Supernatural Entity Championship Bout: Hellboy vs. Captain Marvel
Origin Story: A demonic creature summoned to earth by the magician Rasputin to help the Nazis, Hellboy was instead raised by the army and trained to take on supernatural threats to America.
Costume: Hellboy is a big red guy with a tail, a pair of horns he shaves regularly, and a right hand made of stone. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be fashionable! Hence: The never-out-of-style tan trenchcoat.
Coolest Power/Ability: Remember that stone hand we mentioned? That’s called the Right Hand of Doom. It’s actually the key to releasing the Ogdru Jahad, the creatures who will cause the end of the world. Which means that Hellboy holds the Apocalypse in his right hand. Heavy.
Defining Stories: The first Hellboy miniseries, Seed of Destruction, is a great introduction to the character, and to creator Mike Mignola’s impressive mix of no-bull procedural and cosmic mythmaking. There are plenty of great Hellboy one-offs, but lately, Mignola has been telling grander serialized stories – the best of which, The Wild Hunt, delves deeper into Hellboy’s backstory.
Cultural Legacy: Hellboy is a creator-owned comic book that freely combines folklore, H.P. Lovecraft, world history, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker into one gloriously weird package. It doesn’t really seem like the fodder for a major Hollywood movie…which makes it all the more impressive that Ron Perlman played Hellboy in two major motion pictures directed by Guillermo Del Toro. (And some of us really like Hellboy 2. Like, I mean really, really, really like Hellboy 2.) Although the movies Hollywoodize the character ever so slightly, Hellboy is the rare comic book character to cross over into the mainstream with pretty much all of his weirdness and rough edges intact. —Darren Franich
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. —Darren Franich
Next Page: Green Lantern vs. Invisible Woman