One of the hallmarks of a good superhero costume design is the symbol. Over at DC, Superman and Batman have the most iconic costumes, and they proudly sport their signature symbol boldly on their chest. While most Marvel heroes are a little more subtle than good ol’ Supes and Bats, their symbols are still proudly emblazoned on their costumes. Culturally, these symbols are seen all over. There are countless backpacks, hoodies and every other variety of clothing ready for purchase with your favorite character’s symbol. However, not all symbols are created equal.
Like with anything, there are good symbols and bad symbols. So, what makes a great superhero symbol? Well, a great symbol should give you an idea of the character, it should be clearly recognizable, and obviously, it should look great on a t-shirt. So, we at CBR have decided to give the official rankings of the very best Marvel superhero symbols. Some of the symbols on this list are world-renowned, while others are slowly but surely gaining notoriety. One thing is for sure, these are the symbols that define Marvel comics, and by proxy, define pop culture. Without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and officially rank the top 15 superhero symbols in the Marvel Universe.
15 MS. MARVEL
Like many female superheroes to debut in comics, the character of Ms. Marvel got her start as just a female version of another popular character. In this case, it was Captain Marvel. Her costume, though definitely skimpier than her male counterpart, shared a lot of the same design of the original Captain Marvel’s iconic suit. However, eventually Carol Danvers donned her famous lightning bolt design, and the rest is history.
That lightning bolt also carried over when Kamala Khan took over the moniker. Since Khan’s introduction, the status of Ms. Marvel has risen. Now, that lightning bolt symbol has carried over to the mainstream, where casual fans are recognizing the Ms. Marvel signature bolt. Expect the popularity of the symbol to grow further after Kamala Khan’s popularity continues to rise. In 20 years, there’s a chance that the Ms. Marvel lightning bolt will have the shot at becoming one of the most recognizable in all of comics.
The truth is, before 2012, most people wouldn’t have known what the S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol looked like, and rightfully so. It wasn’t until Marvel’s The Avengers hit theaters, and shattered records, that most people took notice of the S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol. Over the years, the symbol has changed, as has the meaning of the acronym, but one thing has always remained – the eagle. Like any good government office, the eagle is front and center.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol not only looks great, and immediately stands out, it also tells the reader or viewer what to expect. These guys are feds, not some standard superheroes. These are government officials, and the logo looks ripped from modern Washington, DC. Honestly, if there was a branch of law enforcement that decided to use this logo today, no one would bat an eye.
13 IRON FIST
Fittingly, Iron Fist is an example of a superhero that gets overshadowed by a really cool symbol. The dragon logo that Danny Rand wears proudly is so iconic and neat, that it almost makes up for the fact that Danny Rand wears it. The coolness of the symbol, and the mythology behind it, is a big reason why everyone was hyped for the recent Netflix series. That is, until you realize it’s about Danny Rand and no symbol can cover the stench of inherent failure.
That being said, the symbol is iconic. There’s no other character around that could wear that symbol and get away with it. Mystical and foreign in nature, the curved dragon looks ripped from Asian martial arts history. Yet, unfortunately, some rich white kid gets to wear it in the Marvel Universe. Go figure.
12 BLACK WIDOW
With a name like Black Widow, it’s obvious which direction you would go with the symbol. However, it’s the way the symbol fits the character that puts it over the top. As an assassin, you’re not going to wear some flashy costume with a hugely elaborate symbol. It needs to be clean, simple and effective. Even if you don’t read comics, if you see the Black Widow symbol, you know immediately to not mess around with her.
The popularity of the symbol has taken off in recent years thanks to actress Scarlett Johansson and the MCU. Now, you have fans, who might not have ever read a comic, sport the symbol on clothing and other apparel thanks to the popularity of the character in film. As the MCU continues its dominance, and if the studio ever gives us our Black Widow movie, then you can expect the symbol to join the other elite superhero symbols.
11 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The Guardians of the Galaxy were an oft-forgotten team in the Marvel Universe before 2014’s unexpected hit film debuted and blew everyone’s mind. Now, three years and one sequel later, the Guardians symbol is instantly recognizable. With a collection of eclectic characters, it’s hard to give this look any sort of cohesion, but with the Guardians patch, you immediately know who they are.
Popularity aside, it’s a really cool symbol. The star in the middle lets you know the Guardians are an otherworldly team, while the fire looks like… well, it looks like fire and fire is almost always awesome. Honestly, this is a logo that works so well that you could put this on a collared shirt and wear it every day, and people would probably compliment you.
10 IRON MAN
Iron Man has a very interesting “symbol.” Unlike Batman or Superman, where the symbol is very much superhero-y, and shown right on their chest, Iron Man doesn’t really have a big symbol. However, since his arc reactor is smack dab in the middle of his chest, it’s just chosen as his symbol by default. And you know what? It’s pretty awesome.
Iron Man is about a genius who, due to health issues, has to build a suit of armor to save his life. The arc reactor sums up the origin story perfectly. If you’ve seen the Iron Man films, or read his books, you know what the arc reactor means to the character. Plus, the look of the symbol gives off a technology vibe, which instantly tells you about what to expect with Iron Man. Overall, it might not be a classic-looking superhero symbol, but it’s definitely one of the best and most popular at Marvel.
You can’t really give The Avengers’ symbol points for creativity. Sure, in hindsight, it looks great and is insanely popular, but let’s be real, it’s just the letter “A.” But there’s something about that damn letter “A” that gets people excited and has become iconic in pop culture.
Now, all kidding aside, there are some design elements that separate the symbol from just a normal “A.” The circle surrounding its asymmetrical design is also interesting, culminating in its center at the evocative arrow-tip point. Frankly, we’re not really sure what the arrow is for, but it sure does look neat. This list might have more creative symbols, but there’s no denying that the “A” is one of the most popular in all of pop culture.
Historically, none of the X-Men costumes are individually that recognizable. Most of Marvel’s mutants have changed looks throughout the years, and outside of the “X,” there’s not really much that stands out. Even a character like Wolverine, one of Marvel’s most popular, doesn’t truly have his own symbol. But Jean Grey, aka Phoenix, has a symbol and it’s great.
The Phoenix symbol could have been horrible. If you just Google search “phoenix,” you’ll end up with these horribly elaborate designs. But when Marvel created a symbol for its own Phoenix, the publisher went super simple and it works very well. So popular and recognizable is the symbol that it has lived on even after the multiple deaths of Jean Grey. We’ve seen multiple characters wear it, and we’ve seen all different types of color combinations. Through all of the changes, that symbol has become iconic.
Daredevil has gone through many costume changes throughout the years. Some are great, like the famous red suit, while others are horrible, as in the (at best) divisive ‘90s armored suit. However, since early on, the one constant has been the double-“D” symbol.
Yes, we know that he used to have a single “D” on his chest, but once they added the second “D,” even though grammatically it doesn’t make sense, they never turned back. Much like the Avengers symbol, the double-“D” symbol is simple, yet effective. It’s the most Superman-ish of all the symbols on this list. While it may not make sense for the character to wear the double-“D” symbol on his chest, considering he’s a blind, ninja vigilante and all, it still looks undeniably badass.
Before everyone gets all upset, yes, Deadpool has a very cool symbol. The high ranking of the symbol is in no small part related to the characters incredible popularity. Deadpool’s now-famous symbol has risen to the level of popularity where people are wearing it on t-shirts and maybe haven’t seen his movie or read a comic. It’s just that popular. But let’s be real, it’s kinda weird.
Why would a superhero wear a stylized version of his own mask as his belt buckle? Well, because Deadpool, we guess. So sure, it's more than a little silly, but that’s what makes it work. Deadpool is weird by nature, so of course he would wear his mask as a belt buckle. However, before you get upset about our rating here, just go through your favorite superheroes and imagine them wearing a stylized version of their mask as their belt buckle. It’s just something that not a lot of folks could pull off, and that's got to count for something!
5 FANTASTIC FOUR
As we climb the rankings, there’s one thing that starts to become apparent – simplicity is key. The best superhero symbols take the essence of the character(s) and boil it down to its base. So, if you have four characters with super powers, who always talk about the importance of family and being a team, you give them the number 4 as their symbol. That’s exactly what happened with the Fantastic Four.
What better way to design the symbol for the Fantastic Four, but to give them a numerical symbol to link them together? Unlike criticisms for Daredevil and Avengers, the 4 isn’t just an afterthought, it actually sums up what it means to be part of the team. Honestly, this is so iconic, you could even publish a Marvel book called “The 4” and take out “Fantastic” and people would instantly know who you mean.
More than any other symbol on this list, the Punisher’s skull symbol is perhaps the most widely known to non-comic book fans. Take a look at cars driving by, people’s clothing and Army soldiers’ bags. You’ll see the skull. It’s simply a symbol that has not only transcended the character, but also the whole medium in general.
To top it off, the skull is a damn good symbol. The Punisher is all about killing, right? So, obviously, a skull would be the symbol of choice. It represents death and looks amazing on his chest. It’s almost perfect in its simplicity of design and evocative terror. The only drawback is how live-action adaptations tend to shy away from using the big white skull. Given Frank Castle’s backstory, he probably wouldn’t want to draw much attention to himself, But you know what? That skull rocks!
3 CAPTAIN AMERICA
Captain America’s shield is one of the most iconic superhero accessories in all of comics. Without the shield, Cap would just look silly. Sure, over the decades, the shield has changed designs quite a bit, but it’s the iconic circle that serves not only as his weapon of choice, but also his star-spangled calling card.
The shield is about as perfect a symbol as you can have in a superhero comic book. What makes it better than most others is how he can actually throw it at people’s faces. Other than Batman, there’s no one in comics that can do that. Even someone as iconic as Superman can attempt it in one of his movies, but it just looks ridiculous. The design is also incredible. Clearly, the star and the red, white and blue color scheme sums up the character.
It seems like forever ago, but before Iron Man became a household name in 2008, the biggest franchise in all of Marvel Comics was the X-Men. To this day, the X-Men feature some of the most popular characters in all of comics. And when you think of the look of the X-Men, you think of the “X” symbol.
That “X” is iconic. It’s symmetrical, plain and simple, and there is no denying its unmistakable presence in pop culture. With the huge success of the X-Men film series, you can see tons of X-Men toys and accessories proudly sporting the “X.” Even when the costumes of the X-Men were drastically altered in the films, the symbol was still seen throughout. That just shows you how important the design is to the characters.
Could there be any other #1? When you think of the Marvel Universe, you think of Spider-Man. He’s the publisher's most important character, and for decades, has been one of its most popular. In fact, the teen from Queens that gets bitten by a radioactive spider is one of the most recognized characters from all of fiction. Without a doubt, one of the reasons Peter Parker is so popular is the look of the character, which is fully embodied in the famous spider symbol.
While the look of the spider has changed over the years, the black spider on the chest of Spider-Man is by far the most iconic symbol in all of Marvel Comics. It’s clean and simple, instantly recognizable, and has transcended comics to become one of the most popular symbols in the world. As something on par with Supes and Bats over at DC, there was never any doubt that one would top our list.
Which Marvel superhero symbol is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!