Monday, December 11, 2017

The Strongest One There Is

In 1967, the "Who's stronger?" debates that readers often engaged in which attempted to establish whether X character was stronger than Y were going, er, strong in the letters pages of Marvel titles, probably because there were so few super-powered heroes to choose from at the time. It was a subject that everyone seemed to have an opinion on, and the back-and-forths between readers were harmless and good-natured. For the most part, Marvel staff that responded in print remained coy and neutral as far as providing a definitive, set-in-stone answer to such a question; after all, the interest and enthusiasm being generated by these debates were all a publisher could ask for, helping to maintain "Marvel mania" as well as contribute to the promotion of titles that some readers may not have sampled yet. Keeping those embers burning probably seemed more sensible than dousing them prematurely.

At the time, the high bar in strength was set with Thor, even as a battle between himself and the Hulk in early '65 sought to make fans of both characters happy. Two years earlier, though, the big debate was between the Hulk and the Thing. You could have knocked me over with a feather when Marvel actually (kinda sorta) settled the matter in the Q & A segment of the '63 Fantastic Four Annual. But look how cleverly their response is worded--leaving room for dissent, while also describing how the Thing compensates for the Hulk's strength advantage:

So while the answer was satisfactory, no one could really point to it and say that Marvel had put the issue to rest. (I'd say FF #25 did that.)

In '67, it was interesting to see the new kid on the block take himself out of the running completely, though admittedly there couldn't really be much argument on the point given his competition at the time.

What a difference almost a decade makes, as Mark Gruenwald and artist Bob Layton supplement the 1981 Amazing Spider-Man Annual with a more extensive chart that ranks Spider-Man's strength with a more broad assembly of heroes that had since been introduced. And even though the "Who's stronger?" debate has long since wound down, I found myself shifting a few characters around in instances where I didn't totally agree with their placement.

For instance, if Iron Man is going to use the argument that he belongs in the top category because he can charge his armor to attain that strength level (if only for a few moments), you can make the same case for the Silver Surfer, who can also use his power to increase his physical strength. Regardless, perhaps Iron Man and Namor need to be in same category, since they've clearly demonstrated they're well-matched on land. And since Namor has gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk in both environments, he should probably be moved up to the top tier. (I'm still on the fence about it.)

I also have trouble believing that Spider-Man could survive the weight of a jetliner wing falling on him, as Colossus did, to say nothing of brushing off the impact and resuming the fight with his foe. I'd move Colossus up a notch--along with the Valkyrie, who should be able to more than hold her own against Doc Samson. She can be replaced with the Beast--he well outclasses Captain America and several others in the "mediumweights" in strength.


Warren JB said...

I'd put the silver guys up at least one notch too, along with She-Hulk. (She's a hulk, right?) What about Valkyrie? As an asgardian of sorts, shouldn't she be pretty powerful? Or am I mixing up 'asgardian' with 'Thor' too much?

Shell-head should go down a place, yes.

Assuming the super-middleweights are around Spider-Man's apparent 'ten ton' ability (which is the most-quoted level I've heard, but I admit, usually far too nitpicky for my tastes these days) I'm a little surprised to see Ghost Rider there. That's still significant superhuman strength for a guy who - as far as I know - mostly rides around with his head on fire, making people feel especially guilty. Has he ever demonstrated it?

Almost by the same token, I'm not sure what the mediumweight category means. Bench-press five tons? Two? A bit stronger than human level? All of the above? I have to say I don't know much (or anything) about half the characters in it, and the other half seem to be there because they're furry.

Did you notice how they left the category header off the last lot? I guess it just wouldn't do to call Captain America a lightweight.

I always thought Ben Grimm was robbed, not just depicted as weaker than the Hulk, but not even in his league. (Literally, it seems!) But I'd say Wolverine is where he deserves to be - right at the end. ;D

Comicsfan said...

Gosh, Warren, you're right--for some reason, I thought Cap and the others in the non-category were lumped in with the mediumweights since they were all on the same page, but Spidey makes it clear that they're in a category of their own. In that case, I'd probably leave the Beast where he is. And I agree about the Ghost Rider--I mean, if he's a skeleton in a costume, where are the muscles? :)

Tiboldt said...

Didn't Moon Knight get super-human strength during certain phases of the moon? I never could work out how this affected him in the daytime. Or during a solar eclipse.

So he should be similar to Nighthawk, except that the picture shows 'supersuit' Nighthawk, with his lasers and claws and possibly augmented strength.

Should Black Bolt be that high? His 'Master Blow' was similar to an over-powered Iron Man effect but I don't remember him being at the Thing's level normally.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled Wolverine pulling a fast-ball special on an un-Colossused Colossus but on closer inspection it turns out that that was on the moon. Lightweight indeed.

Comicsfan said...

Tiboldt, I agree that Black Bolt should be bumped down, probably to the super-mediumweights. Gruenwald may have placed him where he is because he held his own with the Thing in their initial fight; but he was forced to abandon that fight when his electron energy was depleted, which would indicate the two weren't matching strength at all. His truly formidable power really lies in his voice, though that would of course disqualify him from this sort of ranking.

Anonymous said...

Just another comment from the peanut gallery agreeing that the Silver Surfer should be bumped up--he's got the power cosmic, for Pete's sake!--and that I think Ghost Rider seems overrated (not in the same league as She-Hulk or Colossus).