I love super heroes and their villains. I always have. So, with that said, I think it’s time that I weigh in on one of the most unintelligent debates that you can find raging across the internet. When it comes to super heroes, specifically those of the Marvel or DC universe, people debate continuously about who is the strongest, the richest or the most intelligent. Well, it was the last debate that has stirred me to write.
Honestly, this whole article began on a whim. I used Google to help me find those out there who have asked the question, “Who is the Smartest Fictional Character in The World?” Those who boldly took on the comic book world, crossed universes and looked at Marvel and DC together consistently ranked Batman, Lex Luthor, Tony Stark and Reed Richards among the top. Many mentioned Black Panther and Doctor Doom as well as Mr. Terrific. I even saw many who posted mention Charles Xavier. All well and good mind you. Had I been asked to come up with a list of my own, many of those names would have been there too.
But, do you see it? Do you see one of the single most glaring omissions in the history of a debate on a single topic? I do and it makes me shudder. There is no hero within the realm of comics or fiction literature that is smarter than Superman. How numerous debate threads not even list him in their Top 10 much less Top 5?
This is simply ridiculous. Even when you look at a listing that describes Superman’s abilities it lists “intelligence” right there with strength, heat vision, flight etc. So, even with no work or focus of his own, he starts off ahead of the curve.
His two most recognized adversaries, Braniac and Lex Luthor are often considered by all to be the smartest villains ever. They are lauded and put on pedestals with words like “genius” engraved on their busts. But how often has Superman bested them? Too often to count. Even other heroes have had success against Luthor who calls himself quite frequently “the greatest criminal mastermind” of his generation. That being said, how can Superman not be given more credit?
Even his origin story, which is never without Clark Kent being schooled in the knowledge of his Kryptonian heritage, shows him to also be well versed in highly valued human knowledge such as poetry, history and science. Though not a detective like Batman, his success as a journalist draws on all his training and puts him right in the middle of some very harrowing circumstances, only to see him come out on top. His career as a reporter isn’t just based on “gut” feelings but concrete intelligence and critical thinking skills.
Let’s also not forget that many tales told about Superman have him facing some of his most deadly challenges without his super powers. How often has he been stripped of all the gifts of the yellow sun and still survived? Too countless to guess. Even when he has willingly given up his powers as depicted in Superman II or Smallville, he has figured out ways to get them back. That type of character, knowing when to sacrifice his desires or put aside his pride in order to take another path shows a type of intelligence that more than a few people lack.
Also, in humility he has often complimented allies and adversaries such as Batman, Lex Luthor and others on their abilities and accomplishments. This in itself shows an awareness that isn’t seen among the majority of super heroes who often turn a blinds eye to “teachable moments” and continue to make similar mistakes throughout their adventures. Tony Stark, Peter Parker and Bruce Banner come to mind in that regard. Tony battled alcoholism for years. Peter Parker can’t maintain his closest relationships without turmoil. Bruce Banner can’t control the beast within. All consistent signs over time of a disconnect between their intelligence, reality and the emotions that drive them.
Superman has none of these disconnects, that is why he consistently leads teams of the most powerful super heroes, can carry on a consistent dual life, share his identity to those close with him and maintain a healthy marriage relationship with his one true love. Together these prove an intellectual balance that Superman has maintained throughout his history.
So, it is criminal to put together a list of the smartest comic heroes and fictional characters without putting Superman at the top. Let’s also not forget that many who claim Batman as the smartest and point to his parent’s death as the driving force of his heroism seem to forget that Superman lost his birth parents, his home world and his adoptive father. None of which have become a “crutch” driving him forward. Another sign of intelligence and its application is the ability to accept forces of nature, life and death and forge ahead. Batman can never fully do that. Therefore he will never fully be at a place where Superman is intellectually or emotionally.
Finally, to add insult to injury, BusinessWeek’s Joseph Pisani wrote an article called “The Smartest Superheroes” which also left out The Man of Tomorrow. Batman is once again included along with Peter Parker and the lovely Barbara Gordon. What do Peter Parker and Barbara Gordon know that Superman doesn’t? Absolutely nothing. It is a travesty actually.
With that being said, if I were to create a list, one that exemplifies my arguments and puts an end to the raging debate it would look something like this:
3) Lex Luthor
4) Reed Richards
5) Charles Xavier
Here we see a realistic picture of the comic universe. Superman fully appreciated for all his mental acuity, life experience and maturation. Batman for all his training and limited human mental capacity fully realized. Lex Luthor for his genius despite failure. Reed Richards for his super intellect paired with super powers and Charles Xavier for his wisdom and mental prowess that has forged successful super hero teams and bridged the gap between mutants and humans. This is the way it should be.