SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers ahead for numerous stories from Marvel Comics.
Knowledge is power. This is especially true in the Marvel Universe, where unexplainable phenomena and cosmic events of all shapes and sizes never cease to plague our favorite heroes. Over the years, the big brains in groups like the Fantastic Four and the Illuminati have used cutting edge rubber science to overcome all manners of alien invasions, natural catastrophes and extra-dimensional “incursions.”
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Most recently, teams like the newest incarnation of the Ultimates have emerged with the sole purpose of using science to find non-violent solutions to the universe’s most pressing problems. Their biggest accomplishment to date? Turning Galactus’ cosmic frown upside down. This brains-over-brawn approach got us thinking about just how many really, really smart folks live in the 616 (all way smarter than us, btw). So, without further preamble, here’s our list of the Marvel Universe’s 16 smartest people. Don’t forget your thinking caps!
16. Lunella Lafayette (Moon Girl)
Our first entry is literally the smartest fourth grader you’ll ever meet. Plus, she can switch bodies with a red 20-foot tall mutant tyrannosaurus rex, which also makes her the coolest fourth grader you’ll ever meet. Currently tearing it up in the pages of “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” Lunella Lafayette and her mutant devil beast have already grabbed the attention of some pretty hefty players in the Marvel Universe, including Amadeus Cho, the Kree Empire and most recently, the Thing.
Devil Dinosaur notwithstanding, Moon Girl’s greatest asset is her super-intelligence. In fact, she’s potentially the smartest person in the entire world, after solving an unsolvable puzzle designed by Bruce Banner; himself no slouch in the brains department. Lunella is already showing signs that she intends to use her super-smarts to improve the way superheroes do their job. After taking in the destruction wrought by a battle versus the Mole Man, she insists someone ought to “check the math” on how things are currently done. This alone proves Lunella is already smarter than most of the brainiacs on our list.
A long-time member of the Inhuman Royal Family, Karnak uses his fierce intelligence and ability to perceive the inherent flaw in pretty much anything to serve his people in a variety of ways. Whether on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, Karnak’s abilities make him a cunning warrior and a diplomat without peer. He has advised Black Bolt and Medusa during some of the Inhumans’ most difficult periods — through war, exile and near-extinction — and his calm head and tactical know-how making him an invaluable resource to his people.
In recent years, Karnak’s point-of-view has become more extreme, although it should be noted that it’s evolved in direct correlation to the danger faced by his fellow Inhumans. His ability to see the flaw in virtually anything even allowed him to find the weakness in the afterlife, allowing him to escape death; not bad for a guy with no real super powers. That’s right, Karnak was never exposed to the Terrigen Mists and gained his abilities the old-fashioned way, through hard work and intense meditation.
14. Xiaoyi Chen (Iso)
One of new generation of NuHuman human-Inhuman hybrids who emerged after the Terrigen Mists were released across the globe, the young woman known as Iso possesses the ability to affect the air pressure in her immediate surroundings. As handy a power as this may be (she can stop the blood flow in your body, no big), Iso also possesses a genius-level intellect that allowed her to jumpstart the portal in New Attilan, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in over 2,000 years.
Iso’s talent for science is so great, she was assigned to work with notorious smart guy Hank McCoy of X-Men fame on a cure for M-Pox, the deadly Terrigen Cloud-based disease currently cutting a swath through the mutant population. Gigs don’t get any more high-stakes than that, especially considering the fragile state of détente currently enjoyed between Inhumans and mutants. Praised for her “exceptional mind” by both Queen Medusa and the Beast, Iso is quickly becoming one of the foremost authorities on the Terrigen Cloud’s properties in the world. Hey, if Iso’s smart enough for those two, she’s smart enough for us.
13. Nadia Pym (The Unstoppable Wasp)
Nature versus nurture; our next entry embodies that age-old debate to a tee. On the one hand, Nadia Pym was raised — nurtured you might say — in Russia by the black ops unit known as the Red Room, the same people who trained the Winter Soldier and the Black Widow. She’s an expert in multiple martial arts disciplines and highly competent in various aspects of espionage. One of her earliest memories is of Bucky Barnes teaching her how to kick ass.
On the other hand, she’s the offspring of one of the world’s greatest, most influential scientific minds. Inheriting her natural affinity for science from her father Henry Pym, Nadia’s fierce intellect has already made her indispensable to the Avengers. While in their company, she’s saved the Vision from going “superthermal” and helped her superhero namesake Janet Van Dyne diffuse a Microverse bomb that almost took out the president. With a C.V. like that, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that Nadia is headed for bigger and better things. Next up is a stint headlining her very own ongoing series, set to debut in the new year. They call her “unstoppable” for a reason, you know.
12. Charles Xavier (Professor X)
Even if he hadn’t been one of the world’s most powerful telepaths, Charles Xavier would still be one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe. His educational background is virtually second to none and until his death, he was the world’s leading expert on homo superior, or mutants. Xavier wasn’t ever only a one-trick pony, though. He was accomplished in several different fields of science, including genetics, biophysics, psychology and psychiatry. This is the guy who invented Cerebro and the Danger Room, remember.
Let’s put it this way: Xavier was so damn smart, the Red Skull stole his brain! That’s right, shortly after his untimely demise at the hands of his former student, Cyclops, the Red Skull made off with Professor X’s brain, fusing it to his own already twisted mass of grey matter. This pissed off a bunch of Avengers and X-Men, although we really can’t figure out what all the kerfuffle was about. It’s not like Chuck was using his brain, anyway.
11. Moira MacTaggert
Before her death at the hands of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Moira MacTaggert was the world’s greatest authority on genetic mutation. Committed to using science to save lives to the bitter end, Moira discovered the cure for the newest strain of the Legacy Virus before succumbing to her injuries. A long-time colleague and former paramour of Charles Xavier, Moira’s research into genetic mutation was spurred by the birth of her son Kevin (later Proteus), a powerful mutant born with the ability to warp reality. Although she was ultimately unable to help Proteus, her Muir Island research center was also instrumental in the treatment of several mutants with extreme or dangerous mutations.
One of her most infamous patients was Xavier’s own son, the mad telepathic prodigy David Haller, who, as the immensely dangerous Legion, suffered from an extreme version of multiple personality disorder. Her scientific expertise was so great even Xavier deferred to her extensive experience treating the most difficult mutations. Her keen intellect and depthless compassion continued to influence the X-Men’s founder long after her death, inspiring his attempt to rebuild the mutant nation of Genosha.
10. Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
It’s easy to forget just how smart Peter Parker really is. As Spider-Man, Peter typically relies upon his amazing abilities to protect the citizens of Manhattan, and why not? When you possess an uncanny sixth sense and the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider, there’s not a whole heck of a lot to think about. But let’s not forget that long before he pulled on his funky spandex pajamas, “puny Parker” was a stereotypical bookworm, whose genius-level intellect set him apart from his more popular peers.
In recent years, more of an effort has been made to shine a spotlight on Peter’s scientific prowess, with super-brains like Reed Richards and Hank Pym taking note of his genius. Not only is he responsible for creating his signature web fluid, he also lent his name to a mysterious Parker Particles, an unstable form of energy linked to the universe’s continued expansion and the catalyst for the creation of the hero Alpha. Although Reed Richards claimed to discover the particles himself years earlier (of course he did), it was Peter who used alien technology to dilute their potency and save the city from catastrophe.
9. Valeria Richards
Valeria Richards is one of those kids who isn’t just smart, she’s scary-smart. Perhaps this is to be expected from the daughter of Reed Richards but Valeria claims to be even more intelligent than her old man, and he’s widely considered to be the smartest guy in the world. There’s also the way she refers to her family’s greatest nemesis as Uncle Doom, an indication that Valeria sees the world a little differently than the rest of us, if there ever was one.
Still a young child by Marvel reckoning, Valeria’s vast intellect forces her to perceive the world in ways even her father is ignorant of. She was able to deduce the true identity of the time-travelling Invisible Woman, who was posing as her nanny in a misguided attempt to protect her daughter. It was around this time that Reed and Sue discovered their daughter had been secretly developing her rapidly evolving mind by poring over her father’s texts and creating numerous inventions not even he could’ve dreamed up. Currently, Valeria is using her singular genius to help rebuild the multiverse in the wake of Secret Wars. Told you she was scary-smart.
8. Amadeus Cho (Totally Awesome Hulk)
Although he reportedly only ranks as the eighth smartest person in the 616, there’s ample evidence that Amadeus Cho’s unique intellect positions him to best use his genius as a superhero. In short, he was born to kick Evil’s ass with his brain. With a mind that essentially acts as a super-computer, Amadeus can perceive and process multiple streams of information stimuli in ways that often seem arcane to those around him. This allows him to uncover solutions to tactical challenges and scientific conundrums faster and more accurately than almost anybody on the planet.
The Eternal Ajak believes Amadeus is actually smarter than some immortals because of his accelerated aptitude for learning and his eidetic memory. He’s so smart, he figured out a way to finally control the Hulk, using nanotechnology of his own design to draw all of the gamma radiation from Bruce Banner’s body into his own. As the “Totally Awesome” Hulk, Amadeus currently runs with the newest incarnation of the Champions, using his brains as well as his newfound brawn to promote a more responsible method of superheroics.
7. T’Challa (Black Panther)
As the ruler of the most technologically-advanced nation on the planet, King T’Challa of Wakanda — known to the world at large as the Black Panther — is one of the most powerful men in the 616. Thanks to a massive deposit of the near-mystical metal known as vibranium, Wakandan society evolved separately from the rest of the world, growing into a utopian civilization that valued science and spirituality in equal measure. As the bearer of the mantle of his people’s most potent guardian and symbol, T’Challa wasn’t only trained in his country’s martial traditions, he also received an education in the sciences that is second to none.
An expert in the manipulation of vibranium’s unique properties for a host of wide-ranging military and domestic applications, T’Challa remains committed to using his vast knowledge of the metal to maintain Wakanda’s status as the pinnacle of human civilization. Although recent events on the home front have revealed deep divisions in Wakanda’s tribal society, the Black Panther continues to find time to serve with the Ultimates, most recently under the leadership of America Chavez, as a herald of the newly-benevolent Galactus the Lifebringer.
6. Adam Brashear (Blue Marvel)
Possibly one of the most powerful human beings in the history of the Marvel Universe, the man known only as the Blue Marvel for most of his superhero career was forced into retirement for no better reason than that he was a black man with the power to level mountain ranges. Essentially an anti-matter reactor drawing vast quantities of negative energy into his dimension, Adam Brashear is powerful enough to make short work of King Hyperion and go toe-to-toe with the Sentry. If you were to ask him, though, Brashear would cite his genius-level intellect as the greatest weapon in his formidable arsenal.
Even though he wasn’t allowed to operate openly by the American government, Brashear and his sons continued to protect the world from cosmic-level threats clandestinely, typically using super-science rather than super-strength to win the day. As a founding member of the Ultimates, Brashear remains passionately dedicated to using science to solve the universe’s biggest problems. Most recently, Brashear was instrumental in bringing Galactus to the side of the angels, after deducing the world-devourer was never meant to be a force of interstellar destruction, but rather that he was intended to spread life across the universe.
5. Bruce Banner (The Hulk)
For all of his vaunted intellect, Bruce Banner was never able to think his way out of being one of the most dangerous beings on Earth… until he had Hawkeye stick an arrow in his melon, that is. As the gamma-irradiated rage-monster known as the Hulk, Banner was responsible for countless acts of destruction that resulted in untold tragedy for thousand, if not millions, of people around the world. Even when he seemed in full control of his Hulk persona, he lived in constant fear of losing his internal battle with the Green Goliath, causing him to seek coping mechanisms and safeguards outside the realm of traditional science.
Widely considered to be the world’s leading expert on gamma radiation’s effects on human physiology and the surrounding environment, Banner enjoyed the respect and compassion of his peers, despite the perpetual danger the Hulk represented to the public. His fierce intellect was only outstripped by his emotional intelligence, a trait that caused him to always put his fellow human beings’ safety before his own. Although the Hulk no longer poses a threat to the world, thanks to Hawkeye, Banner’s legacy lives on in Amadeus Cho, the young man who finally tamed his untameable beast.
4. Hank McCoy (Beast)
Speaking of beasts, Hank McCoy’s intellectual stock has moved up quite a bit in recent years, thanks to the convenient deaths of some of his most respected peers. With Hank Pym and Bruce Banner partaking of the inevitable dirt nap and Reed Richards trumping everybody once again by rebuilding the multiverse, McCoy might just be the world’s smartest man by default. An inveterate tinkerer, the Beast believes wholeheartedly in science’s ability to overcome all challenges.
From his early days experimenting on his own mutant physiology to his manipulation of the timestream to haul young versions of the original X-Men to the present, there are few on this list willing to take the kind of risks Hank believes are intrinsic to science’s effectiveness. Currently, McCoy is hard at work on a cure for the dreaded M-Pox virus ravaging Marvel’s Merry Mutants, thanks to the Inhumans’ mutagenic Terrigen Cloud. Although he’s yet to find a cure for the grotesque disease without bringing about the end of mutantkind, our bets are on this intellectual beast to eventually find the answer.
3. Hank Pym (Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket)
Hank Pym is one of those guys who was perhaps a little too smart for his own good; the type of guy who was so intelligent, folks thought he was more than a little crazy. And we’re not talking good crazy either, like that cool, old dude from “Fringe.” No, we’re talking full-blown psychological meltdown, complete with spousal abuse, multiple personality disorder and clinical depression. He probably never should have started talking to the ants. An expert in multiple scientific disciplines including, cybernetics, biochemistry, entomology and robotics, it is his most notorious creation, the vicious artificial intelligence known as Ultron, that will forever stain his scientific legacy.
Maybe that’s why he sacrificed himself to end Ultron’s threat once and for all, by merging with his robotic body and exiling them both to the deepest reaches of space. After spending some time murdering billions across the galaxy in the Avengers’ name, the Ultron-Pym hybrid returned to Earth to witness the team’s downfall. He was last seen hiding out in a neutrino, plotting his revenge after shrinking down to sub-atomic levels to escape an impromptu trip into the sun, courtesy of his old comrades.
2. Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Even if we don’t yet know the final fate of Tony Stark, in the wake of Marvel’s second superhero Civil War, one thing we do know is that over the course of his career as Iron Man, he’s used his remarkable intellect to fight evil just as much as his hallmark suit of armor. A masterful engineer with expertise in numerous scientific fields, Stark was once called the world’s most adept multi-tasker by Reed Richards, due to his ability to compartmentalize his mind into three separate yet independently operating sections. Not only does this unique ability allow Stark to perform multiple complex tasks at the same time, it provides him with an unparalleled level of tactical efficacy by allowing him to parse several information streams at once.
A founding member of both the Avengers and the clandestine Illuminati, Stark has always had one eye on the future, even if it’s meant making the hard decisions no one else wants to make — including destroying entire worlds. In spite of this — or perhaps because of it — Stark finds himself opposed to Captain Marvel’s use of precognition to stop crimes before they happen. Apparently, committing genocide will do that to a guy.
1. Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic)
A true polymath who dabbles in numerous scientific disciplines, Reed Richards is widely considered to be the smartest person in the world. Over the course of his career, Richards has masterminded scores of inventions, experiments and theories that have had a lasting impact on the Marvel Universe. His countless patents have funded the existence of the Fantastic Four for years, providing them with the financial wherewithal to explore the cutting edge frontiers of known science. He is especially adept at temporal physics, aerospace engineering and interdimensional travel; his vast intellect driving the FF’s explorations of alternate dimensions, timelines and galaxies.
If that weren’t enough, his mutated brain possesses the ability to stretch itself into new and ever-changing formations, just like his physical body, meaning there may be no limit to how smart he becomes. Reed was last seen with his wife and kids traversing the multiverse in an attempt to rebuild reality in the wake of the universally cataclysmic Secret Wars. In other words, just another Tuesday afternoon for Reed Richards.
Hey smarty-pants, think you know it all? Let us know which other of Marvel’s smart cookies we should’ve included in the comments!
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