Superhero show rankings: the supporting characters

claire temple

If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s taking a so-so idea and running it into the ground by repetition. So, just like I did before the season and at the halfway point, I’m out to rank the many superhero shows we’ve seen across television (and streaming services). But this edition will celebrate the finality of the 2014-15 season by drawing out the process further. I’ll be splitting these rankings into four parts: this post on various groups of supporting characters; a post tomorrow on the lead heroes of the shows; one Thursday for all the villains; and finally, we’ll wrap up Friday by getting to the point and ranking the shows themselves.

So let’s get down to business. Here’s a non-exhaustive rankings of the main classes of supporting characters we saw on superhero television this year. Some SPOILERS will be mentioned for the involved superhero shows: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Agent CarterDaredevilConstantineArrowFlash, and Gotham.

Romantic Partners

felicity and iris

I struggled with what to call this section; because all but one of these characters are women, I didn’t want to come across as trivializing them by reducing the entirety of a human being to a mere love interest. And yet, whether comics, movies, or shows, superhero stories tend to mostly follow a box-checking formula where the lead character must have at least one romantic interest. And the reality of being that romantic interest tends to shape the character differently than other supporting characters, with their story’s focal points often revolving around a romantic tension with the lead character more than anything else. The degree to which these characters were able to break out of that formula, becoming partners rather than interests and showing strengths of character that surpassed romantic entanglements, is the single biggest factor in each one’s rise or fall in these rankings.

8. Barbara Keen (Gotham)

No real shock here, as Barbara was maybe the worst thing on TV this year, despite a mildly interesting villainous turn at the end of the season.

7. Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Gotham)

I only saw one episode with Leslie, and she didn’t come across as particularly intelligent, but she still gets the nod over Barbara.

6. Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

I thought I ‘shipped Olicity (the Oliver-Felicity pairing) going into the season, but seeing it in practice was far less interesting than I expected. And as delightfully adorkable as Felicity still is, the rise of Olicity caused her to be sadly reduced to a season of being defined solely by her love triangle with Oliver and Ray, and crying (so much!) over Oliver’s various dumb plans and near-deaths.

5. Zed Martin (Constantine)

A post-pilot replacement character, Zed proved far more interesting than Liv, and managed to be a fun character whose sometimes-romantic tension with John was always a secondary trait. More of her backstory could have skyrocketed her higher with a longer show run.

4. Iris West (The Flash)

There’s no tougher ranking than Iris, who was the worst non-Gotham option for much of the season, then had a stunning turnaround late in the year once they finally let her in on Barry’s secret. I would like to bump her up even higher based on her late-season likability, but those first three-quarters of a season still happened. Fourth feels like a solid compromise.

3. Agent Daniel Sousa (Agent Carter)

Sousa got to be less defined by his romantic interest in Peggy, with that tension present but largely dormant until the waning moments of Season 1; predictably, it’s easier for a male romantic interest to get more fully fleshed out. But indeed he did, as his disability proved a fascinating corollary to Peggy’s own struggles.

2. Claire Temple (Daredevil)

The tough and capable Claire was arguably the best part of the first half of Daredevil‘s first season, though she was mostly dropped from the narrative in later episodes.

1. Karen Page (Daredevil)

Daredevil proved to be the gold standard for this category. With Karen, the show took the genre stereotype of the damsel in distress, then quickly pivoted to turn her into a strong and psychologically compelling character in her own right.

The Lesser Heroes


These next two categories walk a fine line of vague distinction. Essentially, the idea is to sort out the fighters (The Lesser Heroes) and non-fighters (The Team Members); this presents some iffy choices like Diggle and Mack who walk the line, but when in doubt, I tried to decide based on whether their primary purpose/drive was combat intensive. So since Diggle is part of a vigilante squad and the end of the ARGUS Suicide Squad, he narrowly lands here; Mack does some fighting, but his main job is as a mechanic, so he goes to the next grouping.

15. Ronnie Raymond and Dr. Martin Stein/Firestorm (The Flash)

Dr. Stein had some of the finer moments in the spectacular Flash finale, particularly his talk with Eddie. However, Ronnie is utterly non-compelling, and since one of his main story points is his relationship with Caitlin, the complete lack of chemistry in that relationship is also a point against him. Plus, as the Firestorm entity, they suffer from middling special effects and, so far, an uncreative use of powers.

14. Mike Peterson/Deathlok (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

He was barely in this season, and tortured for much of his time on screen, but his surprise intro was legit, and I enjoyed his upgraded arsenal.

13. Detective Harvey Bullock (Gotham)

Harvey is kind of funny, and actor Donal Logue’s charisma occasionally transcended his show’s inability to harness it. But the fact that his character’s main motivation most episodes is trying to convince his cop partner to be a worse cop meant too much incompetence was piled up to make Bullock the cool jaded character they were shooting for.

12. Roy Harper/Arsenal (Arrow)

Roy had some cool moments this season, a lot more whiny moments, and for the time being, is gone as a show regular. And frankly, that’s probably fine.

11. John Diggle (Arrow)

Diggle’s lower ranking goes hand in hand with Felicity’s regression. Both spent way too much time this year, especially in the second half, whining over Oliver to do enough cool in their own right, and both became far less interesting because of it.

10. Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana (Arrow)

The flashbacks were mostly unbearable on Arrow this season, but actress Rila Fukushima is great, and watching her kill her (ex?) husband Maseo was one of the better late-season moments.

9. Thea Queen/Red Arrow (Arrow)

Say what you will about Thea, but she at least moved forward this season in tangible ways. She grew past just being the character who’s always being lied to, and rebelled against her father’s attempts to use her, finally becoming a capable hero in her own right.

8. Stick (Daredevil)

He only appeared in one episode, or else he’d be much higher. I can’t wait for him to return and for The Hand storyline to kick into high gear. Stick rules.

7. Agent Melinda May/The Cavalry (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

May had a fair amount her usual no-nonsense ass-kicking, but the revelation of “The Cavalry” was mildly disappointing, and her turning on Coulson was just ridiculous.

6. Agent Barbara “Bobbi” Morse/Mockingbird (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Like May, Bobbi got in a good deal of awesome action over the season. Like May, she was held back by silly plotline — hers being the terrible “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D. arc. But at least she received a fair amount of redemption in the finale.

5. Laurel Lance/Black Canary (Arrow)

Unpopular opinion alert: I actually really liked Laurel this season. I know she’s one of the least popular characters in the CW superhero universe, but unlike most characters in this post, she had a real arc this season — enduring loss, training, setbacks, personal relationships falling apart, and still emerging stronger than ever. Plus I liked that we actually got to watch her slowly become a competent Black Canary — unlike the other heroes on the show, who mostly yadda yadda yadda over the process and just arrive at the point where they kick ass.

4. Ray Palmer/the A.T.O.M. (Arrow)

Sure, the character was a bit too Iron Man, but Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer was so utterly charming and genuinely good that I found myself constantly rooting for him over Ollie, including for Felicity’s love.

3. Agent Lance Hunter (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

I mocked his addition to the team a bit in my pre-season post, but he won me over continually. For much of the mediocre second half to the season, he was the only person on AoS who wasn’t an overreacting insane person.

2. Agent Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

You could argue that Skye was the main character on AoS this season, though I’ve stuck with ABC’s self-identifier with Coulson as the lead for this series of rankings. Her arc really kicked into high gear this season, and while it had some stumbles, particularly in the second half, she emerged as the capable and compelling character whom the show needs to revolve around going forward.

1. Edwin Jarvis (Agent Carter)

But was anyone as easy to root for this year than Edwin Jarvis? The British butler found himself thrust into the role of sidekick for a veritable action star in Peggy, and muddled through his newfound duties with wonderful humor and as much dignified English grace as he could muster under the circumstances.

The Team Members


And finally, we have everyone else: the various utility/role players who often make up the heart of the shows. The various police officers and S.S.R. agents end up here instead of with the lesser heroes, where the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are; it’s a debatable call, but I feel like the cops/agents here were only rarely actually involved in action scenes.

17.  Detective Quentin Lance (Arrow)

So disappointing that we so thoroughly went back to angry-at-the-world irrational Lance; his begrudging respect and willingness to work with Team Arrow had been far more fun.

16. Agent Gemma Simmons (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Also disappointing this year was Simmons’ bizarre (and under-developed) turn to a breezy proponent of prejudice and murder in the second half of this season. I can’t emphasize enough how much I hated her subplots in the second half. I hope she never comes out of that alien artifact; Fitz is too good for her now.

15. Angie Martinelli (Agent Carter)

I know a lot of people liked her, and it was nice to give Peggy a true friend from outside her spy world. But her voice just grated on me.

14. Dr. Caitlin Snow (The Flash)

Easily the odd man out among the SuperSTARs team, Caitlin gets the worst of a lot of worlds. Her “romance” with Ronnie is, as mentioned in his section, devoid of any chemistry. She gets few of the eureka moments of scientific genius, which are usually given to Dr. Wells or Cisco. And she gets less of the fun banter moments, which also go more to Cisco. In the finale, they even make her the character to ask what a singularity is; high schoolers largely know that singularity=black hole, but a STAR Labs scientist with a doctorate doesn’t? Caitlin just isn’t treated well by this show.

13. Manny (Constantine)

He was mostly a one-note character, and that note got played too often. But he did have a couple episodes that broke him out of that pattern and showed significant potential.

12. Agent Jack Thompson (Agent Carter)

11. Chief Roger Dooley (Agent Carter)

These two are practically interchangeable in the rankings (and often, on the show itself), so the tie-breaker goes to Dooley for his explosive exit from the show.

10. Howard Stark (Agent Carter)

Howard was a living macguffin for most of the season, which was a mild waste of his considerable charm. But when he did get to interact as a person and not just a plot device, he was still an engrossing character.

9. Francis “Chas” Chandler (Constantine)

Chas was a bit player most of the season, but he killed it every time he got a bigger role, particularly in the episode “Quid Pro Quo.”

8. Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Mack’s chemistry with Fitz was a highlight of the fall slate, but like nearly everyone on the show (and the show itself), he suffered badly from the “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline, which turned him into an unreasonable jerk for most of the second half. But he jumped back up these rankings by stealing the show in the finale.

7. Detective Eddie Thawne (The Flash)

Eddie could have gone a different, and probably villainous, way. But keeping him a truly good guy was an excellent route for Flash, subverting my initial expectations and setting up an emotional finale.

6. The Koenig brothers (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Combining my love of Patton Oswalt and lanyards, these characters were a treat throughout their recurring appearances in the fall. Dropping them from the rotation (until a finale cameo) was among the biggest of the show’s many big missteps in the spring.

5. Detective Joe West (The Flash)

Joe was the anchor between the three overlapping parts of Barry’s life: his work, his home, and his superheroing. He was also often the emotional anchor of the show, though I’m probably saying that partially because actor Jesse L. Martin was already an emotional trigger for me.

4. Cisco Ramon (The Flash)

No one’s place in these rankings surprises me more than Cisco’s. I remember thinking he was annoying when he briefly debuted in S2 of Arrow, and I still kind of thought so early on in Flash. But he turned out to be an absolute delight, channeling an inner comic book fan to give us the fan service of the “proper” names of various villains. He also had impressive emotional depth as the season went on, especially in one of the best scenes of any superhero show this year.

3. Foggy Nelson (Daredevil)

First, an apology to actor Elden Henson for my wondering aloud in the fall if he got this part because of Marvel’s cheapness with actors. Sorry, Elden! He absolutely nailed this role. His Foggy was goofy, funny, and emotionally invested throughout S1, and would be a worthy #1 on this list.

2. Agent Leo Fitz (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

I actually had to look up with Fitz’s first name even is. Apparently it’s Leo! Now I know. I also know that Iain De Caestecker was absolutely brilliant this season, portraying Fitz’s newfound vulnerability with aplomb. The hurt, sadness, and anger that flowed in his confrontation with Ward in the episode “Making Friends and Influencing People” might have been as good as AoS got all year.

1. Ben Urich (Daredevil)

While I would be fine with any of these top three taking the top spot, and understanding of a few others, Ben feels right as #1. Actor Vondie Curtis-Hall gave an Emmy-worthy performance as the struggling journalist, whose professional ethics and personal needs are at odds throughout his arc. His reluctant push to the moral center was the great tragedy of the year, and his death was perhaps the single most stunning and emotional thing to happen on any show this year.

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