Brawn and raw strength are empowering and all, but when it comes to effecting substantial results in the Marvel universe, one has to think hard and deep. For that matter, some of the most useful superheroes to have around are the smart ones. They don't necessarily do all the heavy lifting when it comes to cosmic threats. Still, their work in the background is a lot more important than bashing an omnipotent alien's skull.
When it comes to smarts, two names have often popped up in the Marvel universe: Tony Stark and Reed Richards. Both of them are certified super-geniuses and only a few beings in Marvel can match or surpass their intellectual prowess. The age-old question persists, however, who's smarter between the two? Let's explore that, shall we? Brace yourselves, it's big brain time!
11 IQ LEVEL: TIE (SORT OF)
While an IQ test is by no means the most accurate measurement of a person's intelligence in the real world, it still is a good benchmark for intellectual potential. Now, Marvel never really set both Reed Richards' and Tony Stark's IQ levels in stone. It's fiction after all and some suspension of disbelief is required.
However, Earth-1610 has an Ultimate Reed Richards version whose IQ was measured in at 267... back when he was at the age of 16. Of course, his official Earth-616 version is still somewhat different than that. As for Tony, his IQ still remains a big mystery. This one's a tie.
10 INTELLIGENT ENEMIES: REED RICHARDS
It would be an insult to a superhero if he's one of the smartest ones there is only for all his enemies to be blunt. That's Iron Man's case, sadly. Most of his official rogues' gallery enemies are too embarrassing or lame-- there's really no one to give him a proper intelligent threat, even in his own MCU movies.
Meanwhile, Reed Richards has probably the smartest supervillain in Marvel in the form of Victor von Doom, or Doctor Doom. Doom, Richards, and Stark were at one point, the top three brains of the Earth-616. So, this one goes to Reed Richards-- because Doctor Doom.
9 INVENTIONS: TONY STARK
When it comes to being a smart and accomplished brain in the Marvel universe, your inventions speak volumes about your achievements. They are essentially the application of all the knowledge and intelligence you have. You can bet that both Stark and Richards have had numerous inventions. Among Reed's achievements are the cure for cancer and a vehicle that can travel to alternate universes (Council of Reeds, anyone?)
Still, if we were to base their inventions upon the circumstances or situation they invented it (which is a fair comparison as inventing stuff takes heaps of resources and time) Stark appears to be no slouch at all. Inventing a portable infinite source of energy (and a new element) and one of the most powerful and versatile weapons in the Marvel universe is no small achievement. On top of that, MCU's Stark built his first Iron Man suit in a cave... with a bunch of scraps, that's a super-genius engineer for you. Let's give this one to Tony Stark (he'll need it, trust us).
8 SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES: REED RICHARDS
As we said earlier, Stark is first and foremost an engineer. Richards is primarily a scientist, meaning there's not much of a contest here in terms of scientific research and discovery.
Richards himself has discovered and created a portal to the Negative Zone which can imprison Galactus. He has also discovered unstable molecules among many other science-y stuff that's way too advanced for any scientists we have today. This criterion of intelligence comparison easily goes to Reed Richards.
7 STRATEGIC KNOWLEDGE: REED RICHARDS
When master plans and grand designs and schemes are concerned, both minds can impress anyone below their intelligence level (sometimes even those above). Stark, being an inheritor of one of the biggest weapons companies in the United States is no stranger to this. He has even won against Richards in two games of chess.
Smart as Stark might be, he has a tendency to ignore the consequences of his actions for the near and foreseeable future. Richards, on the other hand, always keeps the long-term in mind. Such a mindset is useful for formulating fool-proof plans, something Tony Stark could have used to prevent certain Marvel/MCU mishaps from happening *cough* Ultron *cough.*
6 TACTICAL KNOWLEDGE: TONY STARK
We did mention that Tony Stark's specialty was in the field of engineering and weapons manufacturing, right? Hence, for having the Earth's best guns or armor, Stark is the person you'll want to look for. In that regard, Stark has the tools for many situations; particularly for the short-term goals and the outcomes of a battle.
His suit is pretty much a Swiss army knife and has a tool for any contingency in a particular battle. Stark is also no stranger to rogue superhero disputes. Even Stark himself said to Richards that if he needed a weapon, the latter should have come to him first. Basically, building weapons for tactical advantage is an area where Stark excels against Richards.
5 ACADEMIC BACKGROUND: REED RICHARDS
Schools or university are essentially just a walk in the park for the likes of Stark or Richards, or even other geniuses in real life. Most people above the IQ level of 140 simply breeze through universities, Stark and Richards are no exception. Tony at the age of 17 already has an MIT double major before he went on to inherit his father's company.
That, however, pales in comparison to Reed's academic accolades. He was only 14 when he entered CalTech (California Institute of Technology) and went on to study in other prestigious universities such as Harvard, MIT, and even in the University of Vienna in Austria. By the time Reed was finished, he was already an expert scientist in all scientific fields. He's pretty much the ultimate polymath of Marvel. We have a clear winner in this category.
4 RATIONALITY: REED RICHARDS
Intelligence is great and all, but for a lot of us, it often takes a backseat to emotions and passion. Such faulty wiring of our organic brains has often led to disastrous decisions and superheroes are not exempt from this biological limitation (or however you want to put it). Tony, for that matter, has committed plenty of mistakes and poor choices based on emotions.
That makes Reed Richards the more level-headed and logical of the two super-geniuses. Iron Man and Captain America wanted to destroy Galactus after the Fantastic Four defeated it; Richards was more rational about his decision. He understood that Galactus was simply a force of nature-- one that might upset the balance if it disappeared. Hence, he convinced Stark not to destroy the cosmic being and even outsmarted Galactus in leaving Earth out of its buffet plans. Richards is the better man in this regard.
3 FORESIGHT: REED RICHARDS
This was probably already a given since Richards won in the strategic knowledge category. Mr. Fantastic often sees the bigger picture in everything and plans ahead. He takes into account the consequences of his own actions and decisions for the near future. Case in point is how he handled Galactus.
Moreover, Richards and family were the people responsible for putting the multiverse back together after God Emperor Doom turned it into his own playground. Stark's foresight is commendable; seeing that the Avengers need to expand and putting "armor on Earth" as he put it is great but his foresight is usually executed improperly. Richards wins here.
2 THREATS DEFEATED: REED RICHARDS
This one's a close call since Stark has had a hand in defeating cosmic-level threats such as Thanos. Also, he even beat Earthly villains such as Norman Osborn. Let's not discount MCU's own Stark who essentially saved an entire universe at the cost of his own life.
Valiant as that attempt may be, Richards (along with Fantastic Four and other superheroes) has defeated bigger and badder baddies. Two of the most notable Marvel villains, Galactus, and God Emperor Doom were defeated by Reed Richards (with plenty of help from others, of course). There's no way Tony himself would have been able to handle a being as powerful as God Emperor Doom.
1 WINNER: REED RICHARDS
Stark put up quite a good fight in the battle of wits and intellect but Richards has proven himself to be the ultimate master-mind of the Marvel universe (Earth-616 at least). In fact, the few people who can surpass him (a monumental high bar) are his children. Don't be sad Mr. Stark, we still love you 3000.