They may not be able to lift a bus using only their minds or shoot energy from their eyes, but Marvel’s merry martial artists have proved many times over that they can hold their own in a fight. Indeed, many of these guys have thrown down with the biggest and baddest that the Marvel Universe has to offer, and have often come out on top.
From masters of Kung-Fu to Super-Soldiers, the house of ideas has created some of the most bad-ass fighters out there.
Here’s our take on the 15 Best Martial Artists in Marvel Comics
15 15. Hawkeye
Introduced as a reluctant villain, Hawkeye (Clint Barton) quickly joined the Avengers and has been one of the backbones of the team ever since. Despite not having any superpowers, save a brief spell when he used Pym Particles to become Goliath, Hawkeye is often one of the Avengers that takes the lead in a sticky situation.
As a master archer, Hawkeye is often seen taking down foes from a distance using either conventional or trick arrows, laced with explosives or other tactical weapons such as EMPs. While archery is a martial art in itself -- and he is the undisputed master of it in the Marvel world -- he is also a skilled combatant with other weapons too, having trained with the best in the world as an Avenger. During his time under the guise of “Ronin,” he gave up archery for a spell and relied on a combination of swords, nun chucks, and conventional firearms. His skills were such that he dispatched the likes of Venom, Bullseye, and Daken in short order.
The daughter of notorious criminal Willy “Crazy Horse” Lincoln, Maya Lopez was raised by his partner in crime (and unknown to her, murderer) Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin. Kingpin persuaded Maya that Daredevil killed her father, prompting her to train vigorously in order to avenge her father and eliminate the Man Without Fear.
Maya was born deaf and was initially thought to be mentally disabled. Upon discovering that she in fact had photographic reflexes and could mimic the movements of any individual she sees, she was sent to an exclusive academy and trained as a gymnast, eventually reaching world-class levels.
Upon taking the name Echo, she battles Daredevil. Having watched newsreels of him fighting Bullseye, she is well aware of his moves and actually manages to defeat him. But when she finally learns the truth about her father’s death, she turns on the Kingpin and becomes a hero instead.
13 Moon Knight
While the mentally-unstable Moon Knight (Marc Spector) has superhuman strength depending on the lunar cycle, his martial arts skills remain constant at all times. As a former professional boxer, U.S. Marine, mercenary, and costumed crime-fighter, Moon Knight has a vast skill set when it comes to armed and unarmed combat.
His mental instability makes him incredibly difficult to fight, as his moves are often erratic and unpredictable. Taskmaster (who we'll get to in a bit) has stated on numerous occasions that although he is able to duplicate Moon Knight’s fighting techniques, he prefers not to, as Moon Knight would rather take a punch than block one and puts himself at greater risk than he needs to.
Though Moon Knight is known for his use of moon-themed weapons, he is also skilled in the use of many traditional throwing weapons such as darts and throwing stars. While his accuracy isn’t quite at the levels of marksmen like Hawkeye or Bullseye, his overall combat prowess places him above each of those highly skilled fighters.
X-23 (Laura Kinney) is a female clone of Wolverine, trained from infancy in duplicating the fighting skills of her “Father.” In the facility where she was grown and raised, she was indoctrinated to follow orders to kill and subjected to violent images in order to make her the perfect killing machine.
In addition to having the same mutant powers as Wolverine (Healing, Enhanced Senses, Strength etc.), Laura also has a retractable claw in each foot which gives her an unexpected edge when in combat. Due to having the appearance of a young woman, she’s often underestimated, giving her another vital edge.
When Wolverine died, it was X-23 that succeeded him as the All-New Wolverine and donned a costume similar to his, vowing to live up to his legacy. Could something similar be in the works on the big screen?
Batroc The Leaper (Georges Batroc) is a master of Savate, a brutal form of Kickboxing. While he has no superpowers, he has regularly gone toe to toe with Captain America and has on occasion even defeated him.
While his arrogance is legendary, it’s not unfounded. His skills, coupled with his lack of ethics or pity, make him an exceptional fighter. His reputation is such that when Cap first fought him, he was delighted to discover that old Glamour Pants had heard of him.
Years of working as a mercenary, coupled with his natural athleticism, have made Batroc one of the most respected fighters in the Marvel Universe, and one of the first people the bad guys call when looking for an assassin. He’d probably be number one if he wasn’t so utterly dislikeable.
Often called “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe,” Gamora lives up to her reputation as a fearsome warrior. Trained from infancy by her father, The Mad Titan Thanos, she was physically augmented to be the ultimate warrior/assassin.
While she no longer associates with Thanos and now works alongside the Guardians Of The Galaxy, Gamora still manages to find conflict wherever she goes. When the extra-dimensional “Angela” fell from Heaven, she and Gamora initially fought as enemies. While they eventually became good friends, the two proved to be nearly evenly matched.
Gamora generally favors bladed weapons, such as a pair of twin short-swords, though she's also skilled in exotic firearms and weapons from all over the universe. Even unarmed, she can go toe-to-toe with some of the most powerful entities in the Marvel Universe due to a combination of her powers and he near-limitless skill set.
9 Black Panther
The genius mind of Tony Stark in the body of Steve Rogers would be considered a perfect combination by many, and it summarizes the Black Panther perfectly. His athletic prowess is enhanced to the peak of human potential via the consumption of a heart-shaped herb that is only eaten by the regent of the isolated African nation of Wakanda.
Black Panther is a master of most forms of African martial arts, as well as many other disciplines he has trained in since spending more time away from Wakanda. During his association with The Avengers, he has trained with Captain America and the two men have learned many of each other’s skills.
During later volumes of his comic book series, he has taken to using energy blades, which he throws with lethal accuracy. For a time, he also used the Ebony Blade, which previously belonged to the Black Knight. The sword, capable of cutting through nearly anything, was used with such proficiency that he managed to disable Iron Man with it without mortally wounding him.
The daughter of Hugo Natchios, Elektra was trained in self-defense by a sensei at the insistence of her brother, Orestez. After her father was gunned down when she was 19, she left New York to travel the world. Initially, she studied martial arts in China and came under the tutelage of Stick, the leader of the benevolent Chaste. He sensed her inner darkness and hoped to guide her towards the light. She sided with the enemies of the Chaste, The Hand, and became a lethal Ninja assassin.
Breaking away from The Hand, she became a mercenary for hire and eventually the number one assassin for the Kingpin. Over the years, her skills have grown, and despite being killed at the hands of the assassin Bullseye, she was resurrected (as she likely will be on the small screen) and is now more lethal than ever.
While the movies tend to portray Wolverine as more of a berserker who relies on his healing power and Adamantium claws, in the comics, he’s highly trained in numerous forms of combat.
During his time training to be a samurai in Japan, Wolverine became a master in multiple martial arts. He showed particular skills in the use of bladed weapons such as swords, as he was unaware of the claws housed in his forearms at the time.
In addition to his skills as a swordsman, Wolverine became an expert in the use of pressure points, and can cripple a man simply by jabbing him in a certain part of the body. During a duel with Lord Shingen, a master swordsman of the highest order, Wolverine would have won had he not been poisoned by a Blowfish toxin.
His martial arts skills, coupled with his powers and Adamantium claws, make him one of the most dangerous men alive. When he was in his suped-up “Feral” form after Magneto tore out his skeleton, he even matched the Master of Kung Fu himself, Shang Chi.
6 The Cat
The Cat, Shen Kuei, is a freelance espionage agent (read: spy) originally from Hong Kong. Due to his morally ambiguous status, he has found himself both on the side of, and at odds with, The Master of Kung Fu, Shang Chi.
In many ways, he is the mirror image of Shang Chi. Whereas the latter is a “good guy” with the tendencies of a “bad guy”, The Cat is a “bad guy” who isn’t exactly evil. While he engages in criminal activity, he isn’t what you'd call a supervillain and harbors no political agenda or desire to rule the world.
He possesses no superpowers, though he has been seen on occasion to be the equal of Shang Chi in combat. This could however be due to Shang Chi holding back, as he did not want to kill The Cat, whereas Shen Kuei may have been fighting at his limits.
The Cat tends to favor unarmed combat, but he's beyond lethal with a wide assortment of weaponry. He easily defeated and humiliated Deadpool -- who was armed to the teeth with swords and firearms at the time -- and is considered lethal by most in the Marvel Universe.
The Inhuman Karnack never underwent Terrigenesis like many of his kind, therefore he possesses only the natural abilities of an Inhuman. Years spent training in an Inhuman monastery focused his mind and body to a razor edge. He has the “power” to sense the weak points, fracture planes, and stress points in people or objects. In sensing a weak point, his martial arts training allows him to strike with pinpoint accuracy, disabling any adversary.
Beyond mere combat prowess, he has focused this ability to sense the weakness in logic, arguments, and situations. He noted at one stage that he could sense Hank Pym’s spiritual weaknesses had improved after a period of personal growth. He has even recently shown that he could sense a weakness in the afterlife, allowing him to return from the dead. A perfect example of training and mental focus triumphing over raw power, Karnak is a living weapon that few can defeat.
The Taskmaster (Tony Masters) has the ability to mimic the fighting style of any combatant merely by observing them. This “photographic reflex” allowed him to watch recordings of various heroes -- such as Captain America, Black Panther, The Swordsman, and Hawkeye -- and master all their skills.
He initially used this skill set to commit various crimes, usually simple larceny. He had not anticipated how dangerous being a criminal was, and after a few close calls, decided to use his skill set to train other aspiring criminals into professionals, aiming to become a supplier of top-tier henchmen to criminals around the world.
While he still trains henchmen, he does take on mercenary and assassination work also. His skill set means he learns new moves whenever his enemies do. so he's continuously becoming more and more powerful as time goes on.
3 Captain America (Steve Rogers)
When the U.S. government turned weak Steve Rogers into the Super-Soldier Captain America, they did more than simply enhance his physique. Before sending him into combat on the front-lines, they trained him with the best soldiers the allies had, including masters in martial arts such as Judo.
During the years since he woke up in modern times, Steve Rogers has increased his skill set to incorporate numerous martial arts such as Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and Kung Fu.
While his skills in Kung Fu do not rival Shang Chi’s, the two are of equal enough skill set to spar with each other and learn from each other. Steve Rogers later commented that he learned a ton from Shang Chi, even though he had to endure multiple injuries in the process.
2 Iron Fist
Iron Fist (Danny Rand) is the son of Wendell Rand, a wealthy industrialist who as a young man discovered the mystical city of K’un-L’un. On an expedition to rediscover the city when Danny was young, Wendell and his wife Heather were killed. Danny was saved by the inhabitants of the city and taken to the ruler of K’un-L’un, Yu-Ti. The ruler sensed Danny’s thirst for vengeance against his father’s friend Harold Meachum, who had caused his parent’s death, and sent him to be apprenticed to Lei Kung (The Thunderer) in the martial arts.
Danny becomes Lei Kung’s greatest student, and at 19, he's given the chance to possess the power of the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. After he defeats the dragon, taking on his trademark mystic tattoo in the process, Danny plunges his hands into a brazier containing the creature’s molten heart.
Danny then has the power to focus his life force or “Chi” into his fists, making them into a thing of iron. When he strikes a solid object, he can deliver superhuman strength into it in addition to his other martial arts skills. In addition to his “iron fists,” his speed, senses, and agility are all enhanced to near super-human levels.
Iron Fist is also able to focus his mind to such a degree that he can heal his body at a far faster rate than normal as well as telepathically join his mind with that of another person. He has even used his Chi to calm an angry mob, a skill he tells Spider-Man would take a decade to teach him.
Iron Fist is set to become the greatest fighter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he makes his debut in 2017 (or possibly sooner), though he may not hold the mantle for long.
1 Shang Chi
Should rumors prove true, the man that we believe to be the greatest martial artist in all of Marvel Comics could soon find his way into the MCU as well.
Shang Chi is the son of legendary criminal mastermind Fu Manchu and was trained in the martial arts from infancy by both his father and his various senseis. When he discovered his father was not the benevolent man he believed, but an arch-criminal, he rebelled against him and became a hero and secret agent for MI6.
While he has none of the superpowers that many of his friends and allies have, Shang Chi is regarded as the greatest empty handed fighter in the world due to a lifetime of dedicated study of the craft. His title as the “Master of Kung Fu” is rarely questioned by his foes. Even The Cat, his fiercest rival, respects Shang Chi’s incredible skills.
While the full extent of his skills set has never been concretely defined, he has been seen to focus his chi to the level that he can dodge bullets from machine guns and deflect bullets with his metal bracelets. He is also a master of various hand weapons such as swords, staves, and shuriken.
Fingers crossed we'll get to see him in action on the small screen sooner rather than later.
Who do you believe to be the greatest martial artist in the Marvel Universe? Did we leave off any obvious candidates for the belt? Sound off in the comments section.