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EW's Most Powerful Superheroes: The best comics for each hero

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DC Comics; Marvel

Superheroes dominate nearly every facet of pop culture these days, from movies to TV to video games, but it should never be forgotten that they came from comic books. Unfortunately, the world of comics can sometimes look intimidating to newcomers, thanks to decades worth of interconnected stories. Fear not: EW has put together a companion list to our Most Powerful Superheroes List, in which we provide reading recommendations for each of the 50 superheroes we think are the most powerful and influential. Each hero gets a short blurb explaining their best comics, and then a few suggestions of where to start. Check them out below.

1. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman was incredibly popular when she was first created in the ’40s by William Moulton Marston and Harry Peters, but those initial stories looked much different than most modern superhero comics. Marston’s fascination with bondage and polyamory made impressions on the text, as did his philosophies of pacifism and open love; Wonder Woman often had unconventional ways of dealing with her enemies. After those kinks were straightened out, Wonder Woman comics never quite reached the same heights of popularity and success. That didn’t stop subsequent writers from trying. One of the most successful was Greg Rucka, whose run on the character in the early 2000’s put Diana through her paces and struck a fine balance between her superhero and ambassador sides (Rucka recently returned to the character as part of DC’s Rebirth relaunch and made headlines for confirming that she is queer). More recently, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette beautifully and thoughtfully reimagined Wonder Woman’s origin story in Wonder Woman: Earth One.

Books: Wonder Woman: Earth One, Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, The Wonder Woman Chronicles

2. Spider-Man

There have been a lot of great Spider-Man stories over the years, but few can still a hold a candle to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run on Amazing Spider-Man, which introduced the wall-crawler’s dynamic look, trademark snark, and vibrant cast of supporting characters (the “If This Be My Destiny!” story still stands as one of Ditko’s greatest accomplishments, which is saying something). Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley did almost as well, however, with their Ultimate Spider-Man, which successfully updated Peter Parker for the 21st century, eventually paving the way for more modern additions like Miles Morales.

 Books: Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection

3. Batman

Take your pick, basically. It’s incredibly difficult to spin a boring story about this cool, dark, shadow-dwelling avenger of evil. The most definitive (or at least influential) depiction might be Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns, a version of Batman so awesome it has fueled 30 years of movie and TV adaptations. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s year-long epic The Long Halloween is set in the early years of Batman, back when he was fighting street-level mobsters just as fervently as color-coded supervillains. Grant Morrison recently spent a few years demonstrating that the more colorful interpretations of Batman over the years (from the psychedelic Adam West version to the ’50s sci-fi tales featuring the Rainbow Batman or the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh) were just as interesting and compelling as the hyper-gritty Miller variants, setting up a mega-story that climaxed in 2008’s Batman: RIP. Again: if you threw a dart at a wall of Batman comics, it would be hard to land on a bad or boring one. Creators always bring their A-game to the Dark Knight. 

Examples: Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Long HalloweenBatman: RIP

4. Superman

Superman was the first superhero. Superman was here long before people cared what stories happened in what order, and he will last long after they stop. So it’s not a surprise that most of his best comics were written outside the constraints of mainstream continuity. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, for instance, is a self-contained 12-issue epic that mines dramatic and thematic importance from Superman’s innate goodness (often seen as a character flaw by lesser writers). Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright is the best telling you’ll ever read of Superman’s origin and first years on the job (including the most logical explanation for why the Clark Kent disguise works). Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son examines what makes Superman important by placing him in an alternate world where his rocket landed in the Soviet Union instead of Depression-era Kansas. Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Was the final story of the so-called “Silver Age” version of Superman, and thus has the kind of gravitas modern superhero franchise films and comics can only dream about.

Books: All-Star Superman, Superman: Birthright, Superman: Red Son, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

5. Wolverine

 Wolverine has become a well-developed solo hero in his own right, but he’ll always be an X-Man at heart. As such, some of the best Wolverine stories are still classic X-Men comics like Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s The Dark Phoenix Saga, in which Wolverine has to take down the entire Hellfire Club by himself at one point. Claremont wrote the X-Men for decades and few people have ever understood Wolverine better; his original Wolverine miniseries with Frank Miller is still a classic (and the basis of 2013’s The Wolverine). For a more recent tale, Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s recent “Get Mystique” storyline highlights the character’s most interesting modern attributes.

Books: X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga, Wolverine, Wolverine: Get Mystique

6. Iron Man

Iron Man has not always been the most pivotal figure in the Marvel Universe, but that changed with 2005’s Civil War, in which Tony Stark successfully fought for the Superhuman Registration Act against his friends and teammates. In the wake of that massive story, Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man plumbed the depths of Stark’s new status quo and gave him many new challenges. And although it was slightly mangled by lackluster adaptation in Iron Man 2, the original story of Iron Man struggling with alcoholism in David Micheline and Bob Layton’s “Demon in a Bottle” is still powerful.

Books: Civil War, Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares, Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

7. Captain America

Captain America comes from a few comics traditions. He is most notably a war hero (whose covers sometimes advertised war bonds), but he was also created by Jack Kirby, one of the most inventive minds in the history of comics. As such, the character is more malleable than he is sometimes given credit for. Ed Brubaker’s early-2000s run on the title was a thrilling superhero espionage epic that gave the world the Winter Soldier, while Rick Remender’s more recent take sent the character intro trippy alternate dimensions.

 Books: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z

8. Hulk

The classic dynamic of the Hulk is between that of frail but brilliant scientist Bruce Banner and the raging, mindless green beast inside him. However, many writers have made excellent stories out of tweaking with this relationship. In Peter David’s classic run on The Incredible Hulk, for instance, the monster is just as smart and articulate as Banner, and faces all kinds of new challenges for it. Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan’s Planet Hulk hardly features Banner at all; he’s too vulnerable to explore the brutal alien planet where Hulk has become a space gladiator. If there’s any lesson to learn from those two sentences, it’s that the Hulk is a strange character whose best stories always benefit from writers thinking outside the box.

Books: Incredible Hulk Epic Collection, Planet Hulk

9. Black Panther

Black Panther has gone through a major resurgence in the past year, to the point that the current run by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze is among the best in the character’s history. While respectful of continuity, the story also introduces a lot of new characters and themes, making it an easy jumping-on point for new readers interested by the recent buzz around T’Challa. Christopher Priest’s action-packed, politically-conscious ‘90s run on the Marvel Knights edition of Black Panther is a good next stop. Jonathan Hickman’s recent New Avengers run spent so much time on Black Panther and Wakanda that the series could easily have been called “Black Panther and the Avengers.” The dynamic rivalry it establishes between T’Challa and Namor the Sub-Mariner is one of the richest in recent comics.

Examples: Black PantherA Nation Under Our FeetNew AvengersEverything DiesBlack Panther: The Client

10. The Flash

Although most on-screen versions of The Flash feature the Barry Allen version, there was a long period of time in comics where the role was held by Wally West. So Geoff Johns’ 90s run is a must for Flash fans, but it is not quite the same version of the character seen in The CW’s TV adaptation or the upcoming Justice League movies. Luckily, Johns returned to The Flash in 2009 to reinstate Barry Allen, penning game-changing epics like Rebirth and Flashpoint.

Books: The Flash: Rebirth, Flashpoint, The Flash by Geoff Johns

11. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy is the reverse of most superheroes on this list, in that her TV show is the primary canon and the comics featuring her are supplementary. That said, the recent Season 8 comic from creator Joss Whedon and co-writer Brian K. Vaughan is a fun continuation of Buffy’s story that picks up right where the original series left off (hence the title).

Books: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8

12. Deadpool

Deadpool is one of those lucky superheroes who is now more popular than he’s ever been. As a result, there are more Deapool comics than there have ever been, and most of them have something to like, and most fans will probably find something to like there. To truly understand Deadpool’s unique powers as a deconstructive force in superhero comics, however, the original ’90s stories by writers Joe Kelly and Fabian Nicieza are still essential. Fans of Wade Wilson’s fourth-wall breaking would also do well to check out the recent Secret Avengers series, in which Deadpool repeatedly gets into arguments with writer Ales Kot in the middle of action.

Books: Deadpool Classic, Secret Avengers: The Labyrinth

13. Thor

Thor’s solo stories often take on a slightly different affect than his Avengers adventures. In his own time, Thor is often facing threats of a mythological scale, monsters and ice giants rather than supervillains and crooks. One of the best examples of this is Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s recent run on Thor, God of Thunder, which featured past, present, and future versions of Thor uniting to defeat the all-powerful God Butcher. Walter Simonson’s legendary run on Thor in the ‘70s is also remarkable on this regard – those stories feature both a horse-headed alien Thor named Beta Ray Bill and a brief period of time where Thor is trapped in the body of a frog by Loki and continues his fight against evil as The Thunder Frog.

Books: Thor, God of Thunder: God Butcher, Thor by Walter Simonson

14. Phoenix

The X-Men canon is full of decades’ worth of stories, in-jokes, recurring characters, and family trees more complex than almost any other superhero mythology. One constant of X-Men myth: When Jean Grey goes Phoenix, things are never the same again. The classic example of this is Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga. Quite possibly the best X-Men story ever, this epic moves from bondage brainwash role-play to massive superhero brawl to desperate battle on an alien planet, as Jean Grey reaches a self-awakening so powerful it shakes the cosmos. Jean is also a major player in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, where her Phoenix potential is treated with a bit more thought. Be aware, however, that Jean Grey is one of the most Shakespearean figures in all of Marvel (which is saying something). Both those stories end tragically.

Examples: X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga, New X-Men

15. Storm

Storm was one of Chris Claremont’s personal favorite X-Men, and his Lifedeath story (which finds Storm dealing with the loss of her powers) is still, perhaps, her best story, demonstrating how much majesty and power was left out of the film version.

Books: X-Men: Lifedeath

16. Daredevil

For the first few decades of his career, Daredevil was a C-list Marvel hero fighting castoff costume villains. Then a young Frank Miller took over the title in the ’80s and infused Hell’s Kitchen with the paranoia and crime of ‘70s Taxi Driver New York, introducing exciting new characters like Elektra and Bullseye. Since then, there’s been no shortage of great Daredevil stories. Brian Michael Bendis’ career-making run with Alex Maleev was a thrilling read that also set out to make Murdock suffer even more, while Mark Waid’s recent stories take a more colorful, dynamic approach to the character.

Examples: Daredevil: Born Again, Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Daredevil by Mark Waid

17. Green Lantern

As with The Flash, there are several different versions of Green Lantern, but most of the best stories come from writer Geoff Johns. Johns’ long-running epic of Hal Jordan (from the character’s return in Rebirth through the epic Sinestro Corps War storyline to, finally, The Wrath of the First Lantern) is not only one of the great maximalist superhero stories of the last decade, but also an incredibly dense and thrilling sci-fi epic. 

Examples: Green Lantern: Rebirth, Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War

18. Batgirl/Oracle

The character of Barbara Gordon was perhaps most compelling when she was Oracle, a wheelchair-bound hacker who became instrumental to Gotham City’s superheroes. That character is at the forefront of the ‘90s series Birds of Prey, in which she teams up with Black Canary, Huntress, and other assorted female fighters in a great team dynamic. Amid the many recent DC reboots, however, Barbara Gordon has healed her Joker-induced injury and returned to Batgirl duties. Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s recent run on Batgirl has been a refreshing, youthful take on the character.

Books: Batgirl: The Batgirl of Burnside, Birds of Prey volume 1

19. Professor X

As the founder and leader of the X-Men, Professor X features prominently in many of the best X-Men stories. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, in particular, features several meaty storylines for the professor, as he battles an alien parasite for control of his body and struggles to see progress towards his dream of peaceful human/mutant relations after decades of work. In recent years, Professor X even got his own series, Mike Carey’s X-Men: Legacy, to face down his demons.

Books: New X-Men, X-Men Legacy: Divided He Stands

20. Robin

There have been several iterations of Robin over the years, but Dick Grayson’s time ended before the modern era of superhero comics and Jason Todd barely lasted long enough to be notable. As a result, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne dominate the modern era of Robin-hood. Chuck Dixon’s ‘90s run on Robin is basically the definitive take on Tim Drake, while Damian shines alongside Dick Grayson’s version of Batman in Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin

Books: Robin: Reborn,  Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn

21. Raphael

Although the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really became famous with their popular TV shows and live-action movies, they started as comic characters, and the original stories by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are still essential reading for fans – especially since they show what the concept was like before decades of adaptation and exaggeration.

Books: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection

22. Black Widow

Black Widow still hasn’t gotten her own solo movie, but thankfully she’s got plenty of comics adventures. One particular standout is Devin Grayson’s story “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” in which Natasha Romanov faces off against rival Yelena Belova in an all-out Spy vs. Spy battle of wits, skills, and espionage.

Books: Black Widow: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

23. Supergirl

Supergirl has a big, 30-year blind spot in her comics history. In 1985, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event (the standard for all subsequent comic book crossovers) killed off Kara Zor-El in an attempt to streamline Superman’s mythology. That held for quite a few decades, until DC decided the character was too good to lose and brought her back in Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner’s Batman/Superman series. Since then, Supergirl has become a natural part of the DC universe, handling her own solo comic books just as well as her CW TV show.

Books: Superman/Batman: Supergirl, Supergirl: Last Daughter of KryptonCrisis on Infinite Earths

24. Fantastic Four (The Thing, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman)

The Fantastic Four were originally conceived to be Marvel’s answer to the Justice League, but unlike that DC pantheon of separate heroes, Marvel’s first family were designed as a team from the ground-up. As such, they work best in their team book. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original run on Fantastic Four lasted over 100 issues and remains one of the greatest achievements in all of superhero comics; the sheer flow of original ideas and unique concepts dreamed up in those pages has powered the Marvel Universe for decades. Subsequent writers have struggled to meet that lofty standard, but Jonathan Hickman recently came close with a maximalist epic story that started in his 2010 run on Fantastic Four and ultimately culminated in last summer’s massive Secret Wars event.

Books: The Fantastic Four Omnibus, Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Secret Wars

25. Green Arrow

Oliver Queen recently achieved mainstream recognition with the success of The CW’s Arrow adaptation, but there were still decades’ worth of compelling Green Arrow comic stories before that. Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One will probably be the most recognizable to fans of the show, but Denny O’Neil’s ’70s run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow is still remarkable for the bracing honesty with which it addressed social issues, as the two mismatched heroes set off on an American road trip to do battle real-world issues like drug addiction, racism, and poverty.

Books: Green Arrow: Year One, Green Lantern/Green Arrow

To read more on EW’s 50 Most Powerful Superheroes, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

26. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange has always stood somewhat apart from the other Marvel heroes, given his unique brand of expertise, and his comics have been the same. Steve Englehart was pretty much given free rein in the ‘70s to turn his Doctor Strange comics into a psychedelic exploration of alternate dimensions and metaphysical mysticism. Those old comics can be hard to find, but are very much worth it. By contrast, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s 2007 miniseries Doctor Strange: The Oath is a little more down-to-earth, as the Sorcerer Supreme struggles with his friend Wong’s very real battle with cancer, but the story still packs plenty of magical mayhem.

Books: Doctor Strange: A Separate Reality, Doctor Strange: The Oath

27. Captain Marvel

Carol Danvers has had a twisted history in comics, so it’s been awesome to see her launch to the forefront of the Marvel Universe in recent years. That’s mostly due to the influence of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, whose run on Captain Marvel developed a rightfully devoted fanbase. She is also a major part of the current Civil War II event series, and as a result will surely loom over the greater Marvel status quo as her solo movie starring Brie Larson approaches.

Books: Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, MoreCivil War II

28. Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer is one of the Marvel heroes who benefited most from the company’s 2014 brand relaunch Marvel Now! He came out of it with a still-ongoing run by writer Dan Slott and artist Mike Allred that has quickly become one of the all-time best stories featuring the character. Slott’s story pairs Norin Radd up with a vibrant sidekick/love interest in the form of human woman Dawn Greenwood, and Allred’s cartoon-y art is a perfect match for the celestial visuals glimpsed by the two characters on their psychedelic road trip across the stars.

Examples: Silver Surfer: New Dawn

29. Luke Cage

Luke Cage has a strange history in comics. He started off as a parody of Blaxploitation heroes, and as a result many of his early appearances have not aged well (the new Netflix show mocks both Cage’s original golden-shirt outfit and “hero for hire” shtick). In addition, some of his best stories involve partnering up with other heroes like best friend Iron Fist and love interest Jessica Jones. (Plus, reading those stories has the bonus effect of preparing you for those characters’ up-coming on-screen team-up in The Defenders). After updating Cage for the modern era in Alias, Brian Michael Bendis took the character even further and made him a central figure in New Avengers, showing off his leadership qualities in the process.

Books: Power Man and Iron Fist Epic Collection, Jessica Jones: Alias, New Avengers: Breakout

30. Aquaman

Many recent Aquaman comics have taken upon themselves the momentous task of shifting the character’s place in pop culture from “punchline” to “powerhouse.” Though it’s unclear whether they’ve quite succeeded or not, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ post-New 52 run on the character certainly featured lots of thrilling underwater action against monsters of the sea.

Books: Aquaman: The Trench

31. Nick Fury

Nick Fury has been through a couple different versions over the years, but he’s usually a super spy modeled after the coolest movie star at the time. So there’s the psychedelic Cold Warrior who looks like Dean Martin, and the modern mastermind based on Samuel L. Jackson (that eventual casting was quite an ouroboros). The best version of the former came in Jim Steranko’s 70s series Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, and the latter has never quite surpassed his original introduction in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates.

Books: Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, The Ultimates: Super-Human

32. Hellboy

Unlike many other characters on this list, Hellboy was created and written by one single creator: Mike Mignola. As such, a curious reader can easily start with Mignola’s first Hellboy miniseries, Seed of Destruction. Co-written with John Byrne, that story explains Hellboy’s origin and sets up his early dynamic with the villainous Russian sorcerer Rasputin. However, Mignola’s writing and art really hit their stride with his first solo volume, Wake the Devil (which also features vampires and snake goddesses). 

Examples: Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, Hellboy: Wake the Devil

33. Human Torch (see No. 24)

34. The Falcon

Although a unique character in his own right, The Falcon has always been defined by his relationship to Captain America. Sam Wilson’s classic team-ups with Steve Rogers (especially those written by Christopher Priest) are essential reading for fans, as are Nick Spencer’s recent Captain America stories which feature Sam taking up the shield himself after Steve becomes incapacitated.

Books: Captain America and The Falcon by Christopher Priest, Captain America, Sam Wilson

35. Rogue

Rogue was always one of the younger X-Men, and given her dangerous power, someone who needed to be looked after. That’s why Mike Carey and Chris Bachalo’s 2006 run on X-Men was so exciting, as Rogue was finally given her own X-Men team to lead alongside a reformed Sabretooth.

Books: X-Men: Supernovas

36. Nightcrawler

Although he started as an X-Man, Nightcrawler’s best stories actually came in the pages of Excalibur, where writer Chris Claremont turned him into a charismatic swordfighter battling villains out of British mysticism alongside the likes of Captain Britain.

Books: Excalibur: The Sword Is Drawn

37. Ant-Man

Hank Pym may have been the first Ant-Man, but the Marvel movies understand that successor Scott Lang is actually way more fun. The power of Lang’s everyman heroism was highlighted in Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s recent run on FF, as well as the recent solo series written by Nick Spencer.

Books: FF: Fantastic Faux, Ant-Man: Second-Chance Man

38. Vision

While Vision has long been an important member of the Avengers, comic creators have not always known what to do with him individually. That changed with the current run on the series by writer Tom King, which offers a radical new take on the superhero android. The premise of Vision is that the protagonist has now created a whole nuclear family of robots just like himself: a wife and twin children, one girl and one boy. Set in D.C., the story is like a Black Mirror reimagining of The Americans, a sci-fi social commentary that mines the power of the uncanny valley as this family of androids faces their own versions of human problems like alienation and regret, the stakes of which are greatly multiplied by the superpowers involved.

Books: Vision: Little Worse Than a Man

39. Jessica Jones

Unlike most Marvel heroes, Jessica Jones is actually a fairly recent character. Though recently granted mainstream recognition by the great Netflix TV adaptation, Jones was only just created in 2001 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos. As a result, there aren’t that many comics of her, and most of the ones that do exist were written by Bendis. Bendis and Gaydos’ original run on Alias is obviously essential for any fan interested in checking out the comic version of Jones, and the two creators even recently reunited on a new Jessica Jones series (currently still in its first issue) that is very much worth checking out. 

Examples: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1

40. Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde

When Joss Whedon took on X-Men writing duties in 2004, he brought his love of powerful badass young women with him. Kitty Pryde is very much the protagonist of Whedon and John Cassady’s run on Astonishing X-Men, and her transition to primary X-Man (and her continuing romance with Colossus) is the source of much of what makes that book great. 

Examples: Astonishing X-MenGifted

41. Mr. Fantastic (see No. 24)

42. Blade

The best version of Blade is honestly the Wesley Snipes movies, but those interested in the comic version would do well to check out Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin’s run from 2007. Very few Blade collections are in print, unfortunately. Thank god for Marvel Unlimited.

Books: Blade: Undead Again

43. Beast

Because X-Men is an ensemble comic, most good stories have showcases for all the major characters. Beast fans in particular would do well to check out Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and Joss Whedon and John Cassady’s Astonishing X-Men. Both comics give a lot of beast to Hank McCoy’s struggle between high-brow scientist and animalistic mutant. In the first, McCoy’s progressing mutation forces him to come to terms with a new version of himself, and in the second he has a crisis of conscience over a new “mutant cure” that even pits him against teammates like Wolverine. Through it all, Beast never loses his sharp wit or deadpan humor.

Examples: New X-MenAstonishing X-Men: Gifted

44. Punisher

Punisher’s hyper-violent, take-no-prisoners attitude toward vigilantism makes Batman’s “war on crime” seem like a children’s crusade by comparison. He doesn’t really fit in with the more traditional Marvel heroes. This guy is a soldier, and the best Punisher comics take his violence seriously. Garth Ennis is perhaps the best writer to ever tackle Frank Castle, both in his run with Steve Dillon (the team behind Preacher) and his Punisher: MAX title, which takes place outside normal Marvel continuity.

Books: The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank, Punisher MAX: In the Beginning

45. Invisible Woman (see No. 24)

46. Cyclops

Like most of the X-Men characters listed here, Cyclops got a lot to do in classic stories like New X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, and The Dark Phoenix Saga. However, Cyclops has probably never been more interesting than he is right now. After the climactic events of 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops has taken the X-Men in a more militaristic direction, alienating former teammates and making characters and readers alike wonder if he’s still a good guy or not.

Books: New X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Uncanny X-Men: Revolution

47. Shazam

Like Superman, Captain Marvel (or “Shazam,” as he has currently been re-christened in honor of his famous magic word) comes from a time before continuity and modern superhero standards. So most of the great Shazam stories either come from that early period, or are evocative of it, like Bone creator Jeff Smith’s graphic novel Monster Society. The character does fit well enough into the modern DC universe, however, as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank demonstrated in their recent relaunch. It’s also worth mentioning that Alan Moore’s Miracleman, one of the most influential comics ever and finally back in print at Marvel, is based on a Captain Marvel knock-off and takes the concept to some fascinating places.

Books: Shazam!: Monster Society of Evil, Shazam! Volume 1

48. Dream/Morpheus

Morpheus is another one of the characters on this list who exists mostly in one series by one creator. If you read every issue of Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman, you would have read every story featuring Morpheus. But while that series does have a master arc, it’s anthology nature means it does not necessarily have to be read in order. The first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes, features necessary exposition and some truly nightmarish horror sequences, but a curious fan might find The Doll’s HouseSeason of Mists, or short story collection Fables & Reflections a better jumping-on point to demonstrate the series’ strengths.

Examples:The Sandman: The Doll’s House, The Sandman: Season of Mists

49. Hawkeye

When it comes for the more human members of the Avengers, even Black Widow has an arsenal of tricks from the assassin and seductress skill sets. Hawkeye really only has a bow. Matt Fraction and David Aja’s recent acclaimed run on Hawkeye dove deep on the idea that Clint Barton is kind of the overwhelmed schmuck stick in a world of superpowers and superheroes. Their series takes an empathetic look at the character’s humanity (he bought an entire apartment building to save it from gangster gentrifiers and quickly became friends with the salt-of-the-earth residents) while also leaving room for experimental art (like a whole issue told from the perspective of a dog) and showcases for Barton’s protégé Kate Bishop (one of the greatest recent additions to the Marvel universe, and now a Hawkeye in her own right).

Examples: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

50. Dr. Manhattan

Although DC recently started publishing more stories about the Watchmen in the Before Watchmen line of books, the original 1986 graphic novel from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is still the definitive version of these characters. However, there have been some heavy hints that DC is gearing up to introduce Dr. Manhattan to the mainstream DC universe as the villain of whatever big upcoming story the new DC: Rebirth titles are leading to, so fans should keep an eye out.

Books: Watchmen, DC: Rebirth

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