When you think of comics, it’s the brightly-colored superheroes that usually come to mind, as it should be. They’re symbols of hope and inspiration. They’re icons of all that we want to be, and maybe one day can be.
But there are other characters as well, ones of equal importance. There are the regular Joes that didn’t get bitten by radioactive spiders or become test subjects for mad scientists. They are the men and women on the street that often have the back of the guy in spandex. Some of them are the bane of our hero’s existence, others are there to offer a word of advice at the right moment and quietly influence history.
Here are some of the finest "regular" people of the Marvel universe, the 17 Best Marvel Characters That AREN'T Superheroes or Supervillains.
17 Robbie Robertson
If ever Peter Parker/Spider-Man needed a guy in his corner, it was probably Robbie Robertson. As the number 2 at the Daily Bugle, Robbie was often seen beside his boss J. Jonah Jameson during the early days of Spider-Man’s career. When J. Jonah Jameson was on the rampage, determined to paint the wall-crawler as the villain, Robbie was there to provide another perspective.
If Spider-Man foiled a robbery, Jonah would say he was in on it. Robbie was often the quiet voice at the Bugle prepared to view the evidence objectively and provide a different point of view; usually a far more accurate one.
At times, Robbie would be there for Peter as well. Unaware of Peter’s dual identity, but aware that Peter didn’t have a father, Robbie would often provide some sage advice to the promising young man. Due to his role as a veteran news man, he’s often been in the background of some of Spider-Man’s greatest stories. While he may never be the headline star, he’s often been at the center of action over the years.
16 Senator Robert Kelly
Usually seen as an antagonist to the mutant heroes of the X-Men, Senator Robert Kelly was a man on a crusade. A human, he was one of the first high-profile politicians to see the dangers of an emerging super-powered population.
Coming to prominence during the seminal “Days of Future Past” storyline, Senator Kelly was the subject of an assassination attempt by Mystique and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. They felt that his support for a Mutant Registration Act would bring about harsh changes for the mutant population. They were opposed by the X-Men, along with a time-travelling Kitty Pryde. Kitty had come from a future timeline where Kelly’s assassination led to a series of events where The Sentinels were commissioned to destroy the mutants, but instead enslaved the whole of humanity.
Despite being saved, Robert Kelly maintained his harsh stance against mutants for many years. He would eventually soften his views after some philosophical debates with the mutant Cable. Tragically, he would die during a run for president. Had he been elected, the sentinel programme may have been ended for good. It’s entirely possible that human/mutant relations died with him.
15 Henry Peter Gyrich
The quintessential G-man of the Marvel Universe, Henry Peter Gyrich has been at the centre of numerous events involving earth’s superhuman population. Never really an ally or an enemy, Henry Peter Gyrich is a man without his own motivations. He merely serves the government’s wishes, albeit with more than a little distrust of super powered individuals.
He’s often been seen to be heavily involved with oversight on Sentinel development, ensuring that the government has an effective deterrent against mutants. He is also the man responsible for ordering the Avengers limit themselves to seven member, ensuring they didn’t get too powerful.
During the Initiative, after the events of Civil War, Gyrich was instrumental in developing the Camp Hammond base where super-powered recruits were trained and processed. He used his political connections to cover up the death of initiative recruit MVP and organized a black-ops team to do the Initiative’s dirty work. When things went wrong, he was fired, but as a consummate G-Man, he was back before long.
Technically, Wong possesses a wide-ranging set of skills, including various magical abilities (when aided by Doctor Strange), but he’s far from a superhero. He may not be your “Average Joe” but Wong is certainly not the powerhouse that his master Doctor Strange is. Wong is simply content to live his life in service to Doctor Strange and has pledged his life to that cause, generally acting as his valet.
Wong is descended from a group of monks, the first-born of each member of his family served The Ancient One, the former Sorcerer Supreme of Earth’s dimension. When Wong became an adult, he journeyed to the US to serve Doctor Strange at the behest of his father. When Doctor Strange assumed his master’s role, Wong likewise assumed his father’s role as the personal valet of the Sorcerer Supreme.
Wong has been present during many important stories, but rarely enjoying the limelight. During Doctor Strange’s time with The New Avengers, Wong acted in much the same way as Jarvis had. He lacked Jarvis’ disposition and often became foul-mouthed when dealing with Spider-Man and Luke Cage. Despite this, he is trusted implicitly by almost everyone in the super-powered community and widely regarded as a man you can depend on.
13 Captain George Stacy
After Uncle Ben, Captain George Stacy of the NYPD is probably the closest thing to a father Peter Parker (Spider-Man) ever had. The father to Peter’s long-time girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, George is a veteran of the NYPD and one of the most respected men on the force, at least until his tragic death.
Despite being technically retired, George had kept a semi-active role in police matters and was called back into action during one of Doctor Octopus’ attacks. He quickly became an active supporter of Spider-Man, believing him to be a great hero, and one deserving of more respect than the media gave him. Upon meeting Peter Parker, he approved of him as a partner for his daughter, Gwen, appreciating that he made her very happy.
Eventually, he began to suspect that Peter and Spider-Man were one and the same, but kept his suspicions to himself. During a fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, he is crushed by falling debris while saving a child, as he dies, he reveals to Peter that he had known his identity for some time (something Peter had suspected anyway), and asks Peter to take care of Gwen. His final words, "Be good to her, son! Be good to her. She loves you so very much," would haunt Peter for the rest of his life…
12 Bob - Agent of Hydra
Bob is just a regular guy, looking for a paycheck. He only joined HYDRA because he wanted a regular salary and a decent dental plan. Despite being a total coward, and having no skills whatsoever, HYDRA took him. Given that Captain America beats the crap out of HYDRA goons on a daily basis, they probably need a certain amount of cannon fodder. Enter Bob.
Bob meets Deadpool during one of Deadpool’s zany adventures and is bullied into helping him break into a facility for him. Deadpool keeps him around, mainly because he finds beating up Bob funny, but also because at times he genuinely enjoys his company. Mainly he just enjoys sending Bob into harm’s way and watching the consequences.
Bob has, at times, tried acting tough. He’s talked to guys like Tombstone and Kingpin on Deadpool’s behalf, thinking that he’s got their respect due to his connection to Deadpool. He’s often mistaken and takes a beating, much to Deadpool’s amusement. While little more than a punchline, Bob is a humorous sidekick to Deadpool and does genuinely care about him, despite being bullied.
11 Stan Lee
Much like his cameos in the Cinematic Universe, Stan Lee has often popped up as a fictional version of himself in the comic books. The early in-universe explanation of this was that The Fantastic Four told Stan (and Jack Kirby) about their adventures, and Stan wrote about them, providing early financing for their escapades.
As the years have progressed, Stan has shown up less often. However, there have been many times where characters have borne an uncanny resemblance to him. Notably, when Luke Cage and Jessica Jones married, the priest was identical to Stan, despite not being named as such.
While the real Stan Lee may have stopped writing for Marvel many years ago, his legacy remains such that his image is sure to keep popping up by way of an homage for many years to come.
10 Phil Coulson
Like DC’s Harley Quinn, SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson began in another medium before crossing over to the comic books. In the case of Coulson, he began as a background character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His popularity was such that he quickly became incorporated into the comic books as the friend and colleague of Nick Fury Jr.
In his initial appearances in the “Battle Scars” limited series, Coulson was referred to by the nickname “Cheese” and is a soldier serving alongside his best friend “Marcus.” The two are drawn into the spy world of Nick Fury Sr after the events of “Fear Itself,” when Marcus’ mother is killed. Investigating a series of events, it’s determined that Marcus is in fact the illegitimate son of Nick Fury. When Nick Fury Jr takes his birth right as an agent of SHIELD, “Cheese” joins him. The final pages’ reveal that he is none other than Phil Coulson.
Phil Coulson has gone on to form a team similar to his TV counterpart, and is well on the way to becoming the definitive Agent of Shield.
9 Mary Jane Watson
Few non-powered characters have appeared in as many comic books as Mary Jane. As the off-and-on love interest of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, she is often more than just a damsel in distress.
While she has dated other people over the years, she has more or less always loved Peter. She was part of his group of friends when he dated Gwen Stacy through college, and consoled him when Gwen died. The two would, eventually, fall in love and marry. However, their happiness would be shattered several times.
Harry Osborn’s death and revenge from beyond the grave put a strain on their marriage. Mary-Jane’s career often suffered due to her choices and the marriage would often be tested due to this. Peter’s role as Spider-Man often meant that his income was low, and he struggled to feel like the man in the relationship when MJ began to earn much more than him.
Despite this, they stayed together and made things work for quite some time. The biggest, and most painful, test of the marriage came during the infamous “Clone Saga.” Mary Jane had fallen pregnant, and Peter had for a time abandoned his role as Spider-Man and left it to his clone, Ben. They moved out of the city, and for an agonizingly short time, they seemed happy. It wouldn’t last.
Due to the machinations of (the surprisingly alive) Norman Osborn, Mary Jane would go into labour without Peter at her side. Giving birth, MJ was told that the baby had died. Both she and Peter were devastated. They separated, but eventually came together once more.
After their home was destroyed, MJ and Peter moved into Stark Tower. This would not last long as Peter’s life was forever changed due to the events of Civil War. Giving up his secret identity, a hitman shot and almost killed his Aunt May. Their lives on the brink of total disaster, Peter and MJ were given the choice to make changes to the timeline by the demon Mephisto. They could save Aunt May, and Peter’s identity would once more be made secret. The cost of such an act was especially high, their marriage would be erased, it simply would never have happened.
MJ would be the only one, besides Peter, still aware of his dual identity. But with their love forever gone, it remains to be seen if the two will ever be able to reunite.
8 Ben Urich
Everything J. Jonah Jameson is, Ben Urich isn’t. He’s a quiet, but incredible reporter. Dedicated to the truth, he doesn’t let his personal feelings get in the way of investigating what really happened.
He’s crossed swords with everyone from The Kingpin to Iron Man and has never let his fear for his personal safety stop him uncovering the things those in power would rather not see the light of day. One of his greatest moments came when investigating Norman Osborn during the “Dark Reign” storyline. Not just going up against a powerful madman, he investigated the abuse of power in the highest levels of the US government and aided in shifting public opinion of Osborn, ultimately leading towards his downfall. While the heroes rejoiced, and reclaimed their status as the protectors of humanity, Ben simply returned to his typewriter and went about his business.
7 Gwen Stacy
Remembered more these day as the girl who died, Gwen was for many years the one true love of Peter Parker’s life. The daughter of police Captain George Stacy, Gwen was a fellow science major at ESU alongside Peter. Despite being attracted to him, he was distracted by the other aspects of his life and she dated both Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn. When Peter dropped MJ for being too shallow, he almost immediately began dating Gwen.
Finding the beginnings of an extended family with Gwen and her father George, Peter began to consider building a life with Gwen. Their relationship was strained when George died, and Peter’s guilt made him reconsider the relationship for a time. Despite leaving for Europe for a time, Gwen would eventually return and rekindle her romance with Peter.
Shortly after this, Gwen would be kidnapped by Norman Osborn and thrown off of the George Washington Bridge. Peter, as Spider-Man, tried to save her by slowing her fall with a web-line. Tragically, she was falling too fast and despite catching her, she died from a broken neck caused by whiplash.
Her death is one of the defining moments in comic books. It heralded a shift from the family friendly comic books to a darker era where the bad guys were really BAD and would happily come and kill you if they could.
Besides this, Gwen is often remembered as more than just a love-interest, and fans still debate as to whether it’s Gwen or Mary Jane that’s truly the love of Peter Parker’s life.
6 J. Jonah Jameson
Another supporting character from the Spider-Man books, J. Jonah Jameson is almost as recognisable as the wall-crawler himself. Often at odds with Spider-Man, feeling that the hero is a fame-hungry menace and not the hero his son, John Junior (an Astronaut), is.
Little does he suspect that the quiet, geeky, freelance photographer Peter Parker is in fact the superhero. He even pays for pictures of Spider-Man for years, from the man himself. Despite often being depicted as a mean-spirited skinflint; J Jonah Jameson is also a man that cares. He’s a dedicated newspaperman that believes in reporting the truth. Even if his dislike of Spider-Man distorts his views of what the truth is sometimes.
He’s, at times, been financially supportive to Peter Parker. Seeing potential in the young man, he has occasionally allowed him to have an advance on his wages. Despite claiming not to like him, Jonah has gone out of his way to defend Spider-Man if he feels that it is right to do so. This hasn’t happened often though.
During his time as Mayor of New York City, Jonah spent millions on an Anti-Spider Patrol. A huge fleet of mecha suits, designed to incapacitate Spider-Man if need be. This appears to be a huge waste of money until the “Spider Island” incident, where 99% of New Yorkers are transformed into giant spiders and the Anti-Spider Patrol in instrumental in ending the crisis. Later, when Otto Octavius is in control of Peter’s body, he blackmails Jonah into supporting his ever more violent methods, once again souring the relationship between the two men.
Jonah is no longer the mayor, but has returned to his roots in the media and now fronts a TV show where he continues to harass Spider-Man. It remains to be seen what the future holds for him, but J. Jonah Jameson will no doubt continue to be present in Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s lives for many years to come.
Edwin Jarvis is as much the heart and soul of the Avengers as both Iron Man and Captain America. Cinemagoers will be more familiar with Jarvis being the A.I that would become the basis for The Vision, but comic books fans will no doubt be aware that Jarvis is the man that runs Avengers Mansion (or Avengers Tower) and provides support for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Jarvis was the Butler to the wealthy Stark Family, and stayed on after their deaths. He often provided support to the young Tony Stark. When Tony became Iron Man, and formed the Avengers, Jarvis became the butler to the new team. While he doesn’t participate in missions, Jarvis has gone head to head with villains on a number of occasions. When the Masters of Evil attacked the mansion and incapacitated the Avengers, it was the elderly Jarvis that stood against them and led the fight back.
He has been one of the few people to remain with the Avengers for more or less their entire existence, not even Captain America can hold that distinction. He has also been the primary babysitter to both Franklin Richards and Danielle Cage when they lived with the Avengers.
4 Maria Hill
Described by Joe Quesada as “A force of nature.” Upon her introduction in 2005, Maria Hill was introduced as a successor to Nick Fury as the acting director of SHIELD. An outsider, she had no links to the super-powered community or Fury loyalists and was seen as someone who wouldn’t rock the proverbial boat (or Helicarrier). Despite this, she eventually began to earn the respect of the Avengers in particular. When Norman Osborn replaced Tony Stark as the director of SHIELD, Maria went rogue and ended up crashing into the battle of Asgard with nothing more than a bazooka and a kid she had press ganged into helping out. If anyone had ever doubted her credentials or loyalty, that moment cemented her reputation.
When Captain America reformed The Avengers in the wake of the Superhuman Registration Act being revoked, he placed Maria Hill in charge of assigning missions. If Cap vouches for you, pretty much everyone else just falls in line.
3 Foggy Nelson
Frankin “Foggy” Nelson is generally depicted as the sidekick to Matt Murdock A.K.A Daredevil. Initially, Foggy was portrayed as a deeply conflicted character, continuously caught between his strong vocational disagreements with Matt, their rivalry for the affections of Karen Page, and his loyalty to his friend. Despite being a highly successful lawyer, he is also tormented by feelings of inferiority to his law partner. However, since the early 1980s he has often been reduced to comic relief, and his down-to-earth, everyman lifestyle acts as a contrast to his grim superhero colleague, who, in the early decades of the series, was the happy-go-lucky element of the team.
Foggy didn’t discover Matt’s secret identity for many years, never suspecting that his blind colleague could be the hero Daredevil. When he eventually does, he steps up and reaffirms his friendship and begins to understand why Matt has involved their firm in matters of superheroics over the years. His preference had always been corporate law, but he eventually decides to aid Daredevil in pursuing justice via legal means.
While still being reduced to comic relief, he is a gifted lawyer in his own right. Few characters have endured the personal tragedies and heart breaks that Foggy has, and yet still maintained their cheerful dispositions.
2 Aunt May
May Reilly Parker-Jameson, more commonly known as “Aunt May”, is the Aunt and mother figure to Peter Parker A.K.A The Amazing Spider-Man. A major supporting character from the very beginning, Aunt May has been central to transforming the face of superhero comics for decades. Prior to Spider-Man, most heroes were almost like gods. Their troubles usually being centered on their battles with super villains. When Spider-Man came along in 1962, he was merely a teenaged boy living with his frail Aunt.
They struggled with money, and May’s desire to see her nephew go to college was relatable for hundreds of thousands of fans. In the early years of his superhero career, Peter feared for May's well-being and the fatal shock that he believed would result if she ever learned about his dual identity as Spider-Man. Consequently, Peter often anguished over dealing with major crises while his aunt needed nearly constant care.
May would eventually learn of Peter’s dual identity after he was almost beaten to death by Morlun. She struggled to accept that he had lied to her for so many years, but they overcame the deception and grew stronger than ever. As a result of the universal mind wipe that erased all knowledge of Peter being Spider-Man, May retains none of this knowledge.
May has eventually remarried J. Jonah Jameson’s father, Jay. This has made Jonah and Peter family, much to their mutual annoyance.
Over the years, May has become depicted as being increasingly younger. Initially a very elderly woman in at least her late 70s, she is now seen as vibrant and active, more like a woman in her fifties. There has been little in-universe to explain this.
1 Uncle Ben
While generally only appearing in back-story, Uncle Ben is easily one of the most well-known characters on this list. His wisdom, even years after his death, still guides Spider-Man to this day.
Ben Parker is the brother to Peter Parker’s father, Richard. When Richard died, Ben and his wife, May, raised Peter. They had never had a child, and loved Peter as if he was their own. Ben was keen to impart wisdom onto Peter to balance the boy’s inclination toward academia. He coined the immortal phrase “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,” a line Spider-Man uses to this day.
Ben was unaware that Peter had developed super powers and was pursuing a career as a professional wrestler. One night, Peter had the opportunity to stop a thief but failed to do so claiming that it wasn’t his problem. When he got home that night, he discovered his home had been burgled and his beloved Uncle Ben had been killed. When he used his powers, and in costume, to find the killer, he was shocked to discover it was the man that he had failed to apprehend previously. The guilt and shame he felt encouraged him to give up using his powers for selfish reasons and dedicate himself to using his gifts for the betterment of the world. His Uncle Ben’s “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” line forever in his mind from then on.
In a universe of thousands of fictional characters, there are some amazing background characters that have helped shape the Marvel Universe. If we’ve missed some that are especially great, tell us about them in the comments!