I was watching a countdown on teh YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T2UJBpiOcg about the top DC superheroes. This particular list chooses Batman over Superman. Of the two, who would be your favorite?

Personally, I know Superman doesn't quite resonate so much with today's society as he did back in the 1930's, but there's a lot of value there. he's a character that inspires a great deal of hope, he's empowering to the downtrodden, he's just the best that there is in terms of the archetype of the superhero.

Batman, on the other hand, gets a lot of respect from the current generation. It's easy to understand his motivations, seemingly born out of anger and a sense of injustice. He also has a much better rogues gallery and supporting cast, IMO.

For me, I'm giving a slight edge to Batman here, but I'd love to hear people prove me wrong.

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Ron M. said:

The Mysterons always had to tell Captain Scarlet and Spectrum exactly what they were up to and dare them to stop them. "We know that you can hear us, earthmen!"

The Mysterons were justified in their confidence.  Even after the aliens broadcast their intentions, Spectrum didn't do all that well in thwarting them.  The Mysterons were successful as often as not.

I wrote on the previous page that a villain needs to be able to put obstacles in the hero’s way. Perhaps also they need to be able to threaten the hero in new ways. The thing about the pre-Crisis Superman might be that many of his villains either threatened him just one way (Metallo, the Galactic Golem) or couldn’t threaten him at all (Toyman). So most of his better villains were ones who attacked him varied ways with super-science (Luthor, Brainiac, Terra-Man, the Superman Revenge Squad. Amalak was a lesser villain of the same kind.) The Parasite could fight Superman directly but was more interesting when he attacked him in some roundabout way, as in Superman #319-#322 where he stole his inhibitions.(1)


Pre-Crisis Marv Wolfman tried to give Superman a recurring malignant magician villain, Lord Satanis. He lacked a needed spark of inspiration. I think superpowers are more interesting when characters use their powers in clever ways or have interesting personalities. The trouble with magical characters like Satanis is they can’t use their powers in clever ways since their limits aren’t clearly defined.(2) In personality he was a standard villain, set apart a little by his conflict with his wife, Syrene.


One might wonder why the pre-Crisis Superman never acquired a really good psychic foe. To an extent the Phantom Zone villains filled this niche. They combined an ability to attack him psychically (sometimes) with knowledge of his secrets and the ability to be a physical threat when they got out of the Zone.


I don’t think the hero has to be personally threatened to make a story exciting - the threat can be to someone else - but Superman is so powerful there has to be a possibility that the villain might succeed in getting what he or she wants. If a villain is strong enough to defy Superman’s power it doesn’t seem logical that he or she would act surreptitiously or cleverly. Mr Mxyzptlk’s limits weren’t defined, but since his goal was troublemaking it was natural for him to use his power in ingenious ways.


(1) They did fight at the story’s climax, but that’s like the fights at the climaxes of Batman stories: they’re part of the formula and bring the stories to satisfying conclusions, but they’re not what’s most engrossing about them. A lot of the time Batman wins fairly easily. Once he gets his hands on his opponent the story’s over.
(2) Also, magical bolts aren’t all that interesting if you don’t bring Steve Ditko’s imagination to them. But this is really the same point: Ditko created the impression that his magicians knew what they were doing, and were using their powers cleverly, like martial artists who know the right blocking moves and different attacks.

 Good Dr Strange stories get around the problem by telling the story from Strange’s point of view and putting him in situations where he can’t simply solve things by brute force, so he has to be clever and take risks.

This post displaced the thread The Teen Titans Project (2000): The Slow Exodus from the homepage.

Another example of a magical villain pitted not that interestingly against a physically unbeatable hero would be Oggar, the seventh letter in Shazam's name. Since his magic could affect the Big Red Cheese he should have been a major character, but Fawcett only used him in one storyline.

Whereas bad Dr. Strange stories just had him go ghostly and use that darned amulet a lot.

Come to think of it, the Mysterions could be good foes for Superman. "We, the Mysterions, will destroy Metro-Bridge...".

Captain Black would need a good gimmick to face him. Superman's also indestructible, but he doesn't spend the time being dead Captain Scarlet does. Maybe he has a kryptonite ray, but it keeps burning out and he has to be constantly finding new parts to fix it.

I've long felt that the Scarecrow would make a good Superman villain, or would have during the Silver Age. His gases may nt have affected Superman, but he could have done a lot to affect the citizens of Metropolis as well as Superman's friends, many of whom were well known.

Toyman, in turn, might make a decent Bat-foe. Although he might not stand out from the crowd of lesser theme Bat-villains.

I suppose what the stories need are villains who provide the hero with the occasion to perform interesting feats. Batman performs prodigies of detection and combat, shows his acrobatic skill, out-strategises the enemy, or escapes traps. Superman performs spectacular super-feats, outfights formidable enemies, or finds solutions to difficult problems.

The question is whether a Superman story can be entertaining if he never performs spectacular super-feats. If not, his foes have to be people who are murderous (to make the stakes high enough) or up to something spectacular. He often dealt with smaller-scale problems in the "Private Life of Clark Kent" stories of the 70s. I remember many of those stories very fondly but they were shorts, not main stories.

There's a good story in Action Comics #442 in which his problem is to find a way to save a kidnapped Johnny Nevada before his kidnapper shoots him. His opponent in the story is a very ordinary thug, but he solves the problem in a really spectacular way.(1)

(1) Spoiler warning. He appears on the Tonight Show disguised as Johnny to trick the kidnapper into firing his gun while he's listening for it and races across town to intercept the bullet before it kills Johnny. It sounds rather high-risk when I put it down in words.

@ Randy. Jonathan Crane DID take on Supes in a short scrap during JLA #111 which had the JLA versus the Injustice Gang.

Yep, lasted a WHOLE page, too!

But that was better than Chronos did against Batman!
 
John Moret said:

@ Randy. Jonathan Crane DID take on Supes in a short scrap during JLA #111 which had the JLA versus the Injustice Gang.

The Hulk didn't last long against Batman either.

Now, here's a question. What is it that Batman has that kept his feature going and a top feature as the other non-powered mystery men of the Golden Age fell by the wayside? The only other one(1) to make it to the 60s was Green Arrow, and he did it in the back pages of Adventure Comics and World's Finest Comics.

I think it's true that

-Batman's feature became one of the best-written of the Golden Age.

-Batman has a strong origin.

-its pre-New Look style may have been accessible and pleasing to kids, like the Disney style. And the early Bob Kane work does have a moody, striking element, despite his limitations as an artist.(2)

But

-Bill Finger and Bill Woolfolk, two of the best writers, also worked on other features that didn't survive.

-Batman's origin wasn't referred to all that often in the Golden Age, so it's likely many readers never knew it.

-I like old-style Bat-art but I don't buy it's what made the feature good. Its central character and stories were more compelling.

Here's what I can think of:

-Batman's costume and grim demeanour express his recognition of evil and determination to bring it to an end. I think this was also at the heart of the appeal of Blackhawk.(3)

-Batman was more dedicated to his mission than many other heroes. His main business was being Batman: it wasn't something he did on the side. Although his origin was rarely referred to, in the stories he was consistently someone who had worked to be an expert at all the techniques needed to fight crime. He also devoted the resources of his fortune to it, unlike other millionaire heroes with the partial exception of Green Arrow.(4)

-A lot of features imitated the kid sidekick idea. But Robin was more intelligent and capable than the others. He was a kid who could function like an adult. I suppose that's what Superboy evolved into too.

(1) Congo Bill also made it into the 60s, but he wasn't a costumed crimefighter. Blackhawk became a crimefighter, especially in DC's hands, but he wasn't a non-powered superhero, which is what I mean by a mystery man.

(2) I think "Star-Spangled Kid" was Jerry Siegel's try at a Batman-style feature, and Hal Sherman's naïve style was intended as a Kane-like style.

(3) If this is the key, perhaps Nightmare could have been as successful a feature with better handling.

(4) He had an Arrowcar and Arrowplane, but he didn't come across as being as dedicated to crime-fighting as Batman. He wasn't someone who had spent years becoming a great detective and athlete so he could fight crime better and had his own personal crime-lab.

Nightmare might have been rejected by the Comics Code.

Why didn't Captain America make it? He had a strong origin and was dedicated to his mission. Was Golden Girl a mistake and he might have lasted longer if he'd kept Bucky? Or was Golden Girl just handled wrong? Was it a lack of supporting characters? Batman really only had Alfred back then. Commissioner Gordon turned up a lot, but he didn't really have much of a personality back then. Today Silver Age Lois Lane seems incredibly annoying, but was her screwball obsession with getting Superman to marry her what saved the Man of Steel?

In Holyoke's Catman, his sidekick, Kitten, had a detailed personality and snarky attitude in the early days, but when they decided to turn her into an adult character she suddenly became much more of a damsel in distress. Her origin went from a weird kid following this mysterious guy around to being his niece. While Catman mentioned he didn't believe in carrying guns, he immediately gave Kitten one. Was the series changed until it stopped working because of complaints Kitten was a juvenile delinquent? She appeared in another series without him, paired with the Deacon's sidekick, although it wasn't a superhero series, and it wasn't clear in many issues if she was that Kitten or just going by the name.  

How many series were cancelled because of unneeded tinkering with the characters? Did turning the Spectre into a friendly ghost and Dr. Fate into a flying circus strongman prolong their titles, or hasten their cancellation? Would Sandman have been better off if he'd kept the gas mask and spats?

If you look at early Golden Age material versus late Golden Age material, I think there's a noticeable drop in quality. The best artists were drafted for WWII, and heroes went through periods where they were drawn pretty badly.

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