Monday, July 23, 2007

Will the real Son of Zor-El please stand up?

It's really kind of funny, actually. The creators of superheroes have shown themselves to be phenomenally creative in what abilities our champions (and their foes) can possess. Hard sound constructs? Check. Molecular manipulation? Sure thing. Probability alteration? No problem. Telekinetic hair? Uhhhh.... sure.

So why is it that our greatest heroes tend to be flying strongmen?

Superman has lots of other powers, sure. But he's essentially a guy who flies around and is massively strong and tough. And he's not alone.

(And no, I'm not referring to the fact that with as many other Kryptonians running around as there are, it seems like the only people who died when Krypton blew up are Jor-El and Lara.)

But let's run down my top ten pastiches of the Man of Steel. Note that this list is based on nothing more than my own subjective rankings, and I might change it at any moment. I also intentionally left off of the list characters directly related to Superman; this includes other Kryptonians (Supergirl), clones (Superboy, the Cyborg Hank Henshaw), those inspired by Superman (Steel), other alien races that are almost Kryptonians (Mon-El), and alternate universe versions of Superman (Ultraman).

All of these characters are super-strong, fly, and are near invulnerable. But they each have some significant differences as well.

10) Mighty Mouse
Singing his trademark song, "Here I come to save the day!", Mike Mouse becomes the super-powered Mighty Mouse! Flying to rescue Pearl Pureheart, there is little that can slow down this marvelous rodent.

Why he's number 10: Because, well, he's a mouse. He's also the least developed character on the list - his cartoons rarely dealt with Mike Mouse's life, and no specific vulnerabilities were ever discussed.

9) Apollo (Wildstorm)
Bio-engineered member of a little known Stormwatch team, the man known as Apollo is able to channel solar energy through his body to devastating effect. Both as a member of Stormwatch, and then later with the Authority, Apollo has shown himself ready, willing, and able, to be an effective warrior against evil.

Why he's number 9: There are a number of major differences between Apollo and the Man of Steel (though none quite so glaring as being a flying rodent). To begin, he is visually the most distinct from the Man of Steel. Secondly, Apollo is a homosexual man, married to the Midnighter. Third, he maintains no secret identity. Superman knows the importance of being Clark Kent, but Apollo is always Apollo. Finally, Apollo is willing to kill. He's clearly cast in Superman's mold, but the mold was pretty well warped.

8) Captain Marvel (DC Comics)
When Billy Batson invokes the name of the wizard Shazam, he is granted the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Courage of Achilles, the Power of Zeus, the Stamina of Atlas and the Speed of Mercury, becoming Captain Marvel, the world's mightiest mortal. The protector of the Rock of Eternity, where the Seven Deadly Sins are imprisoned and Fawcett City, Billy is joined by his sister, Mary, and their friend Freddy, who become Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., respectively.

Why he's number 8: The similarities between him and Superman were great enough that Fawcett was sued by Timely comics, and lost the ownership of the character, so you'd think he'd be higher. But really the Marvels are amazingly distinct. Firstly, their powers are magical in nature, where Superman is highly tied to science - so much so that he is vulnerable to magic. Secondly, and they are unique on this list in this, those who possess the power of Shazam are ordinary humans most of the time. The relationship between the Marvels and Black Adam is also unlike anything in the Superman mythos. I like Marvel more than any of the others here, including Superman himself sometimes, but he's really very little like Superman. He also doesn't get the respect he deserves from the people of his comic universe - all of those higher ranked on the list are usually regarded as the "greatest hero of all" or darn close. While Marvel probably is, the people of the DCU don't see him that way.

7) Mr. Majestic (Wildstorm)
Majestros is an alien warlord who has come to Earth, where he has become the single greatest hero on the planet. His strength, invulnerability and other powers are so awesome and varied that his name has led to an entire classification of superhumans. Whether in his native world, on Earth, or even transported to another dimension, Majestic is a force to be reckoned with.

Why he's number 7: Majestic was specifically created to mirror Superman - so much so that when Majestic was transported to the DCU, many people believed him to be Superman with a change of costume. Beyond strength, speed, invulnerability and flight, Majestic is also an absolute genius. But his attitude couldn't be more different than the Man of Steels. Majestic is a warlord, first and foremost. He fights pre-emptively, and is not above killing if it is needed. He answers to no authority beyond his own, unlike Superman who takes the laws and morality of humanity to heart. He also is Majestic all the time, except for a short time when he did live as a human - at Superman's own suggestion! He would rank lower, but Majestic is considered the mightiest hero of his Earth, and as such, he fits Superman's role for the Wildstorm Universe.

6) The Sentry (Marvel Comics)
Robert Reynolds possesses the power of a thousand exploding suns. (What that means precisely is up for debate). He is one of the Earth's greatest heroes (sometimes), and the Golden Guardian of Good is now a prime member of the Avengers. Though suffering from a troubled past, and an immeasurably fierce arch-foe in The Void, Bob is one of Earth's mightiest champions.

Why he's number 6: The Sentry may, in theory, be Marvel's Superman, but Clark would take one look at Robert and say "We need to get you assistance." The Sentry actually almost approaches the pre-Crisis Superman in terms of his powers and abilities - especially in their vagueness. No one seems quite willing to precisely define Robert's powers - this is even more true when you consider that the Void is a part of him as well. And here's where he differs most from Superman - The Sentry is his own worst villain. And even when not in battle with the Void, Robert suffers crippling self-doubt. Clark may occasionally wonder if he's doing the right thing, but inaction is never an option for him.
So, there's numbers 10-6. We'll handle the Top 5 in a later post. Stay tuned!

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Blogger Matt said...

I thought you would mention in Billy Batson's description that he also differs from Superman because he was the first to fly. Superman was still leaping those buildings, unable to do anything more, while Captain Marvel was flying.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Well if you're going to get into evolution of characters and powers you're getting into a whole additional realm. I think this is about the roles the characters are filling now as opposed to where they started.

Speaking of such things, I seem to remember that Captain Marvel's magic word originally was a series of Egyptian gods but was changed to Greek, Roman and Jewish gods and heroes because readers would recognize those names. Did they ever address why an Egyptian wizard would invoke such a patchwork of beings from other religions? It's probably wiser if they don't.

11:35 AM  

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