Comic book nerds love to play “What If?” As a matter of fact, there are entire lines of books devoted to posing the question. Each issue typically pits random characters who would or should never meet against each other.
Comic book nerds also love clearly drawn lines of demarcation as to what’s cool and what’s poop. Often that line falls between the Marvel and DC publishing companies and the two universes their respective characters inhabit. As a matter of fact, in the ‘70s, the publishers themselves pitted their superheroes against each other in several celebrated crossover issues.
As a comic book nerd, I love to play “What If?” But being a movie geek, in my version of inter-publishing melees, the factors for determining who will truly reign victorious lie in successful Big Screen franchising. Picture Storm as a round card girl, and let’s get ready to rumble!
Title Card: The Superheavyweights
When he debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938, who’d’ve thunk that the Son of Krypton would not only be the first true superhero, but also the most enduringly beloved in pop consciousness. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Superman became a superfranchise with comic books, comic strips, cartoon shorts, animated series, serials starring Kirk Alyn and George Reeves, spinoffs (Supergirl), TV series (Superboy, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman) and a curse. In 1978, Superman became a feature film, Superman: The Movie, that scored $134 million at the box office, spawned three sequels that grossed $181 million combined, and won a special Oscar for achievements in film.
Bitten by a radioactive spider, an ordinary teenager, Peter Parker was given unspeakable powers. He became everyone’s favorite webslinger with the proportional strength of a spider and ability to climb walls, spin webs and sense danger. The Amazing Spiderman spun a web of comic book lines, a comic strip, several animated series, and Electric Company shorts. In 1978, Spiderman became Spiderman Strikes Back, a cheezy made-for-TV movie starring Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker. Who? Exactly. Spiderman Strikes Back spawned the even more dreadful The Amazing Spiderman TV series.
Superman, hands down, even taking into account Supermans III and IV, Supergirl and Steel. But a feature-length major Hollywood blockbuster version of Spiderman is finally in the works, to-be-released next summer. Unfortunately, it will go toe-to-toe with the long-awaited, oft-shelved Superman Lives. This may be the battle that definitively proves who’s the most powerful.
The Undercard II: Batman vs. The Punisher
In Detective Comics #27, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne donned cape and mask for the first time to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, a superstitious and cowardly lot, as The Batman. Much like his paladin crimefighting counterpart from Metropolis, Batman became a Batcult, with comic books, cartoon shorts, animated series, serials, spin-offs, two outstanding animated features (Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm and Subzero.) and the campy Adam West/Burt Ward TV series (and TV movie). The Dark Knight returned in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman, which grossed $413 million, won an Oscar for Best Art Direction and was followed-up (to the tune of $713 million, combined) by Burton’s Batman Returns and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
In Amazing Spiderman # 129, the world was introduced to Frank Castle, a Vietnam Vet who takes the law into his own hands when his family is brutally murdered. Sworn to avenge not only their deaths but the wrongdoings inflicted on all victims of crime, Castle becomes The Punisher. Devoted to his own viligante brand of justice, he wages a one-man war on the underworld. In 1989, Dolph Lundgren played the Punisher in a direct-to-video feature.
The Undercard I: Captain Marvel vs. Captain America
Not technically a DC character, Captain Marvel was cannibalized by DC when Fawcett Comics went belly-up. To protect a magic talisman from the forces of evil, the wizard Shazam empowers young Billy Batson to transform himself into Captain Marvel by invoking the name “Shazam!” Billy’s adventures fighting the evil Scorpion are serialized in the long-running and beloved Adventures Of Captain Marvel starring Tom Tyler as Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as Billy Batson.
In 1941, Steve Rogers, a sickly weakling chose to serve his country by volunteering to be injected with hyper-secret super-soldier formula and subjected to stabilizing vita-rays. Raised to the height of human perfection, Rogers became Captain America. In 1944, Dick Purcell became Captain America. Reb Brown starred as Steve Rogers in a cheezy made-for-TV movie cut from the same cloth as the cheezy made-for-TV Spiderman. In 1992, actor Matt Salinger became Captain America in an even cheezier feature.
A tie. Outside of the 1944 version of Captain America, the movies have sullied the reputation of the greatest defender of truth, justice and the American way ever drawn. But the Captain Marvel serials, as great as they are, have long fallen out of favor. Even comic book nerds don’t know who Captain Marvel is.
The Rematch: X-Men and Spiderman vs. Wonder Woman and Superman Lives
So, puny mortal, DC has conquered Marvel in the battle for box office supremacy this time, but Marvel may get even with DC, if it’s the last thing they do. Their non-superhero titles Blade and Men In Black grossed $150 million and $580 million respectively. Both have sequels planned for 2000. The long-awaited X-Men and Spiderman features are also planned for 2000. Meanwhile back at the Justice League Of America, DC has Wonder Woman and Superman Lives.
Until then, excelsior!