The Fifth Color | Ranking Marvel's men of science

Despite there being an entire genre around the subject, science has a hard time fitting into mainstream comics fiction. A single mind conceiving of a single advancement or scientific theory in a singular world created to fit the topic? Great. A bunch of different scientists just making science all over the place to fill a variety of plots and necessities? It gets messy. Not only can too many minds spoil the plausibility of the Marvel Universe -- Richards can build a portal to the Negative Zone in his house, but can't cure cancer? -- but shouldn't all these geniuses have done better for the world they live in?

Let's take a look at the science bros of the Marvel Universe, and see how they  compare and contrast with one another. Who doesn't love a good power ranking?

WARNING: Despite this Fifth Color being about scientists, please know that there is no scientific formula to the rankings you're about to see. This is all conjecture, making me absolutely wrong on all counts. Feel free to make your own lists elsewhere, but for the humble opinions of Yours Truly, read on!

Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen talked about their upcoming miniseries tie-in swan song, Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man. In the interview, Waid mentioned that "[m]ost of the people who write comic book scientists, including myself, are not scientists, so we tend to make them generic. They're in their big science labs with all their 'science machines' in the background." So he and Gillen decided to sort Bruce Banner and Tony Stark more along the lines of a spectrum, from those that build and are more focused on engineering to those who are more theory- and science-minded, to see how these two geniuses would get along. It makes sense; I've known a few friendships that are based on the "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you love the Steve Martin classic The Jerk?" Waid, again:

I thought, "Let's go back to the basics and look at Bruce Banner and what he would have been." He's often been called a nuclear physicist or a nuclear engineer, and it doesn't take much digging on Wikipedia to realize that those are two incredibly discreet and separate professions. So that sort of gave me the toe hold of, "OK, we have a lot of engineers in the Marvel Universe." Tony Stark, by nature, is the greatest engineer in the Marvel Universe, and Reed Richards is probably a close second. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have guys like Hank Pym, who is more of a theoretician that builds stuff. He tends to skew towards the imaginative end of the process.

From the interview, I would guess that the spectrum would look a little like this:


  • Tony Stark
  • Reed Richards
  • T'Challa
  • Bruce Banner
  • Doctor Doom
  • Hank McCoy
  • Hank Pym

Science Theory

Tony Stark would lean the hardest toward engineering over science, as most of his contributions to the Marvel Universe have been powered armor and powered armor accessories. Next would be Reed Richards, as he is apparently living off his patents to fund his other crazy inventions, suggesting he does a lot of inventing that is more practical and unseen on-panel. Next, after some thought, I'd still put Doctor Doom, as the man invented a time machine and works less in theory and more in Doombots. T'Challa is a good balance in the middle, equally accomplished in engineering and scientific research. Then I'd say Bruce Banner, as he has created some machines and scientific devices, but is more known for his work in gamma radiation. Then Hank McCoy, again having done more work in genetics, then Hank Pym for creating and cataloging his own particle. It's a gradient of ideas versus production and shows a lot about who in the Marvel Universe is more proactive than just plain smart. In Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man, it should also show how well Stark and Banner would get along in their basic methodologies.

Then again, we love smart people. Amadeus Cho famously ranked the top geniuses, putting himself at number seven, leaving we fans to debate the rest. For argument's sake, let's look at the genius levels of the MU and see what that says about our scientists:

Genius Levels:

  1. Reed Richards
  2. Doctor Doom
  3. Hank Pym
  4. Bruce Banner
  5. T'Challa
  6. Tony Stark
  7. Amadeus Cho
  8. Hank McCoy

Reed Richards comes first, mostly undisputed as it is his greatest defining character point. The man is smart, and that's his job. I would put Doom right behind him for the unusual brilliance of being able to comprehend and control both science and magic, something Richards has a hard time wrapping his brain around. It's a unique feature for a genius and the edge that puts him on my No. 2 spot. Next, I'd say Hank Pym, because Eternity calling you out to declare you Scientist Supreme is a pretty big deal. Bruce Banner comes next, not just for his comprehension of physics and engineering, but for his ability to out-think himself to handle the Hulk. T'Challa would be next, because he's not just a super-genius, but a super-politician as well. Tony Stark places just below him, with Amadeus Cho slipping into his own proclaimed No. 7 spot. Hank McCoy brings up the rear, because you have to be a little stupid to mess with time and space. This range of levels measures not just aptitude, but the ability to handle said aptitude as well; genius isn't just measured in math skills, but the smarts it takes to rule a country, discover the unknowable and be more clever than your own disadvantages.

Looking at the seven or eight names I keep juggling around up there, they all have yet another thing in common: crippling insecurities. Being smart doesn't mean everything goes your way and often times leads to huge emotional problems. In Dungeons and Dragons' terms, this would be the balancing problem between Intelligence and Wisdom; like I said with Hank McCoy up there, it's one thing to know how to do something, it's another to know when not to do it. Our crippling insecurity power ranking might look like this:

Crippling Insecurity Power Rankings:

  1. Doctor Doom
  2. Hank Pym
  3. Tony Stark
  4. Bruce Banner
  5. Reed Richards
  6. Hank McCoy
  7. T'Challa

Doctor Doom takes top spot thanks to his firm hold on the madness of being a supervillain. Pym embarrassingly comes in second, as he doesn't have the firm hold Doom does, but lives in the constant shadow of his mistakes. Stark is at No. 3, mostly due to the role he played in Civil War and the seeming repetition of his control problems in the pages of New Avengers. Banner takes an interesting spot in the middle of the list: On one hand he does have the ever-present shadow of a monster lurking behind him, but recent events in Indestructible Hulk have shown him to have a better control over his uncontrollable rage monster. Richards can sometimes put his family out on a limb by being emotionally distant, but at least he has them to ground him when he's in the wrong. McCoy derives a lot of angst from his mistakes, but it doesn't really seem to deter him or ruin his reputation; T'Challa just seems inconvenienced by his. If we can learn anything from this list is that the more you know, the harder you have it. Genius doesn't seem to make the world better; if anything, the smarter you are in the Marvel Universe, the more likely you are to cause larger problems in the long run. Maybe that's why they haven't cured cancer yet.

Fans love lists. Debates on who could beat who in a fight or ranking power levels is a spare time hobby of the dedicated fanatic. It may seem arbitrary or nerdtacular to make these kinds of ranking, but they do tell us a lot about our favorite characters and how they relate to each other and the world at large. Looking over these lists, it's safe to say that genius can mean a lot of things, from the way we handle ourselves and others to how we handle the building blocks of life.

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