Monday, May 30, 2011

Super summer showdown, round one: the demigods

The 20 heroes in today’s showdown are the mightiest of the mighty, beings with almost god-like invincibility. But all of their nearly limitless power doesn’t guarantee them victory in a battle of cool-ness. So without further ado:

Contest #1: Superman (DC) vs. Thor (Marvel)

The most powerful heroes in their respective universes, the Man of Steel and the God of Thunder share many powers in common: super strength, invulnerability, flight, etc. Debuting in 1938, Superman is the first-ever superhero and historically one of the most popular and enduring. His track record is spotty, however, with at least as many groan-inducing stories as thrilling ones. And his recent screen history is absolutely abysmal. In some ways, Thor is even older, as the character is rooted in prehistoric Germanic tradition, but as a Marvel superhero he only dates back to 1962. Comic-book Thor takes a hit for using ridiculously over-the-top, faux-Shakespearean language in many of his depictions (like his co-creator Stan Lee), but gets a big bump up for his recent movie, which was fun from start to finish. Classically coolest: tie. Most badass: tie. Most firepower: Thor. Most heart: Superman. Most compelling character: Superman. Overall winner: Superman. Thor is trending up, and Asgard definitely beats Krypton, but Superman is one of the biggest icons in the world.

Contest #2: Captain Marvel (DC) vs. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel)

Captain Marvel is a little boy who turns into a full-sized adult Superman rip-off when he utters the magic word, “Shazam!” The Hulk is a Dr. Jekyll rip-off who turns into a giant, barely controllable green monster when he gets angry. Classically coolest: Hulk. Most badass: Hulk. Most firepower: tie. Most heart: Hulk. Most compelling character: Hulk. Overall winner: Hulk smash!


Contest #3: Captain Atom (DC) vs. The Sentry (Marvel)

Two more Superman clones, Captain Atom harnesses the power of the “Quantum Field” to do just about anything he wants, and was the inspiration for the Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan. The Sentry harnesses the power of “one million exploding suns” to do just about anything he wants, including wearing the gaudiest belt buckle of any superhero. Classically coolest: tie. Most badass: tie. Most firepower: tie. Most heart: Captain Atom. Most compelling character: Captain Atom. Overall winner: Captain Atom.


Contest #4: The Spectre (DC) vs. Professor Charles Xavier (Marvel)

The Spectre is the “Spirit of Vengeance,” said to be the one who does God’s dirty work, such as slaughtering the Egyptian first-born during the Passover story in the Bible. Professor X is the world’s most powerful telepath. Both can see into men’s souls and seem to pull new levels of power out of thin air as needed, although only the Spectre is portrayed as really having limitless power. Professor X was portrayed by Patrick Stewart, who is pretty badass, but the Spectre has the better costume and resumé (employer: almighty God). Classically coolest: The Spectre. Most badass: tie. Most firepower: The Spectre. Most heart: tie. Most compelling character: Professor X. Overall winner: The Spectre.


Contest #5: Supergirl (DC) vs. Captain Marvel (Marvel)

Supergirl is Superman’s cousin and was invented at a time when DC was giving us super monkeys, dogs, horses and so many other preposterous “supers” that you’d think Krypton never exploded. Throughout most of her history, Supergirl has been pretty silly. However, in recent years, DC has taken pains to make her more interesting (and I’m not just talking about her new, bare-midriff look). Like Supergirl and her famous cousin, Marvel’s Captain Marvel (real name Mar-Vell) is an alien, and he has Superman-like powers thanks to the cosmic technology in his “Nega-Band” wristbands. Captain Marvel featured in several great storylines featuring a war between the alien Kree (his people) and Skrull empires. However, as a character, he has never really seemed to click. Classically coolest: Supergirl. Most badass: Supergirl;. Most firepower: Supergirl. Most heart: tie. Most compelling character: Supergirl;. Overall winner: Supergirl.


Contest #6: Superboy (DC) vs. Hercules (Marvel)

A teenage clone of Superman on the one hand, and an ancient Greek demigod turned superhero (a la Thor) on the other. Neither of these really work as well as the great superheroes they’re modeled after. Classically coolest: tie. Most badass: tie. Most firepower: tie. Most heart: tie. Most compelling character: Superboy. Overall winner: Superboy.


Contest #7: Big Barda (DC) vs. Beta Ray Bill (Marvel)

These are two of the more colorful supporting characters. Big Barda is an immortal warrior from the planet Apokalips, where she was trained by the forces of evil but defected to the good guys. Beta Ray Bill is a genetically modified alien who defeated Thor in a fair fight. In an unexpected twist, this strange alien proved worthy of wielding Thor’s magic hammer, and gained all of Thor’s powers. He eventually got a magic hammer of his own. Classically coolest: tie. Most badass: tie. Most firepower: Beta Ray Bill. Most heart: Beta Ray Bill. Most compelling character: Beta Rya Bill. Overall winner: Beta Ray Bill.


Contest #8: Orion (DC) vs. Black Bolt (Marvel)

In Jack Kirby’s “New Gods” series, Orion is son of the evil Darkseid, who rejected his father’s ways and became the greatest champion of New Genesis. He is immortal, possesses Superman-like powers and uses powerful alien artifacts. Black Bolt is the ruler of the Inhumans, a secret society of super beings created by Kirby with Stan Lee. He is not invincible like Orion, but is very powerful and mysterious: he can manipulate energy, deliver a devastating attack known as the “Master Blow,” and a single whisper from him can level a building. Classically coolest: Black Bolt. Most badass: Black Bolt. Most firepower: Orion. Most heart: tie. Most compelling character: Black Bolt. Overall winner: Black Bolt.


Contest #9: Mary Marvel (DC) vs. Ms. Marvel (Marvel)

Mary Marvel is a female version of Captain Marvel (the DC one), the superhero alter ego of Mary Baston, twin sister of Billy Baston, who transforms into Captain Marvel. Like Supergirl, she suffers from a long history of silly storylines. Ms. Marvel is a female version of Captain Marvel (the Marvel one), a human woman who obtained similar powers to Mar-Vell from a Kree device. She actually turns out to be a little more interesting and enduring than the hero she’s based on. Classically coolest: Ms. Marvel. Most badass: Ms. Marvel. Most firepower: tie. Most heart: Ms. Marvel. Most compelling character: Ms. Marvel. Overall winner: Ms. Marvel.


Contest #10: Power Girl (DC) vs. She-Hulk (Marvel)

Power Girl is apparently a version of Superman’s cousin Supergirl from an alternate reality that has since ceased to exist. She-Hulk is the cousin of the Hulk, who has been similarly transformed, but stays permanently in her muscular, green state, which is considerably shapelier and less monstrous than her cousin’s. She also retains her full mental faculties and even practices law in her green form. Classically coolest: She-Hulk. Most badass: She-Hulk. Most firepower: Power Girl. Most heart: tie. Most compelling character: tie. Overall winner: She-Hulk.


Round one score: All tied up – DC 5, Marvel 5.

7 comments:

  1. Sentry isn't a Superman-ripoff, you fucking son of a bitch - He is based on Miracleman.

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    1. marvel has even said that he is "marvel's superman" yes, he technically is a superman ripoff

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  2. Anon, thank you for your eloquent note. The Sentry character does indeed incorporate elements of Miracleman (Marvelman). In terms of powers, though, he's still a Superman clone. If you want you can say Sentry is a ripoff of Miracleman, who's a ripoff of Captain Marvel, who's a ripoff of Superman. There. That and a xanax should just about do it.

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  3. Looking at some of the outcome to some of these matches..I gotta ask: Do you read the books...?

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    1. When I wrote this, for the most part no. I used to in the early to mid-'80s when I was a kid, and I have started reading a few since then. But the match-up contest was pretty much an interested outsider's view of which of these characters seemed cooler - based purely on my memories from childhood and my now-nine-year-old kids' reactions. As described here: http://www.alienrobotzombies.com/2011/05/super-summer-showdown-introduction.html

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  4. superman's weakness is magic what is thor.

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  5. To be fair, you should have pitted Supergirl and She-Hulk against each other since they're both some of the first-ever Rule 63 entries. Power Girl and Captain Marvel (Marvel) are both characters meant to be their own comic headliners who never really took off, so they would be acceptable matches.

    Either way, I find your categorizations a way for you to play favorites at a glance without actually taking the time to get to know the characters, because there are so many dynamics involved that you can never get at just a glance.

    A more objective approach would be to classify their powers, weaknesses, personalities, motives, operational scale and, most importantly, their villains. And then after classifying these things, don't pick a winner. Invite readers to make their own conclusions and go see for themselves.

    Also, Re: Thomas Daniel: Thor is not magic. Thor is a mostly-immortal being from another plane of reality who has a quasi-magical control over lightning and wields a weapon that is indeed mystical but does not itself do any sort of 'magic' type attacks. Superman's "weakness to magic" is in that most magical things are highly cerebral and either immune or highly resistant to being bludgeoned; Thor shares this "weakness" and that's why Loki is such a major threat to him. Similarly, this is why Superman's most compelling enemies (Luthor, Cerebro) are those who use their brains to battle his brawn. A fight between Superman and Thor would be a brutal slugfest that could go on for weeks or months without either side gaining much ground, and would probably only stop if a third party intervened. Even if Thor had some Kryptonite, he's too honorable to use it, and would even get rid of it himself to ensure a fair fight against a worthy opponent (though probably not without taking a cheap shot). Superman still wins in that he's much more iconic than Thor, and in that he's an original character, while Thor is re-imagined mythology. In the end, the winner can only be the symbol that billions of people around the world instantly recognize regardless of their nationality or language. To let it end in a victory for Thor would be an international outrage; in such a fight, Superman would be required to win, stand down or call it a draw for it to be acceptable to fans.

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