Can there ever be a more incendiary topic than asking who are the best super-heroes of all time? Bar fights have been started and wars have been fought over lesser topics! Nevertheless, this writer will attempt to answer the question and then immediately duck to avoid the inevitable brickbats.
First, how to pick from among the hundreds, nay perhaps thousands, of super-heroes that have paraded across the four color page since that fateful day when Superman first sent bad guys running on the cover of Action Comics #1? I say “since” because before the debut of Superman, comics had hosted many other heroes including such stalwarts as Speed Saunders and Slam Bradley. The difference was twofold (one which we shall use subsequently to help define what is meant by the term “super-hero”): Superman had super powers and a colorful costume that couldn’t be mistaken for street clothes.
Indeed, in retrospect, it seems that it was those two points, powers and costuming, that made all the difference; not only placing Superman at the top of the super-hero heap and initiating an avalanche of colorful imitators, but granting to the lowly comic book its raison d’etre. For better or worse, the super-hero would become synonymous with comics and by the 21st century, have eliminated all other genres for dominance of the industry.
That said, what to do with all those Superman imitators? How to sort the wheat from the chaff and pick out the very best of the lot? Aside from the basics of powers and costuming, something more is needed to differentiate the best from the rest. Metes and bounds need to be established to lend some legitimacy to those choice few that’ll make the cut (and cut down on the brickbats). For that, I suggest staying power, a hero who, decade after decade, comes on and off his own title, shows up steadily in other characters’ books and adventures, and continues to capture the imagination of readers over the years; originality, qualities in the creation of the super-hero that differentiate him from all others; and iconic status, a position captured over the years above and beyond the often insular world of comics readers.
With those parameters in mind, let the brawling begin!
Sure, there were other Thors in comics before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with their own version in Journey Into Mystery #83, but none of those others had the sheer durability of Marvel’s own god of thunder. What set the character apart from those others? Like them, he had super strength, a magic hammer, and connections to Asgard. He was better looking too: gone were the traditional scraggly red hair and beard. But Marvel’s Thor had one thing more: personality. Making this otherworldly being with godlike powers the alter ego of a lame physician who couldn’t make it with his pretty office nurse granted him a sympathy to readers absent in other versions. Together, it all added up to staying power and blockbuster movie status!