30 Greatest Superheroes of All-Time!

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By JP Scratches

I remember my mother taking the family to the zoo when I was eight years old. On the way home we stopped at 7-11 where she bought me two comic books; Super Friends #1 and Uncanny X-Men #111 which started my life-long love affair with comic books. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of visiting second-hand comic shops in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

Comic Shops such as Seattle’s Time Travelers and Golden Age Collectibles were a favorite stop on Saturday afternoons for me and my mentor Elmer from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

If there has been one constant in my life over the past 40 years it has been my love for comic books. In every home or apartment that I have lived in you could always find comic books stacked in the restroom. So it should go without saying that compiling a list of the 30 Greatest Superheroes was a task that I took very seriously. Where other lists often relied on mainstream popularity or the author’s personal favorites, I have decided to take a more scientific approach.

I asked myself what truly makes for a great superhero. What sets them apart from others? And here are the categories that I have decided to judge them on.

1. Iconic Emblem – Does the character have an emblem that screams originality? An emblem that is recognized around the world? The “S” in the half-diamond? The star & striped shield? The wing-spread bat?

2. Unique Power – Had their superpower been seen before this hero first appeared? The power of six immortal elders bestowed by a wizard? A magic lasso? Wall crawling ability?

3. Individuality – Does their personality, lifestyle, or social status make them unique? An alien who disguises himself as a news reporter? The wife of an android? A devout Catholic who wrestles with his faith?

4. Agent of Change – Was their first appearance a watershed moment for comic books that may have changed pop culture? The first teen side-kick? The first strong female lead?

5. Origin Story – How original is the hero’s origin? Bitten by a radioactive spider? Bones laced with adamantium at the hands of Project X? The daughter of an arch-super villain?

As you read through the list I hope that you and I can find agreement on who appears on the list and why. It is possible that your favorite hero does not appear on the list. That doesn’t mean that your hero isn’t awesome; it only means that they didn’t rank as high as some of the others in the five categories that I chose to grade them on.

30. Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds ~ The ultra-cool captain of the Firefly-class transport ship called “Serenity.” Mal gets high marks for Individuality as a take-no-crap anti-hero with a heart of gold and a string of great one-liners. His Origin is pretty cool too; as one of “Brown Coats” he fought a losing battle as a member of the Independents against the planetary Alliance, and now leads a rag-tag group of smugglers trying to make a living while staying one step ahead of the law.

29. The Atom ~ Created in 1961 by Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Gil Kane. The Atom can shrink himself to microscopic size; while still retaining his strength and weight. His Power was Unique at the time of his creation and the idea of the Atom jumping through a telephone receiver in order to travel across the country is still one of the coolest tricks ever!

28. Plastic Man ~ Created in 1941 by Jack Cole, Plastic Man was one of the first Superheroes to make fun of himself with a healthy dose of slapstick humor, giving him points for Individuality and even Agent of Change. The idea of shape-shifting wasn’t new, but the shapes that Plastic Man warped into were different than those of folk-tales and mythos.

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27. The Spectre ~ Created in 1940 by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily. Long before the Punisher was wreaking havoc on comic book criminals, the Spectre was meting out vengeance against the underworld. Armed with supernatural powers the Spectre was putting an end to criminals in a variety of grim and gruesome ways since his inception; often right under the nose of the now defunct Comics Code Authority. Turning crooks to dust, melting or stripping flesh from their bones, or breaking them into pieces, are only a few examples of how some villains met their end. Individuality and Agent of Change points for his lack of conscience and the brutal way he used his powers.

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26. Luke Skywalker ~ In many ways Skywalker follows the traditional archetype hero of the young adventurer with the aging mentor, called to save the world (or galaxy) from impending doom. Where Skywalker scores big is in the Individuality area, although much of that is due to his relationships with other characters (his father, sister, and robots). I’m also giving him Unique Power points for use of the force and the light saber.

25. Dr. Midnight ~ Created in 1941 by Charles McNider, Beth Chapel, and Pieter Anton Cross, Dr. Midnight was the first blind superhero, years before Daredevil hit the shelves.

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24. John Stewart (Green Lantern) ~ Created in 1971 by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, John Stewart brought a new attitude to comic books. During the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960’s O’Neil and Adams made a statement by introducing an African-American superhero who addressed the subject of racism head-on. Big points for Individuality, Agent of Change, and Origin (military man with a chip on his shoulder against the Government he loves and serves. The character has softened over the years, but in 1971 John Stewart was the voice of a generation.

23. Ralph Hinkley (Greatest American Hero) ~ A television series which aired from 1981 – 1983, the hero with no official name tried his best to master the super powers granted through use of a super-suit gifted to him by aliens. Assisted by his former divorce attorney and an FBI agent each episode seemed to introduce a new super power to Ralph Hinckley’s arsenal.

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22. Optimus Prime ~ The leader of the Autobot Transformers, Optimus Prime transforms from galactic warrior into a Peterbuilt 379 big rig semi-trailer truck.

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21. Robin ~ Batman’s teen-age side kick makes the grade by opening the doors to a younger group of crime-fighters. Originally appearing in Detective Comics #38 (1940) his appearance was quickly followed by a number of other junior superheroes including Marvel Boy, Bucky Barnes, Toro, Doodle, Star-Spangled Kid, Captain Marvel Jr., and more! He scores with Individuality and Agent of Change points, but unfortunately gets no points for his origin as the “orphan adopted by a rich businessman” was obviously borrowed from Little Orphan Annie.

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20. Black Panther ~ Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther was the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream comics, debuting in Fantastic Four #52 (1966). As the King of (the fictional) country of Wakanda, Black Panther brought a never-before-seen nobility to the pages of comic books. He cracks the top 20 by breaking down color barriers during the turbulent 1960’s.

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19. Green Lantern (Alan Scott) ~ The original Green Lantern was created by Martin Nodell in 1940. Although there are a few differences between the first Lantern and the more famous Hal Jordan of the 1960’s, the most important thing remains the same; a power ring capable of creating whatever the wearer can imagine, but must be periodically charged by a magical lantern.

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18. Jaime Sommers (the Bionic Woman) ~ A television series which aired between 1976-1978; the Bionic Woman was a spin-off from the popular Six Million Dollar Man. Jaime Sommers comes in at #18 with a tale that broke my 10-year old heart when it aired in 76’. Jaime is critically injured during a skydiving accident with her fiancé Steve Bionic Man) Austin; and has her life saved thanks to bionic surgical implants. These cybernetic additions give her superhuman hearing, strength, and speed. Her relationship with Steve Austin (the Bionic Man) begins to fall apart as she suffers massive headaches when in his vicinity; ultimately resulting in a brain hemorrhage that nearly kills her. When she recovers she has no memory of her relationship with Steve, and in the best interest of her health, Steve allows her to go her own way without him.

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17. Hellboy ~ One of my favorite characters, Hellboy was created in 1993 by artist Mike Mignola. Hellboy is a half-demon who was summoned from Hell as a baby by Nazi occultists; but was rescued by Professor Trevor of the Bureau fo Paranormal Research and Defense. Trevor raised mischeivious young Hellboy like a son, instilling in him all of the proper morals, a conscience, and a sense of humor. As an adult Hellboy is constantly wrestling with his “inner-Demon” and must file-down his devil horns lest he be overcome by his dark-side. He wears a gauntlet called “the Right Hand of Doom” which has the power to control an undead army called the Ogdru Jahad; which he has no intent of rousing lest he bring about the end of the world.

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16. Blade ~ Created in 1973 by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade is a half-vampire who was inspired by heroes from Blaxploitation films; originally wearing an afro and leather jacket reminiscent of Richard Roundtree’s character in the movie Shaft. The character possesses all of the supernatural powers of a vampire such as strength, speed, and a superhuman healing factor, with none of the traditional vulnerabilities to silver, garlic, and sunlight. The “day walker” was brought to life in fantastic fashion onscreen by Wesley Snipes in 1997.

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15. KISS (the Band!) ~ A superhero rock band; who spawned their own comic book AND television special in 1978. Undoubtedly they deserve to be higher on the list as they get points as they score in nearly every category. The only reason that they aren’t further up on the list is because they are a group and not an individual.

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14. Ben 10 ~ Created by Duncan Rouleau in 2007 for Cartoon Network. The main character (Ben) where’s a device called the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into ten different alien creatures and easily puts him in points columns for Unique Power and Individuality; while at the same time we do give a slight knod to Dial H for Hero for being the first to introduce the rotating-hero storyline.

13. Nightcrawler ~ Introduced in Giant X-Men #1 by creators Len Wein and Dave Cockrun; Nightcrawler is a former circus performer who was saved from and violent mob and given a new life as a member of Charles Xavier’s mutant super group. Nightcrawlers ability to become invisible when in the shadows and teleport from place to place give him points for Unique Ability. In a medium where Christians are more often written as intolerant and extremists, Nightcrawler’s faith as a devout catholic gives him points for Individuality and Agent of Change.

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12. Wonder Woman ~ Created in 1941 by Charles Multon, Wonder Woman has been a long time inspiration for feminist groups; establishing herself as a role model for strong, confident, independent women around the world. She’s armed with a Lasso of Truth and possessing super speed, invulnerability, flight, and strength able to rival that of Superman. As a cultural icon she easily gains points for Individuality and Agent of Change, and the Lasso might just qualify her for Unique Powers.

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11. Human Torch (Jim Hammond) ~ Long before Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, there was Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, created by Carl Burgos in 1939. The torch gets points for his Origin, which is that of an android who accidentally bursts into flames during a press conference; only to find that he can control the flame around him. The Torch gets more points as an Agent of Change, as he was part of the first superhero team-up when he battled Namor, the Sub-Mariner in Marvel Mystery Comics #9 (1940), opening the door to future super-duo’s and groups.

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10. Iron Man ~ Introduced in 1963, Iron Man is the first to break the top 10 and deservedly so. Iron Man scores points for Origin, Individuality, and Agent of Change as an industrialist weapons manufacturer who doubles as a superhero. Despite his overwhelming wealth, Iron Man must face his own mortality as he deals with a faulty heart, requiring him to create the iconic armor in order to save his own life. In addition to his health issues, Iron Man struggles with alcohol addiction and intimacy issues due to his philandering lifestyle. A complicated character who easily deserves a spot in the top ten.

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9. Captain America ~ Created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and born out of a concern with the rise of Nazi Germany, Captain America hit the ground running with a cover featuring the Captain delivering a knuckle-sandwich to the fuhrer himself. Captain America is easily the most recognizable character to rise from the mighty Marvel universe. His star and stripes shield easily identifiable to generations of comic books fans around the world give him points for Iconic Emblem, his origin as a 90-pound weakling who is turned away from the service, only to participate in the super soldier experiment gives him Origin points, and his take-the-fight-to-Hitler is a spot-on and easily both an Individuality and an Agent of Change qualifier.

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8. Batman ~ Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the Batman brought a rough, gritty, and excessively violent hero to the pages of comic books, in direct contrast to the bright and shining stories of Superman who had appeared just a year before. Batman’s emblem ranks at the very top as one of the most recognizable, he also gets Agent of Change points for introducing the first teen side-kick, and oddly enough he gets Individuality points not for himself, but for his incredible roster of deliciously villainous rouges he has introduced us to over the years.

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7. Shazam (the original Captain Marvel) ~ Created by CC Beck and Bill Parker, Shazam gets points as an Agent of Change for being the first comic book superhero to be cast on the big screen, with a 12-episode serial in 1941. Shazam also gets points for Unique Power, possessing the gifts of 6 immortals (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), and Individuality points for both his secret identity as an orphaned newspaper delivery boy, as well as a member of the Marvel family which included a handicapped hero in Captain Marvel Jr., a fraudulent Uncle Dudley, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

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6. Spiderman ~ Created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spiderman broke away from the traditional archetype superhero by introducing a socially awkward teen-ager who receives great power when accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider. Like most teens, his initial response to the newfound powers is to try to make money in the wrestling ring. The creation of Spiderman turned comic book heroes on their heads and forever changed the way characters where thought of by writers and creators.

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5. The Vision ~ Created in 1967 by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, the Vision is unique in that he was created from the shell of a previous robotic superhero. In the original Origin story the Vision is an android created from the remains of the golden-age Human Torch (# 11 on our countdown!). He gets points in 4/5 categories with point for Unique Powers (total control over his body’s density, becoming light enough for flight and so sparse that he can phase through walls, or so dense that he becomes incredibly heavy, with superhuman strength with diamond-hard skin. Vision also get points for Individuality as an android who falls in love with a human (Scarlet Witch), and Agent of Change points for having a child with that same woman.

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4. Scarlet Witch ~ Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1964, the Scarlet Witch has perhaps one of the most unique Origins in all of comics. She was born the daughter of Magneto the master of magnetism and leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and raised by a half-woman/half-cow named Bova; only to rebuke him and join the Avengers along with her brother Quicksilver. She broke from tradition and showed her Individuality by marrying an android (the Vision) and then using her Unique Power (chaos magic) to alter-reality in order to have children with him; definitely qualifying her as an Agent of Change.

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3. Phoenix (Jean Grey) ~ Created by Stand Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, the Phoenix saga is one of the most heartbreaking stories in comic book lore. Young Jean Grey, who possesses limited telekinetic ability, is recruited by Charles Xavier for his mutant superhero group the X-Men, and code named Marvel Girl. Later, she saves the entire group at the cost of her own life, only to be reborn more powerful than ever as the mighty Phoenix (Uncanny X-Men #109), she is then seduced by the evil mutant Jason Wyngarde (aka Mastermind) whose 50 Shades of Grey routine releases Dark Phoenix, who then destroys an entire planet to appease her insatiable hunger. Ultimately, Jean Grey recognizes her threat to the galaxy and commits suicide, dying in the arms of her true-love Scott Summers (Cyclops).

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2. Wolverine ~ Perhaps comic books most popular superhero, Wolverine was created in 1974 by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita Sr (and developed into the iconic anti-hero we know today by Chris Claremont and John Byrne). Wolverine’s superpower of retractable claws that rest in his forearms between the ulna and the radius is simply genius. If there is one superpower that cannot be duplicated it is this one. A hundred superheroes fly, hundreds more have super strength; but you will never see another Wolverine (errr… other than his clones and his kids). In addition to his Unique Power he also brought with him a new attitude and a willingness to “get bloody” if needed. It wasn’t the old Batman or Spectre “vengeance on the criminal” style brutality; it was more of a “bar room brawl, I don’t like your face” perspective on life.

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1. Superman ~ Could there be any other number one? Was there ever any doubt? In 1938 Superman burst onto the scene compliments of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The first “super hero” of his kind; which bright blue tights and a flowing red cape he changed comic books forever.

Superman easily meets all scoring categories with a perfect 5-for-5!

1) Iconic Emblem – The iconic The “S” in the half-diamond shield? I would say it rates right up there with the Golden Arches as one of the world’s most recognizable symbols.

2) Unique Powers – Almost too many to name. Super strength and invulnerability powered by our yellow sun. Heat and x-ray vision, freeze breath, super hearing, and more! But wait! He can lose them under a red sun. Sure, some of these powers are taken for granted now days; he flies and is really strong, big deal. Well… in 1938 it was!

3) Individuality – A hero’s hero; standing for truth, justice, and the American way! Yet by day, he spends his time as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.

4) Agent of Change – As mentioned, he was the first!

5) Origin ~ Superman arrived as a baby from the planet Krypton; of which even the smallest piece of its shattered terrain can now kill him (Kryptonite). Raised on a farm by Ma and Pa Kent, until he eventually sets off for the big city of Metropolis and a job with the Daily Planet newspaper.

Thank you for taking time to read our article about the 30 Greatest Superheroes of All-Time! How did we do? If you disagree with the list please share your thoughts. Who did we miss and why? Until we meet again, excelsior!

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*** Atom, Plastic Man, Spectre, Dr. Midnight, John Stewart, Green Lantern, Robin, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Batman, Shazam, Superman, all owned by DC Comics.

*** Black Panther, Blade, Nightcrawler, Human Torch, Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Phoenix, Wolverine, all owned by Marvel Comics Group.

*** Luke Skywalker owned by Disney.

*** Ben 10 owned by Cartoon Network.

*** Greatest American Hero owned by ABC.

*** Optimus Prime, Transformers, owned by Hasbro.

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