Movies & TV / Columns

411 Comics Showcase – The Top 52 Marvel Heroes (#13-1)

February 24, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

It’s time for the cream of the crop, the very best that Marvel Comics has to offer. If you’ve been keeping with the list so far, thank you. If you skipped to the top thirteen and don’t see your favorite, check out the earlier editions of this month-long project!

I’ve been looking forward to doing this one for a while, but man does it take a long time. One of the key differences between Marvel and DC is that Marvel has a definite focus on team books; the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Defenders, the Guardians of the Galaxy. As such, there are a lot of characters that just couldn’t make the cut, and I had to pick and choose some tough choices. The final list serves as a comprehensive look at the characters I think are most essential to the Marvel brand.

Why 52? Because I made a cute joke for the DC list and I’m nothing if not fair. And you can check out that list (in four parts) here:

#52-40
#39-27
#26-14
#13-1

The Top 52 Marvel Superheroes

I had to add a few more Honorable Mentions, so if you skipped over that, or are wondering if a character was considered, check this list out again.

The Honorable Mentions: Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, Havok, Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew), Forge, Moon Knight, Groot, Quicksilver, Hercules, Black Cat, Dazzler, Nova (Richard Rider), Bishop, Elektra, Magick, Blade, Kid Omega, Gamora, Red Hulk, Medusa, Captain Britain, The Black Knight, Jessica Jones and Jubilee

The List So Far!
Part One!
Part Two!
And Part Three!

#52. Star-Lord (Peter Quill)
#51. The Vision
#50. Rocket Raccoon
#49. Angel (Warren Worthington III)
#48. Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze)
#47. Wolverine (Laura Kinney/X-23)
#46. Ant-Man (Scott Lang)
#45. Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr/Max Eisenhardt)
#44. The Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes)
#43. Cable (Nathan Summers)
#42. Spider-Man (Miles Morales)
#41. Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock)
#40. The Sub-Mariner (Prince Namor)
#39. War Machine (James Rhodes)
#38. Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)
#37. Iron Fist (Danny Rand)
#36. Emma Frost
#35. The Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd)
#34. Colossus (Piotr Rasputin)
#33. The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne)
#32. Iceman (Bobby Drake)
#31. The Falcon (Sam Wilson)
#30. Deadpool (Wade Wilson)
#29. Luke Cage
#28. She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)
#27. Gambit (Remy LeBeau)
#26. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers)
#25. Ant-Man (Hank Pym)
#24. Nick Fury
#23. The Invisible Woman (Sue Storm)
#22. The Punisher (Frank Castle)
#21. Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde)
#20. Black Widow (Natasha Romanov)
#19. Doctor Strange (Steven Strange)
#18. Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner)
#17. Hawkeye (Clint Barton)
#16. The Human Torch (Johnny Storm)
#15. Rogue (Anna Marie)
#14. Black Panther (T’Challa)


#13. Beast
Alias: Hank McCoy
Debut Issue: The X-Men #1, Sept.1963
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
A mutant with incredible strength and agility, as well as massive hands and feet, Hank McCoy was the powerhouse of the original X-Men team. Bucking the usual trend of the brainless muscle, Hank is one of the most intelligent minds in the Marvel Universe, and loves to showcase his voluminous vocabulary. During an experiment to test the limits of mutant powers, Hank transformed into the hairy, ape like form he is best known for. As much an Avenger as he is an X-Man, Hank is one of the most prolific characters in Marvel. It’s no wonder why either; between his appearance and his personality, he tends to make any comic he is in more interesting. And while it took Hank a few movies to make an appearance, he’s been a staple in the X-Men movies, played by Kelsey Grammer and Nicholas Hoult. Hank has always been one of my favorites and is a character that I find gets overlooked when people discuss Marvel’s best.


#12. Mr. Fantastic
Alias: Reed Richards
Debut Issue: Fantastic Four #1, Nov. 1961
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Stan Lee has said that the Fantastic Four came about because he was given the opportunity to write about the kind of superheroes he wanted to see. I believe if you look at the teenage bravado of Human Torch, the kind-hearted but ostracized Thing, the stunning but caring Sue Storm, and the brilliant but kind of lame Reed Richards, you can get a portrait of who Stan Lee was and what he wanted to be. Mr. Fantastic is a scientist and an adventurer, someone who is always pushing boundaries and searching for new knowledge. Obsessive to the point of negligence, Reed often struggles with basic human emotions as much as he excels at numbers. Looked at with modern eyes, it’s hard not to picture Reed as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome or something similar, as he definitely shows the signs. Like the other FF members, Reed’s power almost seems like a joke; physically he’s the most flexible man in the world, while mentally and emotionally he’s a total stiff. Reed’s creative DNA is all over the Marvel Universe; from Tony Stark and Hank Pym to Scott Summers and Bruce Banner, it’s easy to see how his basic character traits were copied and tweaked.


#11. Phoenix
Alias: Jean Grey
Debut Issue: X-Men #1, Sept. 1963
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Introduced as Marvel Girl on the original X-Men teams, the telekinetic Jean Grey was not that dissimilar from Sue Storm; beautiful, pleasant, and with a power that kept her from being physically involved in the action. Not a bad character by any stretch, but one that definitely feels dated. When Chris Claremont brought her back for the revived X-Men series, he quickly gave her a makeover, both in her fashion and in her power set. After she uses her powers to rescue the X-Men when the reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, Jean was reborn as Phoenix. Now the most powerful X-Men, Jean was also bolder, more expressive, and much more sexual than before. This culminated in the legendary Dark Phoenix Saga, where Jean’s power and Mastermind’s illusions brought out the dark side of her personality, which eventually resulted in her death. Being the centerpiece of one of the most famous comic archs ever is certainly plenty, but Jean was also resurrected and was a major part of the X-Men in the nineties and early 2000s, serving as a “cool team mom” of sorts for the team. Recently, the teenage Jean Grey was brought into present timeline and has had a lot of Jean’s adult personality thrust upon her in a way that I genuinely appreciate.


#10. The Thing
Alias: Ben Grimm
Debut Issue: Fantastic Four #1, Nov. 1961
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Reed Richards’ best friend, Ben Grimm got the short end of the stick when the Fantastic Four were created by cosmic radiation. While Reed, Johnny and Sue Storm kept their human appearance, Ben was transformed into the monstrous Thing. Though Ben sometimes sees his powers as a curse that ostracizes him from humanity, he is as much a part of the family as the other members. With his distinct Brooklyn accent, humor and his willingness to engage in any brawl that comes up, Ben’s bigger than life personality has made him the breakout member of the team. He’s starred in numerous mini-series, worked with the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, formed a friendly rivalry with The Hulk, and is probably the most popular Jewish superhero of all time. He’s one of Jack Kirby’s most distinct designs, and the archetype of misunderstood and even feared hero informs the creation of characters like Hulk and the X-Men. And he unquestionably has one of the best catchphrases of all time.


#9. Storm
Alias: Ororo Munroe
Debut Issue: Giant Size X-Men #1, May 1975
Created By: Len Wein and Dave Cockrum
Ororo Munroe was a street rat living in Cairo when her mutant powers developed. With absolute control over the weather and its elemental forces, she served as a Goddess to a Kenyan tribe before Xavier recruited her to the X-Men. While young and naïve, Storm quickly found her footing on the team as one of its most powerful members. After the events of the Dark Phoenix Saga left Cyclops disillusioned, Storm naturally assumed the role of team leader. Away from the X-Men, Ororo spent a long time as the wife of T’Challa, the Black Panther, but she has also had romantic ties to fellow X-Men members Forge and Wolverine. Ororo is an essential member of the X-Men, and very few teams feel complete without her. She’s also very nearly my favorite team leader in comics; stern but fair, strategic but flexible, and most importantly, she knows how to maximize her team’s strengths.


#8. Daredevil
Alias: Matt Murdock
Debut: Daredevil #1, Apr. 1964
Created By: Stan Lee and Bill Everett
When a young Matt Murdock lost his sight in a chemical spill, he gained a radar sense that more than compensates. Combined with his athletic talents, never say die attitude and his other enhanced senses, he is able to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. The Man Without Fear is one of the first heroes with a physical handicap, and while he doesn’t have the same broad appeal as some of the other heroes on this list, longtime readers know that he’s one of Marvel’s most interesting characters. Whether it’s his swashbuckling sixties run, his partnership with Black Widow in the seventies, the seminal dark and brooding Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli stories, Kevin Smith’s revival in the late nineties or Mark Waid’s Eisner-winning run in the early parts of this decade, there is no shortage of great Daredevil comics to dead. His stories are often darker and more emotional than other Marvel works, dealing with all too realistic crime and Matt’s Catholic faith. While his movie debut was less than stellar, Daredevil was finally done justice in his Netflix TV series, which at its best moments ranks among the best thing Marvel or anyone else has done with superhero media.


#7. Thor
Debut Issue: Journey Into Mystery #83, Aug. 1962
Created By: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
It’s common to compare superheroes to god and heroes from classic mythology, but only one literally has his origins in it. The Norse God of Thunder is an Avenger on Earth, one of the founding members and perhaps the most powerful. Often arrogant but essentially noble, he is the primary wielder of the uru metal hammer Mjolnir, a hammer which only those who are worthy can lift. Thor is an easy enough concept to understand, but getting into his convoluted lore can be a frustrating experience. It’s no wonder why Marvel Studios did away with Donald Blake, and honestly when Thor isn’t avenging he’s much more interesting away from Earth. With Nine Realms to defend and gods, giants and monsters to face, his high fantasy stories are unique in Marvel and are among my favorites. It’s a genre I enjoy, and Thor and supporting characters are ones I always enjoy revisiting.


#6. Cyclops
Alias: Scott Summers
Debut Issue: The X-Men #1, Sept. 1963
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
I imagine some will scoff at this placement, since Scott Summers has a reputation as being a boring and unlikable prick of a character. I don’t agree with that; Scott has been a tragic and interesting character since the beginning. His always active, extremely dangerous concussive optic blasts perfectly embody the weight of mutant powers. Being Xavier’s choice to lead the X-Men, Scott is always balancing the needs of his father figure and his team over his own needs and wants. I think about moments like Scott mourning the loss of Thunderbird, standing up for his team to Xavier, rallying the troops to fight Proteus, or his heartbreak when Jean dies in his arms. That’s a good leader and a person with deeply rooted emotional trauma. I love Scott’s marriage to Jean Grey, I love his antagonistic relationship with Wolverine, I love his strained relationship with his brother Alex. And while they aren’t my favorite Cyclops stories, I do respect that the Shakespearian tragedy of his fall from grace, his self-destructive romance with Emma Frost, and his final act of rebellion in killing Charles Xavier at the culmination of the Avengers vs. X-Men story. Scott is awesome, and he deserves more respect.


#5. The Hulk
Alias: Bruce Banner
Debut Issue: The Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962
Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
What if Dr. Frankenstein and his monster worked liked Jekyll and Hyde? You’d have Bruce Banner and his alter-ego, the Incredible Hulk. Bruce is a brilliant scientist with a traumatic past that has given him a split personality, something that becomes manifest when he becomes the Hulk. Marvel’s green giant is the Strongest Hero there is, with nearly unlimited physical strength that grows with his anger. Usually hunted by the military, Hulk would prefer to be left alone, but rarely gets his wish. The monster has been portrayed with varying levels of intelligence, depending on which part of Bruce’s psyche is in control. For kids, the appeal of Hulk is easy to understand, while adults will probably connect to Bruce’s fear of his emotions and possibly to his mental health issues. He’s been iconic for decades, the star of his own TV show and two movies, as well as a featured player in Marvel Studios’ Avengers films.


#4. Iron Man
Alias: Tony Stark
Debut Issue: Tales of Suspense #39, Mar. 1963
Created By: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby and Dan Heck
It’s sometimes hard to remember before 2008, when Iron Man was a smash hit at the box office and suddenly became one of Marvel’s most well-known characters. Not that Tony Stark was ever irrelevant, he was a major part of the Avengers since their first issue, but things like his name, occupation and backstory weren’t common knowledge for most of his existence. Iron Man is an interesting case considering he was made in 1963; a rich, entitled playboy that sold weapons to the military at the height of the Vietnam War? It’s almost like Stan Lee made him on a dare, convinced he could make readers like this guy. The result is a character who is defined by his flaws; Tony is always arrogant enough to make huge mistakes, but brilliant and resourceful enough to fix them. He’s also become more relevant over time, as technology develops and the moral questions of how to use it feels more present than ever. Iron Man is unquestionably a pop culture icon now, and embodies the all-too human side that Marvel prides itself on bringing to its audience.


#3. Wolverine
Alias: Logan/James Howlett
Debut Issue: The Incredible Hulk #180-181, Oct.-Nov. 1974
Created By: Len Wein, Roy Thomas and John Romita, Sr.
After an appearance as an enemy for Hulk to fight, the mutant known as Wolverine quickly joined the X-Men along with Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and a few others. Older than any other team member, Logan is a testosterone-filled anti-hero typical of the 1970s (think Dirty Harry and Taxi Driver). Between his healing powers, adamantium claws and a penchant for violence, Wolverine quickly became the breakout character of the team and was the first to star in his own solo series. Logan’s personality is part-noble warrior looking for a cause to fight for, and part animalistic rage. These two sides are often at war with each other, and while the latter is louder and more viscerally exciting, it’s the former that makes Wolverine such an interesting character. He’s a man who might be consumed by grief and guilt if he didn’t have something to fight for; he’s loyal to the X-Men and he’s served as a surrogate father to many X-Men. Wolverine will always be one of the most popular superheroes from Marvel or any other company.


#2. Captain America
Alias: Steve Rogers
Debut Issue: Captain America Comics #1, Mar. 1941
Created By: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Marvel’s first real breakthrough character was the hero America needed. Arriving in bombastic fashion by punching Adolf Hitler on the cover of his blockbuster first issue, Steve Rogers was a product of his time. While Captain America’s popularity waned after World War II along with the whole superhero genre, he had served his country well, inspiring and entertaining both children at home and soldiers on the battlefield. It’s thus unsurprising that Stan Lee chose to bring back Captain America shortly after President Kennedy was shot, and Steve has always been at his most popular when during periods of political and civil unrest. Aside from his own politically charged series, Captain America is best known as the perennial leader of the Avengers. Perhaps surprisingly, he’s managed to be a major success at the Worldwide Box Office as well; his three films are as good as the superhero genre gets in movies. Steve is my favorite Marvel hero, but I couldn’t deny the eventual winner of the #1 spot.


#1. Spider-Man
Alias: Peter Parker
Debut Issue: Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1962
Created By: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
There’s Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, and then there’s everyone else, in my book. Peter Parker is Marvel’s most popular and enduring hero. In costume, he’s got one of the coolest power sets in comics, one of the best group of villains, and delivers action and laughs in equal measure. Out of costume, he’s the first superhero to truly feel like part of his prospective audience. Dick Grayson, Billy Batson and Johnny Storm were all steps, but Peter was the first hero to capture the everyday angst of being a teenager. Balancing school, work, bills, your dear old Aunt who raised you, and a dating life is tough for anyone, but add being a superhero on top of it? It’s both a power fantasy and a reality check. Peter is young, reckless, impulsive, childish and often overwhelmed, but he’s also smart, honest, compassionate, resourceful, driven and capable. He’s not always a good person, but he is always bothered when he can’t be a better one. His original stories were groundbreaking, and most of his comics still hold up. Spider-Man made an effortless leap from the comics to the movies, losing almost nothing in the process. He’s extremely marketable, and while he wouldn’t make my top five personal favorite heroes, he’s darn close. For his impact on the genre and his continued excellence, Spider-Man tops this list.

I am on Letterboxd!
Check me out
here to see my star ratings for over 700 films. I have reviewed every movie I’ve watched since last August, and recent additions include James Bond films Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me, as well as Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Check Out From Under A Rock!
Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, we waxed on and waxed off (gross…) with 1984’s The Karate Kid. This week, Michael introduced me to Lucky Number Slevin.