Today, we begin Round 2 of our Superhero Showdown bracket game, moving one step closer to deciding which costumed crimefighter is the greatest superhero ever. The Round of 16 kicks off today with four agonizing big-ticket match-ups. Superman and Thor enter the arena, representing the dead planet Krypton and the heavenly realm of Asgard. Fresh from an upset victory over Ghost Rider, Hellboy will battle Captain Marvel for supernatural supremacy. Green Lantern and Invisible Woman will hurl energy at each other, some of it green, some of it invisible. And in the final bout, Marvel icons Spider-Man and the Hulk will decide once and for all whether it’s better to get your power from a radioactive spider or a gamma bomb.
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 15. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the other half of Round 2: Batman vs. The Punisher, Wolverine vs. Jean Grey, Wonder Woman vs. Captain America, and Iron Man vs. Deadpool.
Alien Showdown, Championship Bout: Superman vs. Thor
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
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
Next Page: Hellboy vs. Captain Marvel