Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reader Question - Who is DC's Most Popular Character?


When it comes to Marvel, it's easy to tell who their most popular character is: Spider-Man. He's had more titles than anyone else, more adaptations into other media, and is just more popular in about any aspect than any other character. Sure, the Hulk, Captain America, and even Wolverine and are all pretty popular, but no one comes close to Spider-Man.

On the other side of the river, over at DC, things get a little bit more complicated. Batman and Superman are among the most popular fictional characters, period. They both share an extensive history of adaptations into other media, they both have an extended family of titles and related characters, and both are bona fide pop culture icons. But who is DC's most popular character? Who gets the most attention from DC, from the readers, and from the public in general? Hit the jump for some more thoughts about this question.


The Comics

In my personal opinion, I have come across more people that were casual comic readers that read Batman comics, but at the same time I'm sure that more people have a copy of the Superman #75 (the now infamous Death of Superman issue) than any other issue of Batman.

Ask any comic reader to list their favorite Batman storyline, and they will struggle to decide among stories like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Year One and others. Superman, in my humble opinion, has less memorable stories, but still has had memorable tales like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Red Son, and All-Star Superman. I think that for the most part Batman comics currently sell more than Superman ones, although I have no idea what the historic data is like.

The Adaptations

Public perception of the characters by the non-comic reading public is a whole other concept. Christopher Reevee is still the definitive look of Superman thanks to the movies he starred in, but popular series like Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville have also kept the character in the collective minds of the TV viewing public. Superman is probably the character most people think of when the word "superhero" comes up, but Batman is probably not far behind.

While I am sure that many people still think of Batman as the campy superhero of the 60's TV show, and it's cultural impact cannot be understated (we all have probably said "Holy [insert word here], Batman!" at one point or another), recent adaptations like popular and critically acclaimed film The Dark Knight and the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum are probably going to help discharge that notion. Batman hasn't had a live action TV series in a long time, but plenty of animated ones, of which the most notable one is Batman: The Animated Series.

The Question

So how do you gouge a character's popularity, by the public at large's knowledge of it, or by the comic book readers' affinity for the character? By the quantity or the staying power of the adaptations these characters have had? It's a tricky question, but which one do you think is the most popular character in DC's roster?


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37 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think batmans the more popular character as of now.....it can be seen in the peoples reactions when it came to the movies Batman Begins and Superman Returns.......i just think batman is a more believable character....

Klep said...

I'm pretty sure it's Batman, the responsibility for which can be laid largely at the feet of Bruce Timm and Kevin Conroy. So many people have now grown up watching Batman: TAS, and bringing Conroy et. al. back for Arkham Asylum only reinforces that.

Spleeny said...

I think it has to be Batman this decade, and I'd probably argue that this stretches back to the Tim Burton movies. (An argument could be made that it goes back to DKR, but as a geeky child who was very into superheroes on TV and stuff but hadn't quite turned that into comics fandom yet, I had absolutely no knowledge of Miller's work. I'm going to assume that my experience was at least somewhat typical.)

But during the 90's, Batman basically had a monopoly on superhero movies. Sure, the last two were terrible, but they were still able to get made. At the same time, Superman was languishing in Nic Cage Limbo. This decade, it's no competition. Nolan's Batman movies are way more popular than Singer's Superman. And if you look at the cartoons (the way most kids are going to get their superheroes), Timm's Superman was absolutely fantastic, but it definitely get its start thanks to Timm's Batman, and Batman always seemed to get a stronger reaction on JLU. Also, Batman's had two cartoons since then. Superman's had none. This presumably gives Batman the kid vote.

And in terms of comics, sure, Superman's death was THE event comic to end all event comics. But you can't judge popularity based on a major death. Captain America hasn't leapfrogged Spider-Man and Wolverine just because his death really caught on with the public. Really, I think the most telling thing is the All-Star books.

On one hand, you have All-Star Superman, widely regarded as a masterpiece. I don't think I've ever seen a negative review of it. It's beloved. Then you have All-Star Batman, widely regarded as a pile of crap. People use it as proof that Frank Miller has lost whatever remained of his sanity.

I've never read either book. I can't tell you anything about All-Star Superman except that it apparently had the best and briefest version of Superman's origin ever, but I don't know what it is. Meanwhile, I don't know how many times I've referenced the Goddamn Batman.

Even when you compare an instant classic to crap, Batman proves more popular.

Dickey said...

In regards to the movies one should also regard which character has had the greater impact on the careers of the actors portraying him. The Sixties Batman, while campy as it gets, is likely the sole reason for the longevity of Adam West's career and current role on Family Guy much the same as Star Trek did for William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

When we look to how Superman affected an actor's career the only name that comes to mind is Christopher Reeves (I do not recall whether any other actors starred in the first Superman movies or whether it was just Reeves). The actor for the Nineties Lois and Clark series? Damned if I know what he is doing now or his name. I do not believe Superman Returns raised that actor's profile the same way Nolan's Batman movies have raised the public profile of Christian Bale. Honestly, without IMDB I couldn't tell you his name.

Now as for Batman? Media with his name attached to it has given career boosts and/or made household names out of Kevin Conroy, Christian Bale, Adam West, Aaron Eckhart and Tim Burton, among others. Heck it turned Nolan from the "artsy" director of Memento into a name the mainstream public will recognize on the level of a Spielberg quite possibly.

Even among comics themselves there are many writers myself and others can think of of solely thanks to their extensive or seminal work on Batman after 1980. You have Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm etc. For writers that can be associated primarily with the Superman name the only one that pops to mind is John Byrne. Yes there are other writers that have written great Superman stories, like Millar and Red Son, but they are not primarily associated with the Superman brand in my opinion.

So based on the real world impact these characters can have on their creators/writers/players I would resoundingly say Batman is DC's most popular character.

Keith R Chapman said...

As a father/fanboy and casual observer. Batman is embraced by the children that I know. Both characters work best imho as father figure/catalyst heroes,but Batman is more widely recieved as an everyman.

Superman, however, is enjoying a much needed refining of his storytelling engine in the comic books that I would love to see created as a new animated series.

Bill said...

I've had a lot of conversations about superhero popularity, but they usually revolve around the non-elite characters (The Flash vs. Captain America, for example). Comparing Batman to Superman is much harder, since I imagine virtually everyone from a first world knows who they are. So absent awareness, I'd go with money as the test for popularity. And certainly these days, it has to be Batman.

The Dark Knight, the videogame, both generating huge amounts of cash. The Brave and the Bold is probably watched by fewer people than Smallville, but it's also probably cheaper to make. Comics-wise, I'm pretty sure Batman outsells Superman by quite a bit. Or at least with Batman & Robin, if you count Dick-Batman. Plus there are so many titles that grew out of Batman (currently Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, and Red Robin, and I feel like I'm forgetting one). And older Batman collections, almost entirely driven by the Dark Knight, were losing only to manga and Watchmen on the sales charts for quite a while.

Also, Batman is cooler.

And I'd agree with Spleeny that it dates back to the Tim Burton movies. Although Denny O'Neill and/or DKR deserve the credit for darkening the Dark Knight, the '89 movie is what made the general public realize Batman can be more than the Batoosie and "Pow!"

David Not David said...

I'd say that Batman is the most popular but Superman is the most famous. I'd reckon that the details of Superman's origin are better known the world wide than the details of Batman.

Flip The Page said...

Batman now because of overrated films.
Superman of all time because of the obvious.
Green Lantern of the future because the tides are shifting

Chris said...

I don't think there is much question that Batman is the most popular right now, and he probably has been for some time. On a personal, Batman books are the only ones I'll buy actual issues of (I'll ready trades for others) and I know several other people who are the same way. I only know of one person who prefers Superman to Batman, but he still LOVES Batman.

Dickey said...

@Dickey - you make an interesting case but the number of established stars in the Superman and Batman movies make arguing either case real difficult. You could say the stars in the movie made the movie which in turn made the new actor's careers.

Superman had Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Glenn Ford and many other stars to give support to the no names of Chris Reeve and Margot Kidder.

Batman relied almost soley on stars - Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeifer, Jack, Devito, etc, etc. And Tim Burton was already an establish director himself. Even the Bale movies had Neeson, Oldman and Kaine to support the movie's launch.

Measuring a franchise based on the actor's careers is just a tough gauge to use.

As far as the comic creators go I look at as what that individual be remembered by when they are long gone. For Gaiman its Sandman, not Batman. On the other hand Dan Jurgens will always be remembered as the man who killed Superman no matter what he does. For Morrison? I'm not really sure. This makes the comic creator argument more difficult than the movie one.

I'm going to say Batman based on a very simple test. When I wear a Superman shirt more people point and say "Superman!" than any other comic related t-shirt, by far. That, to me, says he is more recognizable. But damn its an impossible argument to solve.

Primewax said...

There's not much more I can say that hasn't been said. Batman seems to rule the people's hearts right now. Superman, while I've begun to warm up to him, seems to come across as too all-powerful to the average joe. Batman is rooted in tragedy, and we can all relate. I posted the question on my Facebook (www.facebook.com/primewax) and the results have been unanimously Batman thus far. I'll post the actual comments later for you to peruse if you like. Its interesting to get the opinions of the people that don't read comics.

Daryll B. said...

Now it is Batman that is the most popular because of the movies and the animated series...

However, in terms of iconic status, Superman tops him. When you have sports like basketball and football using your symbol and themes during their games or people using the "S" as a symbol of hope THAT is going way beyond comic status.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I'd like to see this test done purely by comics. I would count James Bond as one of the greatest and most iconic characters of all time, but I'd call him a popular cinematic character, not literary character, even though the books came first because most, not all, but most only know the films. Superman and Batman both have impressive histories in the cultural eye, Superman is no doubt the most recognisable but Batman seems to have more actual fans, but scrap the games, the shirts, the flicks, the cartoons, and just look at the comic. Which character would be most popular? Which one do we have more of on our shelves.

I think another interesting post would be to categorise each character, Marvel Vs DC, and see which characters have the best storylines of all time.

I'd love to see the Clone Saga up against the Batman of Zur-En-Urr (or whatever it was).

Mike-El said...

Now don't get me wrong here, Batman is my most favorite character, and has been since I was little. And if the question is "Who do comic book readers prefer, Batman or Superman?" I'm pretty sure you'll get Batman more than 90% of the time. But as far as who's truly more popular, to the entire world it's going to be Superman. Superman is arguably the most recognizable Pop Icon in the world, next to Mickey Mouse (and up yours VH1, Oprah is NOT more recognizable than Superman or Mickey Mouse).

But Superman is more than just about comics, he's supposed to be the American Dream personified: unbeatable, morally unwavering, truthful and just, and he always wins. It doesn't matter that he's an immigrant with no homeland, or adopted. He's Superman. You might be hard pressed to find someone who LIKES Superman more than Batman, but I'm fairly certain you will NEVER find someone who knows who Batman is and has never heard of Superman.

heffison said...

"Dickie said:
When I wear a Superman shirt more people point and say "Superman!" than any other comic related t-shirt, by far. That, to me, says he is more recognizable. But damn its an impossible argument to solve."

When I wear my Conner Kent shirt, people point and say "Superman!" too. I'm tired of explaining, so usually I just growl....

Batman is more commercially popular right now, and has been since Tim Burton's movie, Christian Bale was fairly popular and getting more notice before he was even cast as Batman. I don't think it is a fair comparison to see how many people know him and Brandon Routh after their superhero movies. Batman has his own audience, but I'd bet Bale brought in a fair number of people who might have looked down their nose at a superhero "flick" otherwise.

You know, it seems like I see more people with the "S" logo as a tattoo that a Bat symbol. So at least Superman still rules in that arena.

Eric Rupe said...

The big thing here is to separate Batman and Superman as characters from Batman and Superman as symbols, which are to very different things. Superman is probably the more popular symbol because he is probably the most recongizable superhero but I'd say Batman is the popular character, given his multiple animated series, constant selling trades and recent movies.

Matt Ampersand said...

So everyone agrees that Batman is the more popular character in comics right now, but how long is this going to last? In the 40's/50's Superman was probably more popular judging by the amount of related titles he had (Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane even had their own titles, Superboy too), but over time that started switching. Could we eventually see that happening to Batman as well? (and like someone said, the Green Lantern franchise is going places).

brandon said...

IMO - Superman will never regain the popularity it once had until the (and if) Batman movie franchise wanes AND an outstanding Superman movie franchise shows up.

In comics there just more you can do with Batman than Superman.

I cant wear a Superman T and not have kids identify it immediately. Batman....generally get no reacion.

Mike said...

What about the Heckler? G'Nort? Major Bummer?

In 1,000 years, I suspect these will be the ones that are mentioned in the history books....;)

TheGoose said...

Right now? Batman.

Of all time? Superman. I mean...how many superheroes were so popular, they got their own musical?

Spleeny said...

@Matt:

I see Batman keeping it for the foreseeable future. He definitely still has the general public consciousness thanks to movies and cartoons, and that'll last for a few more years (and it'll presumably get a boost from a third Nolan movie). In the comics, it just seems like Batman's more likely to get a strong run from a creator judging by recent history, so it'll be tough for Superman to overcome that.

A third character could always come out of nowhere. Green Lantern definitely has a shot at it, but the sheer number of Lanterns might dilute that a bit. I mean, comic people still argue about Hal vs Kyle, while John Stewart got a lot of publicity from JLU. As a franchise it might be able to take over, but I'm not sure about Hal alone.

Basically, I think I'm saying Batman until Superman can get a real blockbuster run in the next few years, a really good cartoon (Legion just didn't do it), or a solid movie reboot. I think it's a two horse race and the second horse really, really needs a good break.

Rick said...

All I can tell you is the one that I like the most. I like both but between the two my faavorite is Superman. He defines superhero and got the whole thing started.

Primewax said...

So far, amongst the non-comic fans from my Facebook poll, Batman is leaps and bounds out-doing Superman. Only a couple have said Superman, and they are older people. Batman seems to hold the hearts of the general public...for now.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I feel like a douche saying it, but, Green Lantern will never even be close on the popularity scale. The character just isn't interesting enough, the power is a little too out there. I know I can't find the green lantern power interesting with it's yellow weakness and ability to construct anything (anything, really?). I feel it will be just the same as Daredevil. DD is my favourite character, by far, and he's had some phenomenal runs in the comics, but he'll never be up there with Spidey or Cap. Which is a shame, but it is what it is, and i can accept that.

Bill said...

Yeah I don't see it happening for Green Lantern. The big chance for GL ganing on Superman and Batman is the movie, but I can't see Green Lantern in much better shape than Iron Man was before its movie. And as great and as popular as Iron man was, and with how much it elevated the profile of the character, Iron Man is still nowhere near Spider-Man.

brandon said...

One common comment I get from those that dont read comics about GL is "why is he called Green Lantern if he uses a ring?" That's just the tip of the iceberg as to why GL can't approach widespread popularity as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. He just isnt an easily understand hero and powers.

He'll always be a B-lister in pop culture.

Sr. Lado Brillante said...

Batmand FTW!

And Animal Man.

Yay.

Simon DelMonte said...

I think that even when Batman has managed to keep up with, or even pass, Superman in some ways, the question should be: who do you want to be? We might want to read about Batman more. We might think that his stories are not worn out. We might prefer edgy to lighter.

But who wants to be Batman? I would rather be Superman, and all he personifies, than be Batman any day. And that might be where I'd give Supes the edge.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous guy no one cares about walking by. Saw this and thought I should say that Superman could be the more iconic, but isn't. Batman still has what made him famous and is still amazing. Superman on the other hand lost it around the time he started to be called a god all the time. The comparason doesn't fit him. He might be stronger than man, but without his humlity he's just some jerk in tights. Add that to total incomitance by the writers to give him something on his level to fight like say, Bionicle's Makuta. (Yes, I know it's supposed to be for kids, but the writing and kill count has kept me in it. >_<) And he just stinks.

On the other hand, I know a lot more people that would like to be Batman and he has a sweet car. He sticks to what he does as the embodiment of fear and mastery of weapons.

In short, they need to stop their direction of Superman being the king of everything since it just comes off as douche and bring him back to truth, justice, and All-American even when it's hard.

~The Mortonator

Flip The Page said...

@anonymous read world of new krypton and your argument loses a lot of value

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm sorry. You're right. I have to read some Superman issue at the back of a self somewhere rather than expect it to be at the forefront of what he does.

Primewax said...

Yes, because World of New Krypton, Superman's CURRENT ONGOING SERIES, is on the back of a shelf somewhere and completely irrelevant to what he is doing. Credibility lost.

Anonymous said...

It's a bloody miniseries. If that's all Superman has it's obvious that even DC is rethinking him as a major character.

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