WaPost derides Iron Man as a "second-tier" super hero. Jonathan Last tries to defend his first-tier status, but I think that's a mistake. The problem with the article is that it doesn't do due deference to the significance of the second tier. At the end of the day, the first tier of costumed crime fighters is limited to just three members -- Superman, Spiderman, and Batman -- truly ubiquitous figures who any American could recognize even if they don't know anything about them.

Iron Man belongs firmly to a second-tier of major comic book characters who'd be instantly familiar to anyone who was, at any time in his or (less likely) her life a reader of superhero books.

Where a lot of folks surprised about the success of the Iron Man film seem to me to have gone wrong is just in underestimating how big the audience for the second-tier is. But the reality is that while current-and-former comic book fans are a minority of Americans, it's a pretty big minority, and it doesn't really take that many people to make a hit movie. A third- or forth-rate hero like Elongated Man could never carry the day, but the second tier is fertile ground if you just manage to put a decent film together.

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