Entertainment Weekly is currently in the middle of huge, tournament-style competition that asks their readers that eternal comic book question: Who is the Greatest?
When I first saw this poll, I found myself absorbed with the question. Obviously, I have stated on this blog who my favorite is on SEVERAL occasions (Spider-Man), but it is always a fun debate to get into, especially with this bracket set-up. Now, EW.com just finished their first round of voting and as I went through the competition, I noticed how lop-sided the votes were. Currently, the closest match-up is “Spawn vs. Captain Marvel (DC)” at 44% to 56%, in favor of Cap. The widest margin is the “Batman vs. Rorschach” match, with Batman at 94%. Most of the others fall somewhere around the 75%/25%. Even among my own choices, only two haven’t followed the voting trend: I chose The Flash over the Hulk (36% to Hulk’s 68%, which surprised me) and Black Panther over Wonder Woman (18% to WW’s 82%, which didn’t surprise me).
But unlike March Madness, its pretty easy to see who the Final Four will be: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Superman and Batman (though Superman might run into competition with Thor).
This Final Four match-up is what really got me thinking and what drove me to want to dedicate an article to this bracket. Why is it so easy to call this? Why is it so easy to look at two characters and know, almost instantly, who is the better one?
Now, for some of these, I’ve been reading so long that I had the answer ready. Wolverine is the best X-Man, period. Tony Stark trumps Oliver Queen. Spider-Man is better than Daredevil (which 90% of the voters agree with). But others gave me pause.
Jean Grey over Storm.
I like Storm. Even when Halle Berry had like three scenes in the first X-Men movie, the character deserved to be there and I’ve always associated her with The X-Men. I enjoy reading Storm. But Jean Grey is just a better character (and she’s been dead for nearly a decade). It comes down to this: Jean Grey can be MORE than Storm ever can be. Storm can never be more than a solid, good person. She went through a punk, mohawk phase in the 80s and it always felt out of place (though the character design was striking). Whereas Jean Grey went from innocent young girl to genocidal monster and never once did it feel out of character.
Other characters experience the same limits that Storm does.
Aquaman will never be greater than Captain America (or any of the other 30 characters in the bracket) because of his confinement to the water. Spawn can never raise above his Heaven vs. Hell dynamic. But Batman can be cheesy Adam West or brooding Christian Bale and it just works.
Others, no matter how great they are, can only work for specific times. Rorschach was meant for 12 issues (as much as DC wants it to be otherwise). Additionally, Rorschach is dependent on being juxtaposed with other heroes, as he (and Watchmen as a whole) serves as a critique of the Silver Age (same with The Tick). The Great Machine from Brian K. Vaughan’s brilliant Ex Machina is a product of post-9/11 New York and will never go off on the type of adventures that Invisible Woman and the Fantastic Four do. The Spirit only works in the hands of his creator, the late, great Will Eisner. The rest just never recaptured their initial appeal like The Silver Surfer in the 60s.
Trying to figure out who the greatest superhero is a fun thing to debate, but it also makes you wonder who so few extend beyond the panels of their books. Someone who has never read a comic could still tell you that Superman is Clark Kent and he fights the evil Lex Luthor. But how many know that Captain Marvel is young Billy Batson or that the word “SHAZAM!” comes from his comic? Peter Parker got bit by a spider, but how did Johnny Blaze become Ghost Rider? (Or even, do you know that Ghost Rider’s real name is Johnny Blaze?)
Wonder Woman has been around as long as Batman, but has never had a story like The Dark Knight Returns or The Long Halloween or Knightfall, to name just a few of the dozens of masterful Batman stories. Batman has had 8(!) feature films and 3 successful cartoon series and that’s just in the past two decades. But what is it about these characters, these heroes, that limits them? Why do so few reach greatness? Why are they trying to make ANOTHER Superman movie when Wonder Woman hasn’t been portrayed on screen since Linda Carter in the 70s? Of the next phase of Marvel movies, only one isn’t a sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy, and its still got people worried about the quality of the end product. 32 characters and it was too easy to pick out the best four.
In the next few weeks, we’ll see how well I did with my Final Four predictions. For the record, I say it will be a Spider-Man/Batman championship, with Batman riding the Dark Knight Rises goodwill wave to victory (Though I still think Spidey is the greatest and Chris Sims of Comics Alliance agrees with me).
Like I said at the start, it is fun to debate this topic. It may bring up some of the headier, darker questions of the worth of superheroes and whether they can have lasting appeal, but, at the end of the day, for someone out there, Metamorpho IS the best superhero of all time.