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
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