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The Characters Who Gave Us Joy in 2021

F9's Han, The Bad Batch's Omega, What We Do in The Shadow's Nandor, Mass Effect's Kaidan, and Wandavision's Agatha.

Thank you all, for keeping us sane.
Image: Universal, Lucasfilm, FX, Bioware/EA, and Marvel Studios

The whole of 2021’s been hard on all of us, which means it’s been a fun time adopting as many comfort characters as possible to keep us delighted this year. Here’s the io9 staff’s favorite characters of 2021.

Malignant’s Gabriel

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Image: Warner Bros.

You just knew James Wan had something up his sleeve. The man who directed Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring wouldn’t put his time and energy into a brand new horror movie unless it was something special. And that something special was Gabriel, the twin brother of Malignant’s main character Madison, who just so happens to live in the back of her head. Whether you found the reveal to be surprising or not, Wan made it deliciously gruesome followed by exhilaratingly awesome. Once we finally see Gabriel come forward and he, using Madison’s body, decimates an entire jail cell full of prisoners followed by a carnage-filled run through a police station, it’s so wild and wacky you can’t help but feel the pure joy of cinema. It’s horror Cirque du Soleil. – Germain Lussier

Loki’s Alligator Loki

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

If we have to explain why Alligator Loki gave us joy, we honestly don’t know what to tell you. He’s an alligator who is Loki. He was pruned from the Sacred Timeline for eating a neighbor’s cat. He bit off President Loki’s hand. He wore a tiny Loki helmet. Here’s hoping he’ll show up in Loki season two… and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness… and every other MCU project, honestly. – Rob Bricken

F9‘s Han

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Image: Universal

Ever since his introduction in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Han Lue has been a fan favorite character. Loosely modeled after Han Solo (and even borrowing his name as an alias), the character is a suave, confident criminal who oozes charisma and charm. His story is oddly complex (he died, came back, then died again… sort of) but after the eighth Fast and Furious film hugely disrespected him, fans were eager for another return. And return he did in this year’s F9. Seeing a favorite character return, even under the most ridiculous of circumstances, was simply beautiful, and the sacrifices he made along the way only added to the emotion. Then, when he was finally reunited with his Tokyo Drift friends, I’m not ashamed to admit that tears of joy were shed. It was like attending a long-overdue family reunion. – Germain Lussier

Star Trek: Prodigy’s Hologram Janeway

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Image: Paramount+

The year 2020 might have been a special anniversary for Star Trek: Voyager, but 2021 really has been just as good for Voyager fans with the return of our beloved captain, Kate Mulgrew’s Kathryn Janeway. Sure she’s a CGI construct, both literally and metaphorically, as Janeway’s return came in the form of a holographic guide to the young heroes of Star Trek: Prodigy. But even in that role, Mulgrew’s warmth and wit as the decisive Starfleet officer have shone just as brightly as they did a decade and a half ago. Hopefully this is a sign that we could see Janeway back in Star Trek in some form or another, beyond even her delightful role guiding the next generation of Star Trek stars and fans. – James Whitbrook

WandaVision’s Agatha Harkness

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Before Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) eventually revealed herself to be the one person in Westview actually understanding what the hell was going on with Wanda Maximoff, she spent each and every single episode doing one of the better jobs of really selling the weirdness of WandaVision. All of its narrative twists and developments tied to the larger MCU aside, WandaVision was a show built on a premise that absolutely needed its characters to strike a balance between retro sitcom kitsch and modern horror. Perhaps because she was in on the gag all along, Agatha embodied those aspects of the show most strongly from the jump. – Charles Pulliam-Moore

Mass Effect’s Kaidan Alenko

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Screenshot: Bioware/EA

The Mass Effect universe’s finest Canadian has always gotten the short end of the stick in Mass Effect—quite literally, as even with the re-release of the trilogy this year, most of the ME fanbase let Kaidan babysit a nuke in the first game and save his fellow human foil, Ashley. That means many don’t get to see Kaidan’s arc across his brief return in ME2 and as a fully-fledged part character once more in the third game. Revisiting the series this year with Mass Effect Legendary Edition, especially with the critical intent to play my Shepard as a gay man after years grappling with my own sexuality’s relationship to Mass Effect’s heteronormative systems, Kaidan became a character I shaped my playthrough around as one of the rare chances that Mass Effect’s relationship systems let queer men express their identity. But it also reminded me just what a good character he can be, the human heart and grounding point for an adventure wildly beyond the scale of his or our imagining—and how unfortunate it is many people don’t let him live long enough in their playthroughs to make that clear. – James Whitbrook

What If’s Captain Carter

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

It is a damn tragedy Marvel hasn’t seen fit to bring Hayley Atwell back into live-action, but if her animated counterpart from What If is all we get from here on out I’ll still be happy. That’s because Captain Carter is the shit. Peggy has always been a hero and seeing her jump into action to make sure that super serum didn’t go to waste was perfectly in character. (Her getting lorge was a lovely bonus.) Throwing her into Captain America’s story almost beat for beat felt like cheating, but something tells me when we get to see her take charge of a team of heroes in modern day next season it will be worth the wait. – Jill Pantozzi

Black Widow’s Yelena Belova

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Image: Marvel Studios

It wasn’t just her love of cool vests with pockets that made us, in turn, fall in love with Yelena Belova, though we did adore that about her. Marvel fans spent an eternity waiting for Black Widow to finally release—only to realize that Scarlett Johansson’s character wasn’t even the reason to get excited about the movie. Florence Pugh’s scene-stealing performance as Yelena, Natasha Romanoff’s “sister” and fellow deadly assassin, was the true heart of the film, not to mention a welcome source of hilariously wry comic relief. Bonus: now we get to see her on Hawkeye, too. – Cheryl Eddy

Cruella’s… Cruella

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Screenshot: Disney

While Cruella the movie left much to be desired when it came to its plot and the degree to which it was willing to let its antiheroine murder dogs, the movie’s focus on a young Estella Miller coming into her own as both a fashion designer and a supervillain was interesting, in moments. When Cruella wasn’t aping different cinemating incarnations of the Joker, the movie gave the classic villain the space to actually show off some of the talent that played a key role in her eventual infamy. Though its insistence on giving Cruella a motivation for being evil got in the way of the movie living up to its full potential, its story made her a relatable figure by pinpointing exactly what it is about being taken advantage of in the workplace that can drive people insane. – Charles Pulliam-Moore

What We Do in the Shadow’s Nandor

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Image: FX

We’ll always love What We Do in the ShadowsGuillermo, and Colin Robinson definitely had a hell of a time this year. But season three really belonged to Kayvan Novak’s Nandor, whose pursuit of happiness led him to woo the cute front-desk clerk at his gym (a lesbian, alas), an old flame (who was secretly also hooking up with a werewolf, alas), and the leader of a new-age cult of vampires who claim to have turned themselves human again (an exercise in brainwashing, alas). It was an existentially distressing time for Nandor—so frustrating he couldn’t bring himself to celebrate his “Ascension Day” or even keep to his vow of going into a “Super Slumber” vampire hibernation—but we got to see a depth to the character that we’d never glimpsed before. How will he fare on his (unexpectedly solo) jaunt to his ancestral homeland? Season four can’t arrive soon enough with the answer. – Cheryl Eddy

The Bad Batch’s Omega

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Image: Lucasfilm

From the moment I saw Omega in wide-eyed awe at seeing hyperspace for the first time I knew I would die for her. While some “fans” may balk at the idea of kids showing up in their Very Serious Space Battles stories, it’s important to remember characters like Omega are very much us. Or at least the us who hasn’t yet become jaded and lost hope that there was still good in this world. It was a very important worldview to keep in mind this year and Omega kept driving it home in her dealings with her family and in her first explorations of the wider galaxy far, far away. – Jill Pantozzi

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