The culmination of nearly every superhero that came before him, Spider-Man is the hero of heroes. He’s got fun and cool powers, but not on the god-like level of Thor. He’s just a normal guy with girlfriend problems and money issues, so he’s more relatable than playboy billionaire Iron Man. And he’s an awkward teenager, not a wizened adult like Captain America. Not too hot and not too cold, Spider-Man is just right.
All of that contributes to why we love him so much, but it goes deeper than that. His tragic origin story saw his Uncle Ben die after getting shot by a mugger he had the power to stop, leaving him with his most important lesson: with great power comes great responsibility. Those words have gone on to inspire Spidey to be a selfless protector of New York City, using his webs (and a well-timed quip) to take down psychos like Carnage and mad geniuses like Doctor Octopus.
There are countless fantastic X-Men heroes but this guy is a straight-up badass and probably the coolest X-Man. Iconic, popular and unapologetic, this Canadian named Logan will slice you to pieces in five seconds flat. Making his debut in 1974’s The Incredible Hulk #181, this regenerating immortal with retractable Adamantium Claws has seen inexplicable amounts of popularity throughout the years. His unshaven look and abrasive persona ensured so well that he’s remained a highly sought after character for movie adaptations.
There’s no questioning Thor’s place amongst the elite pantheon of Marvel heroes. The son of Odin and heir to Asgard, Thor has long been a champion of the downtrodden, whether he’s smashing frost giants on Jotunheim or battling alongside the Avengers on Midgard. Possessor of the mighty Mjolnir, a magic hammer of devastating power, Thor’s remarkable strength is outshone only by his unwavering belief in humanity. The first into battle and the last to leave, this founding Avenger will let nothing get in his way when it comes to protecting the innocent. And if something does get in his way, well, that’s what the hammer is for.
Forced into servitude to protect his people from harm, Norinn Radd scoured the galaxy as the Silver Surfer in search of sustenance for his master, Galactus. Bestowed with Galactus’ own energy, the Power Cosmic, and given a surfboard for which to ride the stars, the Surfer’s hunt eventually lead to an encounter with the Fantastic Four on Earth. Moved by their plight, the herald turned on his master in a show of bravery, refusing to allow yet another planet to die for the sake of his own. Since then the Surfer has used the Power Cosmic for good, riding the cosmos in search of further injustice to fight.
Tony Stark is many things — genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist — but as Iron Man he represents something more.. A brush with death lead to the creation of his first armor, and since that time he has used his vast wealth to fund the Avengers and give his suit like a billion upgrades. More than anything else, Iron Man is a hero for his continued bravery in the face of danger. Beneath the nuts and bolts and repulsor rays lies a man of flesh and blood, willingly rocketing himself into harm without a second thought — against villains with actual superpowers! While far from flawless, Iron Man always uses his superior intellect to try and make the world a better place.
Although somewhat inarticulate, this massive green smashing machine has been enduringly popular through many decades and media adaptations. The comic book world’s equivalent of a berserker, this Gama ray fueled behemoth made his debut in 1962’s The Incredible Hulk #1. Bruce Banner has to keep his cool at all times, lest “the other guy” shows up. And the other guy is never in a good mood, demonstrating limitless strength and an unquenchable desire to destroy everything in his path.
When it comes to pure, raw, unadulterated power there are few people that come even close to the doctor. In fact, there is almost no defined limit to what he can do. The reason he is not the greatest however, is due to his primary weakness (besides tachyons) – apathy. In spite of being able to annihilate essentially the entire universe he just doesn’t care enough about much of anything and would prefer to be left alone.
Though he may fight wearing the red, white, and blue of America, Cap would stand up for anybody in need of a hero. He grew up as a weakling with a heart of gold, so when a super-soldier serum transformed him into a man at the peak of human potential — big muscles, astounding agility, unbelievable endurance — he was finally able to put that strong moral compass of his to good use. He’s socked Hitler in the face, stopped the Red Skull’s most nefarious plans, and even stood up to Iron Man’s Superhero Registration Act during the Marvel Civil War.
Being a man out of time, Captain America harkens back to the good ol’ days when times were simpler and good and evil wasn’t looked at with shades of gray. He’s a bastion of freedom and justice, inspiring the Avengers to never stray from their heroic ideals. His greatest attribute isn’t how he can throw his shield just right so it always returns to sender, but his ability to inspire others to always do the right thing.
Could anyone argue that the man who goes toe-to-toe with Superman isn’t the greatest non-powered superhero of all time? While there were masked mystery men before Batman, such as Green Hornet and the Phantom, DC’s caped crusader truly defined the archetype of the mortal who stands among gods.
Relying only on his own ingenuity, physical discipline, and uncanny preparedness, Batman is the ultimate human-level hero. Sure, he’s got his fair share of gadgets, wealth, and allies to bolster his own considerable ability, but at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne might just be the ultimate human.