If there's anything fans love to debate, it's how strong their favorite superheroes are. It's almost a given if someone gathers too many comic fans together in a single place they'll start discussing who's the strongest, who's the fastest, or who's the smartest hero. It can start out with pretty basic reasoning but grow pretty complex, as the answer's never cut and dry. Our heroes often experience vast changes in what they can do based on different writers. And even if that's fairly consistent, nearly every superhero has had their powers altered or improved once they make the change from the comics into the world of films or cartoons.
Often, writers will power a given superhero down because their newer, more simplified universe doesn't have the threats built up to challenge the hero at their strongest. Decades of development in the comics require heroes to grow in ability just to handle the newest, hottest supervillain promised to bring the hero's world crashing down around them, but new universes don't really require the same thing. Of course, the inverse is often true as well -- sometimes a hero is simply not effective enough to properly take part in the adventures going on around them, and so the creatives responsible for a cartoon will give them a boost in ability. For this list, we'll be looking at both sides of the coin, and talk about which ten superheroes from the cartoons aren't quite as powerful as their comic selves, and which ones would blow their original incarnations out of the water.
20 WEAKER: SUPERMAN
The Man of Steel is often derided by lazy fans for being “too powerful” to tell compelling stories with. On some level it’s easy to see why -- you hear all those Silver Age anecdotes about him sneezing out galaxies when he catches a cold and you see a being who shouldn’t ever really be challenged by anyone, especially some of the schmucks in his rogues gallery (Toyman, c'mon).
Perhaps that’s why when it came to Superman’s first television series he got a significant powering down? Yes, everyone remembers the “World of Cardboard” speech he gave while beating Darkseid down, but that entire scene was created specifically in response to years of him getting smacked around and fans complaining about it.
19 STRONGER: STARFIRE
This is kind of up in the air, because Starfire in the comics has some pretty impressive abilities. Similar to how Superman absorbs yellow sun energy, Starfire absorbs UV radiation and transforms it into power, giving her super-strength, speed, energy projection and flight. But Starfire from the Teen Titans series has a kind of Hulk-like twist on her powers, where her emotions determine the level of her abilities.
At peak strength she’s able to dwarf Cyborg in strength, is largely invulnerable, and move faster than the speed of light, a power comic Starfire once had but was eventually stripped from her.
18 WEAKER: ROGUE
Though Rogue goes back and forth on being capable of controlling her powers in the comics, the cartoons haven’t ever really done much with the “controlling” part. More often than not an inability to control her abilities is what drives her character, and as a result it’s more interesting to keep that than see how she acts when she has complete control.
But most recently, Rogue’s powers have actually experienced a huge boost in ability -- where she once drained life and power from anyone she touched, in Mr. and Mrs X she recently gained the ability to drain people who are just nearby. That’s a vast upgrade, and something the cartoons haven’t even attempted to touch.
17 STRONGER: AQUAMAN
Arguably, this isn’t necessarily true. For sure most recently in Scott Snyder’s Justice League of America he was responsible for saving Earth from being conquered by an army of undead, sea gods. But older versions of Aquaman spent far too much time hindered by a lack of water, often even having a time limit to how long they could stay out of water.
The versions of Aquaman we’ve seen in cartoons have always been first-rate, though -- whether it’s the dangerous regal king of Justice League Unlimited, or Brave and the Bold’s Aquaman, composing songs of his adventures where he hands out two-fisted justice.
16 WEAKER: NIGHTCRAWLER
The “fuzzy elf” is one of the most recognizable X-Men but he’s rarely ever been made into a central part of the team in the few X-Men cartoons we’ve had. Despite this, in the comics he’s been a part of not just several X-Teams but other super-teams like Excalibur as well.
He’s got several years of experience with his powers and in battle (he’s often presented as an expert swordsman, but it never reflects in the shows we see him in. In X-Men: TAS he’s only occasionally featured as a guest star, while X-Men Evolution has him as a teenager still learning how to use his powers.
15 STRONGER: KID FLASH
When Wally was introduced in the comics, we knew he had a strict limit on just how fast he could be. It was a limit which persisted well into Wally’s time as The Flash after Barry passed away, and a mental barrier he finally broke through after fully accepting his role as Barry Allen’s successor.
But every version of Wally we’ve seen in the cartoon, whether it’s his brief appearances in Teen Titans or his leading role in the first two seasons of Young Justice, never placed the same limitations on him. While not nearly as experienced as Barry, he still seemed as effective for his team.
14 WEAKER: THOR
It’s hard to put “Thor” and “weak” in the same sentence and find it even remotely plausible. As the god of thunder, the power Thor wields allows him to lay low just about any threat he runs across in cartoons like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Avengers Assemble. He may not be the team’s true muscle (which is usually the Hulk), but he’s one of the biggest guns the team has.
That said, the power he wields on the Avengers shows is nothing compared to some of the power he’s wielded in the comics, particularly when he’s been left in charge of the Odinforce and become leader of the Norse gods.
13 STRONGER: CYBORG
It seems like no matter how much they hype Cyborg up in the comics, talking about how impressive he is and how he should be one of the most powerful heroes of the DC Universe, the end result is always the same. When the villain shows up he either gets hacked or cut into bits, because he’s the only character who can “look” dead but be brought back endlessly.
But in Teen Titans he actually got to come off as the powerhouse the comics only claim him to be. He becomes the team’s muscle, and the guy whose arm transforms into a cannon large enough to make Mega Man blush.
12 WEAKER: GREEN LANTERN
Green Lantern is always a threat no matter what team he’s on, but It was hard not to notice the changes the character underwent when he was first introduced to the DCAU in the 2000 series Justice League. While most of the heroes experienced something of a decline in their abilities, it was particularly noticeable with John Stewart.
He was still powerful, but all his constructs were limited and quite far from the creativity the Green Lanterns were known for. Instead, in their place were utilitarian shields and laser blasts, which made some sense given John Stewart was a no-nonsense former member of the military, but then made none at all when considering his architect background.
11 STRONGER: ROBIN
There’s no question Robin’s a key character no matter what team he’s placed on. His experience and training under Batman make him the most experienced hero often, and his charisma allows him to take on the leadership role of nearly any team about as natural as any character we’ve ever known.
But both Teen Titans and Young Justice elevate the character to an ace level. Robin on Teen Titans went toe-to-toe with Deathstroke, a character who’s taken out the entire team in the comics. It might be out of a need to let him seem competent alongside the other heroes, but Robin always comes out stronger in the cartoons.
10 WEAKER: IRON MAN
Iron Man’s placement on this half of the list comes down to people not really understanding how to write for a character like him back in the '90s. Though there were several ways for him to feel vulnerable, the writers often seemed to rely on the same problem: for whatever reason, the armor was either out of power or running low.
Though this was an issue Stark occasionally dealt with in the comic, it seemed much more prevalent in the first season of his original cartoon, which was only a short thirteen episodes to begin with. It also made Stark seem like less of a scientist, considering it just kept happening but he wasn’t ever doing anything about it.
9 STRONGER: HULK
Hulk’s strength hops around more frequently than anyone short of the Man of Steel himself. It’s hard to give him a specific strength level considering both the story constraints of needing to have someone who could actually challenge him and the core idea behind the character being the madder he gets, the stronger he gets.
That said, the Avengers cartoons we’ve seen him in have often made the character come off much more powerful than we get to see him as in the comics outside of specific events. Since he’s “the muscle” in both Avengers cartoons, he gets all the fun, impossible strength-based feats.
8 WEAKER: SPIDER-MAN
This one’s kind of not really fair. Spider-Man in the comics was always known more for his incredible reflexes, his “Spider-Sense” which allowed him to predict danger, and his incredible intellect (also having the fastest quips of any hero in the Marvel Universe). Even though he has super-strength, we never really think about it outside of specific iconic moments.
One might even argue he works better with a low level of super strength because he’s not supposed to punch his way through problems. Nonetheless, following "The Other" storyline, the Wall-Crawler had his powers boosted, taking him from being able to lift 15 tons to being capable of lifting 30-40, making him a proper heavy hitter.
7 STRONGER: SUPERBOY
Superboy was a long time coming to DC’s cartoons. For years the character was a comic only creation, even as his profile grew and he joined the original Young Justice and Teen Titans. But when Young Justice finally aired on Cartoon Network, this version of Kon-El started out much more powerful than the version we were given in the comics.
While the comic version is inarguably cooler, his powers worked due to some rather convoluted telekinesis which merely mimicked Superman’s abilities, and only his flight, strength, and durability. While the character would eventually grow into his Kryptonian powers, Kon started with those abilities from the start, including Superman’s heat vision powers, something the comic version had to wear shades for initially.
6 WEAKER: CYCLOPS
If you follow the comics, Cyclops is The Man with the Plan. A bit of a square, but he’s always thinking several moves ahead, and he’s gotten the X-Men through everything from nightmare theme parks of Arcade to the near extinction of the mutant race.
He’s a master hand to hand fighter, and an expert at using his powers… and none of that transferred over to the '90s cartoon besides the “he’s a bit of a square” part. We all just remember him getting pushed around and having his authority flouted by Wolverine. It’s not a good look for someone who spent the better part of the 2010s as a mutant revolutionary.
5 STRONGER: FALCON
Admittedly, the Falcon in Avengers Assemble is much younger than the one from the comics, making him much less experienced. He also lacks the comic Falcon’s ability to communicate with avian life, which means he’s not quite as gifted when it comes to reconnaissance. But this version of Sam makes up for his losses by being a trained member of S.H.I.E.L.D. before he even joins the Avengers.
Not only that, but he’s also a super-genius, boasting intelligence on the level of Tony Stark, two facts which more than make up for whatever he might be losing from his lack of experience. Plus the original can’t say he trained under Kang the Conqueror.
4 WEAKER: JEAN GREY
The '90s X-Men cartoon did Jean dirty. Maybe this is because the writers didn’t have a creative way to let her use her telekinetic abilities or they thought they were too powerful for her to wield effectively.
Whatever the reason, she was so useless there’s a YouTube compilation filled with her various fails throughout the series, most of which see her barely being able to use her powers, being knocked out before she could, or tripping over absolutely nothing. Comparatively, the comics allow Jean to be the powerhouse you expect someone capable of wielding the Phoenix Force would be.
3 STRONGER: HAWKGIRL
For the majority of the '90s, it was impossible to even find either of the Hawkpeople in the comics. The constant shift in their backgrounds made the characters confusing, and they flitted back and forth between death a lot even for a pair of characters that have reincarnation as a canon part of their histories.
It wasn’t until Shiera became a part of the Justice League cartoon that she started to get more appearances in the comics. While she wasn’t necessarily stronger, the way she was treated in the show pushed comic creators to let her be more of a big deal.
2 WEAKER: BATMAN
Batman has the unfortunate problem of needing to appear effective enough to hang with the Justice League and not weigh them down, while also not needing to appear so overpowered he could clean up all the crime in Gotham in a week with his gadgets and intellect. The comics have always handled this duality necessary for Batman to function in the DC Universe a bit better than the cartoons.
In the cartoons Batman can get knocked out by a random hood, and more often than not stays away from the big battles. The comics, particularly lately, will just have Bruce don a suit of giant mechanized armor if that’s what it takes for him to be a part of the action.
1 STRONGER: HAWKEYE
It’s not like Hawkeye in the comics is completely ineffective, but it’s been harder for him to be quite as useful since comics have gotten more “realistic”. He shoots a lot more normal arrows instead of just having a gadget arrow for every occasion like another superhero archer we all know and love.
There’s a reason he spent a large part of the 2000s dressed up like a ninja. But the cartoons are able to lean a bit more into the ridiculousness of the character, and sneak in the idea of him having always been a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who just prefers a bow and quiver as his primary weapon, like the films.