Aren’t superheroes great? Clean living and virtuous, using their powers to make the world a better place, inspiring others through their actions and leading by example, they are fantastic role models for every impressionable young kid out there. Right? Well... that’s not quite the full picture.
While there are plenty of wholesome superheroes around, there are also a surprising number who can only be described as, well, jerks. They may have the powers and they may strive to do the right thing, but each of the following characters know that a surly disposition and a withering putdown can be as effective as any superpower. Join us, then, as we count down 15 of the biggest superhero jerks. If you know what’s good for you, don’t ask any of them for an autograph...
15 Hawkman (Carter Hall)
There are multiple versions of Hawkman across comics, animation and TV, but one constant is that he’s traditionally portrayed as an abrasive, no-nonsense individual. This approach has even marked Carter Hall’s characterization in his recent appearances on "The Flash" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow"; his direct method of explaining Kendra’s complicated origins in sharp contrast to the cautious approach of other characters.
In comics, Hawkman is often portrayed as a serious, somewhat authoritarian character, and his views often leading to clashes with the more liberal instincts of Green Arrow, his JLA teammate. Hawkman’s costume is striking yet functional; coupled with his weapon of choice -- a mace -- his entire appearance suggests a direct, unpretentious approach to heroism. His background as a no-nonsense police officer on Thanagar (at least in some of his incarnations) also reflects this black-and-white view of life.
But for all the conflict with his allies, or the many criminals that have ended up in hospital with a mace-shaped indent in their skull, it’s readers who have suffered the most thanks to Hawkman’s jerkiness. Does he have any idea how difficult it is to keep track of all these reboots and multiple origin stories? Probably not. Then again, he probably wouldn't care. What a jerk.
14 Howard the Duck
From the moment Howard first appeared in the Marvel Universe in the pages of Steve Gerber’s “Man Thing” run, he’s rarely been a ray of sunshine. Permanently irritable, frequently complaining and constantly vexed by the "hairless apes" by whom he finds himself always surrounded. It’s true that Howard often acts like a jerk but really, who can blame him?
Howard is living on a strange world where people around him expect ducks to be swimming in a lake, or worse, served up with sauce. They certainly shouldn't be chomping on a cigar and dispensing insults. Furthermore, Howard’s a magnet for strangeness, attracting foes that include space turnips, killer gingerbread men and evil psychiatrists. Irritable? Given the circumstances he’s practically a model of restraint.
Of course, there may be another potential reason for Howard’s perpetual grumpiness. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that after seeing a rough draft of the movie based on his adventures, Howard developed a bad mood that he still can’t shake off, even 30 years later.
13 Cyclops (Scott Summers)
It’s rare to find a character who has gone through such a detailed, long-term transformation as Scott Summers. Initially dismissed by many fans as one of the least interesting X-Men, the last decade has seen his opinions change and his actions grow more extreme in response to the increasingly perilous position of mutants in the Marvel Universe. This doesn’t make him a villain, as many of his fellow heroes seem to believe, but it’s fair to say that he has acted like a real jerk on many occasions.
For many, Cyclops’ jerk status was secured due to actions in his romantic life, abandoning his wife and infant son so that he could join X-Factor with his resurrected love, Jean Grey. This may have been editorially mandated, but it’s a course of action that Cyclops has struggled to shake. In his capacity as the X-Men’s leader, the tough choices of the last few years, as well as Scott’s increasing belief that the ends justify the means, have seen him carry out a variety of questionable actions.
Marvel has promised that the upcoming "Death of X" series will feature the death of Cyclops, with most references thus far seeing characters blame him for worsening relations with the Inhumans, apparently after committing some unspeakable deed. If true, then it appears that Marvel is determined for us to remember Cyclops as a jerk, rather than a character that cared too much about others and less about what they thought of him.
12 Spyboy (Alex Fleming)
We expect spies to be jerks, right? Anyone who has watched ten minutes of a James Bond movie will know that the ability to be a violent, dishonest, bed hopping, borderline alcoholic is practically a pre-requisite. This is well demonstrated in "Spyboy," with the contrast between the mission-focused Spyboy and his alter-ego, typical teenager Alex Fleming. This not only highlights the differences between a skilled spy and an unremarkable teen, but also the fact that the prospect of being a spy loses much of its allure when it is real people who are at risk of becoming collateral damage.
The Spyboy persona is contained within Alex’s head, but when activated, it transforms the typical teen into a suave spy. Seeing Spyboy interact with Alex’s world, totally out of his comfort zone in dealing with real people and ordinary concerns, only highlights his undesirable qualities. There is a level of detachment there, a sense of only being focused on the mission, which might make him a more effective spy but also ensures that as a person he can be a definite jerk.
11 Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
The current Green Arrow TV series, "Arrow," deviates from the comics in several ways, but one similarity that the comic and TV Oliver Queen both share is that they can both be real jerks. This wasn’t always the case -- the Oliver Queen originally depicted in the comics was quite a bland, generic character. But when Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neill took control of him in 1969, many of the now familiar elements of Green Arrow’s character began to be established. He became increasingly left wing, challenged the beliefs of other heroes and advocated for radical social change. In later years, particularly in the wake of the Mike Grell revamp, he also took on a darker edge, with his novelty arrows increasingly replaced by those that only doled out lethal force.
As a hero, Green Arrow undoubtedly commands respect, and has been a key member of several superhero teams over the years, including the JLA and the Outsiders. It’s in his personal life that Oliver has proven less successful. His long romance with Black Canary has been characterized by blazing rows, with Ollie cheating on her several times. He essentially disowned his sidekick, Speedy, when he discovered that he was using drugs, and he has a strained relationship with his son Connor. Oliver Queen is an expert at pointing out the failings of others, but perhaps he needs to look at his own character with as critical an eye.
10 Hardball (Roger Brokeridge)
During his relatively short tenure in the Marvel Universe, Hardball has shown that he has the potential to be as big a jerk as any of his more experienced comrades. Throughout his appearances to date, he’s never been far away from trouble, constantly needling teammates and, at times, even outright betraying them.
Hardball’s betrayal of the Avengers to Hydra sprang from the best of intentions, the result of him trying to assist his paralyzed brother. The tragic part was that many of his teammates took the betrayal at face value, seeing it as the logical continuation of the behavior he’d already exhibited. It’s love that has helped redeem Hardball -- at least partially -- thanks to his developing relationship with Komodo helping to humanize him.
But as his conflict with Gravity in “Fear itself: Youth in Revolt” showed, his tendency to pick fights has the potential to create massive repercussions. In this case, it caused the destruction of large sections of Las Vegas. What kind of person would Hardball choose to be if he lost Komodo’s love? Would he embrace the light or tumble further int darkness? That remains the great, unanswered question.
9 U.S.Agent (John Walker)
If you called John Walker a jerk, he’d probably take it as a compliment. Whether he’s acted as Super Patriot, Captain America or U.S.Agent, John has always had a clearly developed sense of what’s right and wrong, irrespective of whether anyone else agrees with him. Let's put it this way: when he joined the West Coast Avengers, he achieved the remarkable feat of making Hawkeye -- the Avenger’s resident jerk for over two decades -- look reasonable and mature. Similarly, when he replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America, the contrast between Steve’s reluctance to kill and John’s take-no-prisoners attitude was easy to see.
It’s fair to say that U.S.Agent doesn’t make friends easily, but he’s not in the superhero game for personal gain, he just thinks it's best way to serve his country. This often unquestioning approach to the demands of Uncle Sam hasn’t always endeared him to other heroes, but it has given John a sort of jerk nobility. As has been shown many times in his career -- most recently when Norman Osborn ordered him to hang up his costume -- the love and respect he feels for his country has not always been reciprocated.
Thor may have amazing strength, wonderful hair and a big hammer, but the price of all this is that he has Odin for a Dad, someone who is never likely to win any father-of-the-year contests. Throughout his countless appearances over the years, there’s been a strange dichotomy to Odin’s behavior. On one hand, he’s venerated by Asgardians as a wise and just ruler of limitless power. On the other, he’s rarely anything other than a jerk when it comes to dealing with his son.
Thor’s origin in Marvel comics stems from Odin banishing him to Earth to learn some humility. In the years since, Odin’s interventions in his son’s life have rarely helped make things better. He has stripped Thor of his powers on multiple occasions, joined him with human hosts, lied about the history of Asgard and his role in it, and generally made Thor’s life more difficult by his actions.
Odin has died and been resurrected multiple times over the years, and as a result it’s almost comforting to have his continuing jerkness be the one constant each time.
7 Batman (Bruce Wayne)
As long time Bat-fans will know, the extent of Batman’s jerkness has fluctuated greatly over the decades. In the 1930s he thought nothing of killing his enemies, while by the 1960s, he was more likely to be found hanging out with Robin and Superman, and taking Ace the Bat Hound for walkies. One of the major turning points was Frank Miller’s vision of an aged, battle-hardened Bruce Wayne, setting in motion a process that would see Batman fully live up his moniker, the Dark Knight.
During the 1990s and 2000s, it sometimes seemed that writers were engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship about who could portray Batman as the biggest jerk. Coming full circle, the portrayal of Batman as a jerk reached its peak when Miller returned to the character for “All Star Batman and Robin.” The line, “I’m the goddamn Batman” has become infamous, perfectly capturing the almost psychotic nature of Miller’s Batman.
Of course, as bad as this behavior might be, there is perhaps one thing above all others that cements Batman’s status as a jerk. Living in Gotham as a kid can’t be much fun, not with the near-constant risk of muggers, terrorists, super villains and the like. Yet Batman has an underground lair containing a giant penny, a dinosaur, gadgets and so much more -- basically a ten year old’s slice of heaven -- and keeps it all to himself. Poor show, Batjerk. Hang your pointy ears in shame!
6 Ant-Man (Eric O’Grady)
How much of a jerk is Eric O’Grady? Well, the fact that his solo title was titled “The Irredeemable Ant-Man” probably provides a bit of a clue. While Scott Lang and Hank Pym, his predecessors to the name, both made their share of mistakes, Eric was a selfish character with few morals. And he was quite happy with that, thank you very much.
This was a character who gained his costume through theft, who seduced his friend’s girlfriend and got her pregnant, who used the suit’s size-changing capabilities to watch women shower and undress, and who left his comrades to fight for their lives while he caught up on episodes of “Chuck.” Yes, Eric O’Grady is a complete and utter jerk, but despite this -- or perhaps because of it – he’s also very likable.
During his relatively short tenure as a costumed hero, Eric grew and evolved, both as a superhero and as a person. His tenure on Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts team showed that he wanted to be a better person than the collection of psychopaths and ne’er-do-wells that were his teammates. Sadly, his membership in the Secret Avengers ended with his death while protecting a child. Eric may have been a jerk, but he died a hero.
5 Robin (Damian Wayne)
The son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, Damian Wayne was trained to be a killer since birth, so it’s hardly surprising that he has some... rough edges to his personality. His Robin isn’t one for corny catchphrases or bad puns, instead he’s more likely to try and beat his victim to a pulp, or rush headlong into the most dangerous situations with his condescending trademark tut.
Social niceties also aren’t his forte, something that’s somewhat understandable when you consider his sheltered upbringing. In Damian’s world, particularly when he first arrived in Gotham, it was survival of the fittest, as evidenced by his initial reaction to Bruce Wayne's then-current Robin and surrogate son in Tim Drake. Damian attempted to kill Tim; the start of what would always be an uneasy relationship between the two.
The beginning of Damian’s tenure as Robin, in partnership with Dick Grayson, who had assumed the mantle of Batman, is notable because it reversed the traditional expectations of the partnership. In this duo, Batman was the light-hearted balance to the violent excesses of Robin. Damian may have softened somewhat since then, helped by the support of Dick, Bruce and others in the Bat family, but it’s safe to say he’ll always be a bit of a jerk. Most readers wouldn’t want him any other way.
4 Moondragon (Heather Douglas)
If there is one word that sums up Moondragon, it’s arrogance. This is a character who, throughout much of her history, has been shown to be utterly confident of her abilities and purpose, causing her to treat other characters in a condescending, belittling manner.
Raised in near isolation in a Titan monastery, it’s not surprising that interaction with people is not one of Moondragon’s strengths. But her certainty of purpose and inability to see others’ point of view have repeatedly led her to manipulate others’ thoughts -- whether they desired it or not. For example, during the Korvac saga, she altered Quicksilver’s mind so that he would no longer object to the relationship between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. On another occasion, she mentally controlled the entire population of a planet in order to force them to live in peace.
As so often happens, it was love that helped humanize Moondragon. Her relationship with Phyla-Vell -- AKA Captain Marvel/Quasar -- saw her truly happy for perhaps the first time. Nevertheless, given Moondragon’s history to date, it’s a safe bet that she’ll never fully be able to resist showing others exactly why she believes she’s in the right.
3 Red Hulk (Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross)
When Red Hulk debuted, comic fans swapped countless theories back and forth about who the human counterpart for this character could be. With each new appearance -- as he killed Wendigo and the Abomination, punched the Watcher and overpowered Thor -- guesses continued. Was he Clay Quartermain? Glenn Talbot? Irving Forbush? Then, when he was revealed as General Thunderbolt Ross, it all made perfect sense. A jerk + gamma radiation = an even bigger jerk.
Thunderbolt Ross had been a recurring thorn in the Hulk’s side since his origin, the epitome of the dogged military man pursuing his target. Ross was a gruff, no-nonsense man, never happy with the romance between his daughter Betty and Bruce Banner. His transformation into the Red Hulk finally gave him the power to engage super-powered individuals on a level playing field, after years of failed attempts to capture the Hulk through the use of military might. Ross reveled in this power, almost losing himself in it, particularly in the initial Red Hulk appearances where he was portrayed as an aggressive bully.
Having been stripped of his powers, Ross is now incarcerated -- at least for the moment. Upcoming solicits show the Red Hulk as a member of the U.S.Avengers team, so it seems likely that readers can look forward to future adventures of the big red jerk.
2 Green Lantern (Guy Gardner)
When it comes to superhero jerks, there are few who can equal Guy Gardner. It’s nothing short of miraculous that someone with such an abrasive personality is primarily known for an association with teams like the Justice League and the Green Lantern Corps. Whereas DC fans were used to the idea of Hal Jordan as a respected, level-headed Green Lantern, Guy was full of bravado and aggression, likely to start an international incident in the morning and take his date to a porno film in the evening.
In the wrong hands, this type of character could have been an unlikeable boor, testing the patience of both his teammates and the reader. Instead, Guy’s unrepentant brand of jerkiness -- and his ability to start an argument in an empty room -- made him a tremendously entertaining character. This was particularly effective in the JLI, where he acted as the antagonist on the team, stopping things from getting too friendly and light-hearted. Many of the team’s classic moments involved Guy in some way, whether it was being knocked out by Batman with one punch, his (unexpectedly sweet) courtship of Ice or his verbal sparring with Fire and Power Girl.
Guy’s definitely mellowed over the years, but he is still at his best when he’s at his worst: being an insufferable jerk.
One of the heroes who helped Marvel achieve success in the 1930s and 1940s, Namor’s moods have been alternating between irritable and near-psychotic for almost 80 years. This is the same character who, in his regular battles with the original Human Torch during the 1940s, thought nothing about destroying New York in the conflict. The destruction caused by Namor, and his frequent changes between hero, antihero and villain, were so frequent that a canonical reason had to be developed to explain the discrepancy. The explanation being that Namor’s mental state was adversely affected if he did not appropriately divide his time between land and air.
Of course, Namor’s status as one of Marvel’s biggest jerks is a large part of his appeal. Whether it’s his persistent attempts to woo Sue Richards from Reed or his constant bickering with his teammates in the Defenders, Namor is never less than confident in his own actions.
In recent years, the destruction caused by Namor has escalated, whether it was flooding Wakanda in “Avengers vs, X-Men” or his destruction of multiple worlds to save our own in “New Avengers.” Namor is currently dead after meeting his demise in the pages of Squadron Supreme, but recent solicitations hint at a possible resurrection. Whenever he comes back, it’s a safe bet that Namor will continue to be the hero that fans love to hate.
Which other heroes do you think spread the jerk-sauce on a bit thick? Let us know in the comments!