DC Comics; Marvel
EW Staff
August 24, 2012 AT 04:17 PM EDT

Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Batman and Iron Man. One man, a morose orphan on an eternal mission of vengeance; the other, a brilliant gadfly turned industrial superhero. The two heroes sit at the upper tier of their respective universes; they have also become, in the modern age, arguably the most popular superheroes in the world, headlining billion-dollar film franchises. (To a certain extent, whenever Robert Downey Jr. appears in public now, he is playing Tony Stark.) Today, Batman and Iron Man face off in a blazing semi-final match. Who will advance to the final round? The decision…is up to you.

Check out our mini-bios of today’s competitors, and scroll down to vote now in the Batman/Iron Man match-up. Be sure to vote in our other Final Four competition: Superman vs. Spider-Man. And to get a look at how our tournament has gone so far, click on the image below for a full-sized printable bracket.

New England Comics Press

Name: Batman

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 the 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) 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, and of heroism itself.—Jeff Jensen

Name: Iron Man

Origin Story: Anthony “Tony” Stark, wealthy industrialist, endures a severe heart injury, builds himself an armored suit powered by a mechanical chest plate. Decides to use his money and brains for forces of good.

Costume: Red and gold impenetrable metal — oooh, so shiny!

Coolest Power/Ability: In the suit, Stark can fly, tremendously amplify his natural strength, employ computer technology within the helmet, emit power blasts through his palms.

Defining Stories: The Stan Lee/Larry Lieber-writ, Jack Kirby/Don Heck-drawn silver age initial stories in Tales of Suspense from 1968. The Mark Millar-authored “Civil War” storyline, a 2006-7 limited-series “event.” Invincible Iron Man, a run begun in 2008 from writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvator Larroca, brought a new sophistication to both the dialogue and action.

Cultural legacy: Combined at least four pulp hero clichés into one archetype — the billionaire/playboy/inventor/alcoholic — and emerged a symbol of American capitalism redeemed. He began life as an anti-Communist Cold Warrior who over the decades hardened into the staunch supporter of the “Superhuman Registration Act,” a stance that put him at odds with, among others, Captain America, thus out-patriotizing the comics’ ultimate patriot. In film, is portrayed by arguably the most fleet, witty actor to don a super-hero costume, Robert Downey, and has arguably the slinkiest assistant of all assistants, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. —Ken Tucker

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