The age old questions of comic fans: Batman or Superman? Spider-Man or Wolverine? The debates about the best heroes are endless. We tried to make a top 10 list, but that was just too hard. So we tried a top 25, but that quickly became a top 50… you get the idea. So we were able to ‘narrow’ it down to an even 100. Odds are you will vehemently disagree with who did or did not make the list, or just the order that we placed them. But, hey, it’s our list.
(Honorable mentions to Beta Ray Bill, USAgent, Martian Manhunter, Kid Flash, Hercules, The Frenchman and the Female (the Boys), Abe Sapien, Spider-Man 2099, Static Shock, Nite Owl, Guy Gardner, Booster Gold, Spawn, Atom Eve, Mary Marvel, and a hell of a lot more. So many more we could- and may- do another whole 100 list!)
We will release these in installments of 10 so that you don’t have the longest list ever to read through. Agree with the placement or who made the list? Disagree with the burning power of a thousand suns? Let us know! Enjoy!
30. Flash (Wally West)
Real Name: Wally West
First Appearance: The Flash #110 (1959)
Enemies: Zoom, Gorilla Grodd, Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Trickster, Weather Wizard, Heat Wave
“My name is Wally West. I’m the fastest man alive. I’m The Flash.”
Man, our boy Wally has had it rather rough for quite some time. Really, ever since Geoff Johns left his title years and years ago. Since then Wally went to the future to raise his twins, came back saddled with two super annoying children, was completely replaced and forgotten by DC when Barry Allen was revived, was replaced completely by another version of himself, came back as the only person to remember the pre-Flashpoint DC universe, and then went crazy and killed a bunch of people before getting some of Dr. Manhattan’s powers, and… you know what, this is ridiculous.
For years and years (about 20 or so, to be exact) Wally West was THE Flash. For generations of fans he was the guy. Now, I love Barry Allen, too, and I am not upset that Wally had to re-gift the mantle of the scarlet speedster to him, but DC really did Wally dirty. He is completely unrecognizable from the version that grew up with the audience, and faced down all Barry had- and then some- and came out the other side, and it’s a damn shame.
29. Bucky Barnes
Real Name: James Buchanan Barnes
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1 (1941)
Enemies: Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Sin, Crossbones, Dr. Faustus, Arnim Zola, Grand Director
“If you knew who I really was… what I’ve done… I’m a monster.”
Man, talk about having a rough go of it. Poor Buck.
Pictured here as Captain America, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes has had a number of different identities over his long, almost cursed life. Each is such a different type of existence from the other it’s a wonder this guy isn’t just in therapy all day, every day.
He stars out as Bucky Barnes, kid mascot of the hero of World War 2, Captain America! Well, at least, according to the newsreels. The truth of the matter is that Bucky is maybe the most dangerous member of the Allied Forces Invaders, the WW2 version of the Avengers. And this team includes the original Human Torch, Toro, Namor, and Captain America! Bucky was trained to do the wetwork, the dirty, stain your soul stuff while the cameras- and all eyes- were on Captain America. He fought alongside his teammates and others, like Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos, for years, until he was thought killed on a secret mission with Captain America to stop the original Baron Zemo’s schemes.
But he didn’t die. Bucky was recovered by soviet soldiers, and he was taken in, had his wounds (lost his arm) healed, a new metal arm installed, and his memory wiped again and again, until only the training remained. Because of his extensive training and knowledge of most of America and Europe, plus the ability to speak numerous languages and blend into crowds, he became the greatest assassin in the world. Kept on ice in between assignments, sometimes for a decade or more, he became a myth only whispered about behind closed doors: the Winter Soldier. It wasn’t until his memories were restored by Captain America and a cosmic cube that Bucky had any notion that he was anything more than a soviet killing machine. His memories restored, he tried to bring himself to re-establish a relationship with his brother and best friend, Steve Rogers, but the shame of what he had done made him delay and delay, until suddenly it was too late. Captain America was killed.
Long live Captain America. Steve’s last wish to Iron Man in his will was that the shield and mantle be given to Bucky Barnes. Bucky didn’t like it, Tony HATED it, but he did it to honor his friend. And very quickly Bucky proved he has what it takes to be Captain America. He may know how to do some awful stuff, but he isn’t an awful guy, and did the legacy of the uniform and shield proud for quite some time until Steve was discovered alive and reclaimed the mantle. This led Bucky without an identity, so he went back to his Winter Soldier code name with redeeming the name and all that comes with it now driving him.
Real Name: Wade Wilson
First Appearance: New Mutants #98 (1991)
Enemies: Ajax, T-Ray, Bullseye, Taskmaster
“I am confused by you morally, psychologically and hormonally. A perfect mind-$%@# trifecta.”
Man, what a difference a decade makes! Deadpool has always been a popular character; his appearance towards the end of volume 1 of New Mutants, and his recurring guest spots in X-Force vol 1 built him a rabid fanbase, and his multitude of mini-series and finally an ongoing have always just added fuel to the fire. I don’t think he’s lost a single fan since he was created, but he seems to add more, and more, and more. But what’s the appeal of this Deathstroke/Spider-Man mix? Is it his look (great design by creator Rob Liefeld) which has remained the same for 30 years? The humor/fourth wall breaking? The fact that under his mask he’s about as attractive as testicular cancer? The way he can heal from literally any injury to the point that he has zero disregard for his personal safety?
I’m guessing it’s a mixture of all of the above; for me it’s the hyperviolence mixed with the sarcasm. The fourth wall breaking doesn’t really do anything for me, personally. A good example would be Daniel Way and Steve Dillon’s take on the character in Wolverine: Origins. The fight between Deadpool and Wolverine is brutal, bloody, and long, but at the same time is also full of Looney Tunes-style shenanigans (just with severed limbs and gallons of blood included). Not a lot of characters besides Deadpool can get away with stuff like that.
He’s not all jokes and guns, either. He has swords, too! There is a soft side to the guy, and he does have his own- albeit a bit off-kilter- moral code and lines he won’t cross. He’s not big on violence against kids, for instance, as seen in the epic and excellent Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender (and various artists) and, of course, in the silver screen’s Deadpool 2.
Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of the Merc with a Mouth is note-perfect, and has brought a whole new generation of fans to the character. Now that our corporate overlords at Disney have purchased Fox Studios and own the X characters again (yay!) it has been confirmed that Deadpool 3 is happening, that it will continue to carry an R rating, AND that it will be taking place smack dab in the middle of the MCU. His merchandise is literally everywhere you look, and he’s always got comics coming out and collections everywhere books are sold.
It looks like he’s going to continue gaining popularity (he’s already at- or possibly even PAST Wolverine’s level) moving forward, to the point that if this list was re-done in a few years he might be ranked in the single digits. A decade ago he probably would have been in the 80’s somewhere.
27. Green Arrow
Real Name: Oliver Queen
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (1941)
Enemies: Deathstroke, Merlyn, Komodo, Brick, Cupid, Count Vertigo, Shado, Onomatopoeia
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling backward. So when life is dragging you down and backward, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great, so just stay focused and keep aiming.”
Not to be confused with another green JL member, Green Arrow might not have a power ring, or even super powers, but Oliver Queen is a force to be reckoned with! Starting out as a Robin Hood themed Batman knock-off in the Golden Age of comics, Green Arrow soon proved that he was more than just an Errol Flynn cosplayer with a fancy bow, trick arrows, and an “arrow cave” (yes that was a real thing).
Thanks to Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil, Ollie evolved from a cookie cutter straight laced superhero to a liberal street level crusader with an awesome goatee! In the 70’s, Arrow teamed up with Hal Jordan in O’Neil’s ground-breaking Green Lantern / Green Arrow run where the two went on a road trip across America, tackling racism, solving petty crimes, and debating hot button political issues of the time. It was during this run, in Issue #85 that it was revealed that Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy, was “a junkie!”
His backstory has been revised a few times, but the main gist of it is that he was a billionaire playboy who was marooned on a deserted island for years and during the time he survived by perfecting his archery skill, eventually becoming a vigilante in Star City, literally punching criminals in the face with boxing glove arrows, and somehow earning the attention of the Justice League in the process.
One of the most acclaimed Green Arrow series debuted in 1987, “The Longbow Hunters” where Oliver had to contend with the enigmatic Japanese archer, Shado (whom he had a kid with, long story). Over the years he went broke, became mayor, died, got better, and this one time his mom was even revealed to be a supervillain. He’s had a number of side-kicks and team-ups over the years, but his two most famous ones are Roy Harper aka Arsenal aka Red Arrow (the original Speedy) and Mia Dearden, the new Speedy, who tragically contracted HIV in Kevin Smith’s awesome relaunch of the series. (His sidekicks are cursed!)
Meanwhile, Oliver hooked up with Black Canary and the two eventually got married, leading to their own spin-off series where they faced off against a multitude of villains, including the psychotic Cupid who was obsessed with Oliver and attempted to kill off his rogues gallery for him, out of ‘love’.
Oliver has fought a lot of villains over the years, including the Dark Archer, Merlyn, and Count Vertigo, but perhaps his biggest long-running nemesis is Deathstroke, an unstoppable mercenary that stands for everything he opposes!
Real Name: Nathan Christopher Summers AKA Nathan Dayspring Askani’Son
First Appearance: as baby- Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986), as adult- New Mutants #87 (1990)
Enemies: Apocalypse, Stryfe, Bishop, Mutant Liberation Front, Gideon, Selene, Onslaught
” If life were a picnic, you’d be a family. Since life is war, you’re soldiers. You’d do well to start accepting that fact.”
In a corner of the Marvel Universe where continuity can get dicey, and from an era where it was all over the freaking place, Cable stands supreme as the king of convoluted origins and histories. He originally showed up as kind of an anti-Professor X, and was training the New Mutants to be more militant than Xavier’s X-Men. Then the idea that he was a time traveler came up, and it was revealed that he’s actually from over a thousand years in the future, and came back to work towards stopping the ancient mutant Apocalypse from taking over the world, which he apparently does around our time and still reigns in Cable’s.
Then it was revealed that his arch-villain, Stryfe, was a duplicate of Cable, or vice versa, and THEN it was revealed that Cable is actually the adult version of Cyclops’ baby Nathan Christopher Summers, who was sent to the future as a small child to save his life from a techno-organic virus Apocalypse himself had infected him with (hence the metal arm)- which, just to make it more confusing, didn’t happen until Cable had been around for a a number of years. So he was leading the New Mutants as an old man and at the same time across the state was hanging out with his family (Cyclops was with the original X-Men as X-Factor at the time) as a small boy.
End of the day, Cable is super badass enough that this mess never really hurt his popularity. He might not be as mega-huge as he was in the 90’s, but he’s been one of the most popular X-Men characters there are ever since he first appeared (as an old man, at least).
Nowadays he still has an ongoing title of his own in the Dawn of X/Reign of X era, albeit with a twist. To make things even MORE convoluted he’s not old anymore! A much younger version of Cable showed up and killed him for failing to protect the timestream and settled in to our timeline so he could resurrect his father- which he did (thanks, Cable!)- and to protect mutants and have the one thing he never really had- a family. He’s still super badass and powerful, but instead of a Clint Eastwood-like grizzled war vet who’s seen it all and has a plan for everything else, he’s a bit of a novice, still getting to know the world and his abilities and not yet as hardened as… he… was.
It’s a testament to the character that he’s somehow even still around much less very popular.
25. Nova (Richard Rider)
Real Name: Richard Rider
First Appearance: Nova #1 (1976)
Enemies: Annihilus, The Phalanx, Ultron, Ego, the Sphinx, Thanos
“There’s nobody left. It’s us or it’s nobody.”
I’ll cop to it: this might be a bit high for my boy Richard Rider for most of you, but hey, it’s my list, and damnit, Nova is fucking awesome and I had to fight myself to not put him higher.
Originally he was another teen superhero, granted superhuman powers he was not really ready to wield. Teenager Richard Rider was suddenly imbued with the Nova force and deputized into the Nova Corps: Marvel’s version of the Green Lanterns, essentially. From there he had some cosmic adventures before coming down to earth and forming the super team the New Warriors. A few years went by and the Nova Corps was all summoned back to Xandar, the home planet of the corps, for a response to a cosmic incident. This ‘incident’ was the incursion of Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave into our universe as they began their march of slaughter across the cosmos. Unfortunately for the Novas, that slaughter started with Xandar, and they were all wiped out. Well, all but Richard.
The last Nova, he was forced to absorb the entirety of the Nova Force, including creating a mental bond with the Xandarian Worldmind: the ultimate artificial intelligence with all the knowledge of the corps. So, suddenly he’s the last of his team that moments ago was thousands strong, he’s got literally hundreds of times more power than he’s ever had, and now shares a headspace with the Worldmind.
Despite all of this, Nova leads the resistance against the Wave, and he personally delivers the killing blow to Annihilus and ends the war. He then helped defeat the Ultron-controlled Phalanx who had taken over Kree space, fought in the war between the Shi’Ar and the Inhumans, fought the Skrulls, Ego the Living Planet, and even his own Worldmind before he seemingly died to keep Thanos and a cosmic cube from ever making their way back to our reality. Thankfully, he has escaped that eternal battle he never had a shot at winning (imagine fighting a furious Thanos in a place you can’t die… just getting killed and resurrected over and over and over) and has resumed his role as a Nova Corps member and a Guardian of the Galaxy.
Real Name: Kara Zor-El
First Appearance: Action Comics #252 (1959)
Enemies: Brainiac, Atrocitus, Kryptonite Man, Bizarro-Girl, Reactron, Superwoman, H’el
“Some of us try hard to make the world a better place than it was when we found it. I know that’s what I try to do. I won’t always be successful, but that’s life…”
Kara Zor-El (aka Supergirl) is, as her name suggests, from Krypton, but unlike her cousin, Kal-El (Superman) who was sent away as a baby, she actually grew up on Krypton. Depending on the version you’re reading or watching, her origin and the reason she’s still young when she gets to Earth decades *after* Superman vary – in most versions she’s from Krypton’s Argo City, usually trapped in suspended animation for years, and in one version she was even a shape shifting imposter? Regardless, Supergirl isn’t just a female Superman – she’s a powerful character in her own right and has proven herself more than capable of living up to his legacy.
First introduced in the cheesy Superman comics of the 50’s, she’s evolved quite a bit with the times. During “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, she sacrificed herself to help stop the Anti-Monitor. When she was rebooted in 2004’s “Superman/Batman” by Jeph Loeb, her escape pod initially crash landed into Gotham harbor in a Kryptonite meteor shower and was sent to train with Wonder Woman and the Amazons, but Darkseid soon set his sights on corrupting her as one of his furies.
While Clark grew up on Earth, raised by the Kents, Kara has had to learn to adapt and fit in, while mourning the very tangible loss of her home planet. Likewise, she has a way more personal connection to the likes of Brainiac and the bottle city of Kandor. Although she has often struggled to prove herself in her cousin’s shadow, Lex Luthor himself once pointed out that in some ways she’s actually more powerful than the Man of Steel, just less experienced.
Although her TV/Movie appearances have been largely hit or miss, the CW series (starring Melissa Benoist) might be her best portrayal to date, in any medium!
Real Name: Ororo Munroe
First Appearance: Giant-Sized X-Men #1 (1974)
Enemies: Magneto, Marauders, White Queen, Hellfire Club, Reavers, Dr. Doom, Dracula, Sentinels
“Am I not beautiful, Lord Doom? And terrible? Do you not fear me? You should.”
Storm has been many, many things in her life. An orphan, a street urchin/pickpocket, a mutant, worshipped as a goddess, a member of the X-Men, a team leader, powerless (she got better), reverted to a child (she got better. And don’t ask), queen of Wakanda and wife of the Black Panther, leader of the underground dwelling mutant Morlocks, a member of the Avengers (for about five minutes), and a member of the Quiet Council (the first governing body of the mutant nation Krakoa).
Easily one of the most powerful mutants alive, Storm can control the weather. When you think about that, it’s really pretty terrifying. Having lived through numerous hurricanes and large storms, imaging a person being able to generate that and then control it is pretty freaking insane. Many times she just kind of generates wind gusts and lightning bolts, but when she is pushed Storm always comes up with something new, crazy, and super scary.
The crazy level of power, combined with the utter insanity that has been her adult life, should have resulted in one of the most terrifying, badass super villains in the history of the Marvel universe. Instead, it forged maybe the most powerful woman in the Marvel U; an unbreakable, unmovable force of nature that would prefer to use her powers to water her gardens and provide for people that need it, but won’t hesitate to drop a force 5 hurricane on you if you mess around.
22. The Punisher
Real Name: Frank Castle
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #129 (1974)
Enemies: Jigsaw, Kingpin, Bullseye… the rest are all pretty much dead
“They laugh at the law. The rich ones who buy it and twist it to their whims. The other ones, who have nothing to lose, who don’t care about themselves, or other people. All the ones who think they’re above the law, or outside it, or beyond it. They know all the law is good for is to keep good people in line. And they all laugh. They laugh at the law. But they don’t laugh at me.”
To be honest, putting the Punisher on a hero’s list is a bit of a stretch, especially this high, but few characters have maintained the level of popularity he has over the last 40+ years, both in comics and in other media. He’s been the star of three feature films and had a season on Netflix that lasted 2 seasons, has been the star of numerous video games, about thirty different comic book series, and his logo is recognized pretty much worldwide (even if it has been misappropriated by some misguided individuals at times). Frank Castle has stuck around so long because his story is relatable, to an extent. It’s hard to imagine getting mutant powers, or being bitten by a radioactive spider, or hit by a gamma bomb (it’s fun, but hard). It’s not that hard to imagine that if someone scumbags murdered your entire family and you had the means, know-how and will to get horrible, bloody revenge, wouldn’t you? You can at least understand the motivation and thought process, even if the person making it has become a cold, empty killing machine.
Frank is basically the shark from Jaws. His body count is higher than many wars (!) and it shows no signs of slowing. While it’s always fun to see Frank interact with the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, the best Punisher stuff is generally found in the Punisher MAX (Marvel’s MAX line are mature reader only titles), and usually written by the incomparable Garth Ennis.
21. Human Torch
Real Name: Johnny Storm
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #1 (1961)
Enemies: Dr. Doom, Annihilus, Super Skrull, Paibok, Namor, the Wizard, Sandman, Diablo, Mad Thinker, Mole Man, Terrax
“So this is it. A billion to one… you think I’m afraid of that? You think I’m afraid of that?! Flame on!”
The original Marvel poster child for teenage superhero (well, not counting Bucky), at his core Johnny is just as impulsive, immature, and (forgive the pun) hot-headed as he was 60 years ago. There have been surface changes, sure: he’s grown into a young adult, has had long-term relationships (sort of), has come into his own as far as his powers go, and has at times taken on higher responsibilities, whether it’s running the FF’s foundation or being the leader of the Negative Zone armies. While the hot-headed young teen hero has become a hot-headed young adult hero, he’s still the baby of the Fantastic Four, and still very comfortable in that role. He does often use his sister, Susan Richards, as a mom-like figure; taking advice from her, and when needed, getting put in his place by her. He plays the little brother/nephew/son role to Reed, who is always patient with him and always expects more of him than Johnny does of himself. But it’s his relationship with Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing, that is the most entertaining. They’ve got a prank war going that’s 6+ decades strong and shows no signs of stopping.
It’s easy to brush Johnny off as the ‘kid brother’ of the FF, but in reality he’s one of the most powerful, capable, and dangerous heroes in the Marvel Universe. He was instrumental in stopping Galactus, has fought ol’ Dr. Doom more times than I can count, has stood single-handedly against the hordes of the Annihilation Wave (he died, but still), took the Cosmic Control rod- and leadership of the Negative Zone and the entire Annihilation Wave- from Annihilus himself… the ol’ matchstick is not to be taken lightly, despite his catchphrase being “Flame On”, which is the worst catchphrase since Arthur from the Tick’s “Not in the face!”.
That’s all for this one, but be sure to check out our next installment: 20-11 – where we’re looking at Doctor Strange, the Black Panther, Cyclops, Hal Jordan, and Thor!