Stratifying Superheroes

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. J_A says:

    Growing up, Zorro was the most popular Halloween (though we didn’t have Halloween, we had Carnival) costume for boys. Even I dressed as Zorro. Batman and Superman were close, but they were no Zorro.

    And for me, Aquaman was absolutely, no doubt, Tier A. The daily Aquaman cartoon was the thing my TV was showing at the time I was allowed to turn it on after homework in the afternoon. And it was my favorite (well, him and Thor, which was a rare treat as a TV cartoon, but I was recognized as nerd when I was four)Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    As I went through your list, my first thought was, “No, this is all wrong.” When I thought about it a bit more, I was more interested in why I thought it was all wrong, and the answer was pretty obvious. Somewhere around age 10, I abandoned the DC universe for Marvel. Given the time when that happened, of course I think the A-listers are Spider-Man, Ironman, and the Hulk. B-listers are Captain America, Thor, and Doctor Strange (although Strange was my personal favorite). The Fantastic Four and X-Men would place high as teams but none of the individuals were above C-list.

    I don’t disagree with the idea that in the general public’s mind the DC characters are more recognizable. That makes Marvel’s success compared to DC in the movies recently even more impressive. Same for Wolverine’s break-out success as a movie character.Report

    • Captain America is the weakest A, I think. A case can be made that he’s even weaker than some of the question marks. He wins points for longevity though.

      Would you have put Iron Man as A before the movies?Report

      • Would you have put Iron Man as A before the movies?

        Overall, for the population as a whole, probably not. One characteristic common to all of your A-list characters is that they got other media exposure sooner. Superman isn’t Superman based on the comic books — it’s based on the newspaper strip, the theatrical serials, the radio and TV shows, and the movies.

        Within the Marvel Silver and Bronze Age comics, absolutely. He carried his original title for almost 30 years, helped carry the original Avengers title for almost as long (Cap as a founder is a revisionist bit several issues in), and made regular guest appearances in the other titles. Tony Stark had enough flaws that the character could be used in lots of ways. I personally was always fond of the fact that (like the Batman) nobody gave Tony Stark his powers. Spider-Man may be better known, but Iron Man was an anchor.Report

        • I agree with you on the merits of Iron Man the character. He’s one of my favorite Marvel characters. Certainly my favorite mentioned, and probably my favorite A-list or B-list.

          Captain America is the on;ly A-lister who doesn’t rely on other media. There were a couple movies, but that’s not what made him iconic. He just kind of filled a place that was meant to be filled.Report

          • I’m at just the right age that I remember Captain America as a new character (he hadn’t appeared for almost a decade) struggling to fit into a different world where the Germans were on our side. At least it gave them a reason to bring back the Red Skull — the sequence where Spider-Man went one-on-one with the Red Skull, who didn’t bother to remove his smoking jacket and cravat, and Spidey had to admit (paraphrasing), “Yeah, he is that damned good,” has always stuck in my head.Report

  3. bookdragon says:

    I think Aquaman should be up in A-List too. He was prominent in the Justice League cartoons I grew up watching, and the favorite of the boy next door that I played superheros with (I played Wonder Woman). Wolverine is A-List, especially today. My kids could recognize him and knew his story when they were grade school. Other primary X-Men, like Dr X and Beast might be B-List, most others C.

    Though he’s cast as a villain, I’d put Magneto as A-List. People who barely know any of the X-Men still recognize him b/c he is such a primary Big Bad. Which makes me want a List system of supervillains too.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to bookdragon says:

      I put Aquaman (and GL and Flash) in B mostly because they fit the mold of “Iconic, recognizable, but not much else”)… I put Wonder Woman just a cut above this.

      Wolverine is the closest to A that I put a question mark on, though on Twitter some were arguing that Iron Man was stronger. It’s hard to say how big Iron Man will be after Downey. With Wolverine he was almost there by the time the X-Men movies started coming out. I think one more successful thing (basically, post-Jackman success) and I’ll drop the question mark there.

      I mostly avoided X-Men. Wolverine is kind of his own thing. I put Cyclops in as an exemplar of “random semi-recognizable X-Man”… Jean Grey and Professor X would probably be on B-list but I can’t think of anyone else who would be above C. (I’m avoiding thinking about villains for the moment.)Report

  4. Pinky says:

    Some of your B-list entries surprise me. I guess Daredevil and The Punisher have gotten to that level in the past couple of years, but I don’t know if they’ll stay there. I wouldn’t put Hawkman, Hawkgirl, or Hawkeye that high. I also think that a bunch of X-Men are at the B level of fame.

    I’d be interested in seeing a similar list for supervillains.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Pinky says:

      Hawkman ends up in B because he’s extremely basic and familiar. DC has completely failed to utilize the character effectively, but he is just one of those guys that you see him and it’s like “That’s Hawkman!” the same way that Iron Man was before the movies.Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    Perhaps an A+ list, superheroes recognized by people who don’t pay any attention at all to superheroes and think the whole genre is juvenile nonsense, consisting of Batman and Superman only.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      So much this.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I’d bet that these people would also recognize Spider-Man, and maybe Wonder Woman.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Pinky says:

        Agreed. If you asked people, game show style, to name as many comic book superheroes as they could, I’m sure those four at least would be on the list. Just because it’s impossible not to hear fairly frequent references to them in the culture.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky says:

        Know the names, sure. But (I think) everyone knows that Superman was sent as a baby from another planet, while many fewer know about the radioactive spider and Uncle Ben.Report

        • Maribou in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          @mike-schilling I think this is true of my parents’ generation, less true of my own, and very much not true of 25-35 year olds.

          They know more details about Spidey than they do about Supe.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Maribou says:

            That makes sense, considering how omnipresent Spidey is these days: eight Spiderman films just this century, according to Wikipedia, plus the ones he appears in as a minor character, together with DC’s apparent inability to compete with Marvel in acquiring mindshare.Report

    • This creates as many problems as it solves. Superman today benefits from — over the decades — a syndicated strip in the newspapers, a radio show, animated shorts at the movies, live-action serials at the movies, a television show, and feature-length movies. Batman and Captain America also got movie serials early in their careers. (The Batman serial was repackaged as a single event called “An Evening With Batman and Robin” in the early 1960s and was quite popular in college towns.) Any character fortunate enough to land a Saturday morning cartoon slot gained enormously. How many people who raised kids first knew Spider-Man because of the ear-bug Saturday morning theme song?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain says:

        My introduction to Spidey was the Saturday morning cartoon that introduced it. According to imdb:

        Words by Paul Francis Webster
        Music by Bob Harris, Stu Phillips and D. Kapross
        Published by Buddah Music, Inc.

        I’m sure they had no idea either that Spiderman would become an entire movie genre or that they’d written its all-time theme song, any more than Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer knew what they’d done. I hope they all got good deals on the royalties.Report

    • Slade the Leveller in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Can you say that here?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

        That when it comes to entertainment choices, 90% of the people here are arrested adolescents? I’m not sure.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          There’s no accounting for taste.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I’m not so much an arrested adolescent, as an unindicted co-conspirator.Report

        • Maribou in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I get really tired of this dichotomy.

          As far as I can tell, 80 percent of the people here have purportedly “adolescent” tastes AND purportedly “mature” tastes when it comes to entertainment. Mixed together. Valuing both.

          Narrowing your tastes to only those deemed “mature” doesn’t demonstrate superior maturity, it demonstrates that you’re not willing to (or perhaps able to) access more than one mode of your own being and history.

          Which is fine and all, but it’s no kind of superior.


          • Mike Schilling in reply to Maribou says:

            That comment was kinda tongue-in-cheek, taking “Can you say that” as a challenge to say something worse.

            But only kind of. There are superhero movies I’ve enjoyed: Ant-Man in particular, because it embraced being goofy. But I can’t at all empathize with making a steady diet of them, rather than considering them an occasional dessert.Report

  6. Road Scholar says:

    The other end of the spectrum is fun, too. I was gifted a pair of books this last Christmas entitled The League of Regrettable Superheroes and The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains respectively. Two or three page “biographies” of about 50 or so really obscure and strange/lame characters each, from all eras of comics. Great bathroom reading material.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    There might be a dynamic where groups may be A-List despite consisting of B-Listers. The Avengers, for example, are an A-List team… made up of B-Listers and Captain America.

    The X-Men? A-List. Wolverine? A-List. All of the other X-People? B-List at *BEST*. More likely C-Listers (if not D).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Wait, that may have to do with bad guys. Doctor Doom is an A-Lister, and may help lift the Avengers from the B-List to the A-List. Same with Magento and the X-Men.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

        One of the few potentially bright spots in Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox is that they now have the movie rights to the Doctor Doom character. Which hero(es) should they pair him with? (Please, don’t waste him on the Fantastic Four.)Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

          They could do the Doctor Doom/Dr. Strange story “Triumph and Torment”.

          It’s a good introduction to the character and they can easily do either one-off Doom/Thor or Doom/Cap or Doom/Iron Man stories… or, heck, Doom/Avengers.

          But Doom/Strange would give Strange a second movie and easily establish Doom as someone capable of carrying a movie as bad guy.Report

        • I’d like them to do a (good) Fantastic Four movie just to prove it can be done.Report

          • Twelve-year-old me would have said it wasn’t possible. Present-day me says it would take a good villain/villains to pull it off, and a topic likely to pull the individuals in different directions. Perhaps Namor on one of his jihads, this time against CO2 and ocean acidification, with Doom because it’s a good chance to take over the world.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Jaybird says:

      Are the Avengers an A-list superhero team, or an A-list movie franchise?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

        Black Panther got bumped from the C-List to the B-List with little more than a good movie.

        That said, the Avengers were 100% A-List in the 70’s and early 80’s and overshadowed by the X-Men in the 90’s not because of the superheroes, really, but because everybody wanted to know who was going to kiss whom (and the Avengers were more interested in kicking butts and taking names).

        The fact that they were able to spin off West-Coast Avengers and goodness knows how many spin-offs indicates, at least, that they were on the bubble even in the 90’s.

        Remember Operation Galactic Storm?

        Good times.Report

  8. Pinky says:

    Let me throw this out to the brain trust: what about V? You could make an argument that he’s the most recognized superhero worldwide, but I had to look up his name. I could see arguments putting him anywhere from A to D.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

      I dunno. V sort of latched his wagon to the star that was Guy Fawkes and retconned the hell out of him.

      I don’t know how many people see a Guy and say “V” compared to seeing “Guy” (compared to seeing 4chan).Report

    • Dead Agent in reply to Pinky says:

      How is he the most recognized? I’m confused.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Dead Agent says:

        V wears the stylized Guy Fawkes mask that has become the signature of Anonymous and the general anarchist movement. The retcon is that Guy Fawkes was motivated by religion rather than politics, and didn’t wear a mask. Those elements were the creation of the V comics.Report

        • Dead Agent in reply to Pinky says:

          Sure, but the motivation for Anonymous wasn’t the movie, or the character. The masks were cheap, plentiful and stood for a well known internet meme “epic fail guy.” Before they got all full of themselves, you were more likely to see them wearing them with afro wigs. 😉Report

  9. Iron Tum says:

    How about:

    A lister = famous enough to have had Underoos made of them.

    • Jaybird in reply to Iron Tum says:

      All you have to do is find one example to disprove the claim.

      I pick… Monchichi.

      (That said, when a friend’s kid sang “The Snack That Makes You Fat” to the Goldfish “The Snack That Smi-uls Back” tune yesterday, I sang him the “Underroos are fun to wear! (I think I need another pair)” jingle that was popular in 2nd grade.)Report