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: Thor vs. Martian Manhunter; Ghost Rider vs. Hellboy; Green Lantern vs. The Great Machine; and The Punisher vs. The Spirit.
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 Three polls will close in exactly 48 hours, at Noon ET on August 10. Be sure to vote in our Day Two match-ups: Batman vs. Rorschach; Storm vs. Jean Grey; Wonder Woman vs. Black Panther; and Deadpool vs. The Tick.
Alien Showdown, Round One: Thor vs. Martian Manhunter
Origin Story: Raised among the Norse pantheon in the realm of Asgard, Thor was the egotistical eldest son of Allfather Odin. He was punished to walk the earth in human form to learn humility, and frequently moves back and forth between Earth and more cosmic planes of existence.
Costume: A brightly-colored Asgardian warrior’s uniform, with a red cape and an essential winged helmet. Lately, Thor has also taken to ornamenting himself with chainmail, possibly because the whole “Inexplicable Circles” look was, well, inexplicable.
Coolest Power/Ability: Thor wields the hammer Mjolnir, which grants him the incredible ability to control the weather, along with the incredible ability to throw a hammer in your face.
Defining Stories: Walt Simonson’s run on the character in the ’80s is the unquestionable high point for the character. Simonson could do epic fantasy (“The Surtur Saga”), cosmic space opera (the three-issue arc which introduced Beta Ray Bill) and semi-comedic fairy tale (the wonderful “Thor Turns Into a Frog” story).
Cultural legacy: Until recently, Thor seemed like one of those comic book characters who would never cross over into the mainstream. He was too weird, too particular, too much a combination of seemingly disparate genre tropes. And then the Thor movie grossed $450 million worldwide. And then Thor’s main nemesis, Loki, was the Big Bad in The Avengers, currently the third highest-grossing movie ever. With the Thor sequel promising to dive deeper into the character’s extensive mythology, we could be living at the dawn of a mainstream Thor renaissance.
An Important Aside About Thor’s Place in the Bracket: We realize that Thor could just as easily be considered a “Supernatural Entity” as an “Alien,” but the most consistent interpretation of the character states that the Asgardians are extra-dimensional beings who occupy a realm where “magic” is a rough analogue to science…which, for the purposes of this tournament, seems to put Thor in the “Alien” class. This might also just be because Thor frequently flies through space, which seems to classify him as a character from science-fiction rather than the fantasy-oriented Spawn or Hellboy. But if you really think Thor is misplaced here, than vote him through the final round and make the point moot. —Darren Franich
Name: Martian Manhunter
Origin Story: Centuries ago, a highly-advanced society lived on Mars, and a noble every-guy named J’onn J’onzz patrolled that society as a police officer. A plague spread throughout Mars, leaving J’onzz as the last member of his race. A scientist from modern-day earth accidentally brought J’onzz to Earth using a transmitter beam, where he decided to fight for righteousness on his adopted planet.
Costume: J’onzz wears an outfit very much in keeping with the Superman school of Superhero Costuming: A bold red-and-blue color scheme, a flowing cape, and boots. The only difference is that J’onzz bears considerably more of his (green) skin.
Coolest Power/Ability: Geez, where to begin? Martian Manhunter has pretty much all the typical superpowers – strength, speed, agility, flight. But he’s also got a veritable cornucopia of special Martian powers, including telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, and even hypnosis. Still, the most intriguing aspect of the Manhunter’s identity is his ability to shapeshift. He actually rarely shows his true form to anyone: His de facto green-humanoid form is just another illusion.
Defining Stories: Martian Manhunter is really one of the great supporting characters in comic books, which unfortunately means that most of his best stories involve him sharing the limelight. But the great Mark Waid/Brian Augustyn 12-issue miniseries JLA: Year One features one of the best renditions of J’onn: He’s simultaneously a mentor to the newly formed Justice League and an eerily remote figure.
Cultural Legacy: The character seems doomed to be overshadowed by the bigger names on the DC roster. Which is unfortunate: Martian Manhunter’s incredible mixture of powers (and tragic backstory) makes him one of the more interesting players in the DC universe. That’s probably why the character has appeared in pretty much every DC cartoon show, to say nothing of Phil Morris’ recurring role as a version of the character on Smallville. —Darren Franich
Next Page: Ghost Rider vs. Hellboy