First [historical] appearance: ACTION COMICS #1 (1938)
Superman Ė Strange visitor from another planet. Faster than a speeding bullet Ė More powerful than a locomotive Ė Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Itís a bird, itís a plane...itís SUPERMAN!
Superman was the first super-powered costumed super-hero to grace comic books, and was the inspiration for every super-hero comic that followed. Created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, first published in 1938 in National Periodicalís ACTION COMICS #1, Superman originated an entire genre of pop culture. He has consistently been one of the three most internationally well recognized fictional characters of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
I am not here to praise the merits of the character, or his importance to the comic book industry. Rather, I hope to convince the readers of this essay that, in a fair fight, todayís Superman would logically be able to beat Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, who is currently the physically most powerful superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe.
I stress the fair part, because it would be a simple matter to suggest that the Superman of the 1970's could take down the Teutonic deity. Back then, Superman was shown to move planets merely by exerting force against their surfaces. Alternately, the original appearences of Superman in the 1930s and '40s suggested he was not so powerful as a demi-god, and would not have stood a real chance against Captain Marvel, his mystically-powered counterpart published by Fawcett Comics, much less Marvelís Thor (who didnít debut until 1962ís JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83).
The Superman of todayís comics is roughly equal in strength to Thor, though this can be argued either way. Because Supermanís energy comes from solar radiation stored within his body, he can become weakened through prolonged exertion while deprived of sunlight. Alternately, the solar power found in the other-worldly plane of Asgard, home of Thor and other Norse Gods, has been shown to empower solar-charged characters with greater than normal energies (as happened to Sunspot of the New Mutants). I am not willing to grant either side such an obvious advantage, so I am assuming a fair fight between Superman and Thor would take place on or above the Earth both heroes claim as their chosen home.
Superman also possesses a tremendous amount of invulnerability, moreso than Thor, although Supermanís originates from a self-generated energy field rather than ultra-dense tissue. This advantage is negated by Supermanís vulnerability to magic, which both Thor and his mighty mallet Mjolnir surely are.
Superman can produce searing beams of heat energy from his eyes, which can melt steel in under a minute. This impressive attack is countered by Thorís ability to summon lightning (he IS the God of Thunder, after all) by holding Mjolnir high above his head, though in theory such a motion would be unnecessary. The lightning issues forth from the sky, not Thorís own body, which is actually an advantage to the Marvel hero, since covering his eyes would not prevent the strike from hitting its mark, whereas Superman, though possessing x-ray vision, must have a clear line-of-sight to get in a decent shot.
In either case, these long-range powers would not factor much into a battle between Thor and Superman, since neither would be much affected by the otherís attack; Thor can withstand enormous amounts of heat and cold before suffering ill-effects, and Superman can resist the electrical charge of lightning with minimal damage (unlike the aforementioned Captain Marvel, Thorís lighning is summoned magically, but is completely natural, and thus unable to bypass Supermanís defenses).
Both heroes have peculiar weaknesses; Superman may be greatly weakened and hurt by the radiation given off by kryptonite (exactly how weakened or hurt has varied much over the years, and even from comic to comic), while Thor loses much of his power if seperated from his hammer for more than one minute (exactly how much of his power would be lost has changed greatly over the years as well). I do not see either susceptability coming into play, however, so these will not weigh much in this fight. Most likely, the fight would be long over before either hero had a chance to exploit these weaknesses.
Both heroes have powerful allies and powerful enemies. As above, these considerations may become significant if a rivalry were to develop between the two, but in a fair, one-on-one battle, no third-party forces should be expected to intervene.
Thorís greatest weapon is Mjolnir, the enchanted mallet made of uru metal, which grants him access to the power of flight in addition to controlling the weather. In his original appearences, Thor had to spin the hammer and hurl it skyward in order to make it carry him aloft. However, once airborne, he appears to have refined manuverability on par with other flying heroes, so I do not grant either hero a significant advantage here either. It should be noted that although Thor is presently shown with more of a Ďtrue flightí ability, he still must hold his hammer ahead of him when moving through the air, and this does give Superman some measure of dominance.
Aside from these uses, Mjolnir is also handy for striking powerful blows against a target. The invulnerable uru metal will never shatter against a mundane barrier or object, and Thor is quite adept at swinging as well as throwing the weapon, which is enchanted to always return to Thorís grasp. In addition, only Thor or those who may be judged worthy by Asgardian standards may weild (or even hold) the hammer of Thor, so taking Mjolnir away from him is a feat only slightly more challenging than proving Superman is capable of defeating him.
How then do I intend to uphold such a boastful claim? It is not out of loyalty to the Man of Steel that I award him a victory in this; it is his great speed that will prove the deciding factor. Superman is second only to the Flashes in velocity, in DC Comics anyway, and the Flashes all have access to the ĎSpeed Forceí, an extra-dimensional energy that gives them a ludicrous edge against other fleet-footed rivals.
While it is true that Thorís hammer once gave him the ability to teleport throughout space and time, such is no longer the case. Likewise, Superman used to be shown as fast enough to Ďbreak the time barrierí; luckily this has also been lost to him. Even so, he can approach light speed in flight, and his reflexes are fast enough that he can successfully grab bullets from multiple automatic weapons out of the air with the goal of protecting a room full of people being easily attained.
With this speed Superman would land at least five blows for every one of Thorís. Or, he could deflect Thorís every move against him and still score several hits. Once both heroes have sized up their opponents and decide not to hold back, there is little Thor could do to match Supermanís speed. While it is possible that Mjolnir might be used to defeat Superman at long range before hand-to-hand combat can be initiated, it is equally possible for Superman to accelerate to a phenomenal rate and punch out Thor with a rapid-fire volley of fists as soon as the Thunder God releases the hammer from his grip. Since either of these scenarios requires several outside factors to determine, neither can be successfully argued without knowingly giving one or the other character an obvious advantage.
Thorís punches may well do more damage to Superman than Supermanís would do to Thor (thanks to Supermanís vulnerability to magic), but if he is unable to make continued hits against his foe, Thor would be unable to take advantage of this fact, even if he were to discover it in time. Once he lets loose, Superman should be able to defeat Thor, IMHO, 7 out of 10 times.
First [Marvel Universe] appearance: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY Vol. 1 #83 (1962)
From the rainbow bridge to Asgard...
Where the booming heavens roar...
You have never beheld such wonder...
The God of Thunder...
[Yep, I always did like that catchy Thor tune that they played for those hoary Marvel super-hero animated shorts produced ultra-cheaply during the '60's by those goons at DePatie-Freeling when they were rerun in the '70's]
Okay, now that I got that inanity out of my system...onto the business at hand.
Granted, Superman has a definite edge in speed, but Thor may very well be able to counter this advantage with the various formidable tricks he routinely displays with his hammer, including creating an impenetrable makeshift force shield around himself composed of swirling cyclonic winds whenever he grasps his uru hammer by its leather thong and whirls it around himself at great velocity.
Superman is a good and experienced fighter, but let's face it, Thor has literally millennia of experience as a warrior of the highest caliber behind him, whereas Superman [thanks to attendant time-crunching by DC Comics] hasn't even been alive for 40 years. Moreover, Superman is much slower to anger than Thor, but even assuming that the Man of Steel fought without holding back when facing a foe as powerful as Thor (and I have enough respect for Superman's intelligence to assume that he would indeed go all-out in such an instance), if the Thunder God succumbed to his infamous "warrior madness," the latter's temper would far outweigh that of the Last Son of Krypton.
Both of these heroes have a roughly equal mental fortitude and will to win, so both would fight with equal determination, and both are comparable in regards to the extraordinary degree of superhuman strength and durability they possess, but as noted above, not only do I believe that Thor has the edge in regards to fighting skill and overall experience, but his enchanted, virtually indestructible uru hammer has laid low the likes of the Hulk and the Silver Surfer in the past, and that gives the Son of Odin one hell of an edge over the Man of Steel in a protracted mano-a-mano battle.
Several full force strikes by that hammer, particularly if Thor had succumbed to the "warrior madness," could prove extremely injurious to even Superman, who has only his fists and legs to strike with, whereas Thor has the same plus that hammer of his, which even the Hulk has admitted to fearing.
Let us not forget that Thor could also strike from a distance by throwing that hammer, and a single full force throw could conceivably knock Superman out of the sky.
Again, Superman could pummel Thor numerous times per minute with his super-speed, but the Thunder God could likely use his hammer to counter Kal-El's super-speed, as noted above.
Okay, I will also acknowledge that Superman's heat vision makes a very devastating weapon, enough to prove a major problem to the Scion of Asgard himself, but Thor may be able to block it with his hammer in various ways (including opening a dimensional portal to displace the Man of Steel's solar-powered ocular beams), and not even Superman's full-force heat vision can melt uru. Further, consider Thor's ability to summon and control the elements of the weather with his hammer, particularly the extremely powerful bolts of lightening and anti-force that Mjolnir can capture and project, respectively, and Superman's heat vision is effectively matched and possibly surpassed.
Additionally, let's not forget that Thor's hammer Mjolnir and the entire fulcrum of its power is magickally based, a force of the universe that the Man of Steel is vulnerable to, which has created a problem for him whenever he's had reason to duke it out with Captain Marvel (of the DC Universe) or any other personage whose power is based on magick, rather than conventional scientific principles.
While it's true that the lightening Thor summons from the heavens is not, in and of itself, magickally based, the post-Crisis version of Superman would still be hard-pressed to withstand vast amounts of such concentrated electrical force, which Thor can definately summon forth. Further, Thor's beams of anti-force, which he projects directly from Mjolnir and which are the mystical equivalent of a disintegrator beam, are indeed magickally-based. That boasts some serious bad news for the Man of Steel if he decided to confront the Thunder God, since a beam of magickally-based anti-force could do some serious damage to Superman, and even a single blast could injure the kryptonian just seriously enough that he wouldn't be up to using his super-speed, his main advantage against the Prince of Asgard...and an uber-experienced warrior like Thor would be quick to exploit this major set-back for the Man of Steel, since Asgard's greatest warrior god would quickly rush in with his deadly uru hammer swinging before Kal-El was able to shake off the effects of the anti-force blast. Despite Superman's rapid ability to heal, he could expect a broken jaw, both eyes swollen shut, and several dislodged teeth within a mere several seconds of such an attack from the Thunder God's enchanted mallet.
I wouldn't want to be in Superman's bright red shoes in such a situation.
Though I acknowledge that Superman's ability to move at super-speed (albeit not nearly at the level of the various men who bore the mantle of the Flash) would be a great asset in battle, Thor is far too experienced as a warrior and combat strategist to avoid taking this into account. He has literally thousands of years of experience in taking almost any conceivable foe's measure, and as formidable as Superman is, even a barrage of super-fast punches from the Man of Steel wouldn't be worse than facing a horde of ultra-strong Storm Giants or Rock Trolls, something Thor has done hundreds of times in the past...and won on most of those occasions, even without his fellow Asgardian warriors at his side.
Hence, though Superman's super-speed would indeed be a big advantage, upon closer inspection, it wouldn't be as big of an advantage as one might think before taking the Thunder God's impressive track record of victory into account.
Now, while it's true that Superman did indeed beat Thor after a monumental (if largely off-panel) battle in JLA/AVENGERS #2, we all know that was largely due to writer preference for Superman and his much greater popularity in fandom as a hero (Thor's "pure" warrior traits and ego make him less "likable" than that of the kindly Superman in the eyes of most of the fans, though he is every bit as noble, courageous, and selfless as the Man of Tomorrow), and we need to keep in mind that during the previous (but now mysteriously forgotten) war between the Marvel and DC Universes, Thor bested Captain Marvel in combat, the latter of whom has power largely comparable to that of Superman, and is far less vulnerable to magick to boot...not to mention the fact that the World's Mightiest Mortal has defeated Superman in the past. So don't look to the fiasco we saw in JLA/AVENGERS #2 as an accurate gauge with which to measure Superman's chances against Thor in a fight, because the Kryptonian dude's victory in that aforementioned book was primarily due to character popularity.
Let's also keep in mind, for what it's worth, that the editors of WIZARD magazine gave the victory to Thor in their own Last Man Standing contest between the two, and they didn't have to worry about catering to fans to the extent that author Kurt Busiek did when writing the comic.
Hence, it stands to reason that after a prolonged period of combat, the God of Thunder would ultimately prove the victor against the Man of Steel. Or, to put it much less eloquently: see ya, Superman, and wouldn't wanna be ya!
The Winner of POLL #1: THOR
The Final Tally: 63% to 36%
The Scion of Asgard made The Last Son of Krypton EAT HAMMER!!