With many busy binge watching “Iron Fist” on Netflix this weekend, we thought the time was right to give you a little insight into Marvel’s best martial artists in the comics. With popular superheroes like Daredevil, Iron Fist and Shang Chi each having supporting casts and rogues galleries full of powerful and disciplined combatants, this list could have easily been twice as long and still missed some outstanding fighters.
For most of our selections, a mix of training and special abilities makes them the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous warriors. Many of our picks have fought each other before, which definitely has a baring on their position but, is not the deciding factor. From ancient senseis to mystic guardians to feared assassins to a woman who was born a tiger, this list has got it all.
Wong debuted in the very same issue as Doctor Strange, “Strange Tales” #110 (1963), however, his name wasn’t revealed until “Strange Tales” #147 (1966). He was brought into existence by titans of the industry Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The story goes that he was from a lineage of those that protect and serve the Sorcerer Supreme, which for the last ten generations has been The Ancient One.
He has trained in the mystic and martial arts of Kamar-Taj his whole life to protect the Sorcerer Supreme. When the title passed to Strange, Wong followed him back to New York to fulfill his duty. He has fought at Stephen’s side countless times but has also fought off serious threats like The Hood all by his lonesome. In the “Dr. Strange: Season One” graphic novel (2012) he was shown to be able to physically strike spectral entities and even wield powerful mystical artifacts that corrupt most.
14 COLLEEN WING
Wing is one of the top martial artists in the Marvel Universe. Colleen is the creation of veteran writer Doug Moench and iconic artists Larry Hama and Neal Adams. She arrived on the scene in “Marvel Premiere” #19 (1974), which was an Iron Fist story.
Colleen was mainly raised by her grandfather, Kenji Ozawa, in Northern Japan. His family was descended are from a long line of samurai. Ozawa conditioned her in the mountains of Honshu from a young age and when she turned 12 years-old, he started her kendo training. Wing is considered a top-tier Kenjutsu swordswoman and has a third-dan black belt in karate. At one point, a sorcerer by the name of Master Khan kidnapped Colleen and, with the help of his lackey Angar the Screamer, brainwashed her into hating her ally Iron Fist. When he came to rescue her, he had to use his chi powers to mind meld with Wing and then break her deep programming. This left the martial artist with much of Danny’s K’un-L’un training, making her even more formidable.
13 WHITE TIGER
Anybody claiming to have mastered Tiger Style when this character is around might want to check themselves. See, many have mastered the animal mimicry techniques of kung-fu but White Tiger is an actual tiger evolved into humanoid form. She was thought up by writers Roger Stern and John Oustrander with artist Pascual Ferry for their 1997 “Heroes For Hire” run, and made her first appearance in the debut issue of the series.
Tiger started her life as a white Bengal tiger in an unspecified rainforest in Asia. However, she was eventually snatched up by The High Evolutionary, who mutagenically modified her and trained her to be his assassin. This feline warrior’s single target was another of the High Evolutionary’s creations, the mutinous Man-Beast. Tiger was a naturally gifted martial artist whose elongated claws could cut through most metals. We know many will argue that a wearer of the Tiger Amulet deserved this spot but we thought including one of the High Evolutionary’s New Men (and women) was a little more fun.
12 LADY BULLSEYE
Yes, we could have included Bullseye on this list, but Lady Bullseye has been shown to be faster and was trained by the same person who taught Daredevil's teacher. She first crouched atop a rooftop in “Daredevil” #111 (2012) and is the brainchild of acclaimed writer Ed Brubaker and top artists Marko Djurdjevic and Clay Mann. Her real name is Maki Matsumoto of Japan. She was kidnapped as a child and forced into prostitution by the yakuza. When Bullseye was sent to eliminate this den of gangsters, Maki is not only amazed by his skills, but also uses the opportunity to escape. She becomes a high level assassin of The Hand's and an essential part in their plan to have Daredevil assume leadership of their clan.
Maki is a lethal martial artist having trained with The Hand and even more impressively, with the ancient Master Izo, founder and original leader of The Chaste. Daredevil has noted that Lady Bullseye is completely calm in the heat of battle, experiencing no adrenaline rush. This assassin has been known to utilize a katana, a bladed fan, shuriken and even playing cards like her namesake.
This mirror image of Matt Murdock is the work of scribe Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee. The characters debuted in the duo's monumental “Daredevil” run. Ikari first appeared in “Daredevil” #24 (2013) but wasn’t revealed until the next issue. He details how his benefactor has plotted revenge against Daredevil by creating a warrior every bit as skilled and with the same radar sense but not hindered by loss of vision. His boss turns out to be the once-thought-dead Bullseye and, in order to produce his own Daredevil, he recreated the conditions that gave Matt his super senses. He tested a wide variety of chemical combinations on human test subjects and, when he found the right mixture, Lester used it on his hand-chosen assassin.
Ikari has bested Matt twice and on one of those times he even beat him within an inch of his life. That alone gets him a spot on this list. Ikari is deadly with his bare hands, but is never seen without his twin kusurigama blades. He was apparently killed when The Shroud impaled him and hurled him from a rooftop.
Since Season 2 of “Daredevil," most everybody knows Elektra is a ninja who had an on-again/off-again romantic relationship with Matt Murdock. So, let’s get into a little of her history and why she belongs on this list. Elektra Natchios was the daughter of a wealthy Greek businessman. The death of her mother when she was young traumatized her in a way that no amount of therapy could ease. However, she proved to be a talented martial artist when her father had her train to try to deal with her issues.
Her father was assassinated when he became the Greek Ambassador to the U.S. His passing drove her to find The Chaste ninja clan and train with them. When she couldn’t control her emotions, Elektra was dismissed. She went undercover with their rivals The Hand to try to prove herself by taking them down from within. This plan backfired and she was assimilated. Like quite a few characters on this list, this red-clad assassin has mastered her body to the point of being able to disregard pain and even slow bleeding. She is an expert in many martial arts including karate, aikido and kendo. Elektra also developed mind powers with The Hand.
Psylocke has one of those super-convoluted X-Men histories. She has had multiple superhero identities, been an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s UK sister agency, S.T.R.I.K.E. and has experienced such weirdness as body modification and soul swapping. Her real name is Betsy Braddock and she is the twin sister of Brian Braddock a.k.a. Captain Britain. Betsy first appeared in “Captain Britain” #8 (1976) but she didn’t appear as Psylocke until 10 years later in “New Mutants Annual” #2 (1986).
Psylocke not only has combat training from S.T.R.I.K.E. but she also gained all the skills of a female Hand ninja when their souls were swapped. She is an exceptional martial artist who often fights hand-to-hand even though she is one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful telepaths. When Betsy was with the Exiles, she also trained with a parallel universe version of Wolverine's sensei, Ogun. Her psionic abilities are second-to-none and she regularly wields a telekinetic katana.
8 SPIDER-MAN (SPIDER CLAN)
When Marvel launched their Mangaverse in the early ‘00s, we got cool Japanese iterations of most of the publisher’s popular characters. While Spider-Man of Earth-616 developed his own signature martial art with Shang Chi called Way of the Spider, in this parallel universe, Peter Parker is actually from a ninja clan. This spin on Spider-Man’s story was brought to life by current fan-favorites Kaare Andrews and Skottie Young. The reality that he is from has been designated Earth-2301 and in it, Venom is Spidey’s older cousin (or brother, depending which comic you read)…and also Uncle Ben’s murderer. Dun dun dun.
The Spider Clan’s rivals are Kuji Kuri, who are led by the Kingpin (who has the look of a mammoth sumo wrestler in this reality). This ninja take on Peter wears clawed gloves and employs bolos with extendable blades. Though only a boy, he has been shown to have the strength and skill to defeat dozens of opponents at once.
Daredevil's origin is pretty well documented, so we’ll concentrate on his martial arts prowess. He was taught by Stick, one of the foremost senseis in the world. This teacher was part of a secret order of ninjas called The Chaste, who were in an ancient feud against the demon-led clan, The Hand. Since Stick was also blind and (conveniently) had something very similar to Matt’s radar sense, he was the ideal mentor.
Daredevil learned numerous fighting styles including kung-fu and karate, but Stick focused his education in ninjutsu. However, Matt had already picked up boxing techniques from watching and helping train his father, Battlin’ Jack Murdock. DD has fought most of the best fighters in the Marvel Universe and either beat them or at least stalemated. The Chaste studied more than just standard martial arts, as their members have exhibited abilities such as pyrokinesis, the capability to drain other’s life-force and telepathic communication. While Matt has yet to pull off any of the above, he was trained in how to defend himself from psychic attacks.
6 SHANG CHI
When you’re known as the Master of Kung-Fu, you have to get a top spot on this list. If the next couple of entries didn’t have super powers or enhancements, Shang would rank even higher. Having said that, his mastery of chi could be considered a super power, as it makes him faster, stronger and more durable. He was created by legends Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, and made his debut in “Special Marvel Edition” #15 (1973).
Shang was trained from a young age to be an assassin for his father, crime boss (and rather racially insensitive caricature) Fu Manchu. However, when he realized who his father was and his intentions for him, the expert martial artist escaped his dear ol’ dad and chose instead to travel the hero’s path. Like a handful of other characters on this list, Shang Chi has trained others. In “The Amazing Spider-Man” Free Comic Book Day 2011 one-shot, Chi helped Spider-Man develop a style of martial arts to suit his strength, speed and agility. Much like our #4 entry, the Inhuman Karnak, Shang’s style focuses on pin-pointing and exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses. His signature move is a devastating kick that villains across the Marvel Universe fear.
This is the new Guardian James Gunn has added in the upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." She comes from the minds of Steve Englehart and Don Heck, and was introduced in “Avengers” #112 (1973). Mantis starts as the Swordsman’s girlfriend who has a plan to get him into the Avengers line-up. She succeeds and is also invited to become a member. On their adventures she meets her father and it is revealed she doesn’t remember her past. He tells her that her mother was murdered and that he left her to be raised at a temple in Vietnam. Turns out the holy men there were Kree exiles called the Priests of Pama and that they believed Mantis was the Celestial Madonna of prophecy.
Through her training with the Priests, she gained complete control of her body, to the point where she can will herself to heal. Mantis learned martial arts that were developed over thousands of years. She has demonstrated that she even has knowledge of mysticism from her studies in these arts. On top of all that, this former Guardian is both a powerful telepath and empath.
With the "Inhumans" about to hit both the big and small screens in the Fall, it's a good time to bone up on some Karnak info. The character was forged by the creative minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first made his presence felt in “Fantastic Four” #45 (1965). However, the recent “Karnak” miniseries by Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino has really redefined and developed The Shatterer.
Karnak’s parents wouldn’t let him undergo Terrigenesis after the radical transformation of his brother Triton. His father was a priest and had his young son become a student at his seminary, the Tower of Wisdom. Here, the Inhuman studied a plethora of physical and mental arts. His gift and his curse is that he sees the flaw in all things. In terms of the physical, that means being able to find the weak point of a person or object and break them/it. As for the ability’s implication when it comes to the philosophical and metaphysical, you’ll have to ask Ellis. Like all Inhumans, Karnak is stronger, faster and more durable than any human...even one enhanced to the peak of human perfection like Captain America.
3 CAPTAIN AMERICA (STEVE ROGERS)
As many have learned when they tried to don the mask and carry the shield, it’s not only the Super-Soldier Serum (or even his heart) that make Steve Rogers such a force, it’s also the intensive training. While not always associated with the martial arts, Rogers has mastered many fighting systems that were popular in his day.
Steve is a world-class pugilist and a master of Judo, as well as having WWII era military combat training. He has also taught others fighting techniques, including Rick Jones, Tony Stark and Ian Zola. In “Captain America” #375 (1990) the exceptionally skilled Daredevil states that Cap is one of the world’s greatest combatants, right before getting his butt handed to him by the Steve. Fun fact: Chris Evans said in an interview that he and the Russo Brothers both loved how Cap moved in the 2011 video game “Captain America: Super Soldier" and that it ended up influencing Rogers' fighting style in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (2014).
2 MASTER IZO
When Frank Miller introduced Daredevil’s blind martial arts master named Stick in the ’80s, fans ate it up. As we learned more and more about this curmudgeonly, disheveled sensei, the more we wanted to know about The Chaste and their hidden war with The Hand. So you know readers were intrigued when it was revealed that Stick trained under a teacher named Master Izo, who was the founder of The Chaste. He was properly explored in Ed Brubaker's late-’00s “Daredevil” run. It turns out that he was one of the founders of The Hand as well and that he only left when his master died and the order headed down a darker path.
When Danny Rand meets Izo, he tells Daredevil that the old man has a mention in the "Book of the Iron Fist" from hundreds of years ago. He later notes that, “Master Izo in motion is something to behold,” and that the ancient text says as much. This long-lived practitioner of the martial arts effortlessly bested Black Tarantula and kills Hand ninjas like he’s swatting flies. Izo has also trained many of the Marvel Universe’s premier martial artists.
1 IRON FIST
Danny Rand is the Iron Fist, the champion of K’un-Lun, which is one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. His diligence and talent afforded him the chance to become the latest Iron Fist by fighting a dragon named Shou-Lao the Undying. When he beat the dragon, he claimed some of its power. Each of the Capital Cities of Heaven have an Immortal Weapon, but only the Iron Fist is powered by a dragon’s heart.
Like any of the characters on our list, Danny has undergone rigorous training and is a master of multiple martial arts. The Hand has noted that he has an amazing depth of awareness. However, it’s his healing and restorative abilities that set him apart. Danny has used his chi (or qi) powers to meld minds with Colleen Wing when she was brainwashed and break her programming. He once focused his chi on Dakota North’s injured arm and sped up the natural healing process. He even used a chi punch in “Shadowland” #5 (2011) to get the evil spirit out of Daredevil when he was possessed by The Beast.
Which martial artist do you think is Marvel's strongest? Let us know in the comments!