The Great Spider-Man vs. Superman Debate
“Who’s a better character, Spider-Man or Superman?”
That’s been the subject of debate amongst comic book fans for decades. Neither character is bad per se. Both have lasted for decades: Superman debuted in 1938 and Spider-Man debuted in 1962. Given such longevity, it’s obvious people find something attractive about both characters.So which one is better? When it comes to raw power, Superman has a large edge. He’s invulnerable to everything save Kryptonite and some forms of magic; bullets literally bounce off him. He flies, he’s super-strong, and he has X-ray vision. He also has heat vision, which is potent enough to melt metal and gives him a long-range attack on top of his other advantages.
Spider-Man has the proportionate abilities of a spider. He’s super-strong but probably not as strong as Superman. He’s extraordinarily fast and agile and he has a so-called “spider sense” that alerts him to danger. Finally, Spider-man has the ability to create webs just like a real spider. In combat, he uses his webs to restrain or ensnare an enemy.
Which one is smarter? In the comics, at least, Spider-Man makes mechanical web-shooters and develops an adhesive formula he uses for his webbing. Given that real scientists have been trying to make an artificial form of spider silk for years, that’s impressive. His social skills, however, have often been less so. He’s often a smart-alec and people find him annoying.
Superman has sometimes been described as exceptionally intelligent and he has the Fortress of Solitude where he keeps various technological gadgets. But, he’s generally not depicted as doing a whole lot with his technology. He’s not an Iron Man type who saves the day with his latest device. Instead, he generally relies on sheer physical power.
Which one is more relatable? The obvious answer would be Spider-Man, who is human, while Superman was born on the planet Krypton. But Superman’s origin story can be seen as an allegory for the immigrant experience. Like Superman, plenty of people came to the US from someplace else. The chief difference is that Superman came from much further away than somebody from Vietnam or Ireland did. He was raised on Earth from infancy, so he is culturally human and a naturalized citizen of Earth.
Spider-Man was intended to be an “everyman” type from the get-go. He wasn’t extraordinarily rich. He started off as a teenager, so he had few connections and little authority. He made mistakes and then he would often snark or whine about the results. Until around the time he married Mary Jane, the Spider-Man books can be seen as a “coming of age” story, in which a young man learns responsibility.
Given all this, which one is better simply depends on the reader’s preference.