Top Ten Marvel Superheroes by Caliburn24 for Nuke the Fridge.
Marvel heroes at their best have feet of clay, human vulnerabilities, but also great power and you know what that comes with though the new Amazing Spider-Man movie seems to have forgotten it. The problem today is that the comic book heroes have diverged so greatly from their movie counterparts that it would confuse any fan who just knows the characters from the films. Hopefully, the comic books will return to the heart of the characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and many other great talents.
10 The Punisher – one of the most confused anti-heroes in Marvel’s hero pantheon, The Punisher was created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita, Sr. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974.) The Punisher is a Vietnam vet (which would put him in his 70’s by now) who returns to find his family shot by the mob. This has been re-booted in so many movies, it will be refreshing to see what actually happens to him after his origin. He is sent after Spider-Man and uses mercy bullets, rubber ammunition used to duck the Comics Code (the Punisher seriously needs to return to using the rubber bullets.)
It wasn’t until the 1986 Punisher mini-series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck that the character gained a hard edge using deadly ammunition and went into several series beginning with Punisher #1 (1987.) The character went through some talented hands, but slowly became confused from being resurrected to fight supernatural opponents until finally we get Space Punisher. He fares no better in the movies starting with Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher (1989.) Thomas Jane brings a more interesting Punisher in a movie also called The Punisher (2004.) The last Punisher outing, Punisher War Zone (2008) was a Marvel movie that didn’t hold up to Iron Man or The Avengers. Ray Stevenson starred as Frank Castle and though the movie kept close to the comics with Micro Chip and Jigsaw as the villain, it didn’t click with audiences.
9 Black Widow – The superheroine with the longest and coolest name, Natalia Alianovna Romanova, she was created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck in Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964.) The Widow was a Russian spy and adversary of Iron Man. Natasha later joined the Avengers, joined S.H.I.E.L.D., and was a partner to Daredevil. The Black Widow shared a title with the Inhumans in Amazing Adventures (1970-1971.) Natasha began a short relationship with Daredevil and she shared the title with Daredevil #92 (1972.) There were a few graphic novels featuring the Black Widow and she was given her own mini-series in 1999.
Of course, the first onscreen Black Widow was first seen in Iron Man 2 (2010) played by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson. The film suffered from multiple storylines that cluttered the narrative, but still Scarlett shined in her skin tight black uniform enough to be a welcome addition to the Avengers Initiative. The Black Widow was played by Vanessa Marshall in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon. Ashleigh Ball voiced the Black Widow in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures. Scarlett Johansson was back in fighting form as Black Widow in The Avengers (2012) and a match for Loki as well as given a possible relationship with Hawkeye.
8 Daredevil – The Man Without Fear first appeared in Daredevil #1 (April 1964) and he was created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. Matt Murdock had one of the best twists as a superhero. He was blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from an oncoming vehicle, but given a radar sense. He protects the area in NY known as Hell’s Kitchen (not the Gordon Ramsay show,) which is the place between 34th and 59th Streets. It is actually much nicer than what is depicted in the comics. Daredevil first sported a yellow costume, but changed to a more familiar red costume in Daredevil #7 (1965.)
The title featured some great artists including a run by Gene Colan. The greatest impact on the character was the run by Frank Miller. He introduced Elektra in Daredevil #168 (1981), the ninja assassins the Hand (long before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Foot Clan,) and later de-constructed the character in the Born Again storyline with artist David Mazzucchelli, which started with Daredevil #227 (1986.) He first appeared on film in the television movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) played by Rex Smith. Daredevil showed up in two parts of the Sins of the Father multi-episode arc of the Spider-Man cartoon voiced by Edward Albert. DD appeared in a live action film played by Ben Affleck in Daredevil (2003.). The film had a weak reception with fans and Affleck’s performance was bland at best.
7 The Thing – he is the standout character of the Fantastic Four who first appeared in Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. One of the best parts of The Thing is that he is one of the few Jewish characters in comic books (Kitty Pryde of the X-Men would be another.) Outside of the FF, The Thing appeared with teammate the Human Torch in Strange Tales #124 (1964) battling the dreaded Paste-Pot Pete. The Thing was realized onscreen in The Fantastic Four (1967) cartoon voiced by Paul Frees. There was a long run where The Thing headlined Marvel’s team-up title that started with Marvel Two-in-One #1 (1974.)
The Fantastic Four (1978) animated show added H.E.R.B.I.E. and dropped the Human Torch with Ted Cassidy voicing Ben Grimm. Chuck McCann played The Thing in several cartoon series including The Marvel Action Hour: The Fantastic Four (1994.) The Fantastic Four (2005) film had very few high lights, but one of them was the honest performance of Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm. Brian Dobson played The Thing in Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2006.) Chiklis returned in the FF sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007.) A few episodes of the cartoon Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes had The Thing voiced by Fred Tatasciore.
6 Thor – the Asgardian Thunder God is probably the first super hero god, but the brilliance of his character is his human vulnerability as crippled doctor Donald Blake. In the myths, he is red-haired, married to Sif, and has a son Magni (who was in an alternate Earth, but more properly in the Hammer of the Gods comic book). He was created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962). The title was re-named The Mighty Thor on issue #126. There were many great artists when Kirby left the title including John Buscema, but it was really Walt Simonson run on the title that left a lasting impression. He brought more of the richness of the Norse myths to the comic book beginning with Mighty Thor #337 (1983.)
The Thunder God appeared in live action form played by Eric Allan Kramer in the television movie The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988.). John Rhys-Davies played Thor in the Fantastic Four cartoon and an episode of The Incredible Hulk animated series. One of the greatest changes to the character was in Michael Avon Oeming’s concluding run for the title in the Ragnarok storyline beginning with Thor #81 (2004.) Thor returned and started rebuilding Asgard, which is floating above Oklahoma. Norman Osborn, coming into power, had Asgard attacked by his Dark Avengers in the Siege storyline running in 2010. The Superman-like Sentry sent Asgard crashing into the ground. Matthew Wolf played Thor in the direct-to-video animated film, Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011.) Chris Hemsworth swung the mighty Mjolnir in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (2011.) The film only gives a passing nod to the Donald Blake alter ego. Then, of course Thor showed up mid-way in Joss Whedon’s Avengers confronting his half-brother Loki. Rick D. Wasserman voices Thor in the animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Hemsworth will return in the upcoming movie, Thor: The Dark World.
5 Iron Man – an almost anti-hero starting out as a weapons maker, Tony Stark, later took up the armor of Iron Man in his first appearance, Tales of Suspense #39 (1963). He was created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby. Iron Man changed his armor to the more familiar red and gold in Tales of Suspense #48 (1963.) In 1979, Bob Layton brought one of the most stunning developments to Tony Stark as he struggled with the “Demon in a Bottle,” Iron Man #128 (1978.) In his first onscreen foray, he was voiced by John Vernon, Dean Wormer from Animal House, in the 1966 Iron Man cartoon. It was more of a manipulation of the comic book panels than complete animation.
Stark was next played by Robert Hays, Ted Striker from the Airplane! films, in the Marvel Action Hour: Iron Man (1994-1996,) an episode of the Incredible Hulk (1996,) and Spider-Man (1996-1997.) One of the greatest moments for Iron Man was in the Extremis series by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov starting with Iron Man #1 (2005.) The direct-to-video animated Invincible Iron Man (2007) and later Planet Hulk (2010) were voiced by Marc Worden. Stark faced off against Captain America in the Civil War storyline that ran from 2006 to 2007. He became director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he is forced to resign with the events of the Secret Invasion in 2008. It was really Robert Downey Jr. under the direction of Jon Favreau that the reign of the Marvel movies truly begun in Iron Man (2008.) Eric Loomis voiced Stark in the The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon. The sequel, Iron Man 2 (2010,) added War Machine and Black Widow which also had Stark struggling with poisoning by the reactor, which keeps him alive.
4 The Hulk – the Incredible Hulk emerged from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and found a place in The Incredible Hulk #1 (1962) The character first found his way onscreen in animated form voiced by Max Ferguson in The Hulk (1966.) The Hulk truly became a fixture with Bill Bixby and the green painted Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) television series. The comic book had its ups and downs, but really took its stride with writer Peter David. During this time, Bill Bixby returned to the character with a few television movies beginning with The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988.) Peter David marked twelve years with the character, but he left the title and it trudged on until it was re-energized by writer Bruce Jones that started with the Return of the Monster storyline that was in Incredible Hulk #34-39 (2002.) Jones had Banner trying to control the Hulk through yoga and Mr. Blue.
The Hulk (2003) movie by director Ang Lee had a great actor in Eric Bana, but was a disappointment to fans. The most recent change to the character had the Hulk being sent into space, but he ends up landing on the planet Sakaar. He returns to take down Earth’s heroes and at one time loses his Hulk outs, but of course returns to Hulk form. Edward Norton brought incredible depth to Bruce Banner along with many story elements from Bruce Jones’ run in 2008 The Incredible Hulk film. He was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers (2012) who brought a tepid performance that made it confusing for the central principle of the character, the curse of being the Hulk, was even a factor.
3 Wolverine – the mutant who is the best there is at what he does first appeared in full form in the landmark Incredible Hulk #181 (1974) created by Len Wein, John Romita, Sr., and Herb Trimpe. Wolverine quickly enlisted in the mutant team in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975.) He had his own limited series in his solo title, Wolverine (1982) by the formidable team of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller where Logan travels to Japan to become a samurai and fight ninjas to save Mariko Yashida. Hmm, sounds like a good premise for a Wolverine film. He shared the title Marvel Comics Presents by Chris Claremont and John Buscema before breaking into his own series which started with Wolverine #1 (1988.)
The character’s adamantium bonding was first seen in the Weapon X storyline in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 (1991) by comics great Barry Windsor-Smith. Cathal J. Dodd started his long run as Wolverine in the animated X-Men show (1992-1997.) Hugh Jackman owned the part of Wolverine in X-Men (2000.) The cartoon, X-Men Evolution (2000-2003) had Scott McNeil as Wolvie mentoring the young X-Men. The follow-up, X2 (2003) was a fine showcase for all of the X-Men and has Wolverine confronting William Stryker from the X-Men graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills (1982.) Jackman returned as Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006,) which was almost the last straw for X-fans. Steve Blum played Wolverine in the cartoon Wolverine and the X-Men (2008.) Hugh Jackman tried to please the fans by giving us X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), but the only bright spots to that film was the actors, Taylor Kitsch who played Gambit and Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox. Jackman gave a confusing cameo in X-Men: First Class (2011) where he ignored the mutant membership drive by a young Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto.) Steve Blum again played Wolverine in episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
2 Captain America – one of the earliest and most popular Marvel heroes was not created by Stan Lee rather it was the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby that produced Captain America Comics #1 (1941.) Steve Rogers fought throughout World War II and afterwards led the All-Winners Squad. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby crafted the return of Captain America in Avengers #4 (March 1964.) Cap was first onscreen in the serial Captain America (1944) played by Dick Purcell. Arthur Pierce voiced Steve Rogers in the animated Captain America (1966) along with the theme song, “When Captain America throws his mighty shield…” Two television films starred Reb Brown, Captain America (1979) and Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979.) George DiCenzo played Cap in two 1981 episodes of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and in episodes of the Spider-Man cartoon in 1982. Unfortunately, there was a Captain America (1990) movie, which starred Matt Salinger as the first avenger. This was during Marvel’s desperate period of movie making and can be validated when the Red Skull turned out to be an Italian dictator.
Cap made some appearances in the “Old Soldiers” (1997) episode of the X-Men cartoon and several episodes of the Spider-Man and X-Men: Evolution cartoon played by David Hayter. John Ney Rieber and John Cassaday brought relevance to the character making him resolute after the tragedy of 9/11. It was in 2005 that Ed Brubaker made a mark with his Out of Time storyline in Captain America #1 (2005.) He also re-introduced former partner Bucky as the deadly assassin Winter Soldier. Brubaker’s most shocking story was the death of Captain America in Captain America #24 (2007) and if you believed he really died then I have a rainbow bridge to sell you. He was actually transported through time, hmm, reminds me of another presumed dead superhero, and was back slinging the shield after Bucky temporarily replaced him. Chris Evans properly filled Captain America’s boots in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011.) His portrayal of the skinny Steve Rogers was so brilliant that his heroic physique was a letdown. Evans also shined when he returned to the time lost Cap in The Avengers. Here’s hoping the sequel, Captain America: Winter Soldier lives up to the Brubaker comic books. Finally, Brian Bloom played Cap in the animated The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
1 Spider-Man – This flagship Marvel character was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, now presenting your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962.) Peter Parker’s alter-ego was first onscreen in the cartoon Spider-Man (1967-1970.) It had a great surreal quality supplied by Ralph Bakshi and of course that theme song, sing along, “Spider-Man, Spider-Man/ Does whatever a spider can…” The most shocking issue was Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973) that involves Peter’s attempt to save Gwen Stacy from the Green Goblin. In 1974-1977 Spider-Man was in episodes of PBS’s Electric Company played by Danny Seagren. The part was voiceless and used word balloons.
Nicholas Hammond played Spider-Man on the less than successful television series, The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979.) In turn, the portrayal that was the most fun was in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981- 1986) played by Dan Gilvezan. His Amazing Friends were former X-Man Iceman and newly created character Firestar. The show was notable for including many Marvel characters. Spider-Man’s biggest change in the comics was a change of costume to the black suit introduced in Secret Wars #8 (1984.) The black costume was introduced in the Spider titles before the mini-series and is later revealed to be the Symbiote that attaches itself to Eddie Brock to become Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #300 (1988.)
Carrying on with his life, Spider-Man married Mary Jane Watson in the Amazing Spider-Man annual #21 (1987.) The well of storytelling seems to be drained with the debut of the terrible Clone Saga (probably the worst clone story next to Attack of the Clones.) This storyline had Peter Parker as the fake clone and the real Peter was Ben Reilly, the idea was scrapped and Peter Parker was returned. Christopher Daniel Barnes played Spidey in the Spider-Man (1994-1998) animated show. Tobey Maguire of course played Spidey in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 (2004,) and Spider-Man 3 (2007.) NPH voiced Peter Parker in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003.) Then, Peter’s marriage was erased in the controversial One More Day storyline begun in Amazing Spider-Man #544 (2007.) Recently, the independent superhero who rejected the Fantastic Four’s membership joined the New Avengers. Actor Andrew Garfield donned the Spider suit for Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man film (2012.) The latest version of Spider-Man is voiced by Drake Bell on the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.