Like jazz, comic books and more specifically the superhero is a wholly American art form. As a result of the popularity of superhero films like the Dark Knight, Iron Man and the X-Men, superheroes have begun to enter into the awareness of the general public. The following is a list of the best superheroes that comic books have to offer. The list is designed to provide a starting point for the new reader. I tried to distinguish between good characters and a good story or a good run of issues when I could but in some cases characters have been so significantly defined by a series or an issue that they made the list. 25. Spectre (Jim Corrigan): The avenging hand of God. If the Spectre has decided that you need to be punished consider yourself lucky if he just takes an eye for an eye. Even the heroes get a little nervous when the Spectre shows up.
24: Kid Eternity: Kid Eternity makes the list because he's a cool concept with an awesome power and heck he can even be educational. 23. Green Arrow: For the first twenty plus years of his creation Oliver Queen was simply a second class version of Batman. He was a millionaire; he had an Arrow-Car; an Arrow-Plane, an Arrow-Cave and a teen-aged side-kick. 22. Black Bolt: One of the strongest beings in the Marvel Universe and yet he never uses his true power for fear of the destruction it would unleash. Black Bolt still gets angry. The self-control that it takes for Black Bolt to remain silent only makes him seem more noble
21. The Thing: Marvel Comics has a thing (pun intended) for monsters. There's the Hulk, the Beast, Nightcrawler, Sasquatch, the Gargoyle and many more but the first was Benjamin J. Grim. Where cosmic rays granted the rest of the Fantastic Four powers without altering their physical appearance Ben Grim was turned into an appropriately named "Thing". Johnny Storm and the rest of the FF became media darlings while the Thing took to hiding his appearance under trench coats. 20. The Chief:Apparently if you are wheelchair bound it is incumbent upon you to organize a group of super-freaks. At the same time that Professor Xavier was forming his X-men over at Marvel Comics Dr. Niles Caulder was forming his Doom Patrol at DC Comics. Along with Robot-Man, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl, the Chief was part of comics' most dysfunctional super group. 19. Dr. Strange:As Earth's sorcerer supreme Dr. Stephen Strange has fought off a multitude of mystical and otherworldly menaces such as Dormammu and Nightmare that other heroes don't even know exist. As a member of the Defenders (along with the Hulk, Namor and the Silver Surfer) he formed arguably the most powerful super-team in the Marvel Universe and as a member of the Illuminati (with Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Tony Stark, Namor and Professor X) he has manipulated many events behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe.
18. The Atom (Ray Palmer): Running neck and neck with Aquaman for worst personal life would be the Atom. This civilization was subsequently destroyed. Years later Jean Loring went mad and killed his good friend, the Elongated Man's, wife. Choi was killed later by Deathstroke.While he has often been a reluctant hero DC's resident scientist in the right situation can be a powerful ally.
17. Iron Man: Like Hourman (see #48) Iron Man is a superhero that is realistically feasible. He's also a character that suffers from real life vices. Tony Stark was designed not to be liked. He was a billionaire military arms designer/dealer created during the height of the cold war and the beginning of the Vietnam War. He's suffered from alcohol abuse. Through it all, however, he has remained an integral part of Marvel's premiere superteam, the Avengers.
16. Silver Surfer: Norrin Radd is probably the noblest hero. He sacrificed himself to become the herald of Galactus in order to save his homeworld of Zen-La. Then he sacrificed himself by defying Galactus in order to save the planet Earth. The Silver Surfer doesn't even really like people and yet he risked his life to save the Planet. What a good guy.
While Plastic Man has never quite fit in the modern age of comics his comedic surreal early adventures have made him a favorite of creators and will probably ensure that he will never completely go away.
14. Rorschach: When a character is based upon another character it is not supposed to be better than the original unless that homage is created by Alan Moore. Watchmen was originally supposed to be a treatment for the Charlton Group of Heroes and Rorshach was originally supposed to be the Question (above at # 74). DC Comics had recently acquired the publishing rights to these characters prior to the publication of Watchmen. Then Editor in Chief Dick Giordano nixed the idea of using the Charlton characters and thus Watchmen was born. Rorschach is more interesting than his Charlton counterpart, the Question. 13. Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson): The coolest thing about Dr. Fate is that "Dr. Fate" is the helmet. The spirit of the ancient wizard Nabu inhabits the helmet of fate and causes Kent Nelson (or anyone wearing the helmet) to act as the agent of the Lords of Order, Dr. Fate.
12. The Hulk: Dr. Bruce Banner's alter-ego is a combination of Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein's monster. Banner transforms into the monster, the Hulk, just as Dr. Jeckle transformed into Mr. Hyde but at his heart the Hulk is more akin to Frankenstein's monster in that he just wishes to be left alone. Constantly misunderstood, the Hulk is drawn into violence that he doesn't crave. What's interesting about the Hulk is what he says about mankind in that people just can't leave the Hulk alone.
11. Namor, the Sub-Mariner: The very first mutant in comics. He was also comics' first environmental and anti-hero. Namor was no fan of mankind. He often was at war with the surface world and the original Human Torch over what he believed were infringements upon his undersea kingdom by the surface world. Namor could be an enemy of mankind but when he was faced with a greater evil in the form of Hitler's Germany he could also team-up with Captain America and the Human Torch to fight as a hero.
10. Thor:Taking parts from Arthurian legend; Christian metaphors as well as the Captain Marvel Jr., when the handicapped Dr. Donald Blake tapped his wooden walking stick on the ground he was transformed in a bolt of lightning into the Mighty Thor, son of Odin. 9. Wolverine:He's the best at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice.He has been a mutant, soldier, soldier of fortune, secret agent, X-men and Avenger. Wolverine made his first appearance as a little guy dropped in the middle of the Canadian outback to fight both the Hulk and Wendigo. Who was this guy? The mystery of Wolverine's origins kept getting bigger and bigger. With the release of the X-men films Wolverine not only became a household name but he made an unknown Australian actor an A-Lister in Hollywood. Easily the most popular character created since the silver-age there just doesn't seem to be any slowing Wolverine's progression to icon status.
8. Robin/Nightwing (Dick Grayson):Bucky, Captain Marvel Jr., Kid-Flash, Speedy, Aqualad, Pinky and everybody else owes their existence to Dick Grayson. When Batman took a young orphaned acrobat and turned him into a crime fighter he spawned a whole host of kid sidekicks. Dick Grayson however didn't remain a child sidekick forever. The character has continued to evolve and grow through the years. 7. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan): Before Jedis there was the Green Lantern Corps. 3,600 beings from throughout the universe armed with the most powerful weapon ever created and all working to conquer evil at the behest of the Guardians of the Universe.
What makes Hal Jordan unique in the world of superheroes is that he is not unique. This attribute was later changed to an ability to overcome great fear (which makes him more heroic and less psychotic) but throughout the universe there were thousands (currently there are 7,200 Green Lanterns) with his exact same attributes. Of course Hal Jordan was able to stand out amongst the throngs of Lanterns on multiple occasions as the "greatest Green Lantern of all" but on those occasions when he would fight alongside other Lanterns it provided perspective to the magnitude of the threat. After all if Hal Jordan (who is one of the most powerful heroes on Earth) needs hundreds of similarly powered allies then whatever they are facing must be one powerful entity. Green Lantern reminds us that there is the distinct possibility that humankind and the planet Earth may be relatively insignificant on a universal scale.
6. Captain America:Similar to Superman, Captain America has always meant to inspire. In his very first appearance in Captain America Comics #1 he is seen punching Hitler in the jaw. This book was first published March 10, 1941. This was months before Germany formally declared war against the United States on December 11, 1941, and yet there is Captain America inspiring Americans to take a sock at Hitler.
Even though Captain America like many Golden Age heroes faded after the war he became an inspiration for a new generation with his 1960's revival in Avengers #4. Now the Captain as a man out of his own time serves as a constant mirror by which our own time period is judged against those of "the greatest generation".
5. Captain Marvel:The original Captain Marvel epitomizes every young boy's fantasy, "to be big". Who armed with a mixture of abilities from different pantheons (Solomon Hercules Atlas Zeus Achilles Mercury) becomes the World's Mightiest Mortal. Unlike Dick Grayson (see Robin at #8)Billy wasn't a young hero who was permitted to work with the adult hero he was the hero who had several sidekicks of his own (Captain Marvel Jr. at #32, Mary Marvel, the Lieutenant Marvels, Uncle Marvel and even a talking Tiger). Captain Marvels appeal to youth was so great that at his height he had the top-selling comic book in America. Captain Marvel's greatest weakness seems to be to lawyers. First he lost a battle to Superman than he lost his name to Marvel Comics.
4. Wonder Woman: Part of the "holy trinity" of DC comics. Until recently Wonder Woman was the product of an immaculate conception and a gift from the Greek pantheon of Gods to aid man's world. Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 as a role model for girls, Wonder Woman has had varying characterizations in her past but at her best she falls somewhere between Superman and Batman. 3. Spider-Man: The proportional strength of a spider and still can't get a job. What Stan Lee and Steve Ditko brought to comics in 1962 was the opposite of just about everything we had previously seen in comics. He wasn't a millionaire philanthropist, a successful business man, or respected reporter, scientist or test pilot. In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote that fine breeding and good genetics could overcome any adverse situation when he created Tarzan. In 1954 William Golding wrote about a group of British school boys degenerating into savagery without parental guidance. Bruce Wayne's parents were killed by Joe Chill in what would become known as Crime Alley. Suddenly orphaned young Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to battling criminals. Driven by rage and revenge Batman became a Dark-Knight fighting a never-ending battle crime. Unlike Superman, Batman is completely human. Where Superman presents a spiritual ideal for man (insert Jesus Christ metaphors here) Batman represents what man can become in reality if he is driven.
1. Superman: The first and in my opinion the best. All super-heroes stem from either the "tree" of Batman or Superman and without Superman there would be no Batman. Superman is a concept that is meant to inspire. Superman doesn't actually fight for "Truth, Justice and the American Way" he fights for the "American Ideal." Sure everyone has felt like an awkward teenager at some point or even been filled with an almost uncontrollable rage and desire for revenge (that's why those characters are easier to write and are easier to digest as they appeal to our emotions) but Superman shows us who we can be as people if we apply ourselves.