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The Superman Problem

What would happen if X fought Y?  It’s a terrible question when dealing with comics because the only correct answer is, “Who is writing and what does the story call for?”  It doesn’t matter who the two fighters are, whether it’s Superman versus another high powered character like Goku, or someone without powers, like the Punisher, or even Deadpools geriatric “friend” Blind Al.

These conversations will always devolve into some kind of comic book version of Deadliest Warrior, with each side reviewing the powers of each character and trying to quantify them into some kind of real world numbers, and applying real world physics to comic books to get a winner.

One of the characters that is almost always sure to cause a problem in discussions like this is Superman.  Why is this?  What makes Superman so special?  Well, let’s look at a few things that he’s done in the past.


Not only can he hold a black hole in his hand, but he also has the power to fly faster than the speed of light in order to escape from one after crossing the event horizon

Here is Superman towing a galaxy’s worth of planets by a vast chain across the cold reaches of space.
Here we see the hero grabbing what appears to be either a mini black hole or something about to become a mini black hole, in his hands. We can argue the physics of how black holes actually work some other time. For the sake of this discussion, we are just interested in the fact that he is holding it in his hands.
Now we see that with one sneeze, he can destroy an entire solar system
Lastly, here he is, punching a hole in the very fabric of the universe

How exactly does one fight this guy? Unless you have some green kryptonite (and even then, it depends on the version of Superman), you aren’t going to do anything to him. And this, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to why I don’t like DC Comics. I call it the Superman Arms Race. What is the Superman Arms Race? Like other arms races, it’s several parties showing off bigger and shinier guns. In the real world, it’s to show off how powerful you are to instill fear in your enemies. In comics, it’s done to justify the existence of other heroes. Why have the Flash? Superman already has his power, right? Well, the Flash went from a really fast guy, to being a guy with the power to vibrate through walls and reverse time. He’s no longer just a fast guy, he’s the proxy of The Speed Force, which is like the fifth fundamental force of nature, fitting somewhere between gravity and the weak nuclear force, combining everything together with the power to move fast. Green Lantern was just one guy with a ring that he could make giant fists with, now he’s part of an army of guys that all carry the most powerful weapon in the universe on their fingers. All their heroes are like this, gaining more and more powers until every member of the Justice League are into gods themselves. How is there any crime at all with these guys around? How in the hell did Lex Luthor get elected president? These are the worst heroes ever.

You can argue that Marvel has some overpowered guys as well. There are various cosmic forces running around, like Galactus, but he’s not really in the spotlight. Everybody isn’t competing with him on a day to day basis. He’s just out floating in space looking for lunch.

Sure, there may be some heroes, like the Hulk, that are a little overpowered, but then again, his only powers are punching things and healing. And even then, he only gets stronger as he gets madder, so it’s not like he starts off punching holes in reality.

When Marvel does bring out their god like characters, it’s normally for some great event, and several characters have to come together to fight. Galactus doesn’t just get into a fist fight with Wolverine, he get’s into it with multiple heroes, who band together and play off each others strengths to overcome the insurmountable odds. It’s the underdog story. The heroes have to approach a superior problem and find a way to fight through it. There are no superior problems in the DC universe, only a list of more and more superior heroes.

Even when a character in the Marvel Universe becomes extra super powered, it normally leads to more problems for them, and then eventually goes away. When the Phoenix Force arrived, she became the most powerful character in the universe, and then she turned evil, making all that power a problem for the heroes. Eventually, Dark Phoenix was defeated and Jean Grey was brought back at her old power levels. Cable came back and finally defeated the techno organic virus that was ravaging his system. His telekinetic powers were now fully at his command, and he was able to go toe to toe with Silver Surfer, while simultaneously rebuilding anything that was damaged during their fight. At this point, he became the focus of every world power until he burnt out his powers. Sure he found a way to technologically recreate his powers, but we found out that it was all part of his plan, and he died shortly after. Even Captain Marvel, their version of Superman, died of cancer, and can’t seem to stay alive more than a few issues any time the bring him back.

To me, this is what DC is missing. Their characters don’t seem to be overcoming anything when the defeat a villain, instead, then are just squashing a bug beneath their giant boots. I guess it’s also why Batman is so awesome. He’s the sole mortal in the court of gods, and yet, they all know that if he wanted to, Batman could destroy them all. He knows all their weaknesses, all their identities, and has plans for each and every one of them should they go bad. He’s the only one that really needs to do any actual work to win.

On a side note, want to know why Superman is so powerful? Lazy animators. Prior to the cartoon, he could only leap over tall buildings, not fly among the stars. But the animators said it was too hard to animate him leaping everywhere, so it was decided that he could fly, which leads to space flight, which leads, eventually, to punching holes in the fabric of the universe.