One of the best weapons to have against the forces of evil is a keen mind. Out-thinking an enemy is often more important than out-punching them, a lesson that super-strong heroes such as Hulk and Thor often have to learn the hard way.
Back in the 1960s, a lot of superheroes were scientific geniuses that developed super powers via exposure to whatever exotic materials they happened to be working with, beginning the trend of genius, costumed crime-fighters. Other gifted good guys simply build themselves a nice new suit, or create their own superpowers. Of course, the concept of people using their smarts to solve crimes predates this trend by decades, but we’ll get to that eventually.
Taking a look at the smartest superheroes to ever don a pair of tights, here’s our 15 Smartest Superheroes in Comics History.
Please note: this list omits androids and gods as their minds cannot be accurately measured against humans.
16 Barbara Gordon – Oracle/Batgirl
Everything Batman can do, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) can do, too. She even looks good doing it. While the caped crusader is easily one of DC’s sharpest minds, his protégé has used brains over brawn just as often.
While Barbara has always been an incredible super hero in her own right, it was during her time as Oracle that she really shone as a genius. After being paralyzed by the Joker during The Killing Joke storyline, Barbara gave up the persona of Batgirl. She moved to a more behind-the-scenes role as Oracle and served as a knowledge base for the Birds of Prey, and even Batman has gone to her for information on numerous occasions. Her computer hacking skills, for instance, are vastly superior to his own.
Since the New 52 reboot, Barbara has had her mobility restored and has returned to her role as Batgirl. What hasn’t changed is her intellectual approach to crime fighting.
15 Peter Parker – Spiderman
Everyone knows that Peter Parker was bitten by an irradiated spider while on a trip to a lab during high school. What is sometimes forgotten is that Peter was a prodigy even back then with an IQ which matched Reed Richard’s (Mr Fantastic) before he was old enough to shave.
When Peter gained his powers and began the life of a crime-fighter, he used his technological knowledge to build his web-shooters and other paraphernalia. However, he was often held back from making any scientific advances by his responsibilities as Spider-Man.
All that changed after Peter hit the big time and scored a job at Horizon labs. His knowledge of exotic technologies, gained over the years as Spider-Man, combined with a state-of-the-art lab allowed for breakthrough after breakthrough.
After returning from the dead and discovering that Otto Octavius (Doctor Octopus) had built a tech company using his identity, Peter defied expectations and took control of the company and turned Parker Industries into a scientific and economic powerhouse to rival Stark Industries.
14 Ray Palmer – The Atom
Another example of the 1960s trend for genius scientists becoming superheroes, Ray Palmer was experimenting with matter compression as a solution for issues of overpopulation, famine, and other problems in the world.
Using the matter of a dwarf star to create a lens capable of shrinking matter, he discovers that said matter will explode in short order. Forced to use the lens on himself during a spelunking accident, Ray discovers that the materials in the cave he is in saved him from exploding and he is able to return to his normal size without incident.
Using his scientific genius, he builds various technological marvels which utilize size-altering technology and becomes the size-shifting super hero The Atom. A member of various incarnations of the Justice League, including the often hilarious Justice League International, The Atom became a key figure in the DC universe.
His recent appearance in Young Justice may have been small (excuse the pun) but it was significant in furthering various plot points. His much larger (sorry) role in the Arrowverse has given him greater prominence, especially in Legends of Tomorrow. His scientific genius, and desire to do great things, makes him a cornerstone of any team he finds himself in.
13 Amadeus Cho
Above average just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the mind of Amadeus Cho. He’s often credited as the 7th smartest person in the world (of Earth 616) and excels in almost every single academic discipline.
When he was fifteen, he entered a seemingly innocent academic competition for gifted youths such as himself. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of his life being altered forever. Easily winning the competition, he came to the attention of Pythagoras Dupree, the secret mastermind behind the competition and, by his own reckoning, 6th smartest person in the world. Pythagoras Dupree created the competition to smoke out other young geniuses and then eliminate them as he saw them as his competition. Dupree killed Cho’s family, but Amadeus himself escaped and took to the road with only a stray coyote pup for company. It was during this period that he came into contact with another genius, The Hulk. Hulk saw in him a kindred spirit and the two became unlikely friends.
Despite having no physical powers, Cho was a key player during World War Hulk when he reunited Angel and Hercules and formed a short-lived incarnation of The Champions. After World War Hulk was over, Cho became friends with Hercules with the two of them forming a team of Earth’s gods to battle the Skrull Gods, thereby helping to end the Skrull invasion of Earth. Further adventures, including becoming a member of Hank Pym’s Mighty Avengers, ensued and Cho discovered that his mind was a form of natural hyper computer.
Eventually, Cho would use nanotechnology to remove the excess radiation from The Hulk, absorbing it into his own body, in turn becoming the all-new, Totally Awesome Hulk.
12 Henry McCoy – Beast
A founding member of the X-Men and the first to graduate Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. Henry McCoy already possessed mutant gifts of strength and agility but decided to pursue science over super-heroics and took a job with the Brand Corporation as a research scientist. While working on a catalyst for mutant powers, he experimented on himself and transformed into his more familiar blue-furred form.
Becoming a superhero once more, he became a member of various super teams over the years including The Champions, Defenders, and most notably The Avengers where he befriended much of the team, most notably Wonder Man, who became one of his closest friends.
The Beast eventually re-joined the X-Men after the Muir Island incident and became their resident mad scientist, specialising in any and all aspects of science and engineering. His greatest challenges came due to the machinations of the madman Stryfe. Stryfe infected Charles Xavier with a techno-virus that Beast was unable to cure. Beast would have to accept help from the villain Apocalypse to save the life of his friend and mentor. His challenge wouldn’t end there, as Stryfe unleashed the Legacy Virus, a pox on all that carried mutant genes. Beast would spend years trying to cure it and his research helped Moira McTaggart to develop the final cure before her own untimely death.
While principally a geneticist, Henry McCoy has become an expert in numerous sciences due to his many extraordinary adventures.
11 Clark Kent – Superman
While most famous for his numerous physical powers, Superman is a genius by Earth standards and has the benefit of a Kryptonian education which is centuries ahead of anything on Earth. Thanks to the various resources of the Fortress of Solitude, Superman has conducted research into many of Earth’s scientific dilemmas, including research into a cure for cancer.
While Kryptonians are generally considered smart, Kal El is the son of Jor El, one of the most intelligent members of his race and Kal inherited his father’s genius. Due to Jor El’s foresight, when he built the rocket that saved his son and sent it to Earth, he put in crystals containing the total sum of Kryptonian knowledge up to that point. This knowledge, coupled with Superman’s natural genius, has made him one of the brightest minds in the DC universe.
As a side note, it has been theorised that Superman’s ability to learn at an accelerated rate is a side effect of his super-speed coupled with the fact that his body is constantly charged with solar energy. This solar energy means he doesn’t suffer the mental fatigue of a human and maintains peak levels of concentration at all times.
Neither a Marvel nor a DC hero, Megamind is a parody of both Superman and Lex Luthor, sharing similarities with both. Like Superman, he is evacuated from his doomed world as an infant and sent to Earth in a spaceship. Knocked off course by the ship of fellow evacuee (Metroman), from a nearby planet, they both make their way to Earth. Where Metroman is blessed with vast superpowers, good looks, charm, and seemingly endless good fortune, Megamind is a genius, but lacks Metro Man’s other attributes. Megamind becomes resentful, and much like Lex Luthor pours his genius into evil schemes and becomes a supervillain.
It is only when Megamind seemingly defeats Metro Man that he realises he has wasted his life. Growing bored, he attempts to create a new superhero to give his life meaning, but in doing so this new hero becomes a villain instead. Megamind, having grown fond of his city, as well as a gorgeous news reporter (a replica of Lois Lane), uses his genius as well as a gift for showmanship, to defeat the villain and become the hero he was always destined to be.
9 Hank Pym - Ant Man/Giant Man/etc.
Marvel’s answer to The Atom, Hank Pym is a genius scientist who discovers “Pym Particles” which give him the ability to shrink to the size of an ant. In time, he develops the ability to grow to giant proportions and alternates between the identities of Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket, and even The Wasp for a time.
While often called upon to do battle, Hank is often the resident scientist of The Avengers when Iron Man isn’t around. Not content to simply be an expert in the physics of mass/density alteration, Hank became an expert Bio-mechanic and granted Wasp her powers. Venturing into cybernetics and artificial intelligence, Hank crossed into dangerous territory and accidently created one of The Avengers greatest enemies, Ultron. The sentient A.I is one of The Avengers', and humanity's, greatest enemies and his existence has caused Hank’s already fragile mind to slip into severe depression on many occasions.
During a long period of reflection, self-improvement, and soul searching, Hank founded a team of Mighty Avengers and stood against Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign. It was during this time that he was dubbed Earth’s Scientist Supreme.
8 T'Challa - Black Panther
If Tony stark is a “Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist” T’Challa is all that and more. Besides being a legendary warrior, equal to Captain America, he is the King of Wakanda; an African nation of incredible wealth. His education is first-rate, and coupled with his natural genius, it makes him one of the smartest men in the world. Should T’Challa ever devote himself to science full-time he could potentially surpass Reed Richards as Earth’s number one mind. However, due to his time being dominated by his role as a world leader, he is often prevented from devoting his genius to a single pursuit.
T’Challa is a gifted statesman and his advice is often sought by numerous world leaders who appreciate that as both a king and a scientist, he has a world view that is worth listening to. While many of the superhero geniuses on this list are smart, T’Challa also has the wisdom of a Panther God backing him up.
7 Tony Stark - Iron Man
Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson combined couldn’t match the innovation and business acumen of Tony Stark. While most famous for the creation, and constant improvements to, the Iron Man armour, Tony Stark is a pioneer in many hard sciences and is the head of his own multi-national tech conglomerate.
While the Iron Man armour is impressive, his other advances are equally impressive. He developed Arc Reactor technology, a clean energy source, as well as having made massive advances in other areas such as artificial intelligence and aerospace technology.
Tony has often referred to himself as a Futurist. By which, he means that the way he thinks is such that he can intuit the future. While hardly precognition, he uses his uncanny gift to figure out the solutions to problems people don’t even realize they have yet. He credits this with his skill as an inventor, and he develops consumer technologies to fill gaps in the market that aren’t even there yet.
6 Adrian Veidt – Ozymandias
The smartest man in the Watchmen universe, Adrian Veidt was a genius from childhood. He deliberately decided to hide this and achieved only average grades throughout school. When his parents died he inherited a vast fortune, but choosing to achieve things on his own, he gave all the money to charity. He had idolized Alexander the Great, but on a vision quest he decided that Alexander was a poor man’s Ramesses II and idolized the Egyptian prince from that point on.
Becoming a superhero vigilante, Veidt gains a reputation as the smartest man in the world. However, the changes in the public perceptions of vigilantes encourages Veidt to disclose his identity and retire, while also marketing his image.
Despite gaining a reputation as an ethical man and a great humanitarian, he began a secret project to unite mankind against a common foe, believing that it would prevent a nuclear Armageddon he believed was inevitable.
5 Mister Terrific
When other kids were watching Sesame Street, Michael Holt was absorbing the works of the greatest minds on Earth. His genius appeared to cover all aspects of human intelligence and he quickly amassed 14 PHDs in numerous academic fields. Holt considers himself to have "a natural aptitude for having natural aptitudes" and picks up complex skills and abilities with great ease. Long before becoming a superhero, he had become a multi-millionaire as well as a gold-medal winning Olympic decathlete.
When his wife and unborn child died in an accident, Holt blamed himself and found a degree of absolution in becoming the second Mister Terrific and joining The Justice Society, eventually becoming its chairman.
His aptitudes allow him to easily master most forms of martial arts, making him a fearsome combatant. He combines this with knowledge of nanotechnology to develop a suit that can project T-Spheres which have a number of useful applications such as a computer, holographic projection unit, and projectile weapons.
4 Bruce Banner - Hulk
While The Hulk is known for being “The strongest one there is," his alter-ego of Bruce Banner is almost the smartest one there is, too. He is credited as having an IQ so high that it cannot accurately be measured.
Another child prodigy, Bruce Banner came from an unhappy home where he was abused by his father. He retreated into himself and read everything he could, feeling safe when studying. As a young man, he began working with gamma radiation on behalf of the U.S government, developing next-generation super weapons. His “Gamma-Bomb” was supposed to be an ultimate deterrent and the culmination of all his work. On the day it was being tested, Bruce saw a young man entering the test area and rushed to save him. While he saved the young man, Rick Jones, he was caught in the explosion himself and absorbed the lethal radiation that caused him to periodically turn into the most powerful physical force in the world.
During the few times that Banner has been able to control The Hulk, or even merge personalities with him, he has used his mind as effectively as The Hulk’s strength. Sadly, these periods are often far too brief, and Banner remains unable to use his mind as effectively as he wants.
3 Bruce Wayne – Batman
Had Bruce Wayne’s parents not been killed when he was a child, he’d be famous as a billionaire playboy as well as a creative genius. However, when he became the Batman, he began to train his mind as hard as his body and he became an expert in criminology, forensics, engineering, and numerous other disciplines.
While not the number one mind in any particular field, his sheer range of knowledge, coupled with his street smarts and tenacity make him rank so highly. Bruce appreciates that he cannot devote his time to his academic pursuits, so wisely uses the intelligence of others to help develop his technologies.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his genius is his legendary preparedness. Given enough time, there’s almost nobody he can’t defeat due to seemingly being prepared for any eventuality. Even his colleagues in the Justice League who vastly out-power him, respect that he can probably beat any of them as he can use their strengths against them or exploit even the smallest weaknesses.
2 Reed Richards - Mr Fantastic
The smartest man on ANY world, Reed Richards aka Mister Fantastic, has mastered time, space, interdimensional travel, and practically every other science known to man, as well as several that aren’t. while famously possessing a body that is stretchy and malleable, it is almost insignificant when compared to the power of his mind. First and foremost an explorer and a scientist, his super heroics take a backseat. Sadly, his family and friends are often at the back of his mind too, causing enormous strain on his marriage to his wife, Sue.
If not for the constant threats from Doctor Doom, Galactus, and the inhabitants of the Negative Zone, Reed could have most likely cured all the world’s problems by now. His expertise in physics, engineering, biology, and everything else could potentially allow him to find a solution to any problem.
Currently taking a break from the Marvel Universe, when Reed inevitably returns his mind will be sought after to come up with a solution to whatever peril the other heroes find themselves in.
1 Bonus Entries - Brainiac 5 and Sherlock Holmes
While including Brainiac 5 is, technically, cheating, no list on smart superheroes could be complete without him. His 12th-level intelligence towers above any of the heroes in the DC universe. How he’d compare with Reed Richards is debateable, but should the two ever crossover, the conversation would probably make Sheldon Cooper’s little mind explode!
As a second cheat, we pay a little tribute to Sherlock Holmes. While not a superhero in the traditional sense, his use of his intelligence to solve crimes is a clear influence on today’s heroes, most especially that other famous detective, Batman.
Is there anyone you feel should have made our list? Let us know in the comments!!