We think we finally have an answer to the age old question: Who is the most essential character to the Marvel Universe?
This is a debate fans have been arguing about since well, the beginning. Who doesn’t love a good spirited debate about which hero could kick the most butt? We love those, too! But this is a little different. We’re trying to get to the center of a much more difficult problem. Who is the most essential Marvel character?
We have been arguing about this for weeks here at Gemr (yep, these are the kind of things we talk about on our lunch breaks), and we have finally come to a conclusion. Sure, there are some sore losers amongst us who keep telling us that we, the winners, are wrong, but they have reluctantly waved the white flag of defeat. So who is it? We’re sure you’re dying to know. We’ll get there, but first we need to talk about the runners up.
We Started with Spider-man, because that’s where you start with Marvel
Spider-man is the hands-down favorite for many Marvel fans. He’s also one of the biggest sellers when it comes to merch, and we think he has every right to be. This web slinger has been at the center of a huge number of epic plot lines, and has met just about everyone in the Marvel canon on more than one occasion. It’s hard not to like the guy — we all love rooting for an underdog. Spider-man is a guy who found himself with powers he didn’t know what to do with, and discovered quickly that inaction leads to people getting hurt.
So he stepped up and became the hero we all love. But, unlike a lot of Marvel’s billionaire heroes (we’re looking at you Iron Man), he still has to make a living. We appreciate how he struggles — with and without the mask. He is a quick-talking kid who just wants to do better for the world. We appreciate that. We can stand behind a hero who struggles with more than just his enemies.
We know he’s important because Marvel (or the people who had the rights to Spider-man) have rebooted Peter Parker more times than you could shoot a web at. Sure, there was an awesome chance to include Miles Morales in the MCU, but Marvel went with Peter Parker. Again (okay, we might still be a little bitter).
We get it. Spidey has a huge fan draw. He almost fits the bill. He sticks to his guns (and walls) and fights for what he believes in, but he doesn’t quite thwip it out of the park. Why? Because he isn’t the heart of Marvel. Yes, he draws a big crowd, and sells more toys than any other hero in the Marvel Universe. Sure, he has the most valuable comic in the Marvel roster (Amazing Fantasy #15), but that alone can’t make you the most essential character to the Marvel Universe. Sales aren’t everything when it comes to a character. He’s close, but not quite there.
Okay, we can admit when we are wrong — maybe Iron Man?
Iron Man saved Marvel. There, we said it. You might not like hearing it, but Robert Downey Jr. swept in and pulled Marvel out of a slow slump into obscurity. Comic book sales were down, and then Iron Man flew onto the scene with a charismatic actor to fill his heavy metal boots. Sure, diehard comic fans like us were still joyfully getting pulls from our LCS (Local Comic Shop), but comics weren’t drawing in new readers like they used to.
Iron Man changed that. He was a “second rate” hero — not saying he was bad by any means, but until 2008, Iron Man wasn’t really on anyone’s pull list. When the first Iron Man movie arrived, people got hyped for comics again. Comic shops saw increased sales, and people couldn’t get enough of the smug billionaire and his red and gold suit. And this egomaniac gets to keep his ego, because he revitalized the industry.
We love him. We can’t get enough of the slick suit and the moral quandary he faces being a superhero who is open about his identity with the public. Sure he’s kind of a jerk, but his heart (or is it arc reactor?) is in the right place. He would sacrifice himself in an instant to save others, and for that, we have to give him mad props.
But revitalizing the industry doesn’t give you the right to be called the most essential character to Marvel. Sure, he did great things, but he doesn’t sit at the center of canon and he really doesn’t help keep the rest of the heroes on track. Once again we get close, but we don’t quite get there. He is an amazing character, and deserves mad respect for what he’s done for comics in the last decade, but we just can’t place him at the top of the pile.
So we thought “Hmmm, what about Stan Lee?”
Alright, just hear us out. Sure he doesn’t play a role in the comics like he does in the MCU. But might we suggest that he does? Stan Lee created (or helped to create) a huge number of the Marvel cast of characters, including everyone on this list. He also helped created Hulk, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, The X-Men, and Daredevil. He, along with Jack Kirby, made Marvel the comic powerhouse it is today. His stories resonate with fans young and old. He was editor-in-chief in his 20’s and has a career that spans 70 years in the comics industry. There are many people who say he’s still one of the hardest working men in fandom as he makes a point to visit as many Comic Cons as he can to meet with fans. The man is 95 years old and still visits fans!
Stan Lee also challenged censorship in comics from the Comics Code Authority. There was a time when the Comics Code Authority nearly killed the comics industry. They found the plots too violent and the art too graphic for children (think of the children!). They controlled the industry with an iron fist (or should we say an iron “censored” bar?) which crippled creativity and severely limited what comics producers could do. His work, along with the work of many others, eventually led them to update their policies, allowing more freedom for comics publishers to do as they wanted.
He is an almost mythological figure to comic fans everywhere, and he loves what he does. Stan is one of our heroes, and we idolize him. So perhaps we are a little biased here. Maybe we’re reaching so that we have another excuse to talk about one of the greatest men in comics. We’re also really stretching the definition of character, aren’t we? Alright, alright, you’re right.
He can’t be the most essential character because, while he created the universe, now the world he began has been passed into the hands of new and amazing artists and writers. He is a benevolent creator and we can’t fan-flail enough about him, but we need to answer the question at hand. Stan Lee, at least in the modern world, isn’t the central figure in the universe.
So that must mean the TRUE answer is…
You let us work through why three of the most potent characters in the Marvel Universe aren’t the most essential character, and now we get the joy of the big reveal. The answer? The first character Stan Lee created in his early years at Timely Comics…
Now let us explain (before you complain) about favoring the patriotic hero — or start telling us we were wrong about Spider-man from the start. We think we can make you see our side. The first Avenger came into a world plagued by WWII, and was created by the child of Jewish immigrants. Captain America was created for the purpose of punching Nazis and defending those who can’t defend themselves. He was given a shield as his primary weapon, a symbol of the newly born hero’s devotion to protecting the innocent. This hero could do what many Americans couldn’t do directly — he could take on evil and win.
His was the story of a scrawny boy who wasn’t good enough for the military. He could hardly even protect himself, until he gets turned into the perfect man and the perfect soldier. Despite his incredible new physique, Steve Rogers never forgets his roots. He always stands up for the little guy and he always fights for what he perceives as right. That is incredible. Even with the super-soldier serum, he’s still the same man he was before.
He has long been the moral center of the Marvel Universe and we have incredible respect for that responsibility. In a world of near demigods and technological wonders, he draws a line in the sand to protect, never destroy. He has fought alongside almost every hero in the universe, and he is one of the few men worthy enough to lift Mjolnir. Not only that, but even DC recognizes his strength. Batman himself acknowledged that Captain America could beat him under the right circumstances. That alone should give you a clue as to exactly how good Captain America is. He always does what’s right and never falters — which explains why fans were so pissed at the Secret Empire storyline.
By now we’re sure you probably know the controversy, but in case you dont: they made Captain America a member of Hydra. The man who was created to stamp out Nazis…became a Nazi. The entire fanbase revolted against the idea with such vehemency that it was almost unbelievable. Sure, it turned out to be an evil clone, but that doesn’t make it any better. They told fans this was the real Cap, and that’s not cool. Captain America means something so deeply to fans that they couldn’t even begin to accept the idea. You know a character is central when a storyline exploring the “what if” draws that much negative press.
Captain America has been, and will continue to be, at the heart of the Marvel Universe. Without him, a lot of characters through the ages would have made decisions that could have ended their world. Heck, even after Secret Empire, people still unwaveringly defend the hero. He stands at the very center of the universe, and we stand by our choice. Captain America is the most essential character to the Marvel Universe.