Which Comic Book Character Is The Greatest Maker Of All Time?

Craft & Design
Which Comic Book Character Is The Greatest Maker Of All Time?

It’s that time again, where I stick out my neck and offer up some opinion in these here parts. Previously we contemplated why the Arduino “won” and why it’s here to stay, then we looked at Sony’s assault on makers, and most recently we asked if public libraries could evolve towards becoming “hackerspaces” and TechShops. This round I’m going a little comical and asking “Which Comic Book Character Is the Best Maker of All Time?”

For many geeks, nerds, and makers, comic books are modern mythologies to be studied and learned from. We don’t worship dozens of different gods (for the most part) anymore, but most kids can name all of the X-Men, along with their powers, attributes, and a whole lot of extra “characters” that are more familiar to them than state capitals. Some of the most popular movies in the last 10 years have been based on comics. The comic book format is perhaps one of the best tools to educate, teach, and inspire, as seen in efforts like Howtoons (pictured above). I think some of the most popular comic characters in modern pop culture also happen to be makers! They’re engineers, they’re scientists, they use their incredible “maker skills” to fight crime! It’s not good enough for popular heroes to just have super powers, as you’ll see, they also need to be makers! Some of the heroes even have prototypes of modern-day hackerspaces :)

As many comic book debates have shown us, this topic could get completely out of control, but I think we can do it. I saw DC Comics had to shut their comments down after asking who would win in a race, Superman or Flash. But we’re makers — let’s show them how we can all discuss this and come up with the ultimate maker comic character of all time (and who would win in a fight for extra credit). Keep reading and get your comment-posting muscles warmed up —we’re going to figure this out once and for all!

Lex Luthor
Bruce Wayne (Batman)
Tony Stark (Ironman)
Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic)
Querl Dox (Brainiac 5)
Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)
Victor Stone (Cyborg)
Phineas Mason (The Terrible Tinkerer)
Jonathan Silvercloud Forge (Also called: The Maker, Genesis)
Michael Holt (Mister Terrific)
Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)
Angela “Angie” Spica (Engineer)
Paul Norbert Ebersol (The Fixer)
Victor von Doom (Doctor Doom)
Other… ?

I picked 14 makers, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments. I’m going to provide a short overview of each one and some comments about them. For some makers with multiple origins or re-imaginings, I picked the one I liked best, but you’re welcome to suggest other versions if it’s a toss-up. After we review these 14, I’ll go over the criteria on what I consider “the greatest makers” and then we can nerd-fight it out in the comments and see how they all stand up.

Lastly, I’m going to award a prize to the best comment. The prize is Superman: The Black Ring by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods. Be funny, be smart, be creative, and it’s yours! I’ll do a post on Friday or over the weekend selecting the best comment.

Lex Luthor

Lex Luthor is one of the most dangerously intelligent men on the planet, a super-villain, a brilliant scientist, a billionaire industrialist, and Superman’s greatest enemy. This combination makes him an extremely powerful and formidable opponent; he is ruthless and efficient and creative. In addition to his personal vendetta against the man who thwarts his every scheme, from an ideological standpoint, he despises the alien man of steel for contradicting his human achievements. Luthor has always been a controversial figure in the public eye due to LexCorp’s corrupt business dealings, but he has also maintained political popularity.

It’s hard not start out with Lex: there’s a new comic series The Black Ring out this month (I read it, it’s awful: telepathic gorillas & death, really). Anyway, the thing about Lex I always thought was cool is that he’s just a powerless guy fighting this god-man Superman. Superman can just crush Lux at any moment. Lex has no superpowers, just his mind and his science. He’s made machines, worked with radioactive Kryptonite, whatever it takes! Lex did it. When Superman went nuts, they’d haul Lex out of prison to save the day, then toss him back in. (At least that’s how I remember it.) I think Lex was upset that Superman fit in better than he did on his own planet, oddly enough. So, Lex has the smarts, makes giant robots, has super suits, can build just about anything, and obviously can run a business. Besides being obsessed with killing Superman, he’s a maker’s maker, right? We have a few real-life Lex Luthors now — we just don’t have any Supermen to see what they would do if someone else got the spotlight.

Bruce Wayne (Batman)

Batman is the superhero protector of Gotham City, a man dressed like a bat who fights against evil and strikes terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere. In his secret identity he is Bruce Wayne, billionaire industrialist and notorious playboy. Although he has no superhuman powers, he is one of the world’s smartest men and greatest fighters. His physical prowess and technical ingenuity make him an incredibly dangerous opponent.

Bruce is a bit like Lex, with loads of smarts and cash to build or buy anything needed. Bruce doesn’t have a Superman-type enemy, just a collection of freaks and weirdos, which perhaps includes himself. Bruce is usually portrayed (when Batman) as a gadget nerd. Bat belts, bat cars, bat copters, bat tanks, bat-this-n-that. His bedroom looks like the Gizmodo RSS feed during CES. Bruce is usually hard at work designing and developing many of the items he uses. If I had to compare Bruce to our previous contestant Lex, I would say Lex is more of a scientist and Bruce is a more of an engineer, and with Lex being more of the EE and Bruce being more of the MechE. The thing I like best about Bruce (Batman) is found in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, when he totally kicks Superman’s ass — using his engineering skills, not his strength.

Tony Stark (Iron Man)

Anthony “Tony” Stark was born to Howard Anthony Stark and Maria Collins Carbonell Stark, owners of the prominent US firm, Stark Industries. As a boy, Tony was fascinated with building and controlling machines. At the age of 15 Tony entered the undergraduate electrical engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and graduated with two master’s degrees by age 19. Tony went to work for Stark Industries, but showed more interest in living a reckless playboy lifestyle than using his engineering skills. At the age of 21, Tony inherited Stark Enterprises when his parents were killed in a car accident secretly orchestrated by rival corporation Republic Oil (later ROXXON). Still lacking in business acumen, Tony promoted secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts to be his executive assistant and left the majority of his workload on her so that he could avoid what he saw as a burden.

Recently popularized in movies, Tony Stark is a pretty formidable maker. MIT pedigree, like many of the prolific real-world makers and even in the movies, he gets his hands dirty actually making things. Similar to Bruce and Lex, he’s a billionaire playboy/businessman by day, human-with-super-brain at night who makes the things he needs to become greater. I know we’re only three into this list, but so far I think Tony Stark might be the better engineer compared to Bruce Wayne. In some Batmans, Bruce has a super-suit, but Iron Man has it all the time, and it seems to work out pretty well. Batman could total amp up his game if he just made an Iron Man suit. Depending on what version of Lex you follow, he did that too.

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic)

Reed Richards possesses a mastery of mechanical, aerospace, and electrical engineering, chemistry, all levels of physics, and human and alien biology. According to BusinessWeek, Mr. Fantastic is listed as one of the top ten most intelligent fictional characters in American comics. He is the inventor of the spacecraft which was bombarded by cosmic radiation on its maiden voyage, granting the Fantastic Four their powers. Richards gained the ability to stretch his body into any shape he desires.

Made spaceships, does engineering, has a killer lab. Can stretch out to reach behind the workbench. He’s worked on: space travel, time travel, extra-dimensional travel, biochemistry, robotics, computers, synthetic polymers, communications, mutations, transportation, holography, energy generation, spectral analysis. He also made a “uniform computer” — smart clothing for the Fantastic Four.

Querl Dox (Brainiac 5)

Querl has a “12th-level intellect”, which grants him superhuman calculation skills, amazing memory, and exceptional technical know-how. This increased intellect gives him superior calculating abilities, an encyclopedic memory and innovating scientific knowledge. By concentrating the power and disciplined nature of his mighty mind he safely operated the extra-dimensional device known as the Miracle Machine, which converts thoughts into reality. Using it, he successfully repelled the Dark Circle armies — repairing all the damage caused by the invasion — and completed the construction of the new Legion HQ. He has played three-dimensional chess against three powerful computers, added up every number in a math textbook in seconds, retained his memories and clarity of thought after being de-aged into a tot, resisted illusion-assisted brainwashing, resisted hypnotism and adapted many inventions and experiments.

This is a tricky one, Querl lives in the 30th and 31st centuries. So, it’s going to be hard to compare him with some of the more modern-day folks. But here we go: he invented the Legion flight ring (rings worn by Legionnaires which allow them to fly and communicate with each other) and made a Supergirl robot clone — that’s pretty impressive. He also made a force field belt, and the super-computer C.O.M.P.U.T.O. (not the same as that South Park computer). Lastly, he can time travel.

OK, so he’s a smart dude, but he was also born in the 30th century and is an alien, so I’m going to say that our humans who can almost do most of these things in present time are a little more impressive. Lex did time travel a few times and invented super computers, but Bruce, Tony, and Lex have all those too. The force field belt is nifty, but I bet Tony could reverse engineer it in an afternoon.

Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)

Growing up, Ted was extraordinarily bright. He was good at science, business, and everything else he tried. In college, he received degrees in Physics, English Lit, and Theoretical Mathematics. He considered joining his father’s business, Kord Omniversal Research and Development, Inc., of Chicago, but overall, he had no real direction.

When Ted’s uncle made an attempt to take over the world, Ted set out to stop him, recruiting the help of his archaeology teacher Dan Garrett — the first Blue Beetle, who could call on superhuman powers from an ancient scarab he had found in Bialya. In the course of the adventure, Dan was fatally wounded and asked Ted to carry on the legacy of the Blue Beetle, passing the scarab onto him. However, Ted couldn’t get the scarab to work for him, and eventually set it aside, electing to go ahead without it.

Ted trained himself to his physical peak, constructed an aerial vehicle affectionately nicknamed the “Bug,” made himself a Blue Beetle costume, and set out to establish his own identity as a superhero, using his wit, agility, and a large number of gadgets to stop evildoers.

Another super smart dude with no direction, who suddenly finds his cause when something bad happens. Not only is he smart, he doesn’t need the super bug to assist him — he builds tons of gadgets to fight crime.

Victor Stone (Cyborg)

Vic Stone was the son of a pair of scientists who decided to use him as a test subject for various intelligence-enhancement projects. However, Victor grew to resent this treatment and fell in with a young miscreant named Ron Evers, who led him into trouble with the law. This was the beginning of a struggle where Victor strove for his own life, engaging in pursuits his parents disapproved of such as athletics. In addition, Victor still kept bad company that led him into incidents such as when he was talked into participating in a street gang fight in which he was wounded. For the most part however, Victor still had a largely normal life under the circumstances where he also refused to follow his best friend’s grandiose plans of racially motivated terrorism.

Victor can interface with computers, and he has some smarts — but man, his parents experimented on him — that’s pretty harsh. He just wanted to be a jock, they were killed, he was injured — then cyborg’ed — so for the most he’s robot boy, and later joined the Teen Titans. More a programmer than a maker, he’s on the list, but just barely.

Phineas Mason (The Terrible Tinkerer)

The Tinkerer (sometimes known as the Terrible Tinkerer) is a fictional character, a supervillain appearing in comic books set in the Marvel Comics Universe. The character has an almost superhuman gift of genius in engineering, able to invent sophisticated gadgets from nothing more than spare parts left over from ordinary household appliances. He is the third biggest weapon provider of the gangland (after Justin Hammer and Madame Menace).

He runs an underground fix-it shop disguised as a radio repair shop — that’s really cool. This is the guy who’s jailbreaking iPhones and PS3s for the kids in Spiderman’s neighborhood. Phineas makes giant robots for fighting Spiderman and is the go-to-gadget guy for all the villains. He’s more of a contractor than just a maker — he’s running a business making weapons and suits. He’d have an awesome booth at Maker Faire, likely next to SRL.

Jonathan Silvercloud Forge (aka The Maker, Genesis)

Forge was born to a Cheyenne tribe, and was gifted with great shaman potential. He was raised by Naze to become a great shaman and to defeat their nemesis The Adversary. He spent most of his youth under Naze’s training. At puberty, his mutant powers manifested. This consisted of him being able to understand any mechanical device and the ability to create one as long as he could imagine it. His powers made him doubt his life as a shaman since they represented the exact opposite ideal than that of his mystical/magical heritage. This confusion made him rebel against Naze and his teachings. He enlisted in the army and was shipped to Vietnam. While there, he used his powers to create weapons and other tech.

This guy is all over the place: he’s from a Native American tribe with special powers and he can understand any device. Forge’s ability is understanding devices, not exactly making them — so he’s super handy but we’re not going to get as many new inventions popping out of him as other super-makers. But, he did make a few: a means of detecting and combating the shape-changing alien Dire Wraiths, a scanner device that could detect the presence of superhumanly powerful mutants and extraterrestrials, a neutralizer device that can take super powers away. Not so shabby! I would say he might be the best reverse-engineering character so far.

Michael Holt (Mister Terrific)

At a young age, Michael Holt showed remarkable intelligence, reading and assimilating the works of Bohr, Einstein, Planck and Feynman, the pantheon of theoretical physics, at the age of six. He studied advanced science, space, and time “while other children struggled through Sesame Street.”

Holt displayed “a natural aptitude for having natural aptitudes,” as he called it, easily picking up and retaining complex skills and abilities that other men spent their entire lives perfecting. Before he began his career as a superhero, he already possessed 14 PhDs (two in engineering and physics — including doctorates and masters degrees in law, psychology, chemistry, political science, and mathematics), was a self-made multimillionaire with a high tech firm called Cyberwear (subsequently sold to Waynetech), and was a gold-medal-winning Olympic decathlete. Holt is also known as the “third smartest man on Earth.”

Bummer, known as the third smartest man on Earth — that’s got to be rough — smarts isn’t everything, but he seems to be behind Bruce Wayne. Maybe he’s actually smarter, but Bruce seems to actually build more things.

Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)

Adrian Veidt has been deemed “the smartest man in the world” by many, mainly the media, though this title is deserved. Veidt deftly built both a legitimate and criminal empire large enough to become a global threat through his exploitation of advanced technology and genetics. In one scene, he is shown viewing a wall filled floor to ceiling with television screens, each showing a different image, in order to demonstrate his ability to pay attention to each one simultaneously and to have enough left over to pay attention to Rorschach and Nite Owl II as they try to sneak up on him.

He has ambition matching his intelligence, evidenced by his successful execution of a plan to help Earth towards utopia by ending international hostilities. He is shown to be a ruthless master strategist, swiftly eliminating anybody who dares to get in the way of his plans, while maintaining total secrecy. Additionally, Veidt is depicted at the pinnacle of human physical ability, to the point of being able to reflexively catch a bullet.

Smart enough to take on Dr. Manhattan (and win), Adrian is right up there in my short list. Building device(s) that can effectively jam Dr. M’s future-seeing powers and using this towards world peace is pretty impressive. Of course, to get world peace he wiped out millions of people — trade-offs.

Angela “Angie” Spica (Engineer)

A Brooklyn-born scientist, nanotechnology in her body allows her to fly and to create anything she can imagine, super genius intellect. [She was part of the effort] to change the world by removing the structure of society itself. There would be no more laws, no authoritarian structures, no crime and no war. The Engineer’s role in this plan was to seed nanotechnological oases across the planet. These oases would serve as “horns of plenty” providing every imaginable food, product and tool anybody needed… she can cover her body with liquid metal at will, fly, communicate with machinery, and create devices — including radio-telepathy bugs, weaponry, rocket engines, replacement lungs to cope with unfamiliar atmospheres and even additional copies of herself.

OK, this one is hard to figure out: the character hasn’t been developed enough for me to really see what’s possible, but nanotech and being able to imagine anything is pretty powerful. That said, there’s not a lot of “making.” Interesting goals, no crime — no war and giant food bowls for all. I really want to like this character, but “making” just isn’t a major theme — it’s more like an afterthought. It’s too bad, having “Engineer” as the best maker character would have been fun.

Paul Norbert Ebersol (The Fixer)

Paul Norbert Ebersol was born in Dayton, Ohio. He was a scientist who held a number of odd jobs, including auto mechanic, television repairman, and electronics laboratory assistant. He then became the second and more prominent Fixer, a supervillain and genius-level criminal inventor who has often worked for criminal cartels like HYDRA.

This guy sounds like almost everyone I met at the Hamfests in Dayton, minus the criminal cartel part. I would say Paul is a standard-issue maker, but over and over again he’s defeated by Captain America to Spiderman. Lots of cool projects across many comics, like brain transfers and cloning Kevin Costner — but he’s just not my cup of tea.

Victor von Doom (Doctor Doom)

Doctor Doom is a polymath scientific genius, depicted constructing numerous devices in order to defeat his foes or gain more power, including a time machine, a device to imbue people with superpowers, and numerous robots; Doom’s calculating and strategic nature leads him to use “Doombots,” exact mechanical replicas of the real Doctor Doom, for many missions, typically those where he fears defeat.

Victor’s a bit like Ironman, just evil. He’s made suits and robots, along with a time machine. He is “capable of energy projection, creating protective shields, and summoning hordes of demonic creatures.” Cool project, likely not going to hang out at a hackerspace without demons screwing with the laser cutter. He’s formidable, but likely a jerk.

Missing on This List

Missing from the list are characters I don’t know about, of course. I think my comic research was pretty good, but it’s not worthy of some of the hardcore fans I’m sure. Diversity, not too bad but there’s only one (sorta) female engineer/scientist? Really? Baroness from G.I. Joe doesn’t count, and the comic I made with Ladyada also does not count :) This is something that should really change — it would be really easy to make a super cool female engineer who makes military robots (kinda like Tony Stark), base it on Helen Greiner formerly of iRobot (and also from MIT), and boom, done — you’ve got an awesome comic — she plays a mean game of hockey too, from what I recall. We are what we celebrate, and I know more females who read comics than males. There should be a least a couple more on this list. All that said, I think there might be some good ones in Girl Genius (anyone have suggestions?). Also missing are small-time villains from various series that just made a giant robot once or something to rob a bank. Feel free to include those, but I’m looking for “the greatest.” Lastly, some characters are just “smart” but I didn’t put them in: Bruce Banner, Professor X, The Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Ray Palmer (The Ant), Hank McCoy (The Beast). I think maybe Professor X could make it in, but 14 was quite a bit. Gyro Gearloose was mentioned by Gareth, but should ducks count? I need to be convinced.

So Who is the Greatest Maker?

Greatest is a hard thing to figure out — it’s all opinion. This is an opinion column, and the comments are here for us all to figure this out. I might even change my mind after duking it out for the day. But things I considered: who had the greatest enemies, who had the biggest technical challenges, who consistently has made new things, who could adapt the most as needed? Who built more than bought, and who would ultimately win in a fight with all these other guys? Who would fit in the most at a Maker Faire as a speaker, a sponsor, or just someone attending? Who has captured the imagination for makers and inspired them?

So…. After thinking about this on and off for the last 5 years since we started MAKE, I think it’s close call between Lex Luthor and Tony Stark. I’ll admit that these characters have been around for a long time and have been developed, so that’s helpful, but that’s part of being “the greatest.” For many reasons, the readers like these guys, and it makes them more prolific. It’s also helpful if they’ve appeared in cartoons, movies, etc.

Reed Richards was in the mix too, but I tend to like regular humans who just have brains — as opposed to some type of powers. Not really fair, I know, but I’m willing to change my mind on this.

I really wanted it to be Lex Luthor — throughout the years he’s been smart enough to battle Superman, and depending on what incarnation of Lex you’re reading, he went on to be president. He’s usually not too concerned with getting rid of most of humankind — just one alien, Superman. Unfortunately, Lex doesn’t seem the type that would be interested in doing a talk at Maker Faire unless it involved tricking Superman in some type of giant Kryptonite mouse trap. I think Lex is more a loner who wouldn’t be that much fun surrounded by people who make things. Lex, to me, will always be the insurance policy for when Superman goes Supernuts, but he’s Lexcorp, and Lex, while prolific, isn’t going to be putting any Instructables up anytime soon. All that being said, the best compliment someone can say about someone else in my book is “wow, she/he’s Lex Luthor-smart.”

So that leaves Tony Stark. It’s a little easier since he’s “a good guy” but it also helps that he engineered the suit, actually makes things, and (thanks to Robert Downey) is a likable character. His origin is a good maker story, the usual — son of killed parents, he was head of mega-corp, Stark Industries, he was later kidnapped, forced to make something evil (WMD), made a super-suit instead, and became Ironman. He has ups and downs, and battles with many demons, including his own — he later starts another company (Circuits Maximus) and he gets his company back. He’s overcome physical and mental hardships, runs a business, still makes most everything he uses — he’s hero not because of strengths, but because of his weaknesses.

If you’ve been to Maker Faire, you could easily imagine Stark Industries being a sponsor and Tony giving a talk about his suit. He then might talk about running a business in the Maker: Business track. Perhaps it’s the writing, or the recent movies, but out of all of these makers, he seems to be the greatest. I still have hopes someone will come along and write a better Lex, but until then, Iron Man it is.

Who would win between Iron Man and all these guys? I’m not sure — I think he’d handily beat all the humans including Lex Luthor. And, for the aliens and super-mutants, given time, I think Stark could give them a run for their nano-tech. But I’ll leave who wins the death match up to you in the comments.

So what do you think? Is Tony Stark the greatest comic book character who makes things? Would he win against these other guys? If not, who? And who did I leave out? I’m sure there are better comic experts than myself, I’m just a fan. Please post up in the comments and in a day or so I’ll pick a winner of the best comment! Special thanks to Zay Amsbury for comic research.

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