Battle of the summer superheroes

Picking a winner in a brawl featuring Hollywood's box-office heroes

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Comic book fans have argued about the relative strengths and weaknesses of superheroes from rivals Marvel and DC for generations.

Who is stronger -- Superman or the Hulk? Who's faster -- Flash or the Avengers' Quicksilver? Would fisticuffs between Batman and the super soldier Captain America be a fair fight? Is there a bigger tough guy than Wolverine in either superhero universe?

During the 1970s, Marvel and DC licensed the first of several official "crossover" battles to assuage fans' thirst for such battles. Spider-Man and Superman went toe-to-toe in a historic 1976 encounter. Years later, the Avengers and the Justice League had at it.

'Amazing Spider-Man' coverage

Since then, superhero crossovers have become routine in the comic book world, prompting some fans to wonder if they'll ever see versions of their favorite comic book grudge matches on the silver screen. Fan agitation eventually moved two rival studios to put horror icons Freddy and Jason into a bloody feud. The Predator and Alien franchises came together for three critically panned but lucrative installments.

This summer, the success of "Marvel's The Avengers" and the expected blockbuster success of the Spider-Man reboot and the last installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy has us wondering: In the cinematic world, who would win in a battle among the most charismatic superheroes of our generation?


Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is literally the new kid on the block, having taken over the role originated by Tobey Maguire in 2002. Mr. Garfield's rendition of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, on screens for the first time Tuesday, is closer to the traditional comic book in terms of teenage angst exerted per second and his reliance on mechanical web shooters.

Often lost in the wise-cracking that Spidey/Parker resorts to as a defense mechanism is how powerful he is. The comic book blithely says he has the "proportionate strength of a spider," whatever that means.

The shorthand understanding is that he has the physical strength of 20 or 25 very strong men. His reflexes are exceptionally fast, too. He has the most powerful leap this side of the Hulk and is an exceptionally resourceful young scientist in his own right. His Spidey-sense warns him of approaching danger.

Weaknesses: He has no obvious weaknesses other than a predilection for self-pity.


Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is, by conventional wisdom, the most powerful superhero of the three. His armor represents the cutting edge in military-inspired technology. Industrialist Tony Stark can assemble his Iron Man armor within seconds, fly long distances at near the speed of sound and blast alien or human threats with repulsor rays shot from the palms of his hands.

As Iron Man, Stark is aided by Jarvis, an onboard computer who helps him navigate battles by feeding him real-time information and alternative scenarios if brute strength and speed can't win the day. Iron Man isn't in the league of Thor, the Hulk or Superman in terms of strength, but he has more power and technology at his disposal when wearing his suit than any other mortal.

Weaknesses: Besides being a raging egoist, Iron Man/Tony Stark's biggest weakness is his bad ticker. He has an artificial heart and can't be separated from technology for very long. He's also an alcoholic, potentially disastrous for a man carrying the equivalent of a nuclear submarine on his shoulders in terms of power.


Batman (Christian Bale), aka the Dark Knight, is the most existentially complex of the three heroes. His alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is haunted by the murder of his parents on the streets of Gotham when he was an adolescent. He has devoted his life and considerable wealth to avenging their deaths by ridding the city they loved of crime.

He has not given therapy much of a chance, choosing instead to honor his parents by dressing up in a bat suit and fighting crime. He has an uneasy alliance with the police.

Batman has no super powers per se, but he is resourceful and intimidating to ordinary people and even fellow superheroes in comics.

He is an expert at fighting in close quarters and is a master tactician. His alter ego's wealth puts incredible resources at his disposal, from planes to heavy armored vehicles and motorcycles. His Batmobile can fly and can replicate some of the tricks of Iron Man's armor, though it is not as nimble.

Still, Batman is legendary for his resourcefulness. He has defeated every major character in DC's comic book universe, including Superman.

Weaknesses: Chief among them is that he doesn't have enhanced strength like Spider-Man or Iron Man. If he gets into a tussle with someone who does, like Bane, he could very easily get the short end of the stick. His intuitive mastery of technology rivals Tony Stark's but doesn't surpass it.

CONCLUSION: Victory goes to ...

If these three heroes were to meet for battle on screen, it would be somewhat anticlimactic. Spider-Man would give Iron Man the most trouble because of his speed, agility and familiarity with technology, but he would ultimately succumb to a well-aimed repulsor ray if not an old-fashioned beat down by a ticked off Iron Man.

Batman would elude Iron Man while utilizing technology located in his utility belt or armored vehicles, and he would have an intuitive understanding of the way Stark fights. Even with that knowledge and resourcefulness, Batman is no match for Iron Man. Only a god like Thor, a monster like the Hulk or an alien like Superman has a fighting chance against him.

In terms of a brawl, Iron Man has this one in the bag.


Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631. First Published June 29, 2012 4:00 AM


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