The most famous fictional doctors in pop culture tend to fall into one of two categories — they’re either crusading heroes who live up to their job title by aiding the needy, like TV’s Doctor Who, or else they’re crazed scientists like Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll. Well, it’s no different in the Marvel and DC universes, both of which are home to numerous individuals who go by that title, whether they have formally earned it or not.
Some of these doctors are celebrated superheroes, fighting alongside the Avengers and the Justice League, while others are some of the worst supervillains around, known for battling the likes of Spider-Man and Shazam. With commiserations to those do-gooding and/or demented doctors who didn’t make the cut, such as Wonder Woman villain Doctor Psycho, DC sorcerer Doctor Thirteen, and Captain America enemy Doctor Faustus, let’s take a look at the top 10 doctors from the worlds of Marvel and DC.
Although easily the most obscure character on this list, Doctor Occult still deserves his place due to his underrated position in comic book history. As devised by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1935, he stands as the oldest DC Comics character who is still part of the universe’s modern canon. Essentially a Golden Age version of John Constantine who dresses like The Question, Richard Occult — yes, that’s his real name — is an occult investigator and private detective.
Like Doctor Fate, Doctor Mid-Nite is another member of the Justice Society of America who claims to have a doctorate. There have been three Mid-Nites in DC continuity — Charles McNider, Pieter Cross, and Beth Chapel — whose powers fluctuate, although they all possess perfect night vision, as enhanced by their infrared goggles. The Chapel incarnation of the character is a regular on The CW’s Stargirl, as played by Angelika Washington.
Hey, remember when Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell appeared in The Incredible Hulk as Betty Ross’ new boyfriend, Dr. Leonard Samson? You don’t? Fair enough. Well, anyway, this character was a very loose adaptation of Doc Samson, a member of the Hulk family in the comics. Like his biblical namesake, Samson’s strength levels depend on the length of his gamma-irradiated — and therefore green — hair. Maybe we’ll get a more authentic version in the MCU someday.
With Black Adam handed his own solo movie, the role of Shazam’s nemesis in the hero’s inaugural movie fell to Doctor Thaddeus Sivana, as played by Green Lantern alum Mark Strong. This was a fitting choice as Sivana is actually the character formerly known as Captain Marvel’s very first villain, debuting alongside him in 1940. Over the years, he’s evolved from a wizened mad scientist into a more physically formidable foe, as we saw in his on-screen incarnation.
With a name like Arthur Light, this guy was destined to become a light-themed supervillain, and sure enough he’s been causing mischief for many heroes of the DC universe since his arrival on the scene in 1962. A second, heroic, Doctor Light (Kimiyo Hoshi) was introduced in “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Between them, the two Lights have lit up the screen in the likes of Lois & Clark (David Bowe), Titans (Michael Mosley), and The Flash (Emmie Nagata).
Over 80 years after his first comics appearance in 1940, DC’s premier sorcerer Doctor Fate just finally made his big-screen debut in Black Adam, with Pierce Brosnan’s gravitas-laden performance turning him into the movie’s breakout character among the DC fandom (sorry, Dwayne Johnson). And, if you’re wondering, yes, Fate — who draws his vast powers from the Helmet of Nabu — is a real doctor, as Kent Nelson has a doctorate in archaeology.
Stephen Strange was once a relatively obscure Marvel Comics hero but, just as the MCU has done with so many others, that all changed once Benedict Cumberbatch debuted as the would-be Sorcerer Supreme in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Since then, he’s become a frontrunner of the franchise, having just broken the multiverse twice over in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange 2, and he’ll no doubt prove to be a key part of both Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, too.
As J. Jonah Jameson once memorably said, “a guy called Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs! What are the odds?” Since his debut in 1963’s The Amazing Spider-Man #3, Doc Ock has been one of the webslinger’s top-tier villains, most memorably serving as the original boss of the Sinister Six. Of course, movie viewers know him best thanks to Alfred Molina’s wonderfully nuanced performance in Spider-Man 2, which he recently reprised after 20 years in No Way Home.
When Jon Osterman’s body is atomized due to a nuclear physics experiment gone awry, he’s able to reconstitute his form into Doctor Manhattan, perhaps the most powerful hero in the DC multiverse. Although, like everyone in Watchmen, hero is a contentious label to give him, due to his extreme apathy for humankind. Billy Crudup played the blue-skinned man-god in Zack Snyder’s movie with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II taking on the part in HBO’s acclaimed TV series.
The most definitive comic book doctor, however, probably has to be the one whose name most rolls off the tongue — Victor Von Doom, the eternal nemesis of the Fantastic Four. With his metal mask and green cloak, Doctor Doom is the archetypal supervillain. After Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell’s iterations dropped the ball in capturing the ruler of Latveria’s fearsome nature, let’s hope whoever plays him in the MCU isn’t doomed to repeat their failures.