“Who’s the Man?” has been our alpha male question since before even the Greeks could write “alpha.” DC Comics thought they’d locked it down with Superman – he’s literally superior to every other man – but Mattel made an amazing breakthrough in ballsology with He-Man, combining even more literal masculinity and manliness to create a critical mass of pulsing pectoral muscle. This autumn they started researching who’d win with the current mini-series comic, DC Universe vs The Masters Of The Universe.
First off, this isn’t the first time this battle played out. In 1982 DC Presents brought us Superman vs He-Man in “From Eternia With Death,” because when you’ve already got that much manliness combined, why not throw in a Bond reference? Normally a Bond reference which wasn’t supported by the story would lead to disappointment, but with this much ass-kicking already in play, 007 would just be a background reading on our ballsometers.
The cover is a thing of beauty.
He-Man is so strong that even Superman is super-pooping his super-britches at the thought. And note He-Man’s pose: Superman is flying full speed into his face, and He-Man’s not braced, or blocking, or even readying his fists. He’s got a full wrestlers grip going: he’s not just going to beat Superman, he’s going to grab him and supermanhandle him until he taps out.
Like most ’80s crossovers which could have been awesome, they spent most of their time justifying it and then not doing it, but those few panels where they actually punch it out are so amazing even the narrator can’t keep a grip.
Of course the final verdict was “Skeletor loses,” and we suspect the new series will be equally indecisive. It already burned the entire first issue without any actual fighitng. Which is why we’re going to answer the question ourselves.
In the modern world “Man” doesn’t just mean “hitter of things,” but both these heroes embody a simpler time. A time when interpersonal conflicts were resolved with percussion diplomacy, and the ability to punch someone straight into the sun was less hyperbole and more a standard solution strategy.
Superman’s solar powered strength is functionally limitless, and his alleged limitation of requiring a yellow sun is usually forgotten as boring.
He-Man’s magical superstrength is also infinite-as-needed. While he spends most of his time punching people so gently it doesn’t leave a bruise, he has been known to pick up mountains and hurl them at his enemies.
Superman has an array of powers, but most of them are only good for bullying mortals. Super-breath, super-ventriloquism, laser vision…listen, He-Man is used to the burning gaze of other men on his flesh, and it only makes him stronger. That’s why he dresses the way he does. When you have two near-indestructible muscle-piles fighting it usually degenerates into a scrambling fistfight, because nothing else in the universe can survive long enough to take part. But He-Man has the Sword of Power. Which means that in a deadlocked fistfight, he’s got a knife. If he loses that, he has a punch. For most of his original series, he only had one punch.
But that was like giving Bruce Lee one punch – it was all he needed to put anyone down. This should be the most incredible stalemate in history, and possibly a source of infinite energy if we set up a wind-farm to harness the gales blowing from their endless punches, but Superman has been around for longer. Which means his writers needed to find more and more ridiculous weaknesses in order to make their jobs easier. The first most famous is kryptonite, but the second is magic, and He-Man’s strength is entirely made of magic, defeating Superman. Which turns this battle of mighty equals into a magician beating up a particularly hat-phobic rabbit.
Technically both heroes lose this round, because they spend so much of their time wimping around pretending to be weak when their lives could be 24/7 solving problems. Each of their knuckles has more power to resolve problems than a UN member state.
In fact, it’s hard to think who’s stupider. We’ve already examined the tragedy of He-Man: he maintains the façade to protect his family, but they’re the royal family of Eternia. They’re already the target of more attacks than the wrong end of a firing range.
Superman has even less excuse. A man who can see and hear everything from space decides he needs to work for a newspaper to hear about disasters, and then let people die in those disasters as he wastes valuable seconds finding an excuse to go do something about it. What started off silly has become increasingly hard to explain as the internet
- a) exists
- b) that’s it.
Throw in the countless government agencies and Bat-protocols which could feed him an infinite stream of crisis data, and you’re left with the worrying result that the man who really could do anything is actively choosing to spend his time in an office.
It came down to a points decision on how they change from civilian to superhero. Superman hides to stripe off his civilian clothes to reveal a complete bodysuit. When He-Man changes, he takes off his clothes and roars his naked power to the universe, wearing naught but a fur loincloth and some sternal bracing to restrain his pectoral power.
It’s fun to note that this technically makes He-Man the most feminist superhero. He was the only man to make sure he wore the same sort of costume as the female heroes.
Man-at-Arms’s only jobs are kicking ass and building new things to kick ass. He’s like Tony Stark without the alcoholism and an even more glorious moustache.
Man-at-Arms lives in a world where magic is real, and he still works with machinery anyway because deep down he knows that fuel-injection is manlier than waving a wand. He’s the only person in comics and cartoons smart enough to just keep the armor on. Always. It doesn’t matter if it’s his birthday party in the most secure part of the Fortress, on global peace day, after they imprison every criminal in another dimension and turn on a machine that makes crime impossible: Man-at-Arms will be wearing his ultimate weapon suit made entirely of metal and guns. And he will wear a fur loincloth over it. Because unlike Superman, he knows you can get away with wearing your underwear on the outside as long as it USED TO BE A BEAR.
The DC Universe would have to bust out an inconceivable level of manliness to defeat…
Sorry Duncan, Batman wins. That’s what he does.
You can tell a lot about a man by his friends, starting with their existence or not and working up from there. Both heroes are so powerful they turn their friends into backing bands, unnecessary additions only there to provide some background noise and variety, because the lead can solve everything.
Superman has the Justice League, an array of all-powerful superbeings, each capable of defeating every problem in the world. The weakest member is usually Aquaman, and he commands three-quarters of the planet. People like to mock him, but where I come from when someone’s CV includes “King of Sharks” you give that man respect. His only problem is his insistence on hanging around on land. And even this pantheon of might only called themselves the Justice League, which sounds more like a pickup football tournament in an anti-drug commercial.
He-Man’s friends, on the other hand, include a big bee, a piece of moss, and a man who is really good at headbutts, and they call themselves the Masters of the Universe. That’s a skillset which would be hard-pressed to master an Olive Garden but no, they’re taking on the Universe! That is pure insane balls.
And there we have it! A 3-1 victory for He-Man. Find out how DC handle this super-powered disadvantage in DC Universe vs Masters Of The Universe, on sale now.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.