I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To me, it was a seminal TV series that fundamentally changed the nature of how we view fantasy characters in fiction. The notion of characters with secret identities and double lives isn’t new. Heroes since Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel have used double identities as tools in their battles against evil, but as opposed to most heroes, Buffy’s dual life was difficult, not empowering.
Buffy’s goal wasn’t to be ordinary, but to maintain ordinary moments in a life that kept throwing extraordinary things at her. Buffy isn’t the first or last character to face this struggle, but she is one of the most interesting to do so. Here are five other characters that show how appealing it can be to watch an ordinary person deal with the extraordinary.
Kolchak the Night Stalker
I love this guy, more than any character on this list (except one). From ’74-’75, reporter Carl Kolchak fought the creatures of the night on a weekly basis. Kolchak isn’t the bravest guy. He’s not chosen. He doesn’t have supernatural strength or a team of great supporting characters. He’s just a reporter who ends up over his head, the only guy who notices the monsters, aliens, and ghosts around him and dares to take them on.
Kolchak is sort of a cheat on this list because we never actually see his ordinary life. We never visit his home, see if he has a family. We know almost nothing about him. But we never hear him complain about his supernatural entanglements. All we know is that he’s an ordinary man faced with the horribly extraordinary who always comes out on top.
The Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy is all about a woman who is too mousy and unassuming to be considered a useful field operative. She quietly handles a James Bond-ish agent who can’t get by without her. When he disappears, it’s up to McCarthy’s Susan Cooper to step up to the plate and save the day.
Susan is capable and smart and much of the humor of the film comes from contradicting expectations. McCarthy never plays Susan as bumbling or silly. Susan Cooper is a regular person in so many ways, but a kickass spy in so many others. That’s what makes her great.
The Marvel Comics character that has been a part of nearly everything since his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #1, Rick has a storied history wandering throughout the Marvel Universe. He’s the reason there’s even a Hulk at all (for good or bad). He’s teamed up with Captain America, Rom: Space Knight, Captain Marvel, and Captain Marvel. Yes, two different Captain Marvels. Comics are funny like that.
Recently, he’s taken on the superhuman persona A-Bomb, but lost it (did I mention comics can be weird?), gained a super-learning ability, then lost that (weird). Rick works best when he’s an ordinary fellow immersed in superheroic madness while maintaining his ordinariness. If there’s a guy who knows what it was like to walk in two worlds, it’s Rick Jones.
Lois Lane’s definition of ordinary is probably a little askew. Even before Superman arrived on the scene, she was an intrepid reporter who sought out the truth with unrivaled determination. It’s easy to see Lois as “Superman’s Girlfriend,” but that’s a disservice to what the character has become over the years.
In the fantastic Superman: The Animated Series, Lois is more than a glorified hostage, often saving Superman himself. In some continuities (comics are confusing), Clark Kent and Lois are married, and they manage to maintain a healthy relationship and strong home life. Lois balances career, superheroic mayhem, and everyday life with a grace no real person could probably achieve, and that’s what makes her a heroic ideal every bit as appealing as Superman himself.
My favorite character on this list, Doreen Green a.k.a. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, is a badass of the first order. Armed with squirrel agility, a talent for talking to squirrels, a bushy tail, and a terrific attitude, Squirrel Girl is (canonically) one of the most competent heroes in the Marvel Universe. How much do I love Squirrel Girl? She beat Howard the Duck for this spot, and I love Howard.
Doreen loves being a superhero, but she also loves being a college student. With her boon companion Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl balances the fantastic and the ordinary with equal parts aplomb and delight. Fighting Galactus? Hanging out with friends? Defeating Dr. Doom? Studying computer science? All in a day’s work for Doreen Green. How does she do it? By being awesome, and in a world where even superheroes are expected to be sad, Squirrel Girl as a salve for this humble writer’s soul.
A. Lee Martinez is the author of ten fantasy novels, including The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, available now from Saga Press. Born in El Paso, Texas, he currently resides outside of Austin, Texas, where he enjoys video games, juggling, origami, skulking, and time travel. He can be found on Twitter @aleemartinez.