Who is the greatest superhero of all time? This month, we’re going to settle the age-old debate once and for all! Here at PopWatch, we’re taking 32 seeded contestants and pitting them against each other in a superpowered bracket game. Everything is on the table: The heroes’ costumes, their superpowers, the number of actual great stories they inspired. To level the playing field, we’ve separated the heroes into nine different groups for the first round of match-ups. Today, we’re featuring four magnificent face-offs: Hulk vs. The Flash; Wolverine vs. Kitty Pryde; Captain America vs. Aquaman; and Iron Man vs. Green Arrow.
Scroll down to vote in today’s polls, and be sure to click here to download the printable image of the complete Superhero Showdown bracket. Day Four polls will close in exactly 48 hours, at 12:30 PM ET on August 11. Be sure to vote in our Day Three match-ups: Thor vs. Martian Manhunter; Ghost Rider vs. Hellboy; Green Lantern vs. The Great Machine; and The Punisher vs. The Spirit.
Science Gone Wrong Showdown, Round One: Hulk vs. The Flash
Origin Story: Scientist Bruce Banner — confident in mind but emotionally withdrawn — was super-saturated with Gamma Bomb radiation during a test of the weapon while saving a kid who had strayed into the blast area. Consequently, Bruce “gained” the unwanted, stress-triggered “ability” to morph into a brawny behemoth, a hot, chaotically articulated seethe of repressed feelings transmuted into hard-bodied green flesh. Yes, green. When ragingly engorged, Banner is considered a menace to society, especially when he’s making a mess of America’s infrastructure. When properly cajoled and directed, this monstrous, spinach-hued Popeye can do some good. All things considered, though, Banner/Hulk — the Jekyll & Hyde of the Marvel universe — would rather be left alone.
Costume: Bah! Hulk needs no puny costume! When you have heaps of biceps and abs of adamantium, you flaunt that s—t, baby. In fact, we bet Hulk resents the shredded pair of (often purple) chinos with an extraordinary elastic waist foisted upon him by prudish pencilers. Hulk has no shame! Set Little Hulk Free! (Also: Purple?)
Coolest Power/Ability: Hulk smash. Anything. EVERYTHING! ‘Nuff said.
Defining Stories: Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1, which collects the first six Hulk stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; Incredible Hulk: Pardoned by writer Bill Mantlo and various artists, including Sal Buscema, and Incredible Hulk: Regression by Mantlo and various artists; Incredible Hulk Visionaries — Peter David, Vol. 1, by seminal Hulk scribe David and including art by a pre-Spawn Todd McFarlane.
Cultural Legacy: Inspired by monster-movie pop and science-gone-wrong horror lit, Hulk was unique among Silver Age superheroes for not really being a superhero at all, for representing something of an ironic subversion of genre tropes. As such, the misunderstood misfit gained a cult following with counter-culture kids of the sixties, and paved the way for the current anti-hero-palooza. Hulk’s thrashing violence and monosyllabic expressiveness makes for easy caricature, but the character’s fragmented psyche makes him one of the most complex personalities in all of comic books. Endlessly interesting for writers (surprisingly so), so much fun to draw for artists (for obvious reasons), Hulk — poignant and outrageous — ranks as one of the medium’s signature creations. —Jeff Jensen
Name: The Flash
Origin Story: Like Green Lantern, the fastest man in comics has had two distinctly different and successful lives. The Golden Age Flash, created in 1940, was Jay Garrick, a college student who gained the ability to move Mercury-quick after he fell asleep in a university laboratory and inhaled some hard water vapors. This Flash remains active in the larger DC Comics universe as denizen of a parallel world known as Earth 2. Our contest shall focus on the Silver Age reboot introduced in 1956: Barry Allen, a police scientist who got his powers after getting doused with electrically charged chemicals. (A lightening bolt struck his lab. It happens.)
Costume: Crimson tights with yellow lightening bolt accents and boots, all made from experimental, friction-resistant material. When Barry’s not wearing his snug-fitting togs, he keeps them balled up small and tight inside a ring he wears on his finger.
Cool power/abilities: How fast is Barry Allen? Faster than the speed of thought. Nay! The speed of light! Fast enough to vibrate between matter and dimensions. Fast enough to operate a cosmic treadmill and travel through time. More recent stories have established that Flash and other super-speedsters of his ilk tap into something called the “Speed Force.” If there are midi-chlorians involved, then they have not yet been discovered. Thankfully.
Defining stories: Showcase #4 by Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Carmine Infantino; “Flash of Two Worlds” (The Flash #123) by Gardner Fox and Infantino; “The Death of Iris Allen” (The Flash Nos. 275-284) by Cary Bates and multiple artists; Crisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez; The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver.
Cultural Legacy: According to comic book historians, the superhero genre was all but dead and the medium itself was on the wane in the mid-fifties when — like the miraculous lightening strike in Barry Allen’s origin story — DC Comics revived The Flash to instant success, and provided the catalyst for the Silver Age creative renaissance that laid the foundation for contemporary superhero pop. Of course, The Flash is also the model for reboot mechanics that, yes, keeps the industry alive, but also (though not always) subverts meaningful storytelling: Barry Allen’s death in Crisis On Infinite Earths was a monumental dramatic event, on par with the death of Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men #137. He has since been resurrected. Whatever. Regardless, given a world hooked on speed and technology, The Flash — one of the premiere “science heroes” — should endure and become even more relevant in the years to come. —Jeff Jensen
Next Page: Wolverine vs. Kitty Pryde