Marvel has created many of the greatest superheroes ever, but they didn't create the superhero concept. That accomplishment goes to DC Comics. DC set the stage for how people looked at superheroes from the beginning, and Marvel has often used DC's tropes. However, Marvel doesn't exactly copy DC, setting up a unique universe of its own different. Marvel is known for putting their own spin on things, which is how they've conquered the superhero genre.

Something Marvel has seemingly taken from DC is the concept of a trinity of superheroes at the center of things. At DC, this trinity comprises Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are the leaders of the superhero community and its most important members. At Marvel, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor were given that mantle early on. They're the leaders and the key component of teams like Avengers. However, an argument can be made that they aren't the real trinity. That honor goes to the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Wolverine.

RELATED: Is Marvel Comics Pantheon of Gods Truly Doomed?

The History Of Marvel's Trinity

Namor, Human Torch, and Captain America in motion

Unlike DC, Marvel has had more than one trinity. Iron Man and Thor are Silver Age creations, and they have no precursors in the Golden Age. However, Marvel did have a trinity back then. Marvel's first two major characters appeared in 1939's Marvel Comics #1 (by Carl Burgos and Bill Everett) — Namor the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch. Other heroes debuted after, but the true of the star of the era for Marvel was Captain America. Captain America is an undisputed legend, and his debut in Captain America Comics #1, by the incomparable team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, made Marvel a contender against DC. Captain America became the anchor of the nascent Golden Age Marvel Universe, and soon the three heroes teamed together to battle the Nazis — despite Sub-Mariner and Human Torch often fighting each other before their World War II team-ups. These adventures inspired a young Roy Thomas. Years later at Marvel, Thomas created the Invaders, a team of Marvel superheroes that didn't actually exist in the Golden Age in any formal capacity.

After World War II, most of Marvel's other characters disappeared, but Captain America survived into the 1950s as communist smashing avatar of McCarthy era America. However, he too would go the way of Marvel's superhero line and got replaced by monster comics, romance comics, and Westerns. DC's success with their Silver Age reboot inspired Marvel to try their hand at superheroes again, and the Fantastic Four showed up in 1961. The Marvel Age of comics truly began. In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Thor. The early days of the classic Thor were an amazing mix of mythology and sci-fi, a hallmark of Kirby's work. In no time, Thor became a popular character.

RELATED: Marvel and DC's Villains are Better Evil Than Sympathetic

Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor leading the Avengers.

Iron Man premiered in 1963, which was a landmark year for the publisher. Many of Marvel's greatest characters burst onto the scene that year. Iron Man's greatest power was his adaptability. He was basically the perfect Cold War American — a hallmark of Marvel at the time — using his ingenuity to create new technology and often battling communist enemies from Russia and China. The stage was set for The Avengers, another Kirby/Lee creation that combined all of Marvel's Silver Age solo heroes. Right from the team's offsite, Iron Man and Thor became the team's main members, since their powers were the greatest. In the fourth issue (by

Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Roussos, Stan Goldberg, and Artie Simek), Captain America returned and the new Marvel trinity was born.

Unlike Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman at DC, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man weren't the bestselling Marvel characters of the time. However, they were the most thematically important. Iron Man represented the can-do spirit of the Marvel Universe and Cold War-era America, using American science and ideas to battle the world's menaces. Thor brought a sense of mythology, the best of the old world coming forth to protect the world in general and the US in particular. Captain America was literally the spirit of America, a hero of the '40s come to the '60s to protect the fragile new world of the US. Marvel's trinity was very much about the aggrandizement of Cold War United States, with heroes of the past and present working together to fight for the ideals of the West. Marvel's Cold War beginnings informed much of the publisher's storytelling, and these three heroes represented that. In many ways, they mirrored the original trinity from the Golden Age. Human Torch was the man of technology, a synthetic being created to highlight America's genius. Namor was the king of Atlantis, a mythological realm where he was its god king. Captain America played the same role as he did in the Avengers.

RELATED: How Avengers Vs. X-Men Makes Orchis' Attack Against the X-Men Even Worse

The New Trinity

The Hulk roaring over his tiny alter-ego, Bruce Banner, in Marvel Comics

Monster comics were a big part of Marvel's pre-Fantastic Four #1 output. 1962's debut of the Hulk played into that. The Hulk borrowed themes from the Fantastic Four — a scientist creating something to get the edge over the Soviets suddenly has an accident that grants amazing power. However, instead of becoming a superhero, the Bruce Banner became a monster. The allegory at Hulk's center — a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of nuclear weapons and the damage they could do — was obvious, which played into the Hulk's monstrousness. The Hulk was in many ways the United States' version of Godzilla, and would actually follow a similar path later — becoming a hero and pop culture icon. The Hulk gained massive popularity, and eventually writer Peter David's Hulk run took advantage of the character's complexity to create brilliant stories. The Hulk reached such a massive height of popularity that he eventually starred in his own TV show.

A collage of Spider-Man in a tattered costume with Carnage looming in the background

Spider-Man's 1963 debut completely changed the game for Marvel. The character took Stan Lee's greatest idea — humanizing superheroes — and brought it to the next level. Peter Parker still fit in with Marvel's central idea concerning the supremacy of the Cold War American, as evidenced by his genius intellect and obsession with responsibility. However, Spider-Man also embraced youth culture in a way other Marvel heroes didn't. He was meant to be a character the readers could understand and relate to. Spider-Man became Marvel's killer app and quickly took a place in pop culture as great as DC's legends. The Amazing Spider-Man may disappoint some fans today, but it's still the bestselling Marvel comic. Spider-Man is among the most recognizable characters in all fiction. He's starred in movies, TV shows, and video games — becoming Marvel's biggest poster boy.

Wolverine snarling as he emerges from an explosion in Return of Wolverine by Marvel Comics

Wolverine first appeared battling the Incredible Hulk, but his time with the X-Men helped him to join the ranks of Marvel's most popular characters. Wolverine's man of mystery backstory, combined with his capacity for violence and the vulnerable human underneath, took him places no other Marvel hero had gone before. Much like Spider-Man before him, Wolverine hopped to the front of the popularity line. The character became ubiquitous in a way that someone like Captain America used to be. Wolverine's greatest attribute is one that few other Marvel characters actually have. Wolverine grows as a character. While Marvel often keeps its biggest names trapped in a regressive routine of copying older stories, Wolverine gets to become a more well-rounded character and isn't constantly revisiting his own greatest hits. His almost fifty years of existence has taken fans on a ride unlike any other Marvel character, one that has taken him to the top of the heap.

RELATED: Wolverine's Family Tree — Explained

Why The New Trinity Works Better Than The Old

A split image of Wolverine, Hulk, and Spider-Man from Marvel Comics

Throughout the Golden and Silver Ages, Marvel used superheroes as symbols of nationalism. This is especially apparent in the Silver Age, since many of Marvel's characters all fit the same mold — a genius white American who gains powers and uses them to protect the status quo. Marvel's first two trinities were each a part of this, even using the same tropes for each member. This worked very well in its time. There's a reason that the MCU formed itself around the nucleus of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Those three characters were the three biggest characters of the Silver Age Marvel Universe, and their genesis defined what Marvel was back then. However, the Cold War is long over. The days of the exceptional American scientist/industrialist/youth battling the forces of evil fit the way America saw itself back then. Marvel's trinity of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor took the past, present, and future and wedded them together to this sensibility. That's the core of why these three characters became as important as they did.

However, as time went on, the world changed and so did Marvel. Spider-Man was always popular, and while he definitely started out as an intrepid Cold War kid in the mighty Marvel fashion, his stories became something completely different. Spider-Man changed the way Marvel characters looked and sounded, and was the publisher's biggest crossover star for decades. The Hulk wedded Marvel's early Silver Age monster comics to its Cold Warrior heroes, but proved to be a more complex character than any of them. The Hulk got a chance at stardom with his own TV show and became a pop cultural figure that rivaled Spider-Man. Hulk stories also changed the way Marvel comics were told. Writers like Peter David dug into the Hulk's psychology, and that became a regular part of Marvel's storytelling tropes. Wolverine was born in the mid-'70s when anti-heroes were all the rage, but became unique. He was a warrior poet, a broken man fighting to keep other people from being broken. Wolverine's story had to evolve to keep working over the years, which is what makes him so important, even more so than his massive popularity.

RELATED: Who is Marvel's Superman Equivalent?

The Marvel Universe has evolved over the decades. Golden and Silver Age Marvel were American to their core, but Marvel's superheroes have become much bigger than that. At this point in Marvel's history, the trinity of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man is passé, despite their star turns in the MCU. What they represent is the old Marvel. Characters like Hulk and Spider-Man are as old as Thor and Iron Man, but they're different kinds of characters. They've evolved past the tropes that created them, and in many ways, Iron Man and Thor haven't. There's a reason why they aren't as popular as they once were. Wolverine appeals to people on a surface level because he's a tough guy with a core of sadness. However, a look into Wolverine's history reveals a character who's grown and evolved unlike the Silver Age trinity. Spider-Man is the everyman. Hulk is the monster that lurks inside every human. Spider-Man, Hulk, and Wolverine are the most popular characters, and they represent what Marvel has become. Thematically, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor will always be the leaders in-universe; but they aren't the three characters who best exemplify Marvel. Spider-Man, Hulk, and Wolverine are.