truly touching character. If you missed this show, here’s a glimpse.

4. Captain Malcolm Reynolds—Firefly/Serenity

The third jerk with a heart of gold on my list and the second pirate preoccupied with nagging morals, this guy needs no further explanation.

3. Donna Noble—Doctor Who

The Doctor’s companion for just one season, Donna was a temp worker from London before seeking out the wider universe. She was curious, occasionally bumbling, but always insightful. The Doctor first described her as not special or clever. Boy was he wrong. Not a complex character, but certainly my favorite companion of the new series. And I might as well mention it again: she had faith.

2. President Laura Roslin—Battlestar Galactica

Of course you know I’d have to have someone from BSG on the list. In fact, a list of the decade’s best could have been made of BSG characters alone. Roslin, however, stands above the rest. A woman with an impossible burden and—again—nothing but her faith to sustain her, she was alternately villainous and heroic, idealistic and pragmatic. As her cancer worsened, she demonstrated more likelihood to resort to the airlock than to diplomacy until she was even ready to steal elections and commit genocide. By then the show had moved from a black and white morality universe in the miniseries and early episodes to a grey and grey morality ‘verse (this is not coincidentally when it lost a lot of viewers). Her moral journey from Caprica to the new Earth is the most interesting of the entire show—partly because her character was most consistently written and acted.

And finally, a character the majority of you haven’t heard of and will probably never know:

1. Cortana—Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3

In the Halo first-person shooters, Cortana is literally a voice in the main character’s head. But that’s not all she is. An Artificial Intelligence modeled on Master Chief’s mentor, she helps him on his mission, often breaking away to complete tasks of her own. The two are a team, with faith in each other and not much else. At the end of the second game, she stays behind to confront the series' Big Bad—the Gravemind—alone. It was heartbreaking as the reluctant Master Chief swears to come back for her. And she got a tear or two when she admonished him, “Don’t make a girl a promise, if you know you can’t keep it.”

Of course, we knew Master Chief wouldn’t leave her at the mercy of…well, whatever it was the Gravemind was. In the third game he eventually goes back for her, even though she’s damaged and probably approaching rampancy, a condition AIs face where they go pretty much nuts after a certain amount of input. There’s genuine love between the Master Chief and the AI—as much as there can be—and at the very end of the game, as she starts her potentially limitless vigil over his cryosleeping body, she tells him she will miss him. He tells her to wake him when she needs him. I cry.

Why do I like her so much? Cortana is smart and sarcastic, fighting for a worthy cause, and always stands by her man. Just as the game Halo set the bar for first-person shooters that followed in the past decade, she is the benchmark for supporting characters in video games. She was the Action Girl without a body. She was humor and dry wit in what was a pretty horrific end-of-all-life-in-the-galaxy story.

Honorable Mention: Aloysius Pendergast
This FBI special agent was introduced in Lincoln Douglas and Preston Child’s late 1990s thrillers Relic and Reliquary as a supporting character. He became the protagonist of most of their novels in the past decade. A man of unusual temperament, breeding, and intuition, he’d have definitely made the list if not for his late 1990s origin.

Honorable Mention: Captain Jack Harkness—Doctor Who & Torchwood
Another rogue with a heart of gold, I omitted him from the list because there’s already too many angst-y, pirate-y jerks up there and Donna Noble really deserved the Doctor Who spot. But, really, who doesn’t love Jack Harkness?

So that’s the list. What do you got and what should I go back and see/read/play?

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:04 PM

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