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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Richard Willis said:

Luke Blanchard said:

Will Murray wrote an essay here in which he argues for the influence of Gladiator on Superman. If you'll pardon me, Richard, he says the story that Siegel reviewed Gladiator in his fanzine "has been debunked", and that there's a story Wylie wanted to sue DC but couldn't as his novel hadn't been copyrighted.

He doesn't say how it was debunked. I certainly have no reason to impugn the late Jerry Siegel, but he was just a man. His fanzine was of such small circulation that presumably the issue with the review simply no longer has existing copies. His writing of "The Reign of the Superman" for the following issue and its great similarities to Gladiator seem to debunk his assertion of never reading it. Will Murray goes on to say that it's clear thar Siegel not only was aware of Gladiator but had probably read it.

In 1940 when Wylie wanted to sue, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were making more money than any other writer or artist in comics, and more than most Americans. National was making a lot more but Siegel and Shuster at the time had a lucrative contract. Siegel's denial that he had ever read Gladiator and his assertions that Superman had sprung one night from his brow (in final form) based solely upon public domain characters are probably his reaction to the fear of his world falling apart. Fortunately for Jerry, Joe and National Periodicals Philip Wylie and/or his agent thought Gladiator was fluff and hadn't bothered to copyright it.

I refer anyone who wants to form their own opinion to the aforementioned book, Men of Tomorrow, which is well researched and documented. If there is another book as authoritative I'd like to hear about it.

Here's the thing, as I see it: Siegel and Shuster were what, 17-18 when they did their first couple of versions of Superman? That means, to me, that there's no way anyone, including them, can really know what went into creating the character. They were just a couple of teenagers, throwing everything they'd every heard into the pot, regardless of provenance.

They weren't old enough to know a lot of history, or to put any stock in it. They weren't experienced enough to know about copyright and trademark. They were smart and well-read, but had no context for what they knew.

And what they knew was shul and lots and lots and lots of science fiction.

Had they read Doc Savage? Yes. Had they read Gladiator? Yes. Were they familiar with Golems? Yes. Had they read ERB books about John Carter, a man who goes to another planet and can leap 1/8 of a mile as a result? Yes. Had they read about Hercules and Atlas and Samson and Achilles and Hermes? Yes.

And so on. They were familiar with ALL of this stuff, which was in the atmosphere of sci-fi fans of the time. And to a teenager, it's ALL fair game, because they're kids and they're excited and they don't know tort laws and they're having fun and they're doing everything at 60 miles an hour. Because they're TEENAGERS.

Sure, decades later Siegel would cover his ass and say he got "Clark" from a candy bar (that he probably couldn't afford to eat) or a movie star that didn't resemble Superman, and not from Clark "Doc" Savage, which he was almost certainly reading and was actually called "a superman." And he'd say he got "Kent" from cigarettes (which he didn't smoke) or from an obscure movie star NOBODY has ever heard of, and not from Kent "The Shadow" Allard, which he was almost certainly reading, from the same publisher as Doc Savage.

And there's other stuff in there we can speculate on, too, like how Superman resembles not only the Moses story but also the story of all Eastern European Jews (and other immigrants) desperately trying to assimilate to a new culture. And how every skinny, geeky teenage kid thinks the girl of his dreams would love him if only they could see past the slumped shoulders, sunken chest and glasses and see his true nature.

In summary, I think Superman came from a lot of obvious places that two lonely, teenage, Jewish science fiction geeks in the middle of the Depression would know about and use. And whatever happened then, and whatever they said later, it's all part of a stew that we can only speculate about. Honestly, I doubt even Siegel and Shuster knew or could articulate all the crap they put in the pot to create Superman.

IOW, I don't think there are any facts to be had here. We have a lot of quotes from a lot of people, most of which contradict each other. In the end, we're all going to end up believing what we want to believe about the origin of Superman.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

When Batman did return to the JLA (Detroit version, my personal favorite) for a little while he had left the Outsiders already.  

Am I misremembering?

Batman and the Outsiders replaced The Brave and the Bold. Batman quit the JLA in Batman and the Outsiders #1.(1) A couple of years on DC did with Batman and the Outsiders what it had done with New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes and started a Baxter series - The Outsiders - while continuing to do new stories in the newsstand title for a year. The Outsiders stories were set later, after Batman had left the team. Batman left the team in the newsstand title mid-way through its final year of new stories and rejoined the JLA the next month (in Justice League of America #250). The newsstand title became Adventures of the Outsiders. Just short of a year later Justice League of America was cancelled to make way for the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League.(2) Around that point Batman rejoined the Outsiders in The Outsiders but the title only lasted another year.(3) It was revived in the 90s and ran a couple of years.

(1) This was just over a year before the Detroit League was introduced in Justice League of America Annual #2. Batman wanted the JLA to intervene in Markovia because Lucius Fox was in trouble there and Superman had already committed them to keeping out of it. There was subsequently a storyline about Superman's and Batman's estrangement in World's Finest Comics that culminated with their reconciliation in World's Finest Comics #300.

(2) The new League was founded in the last issue of Legends.

(3) It was cancelled during Millennium. Dr Jace was revealed to be an agent of the Manhunters in the final issues.

Wow, Luke. I am always so impressed at your thoroughness. I hope you work in academia or journalism, because you'd be awesome at either.

I do want to mention that I knew Batman had quit the Justice League at the beginning of BATO. But one of the things I hated about the origin of the book was that I didn't believe WHY Batman had quit the JLA. The in-story reason was so stupid, I don't even remember it.

It was obvious to this reader, at least, that Batman quit the Justice League because editorial had decided that Batman needed another book now that B&B was going away, and it should be a team book, but it couldn't be a Justice League team book. So Batman, instead of teaming up with the guy he'd been teaming up with since 1954 (Superman) or the other people he'd been hanging with since 1960 (Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter), or his natural ally since 1961 (Green Arrow), or those other folks he'd been teaming with since 1962 (Atom, the Justice Society) or 1964 (Hawkman), he would instead DISTRUST all those people and instead trust a bunch of fringe characters and newbies he barely knew.

Yeah, THAT makes sense!

So I hated BATO from the get-go. That's why I keep mentioning Mike W. Barr, who made me like it anyway. (Until he left. Then I went right on back to hating it.)

Captain Comics said:

I do want to mention that I knew Batman had quit the Justice League at the beginning of BATO. But one of the things I hated about the origin of the book was that I didn't believe WHY Batman had quit the JLA. The in-story reason was so stupid, I don't even remember it.

As I recall, the in-story reason was that Batman wanted the Justice League to invade Markovia to rescue Lucius Fox, who was being held captive by one political faction or another, and the League, not wanting to incite an international incident, turned him down. So Batman threw a fit and quit. As if a) the Justice League is needed for a rescue mission and b) Batman wouldn't understand why they told him no. 

In short, instead of acting like Batman, he acted like Green Arrow. 

That was an odd time period, particularly for the Justice League and Batman.

But I saw his leaving the JLA as natural.  If anything, it has become even more natural since - or would, if the character had not become so utterly inhuman since.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

But I saw his leaving the JLA as natural.  If anything, it has become even more natural since - or would, if the character had not become so utterly inhuman since.

There are several Bat-books that I'm not reading so I can't speak to the characterization in those. However, I don't perceive the Scott Snyder New 52 Batman this way at all. In fact, it seems to me there has been considerable effort to undo some of the past excesses in his characterization.

Luke Blanchard said:

I've not read John W. Campbell's Aarn Munro stories, which have been seen as another possible influence. Munro was super-scientist who had incredible strength because he grew up on Jupiter. He first appeared in The Mightiest Machine in 1934, so the unpublished first version of Superman predates him. The other stories Campbell wrote about him weren't accepted by the publisher and appeared after the war in The Incredible Planet. Both books can be found at Project Gutenberg.

Not only is that last statement not true, they can't even be found at Project Gutenberg Australia. Portions of both books can be read at Google Books.

Thanks for the kindly remarks, Captain. You give me more credit than I deserve. I remember the period well because I didn't continue to follow comics into the 90s.

Mike W. Barr wrote all the issues of the 80s and 90s Outsiders series but not the 00s one.

Getting back to Randy's topic, I've been thinking about why it is that Superman has a weak rogues' gallery (or is perceived as having one). Bearing in mind Holmes's dictum that it's a capital mistake to being theorising without data I figure the first thing one should do here is make a list.

The Golden Age and Transition Era introduced

the Ultra-Humanite (who appeared several times and then was forgotten until the 70s)


the Prankster


Mr Mxyztplk/Mxyzptlk

criminal or conquest-hungry Kryptonian opponents (the first ones were Kizo, Mala and U-Ban, who debuted in Superman #65)

The Silver Age added

Brainiac (initially an alien with a force field even Superman couldn't penetrate; from Superman #167 a computer in human form)

the Phantom Zone villains

the Bizarros

the Superboy/Superman Revenge Squad

the Anti-Superman Gang


the Parasite

Kryptonite Kid

Amalak, a space pirate


Black Zero (only one appearance, but worth a mention)

The 70s added

Terra-Man (the pre-Crisis version was an outlaw from the Old West with alien super-technology)

Blackrock (a "superhero" created on the orders of the head of the UBC network, who thought Superman worked for WGBS; there was a different person or animating force in the suit each time)

the 100 (mostly in Lois Lane)

the criminal organisation Skull

Metallo II

evil Morgan Edge, eventually revealed to be a clone

the Atomic Skull (who started as Dr Albert Michaels, the Superman-hating head of STAR)

Mokkari and Simyan, the Apokopolitan geneticists from Jimmy Olsen

the Master Jailer

and a couple of exotic Kryptonians, Faora Hu-Ul and Nam-Ek (the latter was introduced as a sympathetic character in a "Fabulous World of Krypton" story)

There were further opponents who only appeared a couple of times. The "ordinary" villains of this kind who leap to mind are Toyman II, Michael J. Coram (the head of a criminal think-tank), Whirlicane and the magician Effron. Some formidable opponents only appeared once: Protector and Radion, Lightning and Thunder, Microwave Man, and the Gnmod in Action Comics #494-#495 (which manifested itself as a kind of Kryptonian warrior called a Dwalu). A few others were basically one-off characters who made a repeat appearance: the Sand Superman, Karb-Brak, the Galactic Golem.

In addition there was some use of antagonists originating outside Superman's feature as Superman foes, notably Solomon Grundy. Technically it was a different Grundy each time.

Since this is a list of antagonists I'll also mention Vlademar of the Flame, since he fought Superman the first couple of times they met, and Vartox, since they usually fought at point when he guested.

The pre-Crisis 80s added



Lord Satanis and Syrene

Brainiac as he became in Action Comics #544 (I think the makeover made him a different character)

Ambush Bug (who started as a villain but shifted to being just a troublemaker)

the Planeteer

Maaldor the Darklord

Intellex the Brain Bandit

Iago (a man transformed into a demon who wanted to lure Superman into damning himself; he only appeared once, but I'm including him because he was a variation on C.W. Saturn from Elliot S. Maggin's novel Miracle Monday)

King Kosmos (a dud of a villain, but he managed a return appearance)

Dr Alice Herman (she was a super-genius whose bad judgement landed her in prison who appeared twice)

Also Vandal Savage was used as a Superman villain for a while.

Another unvillainous antagonist, the Yellow Peri, was introduced in Superboy and later appeared in Action Comics.

Many of Superman's foes have been after revenge: Luthor from the Silver Age, the Superman Revenge Squad, the Anti-Superman Gang, and the Atomic Skull (initially).(1)

Other opponents have targeted him from other motives: Mr Mxyzptlk, because he likes to cause mischief, and to cause mischief for Superman in particular; Intellex, because he collected brains and wanted to add Superman's to his collection; Iago, because he wanted to corrupt him. In Superman #195 Amalak brainwashed an alien man called Rinol-Jag into wanting to kill all Kryptonians, and in Superman #310-#314 this motive was transferred, without explanation, to Amalak himself. In DC Comics Presents #56 Maaldor was after a challenge. The Gnmod wanted to resolve its fight with Superboy so it could proceed to its next stage of being.

I initially wrote that this tendency was probably because anyone just out to steal would steer clear of him, and  opponents able to physically match him should have better things to do than rob banks. (The reason Captain Thunder aids bank robbers in Superman #276 is his thinking had been skewed.) But the real reason might be the average villain can't improvise a threat to Superman, as he might to Batman, Green Arrow, or even Wonder Woman. So if Superman is to be threatened in the course of the story the villain has to be out to do it, really powerful, or someone able to target his weaknesses (to kryptonite, red sun radiation, magic etc.).

A number of his other opponents have sought power: the Golden Age Ultra-Humanite and Luthor, the Planeteer (he had magnetic powers and thought he was the reincarnation of Alexander the Great), Mongul, and King Kosmos. This is also sometimes the goal of his Kryptonian opponents, such as the three Phantom Zoners in Superman II.

I think villains have to be versatile to be really interesting; there needs to be more than one thing they might get up to, or more than one way they might seek to achieve their goals. Otherwise there aren't as many stories that might be told about them. So villains like Luthor, who can pursue their goals in myriad ways, make better opponents for Superman than guys who can physically match him and just fight him.

But is this fair? As a kid I was interested in Superman's matches against Solomon Grundy in Superman #301 and Superman #319-#322. In the latter story, though, Grundy is only part of a more complex plot involving the Parasite. I enjoyed the Krogg story in Superman Family #186-#187, although he's basically mindlessly violent, but it's a brisk story with an interesting resolution, and I've never wished for his return. In Superman #258 the Galactic Golem is as strong or stronger than Superman, but the story wasn't very interesting to me. I suppose he lacked an interesting personality like Grundy's and the story didn't have many clever ideas.

(1) When he debuted in his new identity in Superman #323 the Atomic Skull has a disease which was killing him and caused periodic seizures. He blamed Superman for jailing the only man who could have repaired the device in his head that was supposed to control it, which was instead warping his brainwaves so that they produced a lightning effect which could even stun Superman. Later he controlled the effect using a switch on his helmet. This changed him to a straight bland villain.

The remaining 70s villain I want to mention is Dr Phoenix, who made one or two appearances, depending how you look at it. In Superman #263 he struck a deal with a horror director to show him how his nightmare ended (so he could make a movie out of it) in exchange for his ability to dream. What he did was bring the dream to life. In Superman #266 he was revealed to be (wait for it) the Abominable Snowman, who couldn't sleep anymore due to Superman's presence on Earth.

Superman didn't need another scientist villain, since he had Luthor, but in the first story Dr Phoenix is a parapsychologist or scientific occultist up to no good. His goals and methods are quite different to Luthor's, and there might've been more good stories in that idea.

For completeness I should also mention the Coven Family/Black Coven from Superboy #175 and #185 and Superman Family #170. They were descendants of witches who didn't have magical powers due to interbreeding with mortals but made use of technological "magic".

I was reading Superman stories in the mid-50s to around 1963. There were no Toyman or Prankster appearances that I saw. It was always Luthor (in prison garb), Braniac, Bizarro, Mr Mxyztplk, and some people with identical powers to Superman. It was annoying to me that no matter where they came from all the people with super-powers had the Kryptonian power set. They got pretty boring. I'm surprised that the Ultra-Humanite had been around so long. I thought he was a latter-day character.

Quite a few Batman ideas came from a Shadow novel. There was also a masked figure like Batman in a silent comedy, starring Harold Lloyd I believe.

Just before Doc Savage came out Philip Wylie wrote The Savage Gentleman, about a man entering civilization for the first time after spending his life on a tropical island being trained to be a superman.

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