It is surely the ultimate superhero question, the last Top Trump smackdown.
Godzilla and King Kong had their face-off; so did Alien and Predator. Now it's the turn of Batman and Superman. The annual Comic-Con convention – the compulsory venue for film companies to announce their comic-related projects and get the fanboys on board – created geek ecstasy with news of an unprecedented movie pairing Batman and Superman.
This is a follow-up to the recent Man of Steel film, again to be directed by Zack Snyder, featuring Henry Cavill as Superman but no casting yet announced for the caped crusader. (Christian Bale is not interested in returning.) Snyder said: "It's beyond mythological to have Superman and our new Batman facing off."
It certainly is. And even if this movie ends on some finely calibrated note of ambiguous parity, it is surely going to be entertaining to see how any film can handle having two supersupremos encroach on each other's universes.
So who would win? It's a question for a nerd-connoisseur with, in Douglas Adams' immortal phrase, "a brain the size of a planet." The issue could well provoke an almost theological controversy, no matter how it is concluded. To consider which of these titans is the better superhero recalls the furious family rows in Woody Allen's Radio Days: "Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?"
Superman's evident physiological advantages may be a red herring. The issue of power is touched upon in Brad Bird's The Incredibles (2004). Mr Incredible irritably rejects the fan-worship of his stalkerish emulator IncrediBoy, a creepy kid superwannabe who is able to whizz through the skies with his rocket boots. "This is because I don't have powers, isn't it?" IncrediBoy screams. "Well, not every superhero has powers you know ... I can fly! Can you fly?"
Movies tend to be a little wary of deploying this kind of alpha-face-off in case it looks like a novelty, or oddity, that might subtly undermine each participant's uniqueness. But this kind of clash provides fireworks nonetheless.
Some savoured the confrontation between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon (1972) – although objective observers would concede Lee's greater prestige. There is also of course John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in John Woo's Face/Off (1997), although these actors did not bring as much drama as Robert De Niro and Al Pacino squaring up to each other in Michael Mann's Heat (1995) – a tense, unofficial "summit conference" over coffee between criminal and cop. The scene became a sort of classic, but not without engendering some unease among both men's fans. After all, they can't both win, can they?
The late Tony Scott could have claimed to have engineered the most notable scary-charisma face-off by pairing Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance (1993). My most potent and tense face-off was the pairing of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman in Irwin Allen's The Towering Inferno (1974): McQueen was the heroic fire chief who had to tackle the high-rise blaze and Newman was the architect whose original plans had been ignored by dodgy construction chiefs cutting corners on safety. The two were basically on the same side but when these two 70s megastars squared up there was a tingle, especially as McQueen and Newman had furious rows as to who got top billing: who would, in fact, "win" the status competition? It was the Batman-Superman dispute of its day, finally resolved by putting one name bottom-left and other top-right on the posters and opening credits, a "balancing" pattern maintained even in the final credit roll.
So we return to the Batman/Superman confrontation ... Batman's got gadgets, hardware, cash. Superman has massive powers. But it only takes a lump of Kryptonite to level the playing field. And so, as they say in Hollywood, it's on!
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