We could, in the spirit of political correctness, suggest that such a question is out of bounds. We could affirm that everyone is special in their own way, and protect the self-esteem of the supers. On the other hand, we could have a debate over the right criteria by which to judge. Are we asking who has the coolest super-power? Who has the best alter ego? Whose transformation story is the most compelling? Indeed once one finds the proper criteria by which to judge, the answers just seem to come naturally.
I have two competing criteria that I value highly. Not wanting to choose I will therefore divide the question in two, affirming which is the greatest classic super-hero and which is the greatest modern superhero. First the classic.
By classic I mean those supers whose beginnings came in the heyday of the comic book. Here we find some astonishing super-powers, some engaging alter egos, and some compelling back stories. The best standard, I would argue, however, is this- who makes the most of what he’s got? Which means, of course, that Batman wins, hands down. Batman, frankly, has no super-powers. He is not from another planet, or a lost civilization. He has not been infected with radiation, nor visited by ancient gods. No, Batman fights with his wealth, his wits and his will. The first two, wealth and wits, create the technology that is so vital to his battle plan. It is his iron will, however, that brings it all together. Criminals fear him not because of what he can do, but because of what he wants- justice. In the first “battle” of the first modern movie account Batman holds a terrified petty criminal over the edge of a skyscraper. The terrified thug squeaks out, “What are you?” And Batman had me at “I’m Batman, and I want you to tell all your friends about me.”
I’m not the most physically gifted man in the world. I never was growing up. But I have always been competitive. Will means quite a bit to me, and so Batman receives one crown. On the other hand, as a dad raising eight children I have in recent years come to see the heroism called for in leading a family. Most supers are socially awkward, isolated, islands. One modern hero, however, exhibits the greatest of virtues- he loves his wife and children. Indeed he loves his wife and children enough to endure the crushing weight of hiding his super-ness. Mr. Incredible wins my vote in the modern category not because of his astonishing super gifts, but because of his ordinary and therefore inspiring love for his family. I want not to be like his super-identity, but his alter ego, for that, in this instance, is not only who he really is, but who he really wants to be.
In the real world we value the wrong things. We value skills over drive, abilities over willingness. We think our job rather than our family is our calling. Which is why it’s good to have heroes, but why we have to choose them with care.