With a metric ton of heroes, superheros, powered beings, and skilled fighters to keep track of in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s easy to forget not everyone is an innately god-like, supersensory fighting machine. At least in the X-Men Universe things are simple: you’re either a normal human, or a mutant with super skills. (Or Deadpool, but we won’t go there.) 🙂
In the MCU, you don’t even have to have “powers” at all to be a superhero. You can be rich, or smart, technologically equipped, well-trained, or a genetically-blessed normal being – and still be an Avenger, Revenger, Guardian, SHIELD Agent, or any other general “defender” group.
Here’s a breakdown of the MCU superheroes we’ve seen ’til now and how their skills could be categorized. (Note 1: Spoilers ahead through Avengers 3: Infinity War.) (Note 2: Ignore the end of Infinity War and where some of these characters might be/not be.) (Note 3: I’m not listing anyone according to talent or power-ranking. That would be too complicated to get into and should be a piece unto itself.) (Note 4: This list only covers MCU movies. There’s no way to mention Marvel comics and have a reasonably manageable article). (Last Note: I have a few anti-heroes here, with some anti-villains rounding things out…but this article is mostly reserved for the good guys).
Got all that? Begin!
God-like Superheroes: Born This Way
Thor – The top of this list must start with Thor. He’s a god. Whatever Jane Foster said about powers vs tech, it’s clear that he was born a god, with the innate power to controll lightning. He’s got super strength, star-harnessed weapons to help him fly and fight (wielding Stormbreaker, he can open the Bifrost to teleport), and the ability to survive in the vacuum of space without a suit or oxygen. He’s 1500 years old but still young. Thor’s not the the brightest Avenger, but he’s definitely the mightiest. (At least through Infinity War). His weapons are super-powered and can apparently only be wielded by other gods. He doesn’t use technology to augment his skills. Thor with a gun? Sorry; can’t see it.
Loki – Although a frost giant by birth, Loki was raised a god among gods in Asgard. I can’t explain this at all, but he has innate, god-level powers for deception, misdirection, teleportation, and trickery. He can hide things in other dimensions and retrieve them. He wielded a super-scepter-weapon harnessing the power of the Tesseract (housing the Space Stone) and is probably as old as Thor – they were raised as children together. I’d say he can keep his self-described god status.
Heimdall – Another Asgardian, he has the ability to call forth the Bifrost for teleportation (even without the Rainbow Bridge), has foresight, and the ability to see the Nine Realms and everyone in them, simultaneously. More of a protector than a fighter, his talents land him in the category of god-like. Call him a demi-god.
Sif – I don’t know enough about about this fine warrior to place her, but she’s Asgardian, a childhood playmate of Thor, and highly regarded. Also, probably sill alive. She could be called into play if Thor summons the Bifrost. Are all Asgardians god-like? I really don’t know.
Valkyrie – This isn’t actually her name, but a job description for minor gods in Norse mythology. We see her in flashback-action defending Asgard, and presumably brought slain warriors to Valhalla before Hela decimated her platoon. At this point she’s a busted up drunken gladiator hunter, but retains her fighting skills, cunning, and weapons expertise. She’s also a space pilot, and know how to ride winged horses (cue The Immigrant Song). Even soused on booze, Valkyrie captured Thor and took him to the Grandmaster. No small feat.
Superpowered Superheroes: Characters with supernormal, non-tech-dependent skills
Scarlet Witch – an Infinity Stone gave Wanda Maximoff powers strong enough to propel her to the superhero elite. She’s not a trained fighter and she doesn’t depend on technology, but damn if her powers aren’t at the top of any ranking. Anything the Mind Stone could do is at her command. Additionally, she seems to draw strength from emotional connections – perhaps another element drawn from the Mind Stone.
Spiderman – Though he has a brand-new tech-powered robotic suit courtesy of Stark Industries, his main skills are a part of him. After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker became so immensely skilled, useful, and strong, that as he grows to adulthood he may well become one of the most powerful superheroes. In this iteration of Spiderman, his powers include slinging webs, incredible calisthenic skill, the ability to stick to and crawl on any surface, tingling “spidey” senses, and the proportional strength of an arachnid. He’s naturally clever and smart. Parker’s also pleasant, polite, personable, and a pleasure to be around. Don’t underestimate the power of sheer likability.
Hulk – Like Spidey, a chance encounter transformed his DNA enough to give him internal powers. Unfortunately Dr. Bruce Banner can’t access these powers, and his rage-monster alter ego is barely controllable. But Banner alone is still a super-genius with 7 PhDs. He now wears the Hulk-Buster suit, which would put him in the tech-only category….but we all know Hulk is still in there. After his encounter with Thanos, the big green weenie is just afraid to come out.
Black Panther – The hero mantle can be assumed by different people in various lineages in Wakanda, but there’s more than technology at work. Actual spiritual and physical powers are conferred by the heart-shaped flower, derived from the Vibranium meteorite. Although the immense technological superiority of Wakanda helps, there’s something more at work. I’d call Black Panther an enhanced human with amazing tech, and the might of an entire Vibranium-based fighting army at his disposal.
Captain America – His skills stem from a super soldier serum. The various Vibranium shields are just a bonus. While his strength and skills don’t approach the other heroes in this category, he has innate bravery and the tactical/leadership skills to supplement his power level. Call Cap an enhanced human. He MIGHT have something else going on; he was able to move Thor’s hammer a tiny bit. It’s a funny moment, but perhaps that moment could indicate something more.
Winter Soldier/The White Wolf – Same as Captain America, only with a Vibranium arm to supplement his super-soldier serum, highly-developed fight training, and a lot of skill handling automatic riflery.
Mantis – She’s an alien with unique skills, but I think we can assume all her people are like that. We don’t know and apparently she doesn’t either – all Mantis says is that Ego raised her from an egg.
Dr. Strange – Like his name, this is a strange case: you can study your way to super-dom! Being a super-genius helps, but the outlandish reality-bending and teleportation skills are the doctor’s own – no weapon or Infinity Gem required. The sentient cloak is a merely a bonus, more like a wizard’s ‘familiar’ than a super suit. Think about this: Strange barely bothered with the Time Stone when he had it! The man is way overpowered.
Wong – Basically a less powerful version of Strange. There should other disciples around, but we haven’t seen them lately.
Tech-Only Powered Superheroes – Superheros only because they have Supersuits
Iron Man – Tony Stark. Take off the suit, and what do you have? “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist…” Stark is unusual. He lacks bad-ass fighting skills (compare him to Black Widow), and depends on computer targeting to fire his arsenal (unlike Hawkeye). So, why is Iron Man so important to the Avengers, a top superhero among even god-like beings like Thor? Even THANOS knows of Stark, and respects him. There’s a whole slew of lesser characters in super-suits listed below. I’m going to take a leap and say it: personality. As with Steve Rogers, Stark has an essential trait that can’t be duplicated. If Captain America is an unique super soldier through sheer determination, Tony Stark has an alpha-male charisma that won’t be rivaled.
War Machine – Like a larger, clunkier Iron Man, Rhodey can fly and shoot canon weaponry. He’s also got a government job granting him some powers of authority. I appreciate that his disability is both acknowledged and a non-issue. Like Professor X, it won’t keep him out of the action.
Falcon – Basically a sleeker version of War Machine, with smaller guns but more flight maneuverability, and a cool “pet” drone. I always thought he would take over the Captain America torch, but for now, that option seems to be off the table.
Ant-Man, The Wasp – A duo of suit-only superheroes…more or less. Ant-Man can also control ants – who knows why – and navigate quantum states. The Pym Particle might not even be scientifically quantifiable, so there may be more than tech at work. I hope the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp film sheds more light.
Nebula – A cybernetically-enhanced individual with superior fighting skills, Nebula might have a bit of an edge over normal humans, but she’s still not as good in a fight as her unpowered “sister” Gamora. We’ve seen her journey from Chaotic Evil, to Chaotic Neutral, and into Chaotic Good. Hero territory. If she’s a Guardian now, she and Rocket will have to learn to work together.
Yondu – I know I’m pushing things including the grumpy blue Ravager leader, but that arrow of his was extremely cool. Groot welcomed Yondu as a Guardian at the end. Now Kraglin‘s got the arrow; I hope we see him master it and join the team officially.
Well-Trained But Unpowered Superheroes – Heroes with no innate abilities or high-tech powers: their abilities can include superior genetics, skilled fighter training, or good use of weaponry.
Black Widow – Despite her status as a top flight Avenger, Natasha Romanoff is “merely” a very skilled, well-trained human. She doesn’t even use large weapons, preferring small pistols, quarterstaffs, and whatever is within reach (like, say, a wooden chair) to bash foes. Nat’s intelligence seems to be normal, but her cunning and adaptability is off the charts.
Hawkeye – Clint Barton might be the weakest hero in the MCU. He’s amazing with a bow, but not a skilled a melee fighter. No suit, Vibranium tech, supernormal powers, or genius intellect. Just that high-powered bow. I’ve heard he might emerge with a new super persona, but at this point, we don’t know.
Shuri – I include her because she’s said to be the smartest person in the entire MCU, and this includes a galaxy with Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Dr. Strange in it. She’s got tech skills like no one else. She works with Vibranium. As Black Panther’s sister, Shuri has the lineage to take up the Black Panther mantle, with the accompanying super-human physical and spiritual skills to boot. That would add her to the superhuman AND super-suit category, but for now, her formidable mind and Vibranium skill-set makes her a well-trained but unpowered lesser hero.
Star Lord – Let’s not mention him screwing the pooch in Infinity War, but discuss his heroic qualities instead. Peter Quill is a fine pilot, cunning, good with plasma guns, and an accomplished thief. He held his own in one-to-one melee combat with Gamora. He’s also undeniably brave, and makes clever use of some interesting tech (including a space helmet and dual ankle flight jets). All this, but he’s STILL essentially a human with space guns, an MCU Han Solo. With his father’s DNA, he briefly held the Power Stone without blowing himself up or destroying Xandar. He IS half god, after all. Since his godding skills were brief and limited to forming little balls of light, I won’t be including him in the god-like category.
Gamora – Thanos calls her the fiercest woman in the galaxy, but her skills aren’t superpowered: she’s just very well trained. Much as I love Gamora, I really don’t know if she or Black Widow would prevail in a fight.
Drax – The big guy likes knives, and isn’t afraid of taking on a far more powerful opponent. While that sounds like bravery, it’s mostly because he’s a little dim. He also can’t follow orders, and is sometimes a liability to the Guardians.
Korg – He’s a large rock gladiator, and one would guess that endows him with a certain durability and strength. We’ve never seen him fight yet.
The Vision – I don’t know where to put The Vision at all. He’s not even alive. That said, he’s powered by the Mind Stone, has the combined technological might of Stark and Banner, boasts a Vibranium body, and uses the computational data speeds of JARVIS and Ultron. He even lifted Thor’s hammer. Yeah: Vision is a top-level super contender. Honestly, this character needs his own category. I don’t know how else to place him. I’d love some better ideas.
Rocket and Groot also defy categorization. Groot has the powers of a tree – but he IS a tree. Rocket has cybernetic enhancements, but those don’t seem to impart him with more than the ability to have human-intelligence, human-dexterity, and the ability to talk. He’s not a melee fighter, but is brilliant with guns. He’s a good pilot and highly agile physically. The sarcastic raccoons’s strategic abilities are top notch, and he can make a bomb out of spare parts and gum. Rocket may be a small non-super-sensory being, but he also comes with a very dangerous counterpart: Rocket and Groot are essentially a unit. I still don’t know where to place them.
The Collector – If we ignore the comics, we have almost no background on Taneleer Tivon. We know he’s an Elder. What does this mean? Does Immortality imply godhood? Just how old is he? We don’t even know his alignment. (Chaotic Neutral?)
The Grandmaster – Well, he’s no hero, but he doesn’t seem to be a villain per se. He could be another Elder, like The Collector. I’m starting to scrape the bottom of the MCU bargain bin, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.
Who did I miss? I know I’ve left characters out. Like Quicksilver, Okoye, or any one of thousands of people living in Wakanda, for that matter. Who else? Who did I get wrong? Tell me below and I’ll give you credit for any changes I make.
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