Jun 30, 2014

The Superhero Hall of Fame, Part 5: Pantheon of the Big Trinity

The Superhero Hall of Fame, Part 5: Pantheon of the Big Trinity
Ben Smith

For all of you super-duper late-comers, I made the insane decision to create a superhero hall of fame, very much like you would find in major professional sports. You should really go back and just read the previous four parts to the series. Anyway, I am also attempting, unwisely, to rank the characters that will fill these fictional halls of justice, using categories of my own devising.

Those criteria for selection are detailed in the very first part, so I’m not going to take the time to re-type it all here, because I am still lazy (that didn’t change), and hate introductions (ditto). You also clearly have access to the internet, and need to read the first four parts anyway.

Previously, I detailed the All-Star, Superstar, and Franchise tiers of my ill-advised but still fun figurative Superhero Hall of Fame. I used math to rank the characters, and then created arbitrary levels of distinction which I titled using those three tiers. I worked hard on it okay, much harder than I usually do for this thing.

This week, if you’ve been paying attention, you could probably use rudimentary deductive skills to ascertain the remaining three franchise level characters still to be ranked. Since I couldn’t decide if I wanted to steal the Pantheon from the Book of Basketball, the big three from Marvel, or the Trinity from DC for the name of this exclusive tier, I went with…

PANTHEON OF THE BIG TRINITY

3. Superman

In the interest of complete transparency, since many of you already disagree with me right now, I’m going to give my thoughts on Superman by each category I used for this ranking process.

ORIGIN
Superman has one of the most well-known origins, and it’s certainly a good one, with the whole last survivor of an exploding planet angle, but it just doesn’t have the punch and simplicity of Batman or Spider-Man. Basically he was born special, and raised to be a force for good by his kindly old adopted parents. It’s not a bad origin by any means, but it’s just a tick below the in-your-face tragedy of a parent murdered at gunpoint. Still, I gave him maximum points in this area.

POWERS
Definitely one of his most appealing features to the casual fan, most of which value raw physical factors like super-strength and speed. Well, Superman is the strongest character in comics, one of the fastest, and you can add flight, x-ray vision, bulletproof skin, and super-kissing into the mix. Max points in this area as well.

SUPPORTING CAST
One of the all-time classic supporting casts, with the most well-known being Jimmy Olsen, Perry Watson, and the Kents. Throw in derivative characters like Supergirl or Krypto, and visits from the Legion of Superheroes or Justice League, and Superman has a wide variety of companions to pal around with. Another top score in this category.

LOVE INTEREST
Lois Lane is the most famous love interest in all of comics, and an extremely capable character in her own right (when done well) that headlined her own comics series for hundreds of issues. Even if you want to take the Wonder Woman as love interest angle, she happens to be the top female superhero in the entire world. You can’t really go wrong with either one, they’re both at the top of their respective lists. Max points again.

ROGUES GALLERY
You don’t get much better with the top spot on this list, Lex Luthor. He’s arguably the second greatest villain in all of superhero comics. Brainiac and Bizarro are personal favorites of mine. Beyond that, you’re getting into Parasite and Toyman territory, and for that, I could only give him 9 out of 10 points in this category.

COSTUME
The Superman “S” is the most iconic logo and symbol in all of comic books. (I’d venture to guess it represents the most requested tattoo from the world of comics.) Unfortunately, the red shorts represented a running joke from a segment of fans and casual observers for a long time (not me, I prefer them). DC showed so little faith in the iconic look, that they changed it during the New 52 relaunch, adding a stupid collar and pointless lines everywhere. For that reason alone, I gave it a 9.

CONSISTENCY
For a character that has been around as long as he has, he should probably have more definitive runs along the lines of a Walt Simonson Thor, or a Geoff Johns Green Lantern. The books are consistent, consistently average, at best. 8 out of 10.

EVERGREEN STORIES
Superman has some solid evergreen stories, such as For the Man Who has Everything and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow by Alan Moore. Red Son by Mark Millar is a popular Elseworlds book. His most famous to the general audience is probably The Death of Superman, which generated a sales phenomenon, drawing a wave of speculators to the hobby. All-Star Superman is extremely polarizing, but I think it definitely qualifies. The various reinterpretations of his origin are usually well regarded. There’s still nothing on the level of a Dark Knight Returns (not many are) so this one gets another 9 out of 10.

POPULARITY
At one time, the most well-known and popular superhero character in the entire world. Now, he’s arguably been surpassed by Batman, but is still insanely popular around the globe. Maximum points.

MULTIMEDIA
Superman was probably the first superhero to get his own toy, his own lunchbox, his own radio serial (which created Kryptonite, among other things). He’s still one of the top licensed superhero characters in the world, with shirts, action figures, bed sheets, every conceivable product there is.

Superman was the first superhero to have a regular television series, starring George Reeves. He’s had multiple television series since, most noteably Lois and Clark in the ‘90s, and Smallville in the ‘00s.

He’s been a fixture in animation from the very beginning, starting with the groundbreaking Fleischer cartoons. He was a mainstay of the various Super Friends cartoon series. Superman the Animated Series might not have been as great as Batman’s, but it was still pretty good, and when the two shows finally crossed over, it was probably the greatest cartoon I had ever seen until that point. That is, up until Warner Bros finally decided “hey maybe a Justice League cartoon would be good,” and it did, in fact, become the greatest superhero cartoon of all time (despite what Duy might try to convince you about Gargoyles). In particular, the two-part episode where Superman seemingly dies, but is actually transported to the future and has to quickly learn to survive without his powers thanks to the red sun blanketing the Earth. It was a transcendent episode, and I don’t even like Superman. (I also like when he fights Captain Marvel because he’s a giant dick, so it balances out.) He co-starred with the Legion of Superheroes in their short-lived cartoon (they even double-upped in the second season with two versions of Superman).

DC’s recent straight to DVD animated movies have almost always either starred Superman, Batman, or both. Unfortunately, the Superman ones represent some of the weaker offerings in my opinion, as he doesn’t quite match with the inexplicable desire to make those movies overly violent and cynical.

Superman, for some strange reason, has yet to have a standout video game (actually, he has some of the worst in history). He seems like with his array of powers, he would be ideally suited for a expansive video game along the lines of Spider-Man 2.

Superman’s first movie, directed by Richard Donner, was the first sincere attempt to take a superhero movie seriously. Unfortunately, it suffers from a hodge-podge of a script that went through several different writers. Fortunately, it was saved by a charismatic, and transcendent performance by the late Christopher Reeve. The second movie is beloved for Terrance Stamp as the evil General Zod, but is not really that great by modern standards (take off your rose-colored glasses, people). As each movie got progressively more silly and more awful, his performance at least made them somewhat palatable (I really liked Superman 4 when I was 7 Cranky Editor: Interesting, because it came out when Ben was 9.). Bryan Singer, fresh off two highly successful X-Men movies, inexplicably decided to make the long in development Superman Returns a direct continuation of the original two movies. The result is a boring mess that only the most devoted Superman fans claim to love. Zack Snyder gave us Murder Superman in the latest movie, Man of Steel, the less said about the better. It’s one of the more polarizing superhero movies yet. Superman may not have had the best movies, but the impact of those original Christopher Reeve movies cannot be denied. They were, at the time, the best they could have been, and really only suffer from an increased level of sophistication in special effects and in the approach to big budget superhero movie storytelling in the years since it was made.

In short, easily another 10 points in this category.

SECRET IDENTITY
Clark Kent isn’t nearly as blank of a slate as Bruce Wayne, but he’s not on the level of any of the best Marvel characters. I had to give him points based purely on the fact that he practically invented the idea of the superhero secret identity, but it can’t be denied that the Clark people see in Metropolis, is the true mask. Superman represents the most altruistic and heroic side of his personality, but the most sincere representation of him as a whole person is limited to his time visiting the Kents, or with Lois when they were married in the comics. Real or fake, you can’t deny that he’s mostly an authority figure, that to a young kid, has more in common with your parents than with you. For that reason, he gets 8 out of 10 points.

All that added together, gives him an average point total of 9.36, which is good enough for 3rd on the list. As you’ve probably already gathered, since I mentioned them several times while discussing Superman, the final two comes down to Batman and Spider-Man. Who will take the spot as the top superhero on my inaugural list of inductees into my fictional Superhero Hall of Fame, come back next week and find out.

Cranky Editor: I made it this entire time with one interjection. One. And why? Because Ben ranked Superman this high. I will remember this forever. Also, every image in this one was by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who did a bunch of Superman stories at one point, all collected here.

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