In our ongoing "Greatest Ever" series, I wanted to take a look at unpowered heroes, the men and women who go out there and tangle with bigger, badder, meaner, more powerful enemies boasting a wide array of astonishing super powers armed with nothing but the tools their own ingenuity, skill, and hard work have given them.
Before getting to the actual poll, here are some of the criteria I used to decide who should and who should not make the list. I'm grateful for the inspiration I got from Aaron in this post at "Underneath the Mask".
- No sidekicks, understudies, replacements, or other substitutes. I'm an "original recipe" kind of guy. That means no Nightwing, Bucky, Speedy, etc.
- No artificial enhancement by means other than that devised by the character. That means no Captain America (super soldier serum has "super" right in the name, and he didn't invent it himself), no Green Lantern (ring given to him by the Oans), and no War Machine (it's StarkTech).
- No characters with even one legitimate super-power. So no Black Canary (sonic scream, though she rarely uses it), Hawkeye (superhuman eyesight), or Doctor Strange (magic counts as a super power in my book).
Having said that, here's the Top Ten I came up with in alphabetical order, so you can pick the one you think is The Greatest:
Batman (Bruce Wayne): I almost didn't do this poll because I think Batman is so firmly entrenched in the public's mind as "the" unpowered super hero he'll probably run away with this. So allow me to make the case against Batman.
The way Batman has been written over the last thirty years or so, it can be argued, has had the effect of giving him de facto super powers. He's smarter than anyone else, he's wiser than anyone else, he's a better detective than anyone else, he can invent as well as anyone else, he's as strong as a normal human can possibly be and as fast and as agile and as athletic and as well trained in martial arts and and and. It's just too much. Yes, he gets hurt, but anyone who can get his spine broken and bounce back no worse for wear is simply not a normal human.
To claim Batman, written as he's come to be written, is a "normal" human is simply ludicrous. He's beyond the pinnacle of what an unenhanced human could ever attain, mentally and physically, and for that reason he has powers for all intents and purposes.
I didn't say it would be a good case, I just said I'd make it.
Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff): I love both the Ultimates version of the Black Widow and the regular Marvel U version. She's incredibly sexy, smart, athletic, determined, and steely-hearted. She doesn't have the wealth or privilege of a Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, but she's as tough as any of them. She ultimately defied her country to do what she thought was right, showing the true moral courage a hero must have.
Green Arrow (Oliver Queen): I've never been a huge Green Arrow fan, but there's no denying he's extremely effective with a completely out-of-date weapon. The old saying is "never bring a knife to a gun fight", but Ollie does that with his ancient bow and arrow every day.
You can certainly say "He's just Batman with his utility belt in a quiver", which has a lot of truth to it. But over the years, he's become his own character through his liberal politics, his inspired Mike Grell reinterpretation, and his much more mature, adult interpersonal relationships (largely with Black Canary). In many ways, he's a far more realistic, relatable, human character than Batman.
The Green Hornet (Various): You can't be the greatest unpowered super hero of all time if your sidekick is cooler than you. Period.
Iron Man (Tony Stark): I include Iron Man on this list because Tony Stark invented the armor himself. He's not just a flunky with an alien power ring (sorry GL), he's a self-made man who uses technology he created to help him fight injustice. Plus, dude has a heart condition!
If you want to disqualify him because when suited up he can go toe to toe with gods, then you have to kick out Batman too -- need I mention the number of times Bats has taken down Superman?
I also think Tony's bouts with alcoholism, his struggle to redeem the illegal use of his technology, his stormy interpersonal relationships, and his financial ups-and-downs make him much more relatable to a normal human than Bruce Wayne.
Nick Fury: Dude gets it done with only one eye! That's radical. Mostly, though, I have him on here for the James Bond style, 1960's "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D" era, when he was without a doubt the coolest character in the Marvel Universe.
The Punisher (Frank Castle): A lot of people -- and I'm one of them -- don't really think of the Punisher as a "hero" at all, given the staggering body count he leaves in his wake. But a lot of other people feel he's just what Batman would be if he wasn't sat on by wimpy editors and publishers. Or even that Frank Castle is a superior hero to the "code versus killing" characters because he is willing to ensure that, for instance, the Joker never lives to kill again. How many of the dead in Gotham can be laid at Batman's feet for constantly letting his homicidal enemies go, only for them to escape over and over to kill again? With the Punisher, that's not an issue.
The Question (Charles Victor Szasz): If you're not familiar with The Question, he was a really cool detective/reporter/martial artist type of guy who was at the forefront of the "mature" revitalization at DC a couple of decades ago. I was happy to see him make a couple of guest appearances in the Justice League animated series -- he's a neat character. I grant you, he's probably not up to the level of some of the other names on the list, but I didn't want to relegate him to the dustbin of comics history without a little loving.
Rorschach (Walter Kovacs): Rorschach is so bad-ass it hurts. Seeing him side-by-side with Doctor Manhattan points up the disparity in power levels we usually just sort of gloss over when reading comics, and yet even in the much more "realistic" setting of "Watchmen" he is outstanding. I also love how he's the only character in the series to retain his moral sense untarnished by compromise, and how the journal at the end throws into question the whole idea of whether or not an untarnished moral sense is really a good thing after all. By embodying absolute blacks and whites, Rorschach exemplifies both the horrors and the glory of the super-hero concept.
The Spirit (Denny Colt): The Spirit deserves to win because he is the archetype on which most of the other members of the list were built. He had style, class, pluck, and a flashy sense of style. Plus he was created and drawn by arguably the greatest comic book storyteller of all time, Will Eisner.
OK, there you have my thoughts, but I want to hear what you think! So let 'er rip in the comments, including any characters you think should have been on the list but who were left off; why my criteria are stupid; or why bald people suck. It's all good!