Superheroes: The power list

Great Scott! The caped crusader is back on screen this summer - and he's in better shape than ever. But what of Clark Kent's comic book contemporaries? Adrian Turpin turns his X-ray vision on the superhero superleague
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

FLASH GORDON

Back story: Stranded on Planet Mongo after inventor Dr Zarkov's rocket ship crashes, Flash Gordon finds himself drawn into a civil war. First published in 1934, and popularised by the TV series starring Buster Crabbe, the story of clashing civilisations found parallels in the build up to the Second World War.

Arch enemy: The fiendishly Oriental Emperor Ming the Merciless. We know he's a bad man because he wears smoking jackets and lusts after Flash's companion, Dale Arden. Later versions of the story have, understandably, played down the racial stereotyping.

Top power? A stiff upper lip.

In brief... Fu Manchu in space.

SILVER SURFER

(pictured right, with the Green Lantern)

Back story: A herald for the planet-eating being Galactus, the Surfer betrayed his master when he found Earth. For his insolence, he was imprisoned here, where he learnt of Earth ways from the blind sculptress Alicia Masters.

The look: Refugee from Seventies rock opera.

Top power: His board can travel at 99.9 per cent the speed of light.

Super issues? The Surfer is lonely, but only in a very cosmic way, man.

In brief... ET surf home.

THE HUMAN TORCH

Back story: Invisible Woman's all-American kid brother Johnny Storm lights up any room he's in.

The look: Big flaming condom stuffed with walnuts.

Top power: Apart from the obvious, he flies at the speed of sound.

Love interest: Made the mistake of marrying a shape-shifting alien. As you do.

Super issues? Continually flouncing out of the Fantastic Four, he can't have been pleased to have been removed from the animated TV series in case he encouraged children to set themselves alight. To add salt to the wound, his replacement was a robot called Herbie.

In brief... Don't try this at home.

DAREDEVIL

Back story: Blind lawyer Matt Murdock creates a crime-fighting alter ego to avenge his father's death after promising the old man that he will never resort to violence. "I figured Daredevil must be a Catholic," his creator, the cult comic-book writer Frank Miller, once said, "because only a Catholic could be both an attorney and a vigilante."

The look: Red body suit with DD logo. Not advisable for those with man boobs - or, indeed, anyone who is slightly out of shape.

Top power: Radar and heightened senses compensate for his loss of sight.

Love interest: A string of exes includes his legal secretary Karen Page, assassin and heiress Elektra Natchios and fellow superhero Black Widow.

Super issues? Brought up by his father after his mother became a nun, and tauntingly nicknamed Daredevil at school, he's had more breakdowns than Spiderman's spun webs.

In brief... David Blunkett with more Lycra.

BLADE

Back story: One of the first black comic-book heroes, played by Wesley Snipes in the 1998 film of the same name. Eric "Blade" Brooks is left with a taste for blood and a desire for revenge after his mother was bitten by a vampire doctor while she was pregnant with him. And people worry about MRSA.

The look: Macho Seventies street cool - although the bandolier filled with wooden stakes is a bit camp.

Top power: Immunity to vampire bites - and to fashion advice post-1977.

Super issues? As a half-vampire who hunts vampires, "the guy's got some serious self-hatred issues," says Marc Guggenheim, writer of the new Blade television series.

In brief... Shaft with silver bullets.

SPIDERMAN

Back story: After an irradiated spider bites school geek Peter Parker with predictable results, he takes up crime-fighting after letting a robber escape who later kills his Uncle Ben.

The look: A classic - as we were reminded when Ecuadorean Ivan Kaviedes donned a mask to celebrate scoring in the World Cup.

Arch enemy: The Green Goblin, who murdered his first girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

Top power: "Does whatever a spider can". But when did you last see ever seen a spider do anything remotely dramatic?

Super issues? Just the usual dead parents, who were killed by the Red Skull (see Captain America) while working for intelligence agencies.

In brief... Not to be confused with the Fathers for Justice.

BATMAN

Back story: Millionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne keeps the streets of Gotham City safe - but all anyone cares about is whether he's sleeping with Robin.

The look: An American survey revealed that while 8.4 per cent of children were planning to dress as Superman on Hallowe'en only 1.4 per cent wished to be Batman. Time for a redesign?

Arch enemies: The Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman. Batman was distinguished by attracting a better quality of foe.

Super issues? Like Spiderman, Bruce Wayne is tortured by the memory of his (wouldn't you know?) murdered parents.

In brief... Poor little rich boy does fancy dress.

GREEN CROSS CODE MAN

Back story: Faced with the choice of saving planets or helping children to cross the road, the Green Cross Code Man chose the latter. Bodybuilder Dave Prowse, who played the role, went on to play Darth Vader.

The look: Darth Vader's ineffectual brother.

Arch enemies: Children who fail to look both ways; the Tufty Club.

Top power: Looking very, very stern.

Super issues? Prowse has said it was the best job he ever had.

In brief... We can't all save the world.

SUPERMAN

Back story: Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's the new Superman movie, Superman Returns, which premieres tonight in Los Angeles - 19 years after Christopher Reeve donned the tights for Superman III. After attempting to find the remains of his home planet Krypton, Superman returns to find that much has changed in his absence. Unknown 26-year-old Brandon Routh plays the man of steel .

The look: The famous cape gets a tidy-up but traditionalists have nothing to worry about.

Arch enemy: Lex Luthor (played by Keven Spacey) is newly out of prison and determined to exact revenge.

Super issues? If it's not bad enough finding that his entire race has been destroyed, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is engaged to another man and has a child. Perhaps she's hear those rumours that he's gay.

In brief... If the franchise ain't broke, don't fix it.

THE THING

Back story: A college friend of Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic), the cigar-smoking Jewish New Yorker Benjamin Grimm was irradiated along with the rest of the Fantastic Four. Unlike the Hulk, the mutant Thing has a noble heart.

The look: Scaly orange beefcake but with better trousers than the Hulk.

Top power: The Thing's modus operandi is distinctly low-tech, as befits a character whose catchphrase is: "It's clobberin' time!"

Love interest: The blind sculptress Alicia Masters.

Super issues? He'd like to be Grimm again but Alicia likes him just the way he is.

In brief... A radioactive Beauty and the Beast fable.

CAPTAIN MARVEL

Back story: Radio reporter and all-round good egg Billy Batson assumes magic powers when he says the name of the wizard Shazam. In the 1940s, the Captain was more popular than Superman.

The look: Yellow flash on red suit. Lucky he was on the radio.

Arch enemy: Dr Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, who threatens to silence the airwaves.

Top power: His lightning bolt is the Swiss Army knife of superhero accessories, good for zapping people and removing stones from horses' hooves.

Super issues? Not really. The nearest he's come to a dark side is getting the Martian Manhunter addicted to cookies.

In brief... Superman Lite.

HELLBOY

Back story: Created in an infernal experiment by Nazi scientists, Hellboy is now the "world's greatest paranormal investigator".

The look: Strippergram devil with horns filed to stumps.

Top power: Hellboy's "right hand of doom" is useful for crushing Nazis, less so for typing or playing golf.

Love interest: Liz Sherman, who bursts into flame when he touches her.

Super issues? A trenchcoat-wearing loner, he loves firearms and his best friend is a mutant fish. What do you think?

In brief... Frankenstein's monster made good.

CAPTAIN AMERICA

Back story: Cartoonist Steven Rogers got his powers after volunteering to take a serum during a medical trial.

The look: Like a US speed-skater at the Winter Olympics.

Top power: Superfit but not superhuman, the Captain's only weapon is (pass the sickbag) a shield of liberty made of near-indestrucible vibranium.

Arch enemy: Former bellhop The Red Skull, a Nazi agent who later works for the Communists.

In brief... For domestic consumption only.

PROFESSOR X

Back story: Rendered paraplegic by a childhood accident involving an angry alien who dropped a stone on his legs, Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) founded the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, where he trains the X-Men.

The look: Professor X's Savile Row chic is belied by a wheelchair that looks more like a bumper car.

Top power: He's reputed to be the most powerful telepath on Earth.

Love interest: Xavier's marriage to Princess Majestrix Lilandra is not recognised on Earth. But he still holds a torch for the Scottish genetics expert Moira MacTaggert, whom he met while studying at Oxford University

Arch enemy: His former friend Magneto, founder of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Magneto's original name is Eric, which makes him seem less scary.

Super issues? Emotionally scarred in childhood. One of his earliest uses of his telepathic powers was to read the mind of his gold-digging stepfather.

In brief... Poster boy for baldies, and the disabled.

CAPTAIN CANUCK

Back story: In a future society where Canada is the world's superpower, a former Mountie, Tom Evans, dons the jumpsuit after being zapped with alien rays. The most famous in a line of Canadian superheroes that includes Nelvana, Johnny Canuck and Canada Jack.

The look: The maple-leaf face paint is unlikely to be copied.

Top power: Not being American.

Super issues? Not being American.

In brief... A flying inferiority complex.

TANK GIRL

Back story: She's Australian, lives in a tank, and has sex with a kangaroo. Little wonder that the Hollywood version of writer Alan Martin and artist Jamie Hewlett's cartoon strip bombed at the box office. Hewlett has since gone on to form Gorillaz with Damon Albarn.

The look: Sydney mall rat.

Love interest: Half-human, half-kangaroo boyfriend.

Top power: Teenage attitude.

Super issues? It's just a phase.

In brief... Every parent's worst nightmare.

THE HULK

Back story: While developing a "gamma bomb" for the US government, Dr Robert Bruce Banner was exposed to radiation. Created by Marvel Comics in 1962, The Hulk was initially grey, only becoming green because it printed more consistently.

The look: The Hulk pioneered distressed denim.

Love interest: Was married to Betty Ross (the daughter of an American general who tried to destroy him) but he accidentally killed her with his gamma radiation.

Top power: Keeping his trousers on while losing all his other clothes.

Super issues? Where do you start? Abused as a child by his scientist father, the Hulk suffers from both a bad anger management problem and a multiple personality disorder.

In brief... The son-in-law from hell.

WONDER WOMAN

Back story: First came to "man's world" after a plane crash on Paradise Island. Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston (inventor of the lie-detector), was designed to be a role model for young women.

The look: The official camisole and panty set - based on the clothes worn by Lynda Carter in the 1970s TV series and licensed by DC Comics - $24.99 on the Web.

Top power: Her lasso, created from the Magic Girdle of Aphrodite, compelled anyone caught in it to tell the truth.

Love interest: Romantically linked to Superman in several stories, Wonder Woman has also snogged Batman and Aquaman, the tart.

Super issues? A barely concealed passion for tying up and being tied up is a recurring factor, although this probably says as much about William Marston as it does about Wonder Woman herself.

In brief... The original Spice Girl.

JUDGE DREDD

Back story: In Mega City One, 122 years in the future, Judge Dredd is also policeman and executioner. There's no namby-pamby talk about sentencing guidelines. "I am the law," he says. "Democracy is not for the people." The British strip has appeared in 2001AD magazine since 1977.

The look: Eighties' shoulder pads and fancier epaulettes than a conference of South American generals.

Arch enemy: Low-lives, scum

bags, pretty much everyone else.

Love interest: Despite the attentions of Judge Galen de Marco, none.

In brief... Not to be confused with Judge John Deed. Not to be messed with.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

Back story: Gained her superpowers after flying a plane through cosmic radiation. (You'd have thought they'd have learnt by now.)

The look: Emma Peel meets young Margaret Thatcher.

Love interest: Once had the hots for the Sub-Mariner but now married.

Top power: Being invisible was dull, so she was given the ability to create force fields.

Super issues? Burdened with a drunken a father and a mother who died in a car crash, she has was forced to become surrogate mother to younger brother Johnny, aka The Human Torch. Must be difficult to be married to anyone called Mr Fantastic.

In brief... Invisible is how Mr Fantastic likes her.

Comments