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Friday, August 14, 2015

Wow! 41 Marvel Franchises, Ranked From Worst To Best!

Read this before you complain about rankings!

For the purposes of this list, a “franchise” is defined as a mainstay Marvel property that has existed in various forms over the years. Though this list mainly focuses on actual comic books, the quality of the characters’ use in other media — movies, television, games, toys — was taken into consideration. Longevity, cultural impact, and consistency of quality were key factors in determining the rankings on this list. Some characters who are enjoying a renaissance these days are rated a bit lower because they weren’t always good — or even notable — franchises. Maybe someday they’ll be ranked higher.

41. New Warriors

New Warriors
The New Warriors are like a store-brand superhero team comprised of drab, knock-off characters. They started out as ostensibly a junior team of Avengers, but they have no particular mission or reason to exist. The team has been rebooted a few times over and somehow only becomes more bland and forgettable with each new iteration. Today they’re best known as the idiot superheroes who caused the disaster that served as the inciting incident of Civil War.

40. Nova

Ed McGuinness/Marvel
A lot of characters have been Nova over the years, and all of them have been bland and generic. The Nova Corps is basically just Marvel’s blatant ripoff of DC’s Green Lantern Corps, and frankly, you’re better off just buying actual Green Lantern comics.

39. Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider
There is no denying that there is a lot of appeal in the image of a guy with a flaming skull riding around on a motorcycle and whipping a chain around. It’s just that this has rarely, if ever, translated into actually good stories.

38. Exiles

Mike McKone/Marvel
The original iteration of Exiles by Judd Winick and Mike McKone gave readers the chance to explore parallel realities and divergent timelines with alternate versions of characters from the Marvel universe, but ultimately the series didn’t have a lot more to offer than fan service for hardcore Marvel nerds. Subsequent attempts to revive the title haven’t really worked out.

37. Venom

Venom started off as a Spider-Man villain in the late ’80s but was so wildly popular that Marvel decided to spin him off into solo comics by the early ’90s. This inevitably led to writers diluting his psycho-killer appeal by turning him into more of an antihero. The current version of Venom is another character entirely — former Spider-Man bully Flash Thompson — and is now a soldier who uses his symbiote costume at the service of the U.S. military. So yes, Marvel managed to turn one of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains into a blah G.I. Joe version of Spidey himself. Great work, guys.

36. Moon Knight

Moon Knight
Bill Sienkiewicz/Marvel
Just as Nova is Marvel’s version of Green Lantern, Moon Knight is basically its ersatz, quasi-mystical take on Batman. Bill Sienkiewicz did some truly amazing and groundbreaking work with the character in the early ’80s, and as a result, he’s a sentimental favorite of a lot of people who came of age in that era. The character has been rebooted and relaunched several times over, but it’s never really worked. Just go buy a Batman comic book, OK?

35. The Defenders

The Defenders
Kevin Maguire/Marvel
The Defenders works best when creators embrace the group’s lack of chemistry and present them as a “non-team” of individualistic weirdos. That’s a great premise, and hopefully that idea will be the one thing that carries over to the Netflix version of The Defenders starring Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones. That said, a majority of Defenders comics — especially post-’70s incarnations of the team — have been kinda pointless and full of rando characters no one particularly cares about.

34. Gambit

David Yardin/Marvel
Gambit, unlike most members of the X-Men, kinda makes sense as a solo character — he’s something of a loner, and his background as a thief and a louche ladies man is a good setup for heist-centric stories. But despite this, Gambit solo comics have always been sort of mediocre. Sorry, mon ami.

33. Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Terry Dodson/Marvel
Namor’s extreme arrogance and dubious morality make him an amazing character in a group context, whether he’s sparring with the Fantastic Four or a member of the Avengers or X-Men, but he’s a tough sell on his own. He’s just better as a foil to straight-arrow characters like Reed Richards, Captain America, Black Panther, and Cyclops.

32. Black Widow

Black Widow
Phil Noto/Marvel
Black Widow has only occasionally been featured as a solo character over the years, but her current series by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto is a step in the right direction for a character whose popularity has exploded in recent years thanks to theAvengers movies. It seems likely that Black Widow will one day be a much bigger franchise, but for now, it’s still fairly minor.

31. Inhumans

Jae Lee/Marvel
The Inhumans are great on a conceptual level — they’re basically a secret society of half-alien weirdos who became their “true selves” when exposed to a special mutagenic mist as teenagers. For whatever reason, the classic version of the Inhumans has always been a nonstarter for Marvel, despite a critically acclaimed maxiseries by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee in the late ’90s. Marvel has been pushing the Inhumans very hard in the recent past, mainly because a movie based on the characters is due at the end of this decade. Unfortunately, the current iteration of the Inhumans is a lot less interesting — the ritualistic application of the mist has been ditched in favor of the mist just floating around the world, turning random people with secret Inhuman lineage into superpowered freaks. This has essentially transformed Inhumans into an off-brand version of mutants, but weighed down with the baggage of a complicated royal family and a bunch of ultra-bland new characters. It’s hard to imagine that Marvel can ever “replace” the X-Men with this bunch of randos, but it looks like they’ll keep trying to make “fetch” happen for at least another five or six years.

30. Luke Cage/Heroes for Hire

Luke Cage/Heroes for Hire
Chris Bachalo/Marvel
Luke Cage has been a mainstay of the Marvel Universe since the ’70s, but he’s been rebooted and repackaged many times over. He’s been a goofy blaxploitation superhero in a yellow blouse, a partner of Iron Fist, a Hero for Hire, and the leader of street-level teams of Avengers. He’s a great and perennially underrated character, but has yet to star in a truly iconic solo series. It’s about time for this to actually happen, especially since he’ll have his own Netflix series soon.

29. Iron Fist

Iron Fist
David Aja/Marvel
Iron Fist has always been something of a C-list character, but has attracted a lot of top talent over the years, from Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the ’70s to Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja in the ’00s. Still, even the best Iron Fist comics are kinda just generic kung fu stories in superhero drag.

28. Thunderbolts

Thunderbolts has been rebooted a few times over, often with radically different casts of characters, but the core premise has been mostly the same each time around: They’re a bunch of bad guys (or antiheroes) posing as legit superheroes. It’s a strong concept, but it’s been sort of hit or miss in execution aside from Kurt Busiek’s original run in the ’90s and Warren Ellis’s relaunch in the mid-’00s.

27. Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight
John Byrne/Marvel
Alpha Flight are mostly treated like a punchline these days — haw haw, Canadian superheroes! — but the original run of Alpha Flight comics in the ’80s by team co-creator John Byrne were actually pretty good. Later versions of Alpha Flight are either rebooted to the point of barely resembling the original group or overly nostalgic for the Byrne era. The one thing all Alpha Flight comics have in common is portraying the Canadian government as being somehow a lot more sinister than the American government, which is…kinda weird.

26. Nick Fury/S.H.I.E.L.D.

Nick Fury/S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jim Steranko/Marvel
There have been a lot of very different series starring Nick Fury and/or S.H.I.E.L.D. over the years, and most have been…just OK? The major outliers are Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s truly odd S.H.I.E.LD. series about the secret history of the Marvel Universe starring Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton, and Jim Steranko’s groundbreaking op art comics from the ’60s.

25. Excalibur

Alan Davis/Marvel
The original version of Excalibur by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis is a cult classic, and added a much-needed touch of whimsy to the rather grim X-Men line of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The original series was basically a mash-up of Claremont’s X-Men and the Captain Britain characters he created for Marvel U.K., but subsequent iterations of Excalibur have more or less abandoned all that in favor of featuring a team of random X-characters living in England. (That said, Claremont himself wrote a totally unrelated and highly forgettable relaunch in the ’00s in which Charles Xavier and Magneto teamed up to help salvage the remnants of war-ravaged Genosha.) It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll ever see another good Excalibur series, but hey, that original run was terrific.

24. Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer is one of the most striking and iconic characters created by Jack Kirby, which is really saying something. There are a lot of awesome things about the character, but his appeal as a solo star greatly depends on your tolerance for incessant angst and existential pondering.

23. Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel
David Lopez/Marvel
There’s been a lot of characters called Captain Marvel throughout Marvel’s history, but Carol Danvers has become the most iconic version, and the one who will be featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the near future. So really, when we’re talking about Captain Marvel, we’re really talking about Danvers, and so we’re factoring in all her solo series as Ms. Marvel over the years. Marvel’s attempts to position Danvers as its answer to Wonder Woman has been a bit obvious, but it’s also very welcome.

22. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange
Simone Bianchi/Marvel
Doctor Strange is a legitimately weird superhero — he’s significantly older than most other heroes, has a vibe of aloofness, and mainly goes off on odd psychedelic adventures. He’s never been able to support a long-running solo series, but those comics tend to be pretty good, and he’s still one of Marvel’s most underrated properties.

21. Hawkeye

David Aja/Marvel
Hawkeye was rarely featured on his own until Matt Fraction and David Aja’s formally inventive and character-redefining solo series launched in 2012. The creative torch was recently passed on to Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez, and it looks like the series is on its way to becoming Marvel’s prestige showcase for offbeat creators.

20. Cable

Rob Liefeld/Marvel
Cable is as ’90s as superheroes get — he was created by Rob Liefeld, he’s the time-displaced psychic cyborg son of Cyclops from the X-Men, he’s ultra gritty, and is always carrying enormous guns. Cable should not work, and yet he does. Many writers and artists have worked hard to turn Cable into a complex and interesting character over the years, and the odds of any given Cable solo comic being good are actually pretty high.

19. The Punisher

The Punisher
Jim Lee/Marvel
The Punisher is kind of a one-note character — he’s basically just a maniac vigilante who just goes around straight-up murdering criminals — but he’s inspired a lot of solid comics over the years. The character is definitely a lot better when written with a lot of dark humor, and not so great when played as a disturbing gun-nut revenge fantasy.

18. Black Panther

Black Panther
Adi Granov/Marvel
There’s not nearly enough solo Black Panther comics, but the ones that exist — particularly those written by Christopher Priest — have been very good. But now that Black Panther is headed to the big screen, it looks like the character is going to be more of a priority for Marvel going forward, which bodes well for fans of T’Challa and the people of Wakanda.

17. Runaways

Adrian Alphona/Marvel
The original Runaways series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona is wonderful, and has a brilliant high concept — they’re a bunch of kids who find out their parents are a team of supervillains. (It’s worth noting that the main cast is very diverse, and broke a lot of ground in terms of LGBT representation in the mainstream Marvel Universe.) Unlike most Marvel stories, Vaughan’s run is pretty much a complete story, and subsequent writers — including Joss Whedon — have struggled to give the characters a sense of direction and purpose. But oh man, that original series!

16. X-Factor

David Yardin/Marvel
X-Factor has been a lot of very different things — the five original X-Men, a government-sponsored superhero team, a detective agency, and a superhero team owned and controlled by the Marvel version of Google. But it’s mostly been a showcase for writer Peter David, who has written the vast majority of comics using this title. No matter what the premise is, David’s X-Factors showcase his witty storytelling and his penchant for adding depth and nuance to cast-aside characters from the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe.

15. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians of the Galaxy have been a lot of things over the decades, but have only recently taken the form you might recognize from the hugely popular movie. The earlier iterations of the Guardians were not so good and at best were like off-brand versions of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes, but the contemporary version is pretty great. All of Marvel’s current Guardians series are good, fun comics, and the franchise is a welcome addition to the line. Also, this is a case where the movie version significantly boosts the ranking of the overall franchise.

14. She-Hulk

Kevin Wada/Marvel
She-Hulk may have been created for copyright reasons, but she’s evolved into an essential character in the Marvel Universe. A lot of the reason for this is that her civilian life as a lawyer is often at the center of her solo adventures, and that John Byrne’s decision to write her book as a screwball comedy has been kept up by subsequent writers like Dan Slott and Charles Soule. In other words, She-Hulk is a hit superhero legal dramedy waiting to happen. Netflix, get on this.

13. Deadpool

Geoff Darrow/Marvel
Deadpool started off as a bit character in Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants and X-Forcecomics in the early ’90s, but has evolved into something sort of strange and unique — a self-aware, hyperviolent, and amoral Bugs Bunny for the Marvel Universe who is beloved by a rabid cult audience. Deadpool comics are typically played as straight-up comedy, but plenty of writers have found ways to seriously explore the character’s tragic background and his shaky grip on sanity.

12. X-Force

Adi Granov/Marvel
X-Force has existed in several incarnations, but almost every version is basically just “X-Men, but waaay more violent and badass.” The franchise has aged surprisingly well over the past two decades, evolving into a thoughtful meditation on the futility of violence during Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force epic, and becoming a space where writers can reinvent X-Men mainstays like Psylocke, Fantomex, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, and X-23.

11. New Mutants

New Mutants
Arthur Adams/Marvel
The original version of New Mutants written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson in the ’80s was excellent and way ahead of its time in many ways — its emphasis on diversity, the maturity of its tone despite being a book about teenagers, and the paradigm-busting artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz, Arthur Adams, and the controversial but undeniably revolutionary Rob Liefeld. Characters like Cannonball, Sunspot, and Magik have gone on to become iconic mainstays of the Marvel Universe, and the series’ legacy extends from a strong revival of the title by Zeb Wells in the ’00s toGeneration XNew X-Men, and every other comic focused on the students of the X-Men.

10. Thor

Esad Ribic/Marvel
It’s still sort of strange that while Marvel’s brand has always been about relatable heroes, one of its most prominent characters since the beginning has been a straight-up god who walks among mortals. But it works, both in terms of the character playing off all the other superheroes in amusing ways, and how Jack Kirby’s sci-fi reimagining of Norse mythology has given creators like Walt Simonson, Matt Fraction, and Jason Aaron an opportunity to do over-the-top fantasy stories set in the Marvel Universe. Also, it’s worth nothing that Thor’s half-brother Loki is one of Marvel’s best villains, and arguably the best thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

9. Hulk

Alex Ross/Marvel
The Hulk is basically Marvel’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but with a bright green unstoppable rage monster. Hulk comics can be a bit hit or miss in terms of quality, but Peter David’s long, celebrated run on the book in the ’80s and ’90s explored the psychological complexities of both Bruce Banner and the Hulk in depth, and opened up the possibilities of what Hulk stories can be for future creators like Greg Pak, Mark Waid, and Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon. But that aside, Hulk is easily one of Marvel’s most iconic and recognizable characters, to the point that most people can use the phrase “Hulk out” without even seeming particularly geeky.

8. Avengers

Arthur Adams/Marvel
The concept of the Avengers is extremely simple — a bunch of superheroes get together to fight huge threats. But since there’s nothing more to the Avengers than that, the quality of Avengers comics depends greatly on whether the team is composed of Marvel’s biggest heroes, or just a bunch of randos. So while there are plenty of great Avengers comics from over the years, there are also a lot of loooooong stretches where the book is just incredibly lame, and the characters seemed incredibly dorky in comparison to the X-Men. Things are much better now thanks to the efforts of Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, and Joss Whedon, but the franchise is still dragged down by those terrible ’80s and ’90s comics.

7. Wolverine

John Romita Jr./Marvel
Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, and what he does is make team dynamics more exciting. But he’s pretty great on his own too, particularly when creators run with noble samurai vibe set by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller in the very first solo Wolverine miniseries in 1982. Wolverine is undeniably one of Marvel’s best and most iconic characters, and his impact on Marvel and pop culture in general has been enormous. Also, it’s worth noting that while the Wolverine movies haven’t been great and the X-Men film franchise is uneven, Hugh Jackman’s performances in those movies have been fantastic, and brought the character to life on screen in a way that many old fans never thought would be possible.

6. Captain America

Captain America
Steve McNiven / Steve Epting / Stuart Immonen / Marvel
Captain America has a reputation as something of a square, but Captain America comics have a history of being pretty cool, and sometimes totally strange. Many excellent creators have worked on Cap over the years, but none of them can match Ed Brubaker’s long run in the ’00s in which he and collaborators like Steve Epting and Jackson Guice emphasized spy thriller intrigue and reintroduced Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier. Brubaker’s influence is all over the Captain America film series, and Bucky has become so popular that he’s likely to become Captain America in the movies just as he did in the comics. Bucky isn’t the only option, though — the current comics Cap is Sam “Falcon” Wilson, and it looks like he’ll keep the title for a long time to come.

5. Iron Man

Iron Man
Adi Granov/Marvel
There was a time when Iron Man wasn’t one of Marvel’s most famous characters, but that’s pretty far in the past now. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned Marvel as a whole into a bigger cultural force than ever before, and elevated the character to a level of popularity eclipsed only by the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. But as important as Downey is Iron Man’s popularity, his characterization is built on the work of many great Marvel writers, including David Michelinie, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and Matt Fraction. Iron Man has become a central figure in the Marvel Universe since the mid-’00s, and that is unlikely to ever change.

4. Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four
Alan Davis/Marvel
Don’t be fooled by the horrendous film adaptations — Fantastic Four is one of Marvel’s greatest franchises, and always has been. The central concept of them being a family of explorers is one of the best ideas for a superhero comic of all time, and their primary nemesis, Doctor Doom, is one of the greatest villains in the history of comics. There’s a fundamental optimism and faith in science and family that may seem corny to some people today, but those are features and not bugs. While there have been a lot of lackluster Fantastic Four comics over the years, the original run by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee is the foundation on which the rest of the Marvel Universe was built, and was consistently the most innovative superhero comic of the ’60s. Later runs by John Byrne, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, and Jonathan Hickman have maintained the series’ legacy of imaginative sci-fi storytelling, with Hickman in particular finding way to reinvent the characters for contemporary audiences without straying from the characters’ essential appeal.

3. Daredevil

Paolo Rivera/Marvel
Daredevil was a fairly minor Marvel property through the ’60s and ’70s, but became a critical darling during Frank Miller’s groundbreaking run on the book in the ’80s. Ever since then, Daredevil has become a showcase for some of Marvel’s most talented and distinctive creators — David Mazzucchelli, Ann Nocenti, John Romita, Jr., Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Chris Samnee. The movie adaptation starring Ben Affleck may have been total junk, but the Netflix series featuring Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio belongs to the long lineage of quality Daredevil storytelling.

2. Spider-Man

Mark Bagley/Marvel
Spider-Man has been Marvel’s most famous and widely beloved hero since more or less the very beginning, and has been adapted into other media more than any other Marvel character. Spidey’s underdog status and sarcastic wit revolutionized the superhero genre, and his mantra “with great power comes great responsibility” has become a guiding principle for millions of people. Peter Parker may always be the most famous version of Spider-Man, but other variations on the character like Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, and especially the biracial Miles Morales have extended the Spider-brand to be more inclusive and resonant than ever.

1. X-Men

Daniel Acuna/Marvel
The X-Men are the best superheroes of all time. They just are. The central premise of mutants being hated and feared by the world isolates one of the most resonant elements of the Spider-Man mythos and expands it into a powerful metaphor for anyone who feels marginalized and unfairly maligned by society. The franchise features a majority of the very best characters in the Marvel cannon — Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Beast, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Charles Xavier, and Emma Frost, just to name a few — and their stories have been told by the very best creators in the history of superhero comics. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alan Davis, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Kieron Gillen, Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo — again, that’s just to name a few. The franchise has always been progressive, and Claremont in particular was waaaay ahead of the curve in terms of promoting diversity and developing a deep bench of strong, nuanced female cast members. Also, unlike a lot of other superhero franchises, the X-Men franchise is built to constantly change and evolve, so it’s always taking on interesting new forms while other characters feel old-fashioned or stagnant.


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