Superhero showdown: Which comic book rumble was the real Battle of the Century?

 Superhero showdown: Which comic book rumble was the real Battle of the Century?

This post was originally published on this site

Hmm, we're sensing a trend here...

Hmm, we’re sensing a trend here…
Update, 1/1/21: It’s New Year’s Day, and Ars staff is still enjoying some necessary downtime to prepare for a new year (and a slew of CES emails, we’re sure). While that happens, we’re resurfacing some vintage Ars stories like this 2014 examination of a classic comic book claim, “The Battle of the Century.” This piece was first published on December 10, 2014, and it appears unchanged below.

Here’s one of those hidden-in-plain-sight industry secrets: headlines sell. Whether it’s cover lines on your favorite magazine, the title of a new novel, or headlines on Ars and elsewhere, good display text should draw readers in and spell out what’s coming.

When it comes to headlines and 20th century comic books, there’s one phrase that keeps popping up. Several books—not, one, not two, not three—boldly claim the title of “The Battle of the Century” on their covers. But since that 100 years is now behind us, we can look back to decide which truly was the Battle of the Century (and possibly call everyone else a liar).

What should constitute the Battle of the Century? To these comics, it’s two main things. First, the two combatants must both be at the top of their game. That’s more in terms of popularity and relevance than pure ability (Lil’ Abner versus Superman wouldn’t be fair otherwise). The second requirement is as easy—the battle itself has to somehow be epic. While doing research, we didn’t limit candidates to books using the word “battle”; we also included things like “fight,” “bout,” and “showdown.” The extravagant claim simply had to appear on the cover.

In total, this battle for the Battle of the Century comes down to 12 comics making the claim. We’ll consider these cases in chronological order, so first up is The Human Torch vs. The Sub-Mariner!

Candidate #1: The Human Torch vs. The Sub-Mariner

Admittedly, we’re already breaking our arbitrary rules. This comic does not state “Battle of the Century” on its cover; that claim lives on the splash page. However, this may be the first comic to make the claim, so it deserves some leeway.

Why are they fighting?

Namor, the Sub-Mariner, has vowed to destroy the human race. The Human Torch has recently joined the police department. So as Namor attempts to wreck the Washington Bridge, the Human Torch arrives to stop him. It’s easy to side with the Torch on this one.

How epic is the battle?

After the initial encounter, Namor soon retreats to his winged submarine to grab an air tank. He immediately returns to the surface, quickly blowing out the Torch’s flame. With his enemy distraught, Namor then drags the Torch underwater to his “Aerial Sub.” Namor wins in four pages!

But wait! Namor accidentally loses control of an air hose (which powers his engine) and it hits the Torch. Not only does the errant hose revive the Torch, it also surrounds him with an air bubble that eventually floats to the surface. Namor tries to stop the Torch bubble but can’t. (That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, The Sub-Mariner, Lord of the Seven Seas, is unable to pop an air bubble.)

Torch’s bubble bursts as it reaches the surface. Our hero is free and on fire, and the battle has transitioned back to land. Soon, Namor has jumped into a water reservoir for a refreshing dip. But the Torch (somehow) covers the reservoir with flame, trapping Namor. Namor immediately starts to suffocate because of the water’s chlorine content. He passes out.

So… The Torch wins!

Well, unfortunately the Torch can’t see Namor through the flames and doesn’t know his predicament. He contacts the Army and asks them to bomb the reservoir. (Yes, these two superhumans are actually trying to kill each other.) The American Army successfully drops an American bomb on the American reservoir. And this, of course, blows Namor out of the water, inadvertently saving him from suffocation.

As the fight begins anew, fans learn something new about The Sub-Mariner—he has a sprinkler system.

Who really wins?

After more shenanigans, Namor eventually slips a “translate case” over the Torch. This isn’t really a win, however. Every time Namor lifts the case to kill him, the Torch has enough air to burst back into flames.

Suddenly, an outside party appears. It’s Betty Dean, described as Namor’s “only human friend.” With Dean’s intervention, we’re treated to the searing, nail-biting conclusion:

[Betty sizes up the situation] “Listen to reason! There’s nothing you can do. Call the whole thing off. I promise you—if you go away and leave us alone, the Torch will never bother you again!”

After a brief clarification that this promise (unlike previous ones) will be upheld, the dispute is settled! (It’s actually quite sweet.) The former enemies quietly exchange pleasant goodbyes.

So… is it the Battle of the Century?

Both the characters were relatively well-known, there’s collateral damage, and it appears the fight lasted most of a day. On top of that, this brouhaha took place in 1940, when it’s possible that no one else yet made the claim. It’s a definitive “yes.” At this point in the 20th century, it is the Battle of the Century!

Next up, a fight first presented in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner #72, 1949.

Next up, a fight first presented in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner #72, 1949.

Candidate #2: Abner Yokum vs. Daisy Mae Scragg

Why are they fighting?

As president of “The Lily-White League,” Miss Gerta Girdlebuster addresses the other league members on how disgraceful boys and girls act in this day and age (1949). Her dream is to find “the one 100 percent Good American Boy.” After tireless hours (as a Peeping Tom), she finally succeeds.

Soon, 19-year-old Abner Yokum agrees to become the spokesperson for all-that-is-good-in-childhood. Li’l Abner’s speeches are very successful, and soon young’uns all over are turning their lives around!

Part of what makes the Lily-White League so successful is that when elderly philanthropists die, they leave all their money to the league. This upsets “The Sweet Innocence Society,” so suddenly this rival gang is on a quest to find a “100 percent Perfect Good Girl” to compete with the League’s “100 Percent Good Yokum.”

Who do they find? That’s right—Daisy Mae Scragg!

This raises an obvious issue. With “100 percent Perfect Good Scragg” becoming popular, millionaires are confused about where to donate their money. The solution? Have a physical battle! Duh. Perhaps it will even be the Battle of the Century!

How epic is the battle?

The contestants come out blindfolded, because, um, well… it’s not clear. But as the bell rings, they both remove their blindfolds. Daisy Mae immediately SMACKS Li’l Abner!

By “SMACKS,” of course, we mean she kisses him. Therefore, the only natural course of action for the referee… is to start kissing Daisy May too?! While that’s probably some obscure boxing rule that hardly ever comes into play, it makes for a slightly anti-climatic end. Actually, it makes for an ending where headlines read, “All members of both ‘Lil White League’ and ‘Sweet Innocence Society’ arrested for disturbing the peace!! Battle leaders spend night in the clink—The end.”

Who really wins?

Everyone. In true love, there are no losers.

So… is it the Battle of the Century?

No, it most certainly is not.

First presented in Joe Palooka #77, 1953. Written and drawn by Ham Fisher.

Enlarge / First presented in Joe Palooka #77, 1953. Written and drawn by Ham Fisher.

Candidate #3: Joe Palooka vs. Humphrey Pennyworth

Before starting, a quick disclosure: we knew absolutely nothing about Joe Palooka until buying this book. Hard to imagine he’s the heavyweight champion of the world. But considering that, it’s no surprise that he’s going to have the “Bout of the Century” at some point. In the context of the Battle of the Century in all comic books, how does he stack up?

Why are they fighting?

Joe is a boxer. The fact that he ends up in the ring is no biggie. Humphrey, however, is a gentle blacksmith who hates to hit people. The story begins with a quick explanation that Humphrey recently beat a boxer named Balonki. Why this happened is unclear, and it may have happened in a previous issue. The trouble here begins when two eeeevvvvil boxing agents trick Humphrey into signing a fighting contract. (As a side note, Ham Fisher’s art is of-the-century worthy. Quite lovely.)

Humphrey is a man of honor and reluctantly obeys the contract. And as it turns out, nobody can beat Humphrey. He’s built like a mountain and punches like, oh… let’s say, a punching mountain.

Since he’s unbeatable, all the people in West Wokkington Falls (the small town where Humphrey lives) decide to mortgage their houses to build a million dollar boxing stadium. Sadly, the stadium doesn’t bring in enough money, and everyone in town is in danger of losing their houses. Let’s hope things are going better in East Wokkington Falls.

To make matters worse, the eeeevvvvil agents have written a clause into Humphrey’s contract that they get everything he owns if he ever quits boxing. Humphrey would even have to give up the blacksmithing that he loves. The only solution? Humphrey must fight the heavyweight champion, Joe Palooka! This would ensure a huge audience and tons of money from ticket sales. (These panels explain some of this reasoning, right after the obligatory shower scene and cursing.)

The eeeevvvvil agents somehow get the notion that the more Humphrey eats, the more unstoppable he becomes. In other news, the entire nation wants to come see the fight, but everyone either gets lost or blocked.

This may already sound complex, but believe it or not, that’s a light summary. Essentially, Humphrey and Joe do not want to fight each other, but if they don’t, the entire town loses everything. And now there’s not going to be a big, paying crowd. (On the edge of your seat yet?)

How epic is the battle?

The fight is ready to begin, but somehow we get the interesting panel above first. Moving on, the fight immediately looks bad for Joe. He takes one punch and it almost does him in. So much for Humphrey’s hesitation. Joe’s down for nearly all of a 10-count before the bell saves him.

Eventually the two continue into the next round, where the fight takes place both inside and outside the ring.

Who wins?

After several solid punches, Joe finally knocks Humphrey over.

But—HA HA—Humphrey’s been eating so much, he gets stuck in the canvas. Tragedy, as the town didn’t make any money and everybody loses everything!

Wait, Joe says he’ll pay for everything?!

“Knobby and I are paying off the million dollars for this stadium… it was his fault! I talked to the treasury department and they told me to tell you that it won’t cost us a cent. We made a million and a half this year on my big fight, and if we pay this off and take it off the income tax, we’ll have the same amount we would have had anyway.”

Huh? Joe Palooka, you jerk! Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?

So… is it the Battle of the Century?

The book does a good job of setting up the main event; this fight feels like a big deal. However, it only lasts two rounds. So more than a decade later, the Battle of the Century title remains solely with The Human Torch vs. The Sub-Mariner fight from 1940. No.

Candidate #4: The Thing vs. The Hulk

Why are they fighting?

Our story opens in the grand tradition of Stan Lee books—everyone in a panel is saying something. Mr. Fantastic is yelling, “Ben! Come back!” Ben is on the wall, and we can’t help but feel there is a better way to leave.

Regardless, Mr. Fantastic has an antidote that will change Ben-Grimm-the-Thing back into Ben-Grimm-the-Human. Ben isn’t having it. He’s afraid his girlfriend, Alicia, prefers him as the Thing. Gather from that what you will.

Suddenly, the blind Alicia shows up with a newspaper. Looks like the Hulk is on the loose! After the Avengers returned to the US, they’re looking for the beefed-up scientist.

We join the Hulk, and he’s ranting about how much he hates his alter-ego, Bob Banner. (That’s not a typo. Bob Banner.) He also hates the Avengers. Hate, hate, hate. Haters gonna hate. It appears to be a spurned ex-employee situation.

Curiously, besides the paper clipping, the only thing Bruce Bob had in his pockets was a pipe and matches. Maybe he’s smoking something to calm down. Tossing it all aside, Hulk begins his jumping journey to New York City.

Elsewhere in the Big Apple, Mr. Fantastic collapses! As he attempts to find a cure for Ben’s Thing ailment, he’s gotten sick while messing with viruses. (That’s some sloppy science, Dr. Richards.) Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, takes off in the Fantasticar intent on returning with a doctor. However, he encounters the Hulk wrecking havoc, and as a hero, he’s obligated to make an attempt at stopping it. The Hulk makes quick work of him.

The Thing and the Invisible Girl soon arrive, but Sue doesn’t last long against the Hulk either. One leap into the atmosphere and she’s spent. It’s now just the Thing and the Hulk. And if that main event isn’t juicy enough on its own, the army turns up the drama. If the Thing fails, they’ll drop an ATOMIC BOMB on the Hulk.

How epic is the battle?

The Thing and Hulk break a lot of things: a warehouse, a bus, the pavement, a dock, a boat, the Washington Bridge. However, we think it’s most notable when Hulk gets his hands on the Thing.

“There!! You’re free!! Free to go hurtling into the air! And when you land, it’ll be your finish!” Hulk screams.

“Wow! He ain’t kiddin’! Good thing I was able to grab this roof edge!” the Thing says in some delightful exposition. “Somethin’ tells me that crumb isn’t going to be as easy to clobber as I thought!”

Hulk astutely observes how the Thing saved himself, “but I’ll shake him off… like I’d shake a rotten apple off a tree!” It was this very moment, when we saw the building wagging to and fro, that the thought first appeared. “Hey! Maybe this IS the Battle of the Century!”

At one point, Mr. Fantastic decides to join the fight. But like the Fantastic duo before him, he fails quickly, lapsing into a coma. (Sidenote: Wow. That panel’s just begging for new dialog. Sorry, too easy.)

The battle continues and the Thing manages to wrap Hulk up in bridge cables! Has he won? Nope, he tuckers out and takes a beating. “Relentlessly, tirelessly, the Incredible Hulk rains blow after blow upon his weary foe,” we learn. Hulk’s landing so many punches he’s getting bored.

Wait—He’s up again! But whaaaat?! “Continued Next Issue!” Ugh, welcome to the Marvel Age of Comics! Despite one heck of a tease—”The enraged Thing tackles the berserk Hulk again… and for added thrills, the Avengers join the battle!! It’s merely the greatest!!”—the next issue’s cover doesn’t say “The Battle of the Century.”  Skip it.

Who wins?

Spoiler: we read issue #26 anyway. Rick Jones throws an “emergency gamma-ray treated capsule which Banner gave (him) months ago” into the Hulk’s mouth. This turns Hulk back into Dr. Banner. (Whether it’s Bob or Bruce, we’re not sure.)

The Hulk is still the clear winner during the battle. The Thing fights more in issue #26, but it’s Gamma-Ray-Capsule Rick who ends things.

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Until Fantastic Four #25, the Human Torch/Sub-Mariner fight was the clear Battle of the Century. Both their fight and the Hulk/Thing battle took place partially on the Washington Bridge. We haven’t consulted it, but it seems obvious the bridge would say the Hulk/Thing fight was the bigger battle. So for now, yes, we have a new leader.

The Battle of the Century is The Thing vs. The Hulk, Fantastic Four #25. At least as of 1964.

First presented in Fantastic Four #133, 1973. Written by Gerry Conway. Drawn by Ramona Fradon. Inks by Joe Sinnott.

First presented in Fantastic Four #133, 1973. Written by Gerry Conway. Drawn by Ramona Fradon. Inks by Joe Sinnott.

Candidate #5: The Thing vs. Thundra

The cover claims not only is this “The Battle of the Century,” it’s the battle of “Any Century!” Basically, The Thing vs. Thundra is billed as the greatest battle of all time.

Why are they fighting?

They are fighting because Thundra wants to fight. She’s incredibly straight-forward about it.

This all takes place on New Year’s Eve at Times Square, where Thundra stops the clock to challenge the Thing to a duel in Shea Stadium. She’s up high, so the Human Torch goes after her. But like the Four’s encounters with Hulk, this effort is thwarted. Thundra breaks off a clock hand, uses it as a giant fan blade, and blows out the Torch’s flame. Then she gets all sexist and throws snow on him as an added bonus.

Thundra grabs Alicia—if you recall, she’s Grimm’s girlfriend (who we learn would love him no matter what)—to ensure the Thing will show up for battle. “Do not disappoint me, Benjamin Grimm! Three days from today, at dawn! Battle me—or the woman dies!”

As an important aside, this story takes place in early 1973, during a newer, elevated social awareness surrounding the lack of sexual equality. Feminism was in the news quite often. Later in ’73 comes the famous “Battle of the Sexes” with Billie Jean King facing Bobby Riggs on the tennis court. So of course in the Marvel universe, this battle has caught the attention of the entire nation.

It also turns out that Thundra is a part of the Frightful Four, whose hideout is an old water tower. That is cool, kind of like a treehouse for supervillains.

How epic is the battle?

The day arrives and everyone looks angry. Soon, Thundra shows up and throws the referee aside. Referee? What he was going to do, anyway?

The Thing tries to end this quickly, but Thundra is out to “expose your pitiable male inferiority.” She immediately grabs Ben and throws him out of the stadium. (Home run! Right?)

No worries. He lands on a buffalo.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Frightful Four are upset because their plan was to blow up the stadium and get rid of both the Thing and Thundra. It turns out she’s not much of a “team player.”

The battle continues on top of a giant globe, but it’s not much of a fight. Thundra basically dispatches the Thing in a couple of pages. Frankly, he did better in his other Battle of the Century against the Hulk.

Who wins?

Suddenly (and this comes out of nowhere), Reed has a gun that changes the Thing back into regular ol’ Ben Grimm!

Thundra is distraught. “No! He’s … He’s become human again! I’ve been cheated—CHEATED!… I cannot injure a weakling man! It would be completely unfeminine!” She goes on to basically concede to a powerless Thing. “You’ve won this round, Ben Grimm.” What?! He certainly didn’t win—the Thing was losing, and on top of that, the Fantastic Four cheated!

Thundra flies away on that very convenient flying disc of hers. It was never really explained why she wanted to fight in the first place. Judging from the book’s undertones, perhaps it was for women’s rights in the 70’s? Later, she attacks the Frightful Four and returns Alicia to Ben, all off-panel.

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Perhaps… metaphorically. If you consider the Thundra and Thing skirmish to be the comic book “Battle of the Sexes,” then maybe it is the Battle of the Century. But… no, we can’t do that. The fight was too one-sided and brief. Through 1973, the Battle of the Century title remains with the Hulk/Thing fight of ’64.

Candidate #6: Superman vs. Spider-Man

Why are they fighting?

To start, it’s a big deal that these two co-exist in 1976. Superman is published by DC Comics, while Spider-Man is published by Marvel. They come from two different universes! However, in this joint-published book, it appears they’ve always existed together and merely have never met. It’s a smart move—no story time is wasted with explaining “crossing dimensions” or such, there’s more space to battle.

New York City is holding a “World News Conference.” Anyone who’s anybody in the news business is attending, including Clark Kent (reporter), Lois Lane (reporter), Peter Parker (photographer), and Mary Jane Watson (um, girlfriend?). Lois eventually bumps into Peter, and they start talking about how much they admire each other’s work. Then Mary Jane shows up sporting a ‘tude, and Lois tries to defuse the situation. “Pull the claws in, MJ. Peter’s cute, but he’s a bit young for me, don’t you think? Besides, I’ve got my eyes set on—hey, Superman!”

Yes, Superman shows up. The gang’s all here and we wonder wh… WHHAAAAA?! Did… did Superman just disintegrate Lois and MJ?!?

But Clark Kent has been here the whole time? Something’s not right. Peter decides to investigate as Spider-Man, which treats us to a hi-larious panel (last above). Both our heroes decide to investigate outside the building.

How epic is the battle?

Why is Spider-Man is so giddy to see Superman? Doesn’t he consider him either a murderer or a kidnapper? Conversely, Superman considers Spider-Man a criminal and possibly behind the women’s disappearance. There’s going to be a fight, but Superman against Spider-Man? This should last about two seconds.

Hold on, there’s a couple of guys lurking in the shadows. By “shadows,” we mean a brightly lit rooftop. It’s Lex Luther and Doctor Octopus! Luthor was masquerading as Superman! Our villains are pleased that Spider-Man is unexpectedly involved, so they decide to give a little boost to his power level. “Though the radiation charge is purely temporary, it should stir things up rather nicely indeed!”

Looks like the power boost worked. Spider-Man knocks Superman around for a few pages, and Superman never hits back. He’s trying to start a conversation—such a gentleman—but Spider-Man isn’t having it. “Of all the stupid, stubborn clowns I’ve ever met—Spider-Man, you take the cake! Can’t you get it into your skull—I’ve been trying to talk to you?” Superman pleads. “So talk… tell me where you’ve got Mary Jane!”

Finally, Superman loses his patience and throws a punch. However, being a very quick thinker, he realizes something. “Great Krypton—What am I DOING? If this blow connects—it’ll KILL HIM!” Superman stops it at the last moment…

…but “though the punch is stopped, the wind-blast is not!” This knocks the living bejeebers out of Spider-Man! Spider-Man flies through the air and through some windows, in one side of a building and out the other. If he had hit a wall, it would have been a shorter comic. Still, Spider-Man comes back and attacks Supes with an angry two feet to the chest! However…

No more Red Sun Radiation performance-enhancement for Spidey! He continues to attack, but it’s sad, really. (It’s like trying to convince a phone company it’s over-charging you. Am I right?)

When I got to the above page, I knew I had to make a GIF!

When I got to the above page, I knew I had to make a GIF!

Who wins?

In a surprising turn of events, Supes and Spidey soon decide they should work together! (But, secretly, we’ll call Superman the clear winner.)

While the Superman vs. Spider-Man battle is over, there’s still thirty-some pages left in the book. NASA has launched a “Comlab One” satellite and Luthor has taken control of it. He can now manipulate the weather! He’s also curiously teamed up with Doc Ock—it seems even mad scientists get lonely.

Luthor has kidnapped Lois (and Mary Jane, who was maybe invading Lois’ personal space when the ray hit?) to lure Superman to his lair. Luthor wants to gloat as he DESTROYS THE ENTIRE EARTH! But in an unexpected turn of events, Doc Ock realizes that Luthor puts the “mad” in “mad scientist.” He wrecks Luthor’s equipment and essentially saves Earth! Superman and Spider-Man? Well, they wrap up the story by talking about how great they are.

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

In 1976, Superman and Spider-Man were arguably the two biggest names in superheroes. Also, two different companies had to work together to make this book happen, so it was a harder match to manage. The fight itself was fairly impressive. (And BIG! This happened in a “tabloid” sized comic.) But the real question is, does it beat the Hulk/Thing battle of 1964?

While that fight was a great brawl, eventually, that type of tussle became fairly commonplace. The Superman/Spider-Man battle was very unique, possibly groundbreaking. “After all, it isn’t every day two living legends go around making history,” Spidey even acknowledges.

We’ll say, “yes.” In 1976, the Battle of the Century became the Superman/Spider-Man showdown!

Candidate #7: Machine Man vs. Ten-For

The villain’s name is “Ten-For,” good buddy. This was written around the time CB radios were popular, especially with truckers. But while “Ten Four” was the lingo for “affirmative,” we see zero connections between this villain and truckin’.

Why are they fighting?

As the issue begins, it appears they’ve already been fighting! Machine Man has a cylinder attached to his forehead, which is keeping him immobile. The alien, Ten-For, is apparently to blame. Dr. Peter Spalding (who?) is attempting to remove the device using Machine Man’s very own laser finger.

The doctor doesn’t finish his sentence, however—the cylinder comes off! Machine Man is fine. He’s off to find Ten-For… who’s crashing in to an alleyway for some reason.

Unfortunately, as Machine Man seeks Ten-For, the military has caught wind of “two machine men” on the loose. A solider tries to stop our hero, but Machine Man escapes using his silver tongue and cool moves.

While sitting in a tree, Machine Man decides to use a “dimensional transfer,” which is essentially transportation. It gives us some cool Kirby visuals and places our hero at Hungry Herman’s. Appropriately, Machine Man leaves the restaurant with some Kirby humor… only to find himself in Central City. (For reference, you know what is a common sight in Central City? The Flash. No, he’s not in the book.)

How epic is the battle?

Ten-For’s face flips up and he fires the first shot! Machine Man fires back! Then… Ten-For leaves.

That’s it?!

Ten-For shoots once and Machine shoots once? The cover promised “The Fight of the Century” as created by Jack Kirby, but alas. Hopefully readers are also robots; that way we wouldn’t feel this aching disappointment that swells within my human heart.

Slow to follow, Machine Man suddenly realizes that he could use his Dimensional Transfer ability and “shove Ten-For as far from Earth as possible.” However, when Machine Man catches up with our villain, Ten-For has captured some humans. They would (somehow) go with him if he’s transported, so what will Machine man do?

Who knows—it’s continued next issue!

Who wins?

A quick skim on www.comics.org shows Ten-For is in the next two issues. But in the issue #6 info, under “Characters,” the site states “Ten-For (death).”

Winner: Machine Man!

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Trying to get the last drop of toothpaste out of the tube feels like a bigger battle. “No,” the Battle of the Century title remains with the Superman/Spider-Man fight of ’76.

Candidate #8: Spider-Man vs. the Hulk

We recognize both the character poses as being Marvel “clip art,” with a book being awkwardly added to Spider-Man’s hand. Maybe it’s there because this is a “Big Special Back-to-School Issue!” By “big” they mean 16 pages, and by “back-to-school” they mean the fight happens on a college campus. And “special” evidently means you get it free in your newspaper. The splash page is designed to get everyone up to speed—

Why are they fighting?

Dr. R.B. “David” Banner is in New York, headed to the Empire State University “looking for salvation.” That’s it for explanation.

(But hang on a moment. We all know that the Hulk is really Bruce Banner, right? He was “Bob” in the FF #25 we reviewed earlier, and now he’s “David.” For some reason, that’s what he was called in the popular Hulk TV show in the late 70’s. But when it comes up again, we’re calling him Bruce. Anyway, Paul Parker happens to be going to the college at the same time. Ha ha. Kidding. It’s still Peter here.)

Bruce sees a little girl fall into the water at the docks and freaks out. Bruce! Be cool, man! Nope, he changes to the Hulk, though he manages to save the girl. People yell at him, and the Hulk jumps off as the police shoot at him. He’s misunderstood, you know.

Meanwhile, across town, we get a one page Spider-Man adventure. He’s late for the first day of school! Spidey stops the criminals on his way, but a shop owner runs out to yell at him for breaking the front window. He’s under-appreciated, you know.

After class, since it’s the first day of school, Peter decides it’s a great time to hit on his new classmates. Smooooth. But things end there as Peter’s spider-senses suddenly go off! He dumps the girl, throws an internal pity-party, then gets ready for fight time.

How epic is the battle?

Spidey tries to web the Hulk, but that never works. The Hulk doesn’t talk in this issue; he only growls and such (again, blame it on the TV show). The Hulk rampages, and he’s very good at it.

Spidey does his best to keep all the students out of danger, but then we get a little break from the fight to see what Spider-Man’s made of…

He’s made of determination with a goodness filling! (Wait, oops, that last page is from 1966’s Amazing Spider-Man #33. Our mistake.)

Who wins?

The fight continues! Spidey’s holding his own (sorta), but he’s probably not going to win. Then everything changes.

Didn’t we go through this lifting thing already? Anyway, the army suddenly shows up to blast the Hulk! Spidey, however, webs them up so that the Hulk can jump away! (Which he likely could have done anyway.)

Our story wraps up with a couple more comic book clichés—because perhaps newspaper readers have never seen them?

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Sadly no. Hulk breaks things and Spidey get throw around a lot. It would only win if this was the CLICHÉ Battle of the Century! However, the book is a good introduction to the world of comics, which is the purpose of any good 1970s newspaper insert.

The Battle of the Century title remains with the Superman/Spider-Man fight of ’76 for now.

Presented in X-Men and Alpha Flight #2, 1985. Written by Chris Claremont. Art by Paul Smith. Inked by Bob Waicek and friends.

Presented in X-Men and Alpha Flight #2, 1985. Written by Chris Claremont. Art by Paul Smith. Inked by Bob Waicek and friends.

Candidate #9: X-Men vs. Alpha Fight vs. Loki

Why are they fighting?

First things first—who is fighting, exactly? As with most Chris Claremont-written X-Men books, there are plenty of characters, dense dialog, and interweaving stories. To summarize, members of the X-Men and Alpha Flight are investigating the disappearance of an airplane that contained several of their friends. They discover a fantastic city near the Arctic Circle, and they find their colleagues, alive and very well, inside. There is also a slew of non-mutant humans, all shown in the panels below.

You may wonder why everyone is dressed so grandly. There is a “Firefountain” of magic that shoots up through a nearby mountain. This fountain can heal all pain while also giving everyone superpowers! And with great power comes impractical costumes.

The Firefountain continues to grow. Eventually, it will affect the entire world and everyone will have superpowers! There will be no more prejudice against super-powered mutants and (bonus!) no more sickness!

But, uh, here comes the curve ball. All magical beings are slowly being destroyed by the same effect that heals and powers everyone else. Check out Snowbird, who Wolverine discovers—egad. She’s seen better days.

So it comes down to a complex question—Is it worth ending the lives of a small percentage of the world’s population to give billions of people a near-perfect life? Some of the X-Men and some of Alpha Flight think it’s worth the price. Other members think it’s not. Some want to extinguish the fountain, some do not. A fight is brewing.

How epic is the battle?

It’s team member against team member, husband against wife!

We only get about three pages of battle, and above is our most action packed one. The stakes are obviously high—they’re literally fighting for the fate of the world!

Who wins?

Northstar and Talisman fly off to the mountain in an attempt to shut down the Firefountain. They soon discover that not only does the fountain destroy magic folk, it also destroys the “inner magic” of ordinary people. It shuts off their imagination! No more creativity on the entire planet! One of the humans seems to have known this, but it took him a while to crack. (“You saw the book, Talisman. The last pages are nothing but scribbles. A baby could do better.”)

When everyone finds this out, they stop fighting. Suddenly, Loki shows up!

It turns out that the people who already had superpowers won’t lose their ability to dream. Cyclops gives a pessimistic little speech. “We’ll be the only ones left with imagination, we’ll be the dreamers in a world that can’t.”

Loki doesn’t want the Firefountain to stop, so now everyone is fighting Loki and his Frost Giants. Is this supposed to be the Battle of the Century? It’s not clear, since we get less than a page of action.

Suddenly the sky fills with… the gods of the gods? Loki had made some kind of deal with the big guys, and in return the villain had to do “a deed of goodness, a gift freely given.” The Firefountain was Loki’s gift to mankind, but he ended up fighting people to force them to take it! Oops.

Game over.

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Hard to say. There were fights going on, but we spent much more time dealing with emotions and feelings. Ultimately, that leads us to rule “No. It is not.” As of 1985, the winner is still Superman vs. Spider-Man!

Presented in Justice League America #52, 1991. Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. Art by Tevor Von Eeden and Randy Elliott.

Presented in Justice League America #52, 1991. Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. Art by Tevor Von Eeden and Randy Elliott.

Candidate #10: Guy Gardner vs. Blue Beetle

Why are they fighting?

Our story opens with the title amusingly backtracking on its claim while an upset Ted Kord is looking in a mirror.

Ted has put on too much weight to fit into his Blue Beetle costume! He decides to go to the Justice League’s gym to work out—gotta start somewhere, right? Guy Garner and Major Glory are already there, and Guy starts giving Ted fat grief.

(As an aside: we’ve never liked Guy Gardner. Maybe it’s his stupid haircut or the fact that he’s always a total jerk. Maybe we’ve never read the right stories. But certainly with some fat-shaming, he doesn’t seem like Green Lantern material.)

Major Glory stops Ted and Guy from fighting, suggesting they settle their differences with a fight.

How epic is the battle?

Well, Batman shows up, so you know this is going to be good! What? He’s here by accident? Oh.

The bell rings, and it turns outs that Ted is the better boxer. Between round one and two, Guy notices his nose is bleeding, and he indulges in a little bit of narcissism. “NOBODY bleeds Guy Gardner…”

Next thing you know, he sucker punches Ted between rounds. Everyone intervenes, and Martian Manhunter kicks Guy out of the Justice League. You’re not improving anyone’s opinion of you, Guy.

Who wins?

Blue Beetle, by technicality and score.

So… is it the Battle of the Century?

No. In fact, it was slightly depressing. Let’s move on quickly.

Presented in Loco vs, Pulverine, 1992. Written by Fred Schiller and Steve Donnelly. Art by Gary Yap.

Presented in Loco vs, Pulverine, 1992. Written by Fred Schiller and Steve Donnelly. Art by Gary Yap.

Candidate #11: Loco vs. Pulverine

Who? In the early ’90s, DC Comics had badass Lobo as its very popular tough guy, while Marvel had mean-butt Wolverine as its. Seeing an opportunity, along comes Eclipse Comics to settle who’s actually the toughest through the sophisticated art of parody.

Why are they fighting?

Loco wants to prove he’s the baddest of the bad! He’s introduced while finishing a fight with a Sabletooth parody, Snaggletooth (not to be confused with Snagglepuss.) But Loco actually wants to fight Pulverine!

Pulverine, however, is nowhere to be found. Rather than outlining 18 pages of suspense, let’s say Pulverine has an exclusive contact with Marble Comics, and only it can tell him who to fight. Loco, however, keeps taunting him until Pulverine finally snaps.

How epic is the battle?

Soon the battle is raging. While the art has its appeal, some of it takes a little effort to decipher. Fortunately, the fight is so incredible it breaks into other, simpler, comic realities! Very ’90s realities.

These realities don’t like being messed with, so some characters decide to put an end to it.

Who wins?

We’ve neglected to mention one detail about this epic. There’s a reporter who has constantly, unsuccessfully tried to cover the story of this massive fight. In the end, he finally catches up with the battle…

…with the book ending as our fighters visit said reporter in the hospital. It’s comedy! (We laughed at some bits, so we guess there’s doesn’t need to be a winner. We guess.)

So… is it the Battle of the Century?

While it was quite the ruckus, this book lacked the name recognition to be the Battle of the Century. No, Superman vs. Spider-Man maintains its lead heading into the final candidate.

Presented in DC Versus Marvel/Marvel versus DC #1 - 4, 1996. Written by Ron Marz and Peter David. Penciled by Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini. Inks by Josef Rubinstein and Paul Neary.

Enlarge / Presented in DC Versus Marvel/Marvel versus DC #1 – 4, 1996. Written by Ron Marz and Peter David. Penciled by Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini. Inks by Josef Rubinstein and Paul Neary.

Candidate #12: DC vs. Marvel

Whoa, this is the big one! Comics fans had long wanted to see their favorite, iconic characters from the two biggest comic companies take on each other. Unfortunately, this happened in the ’90s, when there was a crazy trend of constantly changing popular characters to increase sales. For instance, our story opens with a Spider-Man, but it’s Peter Parker’s clone, Ben Reilly, in a variation of the iconic costume. Later, he asks people to call him “Peter.” Nice try, Marvel.

Going forward, we won’t point out every time a weird character variation shows up, but is that Thor iconic to anyone? Anyone?

Why are they fighting?

In the first issue, we begin to see various characters from Marvel and DC appearing in each other’s universe. Some characters fight. Some characters team up. This catches the attention of both universes’ cosmic guardians, the Spectre and the Living Tribunal. Something is terribly wrong! “Events are being set in motion that not even the Spectre can stop!”

This series is, of course, is a joint venture between DC and Marvel. As such, the issue ends with a page asking readers to vote on the outcome of certain battles, such as Superman vs. the Hulk. It’s essentially American Idol before American Idol, and the results would play out in issue #3.

In issue #2, however, we find out why the realities are crossing. The two Universes are shown personified as “brothers.” They weren’t aware of each other until now. Their new co-awareness is causing each reality to seep into the other. Each “brother” considers himself superior and wishes to be the only reality to exist (selfish realities). Instead of fighting it out themselves, they pick champions from their universes to do the fighting.

To raise the stakes, the losing side’s universe will VANISH FOREVER. But to keep things from being too crazy, combatants only have to immobilize each other, not kill. Wipe each other from reality, but everyone wants to keep it a friendly fight, right?

How epic is the battle?

Due to simple page count restraints, each fight only lasts three or four pages. But there are 11 battles. Let’s go over them quickly.

Thor vs. Captain Marvel: When Captain Marvel changes to Billy Batson (to crawl out from some wreckage) he shouts’ “Shazam” to change back. But Thor controls lightning. Thor wins by conquering a powerless child. (He’s still rockin’ that new costume, though! DC 0, Marvel 1)

The Sub-Mariner vs. Aquaman: While standing on the beach, Aquaman wins by having a whale jump and land on Sub-Mariner. WAM! (DC 1, Marvel 1)

The Flash vs. Quicksilver: C’mon, the Flash is much faster. He wins by speed-punching Pietro into unconsciousness. (DC 2, Marvel 1)

Robin v. Jubilee: All that early action takes us into issue #3, where Jubilee’s diary provides the recap. As the story continues, Robin and Jubilee fall in love and then fight. Robin wins because he’s Robin. Ah, young love. Sweet and creepy. (DC 3, Marvel 1)

Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) vs. Silver Surfer: Marvel needs a big comeback, and luckily Surfer wins. The only explanation we get is a panel with a green burst in it. (DC 3, Marvel 2)

Catwoman vs. Electra: Electra drops Catwoman off a building. Yikes. Win. (DC 3, Marvel 3)

Lobo vs. Wolverine: Wait—didn’t we already cover this? Ah, right, Loco vs. Pulverine. Our mistake.

Wolverine wins, but it’s unclear how. Perhaps he immobilizes Lobo by removing his innards? (DC 3, Marvel 4)

Wonder Woman vs. Storm: We would have counted on Wonder Woman to win, but this is the result of public voting. The X-Men were super popular at the time, and this bout goes to Storm. “Forgive me, sister.” (DC 3, Marvel 5)

Spider-Man vs. Superboy: Spider-Man wins by tricking Superboy to crash into an electrical panel. Ugh. Is there ANY more cliché way to beat an opponent stronger than you? (DC 3, Marvel 6)

Superman vs. Hulk: This is the “smart” Hulk, who still has the brain of Bruce Banner. We’ve never considered him as strong as the “limitless rage” Hulk. Superman wins by hitting harder. (DC 4, Marvel 6)

Finally, Batman vs. Captain America: Now here’s a battle! They are very evenly matched in fighting ability. But as the battle takes place inside a sewer, water comes unexpectedly rushing in. Batman seizes the opportunity and takes Captain America out with a batarang to the head. (DC 5, Marvel 6)

Who wins?

Thanks to the public votes, the Marvel Universe wins—6 to 5! Bye-bye DC Universe. Wait a second…

As one universe is about to be wiped out of existence, the Spectre and the Living Tribunal attempt to stop the obliteration by combining forces!

The little guy in the first above panel is called Access; he can travel between universes and dimensions. The Spectre and the Living Tribunal efforts lead to the two universes combining into one, creating an Amalgam Universe!

We’d read Batverine, so this naturally led to a whole set of books starring composites of DC and Marvel characters. Older comic fans may remember it as quite the event! (We wish they would have combined The Human Torch and Aquaman—we could have thrilled to the adventures of The Human Man!)

Back to Access. He has hidden the essences of the original universes and uses them to separate the realities once again. With the prospect of being back at square one, the cosmic “brothers” decide to fight it out on their own instead of relying on their chosen champions. And as they fight, everything is destroyed. Within that destruction, the “brothers’ see glimpses of two unique characters, one from each universe.

They realize that there is nobility and uniqueness within each of them, and therefore they should happily co-exist together (or something like that). This one is worth reading for yourself above.

Essentially, the essences of Batman and Captain America save the comic universes! Yay!

So… is this the Battle of the Century?

Lots of battles happen here, and really, the DC Universe vs. the Marvel Universe could merit the title of “Battle of the Century” on principle alone. The magnitude of it makes it an easy winner. So while Superman vs. Spider-Man on their own held the title for two decades, those two are merely pawns in the true “Battle of the Century.” Yesthis is the Battle of the Century.

Check back in 100 years, though. We’d anticipate a few more epic encounters with a heavy dose of crossovers.

Kerry Callen is an artist and an occasional comics blogger. The work he creates for commentary and fun can be seen at kerrycallen.blogspot.com, which is where this series originally appeared.