Superman vs. The Incredible Hulk: THE DEFINITIVE WINNER IS…?

Posted: June 5, 2012 by J. Marcus in Comic Books, Up on The Soap Box
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(video by mhabjan)

Spoiler Alert: They both lose.  And so do you.

Why do they both lose?  Because both characters have been given powers and abilities so nebulous that neither can be properly quantified, explained or even rationalized.

Is that a sweeping generalization?  You betcha, but tell me I’m wrong.  Let’s take Superman, for example (because he’s my favorite and I’m writing this).  At the height of his strength, Superman could move planets.  He could see across solar systems.  He didn’t need to breathe and he could move fast enough to break the time barrier.  So what happened?  The good folks at DC decided to tone his powers down a bit to make him more manageable and to make it easier to write interesting stories (after all, what’s interesting about a guy who can do all that?).  But then, after a few years, the Man of Steel’s power levels began to increase once again, eventually making him more-or-less unstoppable.  And while the “New 52” seems to have addressed this, my pessimistic side says it will only be a matter of time before Superman, once again, becomes all-powerful (if only he could get the damned red trunks back).

So Superman, power-wise, is a mess.  What about the Hulk?

I don’t remember the Hulk ever having any explicit weaknesses, but I do remember him getting knocked out a few times.  The Hulk also suffered from power-creep, only in his case it was never reversed.  He just kept getting stronger and stronger until… what?  Maybe there are nebulous forces out there that can defeat the Hulk, but they are not quantified and most likely not available here on Earth.  If you read his Wikipedia entry, you get the distinct impression that he is more-or-less unstoppable. And while that may make Hulk fans and supporters squeal with delight… it’s frankly boring from a storytelling standpoint.

So given that neither character has discernable limitations in a mano-a-mano fight, we are truly presented with an “unstoppable force meeting an immovable object” scenario.  It’s a great exercise in debate, but with both characters’ abilities in a state of flux, you can never know who’s right.  You get both sides throwing out statistics and precedents despite the fact that the source materials were written by many different writers just trying to earn a paycheck or put their stamp on a character.  And then you have the fact that both have been represented in film, television and cartoons as well and that these depictions all differ from their comic counterparts.

That’s when you get arguments along the lines of “well, the Hulk died falling from a helicopter, so he’s not that invulnerable” or “Superman seemed to have a hard time with missiles in the Animated Series, so I guess he’d have a real hard time with the Hulk!”

Let’s be fair… If we matched the Lou Ferrigno Hulk against the Christopher Reeve (or even, more accurately, the Dean Cain) Superman, it’s clear who the winner would be.  If you matched the Planet Hulk (cartoon) Hulk against the Superman from Superman: The Animated Series, the Hulk would probably win hands-down.  So the question becomes, how do you have a fair fight?  Where do you draw the line?

And here’s where we all lose.  This argument has all the earmarks of geeky goodness!  It’s two top-tier characters from either side of the Marvel/DC aisle.  They’re among the strongest from both universes.  One’s the colorful representation of truth, justice and the American way, while the other is rage personified.  This should be an epic battle.

Instead, it’s cheapened by the laziness of too many writers over the years tweaking and retweaking and re-retweaking.

In the early 80’s, a Spider-Man/Superman crossover was published jointly by Marvel and DC.  According to some reports, the story was mostly broken by Marvel staff.  Regardless, after a bit of sparring, Superman finally braces himself and is attacked by the Hulk to no effect at all (he doesn’t even flinch).  And yet, this story falls easily outside of canon (as it assumes that both Marvel and DC continuities exist in the same world), and so should be dismissed by both parties.

And yet, it’s in print.

The Hulk is a conflicted character, full of passion and rage.  So if you want to deal with him on that level, I’m sure you can mine the depths of his psychoses and find an interesting story or two (right, Peter David?). But if you’re going to put him in a brawl under the assumption that his powers are limitless, where is the challenge?  What makes it interesting?

Superman is not a god, but he is not a man.  He has great powers and abilities that he has decided to use to represent the best of what humanity can be.  The problem is that he keeps having one of his most human qualities either removed or reduced… weakness.  Weaknesses are things to overcome, but without them there is no struggle.  And without struggle, how can you grow?  Superman has had his weaknesses restored, but again, how long will that last?

I would love to have this argument!  I can think of so many points that I could make.  Hell, I can imagine what it would be like.  But I’m basing it on my idealized version of both characters… versions that most likely don’t match up with what either character actually is.  And it is for that reason that I can never actually win this argument.  It’s why no one can.

Well, that and the fact that we’re talking about two fictional characters.


  1. Kuma Baity says:

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Honestly I believe it would of ended in a stalemate anyway. Double K.O. if anything.

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