There are certain questions that have plagued the minds of comic book readers for decades, queries guaranteed to spark hours of deep thought and drive most women from the room. Does Spider-Man have a Queens accent? Who’s stronger: Superman or the Hulk? Is Batman a homo/pedophile? Do Daredevil’s turds ever stink so bad that they overwhelm his super-sense of smell and knock him out cold? These and other head-scratchers go round and round, and today my old pal John Bligh brought up one of the all-time classic geekery arguments, namely who’d win in fight: Superman, the very archetype for all American superheroes to follow in his wake, or the Mighty Thor, Marvel Comics’ post modern Norse god and all-around powerhouse?
Yer Bunche postpones his research into curing Cancer and AIDS and solving world peace in order to ponder the really important issues.
To answer this poser one must have an understanding of both heroes and the attributes that make them what they are and what they aren’t. Superman is the extraterrestrial immigrant raised among us with good old American values instilled in him by his adoptive parents, and despite his vast and rather godlike superpowers he’s still very much one of us and loves and cares for the whole of humanity as though they were all his family and loved ones, which in essence we are. Thor, on the other hand, is an actual deity once worshipped by Germanic and Norse pagans, a major league kicker of ass proper for a hard and warlike people to hold in esteem. He's a warrior of outrageous power who defends both Asgard — the realm of the Norse gods — and Midgard — the Earth — from horrid beasts beyond imagining and all kinds of heinous crap in his current-day role as a bona fide super-hero, but his bashing of bad guys wasn’t originally motivated by altruism (and to be fair pretty much still isn’t).
But before I take this fun and goofy argument into territory better expounded upon by Joseph Campbell — check out the DVD release of THE POWER OF MYTH with him and Bill Moyers and get set to be spellbound — I’m bringing things firmly back to the geekery it was meant to inspire, and herewith provide a decent overview of the powers of our heroes as broken down on the mighty Wickipedia:
Powers & Abilities:
As an influential archetype of the superhero genre, Superman possesses extraordinary powers, with the character traditionally described as "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound", a phrase coined by Jay Morton and first used in the Superman radio serials and Max Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s as well as the TV series of the 1950s. For most of his existence, Superman's famous arsenal of powers has included flight, super-strength, invulnerability to non-magical attacks of ordinary force, super-speed, vision powers (including x-ray, heat, telescopic, infra-red, and microscopic vision), super-hearing, and super-breath, which enables him to freeze objects by blowing on them, as well as exert the propulsive force of high-speed winds.
As originally conceived and presented in his early stories, Superman's powers were relatively limited, consisting of superhuman strength that allowed him to lift a car over his head, run at amazing speeds and leap one-eighth of a mile, as well as incredibly tough skin that could be pierced by nothing less than an exploding artillery shell. Siegel and Shuster compared his strength and leaping abilities to an ant and a grasshopper. When making the cartoons, the Fleischer Brothers found it difficult to keep animating him leaping and requested to DC to change his ability to flying. Writers gradually increased his powers to larger extents during the Silver Age, in which Superman could fly to other worlds and galaxies and even across universes with relative ease. He would often fly across the solar system to stop meteors from hitting the Earth, or sometimes just to clear his head. Writers found it increasingly difficult to write Superman stories in which the character was believably challenged, so DC Comics made a series of attempts to rein the character in. The most significant attempt, John Byrne's 1986 rewrite, established several hard limits on his abilities: He barely survives a nuclear blast, and his space flights are limited by how long he can hold his breath. Superman's power levels have again increased since then, with Superman currently possessing enough strength to hurl a mountain, withstand nuclear blasts with ease, and survive in the vacuum of outer space without oxygen.
The source of Superman's powers has changed subtly over the course of his history. It was originally stated that Superman's abilities derived from his Kryptonian heritage, which made him eons more evolved than humans. This was soon amended, with the source for the powers now based upon the establishment of Krypton's gravity as having been stronger than that of the Earth. This situation mirrors that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter. As Superman's powers increased, the implication that all Kryptonians had possessed the same abilities became problematic for writers, making it doubtful that a race of such beings could have been wiped out by something as trifling as an exploding planet. In part to counter this, the Superman writers established that Kryptonians, whose native star Rao had been red, only possessed superpowers under the light of a yellow sun. More recent stories have attempted to find a balance between the two explanations.
Superman is most vulnerable to Kryptonite, mineral debris from Krypton transformed into radioactive material by the forces that destroyed the planet. Exposure to Kryptonite radiation nullifies Superman's powers and immobilizes him with pain; prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. The only mineral on Earth that can protect him from Kryptonite is lead, which blocks the radiation. Lead is also the only known substance that Superman cannot see through with his x-ray vision. Kryptonite was first introduced to the public in 1943 as a plot device to allow the radio serial voice actor, Bud Collyer, to take some time off. Green Kryptonite is the most commonly seen form but writers introduced other forms over the years, such as red, gold, blue and black, each with its own effect. Superman has also been regularly portrayed as being vulnerable to attacks of a magical or mystical nature.
THE MIGHTY THOR
Powers & Abilities:
Thor is the Norse god of thunder and lightning. Like all Asgardians, Thor is not truly immortal but relies upon periodic consumption of the Golden Apples of Idun to sustain his lifespan, which to date has lasted many millennia. The strongest of the Norse gods, Thor has performed feats such as lifting a portion of the World Serpent, hurling the Odinsword, an enormous mystical blade, through a Celestial, and matching other beings of enormous strength, such as the Hulk and Hercules. If pressed in battle, Thor is capable of entering into a state known as the "Warrior's Madness", which will temporarily increase his strength tenfold. He also possesses virtually inexhaustible godly stamina, high resistance to physical injury (eg. rocketfire, armor piercing rounds) and superhuman speed and reflexes.
Thor is a superb hand-to-hand combatant and has mastered a number of weapons such as the war hammer, sword, and mace. He is also very cunning and intuitive in battle, with many centuries of experience. Thor possesses two items that assist him in combat: the Belt of Strength, and his mystical hammer Mjolnir. The former item doubles his strength, while the second is used for weather control; flight; energy projection and absorption; dimensional apertures; matter manipulation, as well as the most powerful of his offensives: the God Blast, and the Anti-Force.
After his resurrection, Thor has accepted his heritage as a child of the Elder Goddess Gaea, and has demonstrated the ability to create country-spanning chasms in the Earth itself.
After Odin's death, Thor inherited his father's power, the Odinforce. Thor was then capable of feats such as reconstructing the Earth's Moon, willing the Asgardian monster Mangog into nothingness, successfully challenging and defeating an alliance of Surtur and Ymir and by focusing his entire power into a hammer throw even decapitated a Desak-occupied Destroyer. Thor later briefly acquired mastery of the Runes, and a level of enlightenment that allowed him to free Asgard from the eternal cycle of Ragnarok, becoming even more powerful than his father.
• By virtue of sheer hours logged in, Thor has the edge. The guy’s been putting his foot up asses since before surviving historical records.
• Superman, though blessed with great gifts, is not a trained fighter. He’s made the best of his vast strength, speed, invulnerability, and heat-vision, all of which would render most opponents about as useful as a truckload of dead rats in a tampon factory, but Thor matches him for sheer power across the board, coupled with the skills of a highly-trained and seasoned warrior. Thor has dealt with beings possessing super-speed by focusing his godly senses (and occasionally warping the effects of time and perception with his hammer Mjolnir’s mystical properties), and once he gets his hands on an enemy, it’s “Good night, Gunhilde.”
• Heat-vision would only annoy Thor. He's withstood the mythological inferno that is Surtur's realm, compared to which Supes' red-eye mojo is tepid at best.
• While Superman has a biological arsenal at his disposal, Thor’s hammer provides him with even more insane capabilities (not all of which are ass-kicking-related, so I’ll leave out the space-warp stuff and such). Can Superman create atomic energy? Not without some device wrought from Kryptonian super-science that he had the presence of forethought to bring with him before it’s needed he can’t, and neither can Thor without Mjolnir; he created some oddball form of fission/fusion field as part of his campaign that drove would be Earth-conquerers the Rigellians back where they came from (from the Kirby run, where else?), a one-man (god) ass-kicking of such magnitude that readers actually felt bad for the Rigellians. Anyway, the point is that Mjolnir is constantly within Thor’s grasp, ever ready to cave in a Jotun’s multiple skulls or spontaneously irradiate an alien armada. Oh, and make it rain.
• One odious aspect of Thor (to our modern cultural way of seeing things anyway) is his willingness to kill his enemies, should they pose severe enough a threat. That Viking-style hardness comes through in Thor’s tactics — most memorably seen during that Jim Starlin AVENGERS annual where he was seen really getting into hurling Mjolnir through the hulls of Thanos’ approaching space fleet of murderous alien bastards; a hull breach in deep space? You do the math — and the only thing that would save a defeated Kal-El from having his heart torn from his chest and eaten would be the Thunder God’s recognition of his fallen foe’s nobility and general awesomeness.
• And of course, Thor’s trump card: he’s magic, baby, and that shit fucks up Supes in a way second only to a Kryptonite enema.
• Extra credit: Thor survived years of being inked by Vince Coletta, “the man who erased armies.” Coming out of that kind of abuse proves conclusively that the big blonde badass is simply undefeatable. Quod erat demonstrandum.
So there you have it. And it's not like we haven't seen Superman get his ass decisively kicked; Doomsday springs to mind, but there was no worse street-fightin' ass-whuppin' administered to the Man of Steel than that handed out by a very angry, power-suited and aged Batman in Frank Miller's epochal THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS #4 (1986).
DAMN!!! Even I felt that!
"And that's for SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, you @#$%*®!!!"
So let the geekery commence, and don't forget to alert your equally developmentally-arrested pals so they can pontificate on this vital issue!