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 essential face-offs: Batman vs. Rorschach; Storm vs. Jean Grey; Wonder Woman vs. Black Panther; and Deadpool vs. The Tick.
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 Two polls will close in exactly 48 hours, at 3:00 ET on August 9. And you still have one day left to vote in the Day One match-ups: Superman vs. Silver Surfer; Spawn vs. Captain Marvel; Spider-Man vs. Daredevil; and The Invisible Woman vs. Metamorpho.
Streetwise Crimefighter Showdown, Round One: Batman vs. Rorschach
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
Origin Story: Not pleasant. Walter Kovacs was the son of an emotionally and physically abusive mother who lived in a tenement slum and turned tricks for unhappy middle class scuzzballs to make money. He grew up furious and violent and ultimately found purpose and an outlet for those energies by becoming a brutal vigilante. He called his crime-fighting alter-ego “Rorschach” and partnered with Nite Owl, a lighter, larkier brand of costumed do-gooder. But after a traumatic experience with a child killer, Kovacs – whose psyche was already precariously fragile – went solo and weirdly schizoid; he adopted Rorschach as his base identity, and made “Kovacs” his alter-ego, the guise he wears to hide and protect his self-made self. (Yes, all quite murky.) He was guided by a severe view of justice that refused to acknowledge shades of gray and allowed for little mercy. He would call himself a realist. Others would call him cynicism incarnate.
Costume: Fedora, blood-splashed trenchcoat (that crimson stain a token-totem of his life-changing, life-taking encounter with that aforementioned child killer), and the face-obscuring mask that inspired his professional moniker, made from an experimental material that contains a pressure-sensitive black fluid between layers of super-thin latex. In other words: the mask morphs, and can present abstracted, ink blot articulations of Kovacs’ facial expressions.
Coolest power/ability: His disturbing genius for turning almost anything into a weapon.
Defining stories: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, especially issue number 6, devoted to Rorschach’s backstory.
Cultural Legacy: Rorschach either recast the superhero archetype as a fundamentalist-terrorist (sans religious underpinnings) – or exposed it as such. He’s Batman with ideology; Dexter without the ritualized killing. Moore’s specific inspiration for Rorschach was The Question, a faceless street vigilante guided by rigid code derived from Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Kovacs/Rorschach – the breakout character in a book that represented a heady summary statement of the superhero genre – was heartbreaking, even sympathetic, but Moore never intended him to be inspiring, worthy of emulation, “cool.” Yet together with Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” take on Batman, Rorschach spurred the superhero factory to go “grim and gritty” with varying degrees of success and grotesque. Thanks to Rorschach and his edgy kin, today’s superhero stories – in comics and other media – must be shaded with skepticism about the very idea of heroism. Thanks to Rorschach and his amazingly jaundiced friends, we ask: Can anyone believe in Superman anymore?—Jeff Jensen
Next Page: Storm vs. Jean Grey