The Definitive Answers To The Biggest Superhero Debate
Thanks to the ever-churning gears of Hollywood, whenever you tell people who your favorite superhero is, you're usually forced to then tell them what your favorite incarnation of that hero is. And this is where it gets tricky, because it's like picking your favorite phase of your child's life. "Tim's middle school rebellious phase was not very true to Tim's character. His anxiety-ridden college phase, however, was much closer to the source material."
So to make things easier, I have decided to identify the definitive actor of each character. And how do I accomplish this? Well, through the tried-and-true American tradition of forcing them to fight with each other until only one is left standing, of course! It's time for the Superhero Actor Battle Royale, wherein actual acting talent comes in a far second behind the ability to beat a costumed person unconscious in under ten seconds.
(From left to right: Adam West, Christian Bale, George Clooney, Lewis Wilson, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Val Kilmer, Robert Lowery)
Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery have little in the way of traditional Batman strengths. They lack armor, most of Batman's main gadgets, and they have the collective muscle tone of a sweet potato. However, they were actors in the 1930s and '40s, so what they lack in competent fighting skills, they make up for by being born in an era when you handled problems with alcohol and fist fights with your family members.
Adam West brawling looks like he's drunkenly fighting a ghost, and he lacks every manner of stealth known to man. His main strength lies in his unique gadgets. There are problems that haven't even been invented yet that West's Batman has created a gadget for. "Mini-teleporter stuck in your sex robot's ass? Try the Anti-Mini-Teleporter-In-Your-Sex-Robot's-Ass Spray, old chum!"
Michael Keaton gets beaten up by every character over six feet in his films. And often, he can barely be bothered to go out and do his job, instead just waiting in his office until the police absolutely cannot handle something. He makes up for this with psychopathic brutality. Why fight a guy when you can put a bomb in his trousers or just light him on fire with your fucking car?
"Sorry, dude. Shouldn't have crime'd."
Seemingly bored with all aspects of Batmannery, Val Kilmer's apathy is his greatest strength. He isn't burdened by a drive for vengeance, or any sort of internal anger. He acts like he'd get a lot of shit if any of his friends learned that he was playing Batman, so his composure is that of a detached tenth-grader.
George Clooney's friendliness might be his downfall when surrounded by a group that's mostly made up of people who use being Batman as justification for their serial killing. He's the only Batman to end a movie by forgiving a villain, and that graciousness doesn't exactly lend itself to Thunderdome rules.
Christian Bale learned vague ninja somethings in his quest to fight evil, and he has Morgan Freeman around to build anything he needs. However, every one of his actions requires a solid 30 minutes of emotional introspection. Can he afford to take the time to deeply think about the inner horrors of man when he's being partially pummeled by the haphazard fists of Adam West?
Walking protein shake Ben Affleck can clear out a room by just waving his hand around. He's obviously the best in a fight, but he's also easily confused. He couldn't be bothered to remember to use the internet for half of Batman v. Superman, and if you remind him that you also have a mom, he'll totally be blood brothers with you.
"Our moms have the same name? I think we should form a Justice League now. Like, we have to."
WINNER: ADAM WEST
Lowery and Wilson would be almost immediately torn apart by Affleck and then used as a cheat meal. Keaton would attach bombs to Kilmer, Clooney, and Bale before he is crushed like an accordion between Affleck's two palms. The fight ends with West comforting a sobbing Affleck after using some kind of doodad that calms him down. "There there, old chum. Your parents died, and it made you very sad. Let's talk about it."
(From left to right: Cameron Monaghan, Cesar Romero, Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto)
Cesar Romero's schemes included introducing high school kids to gambling and inventing his own utility belt. And his fighting skills directly reflect the fact that he is very much 60 years old, which means that he was more than a match for Adam West.
Jack Nicholson has the power of being endlessly quotable, and he owns a gun that can shoot down Batman's airplane. Also, he has the tendency to make everything about himself, outshining his co-star in a movie that was named after his co-star. His weakness is the music of Prince. Play that and he has no choice but to helplessly dance until the montage is over.
When you get 12-time Academy Award nominee Jack Nicholson to star in your cape movie, you don't get him for his acting.
Heath Ledger is a wild card. Will he stab you immediately? Will he stab you later? He is unpredictable in most ways, with the exception that, without fail, he will forcibly insert some kind of monologue into your encounter. How he got these scars, the definition of chaos, why Batman is special, etc. Just spin the wheel, really.
Jared Leto loves being unpredictable. Would a normal, non-Joker man mail used condoms to his fellow cast members? Of course not, because that's CRAZY. Would a normal man tattoo "DAMAGED" on his forehead? No normal man is WILD enough to do something that KOOKY. So just bet on Leto doing something like the utter MANIAC he desperately wants to be.
He's got a SMILE tattooed on his HAND. How NUTS can one man be?
Cameron Monaghan isn't a bad Joker. He's just in the post-Ledger whirlpool that will trap anyone who goes near the character until we decide to do a lighthearted reboot of electronic media itself.
WINNER: JACK NICHOLSON
Being unpredictable or absolutely MAD is overrated when compared to, I repeat, a gun that can shoot down a plane. All that's left of Romero, Ledger, Leto, and Monaghan are charred pairs of purple slippers. Nicholson dances over their corpses to all six minutes of "Bat Dance."
(From left to right: Dolph Lundgren, Jon Bernthal, Ray Stevenson, Thomas Jane)
Dolph Lundgren lives in a sewer and refuses to wear the trademark skull shirt, which means that he might be denied entry to this murder party. However, he is Dolph Lundgren, who stands roughly nine feet tall, with palms that are as wide as a child's torso. Also, the first time we see him clearly, he's sitting naked at his poop altar, narrating the themes of the movie. There is no convention that can hold this man back.
Your answer to everyone who says that modern superhero movies are better than old ones.
Tom Jane can take a beating better than any other man on earth. The best part of his film was, as I noted in another column, the time he spent five straight minutes getting thrown through every aspect of an apartment. So if anything, he will survive this encounter. The question is whether he will still have most of his limbs.
Ray Stevenson killed a man by kicking a chair leg into his eye socket. He also punched a guy through the head. An explanation of his strengths and weaknesses is not necessary.
Now that Jon Bernthal has gotten himself caught up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he will probably be playing the Punisher until Cyborg Mitch McConnell's eighth term as president. But he's going against Dolph Lundgren, the unkillable Tom Jane, and Ray Stevenson, who would probably beat a bouncer to death with his own leg if he got asked for his ID on the way in.
WINNER: RAY STEVENSON
Above all things, the Punisher is effective. And Punisher: War Zone could be his resume. At one point, Ray impales a man on a spiked fence, and then elbow-drops his head just to make sure that he's super dead and not just only slightly dead. You can't combat that kind of mission statement, no matter how tough or Dolph you are.
(From left to right: Edward Norton, Eric Bana, Lou Ferrigno, Mark Ruffalo)
Lou Ferrigno was the only non-CGI Hulk, and while that sounds hokey today, you have to remember that in the early '80s, Ferrigno looked like something mad scientists would invent to destroy Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Great taste in shorts, too.
Eric Bana has those 2003-era special effect expressions and a deep-seated resentment for his father. The other Hulks have gotten to fight strong foes, but all Eric Bana has tussled with is some mutant dogs and his dad ...who was a cloud formation at one point? I don't know whether "beat up my dad, the cloud" raises or lowers your chances. It's not something that we usually encounter.
Edward Norton's Hulk is technically Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. Norton starred in the first MCU Hulk movie, then decided he didn't want to do it anymore, and Marvel was all like "Nothing to see here" while they put Ruffalo in. They're pretty similar, except Ruffalo's Bruce Banner is likable, while Norton radiates a constant aura of Oh-Fuck-That-Guy.
Oh, fuck that guy.
WINNER: LOU FERRIGNO
For 12 years, Bill Bixby (who played Banner in the TV series) tried to rid himself of his Hulk curse. Over 82 episodes and three made-for-TV movies, nothing came even close to working. He had to die as the Hulk to stop being the Hulk. Until the other Hulks show that kind of tenacity, Lou Ferrigno takes it.
(From left to right: Brandon Routh, Christopher Reeve, George Reeves, Henry Cavill, Kirk Alyn)
Kirk Alyn never had to worry about "being a good person in an evil world" or whatever modern Supermen fret about. He simply saved the shit out of stuff. That said, he doesn't have a lot of experience battling anything that isn't a crook with a handgun. That won't count for much in a fight against dudes who can spin the Earth around just by flying near it.
People make fun of Superman for seemingly creating new powers for himself whenever he needs to get out of a jam, and there was no worse perpetrator of that than George Reeves. The laws of physics and chemistry in our reality were changed as soon as Reeves stepped on screen. Sadly, his problems mostly revolved around getting Jimmy Olsen out of the stupid situations that Jimmy Olsen put himself in. So much of the world could've been saved if Jimmy Olsen wasn't so infinitely kidnappable.
"Golly gee, Superman. Thanks for saving me from that peanut butter jar I got my hand stuck in. Sucks about the orphanage fire, though."
Out of all of the modern Supermen, only Christopher Reeve really followed the whole "You have to set a good example for mankind" thing. For some reason, "Reveal to them their own capacity for good" easily translates into "Fly around and hit stuff, because you'll look rad while you're doin' it." Christopher Reeve is also the most levelheaded Superman. He thinks about a mountain before he slams headlong into it.
Brandon Routh's Superman couldn't find a date for the dance, so he's mostly notable for how gloomy he is. Other than his typical super skill set, that's about it.
When it comes to barreling toward his opponents, Henry Cavill is king. No one is better at ramming their body into things while going as fast as they can. He's also way quicker to get into a fight than any other Superman. He's the dude at the bar who starts punching people because he thinks that someone stole his drink (he already drank it).
WINNER: CHRISTOPHER REEVE
I can't stress how much Cavill's fighting style seems to be based around flying as fast as he can straight at something. Most Supermen wouldn't know how to combat this one move, except for Reeve, who actually came up with plans for how to stop people and end problems. Plans. You know, like the earth's greatest hero would make. And after that, he'd make some flash cards to teach Cavill how to properly Superman.
I don't mean to spoil your huge reveal, DC, but "PEOPLE LIKE HAPPY SUPERHERO STORIES!" was something we figured out in 1978.
(From left to right: Andrew Garfield, Nicholas Hammond, Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland)
Nicholas Hammond had all of the traditional spider powers, but never really got an arena in which to test them out. They didn't use any of his classic villains in the '70s series, so Spider-Man mostly fought white-collar criminals and dudes who could harness light mind control. If the rest of the Spider-Men were unscrupulous business executives with '70s porno mustaches, this would be a sweep.
Tobey Maguire beat up "Macho Man" Randy Savage, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the New Goblin, the Sandman, and Venom. He's got the most experience of everyone else on this list, really. However, while most Spider-Men are obsessed with science and creation, Tobey Maguire can't really be bothered with it. He mostly says the equivalent of "Oooh, science!" and then gets his ass handed to him by Doctor Octopus because planning ahead is for nerds.
"I'll shoot some webbing at him! Again!"
Andrew Garfield made up for Tobey Maguire's lack of science-y anything with long scenes of him actually doing science. However, with his grating skateboarding, "Bernie would've won" haircut, and generally un-Peter-Parker attitude, he'd be the most likely target of a three-on-one assault.
Tom Holland seems likable without being Andrew Garfield's science bro. And he's also not the kind of Maguire-dorky that makes you wonder if he came from the same planet as us. However, at this point, he's still lacking the ultimate thing that solidifies a cinematic Spider-Man: a cheesy anthem that's only sort of about the movie. I'd be more behind him if he had his own "Vindicated."
WINNER: TOBEY MAGUIRE
You can tell how hard a Spider-Man has fought by how torn up their costume is by the end of the film. If half of their mask isn't gone, it was just a normal day in East Manhattan. Maguire couldn't leave his apartment without having the shit kicked out of him by every evil genius in the five boroughs, and yet he still lived to fight another day and make halfhearted passes at Kirsten Dunst.
That's a fucking hero.
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