For decades, the might of various superheroes has led to good-natured discussions and drag-out fights in comic book shops and playgrounds all over the country. Often, those conversations get muddled as the strength of a character, like Batman, gets wrapped up in his martial arts prowess or other skills. True strength often gets lost in the fun of building scenarios in which Venom fights Superman.
But the notion of super-strength becomes more compelling as television can finally dramatize the ability in interesting and fairly inexpensive ways. As Luke Cage executive producer and showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker told Rotten Tomatoes recently, titular star Luke Cage (Mike Colter) can easily pick up a Volkswagen. It is a point referenced throughout the show’s second season whenever anyone mentions Luke’s strength. Since the classic Volkswagen Beetle weighs roughly 1,800 lbs. – the newer models weigh in closer to 3,000 lbs. – it gives us a good measure to compare his strength to some of television other super-strength heroes.
While Luke might be the strongest man in Harlem, is he the strongest of the strong?
Thanks to the image of the Volkswagen and an early episode in the second season in which ESPN watches Luke train, we know exactly how strong he can be. Besides being told he can pick up car, viewers see him toss a 400 lbs. tractor tire as though it were a standard basketball. Heavy steel doors present him with little challenge, and he seems to take a special pleasure in ripping doors off of cars to use as an impromptu discus or shield for his non-bulletproof allies. All of which reveals a sort of strength that is impressive while still feeling relatively grounded. His comic book counterpart is said to be able to lift as much as 50,000 lbs, making the TV Luke far weaker, but definitely strong enough in the context of the show.
Also, it should be noted his strength is an upgrade from where he started in the first seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. As referenced early in the second season, he received an added boost of strength, speed and durability after Claire (Rosario Dawson) and Dr. Burstein (Michael Kostroff) used the technique which first gave him powers to revive him late in the first season.
While in theory, the Incredible Hulk is capable of infinite strength, the late 1970s CBS television series could only take that strength so far. He could burst through brick walls, bend steel with his green hands and, quite infamously, throw a grizzly bear (around 600 lbs.) across a lake. He also had a habit of lifting and overturning Buick Skylarks, a popular model of cars in film and television at the time, weighing in at 3,000 lbs.
Oddly enough, that makes the Ferrigno version of the Hulk roughly as strong as Luke. Granted, demonstrations of the Hulk’s strength were limited by the show’s budget. The Hulk was also known to push farming equipment around and leap from four-story buildings. Those feats could push him into a higher tier of strength, but the tendency to get mad and throw around Skylarks keeps him in the relatively contained tier of Luke Cage.
The current Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe definitely reaches closer to the infinite potential of his comic book counterpart, talking on giant wolf Fenris and other impressive creatures in Thor: Ragnarok. But as seen in Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos proved a formidable foe. Perhaps in the next Avengers film, Hulk will prove he is the strongest by far.
As the keeper of the Spirit Totem, Amaya Jiwe has access to a great variety of abilities beyond those seen on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. She can derive enhanced senses, endurance, and speed in addition to creating energy shields and projections of animals capable of interacting with the world. It would be the most powerful object in the Arrowverse if not for the fact it can only call on the spirit of one animal at a time.
With that in mind, Amaya’s tendency to call on the spirit of the gorilla seems like a good way to measure her potential strength. A gorilla can lift 10 times its body weight – around 4,000 lbs. with some estimates going as high as 4,600 lbs. Presumably, the gorilla spirit is the ideal of gorilla fitness, giving Amaya an impressive amount of power to take on the likes of Grodd. The totem bearer can also call upon the spirit of other strong animals like lions, bears, and rhinos. The latter may make Vixen an incredibly powerful hero, provided she was willing to cause that level of destruction.
Jessica Jones still appears to be stronger than Luke, even with the boost to his lifting ability. Granted, she uses that strength in purely practical ways with the big feats of strength — like moving cars out of her way — used more as jokes. Nonetheless, she has no problem throwing sedans around (3,000-4,000 lbs.).
But the key difference between them appears on leg day. It is key to Jessica’s abilities as she uses that strength to hurtle herself up buildings. That feat certainly requires a lot of power. Luke’s jumping strength, as seen in the season 2 training scene, makes him better than any living Olympic long jumper, but nowhere near what Jessica can accomplish.
The comic book Jessica – who can straight up fly – is said to have an “unrevealed” upper limit to her strength, potentially making her one of the strongest super-powered beings in the Marvel Universe. Her Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent could be capable of such feats of strength. Provided, of course, she had the necessary motivation to, say, pick up a building.
The 1970s Spider-Man show ran for two short seasons on CBS and did its best to recreate Peter Parker’s myriad abilities on a tight TV budget. His webbing always looked like rope and scenes of him clinging to the side of buildings always looks a little too comical for comfort. But the show was dedicated to being as faithful as it could in its first season.
And one of the key abilities of Spider-Man is his radioactive spider-inherited strength. Traditionally, he has “the proportionate strength of a spider,” which can lift anywhere from 2 to 120 times its bodyweight depending on species. For Peter, this roughly translates to 20,000 lbs., depending on the needs of the plot. Not that the show could ever dramatize this upper limit. In fact, the second season pulled back even further on his abilities in hopes of courting an older audience.
Diana has always had the strength of the gods on her side. She could hold back the tide of war, bust through walls, bend guns, and tow vehicles with her lasso. Like the other 1970s TV shows mentioned, dramatizing her powers to their fullest was beyond the technical prowess and budgets of the day. It was also beyond the writers at times, who played employed the “as strong as the plot needs her to be” rule for her strength.
Even her comic book counterpart’s strength varies with each story, so we will assume the ’70s Wonder Woman was roughly on par with ’70s Spider-Man in terms of strength. Her current DC Extended Universe film manifestation, as played by Gal Gadot, gets far closer to the godly ideal, making her one of the mightiest superheroes around.
As a Daxamite, Mon-El has the comparative strength of a fairly fit Kryptonian. Traditionally, the character is said to have the same strength as Superman; of course, Superman once had the ability to push planets out of their orbits, making the notion of strength a ridiculous concept.
Since the 1980s, Superman’s powers decreased considerably, leaving him strong enough to keep a space shuttle (165,000 lbs) in the air (with an assist from his flight ability), but not so strong that he can lift a mountain from its roots. Over the course of various television shows, he has proved strong enough to help a rocket complete its trajectory (as seen in the first episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). In theory, Mon-El would be capable of this sort of strength if given the challenge. Although, this past of season of Supergirl saw him do little else but be the prince of indecision.
But as Clark (Hoechlin) admitted in the season 2 finale of Supergirl, Kara Danvers (Benoist) is the strongest of the television superheroes. To prove it, we have a moment from the season 1 finale in which she lifted the crashed space station Fort Rozz off the Earth and into a trajectory away from the solar system. It nearly killed her, but she was successful.
Now, Fort Rozz is fictional and therefore hard to quantify, but our own real-life International Space Station is said to weigh (under Earth’s gravity) 450 tons – 900,000 lbs – and it is only a fraction of the size of Fort Rozz. If Supergirl can move something in the 100s of tons, she is definitely in a class by herself; in fact, that sort of power makes some of the developments in more recent episodes quite alarming. Maybe Worldkiller Reign (Odette Annable) really had the strength to shatter the Earth all along.
Nonetheless, Supergirl stands above all other TV superheroes for sheer strength. Of course, how she applies that power makes all the difference in the world. And seeing as she tends to empathize with her opponents, it is doubtful we will see her move anything that massive any time soon.