Character battle debates are loads of fun. But why is it that they so often end up degenerating into flame wars?
The dreaded stalemate.
It is when two characters, and the spirits of a multitude of giddy fans, meet at the comic pages to do glorious battle... and nobody wins.
But, you and I want there to be a clear winner and a clear loser. We want to be re-assured that the character we love most "always finds a way." Or, if we are honest, we simply want bragging rights. Whatever the case may be, all too often in the comics, that is not what we get. We rarely get a decisive victor; a final answer. Most times, as seen above, we are simply left with the dreaded stalemate.
We know deep down that there really would be a clear winner and loser, after all, but the publisher (Marvel, DC, IDW, etc.) can't or won't give us one because it cannot risk alienating the fanbase of whichever character loses. That would not be good for business. Furthermore, we know that the writer has to tread carefully as well, because he or she could risk damaging a reputation and a future career if the story/battle is not well received by the public.
And so, we the fans choose to have our own debates in the passionate pursuit of finding an answer, but in our quest for comic book truth (be it ever subjective) we often let the weight of our emotions spark the flames of forum war.
Fear not, my friends! I believe that you and I can greatly help reduce the frequency and ferocity of flame wars, name calling, disrespect, and hatefulness in general, by simply understanding some fundamental differences in the way each of us chooses to form his or her opinion regarding these great character debates.
What do I mean?
Well, how do we determine what should and should not be considered when looking at the comic books in order to form educated, informed opinions about character battles?
I believe there are two key approaches.
A) The All-Evidence Approach. Many people choose to look at character debates and say: These are purely hypothetical battles, so what can we extrapolate from the comic pages that can help us better form a reasonable scenario based on what we have seen throughout a character/s history. This approach tries to take all data into consideration; whether that be feats, dialogue, writer's intent, context, prior instances where the two characters actually met on the battlefield, etc. The goal being to look at all of these things in order to form the most likely outcome.
This is the way that I try to approach things, and I will be the first to tell you that I am far from always succeeding at it. Many times, I let my personal bias for a character, or what I think I know, override a fair analysis. But, a fair analysis is what I strive for. Haha! As do most of you, I am sure. And do not misunderstand... . However, when we let our bias supersede our better judgment, that is wrong... and that is when things start to get hairy in the forums.
At any rate, if a consistent pattern of (solid) evidence presents itself which strongly suggests the Character A could beat Character B under the right circumstances, then I am most certainly going to take that into consideration. I will do this even if the two characters in question have never actually met in a battle with a decisive victor, and even if my personal bias is strongly urging me that "there is just no way [insert name] would ever lose to [insert name]!"
There is at least one major flaw in taking this approach:
Often times what happens on the comic pages can be open to interpretation (or misinterpretation). You and I might have reasonably tried to weigh all the varying evidence, but someone else might not interpret the evidence the same way you and I do. I have seen it happen on a hundred worlds (not really). But I have seen it happen A LOT.
Take this scan, for example. Did the Caped Crusader evade a bullet after it was shot, or did he react a split second before the trigger was pulled? More than likely, it was the latter, but heck if I know for sure judging from this one scan. All I know is that Batman moved unbelievably fast, either way.
Scans like this one are often open to interpretation, and misused, but that is when we have to let the comics interpret the comics.
In other words, we have got to always be asking ourselves some of these questions:
What happened in the other comic books where Batman was in a similar situation?
What did Batman, or the other characters who were involved, say about what happened?
What did the writer/narrator try to communicate about what happened?
What were the the events leading up to it and following it (i.e. the context)?
What was the writer's intent with that particular scenario?
What was his or her intent with that story as a whole (i.e. was it meant as a "What If/Elseworld" tale, can it be considered canon in any way)?
On top of these questions, what about the guy doing the shooting? Was Deadshot really trying to hit Batman? We need to take all of these things into consideration... and then form an opinion.
That was one way to look at character debates. Here is another:
B) The All-Battles Approach. Many choose to look at character debates and say: These are purely hypothetical battles, so the only solid way to hypothesize is to look primarily at cases where the two characters in question met in battle on the comic pages. What happened during said battle/s? If Character A bested Character B, and there were no other straightforward fights between the two, then the issue is pretty much settled. Anything beyond that... such as feats, what other characters have said, overall writer intent... all of that other stuff pretty much is open to interpretation and is secondary data at best in light of an already-recorded encounter between two characters.
Now, I understand the feeling behind those who would use this approach. It is the safe road. By approaching the debate in this way, you personally are not going to risk tarnishing either character's namesake, because you will have stuck to what other writers have already documented on paper for the fans.
Also, there is far less room for misuse or misinterpretation of evidence if we place top priority on what has already been decided in a battle within the comics.
There are at least two problems with approaching character debates this way though, one of which I have already mentioned in brief:
If we approach the debate this way, we are doing a major injustice to the multitude of writers that have gone before us, those who have created these characters and stories, by choosing to place priority on one battle, created by one writer, over against all other documented history of said characters. That is that.
What normally happens when Marvel, DC, or any other publisher, decides to have an "official versus battle" between two well known and beloved characters? The battle normally ends in a draw, with neither character being able to gain a firm advantage over the other through his own ability... or, it ends with some kind of outside interference halting the fight before a decisive victor can be named. These "official" battles generally are not created to give readers a definitive answer as to who would win, and so most of the time these types of battles end with one character losing due to the smallest of technicalities (e.g. Batman vs. Captain America), or it ends with the dreaded stalemate (e.g. the Spider-man vs. Wolverine battle I referenced above). But again, this is why you and I choose to have our own debates! Haha! The readers are not dumb. They were not born yesterday (though some act like it). They know a publisher will never have Wolverine lose decisively to Spider-man, or vice versa, because they would never think of tarnishing the name of a beloved character or alienate a huge chunk of that character's fanbase.