Southwest Regional Final: Spider-Man vs. Green Lantern
Origin Story: Gawky, geeky New York high schooler Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider (altered to a genetically modified spider in later reboots of the character), and overnight becomes imbued with the arachnid’s heightened strength, agility, perception, and velcro-like grip on practically any surface. But he’s still just a hot-headed kid: When Peter blithely neglects to stop a thief, the lowlife winds up murdering Peter’s Uncle Ben — the only father figure he’s known. Peter’s grief propels him into a life of crime fighting, driven by the principle that with great power comes great responsibility.
Costume: A red-and-blue unitard covered in webbing and with a stylized spider on the chest. Unlike almost every other A-list superhero costume, Spider-Man’s head (and therefore his identity) is completely covered, with two large arachnid-like eyes the only things delineating a face. It is simultaneously one of the silliest and most realistic superhero costumes ever, in so far as it actually protects Spidey’s secret identity.
Coolest Power/Ability: Hanging out on the ceiling is damn cool, and that hyper-sensitive “spidey sense” sure comes in handy. But what makes Peter more than just your average teenager is his keen engineering acumen, which enables him to conceive and fabricate the web shooters that allow Spider-Man to sling himself through the high-rise canyons of New York. (The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies made the web-shooters an innate function of Peter’s powers, a fanboy heresy rectified in this summer’s franchise reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.)
Defining Stories: There have been so many variations on Spider-Man over the years, it’s hard to know where to begin. But “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” — the Green Goblin drops Spidey’s girlfriend from a Manhattan bridge; Spidey shoots his web to save her; but the whiplash from the sudden stop snaps her neck — remains one of the most shocking arcs in comic book history.
Cultural Legacy: As Superman defines the DC Comics universe, Spider-Man is at the center of the Marvel Comics ethos: A flawed, human-scaled hero, constantly struggling just to keep his head above water, let alone save the world. He remains one of the most recognizable superheroes on the planet, spawning several animated and live-action TV series and now two bazillion-dollar movie franchises. In fact, 2002’s Spider-Man — the first comic book movie in 13 years to top the box office for the year — arguably launched superhero cinema into its current cultural dominance. (Sorry, X-Men.) —Adam B. Vary
Name: Green Lantern
Origin Story: Depends on which Green Lantern you’re talking about, of course. The Golden Age original, created in 1940, was a railroad engineer named Alan Scott who channeled the mystic energies of a magic lantern via a ring of his own design. This Green Lantern was the one who was recently rebooted as a gay man, and resides in a parallel universe known as Earth 2. But the Green Lantern that shall sally forth in our bracket battle is the Silver Age reboot, introduced in 1959, i.e., Hal Jordan, a hot shot test pilot who learns humility and gains higher purpose after being tapped by a dying extra-terrestrial super-cop – a member of the Green Lantern Corps., overseen by big-headed, blue-skinned Guardians of the Universe – as his replacement.
Costume: Green and gray leotard, domino mask, emerald bling.
Coolest power: With his power ring, which generates objects of solid viridian-hued light, Green Lantern can –through application of will power — conjure anything he can imagine. Additional benefits: Flight, life support, mental telepathy, more. Older stories gave the ring a flaw: It couldn’t work against anything yellow. In more recent stories, the ring is basically as strong – or as weak – as the wearer’s moral character.
Defining stories: Showcase #22 by John Broome and Gil Kane; The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams; Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver; Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps. War by Johns and various artists; The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke.
Cultural Legacy: At heart, the Silver Age Green Lantern is a giddy-geeky embodiment of Space Race-era gee-whiz will-to-power optimism and possibility… and Cold War America ‘policeman of the world’ self-righteousness. He’s a cop archetype, and useful to comic book writers as a means to explore both the good and bad of institutions dedicated to protecting and prosecuting law and order. In the late sixties, O’Neil and Adams produced a legendary string of politically-charged comics by playing Green Lantern as an avatar of The Man, well-meaning and decent, but obedient to the system, resistant to change, and conservative, a foil to counter-culture firebrand Green Arrow. In more recent times, Green Lantern stories have been pure sci-fi fantasy escapism, and the best succeed as rollicking space operas. Maybe Hollywood should consider a movie adaptation. Check that: A good movie adaptation. —Jeff Jensen