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Fandoms love to argue. It’s the cornerstone of their existence, something they cannot go without, and comic book fandom is no different. In fact, I’d say it’s almost worse.
We comic book fans love to take everything apart and debate it endlessly. With almost a century of material, there’s a lot to argue about. Who could be who in a fight, who’s stronger, who’s smarter, who’s faster, who should date who, who is a ripoff of who, who’s lame, who’s cool, who used to be lame but is now cool.
It’s not all bad, in a way this type of discussion is one of the things that keeps the fandom going. But with this endless cycle of arguing comes repetition, even when a matter is closed. Any fan knows them all too well and, even if it’s deep down, is pretty tired of them. So let’s point them out, put an end to them, and move on.
“Aquaman is the lamest superhero ever,” is an incredibly popular sentiment amongst the general population and Black Manta. “He talks to fish,” they say, “and most of his powers involve water! What if they have to fight someone on land?! HA!”
It’s a sentiment followed closely in popularity by the idea that, no, Aquaman is secretly the coolest, most powerful character ever, shut up. “Water covers most of the planet,” they point out, “and he could kill you with great white sharks, or destroy cities with sea monsters! He’s super strong and has magic weapons so he could kill Superman!”
Even in the comics themselves, some writers go to huge lengths to construct a scenario in which Aquaman comes out the coolest. It’s pretty much Geoff Johns’ bread and butter. It only serves to add fuel to this debate’s fire.
Look. Aquaman started out pretty dumb and then over the years, like most characters, he was given various power-ups and levels of badass. Yes, he cut off his own hand once and it was pretty cool, yes he’s pretty out-matched outside the ocean, yes he can go toe-to-toe with Superman. To deny these things would be ludicrous.
Like any character in all of fiction, he’s as cool as the quality in which he was written.
Most fans who are well read in DC know he’s not really a welterweight B-character with a pathetic power set. Their opinions of his cool-level may vary, but pretty much everyone can agrees on that. So why must this argument spring up all the time everywhere? It’s simple: public opinion.
Yes, the public at large thinks he’s a stupid character. They’re almost all novices, you guys. All they have to go on are Superfriends and “Aquaman is Lame” jokes. If they had read the necessary comics to know otherwise, then they really wouldn’t be the public at large, would they? No, they’d be comic fans.
So the public will keep assuming Aquaman is “the dumb superhero” until they see otherwise. When he’s inevitably shoe-horned into artificially badass scenarios in Zack Snyder’s DC Cinematic Universe, maybe things will change. Maybe the Kool Kidz will come staggering out of the theater with their sunglasses on and their hats turned backwards saying “cha bro, they totally made Aquaman a badass!” Maybe then we can stop having little PSAs about Aquaman’s awesomeness all over the Internet.
Ah, a golden oldie. I’ve heard this, personally, maybe a thousand times. “Superman is such a boring character,” the arguments go, “he’s just too powerful, too good. I never worry about him!”
Let’s put this to bed right now: yes, it’s very easy for Superman to be boring. However, the character itself isn’t intrinsically boring, the problem with Superman is that he’s hard to write for. Let me break it down for you beautiful people.
If you test the interesting quality of a character by how easily he could die or how many powers he has, then of course Superman is boring. He’s on another playing field. He’s playing a whole other sport! That’s why his comics are so hard to write for.
You see, it’s hard to fall flat with a Batman story. A homeless man with a well-placed stab could kill Batman. Or rabies. Sweet rabies. You just put The Bat up against a bunch of dudes with knives and you’ve pretty much got an exciting story. It may not be great, and certainly not timeless, but it’s a workable story.
There’s no real crutch like that with Superman. You can’t put him up against a dozen robots. That’s not exciting, of course he’s going to win. Superman is a broad, heady archetype and his stories must match that. They deal with his use of power, are we protected by him or are we his pets; his struggle with things outside of his control, what does The Man Who Can Save Everyone do when he can’t; even something as simple as his attempts to have a life as a human, how can he be with Lois when people are constantly in need?
People get lost in his ability to punch someone into the sun and forget about the most interesting parts of his character. He can hear thousands of people suffering all the time, wherever he goes, and must choose who to save. Every time Brainiac attacks Metropolis, he can hear people dying in vivid detail and can do nothing. Everyone he meets, especially his best friend, fear him in the back of their minds. It’s a separation that he’ll never overcome. His whole life, he’s pretended to be, wanted to be, yearned to be the one thing he can never be: human.
That’s a great character, but one driven fundamentally by emotion not action. You see it in his greatest stories. Whereas a lot of character’s biggest stories are epic action pieces, Superman’s are usually sprawling philosophic treatises dealing with power, responsibility, and mortality.
So writing a character pitch-prefect like this week after week is next to impossible. Often times it resorts to Superman having to punch his way out of another scrape. In the end Superman isn’t a boring character to watch, he’s difficult character to write.
This argument is a bit of an odd one. You’ll see other arguments spring up all the time, pitting Batman against one character or another and inevitably someone points out “with enough prep time, Batman would win every time.”
Which has some basis in fact. For almost as long as Batman has existed, sloppy writers have inadvertently given him the anti-power. He’ll come up with some plan to exploit your weakness, or maybe he already has the answer in the Deus Ex Belt that he wears. If you attack his mind, he’s learned a Tibetan shielding technique to prevent it. If he needs to create a new chemical compound to counteract your poison, he’ll put his expert understanding of chemistry to use and easily create it. You know a martial art? He’s mastered it? Speak another language? He’s fluent. Want to out-drive him? Good luck? Out-fly him? No chance.
So the answers yes, then? Nope! Batman can’t beat everyone with enough prep time.
Despite all the sloppy writing, whenever Batman has beaten a superior force, it was either luck, a sacrifice, or plot shielding from being in his own book. Batman outsmarted Darkseid a few times, sure, but he nearly died from it once and then “died” another. He’s beaten Superman a couple times, but just barely and could really only claim victory because Superman didn’t liquefy him as he escaped. Batman isn’t unstoppable.
And he shouldn’t. Why? Because, officially, Batman is human. A big part of his character is that anyone could be Batman if they cared enough. He even had a whole militia of people following in his footsteps at the end of The Dark Knight Returns. That being said, not everyone can be an incredible genius able to bench press 1000 pounds, be an expert in most fields of study, and knows almost all martial arts. That’s not a human, that a frowny Superman in a different color scheme.
Batman-who-can-beat-everyone isn’t even a character, it’s trumped-up power fantasy. Batman has to fail sometimes, because as humans we can plan and plan, but sometimes things don’t work out. He can plan for a rogue Superman all he wants, but it won’t do him any good if Supes flies through him at Mach 2. Batman can have a flamethrower, but Martian Manhunter can still scramble his brain from a distance. It’s that ability to fail that makes him exciting! It makes him relatable.
Listen, elderly people and whoever else this matters to: they’re equally incredibly idealistic versions of two different kinds of girls. It doesn’t really matter who Archie ends up with because he doesn’t seem to be that great of a person who doesn’t deserve either one.
But what do you think? Do think these arguments are still open to discussion? Are there any I missed? Let me know if the comments below!