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Not every superhero is faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. That's when superweapons become a necessity.

Since his first mission in Gotham City's violent streets in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), DC Comics' Batman has cornered the superweapons market with an array of crime-crushing gadgets that would make 007's Q green with envy. The Dark Knight's utility belt houses his miniaturized line of defense: A retractable Batrope, a grappling hook, grenades, smoke and gas capsules, a penlight, an acetylene torch, a respirator, and a first-aid kit are just some of the weapons he keeps close to the hip. Batman is proficient with his bat-styled boomerang—his Batarang—which he flings with expert accuracy, as well as his Batblades, skin-piercing, batwinged projectiles.

Belts also have significance to other superheroes: Batman's ally Robin the Boy Wonder carries a similar arsenal in his own utility belt, Hanna-Barbera's Space Ghost vanishes by pressing a button on his Invisibelt, and Dynamo of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents uses his belt to become supercharged. DC's 1970s superstar the Thorn stored thorns of every conceivable dimension in her belt—blackout thorns, painful dart thorns, flare thorns, and electric-shock thistle stingers—in addition to her whip, coiled up and ready to release on a moment's notice. The original Robin (Dick Grayson), now called Nightwing, has retired his utility belt for glove gauntlets, loaded with gizmos not unlike Batman's, including customized Batarangs, gas pellets, and de-cel jumplines. Nightwing also wields unbreakable Escrima sticks with unnerving speed and accuracy. His mask's eyepieces are equipped with night-vision lenses, as are Batman's and the current Robin's.

Wristbands or gauntlets are fashionable weapons among superheroes. After science student Peter Parker gained the ability to crawl up walls like an insect, he created wrist-mounted shooters to secrete a thin webline for swinging from building to building as the amazing Spider-Man (though in director Sam Raimi's blockbuster Spider-Man [2002], Parker gains the organic ability to shoot webs). Several other Marvel Comics superheroes bond with bands: The Wasp and Yellowjacket use their wristbands to fire electrical stings, the Black Widow discharges debilitating Widow's Bite blasts from her gauntlets, and the warrior from the planet Kree, Mar-Vell (a.k.a. Captain Marvel), has cosmically imbued Mega Bands. Space Ghost fires a variety of blasts—including a beam that levitates objects—from his power bands. The most famous wrist gear in the superhero world is worn by Wonder Woman: She deflects oncoming bullets with her bracelets—and forces captives to speak the truth with her other superweapon, her magic lasso. Top Cow Comics' Witchblade became a superheroine once she donned an enchanted steel glove that, like Wonder Woman's bracelets, repels bullets. Witchblade's gauntlet can do much more, however: It morphs into a variety of deadly edged blades and commands unusual supernatural properties.

When fighting crime with gadgetry in the world of Marvel Comics, nobody does it better than Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury fronts this high-tech police force with a sophisticated arsenal including magnetic cuff links capable of supporting a human's weight, explosive cigars, bulletproof and flame-retardant clothing, shirt buttons that are secretly oxygen pellets, an eyepatch that doubles as a slingshot, and an expansive array of firearms shooting everything from traditional bullets to concussive blasts.

Industrialist Tony Stark covers his entire body with one of the most awesome superweapons in the Marvel universe: the high-tech armor that empowers him as the Invincible Iron Man, placing flight, repulsor blasters, a uni-beam, and superstrength at his command (other armored heroes include Valiant's X-O Manowar, Dark Horse's Mecha, Marvel's War Machine and Future Comics' Metallix). Cyborg of the Teen Titans and Marvel's cybernetic supersoldier Deathlok take the armor concept a dramatic leap further: Both are part-man, part machine. Cyborg, in fact, has interchangeable hands that perform a variety of functions, including the emission of sonic discharges. On a smaller scale, the Avenger Ant-Man's antennae-helmet makes ants do his bidding.

Captain America, Marvel's stalwart patriot, uses his mighty red, white, and blue shield, forged of shatterproof vibranium, to deflect incoming blasts. Cap also hurls his shield to plow through adversaries, and often suckers them by ricocheting the shield in sneak attacks. Even more durable than vibranium is the synthetic metal adamantium, of which the X-Men's Wolverine's retractable claws and entire skeleton are made. His claws can slice through virtually any object. His acquisition of this superweapon did not come easy: Wolverine's bones were replaced with adamantium in an agonizing surgical process. Sarge Steel, a hard-boiled crime crusher who started his career at Charlton Comics in the 1960s before joining the DC universe in the 1980s, has a metal hand that packs quite a punch.

The mighty Thor, Marvel's god of thunder, wields the hammer Mjolnir. The resilient hammer, made of the mystical metal uru, can only be lifted by one deemed worthy by Thor's father, Odin, king of the Norse gods. Thor uses Mjolnir to fly, and to smash objects and enemies. Superman's ally Steel hoists a sledgehammer in his street-level crimebusting in Metropolis. Several members of DC's Justice Society of America have employed a cosmic rod in their crime-fighting endeavors: In the 1940s, the original Starman created his gravity-rod to siphon stellar radiation to allow him to fly and emit powerful blasts. He later renamed the device the cosmic rod and in the 1970s passed it down to the Star-Spangled Kid. When the 1990s Starman arose to carry on the astral tradition, he did so with a similar superweapon, a cosmic staff, which in the 2000s was inherited by Stargirl. The Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange, exploits the arcane properties of his all-seeing Eye of Agamotto to locate supernatural threats lurking within the Marvel universe. Blind hero Daredevil enlists the aid of his billy club: Guided by his uncanny radar sense, Daredevil tosses his club at foes and swings from rooftops on its retractable line.

Perhaps the most legendary—and omnipotent—superweapon is DC Comics' Green Lantern's power ring. Alan Scott, the Golden Age (1938–1954) Green Lantern (GL), carved his ring from a meteor and used it to fire mystical energy bolts. A dying alien named Abin Sur gave fearless test pilot Hal Jordan his power ring, the weapon of the intergalactic peacekeeping force, the Green Lantern Corps. As the Silver Age (1956–1969) GL, Jordan used his ring to vanquish global and space-faring threats. Green Lantern reservists Guy Gardner and John Stewart have also worn power rings, and the 2000s ring bearer and newest GL is Kyle Rayner. A Green Lantern's power ring's abilities are nearly limitless, its only boundaries being the wearer's imagination and (up to Rayner's tenure, at least) the ring's sole weakness, ineffectiveness against any yellow object. GL's will power enables him to use the ring to create anything, from a giant green fist to a glowing emerald spacecraft. The power ring's energy source is a battery—shaped like a green lantern—and the ring requires recharging after twenty-four hours.

Expert marksmen Green Arrow (GA), his son Connor Hawke (also known as Green Arrow), and the first GA's former sidekick Speedy (now called Arsenal) all aim arrows from bows, as do Marvel's Hawkeye, DC's Amazon Artemis, and CrossGen Comics' Arwyn the Archer from the series Sojourn. Some of their arrows are electrical, explosive, or trick in some capacity (boxing-glove arrows were an old favorite of GA's). The Huntress pins gangsters with a crossbow. Another sureshot superhero is the X-Men mutant Gambit, who infuses biokinetic energy into inorganic objects, making anything he touches a deadly weapon—Gambit gets a charge out of throwing explosive playing cards.

Some superheroes' superweapons aren't super at all. Hawkman and Hawkgirl prefer ancient arms like maces, swords, and shields; the Golden Age's Shining Knight, one-time Avengers Swordsman and Black Knight, and Valkyrie of Marvel's Defenders have used a similar arsenal. Elektra brandishes three-pronged daggers called sai, and the Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi, backs up his martial arts with nunchakus and throwing darts (as does the Green Hornet's ally Kato). The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, those heroes in a half-shell, are also experts at swordplay. And watch out for Catwoman! This sultry streetfighter lashes out at her enemies with her cat-o'-nine-tails whip. The Western superhero the Vigilante, who fought crime during the 1940s and 1950s in DC Comics, often used a lariat to corral his foes.

Making the list of superheroes armed with the wackiest weapons are Harvey Comics' 1960s-era Spyman, with his electro-robot hand and his gunbelt filled with additional, screw-in fingers that accomplish amazing feats—from producing a smoke screen to creating a supersonic shock wave; undersea hero Pirana, who packs an undersea blowtorch neatly tucked away in a pocket; and Neal Adams' short-lived (1983) hero Skateman, a former roller derby athlete turned hero, who uses his roller skates as a weapon.

Finally, a horde of heroes new and old wield conventional firepower in battle. DC's Deathstroke the Terminator blasts (as well as slices) away at his foes, as does that other Terminator, the futuristic cyborg assassin from a franchise of live-action movies and Dark Horse comic books. Tomb Raider Lara Croft backs up her martial arts prowess with awesome aim as an expert sharpshooter. The vengeful Punisher unleashes his lethal war on crime with a bottomless munitions cache that his altruistic ally Spider-Man finds distasteful. Spidey would no doubt prefer the Green Hornet's or the Golden Age Sandman's firearms, meant to disarm, not destroy: Both use gas guns to knock out their foes (Sandman's former partner Sandy, called Sand as of the 2000s, carries on his mentor's tradition), and the Green Hornet's vibrating Hornet's Sting rips through steel. Still others rely solely on their respective superabilities, preferring not to use weapons of any sort: When you're pliable like Plastic Man, as fast as the Flash, as strong as the Hulk, or can burst into flame like the Human Torch, superweapons serve no purpose. —ME

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