The most recent battle on this list is nearly ten years old as of this writing. However, we feel compelled to tell you that this list contains SPOILERS and will tell you the outcomes of the fights. Do not say that we did not warn you… this time. This list will attempt to boldly tell you what the greatest hero on hero battles were that were ever put into comics. We made some very unflinching bold choices on what to include as well as fights to leave off of this list. We fully expect that there will be disagreement with some of the choices on this list. That is why we will direct you to the comments section at the bottom of this page to air those grievances.
10. Human Torch vs The Sub-Mariner (1940)
In Marvel Mystery Comics #8-10, comic book fans got a glimpse for the first time that characters might inhabit a “shared universe.” They learned that their heroes could talk, interact, and beat each other’s brains out. The premise is that the surface world has asked Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, to lend his power to humanity. By “lend his power to humanity,” they meant “willingly sit down to be electrocuted.” As a result of this rather silly mix-up, the Sub-Mariner decided to destroy New York City. This brought the Sub-Mariner into conflict with the original android Human Torch. This set-up allowed the two heroes to engage in glorious battle.
The “fire versus water” battle raged to a glorious standstill which the writers appeared not to have a good solution for. The battle reached a standstill when Namor put the Human Torch in a two-ton “transite case.” The trouble was that the Sub-Mariner could not leave the Human Torch in the “transite case.” The Sub-Mariner also could not let the Human torch out of the “transite case” due to the imminent threat of incineration. How did the writers respond to this predicament?
In the defining moment of the fight, the writers appealed directly to the children reading the battle. They end the ninth issue basically asking “Hey kids… what’s your solution?”
The tenth issue devotes exactly one page to stating that there was no good way out of the fight. Fortunately, Betty showed up and convinced them to hug it all out.
9. Captain America vs Iron Man (2007)
Civil War #7 featured the ending battle of the “Civil War” storyline in Marvel Comics. If you are not familiar with the storyline, the creation of a “Superhero Registration Act” to identify super-humans and their super-powers divided the super-hero community. Notably, Iron Man was pro-Superhero Registration Act and Captain America was anti-Superhero Registration Act. This conflict will also be highlighted in 2016’s cinematic release Captain America: Civil War.
After all attempts at negotiations broke down, there was a battle that spanned from the Negative Zone into our dimension of existence. The battle culminated in a personal struggle between Captain America and Iron Man. Captain America incapacitated Iron Man and proceeded to use his shield to crack open Iron Man’s helmet. Captain America had won the fight for all intents and purposes.
However, the defining moment of the battle was when ordinary rescue workers rushed Captain America to stop him from beating up Iron Man. Captain America realized that he had lost public support and removed his mask. Captain America turned himself in to the authorities. Captain America is a soldier first and foremost. Steve Rogers knew that he had won the battle. In the process, Captain America had also lost the Civil War.
8. Batman vs The Punisher (1994)
The following statement is going to be seen as heresy by many comic book fans. The Batman versus Superman fight from The Dark Knight Returns #4 has no place on this or any other greatest superhero versus superhero fight list. The choreography is so sparse that they had to add two minutes to it in The Dark Knight Returns movie just to make the fight interesting. Superman held back the entire fight and wanted no part of fighting Bruce. To make a great fight, both combatants have to at least want to fight. Additionally, the Kryptonite arrow essentially reduced the whole fight to Bruce Wayne beating up on Clark Kent. This is literally the four most over-hyped pages ever put into a comic book. Superman versus Batman is not even the best fight in The Dark Knight Returns comic book. That particular honor is reserved for the fight between Batman versus the Mutant Leader.
By contrast, the fight from Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights is a contrast of not only philosophy but also style. Furthermore, Batman and the Punisher have no reason to like each other. There is no shared history between the two men. They both have an objective which requires the other man to get out of their way. The Punisher needs to track down Jigsaw. The only way that the Punisher knows how to achieve that goal is to kill people. Batman cannot allow killing within Gotham and wants the Punisher out of his town forever. The resultant brawl is one for the ages.
The fight is crystallized by one exchange between the two men:
The Punisher hits Batman in the face.
Batman says “I let you have that one because you probably think that I deserved it.”
The Punisher tries to hit Batman again. Batman grabs the Punisher’s clenched fist.
The Batman says “I said one.”
Batman throws the Punisher through a wall.
The Batman says “Don’t test me, Castle.”
Batman turns out to be the clear victor. However, Batman mentally makes a note that he can almost respect Frank Castle… almost.
7. Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976)
On paper, Superman vs Spider-Man is not a very good fight. Superman is much more powerful and has a wider range of actual powers than Spider-Man. However, the writers came up with a pretty good workaround in the comic book event Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man in 1976. Lex Luthor fired a gun with red sun radiation at Spider-Man’s suit. The red sun radiation leveled the playing field allowing Spider-Man to actually hurt Superman. A classic crossover mix-up led to Superman blaming Spider-Man for kidnapping Lois Lane. The important thing was that readers were allowed to see the two most influential faces of the two most influential comic book companies trade a few blows.
The battle’s turning point was when Spider-Man started to lose the red sun radiation. Without a bit of cosmic help, the need for an amicable solution became apparent quickly to Spider-Man. Fortunately, Lex Luthor working with Doctor Octopus made sense to all of the parties involved. This also paved the way for all future crossovers between the two companies starting with Batman vs The Incredible Hulk in 1981.
6. Spider-Man vs Wolverine (1987)
What if someone with spider powers lacked the moral code of Peter Parker? Today, we have the answer to that question in the form of characters like Venom and Carnage. The answer to that question was largely unknown in 1987 until you read Spider-Man Versus Wolverine. We learned several things about Spider-Man in this comic. We learned that Spider-Man could actually kill a normal human being with one punch. We also learned that the only thing stopping Spider-Man from being one of the most dangerous characters in the Marvel Universe was his moral code.
Spider-Man basically stumbles into international espionage during the Cold War while simultaneously putting himself at odds with Logan. When they wind up fighting in a graveyard, Spider-Man is potentially more than Wolverine can handle. The defining moment of the fight is when Spider-Man lifts Wolverine up by the throat. Spider-Man can snap Wolverine’s spinal cord at the neck. Even with Wolverine’s healing factor, there is still the possibility of paralysis. Wolverine knows that another opponent may have him in a potentially deadly position. They both know that Spider-Man will not exert the pressure to snap Wolverine’s neck. Cooler heads prevail and we got a glimpse of how truly scary Spider-Man would be as a villain or even an anti-hero.
5. Superboy vs Superboy (2006)
On its surface, the premise for the fight between the two Superboys in Infinite Crisis #6 appears fairly ridiculous. The modern Superboy goes by the name of Conner Kent. Conner is a clone whose DNA is a hybrid between the DNA of Lex Luthor and the DNA of Superman. If this had been a Spider-Man story, angry villagers would have rushed the comic book offices of Marvel with pitchforks and torches. On the other hand, the second Superboy is known as Superboy-Prime. Superboy-Prime was the Kal-El of an alternate universe who was teleported to Earth by a desperate Jor-El. In the Prime Universe, the superheroes all exist simply in comic books other than Superboy-Prime. Superboy-Prime was put into a “Paradise Dimension” after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths destroyed Superboy-Prime’s home-world and universe. It almost hurts the brain just recount the story of how two Superboys even exist.
When you get down to the basics, Superboy-Prime is a Silver Age character and Conner Kent Superboy is a character from the Modern Age of comics. Conner Kent is horribly overmatched, but he needs to destroy the Multiverse Tower in order to save many universes. Conner Kent has his wrist broken during the battle. In the fight’s defining moment, Conner Kent rams Superboy-Prime into the tower. The tower explodes. Since Conner Kent is a Modern Age character, Conner Kent dies a hero and we are left with the consequences. Superboy-Prime is a Silver Age-type character. Superboy-Prime brushes off some rubble. Superboy-Prime is fine overall. The entire story comes down to the expectations of the comic book reader. In the Silver Age, the reader would expect the character to be fine and move on. In the Modern Age, the actions often have consequences which reverberate for years. It is that conflict in storytelling which makes this such a compelling battle.
4. Donatello vs The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1992)
Mirage Comics had a briefly run anthology series titled Plastron Café. In the first issue of Plastron Café, there was an eight page story by Turtles Co-Creator Peter Laird called “Old Times.” There are times when the best conflicts in comics are completely internal. This story takes place at some point and time in the future. Donatello is living in Japan. Donatello is aided by a young assistant named ‘Chet.’ In order to stay in shape, Donatello is fighting holographic images of the Foot Clan and Shredder from back in his heyday. After the program is supposed to be stopped, Chet accidentally loads holographic images of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They appear to be the classic Turtles from circa 1985. The Turtle simulations include Donatello as a young turtle.
Donatello orders the program to be stopped and the Turtles fade away. In the iconic moment of the comic, Donatello removes his mask to reveal tears streaming down his face. We do not learn why Donatello is alone. We do not learn if the other Turtles are even alive. The sight of the Turtles together as well as the thought of fighting his brothers completely destroys Donatello. We are only left to ask why this would be happening. Without ever throwing a punch, the memory of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had defeated the aging Donatello. It was only eight pages, but the superhero versus superhero conflict portrayed was comic book writing at its very finest.
3. Hulk vs The Thing (1964)
The Hulk had first encountered the Thing in Fantastic Four #12. However, the first real fight between these two behemoths in Fantastic Four #25-26 still stands out as the best of their rivalry. The story was written by Stan Lee and penciled by Jack Kirby. This story arc is also the first meeting between the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. As a matter of fact, the Hulk’s motivation in fighting the Fantastic Four is a desire to destroy Avenger’s Mansion. Reed Richards is sick and unable to help in the effort to stop the Hulk. The Hulk quickly dispatches Johnny and Sue Storm. The Thing is the only one standing in between the green goliath and Avenger’s Mansion.
The Thing is hopelessly overmatched. The Thing cannot actually defeat the Hulk. However, the Thing knows that the Avengers are on the way to the mansion. The Thing’s objective in the battle is to last long enough for re-enforcements to arrive. In order to accomplish this objective, the Thing must fight and stall the Hulk until he can fight no more. When the Hulk finally reaches the Avenger’s Mansion, the Hulk is greeted by the Avengers as well as the Fantastic Four. The combined forces of the two groups are enough to turn back the rampaging Hulk.
The great thing about this story is that ultimately the reader is allowed to decide who “won” the fight. The Hulk clearly beat up the Thing. The Hulk also continued to fight the Thing until the Avengers regained their position at Avenger’s Mansion. The Mansion was not destroyed by the Hulk. The Thing accomplished his objective in stopping the Hulk even though he was physically beaten down. Whichever side you were on in this debate, the comic provided you with a strong argument for your favorite character “winning.”
2. Superman vs Captain Marvel (1996)
Superman and Captain Marvel have always had a contentious history. This started in the 1940s when DC Comics attempted to sue Captain Marvel out of existence. Eventually, Fawcett Comics gave up contesting the lawsuit. DC comics later bought the rights to the Captain Marvel character. The truth of the matter is that the two characters extensively ripped off each other in the early days. For instance, Captain Marvel was actually flying before Superman. Captain Marvel also fought a mad scientist before Superman as well. Fans finally got a real chance to see these titans go at it in a comic book in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come.
The story of Kingdom Come is set in a possible future for the DC Universe. Billy Batson aka Captain Marvel has been manipulated by Lex Luthor for years. The final battle involves a jailbreak at a superhuman prison called the “Gulag.” Several factions of super powered beings arrive to contain the situation while the United Nations votes to drop nuclear bombs on all of the superhumans. This leads to the final battle between Captain Marvel and Superman. Captain Marvel gains an advantage over Superman by calling down mystical lightning on Superman. Superman has a weakness to magic. In the battle’s climatic moment, Superman grabs Captain Marvel’s mouth so that Captain Marvel can no longer say the word “shazam.” Superman reasons with Captain Marvel. Ultimately, Captain Marvel gives his life to stop one of the nuclear bombs.
1. Thor vs Silver Surfer (1969)
This matchup was the acknowledged king of superhero versus superhero matchups for decades. Honestly, nothing has come along since that time to take the crown away from this titanic struggle. Silver Surfer #4 was written by Stan Lee and penciled by John Buscema. The plot centered on Loki convincing the Silver Surfer that Thor was an evil god. This trickery led Silver Surfer to attack Thor in Asgard. Unbeknownst to either side, Loki was enhancing the Surfer’s power cosmic abilities with Loki’s own power. Keep in mind, the Silver Surfer is not any type of weakling with only the power cosmic at his disposal.
This ‘misunderstanding’ led to several pages of Thor and Silver Surfer beating each other’s brains in with a sense of purpose. Silver Surfer legitimately wanted to destroy the ‘evil’ of the Thunder God. Thor was trying to protect Asgard from destruction. The turning point came with the realization that Loki was behind the whole affair. The two heroes saw the goodness in each other. All the readers were left with was a dream match-up and fight for the ages.