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11/1 – Curious Cat Asks…

After the “trinity” of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man – who is the most recognizable superhero amongst the general public? Wonder Woman? Robin? Hulk? Wolverine? Captain America? Flash?



Amongst the kids I work with, the answer would be Robin and the rest of the Teen Titans (Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy). The cartoon is mighty popular.

I’d guess that Robin and the Hulk are at least AS recognizable as Spider-Man, if not moreso.

I would say Wonder Woman or Robin.

I’d think Hulk and Wolverine would be very recognisable, due to recent film exposure and televisual nostalgia respectively.

Or indeed, vice versa.

Hulk, then Robin, then Flash, then Wolverine.

If teams are allowed, there’s probably room for Fantastic Four and Justice League (actually Superfriends) there between Robin and Flash. And X-Men would actually come before Hulk, I guess.

I’d say Robin and Hulk at approximate parity in terms of “superhero”, but Wonder Woman far outstrips them both as a general pop culture icon.

tom fitzpatrick

November 1, 2007 at 5:07 am

You’re too damn curious for your own good!!! ;-)

I don’t think the Teen Titans are quite as popular as some of you think. The show hasn’t even been on in what, two or three years? Thats forever for a kid.

It’s Wonder Woman. Being the female Superman (basically) she is as much a part of the lexicon as he is. I bet most people don’t know anything about her, but they could identify her.
For characters that people ‘know’, I would say the Hulk. Between the old series and the movie he has been in the public eye fairly prominently over the past 30 years or so. He is also part of the vernacular now that I think about it. When you’re green or angry people may describe it as ‘hulking out’ and no one doesn’t know what that means. A little more knowledge of character and concept than Wonder Woman.
Then again everyone on the street could tell you who Batman’s sidekick was.

So to answer your question… I don’t know.

Wonder Woman and Robin have been in the public eye, in one form or another, for decades. I’d say they have recognition factor on par with or slightly above the Hulk.

Adults who do not read comics or go to super-hero movies could probably identify those three characters. Captain America has high recognition factor due to his iconic status. Wolverine would probably be next for people born after 1970.

Wolverine, Wonder Woman and Hulk. I’d put Superman above Batman, but it’s close.

I would say Hulk, Wonder Woman and the X-Men, particularly Wolverine. I think most people know the Flash as well, maybe Aquaman too.

Wonder Woman, Robin and Hulk. The mighty TV has much to do with this, of course.

Robin, Hulk and Wonder Woman.

Robin, who has had exposure to us old folk from the Batman show, and to young folk as part of the Batman Animated series and Teen Titans.
Maybe the Hulk, due to his recent movie and old tv show. Oldsters would know WW, but not Wolverine.

I don’t know that Robin should really count, since he’s an offshoot a a wildly popular character and otherwise wouldn’t merit the same recognition. Similarly, Supergirl is widely known by the general public, but only as Superman’s cousin.

The X-Men, as a team, are probably the most widely known, but that wasn’t the question, was it? Wolverive is certainly the most high profile, but even he isn’t quite that big on his own.

I’m trying to think of characters outside of the Big Two, and I’m coming up short. Spawn certainly had quite a bit of recognition at one point, but that seems to have faded. Hellboy is probably the biggest at the moment, but I don’t know that he’s become iconic (yet).

I think the answer is probably Wonder Woman. Interestingly, Captain Marvel would certainly have been on this list a half- century ago, but has faded into cultural obscurity. I think we tend to forget how popular non- DC and Marvel heroes were at one point in time.

I don’t think the Flash is all that well-known. Yeah, he was on TV, but not for long, not very successfully, and quite a while back.

When I told a friend I was thinking of dressing as the Flash for Halloween, she had absolutely no clue who I was talking about.

Really? The canadian kid has to say that it’s Captain America?

Regardless of the tv and movie exposure, I don’t think that anyone would not recognize Captain America. Hulk and Wonder Woman are close, but Cap is iconic.

Of the group listed, Robin would be #1. He easily has the most media recognition, but it’d be in the original costume. After that, it’d be a tie between WW & Hulk due to the 70’s TV series, but I think I’d give an edge to WW.

I’d say Wonder Woman and Hulk thanks to the 70’s TV shows, and Robin because of his association with Batman and the 60’s TV show.

Robin or Hulk.

I’m slightly dubious about Wonder Woman. At times it seems that people try not to forget about her out of guilt or something. She was big once in the 1970s, but not so much so these days.

Captain America is well-known, but not anywhere near Superman or Batman (I agree that Superman is slightly over Batman).

Come to think of it, I guess the Thing is better recognized than Wonder Woman, or for that matter Wolverine or Flash.

And yes, once upon a time some non-Marvel, non-DC characters were big. Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Zorro, Lone Ranger, Captain Marvel (Billy Batson), Plastic Man and the Spirit come to mind. Perhaps Li’l Abner too.

And, oh yes, Dick Tracy!

I think if you showed someone a picture of Cap, and asked them who it was, they’d say “Captain America” but they wouldn’t know anything else (except, perhaps, that when he throws his mighty shield, all those who dare oppose him then must yield…)

So I’d stick Wonder Woman, Hulk and Robin before him. But Robin is principally known as the latter half of “Batman and…”-people know Batman without Robin, but not as many think of Robin independantly of Batman.

So then which 70s show is more firmly entrenched in the pop culture zeitgeist: Wonder Woman or Hulk?

I’ll hedge my bets and say more people probably “know” Wonder Woman, but don’t know much beyond “Like a female Superman who deflects bullets with her bracelets” whereas the details of Hulk are more widely known: green, on the run, “you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry”, Hulk smash, hulking out, etc.

Give Wolverine a generation and he’ll probably be up there; I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the next most recognizable amongst a younger (teens/20 somethings) crowd.

Well by my scientific reasoning aka what kids were dressed like trick or treatin at my house for Halloween. Hulk was the most popular after Supes, Bats, and Spidey. This of course is without factoring in that the majority of girls were dressed as princess’s. Had the girls had to choose a superhero, I’m sure Wonder Woman would have taken it.

Robin, the Hulk and Captain America. Robin because virtually every citizen of the western world knows Batman and Robin, the Hulk of the TV show, cartoons and movie and because everyone knows about ‘hulking out’, and Captain America because…

Well, Captain America’s an interesting one, because if you asked the average person on the street to name three superheroes other than Supes, Bats and Spidey, they might not think to say Captain America. But if we’re asking that same average person to identify a picture of the character, EVERYBODY would recognise Captain America, because, you know, what else could you call him? Dude’s wearing a flag, for god’s sake.

The Hulk comes first, then Wonder Woman. WW had a TV show a few decades ago, but Hulk not only had a TV show, but also a handful of full-lenght movies (before the Bana version there were a couple of awful Bixby/Ferrigno versions) AND several cartoons about him in the past decades. After WW, I’d guess Captain America.

Robin is just remembered as an accessory to Batman, so he doesn’t count IMO. Does ANY non-comic reader remember Robin by his own merits, and not due to his association with Batman? No, and that’s my point.

I agree with Luis. People want really badly for Wonder Woman to be really well known – but after the ’70s she’s pretty much evaporated from general consciousness. She hasn’t been consistently or particularly marketed.

I don’t see a lot of recognition of Flash either. My wife and I were studying in a coffee shop on Saturday and two kids (maybe 2nd graders) were outside in costume enacting superhero battles. One was dressed as Flash and one as Venom-suited Spider-Man from the movie. She thought the Spider-Man was dressed as a ninja at first and had no idea who Flash was. A lot of other people seem to get Flash and Flash Gordon confused (a mother of my wife’s students recently watched the Queentastic movie from 1980, Flash Gordon, and liked it but was disappointed because “he was just a quarterback and couldn’t run real fast”).

I think there’s a difference between name recognition and actual recognition. Using an above example, this woman could recognize something about the name Flash and that he was supposed to run fast, but didn’t know what he looked like. I suspect that the same might be true for Robin. Everybody knows the duo of Batman and Robin, but I wonder how many would recognize Robin if he wasn’t standing next to Batman?

My picks for recognizability are Hulk, Captain America, the Joker, and then, maybe the Human Torch (though with the Torch, most don’t seem to know his name even though they recognize “that guy who’s all fire”). Wolverine might have some recognizability if his claws were out, but otherwise, I sort of doubt it.

Wonder Woman, Hulk and Aquaman. More people remember Aquaman from the old cartoon shows than recall Wolverine. Of course, that will change as the Baby Boomers begin to go senile.

Aquaman is extremely well known; albeit primarily as a figure of derision, which may be why only one other person’s mentioned him… As much as I like him, I think almost everybody knows how to hate on Aquaman.

(Well, two now. That’s what I get for waiting to hit submit)

I’d probabaly say Hulk then Captain America then Robin, with Wonder Woman probably after that. Wolverine is highly recognisable too certainly but I think his costume and general image are much less iconic than these other four.

Judging from the costumes I saw on kids yesterday, I would have to go with Wonder Woman. I didn’t see any Hulks or Wolverines, but I saw a number of Wonder Woman costumes and more than a couple of little Supergirl outfits.

And, of course a host of Spider-man and Batman.

Wonder Woman is HUGE among my gay friends who don’t even read comics.

i know many girls who saw the Wonder Woman television show in reruns, and played make-believe as her.

Captain America would be next, as he’s been around for ages, and is referenced in all sorts of pop culture stuff…. Easy Rider, ect.

The Hulk would come in after that, again, because of TV, more recognizable to younger generations.

I think it’s important to differentiate between “well-known” and “popular”. Especially with regard to Luis & The Dane’s point about Wonder Woman. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t know who Wonder Woman is. Most will not describe themselves as fans, but they recognize her. Look to the number of Halloween costumes, kitsch apparel, etc (she’s been on South Park for the last three weeks, fer cryin’ out loud) – she’s the female Superman. People know of her even if they know nothing about her.

I’d say Robin and the Hulk are close. Wolverine’s probably fourth, but draws the majority of his recognition from a younger crowd. The others are pretty hit or miss – when I wear my red Flash logo shirt, for instance, I routinely have people ask/tell me (if) it’s a Flash Gordon symbol.

I’ll buck the trend and say Supergirl, based on the fact that I saw at least one kid dressed as her this halloween and none of the non-‘trinity’ characters mentioned in this post or thread so far.

s1rude said:
“when I wear my red Flash logo shirt, for instance, I routinely have people ask/tell me (if) it’s a Flash Gordon symbol.”

Ha ha. Really? I get people who come up to me and go “Shazam!” I just politely smile and explain and they usually walk away disappointed that they got it wrong…

Good point also about WW. I don’t think she’s ever been as popular as Supes and Bats, but she is very well known and very iconic. I think almost any person on the street knows who she is, and you’d be hard pressed to find a female of the last 20-30 years who didn’t watch the show, own the underoos, dress up as her for Halloween, or something along those lines…

Just the names “Hulk,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Captain America” all have made inroads in mainstream pop culture. I’ve heard people refer to a big guy as a “Hulk” but never a sidekick as a “Robin” (I have heard “Smithers”). I think recognition would be so close among these characters that we’d be splitting hairs until someone convinces Reuters to do a survey.

whoever had a tv show in the 70’s. Except for Shazam.

Andrew, regarding hard-pressed, not a single one of my girl friends have been able to recognize Wonder Woman. This question really intrigues me. I work with juniour high and high school kids on a regular basis; I think I’ll put together something of a recognizability test and see who they most easily recognize.

My guess is that the name Wonder Woman had big recognizability cache but that people don’t necessarily know what she looks like.

I’m not sure that Halloween costumes are necessarily a mark of recognizability either. I remember picking out costumes (in the days before making them) simply because one looked ridiculously cool. In Kindergarten, I was a Shogun Warrior robot thing without having any idea what a Shogun Warrior was. I also had Flash Under-Roos but had no conception of who the Flash was; I just like wearing a lightening bolt and thought that the bolt helped convey how fast I was.

Here in the UK, it’s probably Hulk, Robin and Wolverine. Maybe Cyclops or Storm, since the X-men cartoon was popular in the nineties, I bet a lot of 20-30 year olds could recognise them and then the films were popular too, and X-men Evolution, so most kids can probably name a few X-men. Cyclops has that very recognisable visor and Storm has quite a distinctive look with the white hair and big cloak, so I’d say they’d be good bets.)

Captain America or Wonder Woman.


November 1, 2007 at 11:01 am



In the US it’s probably Robin, and by a decent margin.

Next, the Hulk, or Wonder Woman.

I’d call those three the absolute second tier icons. If we count the X-men as a unit, they’re probably on that level too.

I think Robin is the clear answer, but kind of with an asterisk, because he’s so inextricably linked to Batman.

I have little doubt that Wonder Woman would be next. My test is “If I showed a picture of this character to my mom, would she be able to name the character?” The only characters I’m 99% sure she’d recognize are Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man.

Wonder Woman is just as iconic as Captain America, and probably even more so. One way to measure that is not just whether or not they had their own TV show, but how much the mainstream media pays attention to the characters. Those choices are made by editors who, for the most part, don’t know (or care) much about comic books, but think they have an idea about what the public knows/cares about.

So yes, the “death” of Cap made big headlines lately. But remember a couple years ago before Greg Rucka took over the WW title? Somebody did a dopey fill-in arc (I barely remember it; mostly it accomplished killing off Diana’s brief love interest, the African-American guy) and got ink because Diana had to go incognito, so she cut her hair. As absurd as it seems, “Wonder Woman’s new haircut” was a headline in gossip and entertainment pages in the mainstream meda.

Which is not to diminish Lynda Carter’s role in keeping the icon popular. She did wonders for Wonder Woman, esp. since the show (as cheesy as it is) is STILL fondly remembered. Carter is currently touring the country with a cabaret act and getting all sorts of ink because, well, she was Wonder Woman and did you know Wonder Woman can SING?

Anyway … I bet people of all generations (except for maybe the youngest kids) know Wonder Woman. (Slightly older kids were re-introduced to her in the Dini/McDuffie Justice League cartoons.) She’s not as huge in terms of comics sales, but she is huge in the general public. It’s easy to find Wonder Woman T-shirts, stationery, bedsheets, etc. That’s obviously also true for Spidey and Supes and Bats, but I don’t think so much for Cap or Wolverine. So I guess Hulk and Wonder Woman vie for the #4 spot.

Really, given how miserably DC/Warners has failed to take advantage of the goodwill the public has for the character, it’s pretty amazing she’s still as popular and well-known as she is. A big-budget film (if done well, not like “Catwoman” or “Fantastic Four”) would be a HUGE hit, just given how much the non-comics-reading public loves her. (Did anybody think Drew Barrymore’s “Charlie’s Angels” was going to be such a blockbuster?) Really, they should’ve made the film 10 years ago with Lucy Lawless. That would’ve been a no-brainer.

I think a lot of us old folks are stuck with the old cliche that the X-Men aren’t as well known as Hulk, Robin, and Wonder Woman because of other-media exposure. This was conventional wisdom through the 70s and 80s– even as X-Men was the best-selling and most-influential comic, and Wolverine the most popular character among comics-reading kids, everyone remembered Superfriends, Burt Ward, Lynda Carter, and Lou Ferrigno.

But there’s now a *lot* of people who were born after Superfriends, Wonder Woman, and Hulk went off the air, many of whom have had X-Men cartoons on the air or movies in the theater throughout their formative years. Our *parents* still might not know who Wolverine is– but I’ll bet our kids do, and they know him better than they know (at least) Hulk or Wonder Woman.

The only thing missing is a recognizable *costume*. Part of how the iconic characters stick in the public memory is with a very clear and memorable visual. But Wolverine’s public appearance is divided up among the brown costume, the yellow costume, the black leather of the movies, etc. Does anyone know what gets sold as a Wolverine halloween costume? Does it even have a mask?

As weird as it seems to say, a good argument could be made for Catwoman. Sure, she probably wouldn’t be considered iconic, but if you’re going for “recognizable” – we’re so used to seeing cat ears on a costume that we don’t think twice about who it comes from, she’s so ingrained in pop-culture now. Anyone can point out Catwoman.

“I remember picking out costumes (in the days before making them) simply because one looked ridiculously cool.”

Yeah, I agree; I can’t imagine too many kids want to dress up as Robin.

If Robin counts, then Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Lois Lane, Perry White, and Lex Luthor (and maybe The Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin) are all more recognizable than The Hulk or Wonder Woman… but I would agree with the people who are saying that that’s a subset of the recognizability of the main characters. Batman is so iconic that his sidekick is The Iconic Sidekick, his butler is The Iconic Butler… Superman is so iconic that his girlfriend is The Iconic Girlfriend, his villain is The Iconic Villain, etc.

I’m surprised it’s been 50 slots and not one mention of Ghost Rider; if you show somebody a picture of Captain america, they know who it is, but if you say “What does Captain America look like?” how many people could describe it? A: A lot fewer than would say “He’s the guy with the flaming skull” when asked the same of Ghost Rider.

Though I would agree that Ghost Rider is so recognizable that not everybody would know that he’s a comic book character.

“whoever had a tv show in the 70’s”

So your answer is Dr. Strange?

Captain Marvel. Everybody knows what happens when you say Shazam out loud. It´s well enbedded in pop culture, so much it is frequently used as a joke. Which is a serious sign that something is well-know… you can´t make jokes with things that demand much explanation.

Besides, Cap, Aquaman and the Hulk are also pretty well-know. Basically because they´re such perfect concepts… the guy who breathes underwater, the guy who becomes a monster when he gets angry.

Captain Marvel, Hulk , Aquaman. Anyone in the western world can recognize who they are. Some people in the East can do it too… The funny thing is, these characters, with possible exception of the Hulk, are neither big fan-favorites among comic readers, neither have a very expressive presence in their original medium nowadays. Wolverine, however, has it… but he´s not nearly as recognizable as the three listed above.

Wolvie needs a tv series.

Jacob, I agree with you in general about Wolverine, though at the same time, you help me make my point: He might be waaay more popular than Wonder Woman among 20somethings and teens (especially after Hugh Jackman makes the solo Wolverine movie), but the non-comics-reading 30something-and-up crowd don’t know him. Meanwhile, I’m absolutely willing to bet that kids recognize Wonder Woman.

Also, as you say, he doesn’t have an iconic costume, which is a glitch to becoming an icon. Everybody knows Diana’s star-spangled bathing suit. Wolverine basically has sideburns and claws. That’s all it takes to make the outfit — my nephew (a college freshman) just dressed up like Wolvie for Halloween. He bought a black leather jacket, grew his sideburns out and bought mesh biker’s gloves and metal knitting needles to make claws. I have yet to hear how the costume went over, but I imagine he was a big hit. (He’s got the superhero body too, which never hurts — although who can tell if you’re wearing a leather jacket all night.)

Well I’ll try and provide an ‘outside the US’ persepctive here….. No-one in Australia, outside the comic reading fanboys, knows who Captain America is.

Going by my Dad, and ex-girlfriends reaction to my Marvel Legends and DC Superhero collections, the guys who are recognisable are Hulk, Wonder Woman and Robin.

Before the cartoon, not many people knew who the X-Men were either.


I echo the opinions that it’s Wonder Woman, Hulk and Robin (who doesn’t know “Batman and..?”) who are the most widely known.

While more people have heard of Wolverine now, because of the X-Men movies, it’s mainly Hugh Jackman they know about. Most people wouldn’t have a clue if they saw the yellow/blue, or brown costume with the mask.

People are focusing too much on characters who are from traditional DC/Marvel lines. I’m pretty sure that He-Man or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are close to the same level of popularity as Robin or the Hulk, and much more well-known or popular than Captain America or Wonder Woman.

And leave us not forget Radioactive Man.

OK, go ahead, leave us.

But maybe, this year at least, Silver Surfer. Both aspects of his name are so self-evident that I think he’d be a sleeper pick for a recognizability test.

Nah, it’s the Hulk.

Wonder Woman is my fave, but I think that recognition of her among the general public is slim. Most people refer to her as “Superwoman.”
I would think Wolverine would be high too, but the fact that his movie and comic appearances are totally different besides his claws probably hurts his recognition.
I’d guess Robin, Hulk, Aquaman, or Supergirl. If you had the general population name 4 super heroes, I think Robin is the best bet.

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