Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Ranking Marvel’s men of science

geniuslevelsDespite 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!

iron_manMark 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

hankpymsupremeTony 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:

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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

reedsjobsearchReed 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

doom_pulls_all_the_stringsDoctor 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.



Who’s the smartest woman in the Marvel Universe though?

They’re often overlooked, but both Magneto and Professor X are supposed to scientific geniuses.

Peter Parker and Dr. Octopus should be somewhere in there too.

Dissident Fish

May 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Who’s the smartest woman in the Marvel Universe though?


There are not a lot female characters whose super powers are ultimately their intellect, like Richards, Doom, Stark, Cho, Pym and a whole host of villains also. Moondragon, Sage and Valeria Richards come to mind. Anyone else have nominees?

Geneticist Dr.Moira MacTaggert is probably Marvel’s most prominent female scientist, and was certainly presented more often as the X-Men’s in-house scientist than the Beast in the 90s (well, they did a lot teleconferencing with Muir Island, anyway).

I agree that Dr.Octopus and Spider-Man should be included in a list of Marvel’s top scientific characters, but there are other rather glaring omissions:
-the Mad Thinker (smart enough to be asked for advice by Reed Richards on several occasions, should probably rank rather high)
-the Wizard
-the Leader
-the Tinkerer

If you’d want to include even more female scientists and super-geniuses, Valeria Richards is a good choice, as are Superia, Nightshade and Dr.Kavita Rao (I don’t think Sage was ever presented as a science-y character). But if you start including them, then I would also lobby in favor of
-Centurius (man, I miss Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts)
-the Fixer/Techno
-the Blue Marvel
-Scott Lang

But of course, then there’s the Red Ghost, Fabian Stankowicz, Alistaire & Spencer Smythe, Bolivar Trask…a lot of characters are presented as scientific geniuses!

Who’s the smartest woman in the Marvel Universe though?

I would say Monica Rappaccini, Scientist Supreme of A.I.M.

Valeria Richards is the smartest girl in the Marvel Universe. Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d surpassed Cho and a couple other of the Top Eight since those rankings were introduced.

My top ten would probably go as follows:

1. Reed Richards
2. Hank Pym
3. Bruce Banner
4. Tony Stark
5. Valeria Richards
6. Victor Von Doom
7. T’Challa
8. Maximus the Mad
9. Amadeus Cho
10. Otto Octavius

The X-Men are awful high-tech, yes, but mostly from piggybacking off Shi’Ar tech, so McCoy gets in #11 and Xavier a couple spots down. After that probably come the cavalcade of B-list Fantastic Four villains and Future Foundation members (including Peter Parker).

Of the mad scientists who aren’t Doctor Friggin’ Doom–Thinker, Wizard, Diablo, Tinkerer, Zeke Stane, whoever–Maximus the Mad is the only one who I really buy as being near-Richards level but for his, you know, madness. Maybe it’s just that Attilan is a more supportive environment for mad science than human society is. Otto Octavius, meanwhile, slips into the number ten slot due entirely to the efforts of Dan Slott, who showed him to be not only highly intelligent but surprisingly [i]practical[/i], as mad scientists go.

MODOK is a product of the science of others; the AIM thinktank, for the creation of the Cosmic Cube if nothing else, would probably collectively slip in somewhere around number seven.

Alyssa Moy would be up there in “smartest women,” but the Marvel Wiki tells me she’s dead. Monica Rappacinni’s another oft-cited choice. June Covington’s a scientist and the Wiki tells me she’s genius level too, though I get the impression not a lot of people take her seriously. (“Toxie Doxie”?)

The Marvel Wiki also tells me Kitty Pryde is a genius, but I don’t know that we’ve ever seen her do anything “science-y” like Richards and Stark.

I’d go with Alyssa Moy, who was supposed to be a kind of peer to Reed at least in college, and also Deidre Wentworth AKA Superia who has done a lot of unusual stuff including reinventing the super soldier/Infitity formula Mockingbird was injected with and at one point a machine that turned men into women.

I’m pretty sure when Marvel did the 8 smartest men thing there was actually a sort of ranking established and T’Challa disagreed with his placing on it raising himself from eight to seven or seven to six, I can’t remember which

I’ve always taken Kitty Pryde’s purported genius intellect to be something like “real life genius level, in a comic” which compared to the “comic book genius” of the characters discussed in this list is not very impressive.

Still, you’d think ANY kind of genius would feel repressed and wasted being the kid sister of the X-Men into her 20’s… It’d be cool to see that addressed eventually and see that become a more prominent aspect of her character.

But yeah, Valeria Richards is totally up there with her dad and Uncle Doom.

I think Alyssa Moy is now a brain in a HERBIE body. I’d love for her to create a more humanoid robot shell and to see her as a prominent female super scientist. It is pretty infuriating whenever the science men get together and you see just how sexist the early days of Marvel were and the legacy that has to this day.

Mark J. Hayman

May 31, 2014 at 9:29 am

There are just SO many… Blue Marvel was mentioned and given what little we’ve seen certainly deserves to be ranked near the top in both pure genius and inventiveness. Mr. Sinister is supposed to be rather clever, as is Apocalypse. Kang (and his other incarnations) has to be taken into consideration, as does the High Evolutionary. Also, as mentioned, Magneto and Xavier are/were both brilliant. Valeria appears to be the smartest girl in the world, purported to at least already equal if not surpass dad; it would be sort of keen to have her listed as undisputed Number One at least by the time she hits her tweens. Other than the other women mentioned, it’s tough to come up with names. The Marvelverse does more or less seem to follow the real world in terms of the (famous) male:female ratio, however. I don’t think that DC comes close to that. There’s Luthor and, um, uh… (okay, not a big fan, but you get the point).

Anthony Cheng

May 31, 2014 at 9:43 pm

The High Evolutionary deserves a spot on these lists. He’s the leading geneticist on Marvel Earth, coming in ahead of Mr. Sinister and Beast in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish (the New Men, Counter-Earth). He’s also reached god-like levels of understanding at times ala Doom.

My Top 6 looks like this:

1. Reed Richards
2. Doom
3. Hank Pym
4. Tony Stark
5. Bruce Banner
6. High Evolutionary

My sense is T’Challa and Cho are both overrating themselves (which is well within their characters). The Leader, MODOK, The Wizard, Otto Octavius, Maximus, and even Ultron all need to be reckoned with in one way or another when you’re talking about the smartest beings on Marvel Earth, regardless of good/evil affiliation.

There was a storyline where Hank McCoy asked help from at least High Evolutionary, Doom, Diablo, Sinister and Dark Beast in returning powers to the mutants who lost the after House of M. And I think Dark Beast is usually considered smarter than Beast, because he doesn’t have any moral issues with his research like his nicer counterpart has.

And I’ve heard somewhere that Hank Pym could be the smartest person in Marvel, because of his mental unstability, but that also inhibits him.

The way Hickman wrote Valeria makes it seem as though she WILL be the smartest of all the Marvel Universe.

Talmidge Mcgulliger

June 2, 2014 at 7:05 am

One of my favorite comic stories ever is X-Men Endangered Species. It’s all about Beast going around to every scientist he can find in the marvel u (including Doom and the High Evolutionary) trying to find a way to reverse what Wanda did. It’s a beautifully heartbreaking story that is forgotten because it ran as a series of backups in the x-books.

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