By EW Staff
August 14, 2012 at 04:30 PM EDT

Round 2 of our Superhero Showdown bracket game continues today with four soul-searing face-offs between eight of our most beloved costumed crimefighters, each of them in their own way deserving of the title “Greatest Superhero Ever.” Famous anti-gun advocate Batman battles the Punisher, a rabid pro-gun proponent. Star-crossed lovers Wolverine and Jean Grey will decide once and for all which X-Man is the best X-Man. Wonder Woman and Captain America will battle for the honor of the island of Themyscira and the Stars and Stripes, respectively. Lastly, Iron Man and Deadpool will match weaponry and witticisms. (“Weaponry and Witticisms” would be a great name for a jazz collective.)

Click on the image above for a printable bracket. Check out our pocket biographies of each superhero, and scroll to the bottom of each page to register your vote. Voting will conclude in exactly 48 hours, at 12:30 PM EST on August 16. And remember, voting is still open on the first four match-ups in round 2: Superman vs. Thor; Hellboy vs. Captain Marvel; Green Lantern vs. Invisible Woman; and Spider-Man vs. the Hulk.

Streetwise Crimefighter Championship Bout: Batman vs. The Punisher

New England Comics Press

Name: Batman

Origin Story: After watching a thug named Joe Chill kill his parents in cold blood in Crime Alley, Bruce Wayne devoted his life and considerable fortune to the cause of justice – and vengeance – in perilously bleak Gotham City by becoming the caped crusader known as Batman. To some, the dark knight is a criminal vigilante, just as gonzo wrong as the baddies he fights (and inspires). To others, the hero is an aspirational icon, bringing hope to a hopelessly corrupt world.

Costume: The model for all masked avengers. Sporting a black hooded cape and gray body armor with his ominous insignia square on his chest, Batman dresses for effect – that effect being terror. Inspired by the fearsome flying rodents that live in the cave underneath Wayne Manor, Bruce plays the part of mythical bogeyman to Gotham’s underworld – part Dracula, part Jungian shadow.

Coolest power: What makes Batman so cool is that he has no powers, save his smarts, brawn, and the array of gadgets and tools (but no gun) on his utility belt.

Defining stories: Detective Comics Nos. 27-33 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; Batman Nos. 1-18 by Kane, Finger, various; “Strange Apparitions” (aka Detective Comics Nos. 469-476) by Steve Englehart and various artists, most notably Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin; Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller; Batman: Year One by Miller and David Mazzucchelli; “No Man’s Land” written and drawn by many; “Hush” by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee.

Cultural Legacy: Been to a movie theater lately? Batman was created in response to the success of Superman, but also represented a philosophical rejoinder to the Man of Steel, a mythic do-gooder devoid of super powers (besides the extraordinary wealth) and whose idealism was shaded with troubling anger. Still, until Spider-Man came along in the early sixties, Batman best represented one of the basic appeals of the genre: He made the whole superhero thing look like nifty-cool fun – Sherlock Holmes in a cowl. Since the seventies, Batman has darkened and coarsened as the culture as darkened and coarsened. Indeed, his indisputable greatness lies in the elasticity of his symbolic value, in his ability to reflect changing notions of good and evil, of heroism itself.—Jeff Jensen

Name: The Punisher

Origin Story: His wife and children murdered by the Mob, Frank Castle – military vet, martial arts and weaponry expert – exacts his revenge and proceeds to attack all sorts of organized crime figures, including drug cartels, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Russian Mafia, the Yakuza, and various and sundry psychopaths.

Costume: His black shirt has a picture of a huge white skull.

Coolest Power/Ability: Killing without remorse.

Defining Stories: Garth Ennis’ brutally hardboiled 2000 run as writer. For such a deceptively simple hero concept, Punisher has attracted some first-rate writers; in addition to Ellis, these include Peter Milligan and the mainstream novelists Duane Swierczynski and Charlie Huston, who all contributed to best Punisher series, published by Marvel’s “mature” comics line, MAX, throughout most of the first decade of the aughts.

Cultural legacy: An anti-hero lacking the moral compass of most superheroes, The Punisher is a pumped-up ordinary joe who helped put the humanity, as amoral as that humanity can seem, back in comics. —Ken Tucker

NEXT PAGE: Wolverine vs. Jean Grey

Special X-Men Showdown Championship Bout: Wolverine vs. Jean Grey

Name: Wolverine

Origin Story: For many years, the history of this volatile, violent mutant was a mystery, even unto himself. He knew his name was Logan. He knew he was Canadian. He knew he had retractable claws, heightened senses, and a healing ability that slowed his aging process. But beyond that… only scant, fuzzy, disturbing memories. Over time, X-Men readers have come to learn Wolverine’s epic, tragic backstory, which dates back to the late 19th century and includes several lost loves and includes stints as a soldier, mercenary-adventurer, and black ops agent. During the sixties, the CIA wiped Logan’s memory, and during the seventies, a Canadian military unit known as Weapon X laced Logan’s bones with an indestructible metal known as adamantium. Since joining The X-Men, Logan has learned to master his berserker rage (though not without some notable relapses into feral madness), become a team leader, and distinguished himself as one of the key heroes of the Marvel Universe.

Costume: The classic Wolverine outfit is a yellow jumpsuit with tiger stripes, blue gloves and a mask with two pointy flaps around the eyes designed to contain Logan’s unruly hair… or have somehow made his hair unruly. Now there’s a Wolverine mystery that really needs to get explained.

Cool powers/abilities: Heightened senses, bloodhound sharp. Naturally retractable bones for claws, later reinforced with that aforementioned hoo-ha metal. Extraordinary healing powers. Also handy with a sword.

Defining stories: “Days of Future Past” (collection) by Chris Claremont and John Byrne;Wolverine by Claremont and Frank Miller; Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith; Origin by Paul Jenkins, Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada;Wolverine: Logan by Brian K. Vaughan and Eduardo Risso.

Cultural Legacy: Wolverine was the wildcard pick for the next-gen X-Men back in the mid-seventies, and with his anti-social, doesn’t-play-well-with-others persona, seemed destined to follow Thunderbird as X-Man Most Likely To Get Killed Off (Via Redemptive Sacrificial Death) Just To Prove Anything Can Happen In This Comic. But the more Claremont (and Byrne) played to Wolverine, the more he popped as the most dynamic, compelling character in a comic full of such characters. Remember Zachary Quinto’s star-making turn in Heroes, how his Sylar went from supporting player to the focal point of the series (and the only reason to watch)? That was Wolverine during his first 50 issues in Uncanny X-Men (except, fortunately, there were many other reasons to read the comic than just him). Yet it was the Claremont/Miller mini-series that expressed and clarified Wolverine’s game-changing significance: the emergence of the Byronic protagonist — proudly damaged, morally ambiguous, darkly romantic — as the defining heroic archetype of modern comics. —Jeff Jensen

Marvel

Name: Jean Grey

Origin Story: Like every member of The X-Men, Jean Grey is a mutant – accepted if reductive jargon for a new kind of human being that represents the next stage of human evolution, i.e. what comes after the current homo sapien era. (Some mutants – especially the snooty, self-righteous, or slightly sinister ones – prefer the term homo superior.) The fair-skinned, red-haired Grey was born with two abilities — telekinesis and telepathy – that began to manifest during early adolescence, after she witnessed the death of her best friend. Years later, Jean began a tumultuous relationship with an alien entity known as The Phoenix Force that imbued her with awesome psionic powers — and engendered frightening appetites. This has not always been a good thing. Just ask the dead denizens of the planet D’Bari. She literally ate a star and destroyed their solar system.

Costume: As Marvel Girl, she’s had a few, including a saggy blue and yellow spandex body suit – her school-issued workout wear/fighting togs – and a go-go girl mini-dress that she designed herself. As Phoenix, she wore electric green and gold when good, fiery crimson and black when Dark Phoenix bad.

Coolest Power: Jean once established an intimate  “psychic rapport” with her true love, Scott Summers, so they could always be connected. In other words:  Non-stop brain sex! Now that’s a girlfriend!

Defining Stories: “The Dark Phoenix Saga” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

Cultural Legacy: Jean Grey was the central figure in arguably the greatest single storyline in the history of superhero comics. Her sacrificial suicide in Uncanny X-Men #137 was a landmark event that marked and defined an entire generation of comic book readers. If only her story could have ended there. Revived and killed and revived several times over the past 30 years, Jean Grey has been rebooted into near meaninglessness. But hey: Non-stop brain sex!—Jeff Jensen

NEXT PAGE: Wonder Woman vs. Captain America

Visiting Dignitary Championship Bout: Wonder Woman vs. Captain America

Name: Wonder Woman

Origin Story: Born and raised on Themyscira, an all-female island nation populated by a race of mythological Amazons, Princess Diana was sent to the outside world to fight evil as a warrior for peace. Over the years, Marston’s character’s mission statement has shifted, but her original creator William Moulton Martson imagined her as a representative for proto-feminist liberation – an inspiration and example for women.

Costume: Despite a few questionable updates over the years, Wonder Woman’s star-spangled costume still reflects the character’s origin as a Nazi-thumping heroine of the early ’40s. The red boots, the golden-eagle bodice, the indestructible bracelets, the tiara: It’s one of the most iconic looks in comics history

Coolest Power/Ability: Sure, she’s superstrong and superfast. But perhaps befitting her royal background, Wonder Woman also has access to a couple of key accessories that really set her apart from her fellow DC superheroes. For one thing, there’s that invisible airplane. But more importantly, Wonder Woman carries with her the golden Lasso of Truth, a mythological polygraph test which doubles as an Indiana Jones-worthy weapon.

Defining Stories: The very early Marston stories collected in The Wonder Woman Chronicles series can seem almost impenetrably weird to modern eyes (although modern comics icon Grant Morrison is an avowed fan, and has long promised his own Marston-influenced take on Wonder Woman.) The big fan complaint about Wonder Woman tends to be that, unlike Superman and Batman, the character hasn’t had any truly defining story arcs in the modern era. But the 1987 “Gods and Mortals” saga is a visual delight thanks to artist George Pérez. And the current series by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is a standout in DC’s rebooted post-”New 52″ universe – it’s arguably the best run of Wonder Woman comics in decades.

Cultural legacy: The most famous female superhero in the world, Wonder Woman has consistently found herself at the focal point of many of the great gender debates in the comic book medium. Is she an inspiring figure– a strong woman who can play with the boys? Or is she another skimpily-dressed object of fanboy desire? That dichotomy has arguably affected Wonder Woman’s ability to cross over during this period of blockbuster superherodom. Warner Bros. has been developing a film without any luck for over a decade, while a much-hyped NBC Wonder Woman pilot failed to get picked up in 2011. —Darren Franich

Marvel

Name: Captain America

Origin Story: Patriotic but pallid New Yorker Steve Rogers keeps getting turned away from enlisting in the U.S. army during WWII, until Dr. Abraham Erskine chooses him to be the guinea pig for Project: Rebirth. The secret military program hoped to create an army of super soldiers using Erksine’s top secret serum combined with that formidably potent technological breakthrough, Vita Rays. A Nazi assassin kills Erskine just after Rogers undergoes the procedure, however, so Steve becomes the program’s one and only success story. And what a success: Essentially a biologically perfect specimen, Rogers is given the honorific of Captain America, serving his country as both a potent propaganda and a bona fide hero.

Costume: Red, white, and blue through and through — though mostly blue, with red and white stripes running up the torso, red boots with giant cuffs, a bright white star on the chest, and a helmet covering the eyes and nose with white wings over each ear. A telling detail: Rogers designed it himself.

Coolest Power/Ability: Cap isn’t exactly a “superhero” — he’s still mortal, but his enhanced physiology means his strength, endurance, metabolism, and ability to heal are at the zenith of human ability. But he would be nowhere without his iconic, boomerang-like shield, made from that nearly indestructible technological breakthrough, vibranium.

Defining Stories: In “The Coming of the Nomad,” released right after the Watergate scandal, Rogers forsakes his Captain America identity after becoming disillusioned by the corruption inside the U.S. government, and becomes the nationless “Nomad” instead. In the more recent “Winter Soldier” arc, Cap’s trusted sidekick Bucky Barnes becomes a brainwashed Soviet assassin, a story so personally resonant for Cap that it appears to be the plot of Marvel Studios’ upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Cultural Legacy: The very first issue of Captain America, which came out months before the U.S. entered WWII, showed Cap punching Hitler in the jaw. Which is to say, from the start, the character was engineered to be an icon of American might, and a not-so-subtle salvo in the effort to get the country to support joining the global struggle against Nazism and fascism. But after the war was over, Cap fell out of favor, and ultimately fell out of print for a decade. He was resurrected in 1964, literally brought into the modern age as a man out of time. But multiple efforts to bring the character into the greater cultural mainstream through feature films and TV series never quite took off — until Marvel Studios handed Cap’s shield to Chris Evans for 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, which pulled in $369 million worldwide. —Adam B. Vary

NEXT PAGE: Iron Man vs. Deadpool

Gallivanting Billionaire vs. Absurdist Psychopath All-Star Game: Iron Man vs. Deadpool

Name: Iron Man

Origin Story: Anthony “Tony” Stark, wealthy industrialist, endures a severe heart injury, builds himself an armored suit powered by a mechanical chest plate. Decides to use his money and brains for forces of good.

Costume: Red and gold impenetrable metal — oooh, so shiny!

Coolest Power/Ability: In the suit, Stark can fly, tremendously amplify his natural strength, employ computer technology within the helmet, emit power blasts through his palms.

Defining Stories: The Stan Lee/Larry Lieber-writ, Jack Kirby/Don Heck-drawn silver age initial stories in Tales of Suspense from 1968. The Mark Millar-authored “Civil War” storyline, a 2006-7 limited-series “event.” Invincible Iron Man, a run begun in 2008 from writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvator Larroca, brought a new sophistication to both the dialogue and action.

Cultural legacy: Combined at least four pulp hero clichés into one archetype — the billionaire/playboy/inventor/alcoholic — and emerged a symbol of American capitalism redeemed. He began life as an anti-Communist Cold Warrior who over the decades hardened into the staunch supporter of the “Superhuman Registration Act,” a stance that put him at odds with, among others, Captain America, thus out-patriotizing the comics’ ultimate patriot. In film, is portrayed by arguably the most fleet, witty actor to don a super-hero costume, Robert Downey, and has arguably the slinkiest assistant of all assistants, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. —Ken Tucker

Name: Deadpool

Origin Story: Deadpool’s precise backstory changes frequently, but most experts agree that Deadpool used to be Wade Wilson, a heartless mercenary who went through the Weapon X program (which also created Wolverine). The program gave him a comically powerful special healing factor – he has survived decapitation. Unfortunately, it also covered his body in unsightly scar tissue.

Costume: A black-and-red full-body outfit, usually combined with a grenade belt, ammo packs, and a couple of swords.

Coolest Power/Ability: Sure, he’s got a groovy teleportation device. Sure, he basically can never die. But the coolest thing about Deadpool is the fact that, alone among all the characters on this list, he’s extremely aware of his existence as a comic book character, frequently breaking the fourth wall. In this sense, he’s probably the most beloved meta-superhero in mainstream comics.

Defining Stories: In the late ’90s, writer Joe Kelly and had a defining 33-issue run on a Deadpool solo comic that played like a freefloating parody of comic book tropes, even while it established Deadpool as a curiously endearing, oddly tragic, completely batcrap-crazy anti-hero. The peak of the run came in Deadpool #11, when Kelly and artist Joe McGuinness sent Deadpool back in time to an old Spider-Man story. (In the same run, it was established that Deadpool was in love with Death and might be the new Messiah.)

Cultural legacy: The character did appear, in a painfully vanilla form, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Ryan Reynolds has frequently discussed his hopes for spinning the character off into an appropriately insane standalone movie. But even if he isn’t well-known to the outside world, the character has become an important secret handshake for comic book fans. You could argue that Deadpool is to comics what Louis C.K. was to comedy about a decade ago. If Louis C.K. was a gun-toting sociopath.—Darren Franich

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