A superhero: stoic, noble, watchful, with fantastic powers and/or skills. The comic book world is full of a variety of colorful characters we call superheroes. DC’s Superman, Wonder Woman or the Flash might immediately come to mind for some of you, others might instantly think of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Wolverine or the Fantastic Four. With all their powers, they are gods walking (or rather flying) among mankind, saving us from the powerful forces of evil.
There are a few who fight alongside these guys, in comic books superhero teams like the Justice League or the Avengers, but they don’t quite fit in, mainly because, they might not be as “super” as the rest of them In fact, for them, the word “super” might be a bit… strong. Sometimes the only thing that makes them super is the fact that a writer really wants to make them fit in, no matter how unlikely it would be.
Speaking of the Avengers, in comparison to heroes like the 70-year-old super soldier, the green destruction machine, the Norse god and the billionaire-with-robot-armor, Hawkeye seems just a bit out of his league. Make no mistake, he’s highly skilled with the bow and arrow, as well as with swords and other melee weapons, but does that really make someone super?
Obviously, he’s held his own so far, which is amazing, all things considered, but even he admits that oftentimes he’s a bit out of place, as he did in Matt Fraction’s run in the “Hawkeye” #1-5 (now available as a collection, “My Life As a Weapon,” illustrated by David Aja and Javier Pulido). Because of that, he’ll always be seen as the weakest of the bunch, the obvious target for villains like Crossfire, who did use him in an effort to force the superheroes into retirement in “Hawkeye” #4 (written and illustrated by Mark Gruenwald with help from Danny Bulanadi and others). No one doubts that with his training and skills, he’s capable of a lot. It’s still not enough to put him right in there with the rest of the “superhero” community, though.
14. GREEN ARROW (CONNOR HAWKE)
Let’s talk about Green Arrow. The real Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, is just barely a superhero as it is. His former sidekick (and son), Connor Hawke, who would later serve as the second Green Arrow when Ollie was busy being dead, is even less “super” than his predecessor. He’s a highly skilled archer, yes, though not as skilled as Ollie. He’s a fantastic hand-to-hand combatant, named the most lethal in the world (even better than Lady Shiva, though she let him win), but so was Bruce Lee and no one’s calling him a superhero.
There have been attempts at expanding his role in the comics by giving him powers (other than the ability to appear with a different ethnicity seemingly with every appearance). In the 2008 miniseries, “Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood” (written by Chuck Dixon with artwork by Derec Donovan and others), he’s given some amount of superpowers by bathing in dragon blood, though they’re nowhere to be found outside of that miniseries. More recently, he was given a healing factor and powers of clairvoyance he almost never uses. That’s it. He even lost his skills with a bow.
Like a few other superheroes, Green Arrow took on quite a few sidekicks over the course of his career, like Speedy, a title once given to Roy Harper (and later to Mia Dearden). He would later become Arsenal and subsequently, Red Arrow. Once again, he’s highly skilled, but it’d be wrong to call him a superhero. He doesn’t have any powers and relies on the use of a bow, knives and guns most of the time, especially more recently in the “Red Hood and the Outlaws” series, written by Scott Lobdell with artwork by Kenneth Rocafort.
When it comes down to it, Team Arrow just isn’t a superhero team. Even the long running series, “Arrow,” on CW or its spin-off “Legends of Tomorrow,” shows us just how out of place the members of Team Arrow are when among real super-powered heroes like the Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl and pretty soon, Supergirl.
Hobie Brown, first appearing in “Amazing Spider-Man” #78 (written by Stan Lee with artwork by John Buscema and Jim Mooney), created the Prowler suit to make some money by stealing things then returning them as Hobie Brown. He was caught by Spider-Man, who persuaded him to use his skills and intelligence to better the world. He wasn’t the only one to have donned the cowl of the Prowler, but whether it was Hobie, his clone or Rick Lawson, his skills and abilities with the suit have remained the same; yet, he’s been a part of teams such as the Defenders, which also included Hulk, Doctor Strange and Luke Cage!
So what can the suit do? With the help of bracelets and anklets, the wearer of the suit is able to fire darts and other projectiles as well as release various types of gases in order to hide or hypnotize opponents. It’s a well-equipped suit, but nowhere near as technologically advanced as, say, Iron Man. It’s not even as protective as Black Panther’s. At the end of the day, he’s just a man, a brilliant man, but a power-less man in a suit. Not a superhero.
11. THE QUESTION
There’s no doubting that the Question is a pretty great investigator. He was able to infiltrate a facility holding Superman and was able to free the kryptonian. That takes more skill than the average person possesses. In fact, it was skills like those that landed him an invitation to join the Justice League. While his many gadgets and disguises — especially his yellow gas and his pseudoderm mask — might be invaluable in his line of work, none of it holds a candle to true superheroes.
He’s a great hand-to-hand combatant and, as we’ve said, a great investigator, if not a touch too paranoid, but what happens if a creature like Doomsday threatens the planet? It’s doubtful The Question would ever show up to that fight. What happens if a threat like the Black Lantern Corp ever invades? What hope would the Question ever have against them? He’s a fun guy to read about, but not exactly someone who will ever come to mind when you hear the word “super.”
Helena Bertinelli is the daughter of one of Gotham’s most prominent crime families. In both her origin stories, mobsters murder her family and she trains to take vengeance on them, taking the name Huntress and becoming yet another of Gotham’s vigilantes, even though Batman disapproves since she doesn’t mind using lethal force. The thing about Huntress is while, like everyone else on this list, she is incredibly well-trained, she doesn’t come close to being a superhero.
Even the criminal underworld doesn’t fear her as they do other caped crime-fighters, as she discovered in “Batman: No Man’s Land” #0 (written by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Greg Rucka, illustrated by Greg Land, Drew Geraci and Rob Schwager) when she watched over Gotham as Batgirl instead. The “New 52” reboot gave us a Helena Bertinelli as an agent of Spyral, a covert operations agency under the command of the UN. It’s a role that better suits her honed skills and makes her much more believable as a character than she was when she was running around as a “superhero.”
Introduced to us first as a former boxer in “Adventures of Superman,” Jose Delgado used his exceptional boxing skills to rescue Lois Lane from Lex Luthor’s pawn, Combattor, unfortunately sustaining massive injury, losing the use of his legs in the battle. As his alter ego’s name suggests, Jose became Gangbuster to bust gangs of youths who were forming in Metropolis, but he did so without any superhuman abilities until that fateful fight with Combattor in “Adventures of Superman” #437 (by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, John Beatty and Anthony Tollin), after which he was given implants to restore the use of his legs.
The implants enhanced his fighting skills, at least with his legs, but that’s just about it. He’s a costumed crime fighter, clearly, and he’s as heroic as any super powered hero (perhaps more so because of his lack of powers), but he’s not one of them. Later on, we see him with better body armor and new weapons, but still not enough to justify anyone calling him a superhero.
One character that rose just a bit in popularity after the release of the 2016 “Suicide Squad” film (directed by David Ayer) is Katana, a highly skilled swordswoman trained in the ways of the samurai. After being widowed by a jealous brother-in-law,Tatsu Yamashiro, having taken the Soultaker sword, went to train with a master, Tadashi, before travelling to America to become a superhero.
Now stop right there, Tatsu. Being a badass with a sword does not instantly make you a superhero. The sword has all the power here, not her. Soultaker can absorb the souls of those who fall to the blade and those souls can be reincarnated via a mystic ritual in order to serve the one who brings them back. Those sound like pretty spectacular powers, but once more, that’s all the sword. Tatsu herself has proven that she can’t compete in the world of superheroes, as she did when she was kidnapped by Cryonic Man and his bulky robots, Number One and Number Two, in “Batman and the Outsiders” #7 (written by Mike W. Barr with artwork by Jim Aparo and Adrienne Roy).
7. BLUE BEETLE
A lot of the time, having special equipment, be it a mystical sword or a suit with enough weapons tucked away inside it to wage war, does not make someone a bona fide superhero. Take Blue Beetle, for instance, specifically when it was Ted Kord behind those yellow eyes. Kord wasn’t the most powerful superhero, he wasn’t even the most highly skilled, but he was a member of the Justice League. He fit in, but only because he seemed to be everyone’s best friend.
His death came at the hands of Maxwell Lord, who shot Kord in the head after he refused to join Lord’s organisation and scheme against metahumans in “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” (written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, illustrated by Ed Benes and many, many others). While he was reintroduced in “New 52,” we don’t see him as Blue Beetle until the new Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes (who possesses mystical powers) seeks him out for help. Right there, when you compare the two Blue Beetles, you’ll see why Kord is on this list. He’s a stand-up guy, a genius even, but like the others on this list, not a superhero.
6. BLACK WIDOW
Arguably one of the deadliest on this list is Black Widow, an Avenger, S.H.I.E.L.D agent and a former KGB spy. She started out as something of a villain, going up against Iron Man, Spider-Man and even the Avengers, but over the years has proven to be one of the good guys. Using her espionage skills as well as the various gadgets she’s acquired over her career as the Black Widow, Natasha Romanov has been able to stand up against supervillains like the Sinister Six in “Amazing Spider-Man” during the “Ends of the Earth” storyline (written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Stefano Caselli).
Having been given a variant of the super-soldier serum, Black Widow is resistant to all forms of disease, psychological tampering and aging. She also heals at a more rapid rate than the average human and is quite the ballerina. However, it’d still be inaccurate to call her a superhero, owing to the fact that, despite her physical capabilities and skills, she’s pretty much like her one-time partner, Hawkeye, though clearly more deadly than he is. She’s almost as “super” as the rest of the Avengers… but not quite.
5. STAR LORD
Being part Spartoi, it’s a given that Peter Quill can do more than the average human. He doesn’t have any superpowers but is in possession of a variety of alien technology he’s acquired over his many adventures in space, taking the name Star Lord and founding the new Guardians of the Galaxy. He and his team have faced quite a few galactic threats and he’s shown himself to be capable of handling villains like The Fallen One, a former herald of Galactus, as he reveals in “Thanos” #11 (written by Keith Giffen with artwork by Ron Lim and others). However, that was done at the expense of several thousand lives, which is why Star Lord was subsequently imprisoned in the Kyln.
If it weren’t for all the tech, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish half the things he has. He’s a leader because he’s a smart guy, which is often how he’s able to lead the Guardians of the Galaxy to victory, but is he a superhero because of all that? No. He’s one hell of a fighter, but just doesn’t fit the bill of a superhero.
4. ROCKET RACCOON
To take care of the inmates of the planet Halfworld, several creatures were genetically manipulated in order to act as caretakers. As a result, creatures like Rocket Raccoon were born. With the abilities of an average raccoon and the intelligence of a highly trained space pilot, Rocket earned his place in the Guardians of the Galaxy, even leading them at one point while Quill had been captured. He was the one who brought in Groot (who’s a little less friendly looking than his film counterpart)!
He’s an asset to the Guardians of the Galaxy and one of the most entertaining parts of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film (directed by James Gunn). He’s a lot of things: a miracle of science, a fighting machine, but not a superhero. His film depiction shows that best since, in theory, you could replace him with any alien from Nova Prime of equal intelligence and the Guardians would have succeeded in more or less the same way.
There have been many Robins and quite a few different Batgirls. All of them were exceptional and most went on to do their own thing after years of fighting alongside the one and only Batman. Dick Grayson is pretty well-established as Bludhaven’s protector, Nightwing, while Cassandra Cain, who briefly fought as Batgirl during the “No Man’s Land” story arc, would go on to fight as Orphan. Batman has a way of giving wayward children more direction, but that direction does not lead to superhero-hood.
Take Orphan for example. After Batman and Batwoman put her through their little training regiment, she was still seriously injured after trying to take on the Colony by herself in “Detective Comics” #934 (written by James Tynion, illustrated by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas). Even Damian Wayne, though freakishly skilled (that happens when you’re trained and supported by the League of Assassins) was quickly beaten and tortured by Morgan Ducard, AKA NoBody. They’re all talented individuals and together, Gotham’s criminals are right to fear them immensely, just not as immensely as they would fear actual superheroes like Green Lantern.
Kathy Kane trained for years, specifically to become Batwoman, after losing her family in a terrible attack. After inheriting wealth comparable to that of Bruce Wayne, Kane was ready to begin her career as Gotham’s caped crusader. She even replaced Batman as the protagonist of “Detective Comics” for a time where she proved herself to be Batman’s equal, which is why she received her own comic series (again), beginning with “Batwoman: Rebirth” (written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion, with artwork by Steve Epting and Jeremy Cox).
But with all that training and her bat-gadgets, she’s still only human. She’s one of a dozen costumed vigilantes running around Gotham, trying her best to make it a better place, and she’s doing a damn good job at it, but she’s no Supergirl. That’s why she got captured by cultists belonging to the Religion of Crime. She would have died if not for the timely intervention of Batman and Robin in “Batman and Robin” #8 (written by Grant Morrison with artwork by Cameron Stewart and Tony Aviña).
“Holy comic book characters, Batman, are we really going to say the Dark Knight isn’t a superhero?” Yes, we are, because no, he’s not. Like everyone else here, he’s a highly skilled crime-fighter with billions to spend on batarangs, batmobiles and the best education and combat training money can buy. Money isn’t a superpower, Mr. Wayne. That doesn’t matter, however, as Batman has gone up against supervillains like the White Martians and even defeated the Man of Steel himself, who called Batman “the most dangerous man on Earth.”
Because of his lack of powers, it’s really up to the writers to get him out of a jam, and a lot of the time, it’s highly unrealistic (we’re talking about characters who can shatter moons, will green objects into existence and were sculpted out of clay). A perfect example would be in “DC Special Series” #27 (written by Len Wein with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Dick Giordano and Glynis Oliver) when he defeated Marvel’s Hulk, by punching him in the solar plexus, forcing him to breathe in knock-out gas. Let’s not be silly, no amount of money would buy you the ability to do that.
Which comic book heroes do you think don’t deserve the super prefix? Let us know in the comments!
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