The Rise of Superhero/Super Villain Matchups

Updated on October 24, 2019
rjbatty profile image

Rjbatty is a comic book aficionado and critic from Irvine, California.

When comic writers and filmmakers get lazy, they turn to matchups.
When comic writers and filmmakers get lazy, they turn to matchups. | Source

This is written for those who buy, or have once bought, comics.

Since the advent of Superman, there have been numerous writers who wanted to build heroes/enemies that are stronger than the Man of Steel. I understand this from a commercial aspect, but aesthetically, it all seems groan-worthy. Oftentimes, one has to bury their head in a pillow to follow the tortuous creations that have been invented since Superman's first publication. Doomsday was created to kill off Superman and thus create a lot a spin-off publications—either regarding his funeral or his resurrection (in several iterations).

All the while Marvel continued to pump out uncountable X-Men titles. For me, it all became far too much and I stopped buying both DC and Marvel, as I considered their material to be a wasteland. Instead, I started buying independent publishers which I found to provide much more satisfying material.

First Appearance of Superman
First Appearance of Superman
First Appearance of the X-Men
First Appearance of the X-Men

Not All Comics Make Sense

During these various match-up videos (I guess mostly available on YouTube), you will find the narrator's referencing material that you may have never read. One takes it on faith that their encyclopedic memory of hundreds of comics is accurate. So-and-so lifted this, and so-and-so did that, and they use this as a basis for calculating a one-on-one matchup.

Let's face the facts. Some of these comic book characters have existed for decades and gone through a slew of different writers. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by stating that some writers take their character too far, e.g., "x" lifted this or that and with the weight of that object, you can expect him/her to have "y" amount of strength. What? Just because a character is under the possession of an untalented writer for a certain period of time does not transfer to that character's clearly objectifiable abilities. It simply means that the writer was out of wits, under the influence, or simply didn't give a damn.

The Concept of Canon Is a Myth in the Comic Book World

We all seek a kind of "canon" where superheroes are concerned, but none exists. Once we saw Marvel and DC put their properties to the screen, our "sacred" ideas about the entities vanished. Warner Bros. and Disney do what they like with the "idea" of a character, and build their own storyline, often straying far from the comic book path. Sometimes they find interesting/entertaining avenues, other times they do not.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the pertinent meaning of "canon" as follows:

  • an accepted principle or rule : a criterion or standard of judgment
  • the canons of good taste
  • a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms

Unhappily, neither DC or Marvel even attempted to ground their characters within the confines of "principles, rules, standards, or norms." To the contrary, both publishers seem to relish upon the ability to reinvent their characters every six months or so—I suppose to match the waxing and waning of a given audience. If Thor sales lag, try putting the head of a horse on top of him. If Superman is slipping, just kill him off—that got nationwide attention.

Matchups Are Just Clickbait

So, in my humble estimation, there is no "canon" for either DC or Marvel. They keep changing things as much as they like in order to draw in more $$. The various matchups we find on YouTube are basically worthless. They can cherry-pick the best/worst elements about any character. And even without trying they can draw a false conclusion based on an ever-fluctuating "canon."

The entire business is built upon people like you (and me) clicking on their bait and listening to what each character has to offer in a battle. Maybe this is enough for some. Maybe a tango between Thor and Superman will draw a sufficient number of hits to make the business worthwhile. I don't know. After having watched a dozen or so of these matchups, I just see the same pattern, i.e., a reliance upon some canon that doesn't exist and a kind of slant one way or the other based upon superficialities.

Creating a canon at this stage would be very difficult and involve dismissing the writings of many contributors over the years. However difficult, both DC and Marvel should make an attempt to put some kind of wrap on their hundreds of heros and villians; otherwise, things will just continue to spiral out of control. Even now, you would need an encyclopedic memory to recall all the actions taken by either publisher's characters. You would really need a computer to somehow break down a character's strengths/weaknesses and present a plausible middle-ground or point out the giant discrepancies we see occurring over the decades.

Small Example of How Many Comics Have Been Produced
Small Example of How Many Comics Have Been Produced

Marvel and DC have constantly tried to gain the high ground, making their characters more powerful, until they were forced to make them less powerful. These one-on-one clashes are totally meaningless because so much is due to interpretation. Oftentimes, the characters are so evenly matched that the result should end in a draw, but you never see the narrators claim a draw, no, they always pick a winner based on some miniscule observation.

Atom vs. Ant Man
Atom vs. Ant Man

If you have fun with these matchups, go ahead, knock yourself out. I would just say that's okay because I do not see anyone keeping a scorecard on how we handle our time. In the end it is all harmless. Maybe we should be reading books on programming or something that might have a payoff, but a person wants to invest their time in contemplating superhero/supervillain "death matches," it's a much better way to spend one's time than many other things—none of which I need to mention.


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