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 incredible face-offs: Superman vs. Silver Surfer; Spawn vs. Captain Marvel; Spider-Man vs. Daredevil; and The Invisible Woman vs. Metamorpho.

Scroll down to vote in today's polls. Day One polls will close in exactly 48 hours, at 4:25 ET on August 8.

Alien Showdown, Round One: Superman vs. Silver Surfer


Name: Superman

Origin Story: On a dying planet, a child is shot into space by his parents, given a chance at a new life on in a faraway place. The orphan's ship crashlands in Kansas, where he's discovered by a childless, utterly American couple. Oh, and when he grows up, he's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive…

Costume: You could argue that all superhero costumes are just riffs on Superman's iconic look: The bright colors, the cape, the color-matched boots and exterior underwear.

Coolest Power/Ability: Anything you can do, Superman can do a million times better. He's superstrong. He's superfast. He can fly. But Supes also has a whole array of more subtle powers, and of that bunch, it's hard to argue against the eternal usefulness of heat vision.

Defining Stories: Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," and Grant Morrison's "All-Star Superman" are both fantastic modern explorations of the Superman myth — at once playful, deconstructive, and tragic.

Cultural legacy: Superman is the foundation for pretty much the entire superhero genre. Many major characters that came after him directly riffed on his iconography. (Just look at the number of characters on our bracket who grew up as orphans.) Richard Donner's 1978's Superman movie established the basic template for the superhero-movie — a genre that has now conquered Hollywood. Superman is also one of the most famous fictional characters ever. In the last quarter decade, though, Superman's actual cultural influence has been significantly eclipsed by his darker, grittier, less impenetrably invincible buddy Batman. Can next year's Man of Steel return the character to his past prominence? —Darren Franich

Credit: Marvel

Name: The Silver Surfer

Origin Story: Long ago, Norrin Radd was an everyguy astronomer from the faraway planet Zenn-La. When traveling planet-eater Galactus threatened to devour Zenn-La, Radd offered his services as a herald in order to rescue his planet. Galactus imbued Radd with the Power Cosmic — a kind of all-purpose god energy — and transformed him into the Silver Surfer. He spent untold centuries scouting out planets for his boss' appetite.

Costume: The slick Surfer is basically naked, covered from head-to-toe in mega-powerful silver material that makes him impervious to all damage and also incredibly shiny. He accessorizes with a mean silver board.

Coolest Power/Ability: The Surfer is arguably the most powerful superhero ever, especially considering that — thanks to the Power Cosmic — he's always discovering exciting new skill sets. But let's focus on the important stuff here: The guy has a surfboard that he rides through space.

Defining Stories: Fantastic Four (three-parter), 18-issue series by Stan Lee and John Buscema

Cultural legacy: The Surfer was a key player in the Marvel of the '60s, when his stranger-in-a-strange-land status made him a uniquely poignant icon at a moment when the country was experiencing a whole host of dramatic societal shifts. Since then, he's always been an essential background player. But he lacks the crossover appeal of some heroes in the bracket — his sole movie appearance came in the execrable Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. —DF

Supernatural Entities Showdown, Round One: Spawn vs. Captain Marvel

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Name: Spawn

Origin Story: When CIA assassin Al Simmons was murdered by one of his own men, his soul was sent to hell to burn for all eternity. Desperate to see his wife again, he made a deal with the devil — or a devil, anyhow — and returned to earth. But Simmons' Faustian bargain was, well, predictably Faustian. His reanimated body was burned beyond all recognition. His wife had remarried. And Simmons returned as a creature called "The Hellspawn" — a powerful being whose ultimate purpose was to lead the forces of hell against heaven.

Costume: Spawn has one of the great iconic outfits of the '90s, with a head-to-toe ensemble set off by spikes and chains — he's like a death-metal Spider-Man. But the costume is really all about the high-collared, eerily organic red cape.

Coolest Power/Ability: Powered by a demonic substance known as necroplasm, Spawn has a seemingly infinite assortment of supernatural abilities, and his specific skills have evolved regularly during the character's existence. But one of the most interesting aspects of the character when he was first introduced was the idea that he had a finite reserve of energy — represented, literally, by a timer that counted down every time Spawn used his powers.

Defining Stories: The first 12 issues of Spawn are a great slow-burn introduction to the character, featuring a weird mix of Lovecraftian dark fantasy and gritty street-crime drama. The series eventually suffered a serious case of mission drift, but the Armageddon story arc brought years of Spawn mythology together into an epic final showdown between the forces of heaven and hell.

Cultural legacy: Spawn remains the most successful independent comic book character in history, inspiring both a TV show and a movie. If his popularity has dimmed somewhat in the last decade, then that only increases Spawn's value as an essential time capsule of '90s comic book maturity. Chains! Spikes! Swear words! —DF

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Name: Captain Marvel

Origin Story: When orphaned newsboy Billy Batson wanders into a deep cavern, he meets an ancient wizard, who grants Billy a host of supernatural abilities. From then on, whenever the lad yells the wizard's name — "Shazam!" — he's transformed into a grown-up superhero named Captain Marvel.

Costume: Captain Marvel's sharp red-and-yellow outfit suggests a Pharaonic riff on Superman's outfit, complete with a glimmering white shoulder cape.

Coolest Power/Ability: We all know that "Shazam!" is actually an acronym for the hero's seven magic abilities, which all derive from characters in Greek mythology. With one exception: the S stands for "the wisdom of Solomon." And really, that seems like it could come in handy more frequently than his other powers. I mean, you can't use the power of Zeus to make good investments in the stock market.

Defining Stories: The early Shazam! comics are hard to find nowadays, but Jeff Smith's miniseries Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil is a great modern introduction to the character.

Cultural legacy: Captain Marvel was incredibly popular in his heyday, becoming the subject of a movie serial. In some ways he's been overshadowed in recent decades, and unfairly maligned as a Superman clone. But it's hard to match the elemental appeal of Captain Marvel's boy-becoming-a-man origin. —DF

Science Gone Wrong Showdown, Round One: Spider-Man vs. Daredevil

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Name: Spider-Man

Origin Story: Gawky, geeky New York high schooler Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider (altered to a genetically modified spider in later reboots of the character), and overnight becomes imbued with the arachnid's heightened strength, agility, perception, and velcro-like grip on practically any surface. But he's still just a hot-headed kid: When Peter blithely neglects to stop a thief, the lowlife winds up murdering Peter's Uncle Ben — the only father figure he's known. Peter's grief propels him into a life of crime fighting, driven by the principle that with great power comes great responsibility.

Costume: A red-and-blue unitard covered in webbing and with a stylized spider on the chest. Unlike almost every other A-list superhero costume, Spider-Man's head (and therefore his identity) is completely covered, with two large arachnid-like eyes the only things delineating a face. It is simultaneously one of the silliest and most realistic superhero costumes ever, in so far as it actually protects Spidey's secret identity.

Coolest Power/Ability: Hanging out on the ceiling is damn cool, and that hyper-sensitive "spidey sense" sure comes in handy. But what makes Peter more than just your average teenager is his keen engineering acumen, which enables him to conceive and fabricate the web shooters that allow Spider-Man to sling himself through the high-rise canyons of New York. (The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies made the web-shooters an innate function of Peter's powers, a fanboy heresy rectified in this summer's franchise reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.)

Defining Stories: There have been so many variations on Spider-Man over the years, it's hard to know where to begin. But "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" — the Green Goblin drops Spidey's girlfriend from a Manhattan bridge; Spidey shoots his web to save her; but the whiplash from the sudden stop snaps her neck — remains one of the most shocking arcs in comic book history.

Cultural Legacy: As Superman defines the DC Comics universe, Spider-Man is at the center of the Marvel Comics ethos: A flawed, human-scaled hero, constantly struggling just to keep his head above water, let alone save the world. He remains one of the most recognizable superheroes on the planet, spawning several animated and live-action TV series and now two bazillion-dollar movie franchises. In fact, 2002's Spider-Man — the first comic book movie in 13 years to top the box office for the year — arguably launched superhero cinema into its current cultural dominance. (Sorry, X-Men.) —Adam B. Vary

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Name: Daredevil

Origin Story: One day, Manhattan law student Matt Murdock tries to help save a man from an onrushing truck when, wouldn't you know it, the truck's payload is radioactive. (New York in the 1960s was a minefield of radioactivity, which explains all the heavy drinking on Mad Men.) The ensuing accident blinds Murdock, but expands his other four senses to superhuman strength, allowing him to "see" via a sophisticated form of echolocation. Then his father, a professional boxer and Matt's only parent, is killed for refusing to throw a fight. Matt's grief propels him into a life of crime fighting (sensing a pattern?), both within the system as Matt Murdock, the lawyer, and outside the system as Daredevil, "the man without fear!"

Costume: Based on his father's boxing robes, it was at first a gaudy mess, more bumblebee than Beezlebub: a black-and-red torso with bright yellow sleeves, pants, and mask. Thankfully, Murdock quickly realized that "devil" was in his alter-ego's name, and he switched things up into an all-red get up with small horns on his forehead and a double-D on his chest.

Coolest Power/Ability: Thanks to training by Stick, a blind martial arts master, Daredevil is a master at hand-to-hand combat, aided by a handy billy club that doubles as a grappling hook. None of that, however, comes close to his ability to hear a heart beat from 20 feet away.

Defining Stories: Frank Miller's Bullseye/Elektra storyline in the early 1980s, in which the assassin Bullseye murder's Daredevil's love interest, Elektra. (More dead girlfriends!)

Cultural Legacy: The character has maintained a relatively robust life in comic-books for nearly five decades. He especially came to life when a young, eager artist named Frank Miller took on the title, reinvigorating the character and launching the career of one most influential comic maestros of the last 30 years. But the hero has had (pardon the pun) a devil of a time crossing over from the printed page: The 2003 feature film, starring Ben Affleck as Daredevil, Jennifer Garner as Elektra, and Colin Farrell as Bullseye, barely crossed the $100 million mark at the U.S. box office. An Elektra spin-off movie was an outright disaster, pulling in a pitiable $24 million. The franchise went no further. —ABV

Transformed By Mysterious Space Magic Showdown, Round One: The Invisible Woman vs. Metamorpho

Credit: Marvel

Name: The Invisible Woman

Origin Story: Susan Storm joined her boyfriend Reed Richards' illegal space expedition. The expedition ran afoul of some nasty cosmic rays, and when they crash-landed, the four people onboard found themselves radically transformed into "the Fantastic Four." Sue discovered that she could turn herself invisible.

Costume: Like her fellow teammates, Sue rocks a blue FF bodysuit, though recently the team started wearing all-white stormtrooper-chic outfits in the wake of a rebranding as the "Future Foundation."

Coolest Power/Ability: Initially, Sue's power was limited to making herself invisible. But as the character evolved, she developed the ability to cast massive invisible-energy fields. This has multiple uses, but the most fun is her tendency to construct frictionless slides, essentially allowing her to glide through the city.

Defining Stories: The character came into her own in a mid-'80s run by John Byrne, when she notably changed her codename from "The Invisible Girl" to "The Invisible Woman." But Sue's best showcase is arguably much more recent: Under the stewardship of current FF writer Jonathan Hickman, she's become the group's most interesting (and probably most powerful) member.

Cultural legacy: Marvel's first female superhero has a problematic history — she spent her first couple of decades dithering in the background, often eerily concerned about clothes. (It didn't help matters when, in the '90s, she started modeling a Victoria's Secret-worthy skin-baring costume.) But she has steadily evolved into a multifaceted character: A mother, a leader, and a powerful heroine. (Alas, none of that was really evident when Jessica Alba played her in two Fantastic Four movies.) —DF

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Name: Metamorpho

Origin Story: Globetrotting man-of-action Rex Mason tries to steal the Orb of Ra, an ancient Egyptian artifact carved out of a radioactive meteorite. The Orb transforms Rex into "The Element Man," with the ability to transform into any element on the periodic table. Hydrogen gas, attack!

Costume: The Orb reconstructed Rex into an elemental being, complete with orange, purple, and white skin. Technically, the only item of clothing he has on is a demure set of black briefs.

Coolest Power/Ability: People. He can transform into any element. Phosphorus! Gadolinium! All of the lanthanides and the actinides! Put it this way: Metamorpho is almost certainly Walter White's favorite superhero.

Defining Stories: The fantastic Showcase Presents Metamorpho: The Element Man volume features over 500 pages of pure Metamorphing goodness.

Cultural legacy: Metamorpho is probably the least well-known character in our superhero showdown bracket. But popularity isn't everything, and Rex has been an essential bit player in the DC universe for a long time. —DF

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