Heights and weights in sourcebooks seem to all stem from the grand-daddy of super-heroes handbooks, the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe (OHOTMU), back in 1982. Even when they’re from other publishers. They form a mostly coherent system, and our estimates are usually coherent within this system.
However, these values are not necessarily realistic. Many of these numbers are jarring to expert eyes such as fitness trainers, dancers, body-building enthusiasts, etc.. This article :
- Reviews “handbook values”.
- Compares them to realistic values.
- Discusses subjects related to body weight and body types for comic book super-heroes.
The power of metric
Since a slim majority of our readers live in North America and the UK, we continue to provide measurement in Imperial. For most everywhere else, here are quick equivalence charts for common heights and weights on writeups.org :
|5’5”||1,65m||110 lbs.||50 Kg|
|5’6”||1,67m||120 lbs||54 Kg|
|5’7”||1,70m||130 lbs.||59 Kg|
|5’8”||1,72m||140 lbs.||63 Kg|
|5’9”||1,75m||150 lbs.||68 Kg|
|5’10”||1,78m||160 lbs.||72 Kg|
|5’11”||1,80m||170 lbs.||77 Kg|
|6’||1,83m||180 lbs||82 Kg|
|6’1”||1,85m||190 lbs||86 Kg|
|6’2”||1,88m||200 lbs||91 Kg|
|6’3”||1,90m||210 lbs.||95 Kg|
|6’4”||1,93m||220 lbs.||100 Kg|
|6’5”||1,95m||230 lbs.||104 Kg|
|6’6”||1,98m||240 lbs.||109 Kg|
|6’7”||2,00m||250 lbs.||113 Kg|
Heroic body types
The majority of heroic and villainous characters — and a good part of the supporting cast — have *one* specific body type. A superbly athletic, slim, highly toned physique.
Men will normally have unusually broad shoulders and very strong muscle definition. They’ll sport the muscle mass of a confirmed body builder with favourable genetics.
Women usually have a lower level of muscle definition. While superiorly athletic, they remain exceptionally curvaceous. Usually they’ll have a solid D-cup bust and pronounced hourglass figure.
These physiques are clearly not realistic. With many comics artists, the massive yet sharply cut musculature of men evokes steroid use. Some male physiques seem only possible with chemical enhancements, and some female physiques seem only possible with surgical implants.
Our Leòn Genetic Sequence article lowers suspension of disbelief by explaining why super-humans, near-super-humans and those who associate with them have exceptionally attractive genetics.
In some campaigns one may go further. Humans could explicitly generate high, stable levels of natural steroids (explaining musculatures). Men might be able to partially retract their genitals (explaining why male crotches are usually featureless). Women might have several ligaments within their breasts (explaining why comic book bosoms noticeably differ from real-world ones). Etc..
This is doubly true as the level of unfeasibility is oddly selective. With a fabric this tight and hugging, male genitals would be readily apparent (which is why competitive bicycling shorts for men are usually solid black). And female breasts would be well-compressed (which is sensible before engaging in high-impact athletics). And yet !
There is a clash here between here between the mythological aspect and sex appeal. The high concept is gods and goddesses akin to Classical statues or artistic body studies, only clad in their heraldry of power and other visual symbols. As often, Jack “the King” Kirby’s art is a clear statement of this highbrow goal – it’s about titanic power and thunderous triumphs. It’s a myth.
But then, things inevitably get… less highbrow.
The figuration of the costumes also evolves :
- Many Golden Age costumes were based on existing clothing, such as those worn by carnival wrestlers. Green Lantern (Alan Scott) being a good example.
- During the late Bronze Age, richer textures and more physical accessories came back. For instance, there was an era during the 1990s where brown leather jackets were often thrown on top of more classic costumes. It looks more grounded. Especially as better colouring and printing make areas of flat colours look odd on the page.
- The rise of blockbuster live-action movies seems to reinforce the evolution of super-hero costumes toward something that can physically exist. OTOH, modern movies have a solid command of CGI, lighting, post-production enhancements, high-quality body casts, physical training methods, etc. to resemble comic books.
Likewise, the idealisation of bodies evolves over the decades.
One clear example took place during the 1990s, with the arrival of a new body type for male characters. It featured impossibly massive muscle mass, a small head, a grotesquely massive torso, extreme muscle definition and bulging veins. Characters meant to be superhumanly massive – such as the Hulk or Bane – retain traits from this trend.
The same era also saw an acceleration of hyper-sexualised, scantily-clad female bodies whose fatty tissues present perplexing characteristics. This trend took far longer to roll back than with 1990s male super-heroes. The process is still ongoing as of this writing.
Some numbers come up over and again in sourcebooks, since so many characters have the one body seen as ideal for their gender. The modal heroine is 5’6” and 120 lbs., and the modal hero is 6’ and 180 lbs..
It should be kept in mind that the original OHOTMU was written in the early 1980s by men — such as the late Mark Gruenwald, or Peter Sanderson — who were then about 30. Their sense of average heights for North Americans thus mostly come from the 1970s.
Using statistics from 2008 and assuming that the target height is the 85th percentile :
- A stock heroine would now be 1,71m tall (about 5’7 ½”).
- A stock hero would now be 1,85m tall (about 6’1”).
This of course can vary be ethnicity, with the stock heroic person of Asian ancestries being usually drawn a bit shorter. Curiously the stock hero or heroine of African ancestries is often drawn as being bit taller. Statistically they should be a wee bit shorter. This probably stems from the fact that many famous African-Americans are athletes, models and other tall types.
Where’s the beef ?
What has most changed since the 1970s is for exceptionally tall, powerful persons. Males meant to be very tall in sourcebooks seldom break 6’2” (about 1,87m). But more modern distributions of height would easily allow for huge beefy men being 6’4” or more without being meant to be giants.
Interestingly, the height and weight given for characters patterned after very muscular, powerful fighters (such as Wildcat (Ted Grant) or Luke Cage) have sometimes been revised to better align with modern norms. They seem have been patterned after contemporary heavyweight boxers.
As an example, heavyweight boxing champs nowadays are routinely 6’2” or 6’3”. This is as tall as Muhammad Ali (whereas Rocky Marciano was under 5’11”). The ranks of boxing champs include huge men such as the Klitschko brothers at 6’6” and 6’8”.
Another telling number is that the average weight of NFL offensive linemen has been increasing by about 10 lbs. per decade.
The stock male values — 6’ and 180 lbs — feature a lowballed weight. Men with this physique and a 6’ height are more realistically in the 195-to-220 lbs range (90 to 100 kilos, give or take). And heroic, broad shoulders will tilt them toward the higher end of the scale.
As a reference, a modern heavyweight boxer is at least 200 lbs. (195 lbs. for kickboxers).
Realistic values for a male with a heroic physique would thus start at 6’ and 210 lbs and add about 10 lbs per additional inch of height.
The stock female values — 5’6” and 120 lbs — are also lowballed given the fitness and exceptional curves of super-heroines. Adding a good 25 pounds is necessary to realistically pack everything within 5’6”. These numbers assume the muscle mass of a serious athlete plus significant-but-very-well-placed body fat.
From this base at 5’6” and 145 lbs., adding 11 pounds per inch provides more reasonable values. Women boxers are less useful as benchmarks than male pugilists, since their physique is generally different from super-heroines.
For comparison purposes a 5’7” female boxing champ, such as the late Giselle Salandy , had a fighting trim of about 150 pounds (about 1,70m and 68kg). This was with about the level of fitness and the shoulder breadth of a typical super-heroine but roughly two less cup sizes.
If the assumption is that the stock super-heroine is not as muscular as a professional fighter, remove 15 pounds of muscle.
Variant assumptions + names-dropping
The tracings done by artist Greg Land have established the use of pornographic models for super-heroines. The data available on height/weight for such women with a matching physique — slim, unusually well-endowed, but not actually muscled — leads to values circa 5’6” and 130 lbs. However, most such models are shorter than 5’6”.
For women in terrific shape and with a gorgeous physique, but who are neither genuinely top-heavy or muscular, some actresses at the height of their attractiveness are probably good benchmarks. For such women, the sourcebook values are correct – the stock 5’6”, 120 lbs. heroine occupies the middle ground between Megan Fox and Jessica Alba in terms of height and bulk.
For a low weight, actress Jessica Biel (with an aggressive level of fitness and little extra body fat) is 5’8” and 110 lbs.. An actress with a more brazenly three-dimensional constitution would be Monica Bellucci at roughly 5’7” and 145 lbs.
For all such values, keep in mind that beautiful actresses are generally photographed, dressed, etc. to appear taller and lighter. However, the women mentioned in this section are tall enough that their height is usually not exaggerated on-screen. If only to allow their male co-stars to still appear significantly taller.
Women built for, and training for, raw strength seldom have any media presence. Even the strongest super-heroines generally have shoulders and a musculature much closer to that of a sprinter or wrestler than a real weightlifter.
But as a data point, one of the strongest women in the world is Jang Mi-Ran at 5’6” and 255 lbs.. Ms. Jang’s massive physique, training and musculature have allowed her to lift more than 400 pounds above her head.
For male heroes who are athletic and superbly muscled, but do not have massive shoulders, remove 25 to 50 pounds of muscle and bone. This will fit some male heroes who are depicted as lithe and acrobatic rather than top-heavy, such as some depictions of Nightwing or Flash – or a young Cyclops.
Champion swimmers are often good examples of very well-muscled men with broad, but not huge, shoulders. Since they’re usually photographed in swimming trunks, getting a sense of how they are built is easy.
Note that actual gymnastics champions usually have a startlingly low body weight (and are usually on the short side). Comic books routinely depicts acrobatics that would be impossible for tall, powerful men under normal Earth gravity, which is why we picked swimming champs as a better example.
Conversely, for unusually tall men who are built for, and train for, sheer mass and power we can turn toward gridiron football, for instance certain NFL players in offensive lineman roles. For such professional strongmen, the average is about 6’4” and 300 lbs.
Recent Marvel movies provide us with two excellent examples of heroic male physiques with shirtless scenes – Chris Evans as Captain America is roughly 6’ and 200 lbs., and Chris Hemsworth as Thor is about 6’1” or 6’2” and 210 lbs.
Vin Diesel has a roughly comparable height and mass.
A good example of a less bulky, but well-built and superiorly muscular man would be Brad Pitt , at about 5’11” and 160 to 170 lbs. (in Fight Club and Troy respectively). An obviously strong, fit and muscled actor such as ex-diver Jason Statham is roughly 5’9” and 160 lbs.
However, in most cases the photography strives to enhance their apparent height and mass. Thus, the characters they play can be benchmarked as 1” taller and 10 to 15 lbs heavier than the actual actor — and of course the height and weight given for most actors are best approached with caution.
Furthermore, enhancing the physique of actors in post-production is increasingly inexpensive. This further disconnects the known height/Weight values from what’s on-screen.
See the second addendum below for more examples using real people.
Writeups.org generally uses the “handbook scale” for comic book characters, with its specific range of weights and heights. When this produces numbers that are too hard on the suspension of disbelief, we’ll usually adjust the numbers, and discuss this in the Description section.
For characters that are meant to be less idealised, we’ll often pick more realistic values. It’s something of a spectrum, ranging from “mythology-grade idealisation” to “actual numbers for ordinary people”.
Addendum: break out the canons
Artists use “proportional canons” when drawing characters. Traditionally, one uses the height of the character’s head as a unit, to have the proportions of the body match natural ratios in a quickly-measured manner.
The ultra-famous “Vitruvian Man” sketch by Leonardo da Vinci (based on the writings of Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius ) uses this traditional ratio, where a character is 8 heads high.
But when depicting heroic figures, the traditional proportion is nine head high. This is what the Ancient Greek did for the likes of Herakles. You can see an example of this in the lead illustration for this article. Captain America is 9 heads high, whereas the more realistic athlete next to him is 8 heads high.
Knowing this rule help understand the “Handbook scale”. As previously noted, weight are oddly low. But applying the proportions above, you can employ Darci’s Cunning Method (patent pending). The apparent heights are all 9⁄8ths of what a real-world human would be.
For example, a hero who looks like they’re 6 feet (183 cm) tall corresponds to a real-world person who is 5 feet 4 inches (163 cm) tall. The characters’ tables give a weight of 120 pounds (54kg), which is reasonable for a person who is 5 feet 4 inches tall.
Addendum: the incredible bulk
Though the crux of the article is about realistic values, the subject of weight for manifestly superhuman characters has come up before. Our entries for Colossus and Giganta come to mind. Though we stick with sourcebook values when available, some players may be interested in realistic values for people made of unusual matter, or of enormous size.
Both types of calculation are very simple and can be covered in just a few lines.
For people made of, say, organic osmium-steel or a rock-like substance, the only special number you have to know is density. The density of a normal human body, mostly made of water, is basically 1. The only computation is thus to multiply the weight of a similar human person by the density of the material the subject is made of. Material densities are easily googlable.
As rough benchmarks for body materials that come up in comics — if the human body is 1, then a very light metal like aluminium is 2.7, a heavy metal like gold is 19. Steel and iron are about a 8, lead a 11, ice a 0.9, volcanic ash a 0.8, bricks a 2, wood ranges from 0.5 to 0.9 (oak is 0.8), wet clay is 1.6, concrete a 2.4, diamond a 3.25, soil a 1.5, sand a 1.6, granite a 2.5.
Yo, Piotr !
As an example, let’s assume that Colossus is made of a steel/osmium alloy with a density of 12.3 – osmium is a very heavy metal. We know that he’s 6’6” tall. The rest of the article suggests a 270 lbs. starting weight for a 6’6” male with a heroic physique.
This is a good weight for Piotr when he was 17. Later on he bulked up and the values for huge gridiron football players may be more appropriate. A fully ripped, adult Colossus in human form at 6’6” and 325 lbs. would be realistic.
Simply multiplying this weight by 12.3 brings us to 4,000 pounds (1.8 tonnes). A realistic Colossus weights as much as a BMW 540 (a powerful touring car), or a seven-seats 4×4 Chevrolet Captiva (a crossover SUV).
However, we know that Colossus gets even taller when he transforms. And there are numerous gigantic characters, from Man-Mountain Marko to Giganta or Black Goliath, whose realistic weights would be interesting to know.
Thankfully we’ve known how to handle this since the 1600s and Galileo , using a simple tool called the square-cube law. This law will give you the surface area and the volume of the larger version of a known object.
Here we only want the volume, so it’s just the cube law. Take the ratio between the original height and the increased height and bring it to the third.
Simple example – Tall Lass is a basic superheroine at 5’6” and 145 lbs (realistic weight assuming she’s both very well-muscled and has comic-book curves). She can grow to twice her basic height – that’s, conveniently, 11′.
Multiplying her height by 2 means that her volume — and thus her weight — are multiplied by 2 to the third, which is 8. That’s 1,160 pounds for a realistic Tall Lass. That’s the weight of a compact car, like the smallest models of Subaru Impreza .
Finishing the example of Colossus… we’re going to shift to metric because we’re not masochistic. He goes from 6’6” to 7’5” in metal form. That’s 1.98m and 2.27m respectively. He has grown by a factor of 1.15, and 1.15 to the third is roughly 1.52.
Thus, the 1.8 tonnes of a realistic metallic 1.98m tall Colossus becomes about 2.75 tonnes when he’s 2.27m. 1.52 times as much because he’s 1.15 times as tall.
2.75 tonnes is a good average weight for a civilian Hummer . Which is very heavy, especially when you consider that all this mass interacts with the ground on just half the surface of one of his feet when he’s walking.
One last example is a person who gets 10 times as tall – which is not a bad ballpark for many comic book giants. That’s about 18m tall for a 6’ person, which is about the height of a six-floors building.
Ten times as tall, to the third, is of course a thousand times as heavy – so assuming a heroic physique that’s 200,000 pounds or roughly 91 tonnes. Which is why scientists do not believe in Godzilla.
Addendum: More athletic measurements
They are of particular interest since they cover male and female champions in an unusual variety of sports *and* they provide heights and weights in Imperial for each person. Obviously the book has much, much more material.
Helper(s): Jackson, Woodrow Hill, Mike Winkler, Darci, Pufnstuff, Peter Piispanen, Eric Langendorff, Adam Fuqua, Jobe, Kevin Berger.