The superhero genre has grown and evolved over the years to become a thrilling, fantastic, and sometimes macabre part of the entertainment landscape. But what makes a superhero a superhero? What makes a hero a hero?
When we think of superheroes we usually think of caped crime fighters flying around the sky, fighting crime, saving damsels in distress, and living in the big city. However, not all of the world’s superheroes live in the city. In fact, some of the most famous superheroes from the movies are from a variety of countries around the world. And some of those superheroes aren’t even known for their crime fighting abilities. So, which are the best superheroes of all time? And who are the worst? We decided to find out.
BLU Scout: “I’ve killed plenty of Spies! They’re dime-a-dozen back-stabbin’ scumbags, like you! No offense…”
BLU Spy: “If you managed to kill them, I assure you they were not like me, and nothing…nothing… like the man loose inside this building.”
Team Fortress 2
Spies have always been popular in fiction. A good spy can destabilize a government, win a war, and change the world without anyone knowing they ever existed. Those with advanced technology and superpowers are more interesting.
So who are the top 5 superhero spies? I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you… Eh, what the hell, let’s find out.
Debut: Casino Royale
Played by: Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig, others
Elektra: “I could have given you the world.”
Bond: “The world is not enough.”
Elektra: “Foolish sentiment.”
Bond: “Family motto.”
The World is Not Enough
Everyone thinks of the same name when they hear the word “spy”. A dashing agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a license to kill. The most famous superhero spy is Bond, James Bond.
James Bond is an agent of MI-6, Britain’s premier spy agency. He travels the world, fighting terrorists and would-be conquerors like Dr. No, Ernst Blofeld, or the nefarious organization SPECTRE. Along the way, he often works alongside a gorgeous woman with an improbably sexual name.
As with many super spies, Bond has an arsenal of high-tech gadgets and weapons designed by Q (Desmond Lleweyen). He’s used explosive pens, jetpacks, a laser wristwatch, a gun disguised as a cigarette, and many more. The gadgets are fun, but Bond won’t go anywhere without his signature Walther PPK pistol and his tricked-out Aston Martin.
Bond would have been on our list except for one small problem: he’s a terrible spy. He constantly uses his real name on missions. Everything from his looks to his suits to his gear screams rich and flashy. Multiple villains have identified him on sight. Not to mention the sheer amount of havoc and property damage Bond leaves in his wake. James Bond may constantly save the world, but he needs remedial lessons at spy school.
Debut: Detective Comics #359
Played by Yvonne Craig and Rosario Dawson
Oracle: “You’ve escaped, and you think the world’s a huge place, and you can hide anywhere, right? I’m here to tell you… that world? I own it. Your world is getting smaller by the second. And you can’t hide anywhere from me. Every database, every security cam, and every police band has my fingerprints on it. Every moment you’re out the noose pulls tighter. And Savant, just in case it’s not crystal clear by now… Nobody messes with my partner.”
Birds of Prey #61
Not all superhero spies go into the field for missions. Some are far more dangerous behind a keyboard.
Barbara Gordon is the daughter of Gotham City’s police commissioner. She looked up to Batman and went to a costume party dressed as a female version of him. The party was attacked by a supervillain, who she stopped before Batman could get there. The incident inspired Barbara to become Batgirl.
Batgirl had a long career as a vigilante before being shot by The Joker in The Killing Joke. The bullet paralyzed her from the waist down. Unable to continue being Batgirl, Barbara became a hacker and information broker called Oracle. She became the de facto mission control for Batman’s allies and often helps coordinate the Justice League.
Oracle mixes her father’s detective training, Batman’s bleeding edge tech, and her own hacking experience to track down information. If it’s online, she can find it. If it isn’t, she can point a hero to where it will be. Only a handful of villains or outright technopaths can elude Oracle. The few who try to take her out in person quickly find that she’s no less of a fighter just because she’s in a wheelchair. Beat that, Bond.
Debut: Ms. Marvel #18
Played by Rebecca Romjin and Jennifer Lawrence
Mystique: I can see why Magneto thinks so highly of you. I bet you’re curious. I bet you’d love to know whether I was sent to watch you… to watch out for you… or to kill you.
Uncanny X-Men Vol. 4 #15
Espionage isn’t black or white. You can be a superhero spy or a super terrorist for the same action depending on the context. Mystique knows this lesson well.
No one knows where Mystique comes from. The only concrete details are that she’s named Raven Darkholme, has the ability to shapeshift, and is over one hundred years old. She rose to prominence by infiltrating the U.S. government and fighting Captain Marvel.
Mystique formed a new incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to hunt down anti-Mutant politicians. She fought the X-Men many times, eventually revealing that she was the mother of X-Men Nightcrawler and Rogue. Familial ties have rarely stopped this mother of the year from trying to kill them.
Mystique is one of the most powerful shapeshifters in the Marvel Universe. She can easily take someone else’s form and has learned tricks to prevent other Mutants from identifying her. Mystique can use her shapeshifting to heal herself and hide weapons. She has no compunction about using her forms to seduce or manipulate targets.
Debut: Legends #1
Played by C.C.H. Pounder and Viola Davis
Batman: “Who are you people?”
Waller: “That’s a national security matter. And if I were you, I wouldn’t probe the situation too closely, [whispers] rich boy.”
Justice League: Unlimited “Ultimatum” (Season 1, Episode 9)
There are plenty of superhero spies out there, but Amanda Waller is the only one who Batman fears.
Waller was once a housewife living in Chicago. Her children were killed by criminals and her husband died avenging them. Their deaths caused Amanda to believe that she could only rely on herself in the future. She became a government employee, eventually clawing her way into several black-ops projects.
Waller runs Task Force X, often called The Suicide Squad. She recruits some of the most dangerous villains in the DC universe, implants bombs in their heads, and sends them off on black-ops missions. If they try to run or ignore orders, their head goes boom.
Despite acting like a ruthless version of Bond’s M, Waller is more than capable of holding her own in a fight. Her will is strong enough to resist Maxwell Lord’s telepathy and she has fought off Granny Goodness, a god who can trade blows with Wonder Woman. Even more impressive, Waller did these without any powers beyond stubbornness. There’s a reason the Justice League and the Suicide Squad respect The Wall.
Debut: Tales of Suspense #52
Played by Scarlett Johansson and Laura Bailey
Black Widow: “Regimes fall every day. I tend not to weep over that, I’m Russian… or I was.”
Loki: “And what are you now?”
Black Widow: “It’s really not that complicated. I’ve got red in my ledger. I’d like to wipe it out.”
Loki: “Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Dreykov’s daughter? São Paulo? The hospital fire? Barton told me everything.”
The Avengers (2012)
It’s fairly common for superhero spies to defect from another organization. You never know when an act will be too much for their tenuous morality. Black Widow is a good example of this.
Natasha Romanoff was a child when she was forcibly recruited for the Red Room. This KGB kindergarten was dedicated to creating super soldiers for the Soviet Union. Natasha was sent to the Black Widow program to become an unstoppable spy and assassin.
She graduated from the program and was sent to steal technology from Stark Industries. She was stopped by Iron Man and went on the run, correctly fearing her handlers would have her killed. Black Widow made a few more attempts to kill Iron Man and redeem herself, but was eventually convinced to defect by fellow Iron Man foe Hawkeye.
There’s still more in the Black Widow’s dossier. Our Black Widow Backstory has the details.
Debut: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes #1
Played by Samuel L. Jackson and David Hasselhoff
Iron Man: “He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets.”
The Avengers (2012)
Superhero spies are willing to cross lines that most heroes won’t. They’ll betray allies, manipulate villains, and kill until their job is done. Few heroes still worthy of the name have killed more than Nick Fury.
Col. Nicholas Fury began as a soldier fighting in WWII. After the war, he was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to serve as one of their agents. Fury eventually rose to become the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., leading an army of superhero spies. He has worked alongside every spy and almost every hero in the Marvel Universe.
Aside from S.H.I.E.L.D, Fury has led several teams of heroes, such as the Secret Avengers. He has used multiple heroes and villains as cat’s paws, reaping the rewards while they take the heat. Fury has even spent decades interacting with others only through life-like androids. The one thing you can trust about Nick Fury is that you can’t trust him.
We’ve only scratched the surface of Fury’s history. Our Nick Fury Backstory has details about his past, his gear, and his greatest secret: The Man on the Wall.
Who do you think is the best superhero spy? Is there one better than these? Tell us in the comments.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) in Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. (c) Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Jared Bounacos has written for since 2016.
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