You’ve found yourself in a super-powered predicament. You need to wage a one-man war, protect a VIP or kill The Batman. No matter the mission, you’re going to need a mercenary. So, in honor of the mercenary maelstrom that is “John Wick Chapter 2,” we here at CBR arranged a shopping list of the 15 best soldiers of fortune you can hire in comics — based on skill set, work ethic and price range.
To qualify for this list, characters have to primarily operate as a soldier for hire of their own volition — so X-23 and Elektra are ineligible. Characters also have to be somewhat motivated by money, while maintaining some semblance of professionalism — Killer Croc works for cash, but he’ll still knock over a pharmacy on his own time, so he’s ineligible. These 15 soldiers of fortune are professionals, not muscles for hire.
A mercenary/detective with slightly augmented strength, speed and stun guns, Paladin has had a solid tour of duty in the Marvel Universe given his standard skill set: teaming up with Spider-Man and scoffing at how he works for free, sniping Daredevil for the FBI, lending his detective skills to Heroes for Hire as a double agent, and Paladin even managed to date The Wasp when she was on the rebound from Hank Pym.
Paladin remains a professional who has provided services for the Serpent Society, Shield, Silver Sable’s Wild Pack, and most notably The Thunderbolts during “Dark Reign.” Regardless of his professionalism, however, there’s no guarantee that Paladin will get the job done. Despite getting paid 10 million dollars to kill the Punisher, Paladin ended up having both of his legs broken by the U.S.Agent. Despite getting paid $82 million to kill Elektra in a prison cell, Paladin ends up begging for his life and giving Elektra the key to her cell. Also, Paladin considered Spider-Man’s battle banter to be “unprofessional.” We’re all for getting the job done, but no one says you can’t have fun while doing it.
This version of the Beetle hangs from “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man’s” incarnation of The Sinister Six, which includes Shocker, Beetle, Boomerang, Overdrive and Speed Demon. You may have counted only five members just now. This is intentional, to keep opponents guessing on who the identity of the sixth member is — it very well could be Dormammu! Probably not though.
Anyway, Beetle stands out from the other four members of the Sinister Six by being the only one with a business development background, law degree and criminal connections — what with her father being mob boss Tombstone and all. It all sounds much more impressive than it really is, as Beetle’s power armor does most of the work in the field, granting her flight, slightly enhanced strength, the ability to stick to walls, and a natural ability to text at inhuman speed. Beetle is definitely on the lower ranking spectrum of mercenaries, but she is more likely to fit into your price range.
13. LADY DEATHSTRIKE
Lady Deathstrike is a cybernetically-enhanced human with enhanced agility, strength and an adamantium-lined skeleton complete with adamantium nails that can grow on command. In addition, Lady Deathstrike has a cybernetically-enhanced healing factor that doesn’t hold a candle to Wolverine’s, but still grants her a unique ability. See, Deathstrike and her similarly grotesque band of cyborg-men known as The Reavers are more cybernetic than organic on the cyborg spectrum, so when you kill Deathstrike or another Reaver, another cybernetic body of theirs just gets activated with their most recent memories uploaded.
Lady Deathstrike ranks low for two reasons: first of all she’s like the sixth X-villain to claim a vendetta against Wolverine. Be original, girl! No one ever chooses Ice-Man for a nemesis and he’s OG X-Men. Secondly, because Deathstrike and her Reavers are essentially robot henchmen that look like humans, they are afforded a certain lack of mercy and restraint that is typically shown to other fleshier X-villains. What this means is that Lady Deathstrike will, and does, have her limbs frequently blown off when she’s not being generally maimed.
12. SILVER SABLE
Possessing no superpowers whatsoever, Silver Sable is a Marvel mercenary trained in martial arts, shooting, and acrobatics, with experience in a leadership having led the Wild Pack, a very ’90s team of mercenaries whose ranks included Paladin. Silver Sable managed to turn her mercenary money into her own private nation, whose economy is sustained by additional mercenary work.
Impressive resume, right? So why does Silver Sable rank so low? Three words: lack of theatricality. When you’re picking a soldier of fortune, you want someone memorable who will get passionate about their work so that it feels like your sortie is a priority. While everyone else was trying to come up with a creative costume themes, Silver Sable (or S.S. for short) was apparently satisfied with “white.” Do you know what a sable is? A small mammal that looks like a cross between a weasel and a fox that is over-hunted for its predominantly black fur. The sable’s Wikipedia page also specifically states they are preyed on by wolverines. Nobody wants a mercenary whose whole gimmick is “I will definitely get killed by the X-Men.”
Armed with increased reflexes and excellent aim/perception, Domino is a mutant mercenary and frequent member of X-Force, sporting the unique mutant ability of subconscious probability manipulation. In other words, Domino is inhumanly lucky. Domino has no direct control over these powers — she can’t just buy one scratch-off ticket and call it a day — but sometimes when she jumps out of a window there happens to be an outdoor swimming pool below, or the combination to the safe you’ve hired her to crack just so happens to be her ex-boyfriends phone number. Hire Domino for a job and there’s a solid chance everything will be solved via Deus Ex Machina.
Of course hiring Domino only guarantees that it’s luck for her, and only on a case-by-case basis at that. She is by no means bulletproof, and relying on her powers to get you out of a jam is a shining example of hubris. Also, Domino getting lucky just helps ensure her survival, not that the job will get done.
Crossbones is heralded in the mercenary world as the guy who got the kill for sniping Captain America. In reality, Crossbones got the “assist counts as kill” trophy for setting Sharon Carter up for the actual kill. Also, Cap didn’t have his shield nor his Kevlar lined mask, and was handcuffed. Yet Crossbones could only score the assist.
Regardless, Crossbones is a graduate of Taskmaster’s henchman school, and has been the Red Skull’s soldier of fortune of choice for years. Despite just being a run of the mill Neo-Nazi, Crossbones has gone toe-to-toe with Cap on numerous occasions — no superpowers nor power suits. His combat prowess even earned Crossbones a spot on Luke Cage’s Thunderbolts for a while, serving as a sort of Nazi Captain America, commanding on missions before that actually became a thing. Likewise, in a rare case of skull-themed hero on skull-themed villain action, Crossbones got super close to capturing the Punisher in his 2015 series while leading a strike team of mercenaries. Basically, if you need a Captain America but without any thread of the moral fiber, Crossbones is your guy.
Outfitted with twin handguns and a mask lined with telepathy-proof lined plating, the most powerful tool in the mutant mercenary Fantomex’s arsenal is his main mutant power — illusions; or as he likes to call it “misdirection.” More than just mere telepathy, Fantomex can hoodwink individuals otherwise immune to psychic attack or Jedi mind-tricks. As if being table to concoct entire worlds, characters and fake his own death with the flick of the wrist wasn’t impressive enough, Fantomex has a flying saucer he can summon that doubles as a backup nervous system, should Fantomex sustain too much damage. The other mercs on this list are ready to die at every mission, but only Fantomex has an escape plan built into his power set.
This French gentleman gunman ranks high in class, adding a certain air of sophistication and social commentary into his sorties. That being said, despite sharing a homeland with Leon The Professional, in “Uncanny X-Force,” Fantomex shows no qualms to child-murder when he kills the kid-aged clone of Apocalypse… only for Fantomex to raise another childhood clone of Apocalypse as a surrogate father on a hidden psychic farm. Technically counts as doing the job, we guess.
Bullseye is the man with perfect aim in the Marvel Universe. Not only can he kill you with a toothpick, he can kill, or otherwise incapacitate you with sai, derrière derringers or with an icicle made out of his own frozen excrement. Bullseye is something of a method artist in the mercenary world, so when you give him a really difficult target like Daredevil or The Punisher, he will obsess over his target to get into their head — if only to then put a bullet through it. Bullseye still picks up a paycheck, despite being independently wealthy, as a punch clock psychopath like him does it for the thrill of the kill.
Bullseyes’ methodology is effective, as he managed to not only deduce the Punisher’s origins and find his safe houses in “PunisherMAX,” but Bullseye had to kill so many random bystanders to do so. Incidentally, are you currently dealing with “The Children Of The Corn,” those vampire kids from “American Horror Story,” and/or a baby Hitler/Apocalypse? Well you’re in luck, as Bullseye is the only mercenary on this list who has no qualm with child-murder! Super hard to find a positive spin on infanticide.
Gwenpool, or Gwen Poole, is a highly-paid operative for M.O.D.O.K.’s M.O.D.O.K. (that’s the Mental Organism Designed Only-for Killing’s Mercenary Organization Dedicated Only-to Killing), who is always down for a righteous mercenary mission. Ms. Poole’s skill set includes “ze worst” hand-to-hand combatant skills according to Batroc The Leaper, solid shooting skills (provided her target is stationary), and plenty of explosives. To summarize: she has no powers, no pants and a knack for explosives, which is, like, the easiest way to kill someone according to M.O.D.O.K. (the organism, not the organization.)
So why does Gwenpool rank so high? Genre-savviness. Gwen is from our universe, and just so happens to be a huge comic book fan and overall omega-class nerd. That means that as long as Gwen is up to speed on her comics, she can find a way out of a mess, oftentimes by relying on a Deus Ex Machina or two. Also, she’s adorable. Gwenpool’s rate is one duffel bag of money per multi-armed sword-wielding snake guy, and she accepts PayPal.
6. THE WILL
In the fantasy space opera epic “Saga,” mercenaries come in the form of Freelancers: space soldiers of fortune often paired with an animal parter and the title of “The.” While it was tempting to go with the spectre-sword wielding The March, The Brand and Sweet Boy, or the shirtless spider-lady, The Stalk, we have to give a nod to The Will, the most prominent freelancer with a heart of gold. Armed with a retractable lance, superhero-inspired fireproof cape, and a license to murder, The Will is an excellent tracker who can find your target from half a galaxy away and fight to hell and back to protect it. When you hire The Will you also get his partner Lying Cat, a biological lie detector.
Additionally, The Will operates with a code of ethics paired with a healthy respect for wildlife, only killing animals when absolutely necessary, and slaughtering anyone who would bring harm to a child. The only reason The Will doesn’t rank higher on this list is a nasty addiction to hallucinogenic plants that make him see his dead arachnid girlfriend. We’re sure he’ll work that weight off in no time, too.
When you can’t afford Deathstroke The Terminator, you hire Deadshot, the top triggerman in the DC universe. Deadshot has the best aim in the entirety of the DC universe, and despite his “never miss a shot” claim being totally bogus, Deadshot is able to pull off richochet trick shots with ease, even finding ways to put bullets into allegedly “bullet-proof” targets. Even if Lawton runs out of ammo, throw him any sort of projectile weapon and he’ll still find a way to get headshots. That being said, Deadshot is pragmatic, bordering on lazy, so you’ll likely need to come up with a plan if it’s anything beyond “shoot bullets at it.”
Things Deadshot has shot at include Batman, The Justice League, Bruce Wayne for ten million dollars, and like every minor villain in the DC universe during that one time he and the Secret Six had a “get out of Hell free card.” It’s not a coincidence that Deadshot is a prominent member of Suicide Squad, as he considers every sortie a suicide mission even before his enlistment.
4. THE KGBEAST
The KGBeast — who, according to “All Star Batman,” just goes by The Beast now… which doesn’t matter because KGBeast is the best name ever and we’re sticking with it — was hired by the U.S. Government for professional wetworks after the fall of the Soviet Union. Uncle Sam outfitted The KGBeast with enhanced slow-twitch muscle fibers for increased endurance, augmented fast-twitch muscle fibers for increased speed, combination autoloading grenade launcher/machine gun-hand, bulletproof weaved endoskeleton, self-sharpening machete, nunchaku and Chinese throwing stars. The KGBeast has an exorbitant price tag, as Black Mask, Penguin and Great White once had to pool their illicit funds to hire him. Not that The KGBeast needs the money, he’s already commissioned a private island in order to fulfill his childhood dream: hunting Batman for a year, maybe two.
Incidentally, The KGBeast boasts a unique achievement that makes him worth every penny: in his initial appearance, back in “Batman” #417-420, while fighting Batman in the sewers, The KGBeast runs into a windowless room and challenges him to a final showdown. Batman is all “Haha, what?” and seals the door shut. To recap: Batman’s main fighting strategy against The KGBeast is “Don’t.”
Taskmaster is a one-man army, utilizing a replica Black Knight sword, Hawkeye bow and arrows and an imitation Captain America shield to hold his own against The Avengers in single combat. Taskmaster is capable of such a feat thanks to his photographic reflexes, which allow him to perfectly replicate any physical action just by observing it. From throwing a shield like Cap, to throwing down a guitar solo like Dave Grohl, Taskmaster has committed the best techniques of the Marvel universe to memory, making himself one of its greatest mercenaries. A drawback of this power, however, is that Taskmaster has no long-term memory, typically experiencing fugue states between jobs.
What Taskmaster does remember is how to be a consummate professional. If you can’t afford him, maybe you can afford his training, as Taskmaster will teach you how to fight like Cap, websling like Spidey, and nearly everything in-between for a nominal fee. Taskmaster proves why he’s one of the best in the biz when he mows down henchmen from every criminal organization trying to claim a billion dollar bounty in “Taskmaster: Unthinkable.” Give Taskmaster 20 minutes and a YouTube search and he’ll solve any problem.
The most formidable mercenary in the DC universe, Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke The Terminator, aka Slade The Deathstroke in “Deathstroke: Rebirth,” earns his spot on this list by thinking outside the box. Originally written as having full access to every part of his brain at once, Slade Wilson has since been written more as being genetically enhanced with increased healing, strength, speed and intellect, while remaining DC’s mercenary top ringer. As a matter of fact, Marvel’s Deadpool was originally written as a knock-off of Deathstroke, only to eventually become a satire of Slade’s grim-dark demeanor.
Deathstroke’s ordinance includes a serrated broadsword, a plethora of guns for any given range, and the ability to maintain perfect depth perception despite only having one eye. Even though Slade basically has the power set of a Scarlett Johansen movie, and is technically impossible at that, he still turns it into an asset. After all, in “Identity Crisis” #3, by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales, he single-handedly wipes out seven members of the JLA at once, both having a quicker reaction than The Flash and making a Green Lantern ring not harm him through pure willpower.
Oh, like the Merc with the Mouth wasn’t going to make the top mercenary list? Unkillable, won’t kill any bystanders, better healing factor than Wolverine (can survive decapitation! Wolverine can’t do that!), and best of all, Wade may even do it all pro bono, as witnessed in his eponymous film. Wade definitely borrowed a note from Taskmaster by franchising mercenary work in “Deadpool’s Mercs for Money.” Essentially it works like this: you want to hire Deadpool? Great! Here’s a mercenary in a Deadpool costume. Deadpool may have become the Starbucks of mercenaries, but let’s be honest, that’s actually pretty impressive.
Putting Deadpool at the top spot may seem like a basic move, but Wade has earned his placement based on the fact that he has whooped the vast majority of mercs on this list. Deadpool is bffs with Taskmaster (Tasky), who has admitted that Wade is superior to him in skill. Gwenpool is basically a pink pantless Deadpool! Also, we’re totally going to count that one time in “Superman/Batman Annual” #2, where an individual who sounded a lot like Deadpool (but for litigious reasons was totally not Deadpool) managed to prove too much for Slade Wilson to handle.
Which comic book merc would you hire as a personal assassin? Let us know in the comments!
“John Wick Chapter 2” debuts in theatres on Friday, February 10th.
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